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Things can get a little hazy in the Bayou

HD DVD

For a catalogue title from Universal, The Skeleton Key actually looks pretty decent, probably due to the fact that it was taken from a Digital Intermediate rather than Telecine source. It does look a little soft at times, but I’m inclined to attribute at least some of this to the way in which it was shot: it certainly has the “Panavision look”, where things tend to appear smooth rather than pin-sharp. Certainly I don’t see any of the ringing that normally shows up in Universal’s filtered titles. Unfortunately, the image has at some stage been subjected to a fairly intensive noise reduction pass, sucking out the grain and resulting in some trailing artefacts. Still, as far as catalogue releases go, this is a pretty reasonable one, and one that I’m inclined to look upon more favourably in light of recent developments regarding Universal’s Blu-ray ports.

The Skeleton Key
(Universal, USA, VC-1, 16.7 GB)

The Skeleton Key The Skeleton Key The Skeleton Key The Skeleton Key The Skeleton Key The Skeleton Key The Skeleton Key The Skeleton Key The Skeleton Key The Skeleton Key The Skeleton Key The Skeleton Key The Skeleton Key The Skeleton Key The Skeleton Key

 
Posted: Monday, August 25, 2008 at 9:10 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

Universal mangles some more

DVD/Blu-ray/HD DVD

A while back, I did a series of posts on some of Universal’s particularly repugnant-looking catalogue HD DVD titles, in which I warned Blu-ray users that they had these transfers to look forward to when Universal began rolling out its back catalogue for the winning format. Unfortunately, it appears that I may have been a little premature with this statement. You see, it turns out that, far from simply porting over the same flawed encodes, Universal have, in some cases, taken the opportunity to go back and make them look worse.

I first got wind of this when I took a look at DVD Beaver’s review of The Mummy on Blu-ray. The article features a number of full resolution 1920x1080 screen captures, which immediately struck me as quite a bit more waxy-looking than how I remembered the HD DVD, which I had briefly rented some months prior. Of course, memory can play funny tricks on you, but a little later, the proof arrived in the form of an image comparison by AV Science Forum member Xylon, whose screen captures are one of the main reasons I visit that forum and are worth more than a thousand text-based reviews. The difference may not be massive, but it’s there: Universal have added further noise reduction for the Blu-ray release. The Mummy Returns shows a similar situation: again, the Blu-ray version is noticeably less grainy and more synthetic-looking than its HD DVD counterpart.

Finally, today’s scandal involves U-571, once again released on Blu-ray by Universal with a vulgar level of noise reduction applied to it. The difference should be clear to even the most visually-impaired of viewers: the HD DVD (and its D-Theater counterpart) was hardly a stellar-looking disc, but the Blu-ray version looks positively alarming, sucking much of the grain out of the image and rendering it fake-looking and waxy. Predictably, the usual suspects have emerged from the woodwork to decry Xylon’s findings. Unfortunately, whatever such individuals might attempt to claim, the pictures speak for themselves and reveal the truth that no amount of whitewashing or “it doesn’t look like that on my screen” nonsense can hide.

In summary: as a rule, Universal treated their catalogue titles rather badly on HD DVD, and now they are making them look even worse on Blu-ray. What will it take to hammer it into these fools’ heads that this sort of image degradation is neither necessary or wanted?

 
Posted: Monday, August 25, 2008 at 7:24 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Web
 

Machine built to perfection

Blu-ray

By brother picked up the US Blu-ray release of Alex (Dark City) Proyas’ I, Robot today, and I have to say I’m extremely impressed by the image quality: this is definitely the best disc I’ve seen from 20th Century Fox so far. Pin-sharp, naturally grainy and without a trace of artificial sharpening.

Now, obviously, we’re talking about two films produced in different time periods, with different technical specifications (Telecine-sourced for Dark City, digital intermediate for I, Robot), but this is much closer to how Dark City should have looked than the version released recently by New Line, mangled by their noise reduction machine of waxy faces.

I, Robot
(20th Century Fox, USA, AVC, 26.4 GB)

I, Robot I, Robot I, Robot I, Robot I, Robot I, Robot I, Robot I, Robot I, Robot I, Robot I, Robot I, Robot I, Robot I, Robot I, Robot

 
Posted: Saturday, August 23, 2008 at 11:18 PM
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

How to lose your credibility in 113 minutes

Blu-ray

Today, after waiting what seemed like an age, my copy of the US Blu-ray release of Doomsday, Neil Marshall’s newest film, reached me.

Unfortunately, after a promising start, this film proceeds to completely ransack any sense of self-dignity. It’s essentially a string of pastiches of different genres, and as a result has no credibility or identity of its own, jumping from futuristic sci-fi to post-apocalyptic urban warfare to Lord of the Rings-esque medieval romp to Gladiator-inspired arena games to Mad Max-style car chase, all leading up to a confrontation between our heroine and the impossibly throaty-voiced David O’Hara wearing an outfit that left me fighting the urge to start singing “We are the Men in Black…”

I suppose it held my attention throughout, so at least I wasn’t bored, but I couldn’t take any of it seriously, and the impression I’m left with is that someone handed Neil Marshall a cheque for a rather large sum of money and told him to do whatever he wanted. Which is sort of admirable, I suppose, and I do to some extent admire his “fuck it” mentality, throwing in whatever he felt like. Ultimately, though, I couldn’t take it remotely seriously and was left with the impression that I was watching a movie written by a teenage boy with no concept of how to maintain a consistent tone or even string together a semi-coherent plot. By far the best thing about it was Rhona Mitra, who manages to retain a level of credibility even when everything around her is going to pot. Overall, though, Marshall really dropped the ball with this one, and is making the masterful The Descent look more and more like a fluke by the minute.

It also doesn’t help that, a few days earlier, I’d watched another “post-apocalyptic” Britain film, the infinitely superior 28 Weeks Later

…actually, you know what? Read Lyris’ review. It’s much funnier than mine.

As if to rub it in, the transfer, one of Universal’s first Blu-ray releases, is a sterling effort, looking natural and generally flawless, with no visible compression artefacts or any signs of digital tampering. Oh yeah, and the building visible in the final shot is my place of work, which is sort of neat, I guess. Too bad it wasn’t in a better movie.

Doomsday
(Universal, USA, VC-1, 21.9 GB)

Doomsday Doomsday Doomsday Doomsday Doomsday Doomsday Doomsday Doomsday Doomsday Doomsday Doomsday Doomsday Doomsday Doomsday Doomsday

 
Posted: Friday, August 22, 2008 at 9:30 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

Waking the Dead: Series 4, Episodes 1 and 2: In Sight of the Lord

DVD

Written by Tony McHale; Directed by Andy Hay

Shortly after Waking the Dead’s third series had completed its initial run, it won an Emmy (oddly enough, for what I consider the weakest episode of that series, Multistorey). The result was that, for the fourth series, it received an extended run of twelve episodes, up from the usual eight. The same producer, Richard Burrell, remained on board, and he succeeded in securing the same key writers who had been responsible for the show’s growth.

Oddly enough, though, Series 4 starts with a storyline penned by an outsider. Tony McHale is the creator and current executive producer/lead writer of Holby City; he also wrote and directed several episodes of Casualty between Series 9 and 14. His scripts, particularly of late, have had something of an unhealthy obsession with religion, Christianity to be precise. In fact, it seems to be his goal to get as many storylines revolving around religion as possible in the show under his guidance. This episode of Waking the Dead is no exception, offering up a whole lot of cryptic biblical references in a storyline which involves a serial killer hammering nine inch nails into the skulls of various men who were formerly soldiers in a Second World War army battalion.

This two-parter is unusual in that whereas normally Waking the Dead’s storylines start off reasonably logical and then throw you for a loop in the final half-hour, it’s actually the other way round this time. That’s not to say that the episode is particularly difficult to follow, but, for the first hour and a half, the writing is rather choppy, lurching from one plot development to another without a clear sense of logical progression. Boyd and the team make several rather odd leaps in logic, and while the majority of them don’t end up playing out (such as Boyd’s seemingly out-of-the-blue suggestion that the victims could have been Communists and were therefore assassinated for their political beliefs), I get the sense that McHale knew where he wanted to end up but had a bit of trouble actually getting there.

Actually, of all the Waking the Dead storylines, this is probably actually the most giallo-like of the lot, not only in terms of the killer’s motivation but also his attire: he wears a black coat, black fedora and black gloves, and at one point even employs the sort of harsh whisper that many a giallo killer has been known to employ in order to disguise his voice. The director, Andy Hay, has clearly watched some Argento in his time.

Elsewhere, it’s business as usual. Boyd has sprouted a rather alarming amount of facial hair, which in turn seems to have done nothing for his temper (“I don’t give a shit about your rights!” he bellows at one suspect who has asked for his lawyer to be present). Meanwhile, see if you can spot how often Frankie is conveniently positioned behind a table or another character: the actress, Holly Aird, was pregnant at the time, and, as the series progressed, the production team had to resort to greater and greater lengths to conceal her ballooning stomach.

 
Posted: Sunday, August 17, 2008 at 11:13 AM
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead
 

JESUS CHRIST WHAT A HORRIBLE TRANSFER

Blu-ray

After the Escape from New York Blu-ray scandal broke, I knew I just had to see the disc for myself. Of course, the screen captures were pretty damning in their own right, but there’s something about seeing it in motion that makes it all the more “real”. Thank goodness for LoveFilm, who dispatched it to me yesterday. It was waiting for me today when I got home from work, and my goodness, it is, if possible, even worse than I expected.

Quoth Lyris:

As someone who’s authored and encoded DVDs, it is my opinion that the source looks like a processed standard-def studio tape (and not a very appealing one, either): that is, marginally better than DVD, but way below 1080p standard. The film grain structure (or what’s left of it) is thick and clumpy, it looks undoubtedly SD.

If Optimum are reading this, I urge them to look into it. Did the master tape come from France? Could there possibly have been a language barrier issue? For example, if Optimum requested an HDCAM SR tape of “Escape from New York”, the facility could have made them one, using a Digital Betacam tape as a source. Optimum receive the HDCAM SR tape and make a disc out of it, completely unaware of the original source material.

Escape from New york
(Optimum UK, AVC, 18.8 GB)

Escape from New York Escape from New York Escape from New York Escape from New York Escape from New York Escape from New York Escape from New York Escape from New York Escape from New York

 
Posted: Saturday, August 16, 2008 at 9:56 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

Grit, grime and zombies… oh my!

Blu-ray

Copied and pasted from the previous post

In terms of presentation, 20th Century Fox’s transfer is very good, seemingly representing the varied source formats (35mm, 16mm, high definition video) accurately. There may have been a small amount of noise reduction, but nothing too severe. A few of the HDV-based shots exhibit some noticeable haloing, but I’m assuming that this was inherent to the source format rather than something intentionally applied for the BD release. Either way, only a handful of shots are affected. The rest looks excellent.

28 Weeks Later
(20th Century Fox, USA, AVC, 29.6 GB)

28 Weeks Later 28 Weeks Later 28 Weeks Later 28 Weeks Later 28 Weeks Later 28 Weeks Later 28 Weeks Later 28 Weeks Later 28 Weeks Later 28 Weeks Later 28 Weeks Later 28 Weeks Later 28 Weeks Later 28 Weeks Later 28 Weeks Later

 
Posted: Thursday, August 14, 2008 at 11:47 PM
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

28 times better

Blu-ray

Tonight, I finally got round to watching 28 Weeks Later on Blu-ray after much procrastination, and I’m glad I didn’t just leave it to gather dust on the shelf. This is a much better film than its predecessor, 28 Days Later, which I always found rather overrated, mainly due to its cheap consumer grade video camerawork and clumsy “who are the real monsters?” themes. The sequel has these themes too, and it also has a lot of choppy hand-held camerawork, but it does both of them considerably better than its predecessor, and the fact that it’s shot on film means that it no longer feels like amateur hour.

It’s interesting that the director, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, is Spanish, given that one of his compatriots, Alfonso Cuarón, created a similarly effective portrayal of a post-apocalyptic Britain in the excellent Children of Men. Unlike Cuarón’s film, however, 28 Weeks Later is unabashedly a horror film - grim, violent and pacey. I’m actually extremely impressed by the plotting, in that it was one of those films where I could never precict what was going to happen next, and it threw me in a loop on several occasions when it came to who died and who survived.

Robert Carlyle may get top billing, but to be honest his screen time is somewhat limited. The film truly belongs to his character’s two children, played by Imogen Poots and Mackintosh Muggleton, both of whom are revelations, never once giving off the impression that they are actually “acting”. Catherine McCormack also shines in a brief role.

In terms of presentation, 20th Century Fox’s transfer is very good, seemingly representing the varied source formats (35mm, 16mm, high definition video) accurately. There may have been a small amount of noise reduction, but nothing too severe. A few of the HDV-based shots exhibit some noticeable haloing, but I’m assuming that this was inherent to the source format rather than something intentionally applied for the BD release. Either way, only a handful of shots are affected. The rest looks excellent.

 
Posted: Thursday, August 14, 2008 at 10:26 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

Is this the new Traffic?

DVD/Blu-ray/HD DVD

Over the last few days, a veritable shitstorm has erupted on the Internet regarding Optimum’s recent UK Blu-ray release of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York. The word of mouth was that this was in fact nothing more than a standard definition upconvert. Comparative screen captures seemed to confirm this, indicating virtually no improvement in detail over the UK Special Edition DVD release (and a rather unpleasant green tint to boot).

Optimum were swift to rebuke these claims, stating, in an announcement posted at DVD Times, that

We at Optimum always try to provide our customers with the best possible quality video from the best source available to us. All our titles meet the required line count to qualify as ‘High Definition’, i.e. 1080p or 1080i. Contrary to reports on some fan forums, we have been assured by our supplier that the original source for the Blu-ray of Escape from New York is HD. We have not released and we will not release films on Blu-ray from masters we know to be up-scaled from SD PAL. The quality of HD masters of older films can vary and we are sorry if you are unhappy with the quality of picture on Escape From New York Blu-ray. Should a better master become available for this or any other Optimum title then we will endeavour to publish it as soon as feasible.

Unfortunately, the evidence, to my eyes, would seem to be stacked against Optimum. I’m sure they were indeed “assured by their supplier” that the master handed to them was HD. Unfortunately, their supplier is Studio Canal, whose track record, in either HD or SD, is not exactly a shining beacon of light. Further faecal matter hit the fan yesterday when pictures emerged of a version of the film that has been broadcast on HDNet, blowing the Optimum release out of the water.

To quote Lyris:

The BD release screen grabs posted look very much like a Digital Betacam tape (or other unadulterated standard definition source) that has been scaled to 1920x1080 then processed. That would explain the SLIGHT gain in detail on the BD: it’s not been low-pass filtered like the DVD will have been prior to compression. Since Optimum have denied that this is the case, we’ll just have to say it’s a poor HD release.

One thing doesn’t change though: the review scores that this has received at some sites are cause for concern.

So, is Escape from New York on Blu-ray the new Traffic? I can’t be 100% sure, but what I do know is that it’s one sorry-looking disc.

 
Posted: Wednesday, August 13, 2008 at 6:58 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology | Web
 

Gophers… I hate gophers

Blu-ray

Source: DVD Times

In an announcement that has genuinely surprised me, it turns out that the fourth film in the Indiana Jones franchise, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, will be getting Blu-ray release date-and-date with the DVD version after all. Previously, I opted not to get my hopes up, given that both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg are both notorious for dragging their heels when it comes to allowing their films to be released on new formats. I’m sure most of you will remember when Lucas’ Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace came out on VHS but not DVD. Likewise, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is currently Spielberg’s only film to have been given an HD release, with Universal even going so far as to personally apologise to the director for announcing HD DVD releases of E.T. - The Extra-Terrestrial and Jurassic Park without his “permission”.

Anyway, it looks as if Paramount is really pushing the boat out for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, giving it a 2-disc Special Edition release packed with bonus content, all of it in HD. Oh, and being a Lucas production, it also carries THX certification. Big whoop.

Now come on, guys, hurry up with the original trilogy.

 
Posted: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 at 7:32 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD
 

Waking the Dead: Series 3, Episodes 3 and 4: Walking on Water

DVD

Written by Simon Mirren; Directed by Andy Hay

After yet another extended delay, I finally get back into Waking the Dead’s third series, and with a significantly better episode than the season premiere. Taking the same path as Series 2’s Special Relationships, the plot this time focuses on a man, Mark Lovell (Craig Kelly), who has recently been acquitted of the murder of his adoptive father, Thomas, an event which took place almost a decade ago. On the night of the murder, four other members of the family vanished without a trace along with their boat. When the latter is discovered off the coast near the family home and salvaged, Boyd reopens the investigation, the assumption being that, if they can find out what happened to the rest of the family, they stand a good chance of finding Thomas’ real killer. Unfortunately, since he was locked up, Mark has changed - dramatically so. He is now Maria, and Maria is proving to be less than cooperative when it comes to dredging up Mark’s past.

It’s at this stage that Waking the Dead becomes very, very confusing, and I must confess that, despite having now seen the episode three times, I’m still completely flummoxed by what is supposed to be going on in the final twenty minutes. It doesn’t help that the writer, Simon Mirren, inserts a Big Huge Plot Twist out of left field, involving conspiracies, espionage and drug smuggling, and it’s a shame, because everything leading up to these final twenty minutes is very good. I love the way the script pokes fun at Boyd’s discomfort when faced with Mark/Maria. Much like with David Hemmings’ character in Argento’s Profondo Rosso, Boyd isn’t disgusted by the sight of a man dressed as a woman: he simply doesn’t know how to deal with the situation. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: for all his tantrums and crudity, Boyd is actually a pretty liberal fellow, something of a rarity in TV detectives. (When Spence asks how Mark’s gender disorder affects his status as a suspect, Boyd snaps back “It doesn’t.”)

There’s some nice direction in this episode too, including a very neat shot of a body being slid out of a storage freezer, shown from the point of view of the body. On the other hand, I’m not wild about the various shots of the dead appearing and vanishing while Frankie is working alone on the salvaged boat. It’s getting a little too close to the pseudo-mysticism that plagued some of the later episodes for my liking.

Holby connections: The writer of this episode, Simon Mirren, penned several episodes of Casualty during the Series 13-14 period (he’s also Helen Mirren’s nephew), while Craig Kelly, who plays Mark Lovell, starred as SHO Daniel Perryman throughout Casualty’s tenth series.

 
Posted: Monday, August 04, 2008 at 11:13 AM
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead
 

Why Britain will never complete with Boll and Fagrasso

Honest

Note: this film was sent to me by Baron Scarpia as part of our ongoing trade in dreadful movies. You can read his thoughts on the film in question here.

My good friend the Baron once opined that the UK traditionally doesn’t have much of a track record for producing truly awful filmmakers. While Italy has given us Claudio Fragasso and Germany has bestowed Uwe Boll upon us, and America is responsible for Tom Green, I don’t really think the British Isles has an equivalent. Broadly speaking, Britain tends to make films in the “drippy toffs played by Hugh Grant who find love” or “grimy northern squalor picture in which everyone has perpetually just been laid off from their job down the coal mines” models, and most of them are far from dreadful, just mind-numbingly tedious and depressing. Occasionally, an exception to the rule comes along, such as Pawel Pawlikowski’s romantic drama My Summer of Love or Neil Marshall’s excellent monster horror flick The Descent, which serve to suggest that perhaps the British film industry shouldn’t be dismantled after all, but by and large this country wastes its lottery grants on brain-destroying crap like Sex Lives of the Potato Men (of which I managed to stomach approximately twelve minutes before turning off my TV and disconnecting it from the wall lest it somehow turn itself back on and subject me to yet more pain).

There’s a third broad category of British film about which I’ve yet to say anything, and that’s the gangster movie à la Guy Ritchie. I don’t like gangster movies, particularly British ones. There are few things I find more irritating than watching a bunch of gristle-chinned wannabe thugs swaggering about, talking in incomprehensible Cockney accents and calling each other unpleasant names. About the only thing I find passably interesting about them is the moral grey area in which they operate, broadly speaking encouraging the audience to align its sympathies with a bunch of moral degenerates for whom theft, assault and murder is a way of life. It’s possible to pull off if you’re good: I’m sure I’m not alone in finding Hannibal Lecter to be a highly compelling character in spite of (or perhaps because of) his nastiness. Lecter isn’t a gangster, but he serves to illustrate a point: if done right, it’s possible to root for the bad guy.

'The All Saints eagerly examine the papers for reviews of their film.

The All Saints eagerly examine the papers for reviews of their film.

Honest doesn’t get a lot of things right. For a start, it stars three-quarters of a British girl group known as All Saints. (If you’ve never heard of them, don’t worry. They were never really relevant to begin with and are extremely unlikely to become so in the near or distant future.) If you’ve had the misfortune of seeing Mariah Carey or Britney Spears’ forays into the world of acting, you’ll know that such endeavours rarely meet with success, and that’s before you even begin to take acting ability into consideration. The All Saints (I’m not going to bother referring to them by their actual names, because neither they nor their characters do anything in particular distinguish themselves from each other), I must assure you, cannot act. Given that at least one of them appears in virtually every single scene in the film, you’d be forgiven for assuming this to be a massive problem. Oddly enough, it’s not, and the reason for that is that their incompetence is matched on every level, if not dwarfed, by a dreadful script, moronic direction and an outlook so morally derelict that it makes Dr. Lecter simply seem like a cheeky chappy who went a wee bit too far.

The All Saints, you see, are gangsters. Hard-talking ladies who walk the streets of 1960s East End London and routinely do things like steal diamonds and threaten innocent bystanders with crowbars and shotguns. One such jaunt goes wrong, and one of the Saints ends up being apprehended by and falling in love with a wretched excuse for a journalist, whose seemingly radical prose is matched in its incompetence only by every single other act of incompetence committed by the filmmakers. Along the way, we get to see the All Saints doing their damnedest to act menacing, getting stoned out of their minds and having a slow motion argument inside a moving vehicle. No, that last part is not a typo.

'Cos this is, like, what the 60s was all about.

Cos this is, like, what the 60s was all about.

This film was directed by David A. Stewart, who the Internet Movie Database handily tells me was part of the Eurythmics. Barring some music videos that he shot for his own band, Honest was the first thing he ever directed, and I’m pleased to report that he has never stepped behind a camera since. He also provided the film’s music and co-wrote the script (along with Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, who between them have written everything from Porridge to Across the Universe). A man of many talents, clearly. Or not. You see, consider that one person had his hand in so many pies and it begins to look pretty obvious why every single one of them tastes foul. No matter what’s wrong with this movie (and there’s a lot wrong with it), Stewart is the common factor. This is a man who thinks that the most exciting part of a car chase is a conversation taking place between the vehicles passengers, and that the best way to accentuate the tension is not to show exterior shots of the car travelling in slow motion, but to show close-ups of the characters talking in slow motion. He also believes that slowing down and speeding up his footage to a handy “Whoomfff!” sound effect is the height of stylishness, that shots of naked people writhing around during an acid trip is, like, the coolest, most provocative thing ever, and that the All Saints can act. To be fair, you could argue that he is simply being let down by useless leads, but then he also manages to draw useless performances from competent actors like James Cosmo and Corin Redgrave, which puts paid to that theory. (Oh, and Matt Bardock, who currently plays Cockney wideboy paramedic Jeff in Casualty, appears in this film as a Cockney wideboy gangster. I wonder if the loss of hair that he experienced between his appearances in these two productions is to do with the stress resulting in the knowledge that he had appeared in such a train wreck.)

Did I mention the script? Clement and La Frenais have done good work elsewhere, so I can only assume that, once again, the problems stem from our friend Mr. Stewart. Gangster movies generally have the unenviable task of aligning the audience’s sympathies with people who are utterly nasty individuals who, by rights, should be locked away for the rest of their lives somewhere where the sun doesn’t shine. Most gangster movies are reasonable honest about this and either don’t attempt to excuse their anti-heroes’ behaviour, or at the very least pit them against people who are equally or more repugnant than they are. Honest, despite its title, is anything but. At every possible occasion, the script attempts to exonerate the All Saints for their contemptible behaviour by offering pitiful excuses like suggesting that they don’t like doing it (don’t do it, then), that they’re only doing it to get their dad a new telly (get a job, then), or that it’s because their mother is dead (get over it, then). Oh, and we have a tasteless little subplot involving one of them teaching a lesson to a next-door neighbour who routinely assaults his girlfriend, which again is only there to show us that the girls are good after all, innit? (The Saint in question, incidentally, pours engine oil down the offending ladybasher’s throat, which, in addition to being incredibly messy, strikes me as about as distasteful as you can get once you realise that the writers actually want you applaud this act of torture.)

One of the All Saints recreates how she got the part.

One of the All Saints recreates how she got the part.

Oh, and the film is also content to wallow in its own hypocrisy, opening with the girls chastising a security guard for looking at pornography, despite the fact that the film is loaded to the gills with gratuitous nudity, the most leering of which is provided by two-thirds of the three-quarters of the All Saints, neither of whom are even attractive enough to warrant such exposure. I have, however, provided a picture of one of them, in order to rub their faces in their own double standards.

All this is well and good, but the film’s greatest crime, by far, is how boring it is, and this is where my opinion and the Baron’s part ways. The Baron, you see, feels that a film can do worse than be boring. I, on the other hand, think that there is no greater crime. Note to filmmakers: you can be as incompetent and as morally bankrupt as you like, but provide you do so in a semi-interesting way, you may at least retain my attention. Unfortunately, for the most part watching Honest is like watching paint dry. There are a few moments that make me shake my head in disbelief and cry out “What the fuck were they thinking?”, but, for the most part, it’s simply as dull and worthless as virtually every other British movie, and it’s because of that that it doesn’t make it into “so bad it’s good territory”. It’s just a feckless, incompetently made waste of celluloid.

Incidentally, the back cover of the DVD proclaims that this film is a “cult classic”. Presumably, in the same way that Manos: The Hands of Fate and ET: The Extra-Terrestrial for the Atari 2600 are cult classics.

 
Posted: Sunday, August 03, 2008 at 6:47 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Games | Reviews | TV
 

This is a joke, I take it

Blu-ray

Yesterday, New Line’s US Blu-ray release of Dark City arrived from DVD Pacific, hot on the heels of my discovery that it had been molested by invasive digital tampering procedures. This is despite it receiving largely positive praise from most reviewers, but, as always, the pictures tell the truth that the words themselves do not.

Watching the disc tonight was a very unpleasant experience. This is not because I didn’t like the film: on the contrary, I thought it was excellent, and have now added it to my “movies I can’t believe I waited this long to see” list. My reason for not enjoying the experience was that, while virtually every shot in this film is an amazing, innovative piece of art, every single one of them is ruined by some form of digital meddling, whether that’s grain removal, sharpening or softening. This film should look amazingly atmospheric and film-like, and all of that is removed by this shoddy, amateurish transfer. Whoever was responsible for it should be ashamed of themselves.

New Line’s high definition output that I’ve seen has, so far, been problematic, to put it politely. That’s three out of four discs (Dark City, The Golden Compass, Pan’s Labyrinth) that have been ruined by utterly ridiculously levels of digital tampering, and another (The Orphanage) that has been taken from a source with a resolution lower than 1920x1080. The latter is not necessarily New Line’s fault - it may simply have been what the Spanish production company delivered to them - but it does mean that I have yet to purchase a single disc from them that is anything more than deeply flawed. While Sony are doing everything they can to preserve the integrity of the films under their jurisdiction, New Line seem to be intent on fucking up the heritage of the medium by systematically mangling their catalogue of titles. I sincerely hope that the recent acquisition of the company by Warner Bros. means that any future releases are removed from the hands of the incompetent clowns responsible for this desecration of Dark City.

 
Posted: Friday, August 01, 2008 at 9:24 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

DVDs I bought or received in the month of July

DVD/Blu-ray/HD DVD
  • All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (R0 UK, Blu-ray)
  • Dark City (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • Gangs of New York (R0 USA, Blu-ray)
  • Persepolis (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • Teeth (R1 USA, DVD)
     
 
Posted: Thursday, July 31, 2008 at 10:07 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD
 

Blu-ray Stendhal this year

Blu-ray

Blue Underground’s web site has been updated to include a release date for the company’s upcoming Blu-ray release of Dario Argento’s splendid The Stendhal Syndrome: November 18th. This and Don Taylor’s The Final Countdown are the only two Blue Underground Blu-ray releases to have release dates, and, while I’m slightly surprised that this will by the first Argento film to be released in high definition (Jenifer doesn’t count), I’m more than happy that it’s on its way. Now hurry up with a release date for The Bird with the Crystal Plumage!

 
Posted: Tuesday, July 29, 2008 at 9:48 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | TV | Web
 

But… but… grain!

HD DVD

Paramount’s HD DVD release of Babel features a stellar transfer (note: the MPEG-2 Blu-ray version is not reviewed here) which shows off the varied methods of photography to great effect. From the rough, 16mm Moroccan scenes to the 35mm anamorphic look of Tokyo, there’s really nothing to complain about here barring some minor artefacting. Predictably, not all reviewers were quite so impressed, some of them labelling the abundant grain a “problem with the transfer” (morons), but I’ll let you judge for yourselves using the images below.

Babel
(Paramount, USA, AVC, 25.8 GB)

Babel Babel Babel Babel Babel Babel Babel Babel Babel Babel Babel Babel Babel Babel Babel

 
Posted: Tuesday, July 29, 2008 at 7:31 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Reviews | Technology
 

These are the hands that ruined a movie

Blu-ray

What the hell do you call this? Good grief, it looks like someone took a dump and sealed it between the two layers of this BD-50. This is one of the worst high definition transfers I’ve ever seen, and it reflects very badly on Disney that they thought it was in an acceptable state for release. I’m not convinced that any additional commentary is necessary on my part: just look at the pictures, as they do a more than adequate job of conveying the sheer awfulness of this disc.

Gangs of New York
(Buena Vista, USA, VC-1, 38.8 GB)

Gangs of New York Gangs of New York Gangs of New York Gangs of New York Gangs of New York Gangs of New York Gangs of New York Gangs of New York Gangs of New York

 
Posted: Tuesday, July 29, 2008 at 6:52 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

Soon on this screen

DVD/Blu-ray/HD DVD

It’s time for another rundown of the upcoming Blu-ray releases that I intend to pick up (finances permitting, of course). The second half of the year sees quite a few impressive titles debuting in high definition.

July 29th, 2008:
- Dark City (New Line) (ORDERED)
- Doomsday (Universal) (ORDERED)

August 26th, 2008:
- The Nightmare Before Christmas (Buena Vista)

September 9th, 2008:
- The Omen: The Collection (20th Century Fox)

September 23rd, 2008:
- The Godfather Collection (Paramount)
- LA Confidential (Warner)

September 30th, 2008:
- The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Dark Sky)

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

 
Posted: Monday, July 28, 2008 at 9:27 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema
 

Is this not just the most awful thing ever?

TV

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6Ugp6RFUfQ

The above is a trailer that is currently being screened for Holby City, one of the BBC’s medical drama series. No, seriously.

This can, I think, be taken as ample proof for what I’ve been suspecting for some time now: that the show’s producers have completely lost the plot. I challenge you to decide which is the more ridiculous image: Amanda Mealing with a snake’s tongue, Hugh Quarshie being molested by disembodied hands, Rosie Marcel snarling and leaping about like Halle Berry in Catwoman, or Patsy Kensit wearing a white wedding dress.

The end of the world as we know it or the work of a demented genius? You decide.

 
Posted: Saturday, July 26, 2008 at 9:08 AM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | TV
 

DVD review: 101 Dalmatians: Platinum Edition

DVD
One Hundred and One Dalmatians marks one of the few occasions on which I read the book (a childhood favourite that I still revisit every few years) before seeing the Disney film. Consequentially, perhaps, when I finally did see Disney’s interpretation, it was something of a letdown, maintaining the plot of its source material but transposing a number of its most cherished moments. It’s still a cracking film, though, endlessly rewatchable and constituting a welcome change of pace from Disney’s previous string of folktales and fairy stories.

Better late than never, I’ve reviewed Disney’s Region 1 Platinum Edition release of 101 Dalmatians, a feature-packed 2-disc presentation of one of the studio’s most enduring films.

 
Posted: Friday, July 25, 2008 at 8:47 PM
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | Reviews
 
 

 
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