February 2009

 
 

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BDs and DVDs I bought or received in the month of February

DVD/Blu-ray/HD DVD
  • February 3, 2009: Domino (Region ABC USA, Blu-ray)
  • February 4, 2009: Donkey Punch (Region B UK, Blu-ray)
  • February 4, 2009: Diary of the Dead (Region B UK, Blu-ray)
  • February 4, 2009: Butterfly on a Wheel (Region ABC UK, Blu-ray)
  • February 7, 2009: Sin City (Region ABC Canada, Blu-ray)
  • February 10, 2009: 21 Grams (Region A Canada, Blu-ray)
  • February 12, 2009: Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Region ABC USA, Blu-ray)
  • February 21, 2009: Changeling (Region ABC USA, Blu-ray)
  • February 23, 2009: The Silence of the Lambs (Region A USA, Blu-ray)
  • February 26, 2009: Body of Lies (Region ABC USA, Blu-ray)
 
Posted: Saturday, February 28, 2009 at 11:59 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema
 

Do it yourself

Dell Ultrasharp 2709W

Impressively, after a few days of propping it up using a pile of CD jewel cases, my lopsided monitor is lopsided no more. I suppose you could say that, barring the pinching/backlight bleed in the top left hand corner, I’m now completely satisfied with this troublesome display. It’s also so large, as computer screens go, that every other display now looks tiny in comparison, including the 23” Fujitsu I now use in my bedroom, itself nothing to be sniffed at in the size stakes.

In other news, my next PhD deadline - the first draft of a chapter on the male protagonist in the gialli - is fast approaching, and I have written… not a lot. It’s funny, because back when this was decided on as my next objective, I felt I could easily rattle out a few thousand words (the rough aim, for this chapter, is 10,000, incidentally). Now, however, I’m finding myself facing a severe case of writer’s constipation. I know more or less what I want to say, but am having a surprising amount of difficulty in crafting it into something that flows. Next week is going to have to be a pretty intensive one as far as productivity goes, that’s all I can say.

 
Posted: Friday, February 27, 2009 at 10:19 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: PhD | Technology
 

Body of Lies Blu-ray impressions

Blu-ray

This evening, we watched Body of Lies, Ridley Scott’s most recent film. I tend to find Scott rather frustrating as a filmmaker. On the one hand, he has one of the best visual eyes of any Hollywood director, and when he’s on the ball and has a decent script to work with, can turn out some truly terrific material. On the other hand, of late he has demonstrated a rather unfortunate habit of picking scripts that just aren’t all that involving. To this day I haven’t managed to make it through American Gangster, and I found Body of Lies to be similarly heavy-going. In spite of the topical material (or, actually, possibly because of it), I just didn’t find myself connecting with any of the characters. Leonardo Di Caprio and Russell Crowe are both fine actors, but their characters never really came to life for me, and more often than not I felt as if I was just watching them wandering from one plot point to another, with nothing to involve me along the way. Frankly, the film just sort of “is”, and while it’s technically extremely well-made, and well-acted across the board, I just wish I had more of a reason to care about what was going on.

As for the disc, Warner really impressed me here. I’m accustomed to finding their transfers rather underwhelming, so it was a delight to be greeted by this extremely crisp and, for the most part, nicely-encoded image. Grain is superbly reproduced and detail is excellent, with no evidence of filtering or sharpening of any sort. Over at the AV Science Forum, Joshua Zyber pointed out some macro-blocking in Chapter 31, describing is as “some of the worst macroblocking” he’d ever seen on a BD. Naturally, I was on the look-out for it, and it’s true, there is some blocking in this scene (the walls and roof in a hospital ward in certain close-ups of Mark Strong are affected - see Example 15). However, I personally would describe it as fairly minor and can name several BDs with significantly worse compression problems. It’s certainly the only blight on what is otherwise an absolutely stellar encode. 9.5/10

Body of Lies
studio: Warner; country: USA; region code: ABC; codec: VC-1;
file size: 25.5 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 28.45 Mbit/sec

Body of Lies Body of Lies Body of Lies Body of Lies Body of Lies Body of Lies Body of Lies Body of Lies Body of Lies Body of Lies Body of Lies Body of Lies Body of Lies Body of Lies Body of Lies

 
Posted: Thursday, February 26, 2009 at 10:14 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology | Web
 

Just arrived…

Blu-ray

Body of Lies (Blu-ray, Warner, Region ABC, USA)

 
Posted: Thursday, February 26, 2009 at 1:30 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema
 

Third time’s a charm

Dell Ultrasharp 2709W

Monitor number three is currently sitting on my desk, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s “end of the road” time, meaning that I won’t be attempting to get this one replaced. A cursory glance and a good few hours’ usage have revealed no dead or stuck pixels, although I must admit that I’m not pouring over the thing with a magnifying glass: if there are any faulty pixels, I’d rather remain blissfully ignorant. (I’m pretty sure there aren’t any, though.)

The pinching effect is also greatly reduced on this one as compared to the previous one. The top left hand corner still shows some brightening, which is fairly noticeable in a darkened environment, but the rest of the screen appears to be unaffected and I think that, on the whole, this is something I can put up with. It’s far from ideal, but what can you do? I’d rather cope with this than go through the hassle of yet another replacement and run the risk of ending up with something worse.

By far the most noticeable issue with this unit, oddly enough, is that the screen itself is squint, sloping down to the right by about a centimetre. It’s not the end of the world, but I immediately noticed that it was lopsided as soon as I put it on the desk. Currently, I have a bunch of CD cases piled up underneath it, forcing it into a straighter position, which seems to be doing the trick. I’m hoping the lopsidedness will eventually be evened out by holding it in this position for an extended period, but if not, I can live with having to keep a stack of CD cases under it.

On the whole, I can’t say I’m all that impressed by Dell’s quality control. Their customer service is great - I dread to think what it would have been like trying to get this sort of service had I had to go through eBuyer rather than dealing directly with the manufacturer - but I find it frustrating that, after going through three different panels, I’m still encountering noticeable problems. Ultimately, I suppose it’s just that LCD is such a fickle technology, always doomed to be plagued with issues. It’s a shame, because the monitor I was using a couple of months back, the Sony MFM-HT205, was basically perfect for my needs, barring the fact that it wasn’t full HD. If Sony had made a 1920x1200 version of that screen, I don’t doubt that I would be using it now. In its absence, though, I’ve come to the conclusion that what Dell offers is a decent and more than acceptable alternative… provided you get lucky and end up with a good one, that is.

 
Posted: Monday, February 23, 2009 at 7:54 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Technology
 

Site update

Web

I’ve removed the Mainstream Cinema and Obscure Categories and combined them into a single Cinema category. The distinction between them was beginning to strike me as a bit pointless, and in any event, the line between the popular and the art-house is often so blurred that, in many cases, assigning a film to one grouping or the other was completely arbitrary.

By the way, if anyone’s found that it’s been taking an inordinately long time for comments to post, or for the Search box to function, it’s not just you. It’s been happening on and off at various points throughout the day, and has also been affecting my FTP access, as well as making Movable Type run like a dog (and I don’t mean a greyhound). Things seem to have improved considerably now, though, so let’s cross our fingers and hope that this was just an isolated blip.

 
Posted: Monday, February 23, 2009 at 4:57 PM
Categories: Cinema | Web
 

Just arrived…

Blu-ray

The Silence of the Lambs (Blu-ray, 20th Century Fox/MGM, Region A, USA)

By the way, despite what the press materials claimed, this is an MPEG-2 rather than AVC encode.

 
Posted: Monday, February 23, 2009 at 12:07 PM | Comments: 14 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

When the hunter becomes the hunted

Dollhouse

I watched the second episode of Dollhouse, The Target, this evening, and have come to the conclusion that it showed a marked improvement over the series premiere. Yes, the majority of the supporting cast are still as bland as they were in the pilot, but I felt that this one had more of a drive to it, the central storyline doing a better job of holding my attention and providing Echo with a personality more suited to Eliza Dushku’s acting and looks (sorry, but I just couldn’t buy her as a prim, strait-laced hostage negotiator last week). I detected a definite Deliverance vibe in this one, and it helped that Echo found herself facing off against a decidedly nasty antagonist this week - an outdoorsman who, tired of hunting defenceless animals, decided to move on to humans. The dialogue this week also struck me as a little more Whedonesque, although this episode was in fact written and directed by his old Buffy and Angel colleague, Steven S. DeKnight.

Incidentally, this episode provided a number of flashbacks which filled in some of the questions left unanswered in the pilot - such as what exactly happened to Amy Acker’s face? For the most part, they helped add a bit of background and texture to the world the series inhabits, but I personally hope this gimmick isn’t going to run throughout the series, Lost-style. A few expository flashbacks can be welcome, but pepper the entire series with them and I tend to find myself beginning to zone out.

 
Posted: Sunday, February 22, 2009 at 7:22 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Cinema | TV
 

The dead will continue to waken

Waking the Dead

For various reasons, one of which is the total sense of apathy I’m feeling after completing Series 6, my Waking the Dead project has stalled. I intend to get back to it before too long, but for the time being I direct you to the web site of my good friend the Baron, who offers his take on the pilot episode and Series 1.

By the way, once I’ve finished the Waking the Dead project (or, I should say, taken it as far as it can currently go, given that Series 8 is at this very moment in production), I’ll be turning my attention back to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and attempting to write a proper review of the series as a whole. I won’t be watching all 144 episodes again (I think that would be enough to finish me off completely), but rather providing a summary of my thoughts on the show aimed at those who haven’t necessarily watched it themselves - a definite failing in my Buffy project from a few years back.

 
Posted: Sunday, February 22, 2009 at 11:26 AM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead | Web
 

Just arrived…

Blu-ray

Changeling (Blu-ray, Universal, Region ABC, USA)

 
Posted: Saturday, February 21, 2009 at 6:35 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema
 

Monitor fiasco update

Dell Ultrasharp 2709W

I received a call today from the extremely helpful Mark at Dell technical support. (Seriously, this guy has been busting a gut trying to help me, which can’t have been easy given that, due to some sort of screw-up, the company has no record of my previous communications regarding my ongoing problems.) The long and short of it is that a third monitor will be delivered to me on Monday and the second one will be uplifted.

In other news, the “pinching” I previously mentioned as occurring in three of the panel’s four corners has begun to recede. No, it’s not completely gone, and it’s still quite noticeable with a black background in a dark room, but it currently looks considerably better than it did as little as five or six hours ago. This is most heartening to me, and suggests that such problems will eventually fade once the screen has been allowed to “settle in”. Of course, dead pixels (or stuck pixels that have been given a rigorous work-out with the likes of JScreenFix) can’t be fixed, but this does mean that, should Monday’s arrival suffer from the same pinching effect, I won’t immediately be panicking and calling up tech support. This allows me to concentrate solely on faulty pixels, and I’ve come to the conclusion that, should monitor #3 suffer from a single dead or stuck pixel in a relatively inconspicuous place, I’ll put up with it in return for an end to the hassle.

(Incidentally, it’s perhaps worth pointing out that the monitor I was using this time last year, the Sony MFM-HT205, had a single red stuck pixel fairly close to the centre of the panel. It actually took me over a year to become aware of it, and only because my brother, bless his perceptiveness, pointed it out to me.)

Here’s hoping the old adage of “third time’s a charm” turns out to be true.

PS. I showed my mum The Descent on BD tonight (my first gala screening of the new Australian release from beginning to end). She thought it was great. Then again, I’m not entirely surprised, because according to my dad I inherited my taste for horror movies from her.

Update, February 21st, 2009 at 08:12 PM: I’ve just noticed that the problem is now once again as bad as it has ever been. It appears to begin to show itself after the monitor has been on for a while and just gets progressively worse. Initially, it looks absolutely fine, but within a short space of time the issues begin to assert themselves.

 
Posted: Friday, February 20, 2009 at 10:03 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | General | Technology
 

The bird with the bungled audio

Blu-ray

As you may know, Dario Argento’s first film, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, gets its high definition debut in just under a week’s time, courtesy of Blue Underground’s upcoming Blu-ray release. Screen captures and a review have now appeared at DVD Beaver, and I’m afraid it’s a case of good news and bad news.

On the plus side, the screenshots (which are, admittedly, somewhat over-compressed as is the DVD Beaver standard and therefore not a 100% accurate representation of the final product) suggest a very fine video transfer with the natural grain structure intact and a pleasing amount of detail. The DVD was so filtered that it always felt as if you were watching the film through a misty window, so it is a pleasure to see these captures looking so crisp and defined. All of the extras from the previous 2-disc DVD release have also been ported over.

On the downside, what hasn’t been ported over is an audio mix that is in any way representative of Argento’s intentions. Gone are the 2.0 mono English and Italian tracks that were on the DVD. In their place, as with The Stendhal Syndrome, are an array of redundant encodes of the same surround remix. Note to Blue Underground: if you are going to include a DTS-HD Master Audio track, you do not need to also include separate Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital tracks of the same mix. It’s pointless, a waste of space and only causes you to have to pay more in licensing fees. It really sticks in my craw that the original mono tracks were discarded in favour of these space-hoggers, particularly given the twaddle Blue Underground spewed about not having enough space left for the original audio.

 
Posted: Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 7:41 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli
 

A pox on having standards!

Dell Ultrasharp 2709W

On Saturday, I discovered a stuck pixel on my lovely new monitor. It wasn’t the worst I’ve seen: it was turquoise, in the bottom centre area of the screen, and was only visible against certain colours, such as white and yellow. I could probably have put up with it. Still, Dell does advertise a Premium Panel Guarantee for their Ultrasharp range, stating that, if even a single stuck pixel is discovered while the display is still under warranty, they will replace it free of charge. On Monday, therefore, after running a pixel unjammer applet overnight to no avail, I arranged just such a replacement. The new monitor arrived on Tuesday, at which point the courier handed it over and uplifted the old one.

This is where the problems begin. Within about a minute of plugging in the new monitor, I noticed that it too had a stuck pixel: a red one this time, in the upper right of the screen and extremely difficult to ignore. Shortly afterwards, as the night began to draw in and the room got progressively darker, I noticed that a rather pronounced “pinching” effect was visible in the upper left, upper right and bottom left corners, where these parts of the screen were noticeably brighter than the rest (I’m led to believe that this tends to be the result of the panel being too tight). Then, to cap it all, this morning I discovered another faulty pixel: a dead (black) one in the upper left corner.

By this stage, I was greatly regretting ever having requested a replacement, the new one being significantly worse than the old one. Just over an hour ago, I called up Dell technical support to arrange a second pick-up, only to be told that they had no record whatsoever of the previous exchange. After the support representative did his best to locate some trace of the previous call or indeed the handover, he told me that all he could do was leave a note for his supervisor and get her to look into the matter tomorrow morning. As a result, I won’t be seeing my replacement until Monday at the earliest.

Curse my need for perfection! If I’d just stuck with the first monitor, I could probably have lived with its stuck pixel. It’s one of those occasions where I wish I could just wind back the clock and undo what I’ve done. At the time, my thinking was that, having paid a premium price, I should expect a premium panel with zero defects. Now, however, I would gladly put up with a single, minor defect rather than the multiple, noticeable defects I now find myself faced with. I can foresee myself having to go through multiple models until I get something I’m completely happy with.

 
Posted: Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 7:02 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Technology
 

A classic that never was

Blu-ray

So my copy of the upcoming Blu-ray release of The Silence of the Lambs was dispatched from MovieTyme today. At the moment, my brother is in the final stages of his work on the upcoming Mondo Vision DVD of Andrzej Zulawksi’s L’important c’est d’aimer, so I’m currently used to seeing (and hearing) Klaus Kinski ranting (in either French, German or English) on a more or less daily basis. During one of his fine tirades, we ended up speculating as to what The Silence of the Lambs would have been like had Kinski played the role of Hannibal Lecter. “Very different” is, I suspect, the answer. From there, I naturally began to wonder what the film would have been like had it been directed by one of Kinski’s most frequent collaborators, and populated by his regular cast. Here’s what I came up with:

The Silence of the Lambs
A film by Jess Franco
Written and produced by Harry Alan Towers

Soledad Miranda as Clarice Starling
Klaus Kinski as Dr. Hannibal Lecter
Herbert Lom as Jack Crawford
Christopher Lee as Dr. Frederick Chilton
Paul Muller as Jame Gumb
Lina Romay as Ardelia Mapp
Romina Power as Catherine Martin
Maria Rohm as Senator Ruth Martin

I’m still struggling to cast the all-important role of Barney. Can any Franco experts out there suggest a suitable actor?

 
Posted: Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at 8:00 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | General | Mondo Vision
 

The Simpsonzzzzzz…

Television

This Sunday, The Simpsons will be making its jump from standard definition to high definition, and in doing so will be losing its only element that remains remotely cartoony. I’m talking, of course, about the opening title sequence, directed by David Silverman back in 1989 and virtually unchanged in two decades (barring some alterations made at the start of the second season). A copy of the new, re-animated title sequence can be seen on YouTube, and it’s every bit as sterile and lifeless as the animation you now find in the show itself. The Simpsons was always an extremely conservative-looking show, but in earlier years it at least had a bit of life to it, and the intro was always the liveliest part of it, combining fast and at times expressive animation with some humorous sight gags and a memorable theme tune. Yes, it looked crude, but at least it was fun. Watching the new version, it feels almost like listening to a favourite song in slow-play mode. All the energy has gone, and the poses have been evened out (polished, some would say) to the point of indistinction. There’s hardly any snap to the animation now, and the new sight gags are so obvious and poorly timed that it feels like the writers (and I guarantee someone actually sat down and scripted every single one of these gags) are pointing to them and saying “Lookie lookie! See how clever we are, slipping in this subtle joke that you wouldn’t have noticed if we hadn’t pointed it out?” And, if you think it seems bad after a first viewing, just imagine how you’ll be feeling after seeing the same thing every episode for another twenty seasons.

I understand why they redid the intro. The Simpsons is long overdue in making the leap to HD, and there’s no way the grotty old video-based intro would have held up in 720 or 1080p. However, it just illustrates the extent to which, over the years, the show’s look has stagnated as much as its written humour. I’m not sure why I’m so bothered about this as I don’t actually watch The Simpsons any more, unless it’s a rerun of an earlier episode, but I suppose I just see this as indicative of the state of animation these days.

Out of curiosity, does anyone know if they still use people to draw this show, or do they just have a machine to do it now?

The Simpsons (1989-2009) The Simpsons (2009-)
The Simpsons (1989-2009) The Simpsons (2009-)
The Simpsons (1989-2009) The Simpsons (2009-)
The Simpsons (1989-2009) The Simpsons (2009-)

Source: Yahoo News

 
Posted: Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at 5:11 PM | Comments: 12 (view)
Categories: Animation | TV | Web
 

The Constant Gardener Blu-ray impressions

Blu-ray

This afternoon, I finally got round to watching Kinowelt’s Region B German Blu-ray release of The Constant Gardener, a great adaptation of the John Le Carré thriller that I previously saw back in 2006 on DVD. The BD is, I suspect, a fairly accurate representation of the source materials, which don’t exhibit a massive amount of detail, although this does vary on a scene by scene basis. What also varies is the grain retention: some scenes exhibit a naturally grainy veneer, whereas others (such as Example 2) appear noticeably noise reduced (pay attention to Ralph Fiennes’ face). It’s unclear at what stage this was carried out, but given the inconsistency I have reason to assume that it was done selectively at the DI stage. Meanwhile, compression is adequate, although certain wide shots do exhibit a degree of blocking (as in Example 6). An acceptable if slightly problematic presentation overall. 7/10

The Constant Gardener
studio: ArtHaus/Kinowelt; country: Germany; region code: B; codec: AVC;
file size: 29.2 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 32.54 Mbit/sec

The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener

 
Posted: Monday, February 16, 2009 at 6:12 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology
 

Blu-ray review: Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Blu-ray
Charming and unabashedly entertaining, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist may seem like an unexpected choice for one of my favourite films of 2008, but, truth be told, it made more of an impression on me than many of the year’s supposedly more “important” contenders. Sony’s Blu-ray release is largely excellent, with a decent A/V presentation and a fine array of extras.

I review the recent Region ABC (US) release of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Sony Pictures’ latest celebration of illegal music sharing.

Review at DVD Times.

 
Posted: Sunday, February 15, 2009 at 7:00 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews
 

In the end, we’re all just puppets

Dollhouse

So Joss Whedon’s new TV show, Dollhouse, began airing on Fox this Friday, and if viewing figures for the series premiere, Ghost (written and directed by Whedon), are anything to go by, it may very well end up being yanked before completing its initial 13-episode run. Which would be a shame, because, while the episode suffered from some pretty significant problems, what I saw did leave me with some hope that the Joss Whedon in charge of this project is the one who produced the first five seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer rather than the one who oversaw its final two seasons on television and subsequently the dreadful comic book-bound Season 8.

Basically, the premise is that a shadowy organisation rents out young men and women whose minds have been erased to those who can afford to pay for them - whether so they can engage in a bit of hanky-panky, negotiate a hostage release, or even use them for something downright illegal. Basically, these “Dolls” or “Actives” are blank slates who can be imprinted with any persona, and following successful completion of their assignment, their minds are erased once more until their next mission. One of these Actives is Echo (Eliza Dushku, who played the recurring role of Faith in Buffy and its spin-off, Angel), who, following a cock-up which occurs during one such assignment, begins to develop a degree of self-awareness. A maverick FBI agent, meanwhile, seemingly the only person to believe that this “Dollhouse” actually exists, is hell-bent on infiltrating it and apprehending the perpetrators.

Dollhouse

There’s a heck of a lot of potential in this concept, given that the programme essentially serves as a showcase for Eliza Dushku’s range as an actress. Put simply, each episode stands to present us with a completely different scenario and Dushku with a completely different character to play. In this opening episode, we see three basic personae: the go-getter party girl glimpsed in the pre-credits teaser (who arguably has the most in common with Faith), the more or less blank slate that is Echo herself when not programmed with any personality, and the slick, efficient hostage negotiator whose identity she adopts for the kidnapping narrative that forms the main thrust of the episode, in which the young daughter of a rich Mexican businessman is abducted by a gang of unsavoury sorts, one of whom is a child rapist. The latter of these assumed identities is not all that convincing, as Dushku’s style of acting doesn’t really go with the primly-dressed, spectacle-wearing agent she ends up playing here. Then again, maybe it’s my fault for not being able to get her Buffy days out of my head.

The rest of the cast, unfortunately, are neither here nor there. They exist, but nothing about them really makes them stand out - shades of the Initiative from Buffy’s fourth season, I fear, where the various cadets and commandos did nothing to distinguish themselves. Compare this first episode of Dollhouse to the first episode of Buffy, where Willow, Giles, Xander et al immediately conveyed their personalities through their characterisation and dialogue, not to mention the performances of the actors. The same was also true of Angel, which, in its first season, had a minimal cast comprised of three diametrically opposed characters - Angel, Cordelia and Doyle (the latter being replaced part-way through by Wesley). There’s precious little of that here: broadly speaking, you could replace Dollhouse’s supporting cast with that of any police procedural and no-one would be any the wiser. Case in point: I can’t actually remember the name of the male lead (the aforementioned FBI agent), whom I suspect is being set up to be the yin to Echo’s yang. I wonder to what extent this has to do with the almost complete absence of Whedon’s traditional “peppy” dialogue: by and large, the characters here talk like normal people. On the one hand, it’s actually somewhat refreshing to see Whedon varying his style a bit; on the other, what we’re left with is fairly generic and forgettable. There are a few good lines here and there (for instance, our FBI agent, after accosting an informant in the process of making use of the facilities, tells him “Remember to wash your hands… and your shoes”; another good one is “We said no strings,” “We also said no ropes, and look how long that lasted”), but again they’re largely interchangeable with any number of other shows of the ilk. I got more than a few hints of Alias (which featured Jennifer Garner trotting about under a variety of assumed identities, working for a shadowy organisation which hadn’t told her the whole truth about what she was doing… albeit without the memory loss aspect), which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but does show that Dollhouse needs to do something more to distinguish itself.

Dollhouse

Ultimately, I suppose what excites me about this project is where it could ultimately end up going if the network gives it the opportunity. At its most basic level, we have a fast-paced and varied show featuring a charismatic actress assuming a vast array of different personae. On a deeper level, however, we have what essentially boils down to a story about people trafficking and the suppression of free will. We’re told, initially, that the Actives are essentially volunteers who knowingly submitted themselves to having their minds wiped and being turned into what are ultimately prostitutes (both literally and, on occasion, figuratively). However, one has to wonder to what extent any of these people actually knew what they were getting into when they signed up. (It’s a bit like in The Matrix, where Neo is offered the choice of the red and the blue pill. I’ve always wondered if he would really have chosen the red pill had he known what he was letting himself in for beforehand.) The way the B-plot featuring the FBI agent is developing also leads me to suspect that we are in fact headed for a revelation that at least some of the Actives have in fact been abducted and mind-wiped against their wills.

This is quite a potent cocktail of thematic concerns, and the extent to which they are allowed to be played out will, I suspect, be determined by whether or not Fox opts to pull the plug on the show, as they did with Firefly. On the one hand, the Network seems to have really got behind the show and is marketing the hell out of it, as well as using it as a pilot scheme for its new “Remote-Free TV” concept, where shows air with half the usual number of commercials, resulting in an extended running time. According to Eliza Dushku, Whedon already has a five-year arc planned for the characters and storyline. Whether he’ll get to follow it through is, currently, in the lap of the network gods.

Oh, and just in case all that text was beginning to bore you, here is a Dollhouse promo pic of Eliza Dushku with her bum out.

Eliza Dushku
 
Posted: Sunday, February 15, 2009 at 11:34 AM | Comments: 9 (view)
Categories: Books | Cinema | Reviews | TV
 

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist Blu-ray impressions

Blu-ray

In a world where depressing, “serious” movies tend to get all the kudos, it’s sometimes difficult to shake the impression that feel-good films tend to get overlooked. The other night, I watched 21 Grams, which wasn’t exactly a laugh a minute, so it made for a nice change of pace tonight to sit down to Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Sony Pictures’ latest film to celebrate the joys of music piracy. This was very much a blind buy, but one that paid off: I can’t remember the last time I found a movie this damn enjoyable. On paper, there’s not really all that much to it - two misfits bond over their love of indie music and go on a night-time jaunt across New York City to locate a missing and intoxicated friend - but it left me with a great big smile on my face and warmed the cockles of my black and cynical heart.

Sony Pictures’ BD is very good, albeit with the caveat that the bit rate appears to have been decidedly inadequate given the film’s naturally grainy look, coupled with a lot of jittery, hand-held camerawork. The overall bit rate - just over 40 Mbit/sec - sounds pretty high on paper, although in reality much of this goes to the three Dolby TrueHD audio tracks, one Dolby Digital 5.1 track and two 2.0 commentaries. That leaves around 26 Mbit/sec for the video itself, which should have been enough, but the amount of mosquito noise on display suggests that whoever encoded this put it on what is known about the HMS Whimsy as Very Fast Mode™. It’s a nice-looking image overall, considerably more pleasant in motion than in the static screen captures below, but it’s a shame it doesn’t look perfect, as I believe it could have done. 9/10

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist
studio: Sony Pictures; country: USA; region code: ABC; codec: AVC;
file size: 25.1 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 40.17 Mbit/sec

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist

 
Posted: Friday, February 13, 2009 at 9:58 PM
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

Just arrived…

Blu-ray

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Blu-ray, Sony Pictures, Region ABC, USA)

Note: this is part of a new feature I’m trying where, instead of waiting ‘til I’ve done an in-depth examination/viewing of a disc before posting about it, I’ll notify you about any new additions to my collection the moment they land on my doormat. That way, if there’s any interest, we can get a discussion up and running about it as soon as possible.

 
Posted: Thursday, February 12, 2009 at 10:14 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Web
 
 

 
 
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