February 2008

 
 

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DVDs I bought or received in the month of February

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD
  • Almost Famous (R0 UK, Blu-ray)
  • American Gangster (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • Astérix et les Vikings (R0 France, HD DVD)
  • The Brave One (R0 USA, Blu-ray)
  • Gone Baby Gone (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • The Lady Vanishes: The Criterion Collection [2007 re-release] (R1 USA, DVD)
  • La Môme (R0 France, Blu-ray)
  • The Night of the Werewolf/Vengeance of the Zombies (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • Run Lola Run (R0 UK, Blu-ray)
  • Volver (RA USA, Blu-ray)
     
 
Posted: Friday, February 29, 2008 at 11:59 PM
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 11: A Beautiful Sunset

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8

Written by Joss Whedon; Illustrated by Georges Jeanty

Hmph. Another month, another underwhelming episode of Buffy’s eighth season. I’m fast reaching the point where I’m considering cancelling my subscription. Yes, for the first few issues there was the novelty factor of seeing my favourite characters (well, some of them, at any rate) having new adventures that were given some degree of authenticity due to being sanctioned (and, much of the time, written) by their creator, but that appeal has long since dried up.

This week, Buffy finally encounters the season’s Big Bad, the muscular, masked Jason Voorhees lookalike who first appeared in Episode 9. Guess what? Buffy announces that he’s tougher than any opponent she’s ever faced before. Sort of like Caleb, and the First, and Dark Willow, and Glory, and Adam, and the Mayor, and… See what I’m getting at? Oh, and it looks as if we’re headed for another season of “I’m so alone” angst, to boot. Clearly, Joss Whedon still hasn’t learned that fans generally don’t enjoy seeing Buffy moping about as a manic depressive. Nor do I particularly enjoy having the gang at separate corners of the earth. I’d like to see them actually interacting properly, not briefly mentioning or phoning each other every now and then.

They’ve changed the cover art too. The new artist isn’t bad at all, but his work is not a patch on that of Jo Chen, which I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I called the best thing about these comics.

Next month, Drew Goddard comes in and starts his Tokyo arc. This four-parter will probably be the last chance I give the series… although, given that Goddard is probably the single most overrated writer in Buffydom (his greatest claim to fame is that he wrote one or two of the Season 7 episodes that weren’t complete garbage), I’m not holding out much hope.

 
Posted: Friday, February 29, 2008 at 4:21 PM
Categories: Books | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Reviews | TV
 

Blu Underground

Blue Underground Blu-ray

Source: Film Talk

Well, this has got to be just about the most unexpected piece of news to round off the month, but perhaps also the most pleasant. Blue Underground, who hold the US DVD rights to most of Dario Argento’s catalogue, not to mention a vast sea of other European cult titles, have added a placeholder page to their web site announcing their intentions to get into the high definition market in the near future:

We are proud to announce that a number of high definition Blu-ray™ releases are in the works. We will have more information soon.

There we go - there’s no actual information besides their statement of an intention to release on the format, but I must say I’m absolutely thrilled. I pretty much gave up any hope of seeing the likes of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red, Suspiria and Inferno in HD any time soon after the rights to these films ended up at Blue Underground and various statements came from the company indicating that they didn’t perceive the market to be large enough to make HD releases viable. I can’t wait to see what their first titles are, and it goes without saying that they should constitute a sizeable improvement on the filtered, edge enhanced standard definition transfers that Blue Underground routinely put out.

My most wanted titles:

  • Baba Yaga
  • The Bird with the Crystal Plumage
  • Deep Red
  • Don’t Torture a Duckling
  • The Fifth Cord
  • Inferno
  • Night Train Murders
  • Opera
  • Short Night of the Glass Dolls
  • Suspiria
  • The Stendhal Syndrome
  • Who Saw Her Die?

Now, obviously, I’m not naïve enough to assume that anything approaching all of these titles will show up, but if even a handful of them get the HD treatment, I will be a very happy gentleman.

 
Posted: Friday, February 29, 2008 at 3:51 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli
 

Garbage baby garbage

Blu-ray

Yesterday, I received a copy of the US Blu-ray release of Gone Baby Gone from DeepDiscount. I watched it tonight, and was less than impressed.

This film gained some level of notoriety in the UK when distributor Buena Vista cancelled its theatrical release, which was scheduled uncomfortably soon after the disappearance of British child Madeleine McCann, and I must confess that my interest in seeing it, while due primarily from the positive write-ups it received, did to some extent stem from the parallels drawn between the McCann case and the one portrayed in the film. (Perhaps Buena Vista’s marketing department should have made a donation to the Maddy fund for the free publicity?) And the parallels are quite striking. Not only does the missing child, Amanda McCready, bear a great deal of physical resemblance to Madeleine McCann, the circumstances surrounding her disappearance are similar: in both cases, a neglectful mother left her child alone in an apartment to get wasted (Kate McCann on alcohol, Helene McCready on cocaine) at a local bar, and later lied about the length of time for which she had abandoned the child. In both cases, a toy belonging to the missing child becomes a vital piece of iconography. And finally, in both, frustrated by the police’s lack of progress, the family of the missing child hires private investigators.

Unfortunately, the most significant similarity between the two cases is how annoying they both are. The media furore surrounding the McCann disappearance, and the manner in which her parents shamelessly and (I believe) insincerely manipulated the media, made me gag. The mawkishness and falseness of the front they adopted was irritating in the extreme, and, unfortunately, Gone Baby Gone is every bit as mawkish and false. This is a film which doesn’t just tug at the heartstrings - it claws desperately at them, using every cliché in the book in a desperate bid to make the audience care about what is, ultimately, a dull, confused and poorly plotted story.

More annoying than all of that, however, is Casey Affleck, who delivers all his dialogue (most of which seems to be about “respec’”) in the same deadpan mumble and is virtually incomprehensible half of the time. This film was co-written and directed by his older brother, Ben Affleck, and I can only assume that this proves that nepotism is alive and well in Hollywood. Similar criticisms are sometimes made of Dario Argento when he casts his daughter in his films, but Asia Argento seems to have a better grasp of English than Casey Affleck and is considerably less annoying to boot. Ed Harris, meanwhile, stumbles over his ridiculous dialogue as best he can, and Michelle Monaghan’s role is so pointless that I wouldn’t be surprised if it was written in minutes before shooting began because the producers realised, at the last minute, that it would look rather bad if all the women in the film were drug addicts and/or negligent parents. I like both of these actors, I really do, but there’s a limit to what they can do without a worthwhile script. The only actor to escape with any sense of self-respect is Morgan Freeman, who I tend to find elevates the perceived quality of just about any material he gets his hands on.

In short, I don’t rate Ben Affleck as an actor, and, based on this, he isn’t much better as a director or writer (bearing in mind that I haven’t seen Good Will Hunting). It’s definitely one of the weakest films I’ve picked up in high definition since its inception, and definitely not worth the $27 I paid for it. Oh, well - you win some, you lose some.

 
Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2008 at 10:32 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Dario Argento | Reviews
 

Anchor Bay sails again

DVD DVD

Fangoria has got the scoop on the long-delayed special edition re-releases of Dario Argento’s Tenebre and Phenomena from Anchor Bay, due out at some point this summer, accompanied by some fairly dodgy cover art. Originally announced in an unofficial capacity a good 2-3 years ago, I forget precisely where they were first mentioned, but it seems to have been common knowledge for some time that these were in the pipeline. Anyway, the specs provided are as one would expect: these two titles, both originally non-anamorphically, will both be receiving new 16x9 enhanced transfers in their original aspect ratios of 1.85:1 and 1.66:1 respectively. Additionally, they will carry over all the extras from their previous releases, in addition to a new retrospective featurette - Voices of the Unsane for Tenebre, and A Dark Fairy Tale for Phenomena.

Unfortunately, the real questions aren’t answered. Namely, will these releases be properly uncut? The previous release of Tenebre was missing a few seconds of footage at various points, while Phenomena lacked over six minutes’ worth of (mostly minor) material in comparison with the longer integral cut. (Both films were released on DVD in their full length variants in various other territories.) Additionally, while the Fangoria article states that each film will feature a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, what I really want to know is whether or not the original mono (or should that be stereo for Phenomena?) mixes will also be provided. Ideally, I’d like to see the original audio mixes provided for both English and Italian, with subtitles… although this is Anchor “you don’t need subtitles if the film is in English” Bay we’re talking about, so I won’t get my hopes up.

Finally, where are the Blu-ray releases?

Anyway, I’ll continue to keep an eye on the buzz surrounding these releases, but with some trepidation. I already own a copy of Tenebre (the Dutch Shadows release from A-Film) which I’m pretty happy with, barring some colour timing issues, and the Integral Japanese version of Phenomena that I own is nice, but for the fact that certain stretches of dialogue are in Italian on the English language track. Ah, we’ll see. I might be tempted by review copies…

 
Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2008 at 8:59 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli
 

The Giallo Project #12: The Fifth Cord

DVD

Alternative titles: Giorna nera per l’ariete; Evil Fingers; Director: Luigi Bazzoni; Starring: Franco Nero, Silvia Monti, Wolfang Preiss, Ira von Fürstenberg, Edmund Purdom, Rossella Falk, Renato Romano, Pamela Tiffin; Music: Ennio Morricone; Italian theatrical release date: August 28th, 1971

Note: this review contains significant spoilers.

In his excellent essay Playing with Genre, Gary Needham descibes Luigi Bazzoni’s giallo The Fifth Cord as an example of the more progressive side of the movement. The first time I watched the film, I really wasn’t sure what he meant, but, after mulling the issue over in my mind for a while, I’m beginning to see where he was coming from. I’m going to do something a little different with this instalment of the Giallo Project, in that, instead of doing a general overview of the film, I will focus in depth on a handful of scenes which specifically refer to the subject on which I am currently interested: namely, the character of Andrea Bild (Franco Nero) and his relationship with the two women in his life, his ex-girlfriend Helene (Silvia Monti) and his current catch, Lou (Pamela Tiffin). This is part of the work I am currently doing for my PhD, a piece which I am hoping to use to explore the wide variety of ways in which women are portrayed in gialli, and as such, a lot of the material below was written with an eye to being incorporated into an academic essay.

Andrea Bild: the image of the stereotypical hard-drinking macho man turned on its head

Above: Andrea Bild: the image of the stereotypical hard-drinking macho man turned on its head

Andrea embodies the hard-drinking, virile, macho male stripped of all the qualities normally found in giallo portrayals of such characters. Rather than the suave George Hilton type, he is an unkempt, pathetic drunk, engaged in an affair with Lou, a student several years younger than him, but clearly still dependent on his ex-girlfriend, Helene, a firm, sensible, working single mother fighting a divorce (at one point, she says that, until the proceedings go through, she will not be able to “live [her] own life”). In this film, it’s not so much the plot or the basic character archetypes that are unique (on the contrary, they are actually somewhat generic), but the manner in which what we are supposed to infer from them is reversed. In the average giallo, the J&B Whisky bottle is an ubiquitous simple of sophistication and finesse (Koven, 2006, pp. 49-50); here, the first time we see a J&B bottle is when Andrea, drunk and unshaven, swigs from it while driving home from a party after being snubbed by Helene, who has already commented with disdain on his drunkenness. What’s particularly interesting about this is that it is a clear reimagining of the persona Franco Nero portrayed in the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s and would go on to play in the action and crime thrillers of the mid to late 1970s. In these, the gristled, tough-talking antihero who takes the law into his own hands was romanticised; here, he’s practically a joke. Just watch his first speaking role, where he drunkenly tries to woo Helene, gazing pleadingly at her, only for it to be made clear that she finds his state of intoxication pathetic. As someone who finds macho culture intensely irritating, this pleases me no end.

J&B: the classy gentleman's drink

Above: J&B: the classy gentleman’s drink

In the scene above, Helene returns to her car to find him sitting in the passenger seat, dishevelled and slurring his speech. It is made clear from the start that he is encroaching on her territory (in this case, her car) and that she holds the power. Throughout their conversation, he gazes at her pleadingly, which she refuses to even dignify him with eye contact. When he begins to caress her hair, she firmly and calming removes her hand, responding to his statement that drinking “makes life much easier” with the statement that she, on the other hand, has not been drinking, the implication being that she would have to be drunk herself in order to entertain any prospect of anything happening between them. She controls the scene from its beginning to its end, when she orders him out of the car with the simple statement “Goodnight. Goodbye, Andrea”, and turning on the car’s ignition, all the while refusing to look at him. Bazzoni, meanwhile, underscores the lack of connection between the two of them by filming the entire scene as a single medium shot in which each character occupies either side of the frame, the camera adopting a detached distance rather than priveleging either character’s point of view with subjective shots.

The first scene to feature Andrea’s young girlfriend, Lou, taking place the morning after his encounter with Helene, shows him to be even more dishevelled and pathetic than the night before. He wakes up in bed, groggy and half-dressed, to the sound of the telephone ringing, and it is revealed, through dialogue, that he has slept through two previous calls after returning home in such a state that Lou had to undress him and put him to bed.

Andrea: You always liked undressing me.
Lou: Not when you’re drunk.

The modern man: emblematic of suavity and dignity

Above: The modern man: emblematic of suavity and dignity

Here, drinking is once again held in contempt, the impression being given that, far from making him the virile ‘ladies’ man’ that most male giallo protagonists seem to embody, drink is a turn-off (rather than a turn-on) for women and makes him unable to function sexually. Alcohol, therefore, is here used to diminish masculinity rather than embody it.

Lou, however, is a considerably different character from Helene. Content to allow Andrea to be unfaithful to her (a courtesy which he does not extend to her in return - see the scene in which he slaps her about after suspecting that she has been seeing another man) and to dote on him (Helene refused to give him the time of day; Lou, on the other hand, took care of him when he came home too drunk to even undress himself), she is instantly portrayed as a more submissive character. What is unusual, though, is that, while the Italian gothic horror films of the 1960s generally portrayed assertive women as dangerous and a threat to (patriarchal) society and weak, submissive women as embodying the ‘proper’ characteristics of femininity (see Günsberg, 2005, Chapter 4), this film does not appear to make any judgement calls about either of the two women in Andrea’s life. Indeed, if anything, she is the most positively portrayed character in the film. (Other examples of positive portrayals of independent professional women in gialli include Vittoria Stori in What Have They Done to Your Daughters? and Gianna Brezzi in Deep Red. These are, I must confess, about the only ones I can think of.) On the contrary, we see the level of respect Andrea has for Helene when he is sober, heading round to her house to apologise for his inappropriate behaviour the previous night when he discovers that Lou has gone away for the weekend. (In a note she has left for him, Lou tells him that, if he wants to “get laid”, he is free to go ahead, but this clearly is not his intention when he pays his visit to Helene.)

Helene, a woman in control of her own life

Above: Helene, a woman in control of her own life

Is with their previous encounter, Bazzoni once again emphasises Andrea’s futile attempts to make eye contact with Helene and her refusal to look at him. It is only when he makes a disparaging remark about her lack of a sex life, telling her that “it’s bad for [her] not to make love”, that she finally grants him more than a brief glance, and only then to once again refer to his drunkenness and to tell him to get to the point of his visit. His purpose, incidentally, is to ask her for information about a case he is investigating, in effect priveleging her with information which he does not possess and even going so far as to imply that he needs her to succeed at his job (whereas she is self-sufficient). Throughout the scene in which she provides him with the information that she needs, her authority is accentuated by low angle shots in which the camera looks up at her, while the scene’s first shot shows her standing on the balcony at the top of a flight of stairs, looking down at Andrea. Throughout the scene, she moves freely around the house, pouring herself a drink and monologuing without directly looking at Andrea, until towards the end, when she sits down and faces him, maintaining a clear distance from him.

Andrea: I didn’t notice anything.
Helene: I’m not surprised. You were drunk.

Are you getting all this down, Laura Mulvey?

Above: Are you getting all this down, Laura Mulvey?

The difference between the portrayal of Helene and Lou is once again accentuated when Andrea, after believing Lou to be having an affair with another man, returns home to confront her. Whereas Helene, in the scene previously discussed, was dressed modestly in a black pullover and trousers, Lou is completely naked, lying on Andrea’s bed as she waits for him to return. Even more significantly, she is introduced via a subjective shot, the camera adopting Andrea’s point of view as he enters the bedroom. This time, it is Andrea who moves freely around, putting his groceries away while talking at Lou rather than to her. It is tempting to view Lou, who tells Andrea that she was “dying to see [him]”, as his attempt to make up for his failure with Helene. One gets the impression that Helene’s independence frustrates him, and that he entertains Lou simply for the convenience of someone who can alternately dote on and be dependent on him.

Andrea: What kind of dump do you come from? Your mother doesn’t take care of you, your father’s gathering mould in a state home for the aged, and you play tramp in one sports car after the other.”
Lou: Was it a red sports car?
Andrea: That’s right.
Lou: Well, that car just happens to belong to my brother Walter, you idiot! You know, ever since you’ve been playing detective, you just can’t get anything right. You really had me a laugh!
[Brief pause]
Andrea: You’re pathetic.

In a sense, Lou is pathetic. Immediately afterwards, she eagerly tries to please Andrea by providing him with further information for his investigation, before pleadingly asking where he is going when he head out without a word. (Later, she seems to forgive him completely, indulging in a giggling play-fight with him before having sex.) Andrea, however, the drunk who seems to take his frustration regarding his ex out on his current girlfriend, is nothing if not a hypocrite. This is not, of course, the only giallo in which a male protagonist treats his girlfriend badly, whether by treating her with contempt or physically assaulting her, but it is one of the few in which the filmmakers seem to condemn this behaviour. Often, George Hilton (or one of his counterparts) will slap a female character whom they believe to be in a state of ‘hysteria’ (the impression given that the filmmakers believe such violence to be justified in order to calm down an unhelpfully ‘hysterical’ woman); here, however, Andrea’s assault of Lou is that of a scruffy alcoholic hitting a woman in complete control of her senses on the basis of a false assumption. Andrea is not ‘punished’ as such for this; rather, it is simply yet another in a long line of cases of bad behaviour. (When she reappears once more, towards the end of the film, to tell him that she is leaving him and getting married, it’s tempting to view this as Andrea getting a taste of his own medicine.)

And it looks really nice, too

Above: And it looks really nice, too

Of course, the characterisations are far from inclusive. For all her strengths, Helene does, rather regrettably, submit to a brief passionate snog with Andrea after her turns up at her house, wanting her to comfort him after a particularly unpleasant encounter with his boss. (To her credit, however, she does call a halt to it, opting to head back indoors to take care of her son rather than allowing herself to be used by Andrea as a cheap lay to make himself feel better.) And let’s not forget that the killer’s motivation, seemingly plucked out of nowhere at the last minute, is that old reactionary staple, that of the homosexual turned down by a straight man going mad and deciding to kill a bunch of people. Still, I can see exactly what Gary Needham means when he calls this a progressive giallo which “play[s] with the conventions of detection and investigation procedures in order to explore issues of masculinity and identity”.

 
Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2008 at 5:06 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Gialli | Reviews | The Giallo Project
 

Get thee behind me, Toshiba

Technology

Well, on Tuesday, the courier came to pick up my HD-EP30 and return it to Amazon. I’m sorry, but I just don’t feel happy about the idea of paying for 1080p hardware which doesn’t correctly resolve 1080p. Luckily, the returns process was pretty straightforward - Amazon are generally good when it comes to that sort of thing - and, in any event, my brother’s bricked Xbox 360 has now been repaired and should be back aboard the HMS Whimsy before too long, so we’re not facing an indefinite future without HD DVD playback.

By the way, I’ve yet to find any conclusive information as to whether or not all the HD DVD players advertised as being “1080p Full HD” (a blatant falsification) suffer from this problem, given that I’ve yet to find a single review that actually picked up on it, but I have my suspicions. In that case, there’s something quite laughable about the fact that the best pieces of hardware for the two competing formats were both games consoles… and one of them a cheap add-on drive for an existing console, at that.

 
Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2008 at 11:30 AM
Categories: Blu-ray | HD DVD | Reviews | Technology
 

Mater Lacrimarum revisited

Mother of Tears

Today, I had the opportunity to watch the English version of Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears. This was my second viewing of the concluding part in the Three Mothers trilogy, after watching it in Italian on Christmas Day. The viewing conditions weren’t ideal (the version I saw was cropped from its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio to 1.78:1), but overall the quality was better than my Italian copy. (A Russian DVD appears to be available now, but it seems to have been the source of the cropped version I saw, so I would recommend holding out for a different release. Medusa will be releasing it in Italy on April 9th, while Optimum are supposedly putting it out in the UK on April 28th.)

In most respects, the English version improves things somewhat, although Asia Argento’s performance is still uneven, closer to Trauma than to The Stendhal Syndrome. With the benefit of the English audio, Valeria Cavalli (Marta) definitely emerges as the best actor of the group, giving a strong and believable performance (the monkey is still great, though). Adam James (who has previously appeared in Casualty and Waking the Dead) is, like Asia, uneven. In some scenes he is quite effective (his final scene is quite chilling), but in others, such as when he is going nuts after his son has disappeared, he comes across as quite weak. Oh, and I don’t really see the big deal about Udo Kier’s performance. A lot of people described it as hammy, but it didn’t strike me as problematic in any way.

On the downside, Moran Atias (Mater Lacrimarum) is awful, and I mean awful. She looks ridiculous and can’t act her way out of a paper bag. She really made me yearn for Ania Pieroni. Her bald, male lackey is also hamstrung by some really atrocious dubbing, and the gothic witches continue to make me cringe. Actually, if anything, they came across as worse rather than better on a second viewing. I knew they were coming this time, but it didn’t make the experience any less painful. Really, Dario, what were you thinking?

On a related note, watching the film again revealed all sorts of squandered opportunities to throw in some of the bravura colours and lighting from the first two instalments. I can only imagine how much more magical moments like Sarah lighting the fire in Michael’s apartment and Marta summoning the spirits would have been had Argento used them as an excuse to unleash some Technicolor brilliance. And what happened to the idea of Mater Lacrimarum’s jewel-studded robe casting primary colours on the faces of her grovelling followers? All we get now is a red T-shirt with glitter writing on it.

My original rating of 7/10 still stands. It’s not a bad little film, but, as a conclusion to what was started in Suspiria and Inferno, it’s a let-down. I never expected it to be on the same level as them, so I can’t claim to be disappointed, but it remains a middle of the road entry in Argento’s filmography - better than Trauma and The Phantom of the Opera but weaker than all his other theatrical ventures (it’s better than his three recent TV projects, though, especially those embarrassing Masters of Horror episodes).

 
Posted: Sunday, February 24, 2008 at 11:01 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | TV | Waking the Dead
 

Lola redux

Blu-ray

This is a follow-up to my previous post on the Blu-ray release of Run Lola Run, Dear Universal, this is what a catalogue release SHOULD look like.

In the comments section to that post, I was contacted by a regular reader who called into question the Blu-ray transfer and its authenticity as regards Tom Tykwer’s intentions, due to comments made by his friend, a hardcore fan of the film, who reacted in horror, upon seeing my screen captures:

At first glance, I always thought the colours looked messed up on those pics (based on my memory of the film). Lola looked green/yellow-ish on lola4.jpg, and Manni looked purple on lola7.jpg. I compared them to the DVD. And I can now say the colours are totally messed up on the BD. There is also framing issues. As the BD looks cropped on the left/right sides. I’ve seen this movie probably well over a hundred times, and based on these pics, the BD presentations is WAY to much on the green side. I’ve attached pics that showcase all these problems.

Link
Link
Link

My regular reader also sent me a few more of his friend’s thoughts on the transfer (among other issues) via email, and, with his permission, I thought it would be worthwhile to post some of the material that pertains specifically to the matter at hand.

Regarding his familiarity with the film (lest he be accused of basing his opinion on how it should look solely on the previous DVD release):

Well, I’ve seen the film theatrically, but it wasn’t the best presentation. As it was one of those tiny garbage arthouse theatres, with a screen smaller than todays Plasmas and no better than stereo sound.

But I never remember the film looking that green. And, 10 years ago, I had near photographic memory.

The reason I’m taking the time to post all this is to provide an alternate viewpoint on the issue of the film’s transfer. I don’t feel qualified to make a case for the transfer being right or wrong - clearly, my reader’s friend has a familiarity with the film which I do not possess (I consider it a favourite of mine, but at the same time I must point out that I have only seen two versions of it: the Region 2 UK DVD and the Blu-ray release), and on that basis alone (not to mention his obvious technical knowledge, when discussing such issues as VC-1 compression and digital intermediates in his email), I am inclined to trust his viewpoint.

But it’s not my place to say whether the Run Lola Run Blu-ray release looks “correct” or not. I suspect that, as is always going to be the case with a medium like film, especially when we are in the realm of lab printing, which does not provide the accuracy of digital colour timing (where you can create a single master with a locked down colour palette), every source is going to look somewhat different from the others, meaning that it is virtually impossible to identify a single correct look. Looking at the comparison shots linked to above, it should be clear to all that there are obvious differences between the DVD and Blu-ray releases in terms of colour palette, but that’s the one thing I can say for sure.

What I can’t say with any degree of certainty is whether one is more accurate than the other. Yes, you could argue that the Blu-ray release looks a bit too yellow in terms of flesh tones, but someone else might just as easily turn round and say that the DVD looked a bit too magenta. In any event, I’m always somewhat wary of using flesh tones as an indicator of the accuracy of a transfer’s colour palette. Lighting conditions, film stock and all manner of other variables can all affect the look, and that’s before you get into the issue of artistic intent. Who’s to say Tykwer was going for natural flesh tones anyway? One can hardly consider this to be a film with a naturalistic style.

As is always the case with issues like this, the one person who can truly clear up the issue is Tom Tykwer. Did he supervise the original DVD or the Blu-ray release? Did he supervise both or neither? How does he feel about the new look? I don’t know, and, therefore, the only advice I can really give on this matter is to use your own judgement based on the evidence at your disposal. The bottom line is that I’m very happy with the look of the Blu-ray release, although I readily admit that it could be the wrong look. Caveat emptor, and all that.

 
Posted: Sunday, February 24, 2008 at 8:44 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology
 

HD DVD review: The Bourne Ultimatum

HD DVD
Jason Bourne’s third and no doubt final outing on the HD DVD format is a resounding success in terms of audio-visual quality. While the bonus materials are a bit of a mixed bag, it’s the presentation of the film itself that matters, and in that regard, this release is among the best available on either format.

Courtesy of DVD Pacific, I’ve reviewed the HD DVD release of The Bourne Ultimatum. How does the third and supposedly final instalment in the spy franchise stack up in high definition?

 
Posted: Sunday, February 24, 2008 at 2:41 PM
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Reviews
 

Putting the “tosh” in Toshiba

Toshiba HD-EP30

Well, I got home today from work (and from visiting my granny, who is seriously ill) to find that my Toshiba HD-EP30 had arrived from Amazon.co.uk. After extracting the two free HD DVDs (300 and The Bourne Supremacy), I hooked the thing up and decided to give it a whirl.

Physically speaking at any rate, it’s an improvement on my first HD DVD player, the venerable HD-A1. It’s about half the height, and weighs significantly less. Also, from a standpoint of pure convenience, because this is a European model, it doesn’t require a step-down transformer. (Good old HD DVD and its lack of region coding!) That’s about where the differences end, though, as the Windows CE-based interface is virtually identical, and it takes almost as long as its predecessor to power up and load discs. The Xbox 360 add-on, in comparison, was positively sprightly.

Of far greater concern than the speed, however, is the issue of image quality. When I switched the machine on, my first port of call was the picture menu to change the output mode from 1080i to 1080p. As soon as I popped in my first disc (The Bourne Ultimatum, which I hope to finally get reviewed by the beginning of next week), I knew something was up. The Bourne Ultimatum is one of the best-looking discs released on either format - an extremely detailed encode with no sign of artificial sharpening or detail reduction, and yet, on the HD-EP30, there was ringing in abundance, and a distinct lack of fine detail. A couple more high quality HD DVDs later, and I ruled out any possibility of the discs themselves being at fault.

Lyris suggested that the problem might be the 1080p output. Rather predictably, he was right: setting the output to 1080i immediately resolved the ringing problem and returned the detail to its rightful place. All well and good - but I paid for a device with 1080p output, and 1080p24 output at that. Why should I have to limit myself to 1080i60 just because Microsoft and Toshiba couldn’t get their acts together? Lyris’ projector correctly resolves 1080i film mode, but it means we’re still stuck with 60 Hz output rather than pure 24p, resulting in the infamous 3:2 pull-down judder that many viewers raised on a lifetime of PAL material find extremely difficult to ignore when watching NTSC content.

So, what do I do now? Do I attempt to return the player and attempt to explain to Amazon that I don’t want it because its 1080p output introduces ringing? (Somehow, I don’t think there’s an option that quite fits that description on their returns form.) Is there even any point? For all I know, all Toshiba’s standalone players could exhibit this problem. I’ve spent the last half-hour on Google and have yet to come across a single review or report that mentions the bug, so I have no realistic way of knowing whether I’d be any better off with one of the other 1080p-capable models.

Urgh! This just makes me respect Sony’s Playstation 3 all the more.

Update, February 25th, 2007 09:01 PM: I updated the firmware to version 2.0 at the recommendation of others. Alas, the image quality is still as rotten as ever. See photographic evidence of the disgrace at Lyris Lite.

 
Posted: Saturday, February 23, 2008 at 9:12 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Reviews | Technology | Web
 

Academia dissected

Web

Earlier this month, I wrote an off the cuff post expressing my frustration with what I perceived to be academia’s obsession with penis symbols. I wrote that after trawling through a particularly turgid chapter on the Italian horror film written by Maggie Günsberg, who seemed intent on collapsing the entire movement into a series of phallic and vaginal icons. Now, of course, I don’t think that this obsession with male members extends to every corner of academia, and, as a part-time academic myself, it would be a little hypocritical if I tarred everyone with the same brush.

With that proviso out of the way, I want to take the time to point out an utterly hilarious parody of a psychoanalytic academic essay that I came across today. The subject matter is 2 Girls 1 Cup, a video circulated all over the World Wide Web that has gained some level of notoriety since it first appeared around last October. If you’re not aware of it or its content, then I suggest you read the Wikipedia entry on it rather than actually seek out the video itself, but, if you’re feeling lazy, the premise is this: two women take turns vomiting and shitting into a cup, then perform various acts which involve the aforementioned waste being transferred from the cup (and each other’s various orifices) into their mouths. Delightful. Yes, I’ve seen it, and no, I haven’t been the same since.

Anyway, read the essay. It is, quite possibly, a work of demented genius. I just wish I could read the last three paragraphs, which you can just make out on the opposite side of the paper.

Update, February 21st, 2007 09:42 PM: You can read the entire essay here (thanks, Lyris).

 
Posted: Thursday, February 21, 2008 at 6:07 PM | Comments: 12 (view)
Categories: Cinema | PhD | Web
 

The final curtain

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

Source: High-Def Digest

The last domino of the format war has fallen: Paramount has officially announced it will align with Blu-ray and begin releasing titles on the format.

“We are pleased that the industry is moving to a single high-definition format, as we believe it is in the best interest of the consumer,” the studio said via a statement issued Wednesday to The Hollywood Reporter.

“As we look to (begin) releasing our titles on Blu-ray, we will monitor consumer adoption and determine our release plans accordingly.”

The studio did not issue any further details regarding a timeframe for the transition, nor any specific title announcements.

That’s a wrap, folks. No more speculating as to which format to buy a title on. To paraphrase the American Pledge of Allegiance (or rather the 1954 revision of it), “One Format Under Sony”.

 
Posted: Thursday, February 21, 2008 at 11:36 AM
Categories: Blu-ray | HD DVD | Technology
 

Dear Universal, this is what a catalogue release SHOULD look like

Blu-ray

With Universal on the way to Blu-ray, they will soon find themselves up against Sony Pictures, whose transfers for catalogue titles, while not always perfect, are generally of a much higher standard than the ones being put out by the other majors - particularly Universal, who are often guilty of the worst Crimes Against Film.

Today, I received the UK Blu-ray release of one of my favourite films, Run Lola Run, and I’m pleased to report that it looks better than I could ever have hoped. Is it perfect? No, it’s not, and, unsurprisingly, it doesn’t have the detail that you would get from a DI-sourced transfer, but it does look really, really good, and puts Universal’s HD DVD release of American Gangster, which I also received today, a film that is nearly a decade younger, to shame. That’s just plain wrong.

Run Lola Run
(Sony Pictures, UK, AVC, 23.3 GB)

Run Lola Run Run Lola Run Run Lola Run Run Lola Run Run Lola Run Run Lola Run Run Lola Run Run Lola Run Run Lola Run

 
Posted: Tuesday, February 19, 2008 at 9:41 PM | Comments: 10 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

In memoriam: HD DVD

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

Well, it’s been a fun year and a half, and I hope you’ll join me in remembering HD DVD’s brief but promising life. I picked up a scant few discs - 68 - in comparison with some people, but it’s a nice little collection, with some truly great titles in it, and here they are:

2006

#1: Million Dollar Baby (Warner, USA)
#2: Constantine (Warner, USA)
#3: The Bourne Supremacy (Universal, USA)
#4: Sleepy Hollow (Paramount, USA)
#5: Unleashed (Universal, USA)
#6: Red Dragon (Universal, USA)
#7: Land of the Dead (Universal, USA)
#8: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Universal, USA)
#9: The Machinist (Toshiba, Japan)
#10: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Warner, USA)
#11: Corpse Bride (Warner, USA)
#12: V for Vendetta (Warner, USA)
#13: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Warner, UK)
#14: Serenity (Universal, UK)
#15: An American Werewolf in London (Universal, USA)
#16: Wolf Creek (The Weinstein Company, USA)
#17: Miami Vice (Universal, USA)
#18: Casablanca (Warner, USA)
#19: Basic Instinct (Studio Canal, France)
#20: The Adventures of Robin Hood (Warner, USA)
#21: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Warner, UK)

2007

#22: Brokeback Mountain (Universal, USA)
#23: Babel (Paramount, USA)
#24: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Constantin Film, Germany)
#25: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (Paramount, USA)
#26: Children of Men (Universal, USA)
#27: A Scanner Darkly (Warner, USA)
#28: The Game (Universal, USA)
#29: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Universal, USA)
#30: HDScape: Antarctica Dreaming (DVD International, USA)
#31: HDScape: Visions of the Sea (DVD International, USA)
#32: The Fountain (Warner, USA)
#33: The Ultimate Matrix Collection (Warner, USA)
#34: Lost in Translation (Universal, USA)
#35: The Skeleton Key (Universal, USA)
#36: Mulholland Drive (Studio Canal, France)
#37: Brotherhood of the Wolf (Studio Canal, France)
#38: Dawn of the Dead (2004) (Universal, USA)
#39: Black Snake Moan (Paramount, USA)
#40: La Haine (Optimum, UK)
#41: Syriana (Warner, UK)
#42: Being John Malkovich (Universal, USA)
#43: Blood Diamond (Warner, USA)
#44: The Bourne Identity (Universal, USA)
#45: Mr. Bean’s Holiday (Universal, UK)
#46: Silent Hill (Concorde, Germany)
#47: Underworld (Concorde, Germany)
#48: 300 (Warner, USA)
#49: Mission Impossible III (Paramount, USA)
#50: Seed of Chucky (Universal, USA)
#51: 2001: A Space Odyssey (Warner, USA)
#52: Les Triplettes de Belleville (France Télévisions Éditions, France)
#53: A Clockwork Orange (Warner, USA)
#54: Eyes Wide Shut (Warner, USA)
#55: The Shining (Warner, USA)
#56: Full Metal Jacket (remastered) (Warner, USA)
#57: Pan’s Labyrinth (Optimum, UK)
#58: Wolf Creek (Optimum, UK)
#59: Inside Man (Universal, USA)
#60: Blade Runner: Ultimate Collector’s Edition (Warner, USA)
#61: The Bourne Ultimatum (Universal, USA)
#62: Running Scared (EMS, Germany)
#63: Tideland (Concorde, Germany)

2008

#64: Cat People (1982) (Universal, USA)
#65: Eastern Promises (Universal, USA)
#66: Pan’s Labyrinth (New Line, USA)
#67: Astérix et les Vikings (M6 Vidéo, France)
#68: American Gangster (Universal, USA)

As they say, it’s been a good life.

 
Posted: Tuesday, February 19, 2008 at 7:18 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

Bandits and bricked hardware

HD DVD

Given today’s major news, this seems almost irrelevant to mention, but what it likely to be last ever HD DVD purchase came slinking into the house today in the guise of Ridley Scott’s American Gangster. Somewhat fitting, given the format’s sorry end, it turned out to be a less than stellar release from Universal (gee, now there’s a surprise). I’ve said before that, when they release a title sourced from a digital intermediate (DI), they generally manage to deliver a flawless or at least very good image. When it comes to film-sourced material, though, the results are rarely so positive, and American Gangster, despite being a recent title, is one of these. Evidence of noise reduction and a general lack of fine detail conspire to make this a deeply underwhelming presentation.

Pictured, an Xbox 360 giving up the ghost.

Above: Pictured, an Xbox 360 giving up the ghost.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t investigate the disc any further because, this afternoon, my brother’s Xbox 360, presumably in mourning over the demise of HD DVD, popped its clogs. Given that it will have to be returned to the US to be either repaired or replaced, it’s going to be out of action for some time, so this evening I decided to order a stand-alone HD DVD player, a Toshiba HD-EP30.

I know, I know, I’m probably the only person in the world who’d buy a player the very day the format was officially pronounced dead, but I have my reasons. For one thing, we’ve been yearning for an HD DVD player that could do 24p output for some time (the Xbox 360 is limited to 60 Hz playback). For another, today’s incident hammered home just how accident-prone the console is, and, with that in mind, I’d rather have a stand-alone device on which to play my existing HD DVD collection rather than having to rely on there being a fully functioning Xbox 360 to connect to my HD DVD add-on drive. And finally, it was a mere £77.99 from Amazon.co.uk (with two free titles thrown in for good measure). While I have no doubt that the price will drop even lower in the coming weeks, the fact remains that I have a copy of The Bourne Ultimatum sitting on my shelf that I really need to review for DVD Times. And I’m impulsive.

 
Posted: Tuesday, February 19, 2008 at 6:39 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

Universal, you tramp!

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

Source: High-Def Digest

Universal Studios Home Entertainment has officially announced that it will release its titles on Blu-ray.

Though details of the studio’s transition away from HD DVD were still sketchy at press time, Universal Studios Home Entertainment President Craig Kornblau officially confirmed the move in a just issued statement:

“The path for widespread adoption of the next-generation platform has finally become clear. Universal will continue its aggressive efforts to broaden awareness for hi-def’s unparalleled offerings in interactivity and connectivity, at an increasingly affordable price. The emergence of a single, high-definition format is cause for consumers, as well as the entire entertainment industry, to celebrate. While Universal values the close partnership we have shared with Toshiba, it is time to turn our focus to releasing new and catalog titles on Blu-ray.”

Wow - they sure moved fast, didn’t they? HD DVD isn’t even twenty-four hours in the stone cold earth and they’re already hopping into bed with their former partner’s bitterest rival. The big question, I suppose, is whether they’ll continue to release titles on HD DVD for a short period, like Warner, or simply scrap any plans to release anything more on what is now officially a dead format.

 
Posted: Tuesday, February 19, 2008 at 6:33 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | HD DVD | Technology
 

So, did anyone hear today’s big news?

Diarrhoea-like!

It was fun while it lasted.

HD DVD
R.I.P.
March 31st 2006 - February 16th 2008

 
Posted: Tuesday, February 19, 2008 at 3:52 PM | Comments: 10 (view)
Categories: HD DVD | Technology
 

Not quite giving up the ghost

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

Source: High-Def Digest

Toshiba is denying weekend press reports that it has decided to drop its HD DVD support, saying that the company is “currently assessing its business strategies,” but that no final decisions have been made.

In an official statement issued this morning, Toshiba said, “The media [has] reported that Toshiba will discontinue its HD DVD business. Toshiba has not made any announcement concerning this. Although Toshiba is currently assessing its business strategies, no decision has been made at this moment.”

At this stage, I strongly doubt that there’s any saving HD DVD. This is simply a case of prolonging the agony, and I personally believe that it would be for the good of all concerned if Toshiba simply threw in the towel and released Universal and Paramount from whatever contracts are still binding them to the format. Still, things don’t look quite as clear-cut as they did the other day.

 
Posted: Monday, February 18, 2008 at 8:55 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: HD DVD | Technology
 

Day After Day

Almost Blue

There’s something of a sense of predictability to Day After Day, a giallo novel by Carlo Lucarelli, better known to some as the co-writer of Dario Argento’s Sleepless. As the second book to focus on the character of Inspector Grazia Negro, the first being Almost Blue (itself turned into a film by Alex Infascelli), it continually evokes its predecessor in terms of plot points and overall style. Once again, the scenario is that of a serial killer who proves to be a master of disguise, and once again, the key to catching him seems to lie in the lap of a socially maladjusted young man with an affinity with technology, who stumbles upon the killer by pure chance.

Like Almost Blue, the novel is a brisk and pacey affair, and once again I suspect that the translation, by Oonagh Stransky, has a lot to do with its effectiveness, given the rhythmic quality of the language. Lucarelli has quite a flair for getting inside the heads of his characters, particularly the villains, describing what they see and what they are thinking in such a way as to make the mundane seem interesting. In the case of the killer, Vittorio (that’s not a spoiler - his identity is revealed to us from the outset), we get to see what goes through his head as he observes the public, storing nuggets of information about their appearances and mannerisms that may or may not be useful in the future for one of his disguises. It’s all quite fascinating and well observed.

Something else that I like about Lucarelli’s writing is his ability to use description to give the impression that the reader is watching a film. There is a scene in which Grazia is in her office, listening to a tape recording of the interrogation of a suspect. The dialogue between the suspect and the investigating officer is intercut with descriptions of the office and the various items inside it - post-its on the notice board, photographs and so on - gradually unveiled in such a way as to suggest that a camera is snaking its way around the room, moving from one object to the next. I’d be very interested to see this adapted as a film, although I do wonder to what extent the characters’ inner thoughts, so important to the novel, would have to be jettisoned along the way.

The stand-out scene, meanwhile, is one in which the aforementioned social outcast, Alex, flees injured through a busy street in broad daylight as Vittorio, having killed all of his work colleagues, calmly follows him. It reminded me of the scene in Tenebre in which Bullmer is murdered on a sun-drenched plaza in full view of several people: this idea that that something terrible can be happening in a public place, and no-one notices. As if to hammer home the similarity, Alex later describes the experience as reminding him of when he watched Profondo Rosso on television.

It is, however, largely business as usual. The plot is such a retread of Almost Blue that there’s really nothing new to be gleaned. The book’s strengths lie largely in the telling rather than the story itself, and, while I would certainly read any future instalments in this series (the book’s open-ended nature suggests that there will be a sequel somewhere down the line), I would hope that Lucarelli would be able to come up with something less of a retread.

 
Posted: Monday, February 18, 2008 at 10:03 AM
Categories: Books | Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | Reviews
 
 

 
 
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