March 2008

 
 

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DVDs I bought or received in the month of March

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD
  • Across the Universe (R0 USA, Blu-ray)
  • Atonement (R0 UK, HD DVD)
  • Danny the Dog (R0 Japan, Blu-ray)
  • Hidden (R2 UK, DVD)
  • Lewis: Series One (R2 UK, DVD)
  • The New York Ripper: Special Restored Edition (R2 Denmark, DVD)
  • Sugar Rush: Series One & Two (R2 UK, DVD)
  • Tragic Ceremony (R1 USA, DVD)
     
 
Posted: Monday, March 31, 2008 at 11:59 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Gialli | HD DVD | TV
 

Boy were my pants brown

Technology

I’ve just had an extremely narrow escape. As many of you probably know, I use Mozilla Thunderbird as my email application of choice. Yes, I’m well aware of the downsides of using POP3 email as opposed to something web-based, but I do so mainly for the convenience (I’ve used my @ntlworld.com address for years and have never got round to fully migrating to something like Gmail) and also because of the various advanced functions it offers. Well, this evening I discovered just how wrong things can go when cursed with the combination of Thunderbird and a finger that happens to land in the wrong location at the wrong time.

Picture the scene. I’m happily tapping away at my keyboard, replying to a message on some forum or other. The “new email” notification icon pops up the System Tray. “Oh, how nice,” I think. “Someone is speaking to me. Either that or they’re offering me viagra or trying to get me to send money to Nigeria.” I alt-tab to Thunderbird. Sure enough, it’s junk mail. “Not to worry,” I think, “I’ll just press Shift+Delete to remove it permanently. All well and good, only somehow (please don’t ask me how), I managed to accidentally select the entire contents of my Inbox beforehand. The Shift+Delete command, as you can probably guess deletes selected items without first sending them to the Trash folder. In other words, it removes them for good.

Only not quite. After a good half hour of panic and frantic rushing around the web, hoping against hope that there would be some way of reversing this seemingly irreversible process, I came upon an article at JiveBay which revealed to me that not only is no Thunderbird deletion actually permanent, it is also actually fairly straightforward to restore every single email I’ve ever deleted, since the beginning of time. (Seriously, my most sincere thanks to the author of this post. I owe him/her a glass of Pepsi Max.)

Crisis averted. Problem number two… well, you remember when I said “since the beginning of time”, don’t you? Would you care to guess how many emails you’ve received in the last five years? For me personally, it’s into the millions, what with all the forum reply notifications, advertisements for penis enlargement, comment notifications for Whiggles.com, and a disturbingly large amount of mass mailshots from the University of Glasgow that come my way. Most of these get deleted without a second thought. Well, they’ve all just been undeleted, and my Inbox now looks like the centre of London during rush hour. I have an impressive 21,790 reply notifications from Dark Discussion alone, before I even get on to spam and everything else that’s going to have to be deleted.

Needless to say, I’m extremely relieved to have managed to salvage all my mail (my previous backup was nearly a year old… note to self: backup more often), but I’m now looking forward to many a gruelling hour of hitting “Delete”. This time without the Shift key.

 
Posted: Monday, March 31, 2008 at 10:09 PM
Categories: Technology | Web
 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8, Episode 12: Wolves at the Gate, Part One

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8

Written by Drew Goddard; Illustrated by Georges Jeanty

Note: Several of my thoughts on this issue were previously worked out in an email exchange with my good friend Baron Scarpia.

Wow.

I take it most people know the phrase “jumping the shark”. In case you don’t, Wikipedia describes it as

a colloquialism used by U.S. TV critics and fans to denote the point at which the characters or plot of a TV series veer into a ridiculous, out-of-the-ordinary storyline. Such a show is typically deemed to have passed its peak. Once a show has “jumped the shark” fans sense a noticeable decline in quality or feel the show has undergone too many changes to retain its original charm.

Now that we know what it means to jump the shark, my question is can a series jump the shark more than once? Or do you have to jump over some other form of sealife? A Blue Whale, perhaps? By my reckoning, Buffy the Vampire Slayer jumped the shark at some point during Season 6, either with the episode Wrecked or Hell’s Bells. (Others might argue for the final scene of Seeing Red, but as far as I’m concerned it was past the point of no return before that episode anyway.) Still, I now find myself in the unfortunate position of having experienced an event that makes all Buffy’s past transgressions seem minor in comparison. This is worse than magic!crack Willow, worse than the comedy rape of Spike, worse than Buffy juggling, worse than the murder of Tara, even worse than the yellow crayon speech. And no, I’m not referring to the sight of Xander flying around in a helicopter that looks like a fish-bowl.

Buffy just screwed another woman.

I specifically chose to say “screwed” rather than “had sex with”, “slept with”,* “got jiggy with” or any number of other hilarious euphemisms, and the reason for this should become clear in due course. First of all, a little back-story. To briefly set the stage, one of the junior Slayers in Buffy’s squad is a young woman called Satsu, who is fairly blatantly in love with Buffy. I’m not just talking about a crush here - I’m talking full-on true lurve. The reason we know this is that, in an early issue, Amy cast a spell on Buffy which sent her to sleep, and, in typical Buffyland fashion, it had an escape clause built in: she would wake up if someone truly in love with her kissed her. Well, that someone turned out to be Satsu (although this was so unclear in the actual comic book panels that it had to be revealed in retrospect in a “Letters to the Editor” section after several readers wrote in asking who had awakened Buffy). In the most recent issue, Episode 11, Buffy had a long chat with her in which she explained that, while she was flattered, that wasn’t her thing. Fair enough. Cue Episode 12, and what does Buffy do?

She has sex with Satsu. For real.

This is horrible on so many levels it isn’t funny. There are a few ways you can attempt to spin this plot development, and none of them do the character of Buffy or Joss Whedon and his merry band of writers any favours. But here goes:

Theory 1. After being fed seven years’ worth of evidence to the contrary, we are now being told that Buffy is in fact attracted to women. It worked for Willow, after all.

Theory 2. Buffy has learnt nothing from the abominable manner in which she treated Spike in Season 6, and is proceeding to do much the same to another person, using them for a quick lay despite the fact that they want more out of it than a quick orgasm. Now do you see why I used the word “screwed”?

Theory 3. 2 grls 2gether = teh s3xy = $$$.

Yep, sorry, guys - I think Theory 3, probably with a bit of Theory 2 thrown in for good measure, is the most likely. The publisher suggested that retailers order more copies than normal for this issue. You do the math(s).

(Incidentally, I once read a very funny piece of intentionally absurd fan fiction which culminated in, for want of a better description, a gang bang involving a good 95% of the female characters in Buffyland. It’s some measure of how low this series has descended that, if Joss Whedon served this scene up as it exists in Issue 13, I wouldn’t even do a double take.)

So, we now find ourselves in a situation where the heroine of the tale is, in all likelihood, so callous and heartless that she is willing to toy with a friend/underling’s emotions in a manner that is utterly reprehensible and makes it difficult, if not impossible, to continue to root for her. Okay, so Seasons 6 and 7 did a pretty solid job of stripping Buffy of every ounce of humanity, but until now I still held on to a rather slim hope that she might have learned from her mistakes and realised that it’s not good to treat your friends as commodities that are devoid of feelings of their own, and can be picked up and used to scratch an itch, then immediately dumped. I really shouldn’t be surprised, though - it’s not as if there have ever been proper consequences for bad behaviour in Buffy, regardless of the writers’ endless pontificating to the contrary.

Perhaps I’m taking this all a bit too seriously? After all, it’s only entertainment, and at least on some level this episode was clearly written with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek (and yes, a lot of it is genuinely funny, considerably more so than any previous issue). Maybe I should lighten up and just see this as a bit of a laugh, a bit of outrageous fan fiction that really isn’t any better or worse than 99% of the other fan-written jaunts you can find for free on the web. Only it’s not fan fiction, and it’s not free. It’s also rather depressing to watch characters who I have developed some degree of affection for over the years being used for such cheap ploys. I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that these comics aren’t worth my time or money, and that I would be better served by cancelling my subscription and devoting the cash I save to something that actually gives me some degree of enjoyment.

Oh, and incidentally, what happened to the searing animosity between Willow and Buffy? The only thing worse than creating insincere conflict is creating insincere conflict and then not following up on it. (Hmm, sounds like Season 7 described in a nutshell.)

* Pointless aside: did I ever mention how much the euphemism “slept with” makes me roll my eyes? I’d imagine sleeping is that last thing either party will be doing. Which reminds me of a great exchange in the Season 5 episode Intervention:

Willow: Um… Buffy, this thing with Spike, i-i-it isn’t true, is it? You didn’t, you know, sleep with Spike?
Buffybot: No. I had sex with Spike.

Ah, happier times.

 
Posted: Saturday, March 29, 2008 at 8:30 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Books | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Reviews | TV
 

It pays to be safe

Technology

Since picking up my USB Freeview stick just over a year ago, I’ve amassed a good 150 hours or more of television programmes. Most of this consists of programmes of which I am a regular viewer, such as Casualty, Holby City and Trial & Retribution, but also the odd one-off like Five Go Mad in Dorset. The downside to this rigorous (anal) cataloguing of my TV viewing is the amount of disc space required - broadly speaking, around 1.5 GB per hour of material.

Until recently, I’ve generally been relying on recordable media to store it all, as it became clear fairly quickly that I couldn’t store everything on my PC’s hard drive in perpetuity. Last week, however, I came to the conclusion that a far more economical (in terms of both money and space) solution would be to buy a dedicated external hard drive. So, over to Maplin Electronics I went to pick up what gave me the best trade-off between cost, disc space and brand name - a Western Digital Elements 400 GB drive. (I used to be a Maxtor customer, but I no longer buy from them after my brother’s experiences.)

You mean you don't give your disk drives names?

Above: You mean you don’t give your disk drives names?

The drive arrived yesterday, and I now wish I’d done this sooner instead of relying on something as volatile as cheap DVD-R media. While I was able to salvage most of my recordings, several discs ended up putting quite a strain on my DVD drive, which struggled to read data closer to the outer edges (luckily, mine isn’t the only DVD drive in the house, and, as I’ve tended to find, where one fails another may succeed), one was suffering from a fairly advanced stage of disc rot, meaning that the final hour or so of material was completely unreadable, while another was a complete write-off thanks to the dye from the top appearing to have actually seeped through on to the readable area.

So please, take it from me: if you routinely back your data up, I wouldn’t recommend relying on bulk-bought DVD-Rs. And I certainly recommend keeping regular backups. While I can’t say I’ve ever experienced any major disasters regarding my data (the only time a hard drive ever failed on me, I was given plenty of prior warning and had time to salvage my data several weeks before it went completely belly-up), you can never be too careful.

Personally, I’d prefer to just keep buying external hard drives. Once I’ve filled this one up, I’ll move on to another. To store the same amount of data on DVDs probably wouldn’t cost much less, would occupy considerably more physical space and wouldn’t be half as safe.

 
Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2008 at 9:55 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: DVD | TV | Technology
 

How Blu are you?

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

Concluding my Blu-ray Trilogy of Terror™ for today, I thought I’d take a look at upcoming releases that have been announced for the format and put together a list of titles I intend to pick up:

Out now:
- Enchanted (Buena Vista)

March 25th, 2008
- Bonnie and Clyde (Warner) (ORDERED)

April 8th, 2008
- The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (Sony Pictures)

April 14th, 2008
- A Tale of Two Sisters (Tartan)

April 15th, 2008
- Juno (Fox) (REVIEW COPY REQUESTED)

April 22nd, 2008
- The Orphanage (New Line)

April 29th, 2008
- The Golden Compass (New Line)

May 26th, 2008
- Lady Vengeance (Tartan)

July 1st, 2008
- Gangs of New York (Buena Vista)

October 7th, 2008
- Sleeping Beauty (Buena Vista)

 
Posted: Tuesday, March 25, 2008 at 10:26 PM | Comments: 9 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema
 

Gangs of Blu York

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

Source: High-Def Digest

For some reason, I seem to have been waiting for a high definition release of Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York for longer than virtually every other title. Back in 2006, it was erroneously listed for a release in the UK on HD DVD at Play.com… until, that is, it was discovered that UK distribution Entertainment In Video weren’t actually going to be supporting HD DVD at all. A Blu-ray release eventually showed up after several delays, and looked like crap. In any event, it was coded for Region B only, which made it a no sale for me. Congratulations, EIV! A double strike!

However, Buena Vista have now announced their plan to bring it out on Blu-ray in the US on July 1st. No disc specifications have been revealed yet, but I do have slightly more faith in Buena Vista than in EIV, so here’s hoping this film will actually get its first passable-looking home video release.

 
Posted: Tuesday, March 25, 2008 at 9:50 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

Blu-ray goes Live!

Technology

Source: High-Def Digest

The Playstation 3 has just become the first Blu-ray player to support Profile 2.0 (also known as BD-Live) via its free v2.20 firmware update. In addition to promising a raft of new thrilling interactive features like ring-tones and shared playlists (which were boring HD DVD owners around the world over a year ago), the 2.20 patch also adds some features that might actually be of use to the average viewer:

- BD-Live (Profile v2.0) Upgrade
- “Resume play” will enable PS3 system to start playing a Blu-ray disc and DVD at the point it was stopped, even if the disc had been removed (BD-J format not supported)
- “Audio Output Device” will be a new Remote Play setting, enabling PSP to serve as a remote control for music played through PS3
- PS3 system’s Internet browser will be enhanced: Video files directly linked from a Web page will be able to be streamed, and the browser’s view speed will be improved
- DivX and WMV format videos larger than 2GB will be playable
- “Mosquito Noise Reduction” will be added as an AV setting in the control panel of the DVD/BD player for improved movie playback (BDMV format not supported)
 
 
Posted: Tuesday, March 25, 2008 at 9:44 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | HD DVD | Technology
 

And thus the cycle of grief continues

Film

Baron Scarpia has reviewed Norbit. As you may remember, this was part of a wager into which we entered: he would watch and review Norbit, but only on the condition that I watch and review Freddy Got Fingered.

As the good Baron himself acknowledges, I probably got the worse end of the deal, but only just. Read his review to see what he thinks of this fascinating indictment of the fact that Eddie Murphy is for some inexplicable reason still allowed to make films.

 
Posted: Sunday, March 23, 2008 at 4:16 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Reviews | Web
 

Are we completely without morals?

DVD

Source: Mobius Home Video Forum

The British Board of Film Censors has just recanted on yet another of their blasphemies, this time giving an 18 rating to the uncut version of Piero Schivazappa’s The Frightened Woman (reviewed here as part of my Giallo Project, even though it’s technically not a giallo). This film was previously classified in 1998, when it was subjected to 16 seconds of unspecified vandalism. The new release runs for 86 minutes and 3 seconds (PAL), and, according to the information issued by distributor Shameless Screen Entertainment, is approved by Schivazappa himself:

Rebuilding The Frightened Woman has been a labour of love but thanks to the work of genre expert Marc Morris the Shameless version of The Frightened Woman runs at 86m 03secs compared to the 83m 25 secs run time supplied by the licensor.

What became clear as Shameless compared all the known versions of The Frightened Woman was that various moments had been lost at different points in all of them. Some were merely shaved seconds; others changed the nuance of a scene or missed out important footage. These have been more than enough to prompt fans on the web to start cataloguing the differences with a prime example being this thread on the respected DVD Maniacs forum:

https://www.dvdmaniacs.net/forums/showthrea…rightened+woman

In order to create this new Shameless version they have used a wide variety of source materials that widely vary in quality but they believe that the end result shows off the film in the complete form it has long deserved to be celebrated in including the correct colour palette.

Shameless have kept director Piero Schivazappa informed throughout the process and asked him to watch through it for them and see if he could give it his seal of approval. He kindly sat through it, with script in hand and felt that, “it is as faithful as it can be to the original script”, and was very happy to see the film brought back to life in this Shameless version declaring, “This IS the version of my film to watch.”

Shameless Screen Entertainment will release The Frightened Woman on DVD at £12.99 on 14th April, 2008. The Shameless director approved cut will run at 86m 03secs and is being released uncut by the BBFC for the first time in the UK. Presentation of the film is in restored 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen with a restored 2.0 mono soundtrack. The DVD includes an original theatrical trailer.

I shall definitely be picking up a copy. I’m just glad I held out and can now replace my grimy VHS-sourced dupe.

Happy Chocolate Egg Day, by the way.

 
Posted: Sunday, March 23, 2008 at 4:06 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Gialli | Web
 

I’ve got the (Holby) blues

The BBC1 police drama series Holby Blue started its second series on Thursday night (the first of twelve episodes). I discussed this distant relation of Casualty and its spin-off, Holby City, just under a year ago when the first series began airing, but for some reason forgot to give my appraisal of it once the series had finished. Therefore, for the sake of clarity, I’ll briefly sum up my feelings here: essentially, it was enjoyable but highly variable, falling uncomfortably between a drama and a soap opera in much the same manner as its parent shows. Its biggest problem, I suspect, is that the use of the “Holby” brand name gave viewers false expectations, because, while it does share certain tonal elements with Casualty and Holby City, it was ultimately a more mature and, dare I say it, more intelligent programme than either of these two stalwarts of the schedule are at the moment.

On the flip-side, I do wonder if perhaps the powers that be shot themselves in the foot by failing to provide strong links between this show and its predecessors beyond the title itself. Barring a very brief and inconsequential visit to Accident & Emergency at the beginning of the first episode, there was absolutely no interaction between the programmes. Frequent mentions of A&E and trips to the hospital (supposedly the same one, but fairly clearly filmed on a different set) to interrogate injured suspects notwithstanding, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the executives in charge of branding said something along the lines of “Hey, we’ve got yet another cop show and we don’t know how to sell it. Which show that pulls in decent viewing figures can we tenuously link it to?”

The Season 2 premiere, therefore, did a significantly better job of selling this as a series taking place in the same world as its parent shows than anything in Season 1. The central concept was that of a two-part storyline, starting on Holby City on the Tuesday and continuing on Holby Blue on the Thursday, involving one of the former’s regular characters, registrar Jac Naylor, because accused of murder and hauled down to the local nick for a grilling. As written by both shows’ respective creators and showrunners, Tony McHale and Tony Jordan, the two-parter surpassed my expectations considerably, and a lot of this, I think, is down to Rosie Marcel, who plays Jac. She’s a decent actor, and has successfully sold the character as a ruthless, selfish, borderline psychopath throughout her two-year tenure on the show. It’s difficult to play a villain, particularly for so long, and have them remain engaging, not to mention convincing, and I think crucial to the character’s success has been the fact that Rosie Marcel recognises that her character is an absolute cow with little or no redeeming qualities. In recent years, both Casualty and Holby City have fallen into the trap of featuring characters who can only be described as absolutely loathsome, hoping that their insertion into the mix will stir up some drama (note to writers: “drama” does not always necessarily equal “conflict”), something which is continually undercut by an irritating habit, on the part of the writers, of suddenly transforming the aforementioned villains into angels, once they have exhausted all potential use of them as villains but can’t bear to let go of the people playing them. Often, when asked about these characters, the actors playing them will attempt to claim that they are simply misunderstood, a trap which Marcel has so far not fallen into, continually stressing in interviews that her character is absolutely loathsome and that she is not at all like her.

Holby Blue

Anyway, Holby Blue did the impossible and made me feel sorry for Jac. That the character is more or less devoid of anything approaching human empathy makes this an all the more impressive feat, but watching her crumble in the interview room, when it became clear that the case against her was airtight, was actually genuinely moving. To use a tired cliché, it showed a different side to the character, and yet at the same time avoided falling into the trap of having her break down in histrionics (a tearful “I don’t understand” was sufficient to convey what was going through her mind). To the experienced viewer, it was obvious from the start that Jac was innocent (and, given that the actress has just signed another one-year contract, the character was hardly going to be convicted of murder), so the outcome was never in any real doubt, but, even so, the writers skilfully wove in an intriguing twist that seemed to come out of the blue and yet still made perfect sense.

The episode, as a whole, was far from perfect. Along the way, we had to endure the risible sight of a bobby barking like a dog in order to lure a criminal out of an attic (this sort of thing doesn’t even make sense written down, let alone filmed), and someone really ought to take Zoë Lucker aside and explain to her that it’s okay to make more than one facial expression. Still, the Jac Naylor case, as well as the seemingly unrelated storyline involving an assault victim that they successfully wove into it, were strong enough for me to overlook these irritations. It’s always nice when a series that is considered safe and undemanding manages to surprise you with a genuinely thoughtful and moving storyline, and, while I am of no doubt that the two shows will now go their separate ways and not interact again (at least until the next time a rating boost is called for), I’m now sufficiently optimistic about the remaining eleven episodes.

Incidentally, the first series of Holby Blue is coming out on DVD this April 21st. While I would welcome the opportunity to watch these episodes again, part of me is livid that this show, which is less than a year old, is already getting a DVD release, while BBC have yet to release any DVDs for Holby City (I would probably welcome the first two and a half series), or Casualty beyond its third series. Given that Casualty, at its peak, was pulling in 16 million viewers per week while Holby Blue struggled to hit 5 million during its first series, I’m not sure I see the logic.

 
Posted: Saturday, March 22, 2008 at 12:11 PM
Categories: DVD | Reviews | TV
 

We changed our minds

Film

Source: Mobius Home Video Forum

The British Board of Film Censors are on quite a roll lately. Back in January, Aldo Lado’s exploitation shocker Night Train Murders was finally passed for release in the UK with all previous cuts waived, and now, it’s the turn of the film which spawned it, Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left. Craven’s film has long been something of a Video Nasty poster child, a prominent item on the DPP list, not granted a UK release until May 2003, and only then with 31 seconds of cuts.

Well, gee whiz, it’s great and all that the BBFC have now decided that the film has suddenly stopped being likely to “deprave and corrupt”, but wouldn’t it have been nice if they’d reached this conclusion in the first place? For example, they could have made up their minds that it wasn’t a “threat” before more or less anyone with any interest in seeing the film already did so via the black market or by importing a copy from a less suppressed country. They might also have decided this before the previous UK rights holder, Blue Underground, frittered away a considerable amount of money in their appeal against the BBFC’s ruling of 16 seconds of cuts. (When their case was thrown out, the BBFC enacted gleeful revenge by demanding a further 15 seconds of cuts.)

It’s nice to know that these people have such a vested interest in our safety, isn’t it? Why, if it wasn’t for them, I might have seen The Last House on the Left uncut before the date of March 17th 2008, when it would no doubt have scarred me permanently. Luckily, though, I now feel safe in the knowledge that, watching it after March 17th, it will no longer hold any power to deprave and corrupt.

Now that it has been granted an 18 “certificate” (note that I put “certificate” in quotation marks because I believe the term is a misnomer, falsely conveying the notion that the big red logo on the DVD cover is some sort of award), you can expect to see it in your local HMV or Zammo (or whatever the fuck Virgin is called now) among copies of other former training videos for rapists and murderers such as The Evil Dead, Tenebrae and The Exorcist.

For those who are interested in this sticky subject, I suggest reading this article from Mark Kermode (who gave evidence at the appeal in defence of the argument that the film should be granted an uncut release).

(Oh, and they banned Murder Set Pieces at roughly the same time that they passed The Last House on the Left. Good to know that these bobbies are still patrolling their turf.)

 
Posted: Wednesday, March 19, 2008 at 10:07 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | Web
 

Je ne regrette rien

Blu-ray

This evening, I watched Olivier Dahan’s biopic of Édith Piaf, La Môme (La Vie en Rose outside its native France), and I have to confess I found the experience to be a bit like eating at one of those nouveau cuisine restaurants: the meal was impeccably designed and very artistically arranged on the plate, but it left me unsatisfied.

I know more or less who Édith Piaf was, but none of the specifics. After watching the film, I can’t say I know any more about her than I did before. Oh, I know she grew up in a brothel, that she was a heavy drinker, that she had an affair with boxer Marcel Cerdan… I can recite all manner of factoids about her life, but I can’t tell you anything about Édith Piaf the person, or what made her tick. Part of the problem, I think, is that this is less a sustained narrative and more a series of unconnected vignettes from various stages in her life. I suppose that is, to some extent, unavoidable when you’re making a biopic, particularly one which attempts to span the duration of the subject’s life, but I suspect more could have been done to give the various events depicted greater meaning. Why does it matter, for instance, that she spent her formative years in a brothel, or that she was briefly her father’s assistant at the circus, or that her first manager was murdered by mobsters and she herself was initially suspected of involvement? None of it gives the impression of adding to our understanding of the character, and, when the credits began to roll, I ultimately found myself wondering “So what?”

La Môme

Would it all have made more sense if I had had a stronger knowledge of Édith Piaf before going into the film? Perhaps, but, in that case, I would still feel that the film had failed to convey the essence of the character. I’m a big believer in films having to hold up on their own merits rather than requiring any external baggage to be brought to the table. If having additional external knowledge about a person or an event enhances your appreciation for a film, so much the better, but if a lack of prior insight prevents the film from coming together as a cohesive whole, as I suspect is the case here, then I believe the filmmakers haven’t done their jobs properly. Olivier Dahan is undeniably skilled behind the camera, as the film is absolutely gorgeous from start to finish, and I feel that he and cinematographer Tetsuo Nagata were overlooked at the BAFTAs and Oscars (Nagata, did, however, bag himself a César), failing to garner even a nomination in that category. He also extorts fine performances from his cast, in particularly (and most obviously) Marion Cotillard in the role of Piaf, but I get the sense that, at a basic level, the script itself is the loose thread in this tapestry.

As a point of comparison, another film released in 2007 that I recently watched was Across the Universe. For those who don’t know, Across the Universe is a musical set at the time of the Vietnam war, its soundtrack comprised entirely of Beatles songs. Now, the thing is - and this is going to reveal just how pop culture unaware I am - I assumed they were original compositions for the film. I didn’t realise they were Beatles songs until they started singing All You Need is Love… and the only reason I knew that wasn’t an original composition was because I’d previously heard elements of it in Moulin Rouge! The point I’m trying to make with this little detour is that I completely missed the point of the film, and yet was still hugely entertained by it. It doesn’t matter whether you understand the context of the songs in Across the Universe or not: they’re enjoyable in their own right, and the plot and characters are engaging enough to captivate you from start to finish.

La Môme

You don’t get that with La Môme. Instead, the impression I get is that we, the audience, are being fed a whole lot of moments from a person’s life and left to work out their significance (if indeed there is any significance to them - it is a biopic, after all, and as such is largely limited to portraying what really happened, and what really happened doesn’t necessarily mean anything) without any attention being paid to whether or not a layman will be able to make anything of them. Maybe I’m not the target audience, but I do tend to think you should be able to enjoy a film without having any prior knowledge of the subject matter.

So, in the end, what we have is a very nicely shot film, coupled with an extremely impressive (and deservedly award-winning) performance from Cotillard, who transforms herself in the truest sense of the word. (One of my co-workers told me he couldn’t believe it when he saw her arriving on stage to collect her Oscar, as, until that point, he had no idea of what she actually looked like.) It’s not just hair and make-up, though: it’s a truly brilliant piece of acting that doesn’t even feel like a performance. (I do think it’s a shame, though, that her singing was dubbed over with Piaf’s. It detracts from the realism, and apparently her own singing, briefly heard in various behind the scenes pieces, was pretty impressive in its own right.) La Môme is worth seeing for that reason alone, but as a whole, it’s an uneven and often frustrating piece of work.

 
Posted: Monday, March 17, 2008 at 8:02 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews
 

DVD review: Tragic Ceremony

DVD
It’s difficult to recommend Tragic Ceremony to all but the most dedicated collectors of European cult cinema. While labels such as Dark Sky are to be commended for salvaging so many rare and forgotten titles, this is one case where I’m not convinced that the effort was actually worth it. About the strongest case I can make for this release is that I found the Camille Keaton interview to be a delight which almost made the film itself worth slogging through. Almost.

I yawn my way through Tragic Ceremony, a plodding and ineptly made Italian shocker starring Camille “I Spit on Your Grave” Keaton. Review courtesy of DVD Pacific.

 
Posted: Monday, March 17, 2008 at 2:02 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Reviews
 

Aw, gimme a break

DVD

Back in January 2004, I wrote a review for DVD Times of Freddy vs. Jason, that monumental melding of the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th franchises, culminating in a grand showdown between Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. Back then, I gave it a 7/10 rating, which on my scale equates to “good”.

The problem, unfortunately, is that the film is not good by any stretch of the imagination. I knew this back then, but was prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt for two reasons: (a) it’s of the “so bad it’s good” variety, and (b) there’s something undeniably entertaining about watching these two icons of the horror genre whomping on each other during the climactic fight.

Unfortunately, this is the moment when, tail between my legs, I come crawling back, wishing to retract my previous review and beg for forgiveness. You see, I rewatched Freddy vs. Jason the other night for the first time in four years, and it’s not so bad it’s good - it’s just bad

From start to finish, this film is staggeringly ineptly written, shot and acted. I understand that writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift have been handed the keys to the kingdom and are penning Michael Bay’s Friday the 13th remake - which, if true, may do the impossible and make the original look good in comparison. Their script for Freddy vs. Jason is absolutely cringe-inducing, essentially consisting of 85 minutes of painfully contrived filler serving as nothing more than an excuse for the 10-minute fight around which the film has been marketed, and along the way we have to endure a pitifully unconvincing explanation as to why these two villains from separate franchises come into contact, not to mention a gaggle of annoying twentysomethings pretending to be sixteen-year-olds spouting lame exposition and just generally disgracing themselves. Here are some choice examples of the dialogue they spout (handily cribbed from IMDB so I didn’t have to actually make my way through the film again):

Freddy: The only thing to fear, is fear himself!

Kia: Oh, God, y’all, two killers? We’re not safe awake or asleep.

Mark: “One, two, Freddy’s coming for you…” Do you know why they sing that? Because that’s when he comes for you.

Freddy: You’re slow… you’re stupid… and you got no style!

And last but not least:

Kia (to Freddy): So you’re the one everyone’s afraid of? Tell me something. What kind of faggot runs around in a Christmas sweater? I mean, come on. Get real. You’re not even scary. [adopts sing-song voice] Ya not even scaaaary! [resumes normal voice] And let’s talk about the butter knives. What is with the butter knives? You trying to compensate for something? Maybe coming up a little short there between the legs, Mr. Krueger? I mean, you got these teensy-weensy little things, and Jason got this big ol’ thing…

Simply for writing and performing this garbage, I believe that the writers and actors should each have their respective Writers’ Guild and Screen Actors’ Guild cards confiscated permanently. Please note, though, that I use the words “writers” and “actors” loosely. When your cast consists of John Ritter’s son, a Destiny’s Child singer and a former Dawson’s Creek actress, it’s not exactly surprising that Robert Englund, doing the comedy Krueger of Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare rather than the more menacing figure of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street or Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, is the least clown-like of the bunch.

So, seriously, guys, I apologise for the earlier review. I don’t know what I was thinking. All I can say is that we all get it wrong sometimes, but honestly, I can’t remember the last time I got it that wrong.

 
Posted: Sunday, March 16, 2008 at 4:57 PM | Comments: 11 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Reviews
 

A tragedy of a film

DVD

Yesterday, I received my review copy of Dark Sky Films’ long-delayed release of Riccardo Freda’s Tragic Ceremony. As many of you will know, this DVD was originally supposed to be released over a year ago, but was held back due to rights issues. These appear to have been resolved now, but I would urge those who want a copy of this film to get their orders… although, to be honest, given how weak the film is, I’m going to have a hard time recommending it. The best I can say about it is that it provides an interesting opportunity to see Camille Keaton, of What Have You Done to Solange? and I Spit on Your Grave fame, playing yet another ethereal and wide-eyed damsel. Really, I’m not surprised Freda reportedly disowned the end product (the director’s credit goes to “Robert Hampton”), as it’s actually worse than his limp giallo, The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire.

Presentation-wise, the transfer is really not all that satisfying. It’s anamorphic and progressively flagged, and looks passable once the opening credits are over, but lacks detail and has an overly contrasty look, with poor shadow detail and blown-out highlights. I initially assumed that this was simply what the film looked like, but the theatrical trailer included on the disc shows a much better tonal range, not to mention offering more detail (despite being non-anamorphic and not properly flagged for progressive scan):

Tragic Ceremony

Above: the film itself;
Below: the trailer
(click images to view them at their full size)

Tragic Ceremony

Oh, and the infamous Dark Sky cropping issue, pointed out to me by a regular reader of this site (thanks, Jeff), appears to be present here, at least in certain shots:

Tragic Ceremony

The image above is the most severe instance of overly tight framing that I could find. By and large, I didn’t find it to be bothersome on any other occasions, although this may be down to the fact that much of Freda’s camerawork is so haphazard anyway that, for the most part, framing is a non-issue. It wouldn’t surprise me if this film turned out to have an intended ratio of 1.66:1 and was over-matted to 1.85:1 for this DVD.

I should also say a few words on the issue of the sound. The only audio track provided here is an Italian one, although it’s clear, from the actors’ lip movements, that this one was shot in English (and post-dubbed, of course). In any event, the film is (laughably) supposed to take place somewhere in England, as evinced by several references to Scotland Yard, names like Lord Alexander, and a currency amusingly referred to as “sterling” (as in “You owe me fifty sterling”). Generally, with Italian films from this period, no “original” audio track exists, so I tend not to be too picky about which language is provided. On this occasion, however, the lack of English dubbing is rather problematic, although I do understand the reasoning behind it: apparently, the Italian cut of the film is dramatically different from the version exhibited in the US, so cobbling together a complete English dub would be impossible.

I really enjoyed the Camille Keaton interview, though - considerably more than the film itself, in fact. It was nice to see someone so obviously proud of her achievements and eager to talk about them.

Expect a full review at DVD Times in the near future.

 
Posted: Sunday, March 16, 2008 at 4:18 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Gialli | Reviews | Technology
 

Bay curls out another

Film

Michael Bay preps Rosemary’s Baby remake

Seriously, Bay, fuck you. Just fuck you. Fuck your desecration of the classics. Fuck your Platinum Dunes “re-imaginings”. Fuck your shit-eating grin. But, most of all, fuck you.

 
Posted: Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 9:20 PM | Comments: 16 (view)
Categories: Cinema
 

Mother of all cover designs

DVD

Cover art for the UK release of Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears, due out on April 28th from Optimum, has appeared online at various retailers, including Amazon.co.uk. It’s quite a classy design, for once, similar to the artwork used for the cover of Variety’s Cannes Film Festival 2007 issue, albeit tinted red.

According to John White over at DVD Maniacs, who has seen a check disc, it’s bare-bones barring a trailer, and has a 2.39:1 anamorphic transfer with English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Given that it looks like the upcoming Italian release is dubbed into Italian (a good 90% of the dialogue you hear in the film is what was spoken on set by the actors in English), and the currently available Russian release is cropped to 1.78:1, this release would appear to be the one to get.

 
Posted: Tuesday, March 11, 2008 at 10:08 PM | Comments: 10 (view)
Categories: Books | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Web
 

Eye of the ripper

DVD

A few quick words on the Another World Entertainment release of The New York Ripper, which arrived today:

First and foremost, the source for the transfer appears to be the same one that was used for the Australian release from Stomp Visual. Based on the screenshots posted with HorrorDVDs.com’s review, I had assumed that the source was different, primarily due to how much more saturated they appear, but I suspect that the person who captured them had his/her DVD playback software’s saturation set too high.

Having compared the Stomp Visual and Another World Entertainment transfers fairly thoroughly, I’d go so far as to say that there’s really nothing to call either way - both look identical, and I did 600% magnifications of several screen captures. AWE’s release does, however, gain several points in its favour for including the scene in which Dr. Davis plays a trick on his secretary, which was omitted from the Stomp release. On the AWE DVD, this scene is sourced from the Anchor Bay DVD and is NTSC-to-PAL standards converted, but it’s better than nothing (it could still have been handled better, though - a proper adjustment of the frame rate should have been carried out rather than a video standards conversion).

Another major boon for the AWE release is the fact that it ports over several of the bonus features from the 2-disc French Collector’s Edition, along with optional English subtitles. Not everything has made it over, but there is a decent amount of material here - enough to keep you occupied for a while.

Ultimately, the AWE release gets my thumbs-up. As far as I can tell, it’s the best release of the film to date. Perfect? No, certainly not. There’s certainly room for improvement as far as image quality is concerned (although detail-wise is very nice), and it’s a shame the extras package is incomplete. But AWE’s efforts to port over some of the material, and to assemble a complete cut of the film (even if the added footage could have been handled better) is appreciated.

 
Posted: Monday, March 10, 2008 at 10:57 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Gialli | Technology
 

Let’s celebrate gun crime

Blu-ray

Aboard the HMS Whimsy, we often use the phrase “the Warner look”. Basically, what this means is an HD transfer that has a smooth appearance, but which has clearly had the top “layer” of fine detail removed through high frequency filtering. Such discs generally look pretty good, and tend to get high marks from most reviewers, but are not representative of the level of detail that high definition is truly capable of. The Brave One is one of the better Warner titles, lacking the unsightly ringing of the likes of V for Vendetta, but obviously coming up short if you compare it with the likes of Across the Universe from Sony.

The Brave One
(Warner, USA, VC-1, 19.6 GB)

The Brave One The Brave One The Brave One The Brave One The Brave One The Brave One The Brave One The Brave One The Brave One The Brave One The Brave One The Brave One

 
Posted: Monday, March 10, 2008 at 6:03 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

Swansong

HD DVD

Well, my last (and I mean it this time) HD DVD arrived this morning: the UK release of Atonement, which I’d had on order since January and more or less forgotten about. Thankfully, it’s a more pleasant way to bow out of the format than American Gangster, as the image, while imperfect, is streets ahead of that blurry, smeared mess. The source is a digital intermediate, and Universal always fare far better with these than their print sources - for one thing, they haven’t attempted to noise reduce it into oblivion. (Don’t be fooled by the Universal logo at the start which appears to have been taken from a dupe print - the film itself is definitely from a DI source.) Like Mulholland Drive (HD captures here), this film appears to have been shot with a lot of filters (I hope I’m getting the terminology right here), and as a result has that same glowy, “soft but detailed” appearance, which doesn’t necessarily result in the best screen captures but is rather pleasing to the eye when viewed in motion.

Atonement
(Universal, UK, VC-1, 21 GB)

Atonement Atonement Atonement Atonement Atonement Atonement Atonement Atonement Atonement Atonement Atonement Atonement Atonement Atonement Atonement

 
Posted: Monday, March 10, 2008 at 5:38 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 
 

 
 
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