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

DVD/Blu-ray/HD DVD
  • March 4, 2009: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Region ABC USA, Blu-ray)
  • March 7, 2009: Bolt (Region A/1 USA, Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy)
  • March 12, 2009: Pinocchio (Region A/1 USA, Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy)
  • March 13, 2009: Quantum of Solace (Region A USA, Blu-ray)
  • March 19, 2009: Four Flies on Grey Velvet (Region 0 USA, DVD) [review copy]
  • March 19, 2009: Weeds: Season One (Region ABC USA, Blu-ray)
  • March 20, 2009: Rebus (Region 0 UK, DVD)
  • March 20, 2009: Suspiria (Region B Italy, Blu-ray)
  • March 23, 2009: Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death (Region ABC UK, Blu-ray)
Posted: Tuesday, March 31, 2009 at 8:39 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | TV

BD review: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

As far as the transfer goes, this BD release of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is a superb example of how to properly treat a catalogue title. In terms of audio however, the lack of the original mono mixes is a grave oversight and one that sullies this release considerably. It’s a delight to see Dario Argento’s landmark first film released in high definition and looking this good, but without it’s original sound this release can never hope to be considered definitive.

Dario Argento’s landmark first film, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, arrives on BD courtesy of Blue Underground. I crack the case over at DVD Times.

Posted: Sunday, March 29, 2009 at 5:51 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | Reviews

Four Flies on Shaky Ground (long post)


So, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, huh? I was going to post about the new DVD from Mya some time ago, but to be honest, every time I was about to actually write something, it seemed as if some new scrap of information emerged. The latest, of course, is that an upcoming Italian DVD release from 01 Distribution has been halted, because the Argentos have cried foul and are taking legal action against the perpetrators. Going by a Google translation of a statement issued by close Argento associate Luigi Cozzi, an “unidentified foreign company” sold the film’s rights to RAI, but Dario and Claudio Argento claimed that these rights were not theirs to sell. Obviously, this is going to take some time to sort out, and in the meantime the question has arisen as to exactly how legitimate the Mya release is. The Argentos claim to own the film’s rights in every territory except the US, where they are held by Paramount, but there can be little doubt that the Mya DVD was put together without any input from Paramount, which in turn raises the possibility that Mya’s release is on ground every bit as shaky as the postponed Italian release. For the time being, I’m going to assume that the Mya is legit, but my advice would be to pick up a copy of it immediately if you want it. You never know - tomorrow we could wake up to find that all remaining copies have been yanked from the shelves.

So, let’s get all this legal farragho out of the way and discuss what really matters: the disc itself. So, the “lost” Argento film that fans have been clamouring for, for the better part of four decades. Presumably, then, Mya pulled out all the stops to make the definitive release of this elusive gem? Well… no, not really. In actual fact, Mya have screwed up this release pretty royally, on two counts:

1. The English audio track is a disaster.

2. Approximately 40 seconds’ worth of material is missing. No, really.

[Continue reading "Four Flies on Shaky Ground (long post)"...]

Posted: Friday, March 27, 2009 at 3:08 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | TV | Technology | Web

Just arrived…


Four Flies on Grey Velvet (DVD, Mya, Region 0, USA)

What, you thought I was going to sit this one out?


Weeds: Season One (Blu-ray, Lions Gate, Region ABC, USA)

A steal at $12. It occurred to me that I didn’t actually own any television series in high definition, so I decided to take a chance on this one, about which I’ve heard positive things.

Posted: Thursday, March 19, 2009 at 2:50 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | TV

So near and yet so far


I reached a significant milestone in my PhD thesis today: the completion of the initial draft of my first actual analysis chapter. Prior to that, I’d written an Introduction (Chapter 1) and more drafts of the Literature Review (Chapter 2) than I care to remember. As a result, actually sitting down and writing about the films themselves came as something of a relief after nearly a year and a half of wading through the swamps of purely theoretical thinking.

This piece, which will be either Chapter 3 or Chapter 4 in the finished thesis (depending on where the chapter I’m going to work on next ends up fitting in), examines the male protagonists of gialli like The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Short Night of the Glass Dolls - apparently “liberated” middle-class artists indulging in bohemian lifestyles in major European cities - and the issues of power and powerlessness that emerge from the films. Crucial to this chapter is my overriding theory that the characters in these gialli, which I have dubbed ‘masculine nightmare’ films, are embroiled in an ongoing power struggle, whether the aggressor is a serial killer, a duplicitous wife or society itself. From my conclusion to the chapter (warning: spoilers below):

Central to these portrayals of the roving male protagonist as a perpetual victim of suppression is an underlying fear of the loss of liberty: regardless of the situations in which they find themselves, characters such as Sam Dalmas, Andrea Bild, George Dumurrier and Greg Moore ultimately find themselves destabilised, trapped and powerless. All too often, they find out that the world is not exactly what they thought it was, whether it turns out that the apparently helpless victim is in fact the aggressor (in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage), that a supposedly dead wife is in fact very much alive (in One on Top of the Other), or that “the average man” cannot in fact “survive and keep individualism alive” (in Short Night of the Glass Dolls). Ultimately, they are left trapped, isolated and unable to trust even their own eyes; in short, they are denied agency.

The fact that these ‘masculine nightmare’ gialli materialised during a period of significant social reform and considerable advancement for, among others, the women’s liberation movements of Italy, Europe and the world at large seems, to point to a fear of the loss of power and control afforded to men in conventional patriarchal society that extends far beyond the conventional ‘boogie (wo)man’ stories portrayed in these films. Put simply, while a giallo such as Short Night of the Glass Dolls centres on the prevalent worst nightmare of being buried alive, it is actually addressing a far broader fear of a loss of power, control and authority in general…

If all that didn’t sound too esoteric for your tastes, and you’re interested in taking a look let me know (ideally, by emailing me at whiggles[at]ntlworld[dot]com) and I can send you a copy.

Foucault, by the way, turned out to be very useful in conceptualising this notion of “power”. Or rather, Sarah Mills’ explanation of what Foucault was actually on about. If you’re struggling to make head or tail of the man’s writing, I heartily recommend her book, part of the Routledge “Critical Thinkers” series.

Posted: Monday, March 16, 2009 at 2:55 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | PhD

Quantum of Solace BD impressions


Now this is frustrating. A number of people, whose opinions I value highly, have praised Quantum of Solace, but I must confess that, as I watched it, I kept thinking “Am I missing something?” I should, I suspect, say up front that I’m not a James Bond fan. I’ve only seen a handful of the films, and Casino Royale is the only other one I own a copy of. I found that particular film to be a very impressive reboot of a series that, from what I could see, had become very formulaic and rooted in fantasy. It toned down the over-the-top set-pieces and brought characterisation to the forefront, giving Bond a distinctive personality, something he never really had for me in any of the other films I’d seen. I had high hopes for Quantum of Solace, but was ultimately very disappointed. The basic plot itself isn’t the problem. I rather like it, in fact, and the thematic elements, particularly the recurring motifs of betrayal and trust, could have made for some meaty material. For me, it comes down to a combination of the script, which is muddled and unfocused, and the direction, which is confusing at best and staggeringly inept at worst, especially in terms of the action sequences. Newcomer Marc Forster appears to hail from the “shakeycam” school of direction and the “blunt scissors” college of editing, and as a result the film has too much in common with the Bourne franchise for its own good. Scarcely a minute went by when I didn’t find myself wishing Martin Campbell and his editor, Stuart Baird, had stuck around after Casino Royale and handled this one too. Casino Royale was genuinely well-made and its stylistic restraint was greatly appreciated in an age where every action film director seems to think making things as incomprehensible as possible is the way to go. Some striking images aside (Bond and Camille wandering through the desert is a particular stand-out), this just looks and feels like a generic action movie.

Daniel Craig is good in the title role, but he doesn’t have anything like as much to work with here as he did in the previous film, beyond the vague notion of him being hell-bent on revenge. Olga Kurylenko and Gemma Arterton, meanwhile, do their best, but they don’t fare well on the heels of Casino’s Eva Green, who to be fair is, alongside Emily Blunt, possibly the most charismatic actress of her generation. The performance I enjoyed the most was that of Giancarlo Giannini, whom I’ve enjoyed in everything from The Black Belly of the Tarantula to Hannibal, and who manages to give the character of Mathis some real humanity.

For a more favourable take on the film, by the way, Baron Scarpia is your man.

Casino Royale’s BD release was handled by Sony Pictures, and a superb job they did of it too: it got my coveted “10/10” rating on the Discerning Viewer’s Ranking List, and to this day is almost always the first disc we reach for when testing new hardware. With Quantum of Solace, the home video rights have shifted back to MGM, who through their distribution partner 20th Century Fox have put out a very good disc. Detail is very impressive when the camera stays still for more than a second, and the compression is superbly handled from beginning to end. I suspect that a minute amount of filtering may have been applied - either that or I’m seeing the results of downscaling from the 4K master. What I’m referring to is a small amount of ringing around high frequency edges: check the location type in Example 1 and the subtitles in Example 16 to see it at its most obvious (and even then it’s pretty subtle). It’s the only black mark I can possibly give to this otherwise stellar presentation. 9.5/10

By the way, check out the extremely obvious selective airbrushing that has sporadically been applied to Judi Dench’s forehead. Always good for a laugh, and even better for taking you out of the film with its distractingness. Don’t you just love it?

Quantum of Solace
studio: 20th Century Fox/MGM; country: USA; region code: A; codec: AVC;
file size: 27 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 36.43 Mbit/sec

Quantum of Solace Quantum of Solace Quantum of Solace Quantum of Solace Quantum of Solace Quantum of Solace Quantum of Solace Quantum of Solace Quantum of Solace Quantum of Solace Quantum of Solace Quantum of Solace Quantum of Solace Quantum of Solace Quantum of Solace Quantum of Solace Quantum of Solace Quantum of Solace

Posted: Friday, March 13, 2009 at 10:01 PM | Comments: 12 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Gialli | Technology

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage BD impressions


The giallo lives in HD! Long live the giallo!

Ahem. Tonight, we watched Blue Underground’s recent BD release of Dario Argento’s debut film, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, the first “true” giallo to appear in high definition (I’m not sure The Stendhal Syndrome truly counts). I’ve waxed lyrical about the film in the past, so I won’t bother discussing that aspect of the package here. Instead, I want to concentrate solely on the audio-visual elements, starting with the excellent transfer, which exceeded my expectations by a considerable margin.

Like so many of its ilk, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was shot using the Chromoscope process, a system not unlike Super35 in practice. Lenses have obviously progressed a long way since 1970, so you’d be wrong to expect something with the crispness of a modern Super35 production like, say, Casino Royale or The Descent. Once you get past the fact that a number of scenes have a natural softness to them, presumably reflecting the natural aberrations of the lenses used, you can enjoy this rich, film-like and ultimately extremely satisfying presentation of an excellent movie. The grain is lovingly rendered with a crispness that resolves detail down to the pixel level, allowing the softness that pervades at times to look natural and film-like rather than the mush you get when an image has been artificially softened. Compression is handled very well for the most part, with only a handful of noticeable artefacts, most of them in darker scenes, invading on occasions. My only real criticism as regards this release would be Blue Underground’s decision to insert English-language opening and closing credits, which turn out to be blurrier and slightly more processed-looking than the rest of the movie. Given that, barring a single insert during the opening credits, all the on-screen text appears in Italian (newspaper headlines, computer print-outs and the like), I don’t know why they didn’t just leave the whole thing in Italian and give it a sense of unity.

Which brings us to the slight matter of sound. Whatever Blue Underground got right with the transfer, they well and truly fumbled on the aural front. Gone are the original English and Italian mono tracks that were to be found on the DVD release. In their place are an array of remixes in a variety of formats, which simply serve to take up space and cancel each other out. In addition to a lossy Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 EX remix, we get three separate English tracks, all of them surround sound remixes: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, Dolby TrueHD 7.1, and Dolby Digital 5.1 EX. One of these English tracks would have been more than sufficient. The first two audio formats are both lossless and should therefore (in theory) sound identical. Furthermore, both feature “legacy” standard definition audio streams for those who don’t have the hardware to play these new lossless HD audio formats, rendering the Dolby 5.1 EX track pointless. Blue Underground also had the nerve to claim that the reason they left the original mono audio out was because there wasn’t enough room for it, what with all the disc space taken up by these remixes. This is crazy on two fronts. First of all, if they didn’t cram the disc full of redundant remixes, there would have been plenty room. Secondly, it’s all academic, because in any case there is enough room left on the disc for additional audio tracks: a mere 31.7 GB out of a total of 50 GB is actually used.

Ultimately, there is no excuse for this sorry state of affairs, and it means that, as much as Blue Underground might like it to be, this release cannot possibly be considered definitive. I sincerely hope someone there takes notice of the negative criticism they have attracted for this decision, both from myself and other viewers, because, by failing to include the original audio materials, they are doing a great disservice both to the films and to their customers. I’m well aware that a “flat” mono track won’t wow listeners in the same manner as a bells-and-whistles 7.1 remix, but personally I care a great deal about the preservation of films, and this is not possible to do if the original elements have been tampered with. For me, remixing is as offensive a process as colourisation, and only slightly less obnoxious than pan-and-scan.

Image: 9/10; Audio: 0/10

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage
studio: Blue Underground; country: USA; region code: ABC; codec: AVC;
file size: 28.5 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 42.42 Mbit/sec

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage The Bird with the Crystal Plumage The Bird with the Crystal Plumage The Bird with the Crystal Plumage The Bird with the Crystal Plumage The Bird with the Crystal Plumage The Bird with the Crystal Plumage The Bird with the Crystal Plumage The Bird with the Crystal Plumage The Bird with the Crystal Plumage The Bird with the Crystal Plumage The Bird with the Crystal Plumage The Bird with the Crystal Plumage The Bird with the Crystal Plumage The Bird with the Crystal Plumage The Bird with the Crystal Plumage The Bird with the Crystal Plumage The Bird with the Crystal Plumage The Bird with the Crystal Plumage The Bird with the Crystal Plumage The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

Posted: Friday, March 06, 2009 at 9:14 PM | Comments: 10 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | Technology

The bird with the bungled audio


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

DVDs I bought or received in the month of December

DVD/Blu-ray/HD DVD
  • December 4, 2008: My Blueberry Nights (Region B UK, Blu-ray)
  • December 8, 2008: Chemical Wedding (Region 2 UK, DVD)
  • December 8, 2008: Bodies: The Complete Collection (Region 2 UK, DVD)
  • December 8, 2008: Home Alone (Region A USA, Blu-ray)
  • December 8, 2008: La Femme Nikita (Region ABC USA, Blu-ray)
  • December 11, 2008: Fight Club (Region B Germany, Blu-ray)
  • December 11, 2008: The Constant Gardener (Region B Germany, Blu-ray)
  • December 11, 2008: Chungking Express (Region A USA, Blu-ray)
  • December 17, 2008: From Dusk Till Dawn: The Trilogy (Region 2 UK, DVD) [gift]
  • December 24, 2008: Profondo Rosso (2-disc edition) (Region 2 Italy, DVD and WMV9 HD disc)
  • December 27, 2008: Hannibal Rising (Region ABC UK, Blu-ray)
  • December 27, 2008: Night of the Living Dead (Region B UK, Blu-ray)
  • December 27, 2008: Transformers (Region ABC UK, Blu-ray)
  • December 27, 2008: The Island (Region ABC UK, Blu-ray)
  • December 31, 2008: Trial & Retribution: The Fourth Collection (Region 2 UK, DVD)

Quite a haul to round off the year.

Posted: Wednesday, December 31, 2008 at 11:58 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli

DVD image comparison: Profondo Rosso


On Christmas Eve, my copy of Medusa’s R2 Italian 2-disc edition of Profondo Rosso arrived. While the first disc contained in the package is exactly the same as the underwhelming single-disc (standards converted) edition released by the company the same year, the second features a high definition (1440x816) presentation of the film encoded in Microsoft’s Windows Media Video 9 format. Playable only on Windows PCs and featuring only a 5.1 remix of the audio in Italian (with no subtitles of any kind), it’s understandably less than ideal, but what it does do is hint at what a hypothetical Blu-ray Disc release might eventually look like.

Anyway, click here for a full comparison featuring the US Anchor Bay DVD, the recent Danish release from AWE, and the two Medusa discs - the standard DVD and the WMV9 version.

Profondo Rosso in standard definition Profondo Rosso in high definition

Posted: Monday, December 29, 2008 at 10:41 PM | Comments: 17 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | Technology

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Best wishes of the holiday season to all Land of Whimsy visitors. May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white! I’m afraid I’ve been pretty busy this December (I even drew the short straw and ended up working the Christmas Eve shift at the library) and haven’t had time to draw one of my crappy pictures this year, so I thought I’d post a picture of our Christmas tree to warm the cockles of your heart. And yes, that is a hulking great CRT television. My dad bought it close to a decade ago, and it was his pride and joy. It’s now covered with discolouration splotches and hasn’t been turned on in so long that I’ll be amazed if it still works at all.

By the way, there has been an interesting development in my quest to get to the bottom of the Profondo Rosso situation. I’m continuing to investigate the issue and hope to be able to report back on it in a couple of days, but let’s just say that an absolutely gorgeous high definition master appears to exist…

Posted: Wednesday, December 24, 2008 at 10:30 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | General | Gialli | Technology

Profondo Rosso AWE DVD impressions (long post)


Note: I am extremely grateful to Thomas Rostock for setting me up with a copy. Thanks!

Another World Entertainment is a Danish DVD company whose mission statement is “to try to secure the best possible transfers and extras available and to lavish attention on each film through booklets, trivia and other bonus features.” They have already released a handful of giallo titles, including Duccio Tessari’s Puzzle, Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper and Sergio Martino’s Torso, and the latest film to come under their radar is Dario Argento’s Profondo Rosso/Deep Red, called “the giallo to end all gialli” by someone whose name has unfortunately escaped me. Earlier in the year, Thomas Rostock, the person responsible for masterminding this release, contacted me to let me know about it and discussed various matters with me. What follows are my honest opinions on the finished piece, going into as much detail as possible. (Note: I am grateful to Thomas for filling me in on some of the historical issues surrounding this film’s life on DVD.)

[Continue reading "Profondo Rosso AWE DVD impressions (long post)"...]

Posted: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 at 10:44 AM | Comments: 13 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli

A picture’s worth a thousand words


I want to take a moment to showcase a web site run by one of Land of Whimsy’s regular readers, Bjørn Erik Hundland. Specialising in direct screen captures of Blu-ray discs releases, it proves the old adage that a picture really is worth a thousand words. While it’s not always possible to tell exactly how a disc will look in motion based upon static screenshots (The Stendhal Syndrome being a prime example of how still frames can be misleading), I tend to find them infinitely more useful than the average wordy article written for one of the “professional” review sites. Immediately, you can get a good idea of the transfer’s overall detail levels and, on a calibrated monitor, the colour, contrast and brightness levels. Often, you can also pick out degraining, filtering, edge enhancement and other unpleasantries.

What I particularly like about Erik’s site is that he’s showcasing titles that are a little off the beaten track - ones which generally don’t get much attention on other sites providing similar services. This is particularly true of titles coming out of Hong Kong and the Scandinavian countries, where, by the looks of it, some very nice work is being produced. So, if you like the HD screen captures I provide on my site, be sure to bookmark Erik’s, which provides a similar service to mine, albeit covering a slightly different range of material.

Posted: Tuesday, December 02, 2008 at 9:24 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | Technology | Web

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 | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli

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

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

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.

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

DVDs I bought or received in the month of October

DVD/Blu-ray/HD DVD
  • Carrie (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • Chicken Run (R0 France, Blu-ray)
  • Disturbia (R0 UK, HD DVD)
  • The Fourth Protocol (R2 UK, DVD)
  • The Frighteners (R0 UK, HD DVD)
  • How the West Was Won (R0 USA, Blu-ray)
  • In the Folds of the Flesh (R0 USA, DVD)
  • L.A. Confidental (R0 USA, Blu-ray)
  • Léon: The Professional (RB Germany, Blu-ray)
  • Lewis: Series Two (R2 UK, DVD)
  • A Mighty Heart (R0 UK, HD DVD)
  • Monster (R0 Germany, Blu-ray)
  • The Omen Collection (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • Sleeping Beauty (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • Trial & Retribution: The Third Collection (R2 UK, DVD)

Oh god… that sound is my bank balance groaning. It’s been a long, long time since I bought this many titles in a single month - chalk it up to timing more than anything. I shall have to take care to ration myself strictly for the next little while.

Posted: Friday, October 31, 2008 at 10:42 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Gialli | HD DVD

Beware of neo-Nazi teenagers and speeding paramedics

Casualty Series 23 cast

It really doesn’t seem that long ago that I delivered a fairly damning prognosis of Casualty’s 22nd series, and yet here we are once again, with Series 23 kicking off with a two-parter spread over the previous two nights (Saturday and Sunday). As ever, I made a point of not getting my hopes up too high, but, as with last year’s season premiere, I found myself enjoying the two episodes much more than I’d expected, and am now having to make a concerted effort to temper my anticipation for the rest of the series in case I end up being let down again.

The premise this time was a rather imaginative one, charting the events unfolding around a camera crew shooting a documentary about the hospital and its staff. Ably written by Mark Catley, who handled most of the best episodes in the previous series, and skilfully directed by Keith Boak (despite his over-reliance on the dreaded shakycam), the framing device of the crew interviewing the various regulars was put to great effect, frequently cutting away from the main action to provide an insight into their thoughts on the trials, tribulations and internal politics of the job. The main plot, meanwhile, followed the documentary team as they accompanied one of the ambulance crews out to the troubled Farmead estate, where they ended up trapped in a burning building after Sammy, a delightful teenage girl (choice dialogue: “Your breath stinks… is it coffee or are you sure you’ve not just been drinking shit?”) with neo-Nazi sympathies and a perpetual scowl on her face, set off some fireworks. Their last-minute escape from the inferno, however, was very much a case of “out of the frying pan, into the fire”, as the ambulance in which the camera crew were riding then ploughed into the aforementioned brat, the effect achieved using a dummy so obvious that it gave the killer’s death in Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling a run for its money:

Fulci eat your heart out Fulci eat your heart out Fulci eat your heart out Fulci eat your heart out Fulci eat your heart out Fulci eat your heart out

Dodgy effect aside, it worked, and it also provided a segue into the second episode, where the local community, incensed that the emergency services had put one of their own into Intensive Care, began a full scale riot. Personally, I did have some trouble believing that seemingly the entire estate would erupt into anarchy simply because one girl, who we were initially shown to be an outcast who was hated by her peers and neglected by her family, was injured. I didn’t really buy it and thought it was a tad contrived. Still, what I appreciated about it was the way it conveyed the meaninglessness of the violence, how everyone was getting worked up about something that had happened to someone most of them probably didn’t even know. This was done, to some extent, in the Series 13 episode Trapped, which showed what happens when the police fail to enforce order and mob rule takes over. I also felt that the rioting scenes were somewhat reminiscent of Series 7’s Boiling Point in their depiction of complete and utter carnage with the emergency services trying to help people and finding themselves caught in the crossfire.

Casualty Series 23

I still ultimately think that Boiling Point is the better episode (hey, it’s my third favourite of all time), but the cast and crew really managed to pull off a similar atmosphere effectively here, and I’m impressed that they were able to make it seem this intense and gripping. There is a point in the second part when a group of the show’s regulars venture into the midst of the carnage to look for one of their colleagues, Clinical Nurse Manager Tess (Suzanne Packer), who lies skewered like kebab on a stretch of waste ground (the result of a somewhat contrived series of events), and are set upon by an angry mob headed by Sammy’s brother. Normally, Casualty tends to be rather predictable, but on this occasion the encounter between the staff and the thugs was so tense that I actually found myself feeling concerned for their safety. (The last time I genuinely felt that connected to the characters was in the excellent two-parter written by Barbara Machin for Christmas 2006, when Josh (Ian Bleasdale) was stabbed and I actually didn’t know whether he’d live or die.)

Casualty Series 23

Something else I really appreciated about these two episodes was the feeling of teem spirit that seemed to permeate throughout them. Although the raging fire in the block of flats in Part 1 and the rioting scenes in Part 2 provided a lot of adrenaline-packed action, my favourite moments were the interactions between the regulars. A major problem I’ve had with Casualty of late is how fragmented it has become. Whereas, in the old days, the team felt like an extended family who all got along despite their differences, in recent years I’ve felt that everyone was splitting off into their little groups and not really interacting with each other. Add to that the endless bickering, oneupmanship games and “who’s having sex with who” storylines, and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching an endless playground squabble. Here, just about everyone seemed to actually pull together and function as a single professional unit. I’ve never really liked Tess as a character so I can’t say I really cared whether she lived or died (I find her a flat, uninteresting cipher whose only purpose is to bark orders), but, when she was wheeled into Accident & Emergency, I really did feel the team’s concern for her. Unfortunately, I still got the feeling that certain characters were being forced out on to the periphery and weren’t really interacting with the others, a problem that also affected the previous series, but it’s early days yet, and given how much action was crammed into the space of two hours, I’m not surprised some characters were, to a degree, left by the wayside.

Casualty Series 23

Overall, Series 23 has got off to a strong start with a really good pair of episodes, and once again I find myself crossing my fingers (without a great deal of hope, it must be said) that they aren’t just a flash in the pan. Last year’s My First Day and Charlie’s Anniversary are still the better pair of episodes overall, but this year’s two-parter was a lot better than I was expecting and I’m once again finding myself looking forward to next week’s episode. It does seem to prove that Series 22’s opening episodes weren’t just a flash in the pan and that the current cast and crew can continue to deliver the goods if all the stars are properly aligned.

Posted: Monday, September 15, 2008 at 12:20 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Gialli | Reviews | TV

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