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You must see Wall-E!

Wall-E

After 13 years of producing hit after hit, I’ve learned to trust Pixar to deliver gold. To date, they haven’t made a single bad film (not even Cars, which for some reason seemed to attract a comparatively heavy amount of criticism from certain circles), and I think it’s safe to say that whatever magic formula they have tucked away over in Emeryville works.

I still wasn’t expecting their latest film, Wall-E, to be as good as it is, though. For me, it’s the best film I’ve seen this year… which, admittedly, isn’t a particularly high accolade when you consider that the only other 2008 release I’ve seen so far is Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (not counting films made earlier but released in the UK in 2008 like All the Boys Love Mandy Lane and The Orphanage). However, I’d go so far as to say that this is the best film I’ve seen since The Incredibles in 2004: the last film to which I awarded the coveted “10/10” rating.

In comparison with warmer fare like last year’s Ratatouille, Wall-E is a rather sombre affair, something it shares with director Andrew Stanton’s previous film, Finding Nemo. The subject matter is unusually grim for Pixar: in the distant future, humankind has ruined Earth, turning it into a smouldering wreck of garbage and pollution. No long inhabitable, the luckier humans boarded a giant spacecraft and took off into the ether to wait until the clean-up of the planet has been completed and it is once more inhabitable. Alas, as time has passed, it has become increasingly clear that it will never be cleaned up, and the humans aboard the spacecraft, who, several generations down the line, have evolved into overweight, tiny-boned, borderline retarded bags of flesh, have all but forgotten about Earth. The only form of life that now remains on earth is a robot named Wall-E, tasked with cleaning up the planet - a monotonous task of collecting and compacting garbage which he has been performing non-stop for centuries, and centuries, and centuries.

Wall-E

I think a film like Wall-E is the perfect example of what makes Pixar’s output so different from, and so much better than, that of their competitor, DreamWorks. Whereas DreamWorks’ animated features are usually based around a one-note joke (Bee Movie, anyone?) or the latest celebrity actor they’ve snared to do a voice over (look - a talking fish who looks and sounds exactly like Will Smith!), or an endless cavalcade of sub-Family Guy pop culture references, boogers and farts (the Shrek franchise), Pixar builds their films around solid characterisation, with the rest flowing naturally. The last thing Wall-E is about is famous voices; actually, for a good two-thirds of the film, there is no dialogue whatsoever. Given that Wall-E can only make a few primitive speech sounds (which are provided by veteran sound designer Ben Burtt), and his only interactions are with a silent cricket and a fellow robot, EVE, whose vocal range is even more limited than his, his emotions have to be conveyed entirely through pantomime and the expressions made by his eyes.

There’s a lot of talk of Wall-E being 2008’s first contender for Best Picture as next year’s Oscars. That’s right, Best Picture, not Best Animated Feature. If an animated film can actually win the most prestigious of the Academy Awards, then perhaps it will finally break the long-held stigma against the medium.

See it!

 
Posted: Friday, July 25, 2008 at 12:47 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | Reviews
 

Don’t take advantage of the poor lady, you rats!

Mondo Vision

I’ve come to the conclusion that Andrzej Zulawksi’s L’Amour Braque, coming later this year from Mondo Vision, has the single greatest opening sequence ever shot for any movie at any point in the history of cinema. Can you name another movie that features a band of thieves in Disney face masks robbing a bank, filling the air with coloured smoke, evading the authorities by pretending to be statues, then finally dancing in the streets of gay Paris to celebrate their success, all set to the battiest synthesizer music ever heard?

L'Amour Braque
L'Amour Braque
L'Amour Braque
L'Amour Braque
L'Amour Braque
L'Amour Braque

 
Posted: Sunday, July 20, 2008 at 10:38 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Mondo Vision
 

DVD review: The Frightened Woman

DVD
Not quite trash and not quite art, The Frightened Woman represents Italian popular cinema at its most trippy. It’s just about as batty as they come, and I defy you to find another film that looks and feels anything like it. Beneath all that surface glitz, however, is a surprisingly deep construct, one that is likely to beguile and bemuse in equal measure.

We’ve got yet more toothed vaginas in my review of the deliciously weird The Frightened Woman, a unique offering of 60s sexploitation from Shameless Screen Entertainment.

 
Posted: Saturday, July 19, 2008 at 11:59 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Reviews
 

DVD review: Teeth

DVD
Teeth is ultimately a highly promising debut feature that’s unique enough for me to recommend it on that basis alone. It has considerably more going for it than merely being different, however, most notably an excellent lead performance from an extremely promising actress and a quirky, infectious sense of humour. It’s not entirely satisfying, and it’s not quite as brave as its provocative premise might suggest, but it’s entertaining, engaging, and even strangely endearing. Be prepared to cross your legs, though.

Cross your legs and lock up your sons - Dawn is on the prowl! I kick off a delightful “vagina dentata” double bill with a review of Dimension Extreme’s Region 1 release of Teeth, which proves the old adage that sex is indeed a weapon…

 
Posted: Saturday, July 19, 2008 at 6:58 PM
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Reviews
 

Daylight robbery

Blu-ray

I was recently violated by the well-lubricated member of HM Thieves & Excise. As is commonly known, buying an item worth more than £18 from a non-European Union country and importing it into the UK incurs a fine quaintly described as a “customs charge”. Generally I’m careful to avoid going over the limit, or if I am buying something with a value of more than £18 to order from a store with a means of slipping the package under the radar, so to speak.

Unfortunately, neither of these safety measures were worth a damn when, on Monday morning, I received a card through my door from Royal Mail informing me that they were holding on to an item of mine with a £11.36 charge on it. Knowing that I hadn’t bought anything from outside the EU in the last few months that could possibly have such a charge, I was confused to say the least. Needless to say, I was even more confused when I handed over the cash at the sorting office only to be handed a copy of the Blu-ray release of Persepolis, ordered from DVD Pacific for the cost of £13.82.

You opportunistic little shits

You opportunistic little shits

Not only that, but, despite selecting the premium shipping option in order to ensure that the order reached me in time for my birthday, it failed to arrive in the UK until after it had passed - July 8th, according to the attached HM Thieves & Excise sticker. Of course, mail ordering is hardly an exact science, and there are an infinite number of variables that come into play when you have to send a package from one country to another. That doesn’t explain why the item reached Customs on July 8th and I wasn’t informed about it until July 14th.

So there you have it. Not only was I charged extortion money on a package that shouldn’t have been eligible, either Thieves & Excise or Royal Mail then held on to it for a further week for the privilege. I shall of course be claiming the money back, but, given that the charge is split between £3.36 of VAT (paid to Thieves & Excise) and a ludicrous £8.00 “handling fee” paid to Royal Mail, I can see this going on forever. I first have to claim back my £3.36, which will no doubt take an eternity, and only once that has been accomplished can I then get on to the robber barons at Royal Mail to get the other £8 back.

The moral of the story? Even when you’re on the side of the law, you still get buggered by the authorities. So, if you happen to dodge the odd customs charge or fiddle the system in some other way, I see no reason for you to feel bad about it.

 
Posted: Friday, July 18, 2008 at 2:49 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | General
 

The dream is over

Hellgate: London

It looks as if Hellgate: London developers Flagship Studios have finally bitten off more than they can chew. After numerous rumours of employees leaving in droves and customers dissatisfied with the quality of the game and/or the support being provided with it, the final nail has been hammered into the studio’s creaky coffin, with Flagship apparently closing its doors following the laying off of the entire staff. Financial support from Korean distributor and co-owner of the intellectual property HanbitSoft has reportedly dried up, with the implication being that HanbitSoft will, from now on, take full control of the franchise and continue to develop it themselves:

HanbitSoft states that the reason it is pursuing this course of action is because “It is hard for us to accept Flagship Studios’ requests for continued support in capital and funding any longer and because Flagship was being difficult”, and because it co-owns a direct stake in the IP, it therefore “has a say in reviewing and determining any course of action to be taken with Hellgate: London.”

HanbitSoft is expected to take full control over the IP. HanbitSoft goes on to state that in doing so, it will be able to “properly manage and develop Hellgate: London into a good game with proper content”, with its own in-house team of developers.

Ouch.

I’m not entirely surprised, but I’m disappointed nonetheless. I would have liked to see Flagship Studios succeed. The games industry is coming ever closer to mirroring the movie business in the sense that all the power these days is in the hands of a small number of megacorporations, and something about the idea of Flagship striking out on their own as an independent developer appealed to me. Theirs was a worthy attempt to deliver a triple-A game as an autonomous company, but ultimately they failed to pull it off. I still like Hellgate: London, in spite of its myriad flaws, and I genuinely hope that HanbitSoft are able to salvage something from the wreckage, but it’s a damn shame that its creators will no longer be involved with the project they poured their heart and soul into, whatever you might think of the end results.

No creator, regardless of the medium in which they work, likes to see their baby dragged away from them, particularly under circumstances such as these (shades of the 1992 Nickelodeon takeover of Ren & Stimpy, methinks), and I can only hope that the Flagship people are able to bounce back from this in some form or other. Hmm, I suspect they’re probably greatly regretting walking out of Blizzard Entertainment back in 2003.

 
Posted: Saturday, July 12, 2008 at 9:57 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | Games | TV | Web
 

No innuendos about electric toothbrushes, please

DVD

Yesterday heralded the arrival of a much-awaited review copy, the delightful Teeth, a film about a young lady who has a set of razor-sharp fangs inside her vagina, and the hilarity that ensues as she has various, ahem, prickly encounters with the opposite sex.

If you’ve heard this story before, then you’ve probably encountered a form of the vagina dentata myth, which we might describe as a product of the male of the species’ enduring suspicion and/or fear of women. You might also have heard of a no-budget British shocker called Penetration Angst, reviewed here by the indomitable Baron Scarpia. Penetration Angst is, I’m reliably informed, absolutely dreadful, which is why, when I first read Teeth’s synopsis, I was surprised, to say the least, to discover that both films shared almost exactly the same premise. The notion of a toothed vagina is, of course, nothing new, but the precise details of the two films’ plots makes it hard for me to believe that mere coincidence is at play here.

I’ve been saying for ages that, instead of remaking good films, studios would be better off remaking bad ones, and it sounds as if Penetration Angst is as bad as they come. Teeth, I’m sure, is considerably better, but I still haven’t decided quite how I feel about it. Like Penetration Angst, it falls into the trap of making all the men that our intrepid heroine comes into contact with end up being filthy slimy perverts (to quote Tenebrae). It’s frustrating because of its predictability, and also because it allows the writer/director, Mitchell Lichtenstein, to dodge any potentially difficult questions - like why are we rooting for a serial killer/mutilator? The way the film is set up, everyone who loses their wang (or, in one case, fingers) basically “deserves” it (yep, even the gynaecologist to whom she rather astutely pays a visit when she realises something isn’t quite right downstairs), and the majority of the sexual encounters are forced on her (the only one that isn’t is someone she actively seeks to entrap).

The acting in Penetration Angst is described as being uniformly awful (which is probably appropriate enough given the apparent quality of the rest of the film). This isn’t a problem with Teeth, whose lead, Jess Weixler, is actually very very good. She has the rather unenviable task of playing a character whose head is firmly up in the clouds (she is a blissfully ignorant Christianity enthusiast who gives talks to impressionable teenagers about “waiting” - c.f. the Silver Ring Thing), and the film, not unreasonably, treats her attitudes without a great deal of respect. Somehow, though, she doesn’t lose our sympathy, at least until the final third of the film, in which a rather predictable tonal shift occurs and it becomes considerably harder to root for her. Actually, it’s a rather well-made film all round, more so when you realise that it’s the director’s first feature. I think this raises the bar in terms of quality and prevents it from simply being moronic dross. That, and the fact that a very interesting balance of horror and sly comedy is maintained throughout.

Expect a full review in the near future, once I’ve had a chance to mull it over.

 
Posted: Friday, July 11, 2008 at 9:35 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Reviews
 

Blu-ray review: All the Boys Love Mandy Lane

Blu-ray
What this ultimately leaves us with is a fairly conventional and reasonably well-made exploitation flick with a bit of WB-style surface gloss thrown in to detract from the grit and grime of the bloodletting. Taken on these terms, it’s a fairly entertaining way of passing the time, but it’s hard to shake the impression that it puts a bit too much effort into achieving very little. Reviewed as a straight-up horror flick, it’s slightly better than average, but by purporting (and failing) to be something more, its makers may have ended up making it seem like more of a failure than it actually is… if that makes any sense.

Who is Mandy Lane and why do all the boys love her? It certainly isn’t for her originality or sparkling conversation. I take a look at Optimum’s upcoming all-regions Blu-ray release of All the Boys Love Mandy Lane.

Review at DVD Times.

 
Posted: Monday, July 07, 2008 at 6:14 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews
 

Mondo Vision’s La Femme Publique on Amazon.com

Mondo Vision

I hereby order ye to get thee to ye olde pre-ordering shoppe immediately!

Special Edition
Premium Edition (limited to 2,000 numbered copies)

The expected release date is September 30th, 2008.

Note: A few people seem to be under the impression that this is a UK release. Just to clarify, it’s not: it’s a US release.

 
Posted: Monday, July 07, 2008 at 6:10 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Mondo Vision | Web
 

Birthday bash

Blu-ray

Thank you to all of you who wished me a happy birthday yesterday.

A couple of you wanted to know what sort of swag I managed to bag, and the answer is that, on the actual day, I didn’t get many presents. This is because my parents had already given me some money towards the new computer I put together at the end of May, so in effect I already had my main present. Still, I did pick out a couple of smaller goodies, including the Kane’s Wrath expansion set to Command & Conquer 3 and the Eye of the North expansion set to Guild Wars, both for PC. I also snagged an Xbox 360 controller, given that I’ve come to the conclusion that playing combo-based action games like Devil May Cry 4 with a keyboard isn’t the best idea.

Finally, the Blu-ray release of Gangs of New York arrived the day before my birthday, so I decided to throw it into the present pile just for the heck of it. Ultimately, I’m glad it wasn’t a “proper” birthday present, because the transfer really is absolutely horrible - every bit as Robert A. Harris and Xylon have said.

 
Posted: Saturday, July 05, 2008 at 5:49 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Games | General | Technology
 

The smell of blandness

Film

Have you ever looked through one of these “The Art of…” books put out by Disney for their animated films and wondered why the conceptual drawings look some much more interesting and full of life than what ended up in the film itself? I certainly have, and I’m still at a loss when I try to explain why this happens. At a push, I might hypothesise that the bean-counters at the studio are afraid of straying too far from tried and tested formulae and end up ordering the artists to water everything down into insignificance, but I wouldn’t like to stake anything on it.

Occasionally, something ends up slipping through that shows a spark of creativity. Most recently, Lilo & Stitch, the brainchild of co-writer and co-director Chris Sanders, and by far the best Disney film since, oh, say, Aladdin, felt like a breath of fresh air with its distinctive visual style and offbeat sense of humour. Lilo & Stitch didn’t look or feel like any other Disney movie, and so, when I heard that Chris Sanders was working on a new project for the studio, American Dog, I was understandably excited to see what he’d do with the idea. Certainly, the first concept drawings and test footage looked extremely impressive, marrying Sanders’ distinctive illustrative style with 3D technology.

Then, bad news struck. Apparently, new Disney animation chief John Lasseter was unhappy with the direction in which American Dog was headed and ordered major changes to be made. This led to Sanders leaving the studio and handing the reins over to Chris Williams and Byron Howard, with whom he previously worked on Lilo & Stitch and Mulan. The project was given more or less a complete reboot, receiving a new storyline, a new art style and even a new title: Bolt.

Recently, the trailer for Bolt was released, and it looks as if my worst fears were well founded. While this may turn out to be a mildly enjoyable film in the long-standing Disney tradition, it completely lacks the charm and originality of the early images that were released a couple of years back. Perhaps worse still, as many people have pointed out, the plot seems almost word-for-word identical to a Disney cheapquel, 101 Dalmatians 2: Patch’s London Adventure.

So, returning to my original unanswered question, how can it be that this

American Dog
American Dog American Dog

becomes this?

Bolt

 
Posted: Saturday, July 05, 2008 at 4:06 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Animation | Books | Cinema
 

Damn your eyes!

Diablo III

In a previous post, I briefly mentioned that certain members of the online fan community had reacted with dismay (that’s a polite euphemism, by the way) to Diablo III’s richer colour palette as compared with its predecessors. Today, I want to expand on this issue.

Colour in games is a subject I’ve touched on before. To put it simply, I think there isn’t enough of it. The trend, these days, is to go for grim, desaturated visuals in games, presumably because the developers are under the mistaken impression that using a colour palette comprised exclusively of brown and grey makes their product seem more mature and “serious”. The games industry has a rather irritating habit of aping Hollywood rather than breaking new ground of its own, and I suspect that what we’re currently seeing with games like Gears of War (in my opinion one of the most visually unappealing games released in recent years) is an offshoot of this. In filmspeak, “desaturated” has come to equal “raw and gritty”, and game developers, thinking that “raw and gritty” beats “fun and escapist” any day (despite the fact that any game’s first goal, surely, is to be fun to play), have latched on to this grim aesthetic.

Isn't this cheery?

Above: Isn’t this cheery?

I’ve already demonstrated the visual decay of the Unreal Tournament franchise, with the latest instalment, Unreal Tournament III, sucking all the saturation and joy out of a franchise that once prided itself on its arresting design and frankly excellent use of colour. Thankfully, there are people who understand that not everyone wants to play their games exclusively in brown and grey, with the recently released Community Bonus Pack 3 serving as an excellent example of what the game should have looked like from the outset. Here, a group of fans have taken the tools made freely available to them with the game and have created levels which, frankly, blow their official counterparts out of the water in terms of aesthetics.

Someone else who gets it is Brian Morrisroe, art director on Diablo III. Here is what he has to say on the subject of visual design:

There’s a certain amount of grit and realism that we want to bring to the game, but it’s important to take the player into a fantasy realm. That’s what we’re really all about here, is exploring that idea of giving you something you’ve never seen before. If we simply took photographs and just applied that to a bunch of polygons, that’s really not us doing our job, so we really wanted to explore and push this idea of bringing a unique, different look to the Diablo III universe.

Diablo III

Quite. Rob Pardo, Blizzard Entertainment’s Vice President of Game Design, expands on this when talking about the game’s colour design:

If you look at Diablo I and II […] they obviously have the Gothic look to it, but […] they weren’t very colourful games, and one of the challenges we wanted to take with Diablo III was could we add colour but still maintain that Gothic dark feel? […] I think we want to take […] dark as an emotion rather than actual colour art choice, and I think that’s something that took a long time to get to the point that we’re at now - like, I think we’ve probably gone through at least three pretty major art direction shifts until we got to the point where we’re on stage, because I think it’s really difficult to pull that off, but we’re really happy with the look of the game now.

This is all well and good, and I must say that, from watching the gameplay trailer and looking at the screenshots, and perhaps most importantly from listening to what the people in charge of the game’s look have to say, any fears I might have had that they didn’t know what they were doing quickly evaporated. Yes, the original Diablo is a tense, atmospheric exercise in mood, and much of its success in that regard an be attributed to the desaturated palette and heavy use of shadows, but that doesn’t mean that this is the only way to achieve that mood. Rich colours can be just as effective at conveying terror. Just ask Dario Argento:

Suspiria
Suspiria
Suspiria
Suspiria
Suspiria
Suspiria

Unfortunately, none of this seems to have occurred to the armchair game designers currently throwing their toys out of the pram over the new game’s art style. The web, in particular Blizzard’s official Battle.net and unofficial diii.net forums, are awash with people reacting with horror to the game’s frankly lovely graphics. Petitions have sprung up and angry gamers have threatened to boycott the game unless Blizzard alters the art style to make it look exactly they way they want, while the less articulate have resorted to calling the graphics “gay”, “cartoony” and “childish”.

The reaction, from some people, has been so extreme that the subject of this negative response was even broached in an interview with Brian Morrisroe and producer Keith Lee. Mercifully, Morrisroe’s response was a polite but firm “fuck off”:

Diablo II had some very vibrant colours in it, and that’s something we wanted to play up, and […] something we really wanted to continue to explore was how can we use that colour, how can we use that vibrancy to really establish a mood? If you look at a lot of pop culture out there, colour is used to establish emotional states, and that’s something that we’ve studied over the development of the product. […] We pick our palettes accordingly, so although it might seem vibrant, the contrast levels, the dark and light values that you’re seeing within the game are still within the realm of the universe that you know, but we’re just adding a bit more colour to bring out an emotional response from the player.

The thing is, what the complainers seem to be forgetting is that, if the vibrancy offends their eyes so greatly, it’s easy enough to dial down the saturation either on their monitor or within their graphics card’s control panel, in order to get something more akin to what they’re looking for. Once colour has been removed, however, it’s incredibly hard to add it back, and turning up the saturation control doesn’t make shades of brown and grey any less brown or grey. There seems to be an expectation among some people that Diablo III should both look and play exactly the same as its predecessors, which I honestly don’t understand.

 
Posted: Wednesday, July 02, 2008 at 7:41 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Games | Technology
 

DVDs I bought or received in the month of June

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD
  • King Kong (R0 UK, HD DVD)
  • The Kingdom (R0 UK, HD DVD)
  • Phenomena (R1 USA, DVD)
  • Stardust (R0 UK, HD DVD)
  • Strictly Ballroom (R0 UK, Blu-ray)
  • Tenebre (R1 USA, DVD)
     
 
Posted: Monday, June 30, 2008 at 11:59 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli
 

“She’s terrible!”

Blu-ray

…well, not very good, at any rate.

In the UK, last week, ITV released its first batch of Blu-ray titles, among them classics like Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s Black Narcissus and David Lean’s Great Expectations - something of a departure, as I’m sure you’ll agree, from the usual slew of third-rate action spectacles that invariably end up being released in high definition. Eager to see what ITV was capable of, I picked up a copy of their release of Baz Luhrmann’s first film Strictly Ballroom.

It arrived this morning, and I’m disappointed to have to tell you that the results are considerably less than stellar. It appears that an old master has been used - a rather grimy one, and one that has been subjected to an alarming amount of grain reduction, sucking most of the fine detail out in the process. While it constitutes a noticeable improvement on the frankly pretty shocking American DVD from Miramax, that’s hardly the greatest advertisement for the Blu-ray format, and ultimately I can only really recommend this release to absolute die-hard fans, or at least those with less than discerning tastes.

Strictly Ballroom
(ITV, UK, VC-1, 18.2 GB)

Strictly Ballroom Strictly Ballroom Strictly Ballroom Strictly Ballroom Strictly Ballroom Strictly Ballroom Strictly Ballroom Strictly Ballroom Strictly Ballroom

 
Posted: Monday, June 30, 2008 at 5:05 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology
 

Universal’s House of Horrors: Part 3 of 3

Universal

Eventually, all good things must come to an end. This is the third and final part of my exposé into the seedier side of high definition transfers, concentrating on the less than savoury excretions steamrolled by Universal on to HD DVD. (See here and here for the previous instalments.) As I approached the end of the alphabet (I went through the discs alphabetically), I discovered something quite shocking: there are actually a couple of discs in this line-up which look pretty good! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

 
Lost in Translation
(Universal, USA, VC-1, 14.6 GB)

More indistinct, middle-of-the-road bla that doesn’t make me want to kill myself, but at the same time is the sort of disc I’d immediately hide if someone asked me to show them what the HD formats were capable of.

Lost in Translation Lost in Translation Lost in Translation Lost in Translation Lost in Translation Lost in Translation

 
Red Dragon
(Universal, USA, VC-1, 19.9 GB)

What happened here? By some bizarre twist of fate, they actually managed to mint a pretty decent-looking copy of this film. The flaws on display here - ringing, mainly - probably came from the optical printing process rather than from any external meddling. I’ve thrown in some extra images this time round because it’s actually reasonably pleasant to look at.

Red reddragon Red reddragon Red reddragon Red reddragon Red reddragon Red reddragon Red reddragon Red reddragon Red reddragon

 
Seed of Chucky
(Universal, USA, VC-1, 14.5 GB)

“Inconsistent” is the order of the day here. This one alternates between really looking pretty close to excellent and smelling like last week’s milk. Again, I’ve thrown in a few more pictures for this one, so you can get some idea of just how radically different the quality can be from one shot to the next.

Seed of Chucky Seed of Chucky Seed of Chucky Seed of Chucky Seed of Chucky Seed of Chucky Seed of Chucky Seed of Chucky Seed of Chucky

 
Posted: Tuesday, June 24, 2008 at 11:23 AM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

Universal’s House of Horrors: Part 2 of 3

Universal

Yesterday, we plumbed the depths of the depressingly underwhelming Being John Malkovich, the improbably soft Brokeback Mountain, and Cat People, one of the worst-looking discs released on either of the HD formats. Incidentally, yesterday, I told Blu-ray users that they had transfers like these to look forward to once Universal started rolling out its catalogue titles on the format, but it turns out I spoke too soon. Blu-ray already has a Cat People of its own: The Longest Day, from 20th Century Fox. Click here to see what happens when John Wayne has a nasty encounter with the grain-sucking machine.

 
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
(Universal, USA, VC-1, 17.3 GB)

Another big steaming lump of cack from Universal. What are they actually thinking?

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

 
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
(Universal, USA, VC-1, 19.7 GB)

This one is actually quite a bit better than the others, but still falls short of acceptable standards. Ample evidence of filtering is present at all times. Really, you need to compare this with the horrendous standard definition DVDs from Criterion and Universal before it even begins to look halfway passable.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

 
The Game
(Universal, USA, VC-1, 23.6 GB)

Actually, you know what? I’ve seen a lot worse. At least this one still looks like film, albeit film of the rather murky, ill-defined variety. I could be wrong, but maybe this is just what the movie looks like? Either way, it’s a hell of a lot more pleasant watch than Cat People.

The Game The Game The Game The Game The Game The Game

 
Posted: Monday, June 23, 2008 at 12:52 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

Universal’s House of Horrors: Part 1 of 3

Universal

All right, you’re thinking, I’ve seen it all. I’ve marvelled at the exceptional level of detail in Spider-man 3, I’ve been wowed by the fantastic grain reproduction in Silent Hill, and I just can’t imagine an image that looks more all-round perfect than Ratatouille. Well, gentle readers, I present tonight, for the viewing pleasure of the hardened technophile, an inside look at the other end of the spectrum: the transfers so repulsive that you’d actually go out of your way to make sure people didn’t accidentally see them and somehow “get the wrong idea” about high definition. Over the course of the next three posts, I’ll be delving into Universal’s swamp of catalogue releases, and we’ll be asking ourselves how some of these travesties actually made it out the front (or back) door in the first place.

Attention, BD fans: don’t go celebrating the assimilation of Universal into the Blu-ray umbrella just yet. This is what you have to look forward to.

 
Being John Malkovich
(Universal, USA, VC-1, 18.9 GB)

To be fair, this is already a really dingy, unappealing film to look at, but it shouldn’t look this bad.

Being John Malkovich Being John Malkovich Being John Malkovich

 
Brokeback Mountain
(Universal, USA, VC-1, 21.1 GB)

This one isn’t even a catalogue title, so why in the name of all that is pleasant does it look like this? Nincompoop reviewers talk about the amazing landscapes on display as if that somehow means the transfer is any good.

Brokeback Mountain Brokeback Mountain Brokeback Mountain Brokeback Mountain Brokeback Mountain Brokeback Mountain

 
Cat People
(Universal, USA, VC-1, 19 GB)

This one looks like someone took a giant dump on the disc stamper and then had it pressed. People won’t actually believe an HD transfer can look this awful until you show it to them. This is pretty much as bad as it gets.

Cat People Cat People Cat People Cat People Cat People Cat People

 
Posted: Sunday, June 22, 2008 at 6:45 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

Look what arrived this afternoon

La Femme Publique

Straight from our friends in the People’s Republic of China, we have the first check discs for the upcoming release of Andrzej Zulawski’s La Femme Publique. This will be the first commercially released DVD for which my brother did the video transfer (as well as other assorted tasks), and we hope to be able to give you a release date soon.

Some screenshots to whet your appetite:

La Femme Publique
La Femme Publique
La Femme Publique
La Femme Publique
La Femme Publique

More information about the project is available here, or visit Mondo-Vision.com for a sneak peek at what else is in the pipeline.

 
Posted: Friday, June 20, 2008 at 9:47 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Mondo Vision | Technology
 

Waking the Dead: Series 2, Episodes 1 and 2: Life Sentence

DVD

Written by John Milne; Directed by Edward Bennett

A playing card, the Queen of Hearts, is left on the windscreen of Dr. Claire Delaney (Susannah Harker), who, several years ago, was the first of six women to be abducted by Thomas Rice (Samuel West), and the only one to survive. All the others were raped and murdered, and, on each occasion, a pack of playing cards was delivered to the investigating officer, with the instructions that he gamble for the victim’s life by picking a card. Now, working under the assumption that Rice in fact had an accomplice, Boyd and his team set out to re-interview the notoriously slippery killer, now serving a life sentence.

It strikes me that this plot is rather similar to that of Dario Argento’s The Card Player, albeit without the Internet factor. This episode initially aired on September 2nd 2002, and The Card Player premiered in Italy in January 2004. Now, I’m not for a minute going to suggest that Dario Argento spends his time watching British television to get ideas for his film plots, but the likeness is nonetheless striking. The other point of reference, of course, is The Silence of the Lambs, the parallels being virtually impossible to ignore when you consider Rice’s “quid pro quo” attitude and Boyd’s use of Mel as a honey trap of sorts. Of course, Samuel West is no Anthony Hopkins and Claire Goose, good as she is, is no Jodie Foster, but the encounters between them (and Grace) are well-written and result in one of Waking the Dead’s truly tense scenes, as Rice systematically blocks his cell’s security cameras with various paintings, circling around Mel as he moves in for the kill.

Otherwise, this turns out to be a fairly conventional, albeit nasty, tale of kidnapping and murder. Certainly, after tales of bodies being found in churches and photojournalists burning to death in Series 1, this one seems a bit more like “real life”, while certain aspects of this case do bear a passing resemblance to the abduction storyline of the pilot. It’s an assured start to the second series, however, and one with a set of suspects that is manageable and at the same time not so limited as to make the culprit seem obvious. Actually, several people are hiding something, and the various allegiances are not all what you would expect.

Incidentally, from this episode onwards, the team have moved into their permanent location - the rather snazzy-looking headquarters with the transparent evidence boards and a lack of sufficient lighting. The episode also contains what is, to the best of my recollection, the first time Boyd uses his favourite interview technique of leaning forward and asking a suspect a question, then asking it again ONLY THIS TIME SHOUTING IT SO LOUD THE SPIT FLIES OUT OF HIS MOUTH. Truly, a man of tact and subtlety.

Holby connections: Paterson Joseph, who plays Dermot Sullivan in this episode, starred in Casualty as nurse Mark Grace from Series 12 to mid-Series 13. Nowadays, though, he is probably best known as Johnson in Peep Show.

 
Posted: Thursday, June 19, 2008 at 7:47 PM
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | Reviews | TV | Waking the Dead
 

30 Days of Shite

Blu-ray

We watched the Blu-ray release of 30 Days of Night this evening.

Seriously, if you’re considering giving it a go, my advice would be “don’t bother”. The premise is interesting, but the whole thing is botched on just about every possible level. Josh Hartnett makes for a dreadful, inexpressive lead, and the director, David Slade, seems to possess absolutely no sense of pacing, nor does he appear to have the first clue about generating tension. Scene after scene is botched by clumsy choreography and camerawork, and a general sense that he’s working with a script which simply doesn’t have enough material to withstand the running time. Whole days seem to pass in which nothing happens, and the situation becomes so tedious that the script resorts to having the characters arbitrarily say things like “We can’t stay here” (despite them having been perfectly safe in their current location for several days) and staging foolhardy escape missions that you just know are going to get someone killed. I’m normally the last person to bring out the “logic” card in what is ultimately a brainless splatter movie, but I find it hard to believe that anyone could be as stupid as this film’s troop of hapless dolts.

Every “bump in the night” cliché is routinely trotted out, and, despite characters dropping like flies in the most brutal manner imaginable, it’s impossible to care about any of them, as they are simply too bland and unlikeable. Most of them are completely interchangeable, to the extent that, every time a character said “Where’s [insert name here]?” or “What about [insert name here]?”, my immediate response would be “Search me! I don’t even know what [insert name here] looks like!”

After hearing good things about this film, I felt utterly robbed by it. Thats 113 minutes of my life that are gone forever.

 
Posted: Tuesday, June 17, 2008 at 9:13 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema
 
 

 
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