November 2008


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DVDs I bought or received in the month of November

DVD/Blu-ray/HD DVD
  • Hannibal (R0 Germany, Blu-ray)
  • Shrooms (R0 UK, Blu-ray) [gift]
  • The Stendhal Syndrome (R0 USA, Blu-ray)
  • Wall-E (RB UK, Blu-ray) [review copy]

How’s that for self-restraint? I said last month that I’d have to cut down, and by golly, I only went and did it.

Posted: Sunday, November 30, 2008 at 11:59 AM
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli

Review: the Garnethill trilogy (long post)


Prior to writing her first novel, Denise Mina researched a PhD on the ascription of mental illness to female offenders and taught criminology at Strathclyde University. These roots are very much in evidence throughout what is semi-officially referred to as the Garnethill trilogy, encompassing three books published between 1998 and 2001: Garnethill, Exile and Resolution. (The title refers to a residential area in the centre of Glasgow, most famous for the Glasgow School of Art.)

The central protagonist of the trilogy, Maureen O’Donnell, has not had what you’d call a happy life. As a child, she was abused by her father, culminating in what she later comes to suspect was a rape attack, an event which she blocked out for over a decade and which led to her father disappearing abruptly. Years later, as a History of Art student at Glasgow University, she suffered a nervous breakdown as her repressed memories of the attack resurfaced and was, for a while, institutionalised. However, her attempts to get her family to admit what had happened to her as a child fall on deaf ears, with her alcoholic mother seemingly repressing her own memories and her two sisters flat out refusing to believe Maureen’s version of events. Only her older brother, Liam, who makes a living peddling drugs, stands by her, and as a result the rift that has developed between these two factions of the O’Donnell clan is immense to say the least. At the start of the first novel, Maureen is on the mend. She’s holding down a job in a ticket office, self-sufficient enough to be able to live on her own in a flat at the top of Garnethill, and has recently decided to dump her boyfriend, therapist Douglas Brady, after discovering that he is in fact married. Then, one morning, she wakes up to find Douglas in a chair in her living room with his throat slit.

Oh, and the killer has gone to considerable lengths to make it look like she did it.

[Continue reading "Review: the Garnethill trilogy (long post)"...]

Posted: Thursday, November 27, 2008 at 9:09 PM
Categories: Books | Reviews

DVD image comparison: La Femme Publique


It’s been some time since I last did a DVD image comparison, but I’m hoping to get the practice up and running again, particularly where standard definition to high definition comparisons are concerned. Tonight’s little doozy is La Femme Publique, pitting Mondo Vision’s recently released Limited Premium Edition against three earlier versions. Who will triumph? (Hint: it’s not the one that’s a PAL to NTSC video standards conversion.)

Read and weep!

Posted: Monday, November 24, 2008 at 9:48 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Mondo Vision | Technology

Warner has Warner’d The Dark Knight


Screen captures have appeared for Warner’s upcoming release of what is surely its flagship title for this winter, The Dark Knight, and it looks like all is not rosy in Gotham City. Not that is ever was in Christopher Nolan’s plodding, po-faced and frankly yawn-worthy “why-so-serious” bore-fest to begin with, but it shouldn’t have looked like this. You want edge enhancement? It’s there in abundance. Smeared facial textures, you say? Got those too.

It becomes even more disheartening when you look at the comparison posted at the AV Science Forum, which places one of the DVD Beaver shots head to head with a frame from the same shot as seen in one of the downloadable h.264 trailers that accompanied the film’s theatrical release. Here is pure, unadulterated proof of image quality being degraded for a high definition home video release. You might find the notion of a freely downloadable trailer looking better than an actual Blu-ray disc release laughable, but I assure you, it’s anything but.

It’s also nothing new: this has been going on for a considerable amount of time now. I believe the first time I became aware of this practice was when I noticed how much worse The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’s DVD transfer looked than that of the trailer for the same film that was hidden on the Rush Hour 2 DVD. I noticed similar problems with The Dark Knight’s predecessor, Batman Begins: the high definition Windows Media trailer I downloaded from Microsoft’s web site looked excellent, but the eventual HD DVD release looked blurry and anaemic. Unfortunately, the DRM on the Windows Media trailer meant that, after a certain date, I was no longer allowed to play it (don’t you love DRM?), preventing me from doing a proper comparison, but luckily smart people have captured the evidence of The Dark Knight’s insidious mangling for all to see. Of course, the usual crowd of “it looks fine on my telly” and “direct screen captures aren’t accurate” ninnies are poo-pooing the evidence, but that’s nothing new. There were people who claimed (and still claim) that the HD DVD of Traffic wasn’t a standard definition upconvert, for crying out loud!

My plea to the studios is this: stop it. Just stop it. Please. You can’t fool us. We’re not stupid. We know you’re doing it. Now kindly get back to delivering superb discs that take full advantage of 1920x1080 resolution instead of diluted mush like this. Whether this was done at the DI or mastering stage, find out who is doing this, rap them soundly on the knuckles and bring in technicians who know what they’re doing. Thank you.

Posted: Monday, November 24, 2008 at 5:14 PM | Comments: 26 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DRM | DVD | HD DVD | Technology | Web

Site update


After a great deal of stalling, I’ve finally made a start in converting the Writings section of this site over to the new Land of Whimsy layout. The final remaining errant part of the site, it has retained the old version 9 look for months now, mainly due to the mammoth undertaking that is converting each and every one of its many pages over to completely new code. I’m still looking into ways of automating certain pages via Movable Type, but for the time being I’ve decided to make a start on the pages that are likely to need to be updated manually - i.e. those that use a custom design. I’ve started with the HD Image Quality Rankings page, which is continually being added to anyway and which is one of the most frequently-accessed parts of this site. I’ve also taken the opportunity to add a new “region” column to the table, as well as making it a little easier to read by padding it and adding borders.

Other pages will follow as I get round to them, but I’m not promising a definite ETA for its completion at this stage.

Posted: Monday, November 24, 2008 at 2:04 PM
Categories: Technology | Web

The Stendhal Syndrome Blu-ray impressions


I’m off work today with a stomach bug of some sort, and have been doing my best to distract myself from the stabbing pains and waves of nausea by putting my copy of the recent Blu-ray release of The Stendhal Syndrome, from Blue Underground, through its paces. Overall, we have what I consider to be a strong but problematic presentation, although to what extent these problems were avoidable is open to debate.

The first thing that struck me about it was how grainy it is. The grain is extremely pronounced and harsh, more so than The Counterfeiters, previously the grainiest film I owned in high definition. The intensity and appearance of the grain is such that Lyris immediately suggested that it had been artificially sharpened at some stage in the chain, and, after giving the matter due consideration, I agree. Judging by its appearance, the source material (a 35mm interpositive) was pretty heavy in the grain department to begin with, but, if our theory is correct, this has been unnecessarily accentuated digitally. It’s not awful by any means, and it looks considerably better in motion than in still frame form, but it does look a little on the harsh side and not very naturalistic. It also causes problems for the encoder, which simply can’t cope with this level of grain, meaning that virtually every shot in the film is crawling with tiny compression artefacts. Again, they aren’t overly apparent in motion, but are quite noticeable in still frame form.

I’m therefore happy to report that, other than these issues, I have no complaints about the image quality. Presumably, the same master that was used for last year’s standard definition release was used for the BD, and as a result it is far closer in terms of colour palette and contrast to that release than to the earlier Region 2 Italian DVD from Medusa, which, in comparison, looks decidedly washed out. Detail levels are pretty decent, although the heavy grain means that it never has the crisp clarity that so many crave for their HD presentations. Given that every single Blue Underground standard definition DVD I ever saw was over-zealously filtered, I’m extremely pleased that this odious practice doesn’t appear to have followed them into the HD domain.

Audio-wise, things get rather baffling. In addition to the same 448 Kbps English and Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 EX tracks that were present on the DVD release, we also have two 7.1 tracks, both lossless: DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD. Frankly, I don’t understand the logic behind this, as the presence of one automatically makes the other pointless. I find this particularly confusing given that Blue Underground is a low budget independent label; I’d have thought they would have better things to spend their money on than licence fees for multiple audio formats. Personally, I wouldn’t have objected if one was English and the other Italian, but as both feature the inferior English dub, I can’t imagine either getting much of a workout on my speakers. English subtitles are also included, and they are, as far as I can tell, dubtitles rather than captions for the Italian audio.

One final note on the audio: the stereo mixes that accompanied the film on both the Blue Underground and Medusa DVD releases are missing in action. Now, I know that there is some debate as to whether the film was original mixed in stereo or surround, but this, coupled with a similar absence on Blue Underground’s BD of The Final Countdown (released theatrically in stereo), does give me some cause for concern. Are Blue Underground doing a Warner and neglecting to present these films with their original audio intact in HD? If so, Bill Lustig should know better, given the flack he received for his bungled remixes of (among others) Suspiria. Let’s put it this way: if The Bird with the Crystal Plumage arrives on Blu-ray in February sans its original mono English and Italian tracks, I will be sorely disappointed. My advice, in the unlikely off-chance that anyone is listening: ditch the redundant 7.1 remixes and include the original mix as a matter of priority. By all means include one lossless remix, but any more than that is overkill, particularly if it impacts on the film’s original audio.

The Stendhal Syndrome
(Blue Underground, USA, AVC, 35.1 GB)

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Posted: Saturday, November 22, 2008 at 4:38 PM | Comments: 17 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | Technology

Review: Planescape: Torment (long post)

Planescape: Torment

Note: I don’t often review computer games, but every so often I feel compelled to write more than the usual couple of paragraphs about something I played. I recently revisited one of my all-time favourite games and, having played it from beginning to end over the course of about a week, found myself with the urge to attempt to put into words just why I love it so much.

“What can change the nature of a man?” That is the central question at the heart of Black Isle Studios’ Planescape: Torment, one of the most unique computer role-playing games (CRPGs) ever created and an absolute triumph of brains over brawn. While some may baulk at its text-heavy nature and the clunkiness of the combat system, others, fed up with or uninterested in the current spate of 3D action games, or indeed Black Isle’s other, more Tolkienesque RPGs, will certainly get a kick out of this novel, challenging and thought-provoking exploration of human nature.

Planescape: Torment

You begin lying on a mortuary slab, horribly scarred and unaware of who you are, how you got there and, perhaps most pertinently, why you aren’t dead. Your only companion turns out to be a floating skull named (what else?) Morte, who seems rather insistent that he tag along and is full of good advice but seems to know more than he lets on. Two things become readily apparent:

1. you have amnesia, and can’t remember your own name, much less what you’re supposed to be doing;

2. you can’t die.

[Continue reading "Review: Planescape: Torment (long post)"...]

Posted: Friday, November 21, 2008 at 10:48 PM
Categories: Games | Reviews

Wall-E Blu-ray impressions


On Tuesday, my brother received his copy of the US Blu-ray release of Wall-E (the 2-disc edition, naturally, not the pointless 3-disc version with a useless Digital Copy to inflate the price tag). Almost immediately, he had to leave for London to receive Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) training, so I took the opportunity to nab the disc from his shelf and give it a quick run-through.

I should point out that, until I’ve watched the film on the big screen, which we should hopefully be doing over the weekend, I won’t be assigning the transfer an overall rating, but I was very impressed by what I saw and would, at this early stage, call myself 99% satisfied. As with the BD of Pixar’s Ratatouille before it, the look of Wall-E is smooth rather than pin sharp. I take this to be an intentional cinematographic choice; certainly, it allows the film to avoid the sterile look that plagues most CGI films. As such, while it doesn’t have the razor sharp look of, say, Open Season, it’s by far the more aesthetically pleasing of the two. There is, however, one mild caveat: compression. Don’t get me wrong, it’s almost completely flawless, but as soon as I saw the surprisingly low bit rate of 21.1 GB (on the disc, a total of 28.6 out of a possible total of 50 GB is occupied by data), I did begin to be rather concerned. This is by no means a compression nightmare, but eagle-eyed viewers may be able to spot some occasional artefacts affecting a handful of scenes combining fast motion with high amounts of detail. Take a look at Example 12 for an idea of what to (occasionally) expect.

Overall, it’s a highly impressive transfer, but Ratatouille remains Disney’s best-looking BD. I just hope the film is still as magical as I remember it being.

(Buena Vista, USA, AVC, 21.1 GB)

Wall-E Wall-E Wall-E Wall-E Wall-E Wall-E Wall-E Wall-E Wall-E Wall-E Wall-E Wall-E Wall-E Wall-E Wall-E

Posted: Friday, November 21, 2008 at 7:49 PM
Categories: Animation | BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology

More Four Flies details


Following up on my report on Thursday that Dario Argento’s long-lost Four Flies on Grey Velvet is to finally receive a legitimate DVD release next year, more details on the disc have been revealed. In addition to the impressively tasteful cover art, the specs have been revealed in a promotional flyer posted by Marc Morris at the Cult Movie Forums:

  • 16x9-enhanced anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer, restored from the original negative elements
  • English and Italian mono audio
  • Teaser trailer
  • Original trailer
  • English opening and closing credits
  • Extensive poster and photo gallery

I’m really excited about this release. While the included extras are not quite as all-encompassing as many of us would have liked (given this film’s troubled history, I really was hoping the red carpet would be rolled out), but, as the saying goes, it’s better than nothing. To tell the truth, I’m just happy to know that I’ll finally be able to own a copy of this film that has at least passable (and hopefully better than that) image quality. Roll on February 24th!

Posted: Tuesday, November 18, 2008 at 7:38 PM | Comments: 9 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli

A rumble in the jungle

Tomb Raider: Underworld

Eidos Interactive have released a demo for the PC version of Tomb Raider: Underworld, the latest instalment in the long-running adventure franchise, due out tomorrow in North America and on November 21st throughout Europe. (Actually, the demo has been available since October 31st, but I only discovered it today.)

Anyway, the demo contains what I suspect is the first level of the full game, and, based on the 20-25 minutes it took me to complete it, Eidos have another winner on their hands, once against proving that they made the right decision in yanking development duties away from Core Design and handing them over to Crystal Dynamics. The most impressive feat, in my eyes, is that for once all the promised improvements seem to have been delivered. In the past, when Core had the development rights, the creative team would continually crow about how whichever instalment was currently in development would be “back to the drawing board”, “redone from scratch” and so on, but in the end they’d simply serve up last year’s game with a few half-hearted tweaks implemented, much like a reheated carry-out and considerably less tasty. With Tomb Raider: Legend, however, Crystal Dynamics started from scratch, putting together a compelling reboot of the series that succeeded in washing away the stench of the later Core years. With Tomb Raider: Anniversary, they came through again, building on the solid foundation of the original 1996 Tomb Raider to provide an updated, slicker and more challenging iteration of the game. Judging by the Underworld demo, this successful streak looks set to continue.

Tomb Raider: Underworld

The big focus this time round appears to be on two things: realism and player choice. While I tend to feel that making games as hyper-realistic as possible is overrated and an exercise in futility, I can’t deny that it’s appropriate to the Tomb Raider series, which has always been about the player infiltrating intricately detailed environments and relying on his or her powers of observation to solve complex puzzles. In that respect, a more realistic world helps make the experience more immersive, and I have to say that the new Lara Croft, motion captured from Olympic gymnast Heidi Moneymaker, is nothing like as clunky as I initially feared. Motion capture, particularly in computer games, where responsive controls and accurate movement are paramount, often strikes me as bland and detrimental to playability, but I have no complaints here. Ultimately, I suspect I’ll always prefer the more stylised nature of the key-frame animation used on the likes of the Guild Wars and Warcraft franchises (which I know have next to nothing in common, gameplay-wise, with Tomb Raider, but still…), but I can appreciate a nicely-done exercise in realism when I see one. Oh, and she’s still voiced by the delectable Keeley Hawes.

The other big thing, player choice, is realised in the fact that the game world is now a lot more open-ended, meaning that there is often more than one route to the end of a level, or more than one way to complete a given puzzle. This goes hand in hand with the increased degree of realism, because the more organic visuals mean that it’s no longer quite so obvious that you have to jump from block A to block B in order to progress. The developers seem to want to hammer this home right from the word go, starting you aboard a yacht in the middle of the water and leaving the you to decide in which direction to head. (Actually, at this early stage it’s fairly obvious that you need to head for the nearest stretch of dry land, but it’s a world away from plonking you at one end of a corridor and asking you to run to the other end of it.) Incidentally, I’m extremely impressed that, despite the massive increase in the quality of the graphics over Legend (which now looks decidedly quaint), the performance actually appears to have improved rather than worsened.

Tomb Raider: Underworld

It’s hard to gauge the overall quality of the game based on this brief demo, but what I’ve seen has certainly whet my appetite for more. This is definitely a title I’ll be adding to my list for Father Christmas. Oh, and as a plus, it doesn’t appear to have been infected with any objectionable DRM schemes: from what I can gather, it does use SecuROM, but, like Legend and Anniversary before it, only to check that an original disc rather than a copy is in the drive. In other words, no limited installations or mandatory online activations farrago. I don’t know about you, but personally I can live with having to put the disc in the drive when I play the game.

Posted: Monday, November 17, 2008 at 4:46 PM
Categories: Animation | DRM | Games | Technology | Web

Well, at least I didn’t have to buy an iPod

World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King soundtrack

Earlier this month, I wrote an article on game music, listing my ten favourite pieces. One of these was the backing music to the introductory cinematic for the latest expansion set to Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft juggernaut, Wrath of the Lich King. The game itself was released in both vanilla and Collector’s Edition variants on November 13th, the latter containing a soundtrack CD showcasing 21 tracks from the game, composed by Russell Brower, Derek Duke and long-time Blizzard composer Glenn Stafford, who seems to have made a return to the game universe that gave him his big break after a brief venture with Sony writing music for the rival Everquest franchise. When I wrote the aforementioned article, I lamented the fact that there was no way to listen to the cinematic’s music without voice-over narration and sound effects in the way. It seems my pleas were heard, as Track 3 of the CD is that very piece of music in isolated form.

Given my thoughts on World of Warcraft, buying this release (and the earlier The Burning Crusade expansion, which is also required in order to play), in either its standard or Collector’s Edition guise, was out of the question. However, in a gesture that seems almost like tossing a bone to people like me who don’t like the game but love the music, Blizzard have released the soundtrack to download via their iTunes store for the price of $9.99 (or £7.99 if you’re in the UK). It does mean installing iTunes, a program I’ve never been particularly crazy about, but on the plus side it comes in Apple’s iTunes Plus format, which offers AAC encodes of the tracks at a reasonable bit rate of 256 Kbps and is completely DRM-free, meaning that you can easily re-encode them to a format of your choice and use them in your preferred music player. Okay, so the quality won’t be as good as proper uncompressed RedBook audio, but given the cost of the Collector’s Edition, and the speed with which copies of it have been snatched up, it’s a reasonable sacrifice to make in order to get what is, in my opinion, the more desirable component of that release - the music.

Posted: Sunday, November 16, 2008 at 9:41 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: DRM | Games | Music | Technology | Web

Big screen blunders


Friday night was movie night aboard the HMS Whimsy, and we started with a screening of the German Region B Blu-ray release of Léon, using my computer as an HTPC thanks to the disc’s odious region coding preventing it from playing on my Region A Playstation 3. By and large, I’d call it a success, although the decidedly problematic nature of the disc’s video and audio made it a rather frustrating venture.

The excessive contrast boosting has already been documented on this site, but I haven’t previously mentioned the thoroughly odious sound mix on the disc. Whereas the Superbit and Deluxe Edition DVDs both featured a rather nice DTS 5.1 track, the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track on this disc is curiously mangled. The dynamic range is severely compressed (the gunfire when Stansfield is blowing apart Matilda’s family seems decidedly muted), the music is mixed far too loud, meaning you have to strain to hear some of the dialogue, and perhaps worst of all, the dialogue bleeds into the rear channels throughout the film, making voices seem disembodied. This, coupled with the extremely problematic image, lead me to suspect that whoever supervised the new HD master for this film didn’t have a clue what they were doing. I put my old Deluxe Edition DVD back in tonight and, even though the image quality was horrible, aurally it was a much nicer experience. I still think the disc is, overall, an improvement on the standard definition releases, but I find it extremely hard to recommend it unequivocally. I hope Sony, who own the North American rights, exercise more quality control if and when they get round to doing their version.

To ensure that the problem wasn’t being caused by my PC or the software being used, we checked out some discs we were more familiar with, and, surprise surprise, no problems to report. Casino Royale, one of the best-looking and -sounding discs out there (uncompressed PCM 5.1 = t3h g00dne$$), was particularly impressive, and a purely subjective viewing and listening revealed no discernible differences between viewing it on the PS3 and on my PC using PowerDVD 8. The only problem I could determine was an intermittent frame skipping issue when outputting the signal in 24p - my guess is that PowerDVD isn’t able to resolve this mode properly, given that it disappeared when I switched to 60 Hz. If so, using the PC for HD playback isn’t going to be perfect, but it will be pretty close to that, and will certainly be more than adequate until we can get our hands on some sort of standalone multi-region player. The only inconvenience is having to crawl behind my computer to switch the cables connected to my sound card every time we want to watch a movie on the big screen in this way. Does anyone know of some sort of splitter that could be used to plug in two sets of speakers at once? (The sound card has three 3.5mm jacks, one for the L and R channels, one for the L and R rears and one for the center channel and subwoofer.)

Posted: Sunday, November 16, 2008 at 9:16 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology

La Femme Publique LE looks great!

La Femme Publique: Limited Edition

Here’s a special peek at the contents of the Limited Edition of Andrzej Zulawski’s La Femme Publique, recently given its first ever English-friendly DVD release. You can click the image above for a closer look at the package, which includes the DVD, a soundtrack CD, a sizeable booklet, an individually numbered certificate of authenticity, and ten black and white reproductions of Japanese publicity stills.

Posted: Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 10:00 PM
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Mondo Vision | Music

Four Flies to get legit release

Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon) corners a Paramount executive and forces him to relinquish the rights to Four Flies on Grey Velvet.

Above: Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon) corners a Paramount executive and forces him to relinquish the rights to Four Flies on Grey Velvet.

Source: Horror-101

After German DVD outfit Retrofilm released a highly dodgy copy of Dario Argento’s lost giallo, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, last year, it was only a matter of time before the rights holders, Paramount, showed their hand. The megacorporation, notorious for sitting on the title for years and refusing to license it to interested parties, appear finally to have conceded and have sold the DVD rights to MYA Communication and Ryko Distribution, who will officially release the it in the US on February 24th, 2009. Not that this has anything to do with Retrofilm’s bootleg being such a hot commodity, my goodness no!

No specifications for the disc have been revealed yet, but it would be nice to think that a title as elusive as this will be granted some choice bonus features. I know absolutely nothing about MYA Communication, barring the suggestion, as per posters at the AV Maniacs forum, that they are an offshoot of the seemingly defunct NoShame Films. I hope they do this release justice: the film deserves to shine after so many years of being confined to grotty pirate copies.

Oh, and, in related news, a teaser for Argento’s upcoming film, Giallo, has materialised online. Quite apart from the eye-rollingly amateurish nature of the trailer, this looks like yet another project for hire for Argento, similar to his Masters of Horror hack jobs. I’ll wait ‘til I’ve seen it before making an actual judgement on it, but this footage doesn’t look particularly promising.

Posted: Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 9:57 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | Web

Christmas comes early (long post)

Logitech Z-5500 Digital

Apologies for the posting constipation recently. I’m currently in crunch mode on the latest submission for my PhD, which is due in early next week and will consist of an introduction to my thesis, covering its origins, key aims and my working definition of what exactly a giallo is. (One of the downsides to choosing such an obscure branch of the movie tree for your research is that, at the start of every article you write or presentation you give, you have to squander precious words or minutes explaining what the hell you’re talking about.) Still, despite this being a pretty intensive period, I’m enjoying this phase a lot more than the last one (the literature review), which I felt dragged on for too long without me having a clear sense of direction.

Anyway, I just thought I’d check in to post that I decided to finally replace my PC’s ageing Creative Inspire 5.1 Digital 5700 speakers with a spruce new Logitech Z-5500 Digital package as an early Christmas present. I did this for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I wanted better audio than I was currently getting, and, while I knew I could never compete with my brother’s setup, at least not without having access to vastly more money and space than I currently have, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to go for the best setup I could get my hands on within my current means. Various reviews swung me towards the Z-5500, which, unlike most of the current generation of PC speakers, has the added bonus of including its own internal Dolby Digital and DTS decoders, should I ever want to send it encoded signals in either of these two formats.

[Continue reading "Christmas comes early (long post)"...]

Posted: Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 6:11 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | Gialli | PhD | Technology

La Femme Publique - c’est fantastique! (Part deux)

Mondo Vision

More reviews of Mondo Vision’s La Femme Publique are beginning to trickle in. Today’s comes from Svet Atanasov at DVD Talk, who was extremely impressed:

It is almost too good to be true - Mondo Vision have assembled a package that will warm up the hearts of many film aficionados who have been hoping to see Andrzej Zulawski’s La femme publique treated with the proper dose of respect. Well, the wait is over. I would like to go on record here stating that even Criterion could have not produced such a terrific package. This is a gift for all of us and I hope that Mondo Vision will be around for many years to come so we could benefit from their admirable desire to please. Good luck Mondo Vision and thank you for this most beautiful release!! DVDTALK Collector Series.

The review gives the transfer, audio and extras a 10/10 rating each.

Posted: Monday, November 10, 2008 at 2:55 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Mondo Vision | Reviews | Web

What will they think of next?


From time to time, most of us receive the odd email scam, asking us to send our credit card details or passwords to various unsavoury individuals, many of them residing in Nigeria. The Scam Baiter web site catalogues many such instances, and the fun that can be had at these unscrupulous crooks’ expense. Now, I’d like to think that most people possess enough intelligence not to hand over their personal details when asked for them by an unknown party, but perhaps I just have too much faith in humanity. Either way, you do get the odd semi-convincing email: for example, when you’re purporting to be from Barclay’s Bank, it helps if you have the organisation’s logo somewhere in your message and your email address isn’t provided by Hotmail or Yahoo. Most of the time, however, these scams are so laughably inept that it’s almost tempting to suggest that whoever gets taken in by them deserves what they get. Here’s an absolute corker I received yesterday:

Dear Email Account Owner,

We would like to inform you that we are currently carrying out scheduled maintenance and upgrade of our webmail service and we changing our mailhost server as a result your original password will be reset. We are sorry for any inconvenience caused.

To complete your email account, you must enter your password here (*********)
and reply to this email ( to enable us update our data base.

Failure to do this

Unfortunately, it cuts off there, so I have absolutely no idea what the consequences of me not telling this random stranger my email account password will be. I’m shaking in my boots!

Posted: Saturday, November 08, 2008 at 4:26 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Web

Great game music

Music Games

One aspect of the games industry that I feel doesn’t get the attention itself is its music. Steve Townsley of film music review site Tracksounds says that he pays particular attention to the gaming scene not because he is by nature a gamer but because he considers it a “proving ground” for composers from which “musical talent seems to flourish”. I completely agree with him. Whereas movie soundtracks are becoming increasingly bland and derivative, often dominated by what the industry has termed “sonic wallpaper”, I often find myself marvelling at the richness being achieved by composers in the gaming field, virtually none of whom are household names but who frequently outdo their better-known colleagues in the film industry. A few game composers have crossed over to the world of movies (perhaps most notably Michael Giacchino), but by and large there is little back and forth between the two media.

With that in mind, I decided to put together a list of my top ten pieces of game music. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and my tastes are such that I can go through a period of overdosing on one particular piece or soundtrack, before becoming burned out on it and latching on to something else. It’s also, unavoidably, coloured somewhat by my genre preferences - RPGs and RTSs on the PC, mainly - so no doubt there are a whole bunch of great golf game scores I’ve missed out on… or perhaps not. I should also point out that I haven’t played nearly as many games as I’ve seen movies, so I’m sure I’ve missed some real corkers out there. This is particularly problematic when you consider that very few game soundtracks are released on CD or to download, meaning that more often than not the only way to hear a game’s score is to dig out the CD-ROM and re-install it.

Still, after much consideration, I came up with the list below. I set myself a rule of only choosing one track from a single game, in order to avoid the list from becoming overly populated with pieces from a small number of titles (there are at least a dozen tracks in Icewind Dale that put most movie scores to shame). I also opted not to order it in any way (well, actually, that’s a lie - I sorted it alphabetically). Because these scores are not exactly well-known outside the immediate circles of fans of the games in the question, I’ve linked to online clips of the tracks I’ve nominated wherever possible. Bear in mind, though, that their quality in many cases will be less than stellar, concealing the subtle nuances of the original compositions.

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Posted: Wednesday, November 05, 2008 at 10:55 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Games | Music

And on this day…

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Posted: Wednesday, November 05, 2008 at 4:02 AM | Comments: 10 (view)
Categories: General

La Femme Publique - c’est fantastique!

Mondo Vision

The first review of Mondo Vision’s upcoming DVD release of La Femme Publique is now online. Over at Bagatellen, Alan Jones appears to be very impressed with the fledgeling company’s efforts:

Here’s a film that has been highly regarded among buffs since its 1984 release, one with blatant abstractions that are readily defended as inventive. Having finally seen it, I couldn’t agree more, and perhaps the experience is sweetened from such a long wait. Now enjoying its debut among English-speakers, La Femme Publique is again available and is, you will agree with me, among the best transfers this side of BluRay since the advent of the DVD.

Hopefully you won’t have to wait too long for your own copies.

Posted: Tuesday, November 04, 2008 at 11:28 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Mondo Vision | Web



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