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We changed our minds

Film

Source: Mobius Home Video Forum

The British Board of Film Censors are on quite a roll lately. Back in January, Aldo Lado’s exploitation shocker Night Train Murders was finally passed for release in the UK with all previous cuts waived, and now, it’s the turn of the film which spawned it, Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left. Craven’s film has long been something of a Video Nasty poster child, a prominent item on the DPP list, not granted a UK release until May 2003, and only then with 31 seconds of cuts.

Well, gee whiz, it’s great and all that the BBFC have now decided that the film has suddenly stopped being likely to “deprave and corrupt”, but wouldn’t it have been nice if they’d reached this conclusion in the first place? For example, they could have made up their minds that it wasn’t a “threat” before more or less anyone with any interest in seeing the film already did so via the black market or by importing a copy from a less suppressed country. They might also have decided this before the previous UK rights holder, Blue Underground, frittered away a considerable amount of money in their appeal against the BBFC’s ruling of 16 seconds of cuts. (When their case was thrown out, the BBFC enacted gleeful revenge by demanding a further 15 seconds of cuts.)

It’s nice to know that these people have such a vested interest in our safety, isn’t it? Why, if it wasn’t for them, I might have seen The Last House on the Left uncut before the date of March 17th 2008, when it would no doubt have scarred me permanently. Luckily, though, I now feel safe in the knowledge that, watching it after March 17th, it will no longer hold any power to deprave and corrupt.

Now that it has been granted an 18 “certificate” (note that I put “certificate” in quotation marks because I believe the term is a misnomer, falsely conveying the notion that the big red logo on the DVD cover is some sort of award), you can expect to see it in your local HMV or Zammo (or whatever the fuck Virgin is called now) among copies of other former training videos for rapists and murderers such as The Evil Dead, Tenebrae and The Exorcist.

For those who are interested in this sticky subject, I suggest reading this article from Mark Kermode (who gave evidence at the appeal in defence of the argument that the film should be granted an uncut release).

(Oh, and they banned Murder Set Pieces at roughly the same time that they passed The Last House on the Left. Good to know that these bobbies are still patrolling their turf.)

 
Posted: Wednesday, March 19, 2008 at 10:07 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | Web
 

Je ne regrette rien

Blu-ray

This evening, I watched Olivier Dahan’s biopic of Édith Piaf, La Môme (La Vie en Rose outside its native France), and I have to confess I found the experience to be a bit like eating at one of those nouveau cuisine restaurants: the meal was impeccably designed and very artistically arranged on the plate, but it left me unsatisfied.

I know more or less who Édith Piaf was, but none of the specifics. After watching the film, I can’t say I know any more about her than I did before. Oh, I know she grew up in a brothel, that she was a heavy drinker, that she had an affair with boxer Marcel Cerdan… I can recite all manner of factoids about her life, but I can’t tell you anything about Édith Piaf the person, or what made her tick. Part of the problem, I think, is that this is less a sustained narrative and more a series of unconnected vignettes from various stages in her life. I suppose that is, to some extent, unavoidable when you’re making a biopic, particularly one which attempts to span the duration of the subject’s life, but I suspect more could have been done to give the various events depicted greater meaning. Why does it matter, for instance, that she spent her formative years in a brothel, or that she was briefly her father’s assistant at the circus, or that her first manager was murdered by mobsters and she herself was initially suspected of involvement? None of it gives the impression of adding to our understanding of the character, and, when the credits began to roll, I ultimately found myself wondering “So what?”

La Môme

Would it all have made more sense if I had had a stronger knowledge of Édith Piaf before going into the film? Perhaps, but, in that case, I would still feel that the film had failed to convey the essence of the character. I’m a big believer in films having to hold up on their own merits rather than requiring any external baggage to be brought to the table. If having additional external knowledge about a person or an event enhances your appreciation for a film, so much the better, but if a lack of prior insight prevents the film from coming together as a cohesive whole, as I suspect is the case here, then I believe the filmmakers haven’t done their jobs properly. Olivier Dahan is undeniably skilled behind the camera, as the film is absolutely gorgeous from start to finish, and I feel that he and cinematographer Tetsuo Nagata were overlooked at the BAFTAs and Oscars (Nagata, did, however, bag himself a César), failing to garner even a nomination in that category. He also extorts fine performances from his cast, in particularly (and most obviously) Marion Cotillard in the role of Piaf, but I get the sense that, at a basic level, the script itself is the loose thread in this tapestry.

As a point of comparison, another film released in 2007 that I recently watched was Across the Universe. For those who don’t know, Across the Universe is a musical set at the time of the Vietnam war, its soundtrack comprised entirely of Beatles songs. Now, the thing is - and this is going to reveal just how pop culture unaware I am - I assumed they were original compositions for the film. I didn’t realise they were Beatles songs until they started singing All You Need is Love… and the only reason I knew that wasn’t an original composition was because I’d previously heard elements of it in Moulin Rouge! The point I’m trying to make with this little detour is that I completely missed the point of the film, and yet was still hugely entertained by it. It doesn’t matter whether you understand the context of the songs in Across the Universe or not: they’re enjoyable in their own right, and the plot and characters are engaging enough to captivate you from start to finish.

La Môme

You don’t get that with La Môme. Instead, the impression I get is that we, the audience, are being fed a whole lot of moments from a person’s life and left to work out their significance (if indeed there is any significance to them - it is a biopic, after all, and as such is largely limited to portraying what really happened, and what really happened doesn’t necessarily mean anything) without any attention being paid to whether or not a layman will be able to make anything of them. Maybe I’m not the target audience, but I do tend to think you should be able to enjoy a film without having any prior knowledge of the subject matter.

So, in the end, what we have is a very nicely shot film, coupled with an extremely impressive (and deservedly award-winning) performance from Cotillard, who transforms herself in the truest sense of the word. (One of my co-workers told me he couldn’t believe it when he saw her arriving on stage to collect her Oscar, as, until that point, he had no idea of what she actually looked like.) It’s not just hair and make-up, though: it’s a truly brilliant piece of acting that doesn’t even feel like a performance. (I do think it’s a shame, though, that her singing was dubbed over with Piaf’s. It detracts from the realism, and apparently her own singing, briefly heard in various behind the scenes pieces, was pretty impressive in its own right.) La Môme is worth seeing for that reason alone, but as a whole, it’s an uneven and often frustrating piece of work.

 
Posted: Monday, March 17, 2008 at 8:02 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews
 

DVD review: Tragic Ceremony

DVD
It’s difficult to recommend Tragic Ceremony to all but the most dedicated collectors of European cult cinema. While labels such as Dark Sky are to be commended for salvaging so many rare and forgotten titles, this is one case where I’m not convinced that the effort was actually worth it. About the strongest case I can make for this release is that I found the Camille Keaton interview to be a delight which almost made the film itself worth slogging through. Almost.

I yawn my way through Tragic Ceremony, a plodding and ineptly made Italian shocker starring Camille “I Spit on Your Grave” Keaton. Review courtesy of DVD Pacific.

 
Posted: Monday, March 17, 2008 at 2:02 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Reviews
 

Aw, gimme a break

DVD

Back in January 2004, I wrote a review for DVD Times of Freddy vs. Jason, that monumental melding of the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th franchises, culminating in a grand showdown between Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. Back then, I gave it a 7/10 rating, which on my scale equates to “good”.

The problem, unfortunately, is that the film is not good by any stretch of the imagination. I knew this back then, but was prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt for two reasons: (a) it’s of the “so bad it’s good” variety, and (b) there’s something undeniably entertaining about watching these two icons of the horror genre whomping on each other during the climactic fight.

Unfortunately, this is the moment when, tail between my legs, I come crawling back, wishing to retract my previous review and beg for forgiveness. You see, I rewatched Freddy vs. Jason the other night for the first time in four years, and it’s not so bad it’s good - it’s just bad

From start to finish, this film is staggeringly ineptly written, shot and acted. I understand that writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift have been handed the keys to the kingdom and are penning Michael Bay’s Friday the 13th remake - which, if true, may do the impossible and make the original look good in comparison. Their script for Freddy vs. Jason is absolutely cringe-inducing, essentially consisting of 85 minutes of painfully contrived filler serving as nothing more than an excuse for the 10-minute fight around which the film has been marketed, and along the way we have to endure a pitifully unconvincing explanation as to why these two villains from separate franchises come into contact, not to mention a gaggle of annoying twentysomethings pretending to be sixteen-year-olds spouting lame exposition and just generally disgracing themselves. Here are some choice examples of the dialogue they spout (handily cribbed from IMDB so I didn’t have to actually make my way through the film again):

Freddy: The only thing to fear, is fear himself!

Kia: Oh, God, y’all, two killers? We’re not safe awake or asleep.

Mark: “One, two, Freddy’s coming for you…” Do you know why they sing that? Because that’s when he comes for you.

Freddy: You’re slow… you’re stupid… and you got no style!

And last but not least:

Kia (to Freddy): So you’re the one everyone’s afraid of? Tell me something. What kind of faggot runs around in a Christmas sweater? I mean, come on. Get real. You’re not even scary. [adopts sing-song voice] Ya not even scaaaary! [resumes normal voice] And let’s talk about the butter knives. What is with the butter knives? You trying to compensate for something? Maybe coming up a little short there between the legs, Mr. Krueger? I mean, you got these teensy-weensy little things, and Jason got this big ol’ thing…

Simply for writing and performing this garbage, I believe that the writers and actors should each have their respective Writers’ Guild and Screen Actors’ Guild cards confiscated permanently. Please note, though, that I use the words “writers” and “actors” loosely. When your cast consists of John Ritter’s son, a Destiny’s Child singer and a former Dawson’s Creek actress, it’s not exactly surprising that Robert Englund, doing the comedy Krueger of Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare rather than the more menacing figure of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street or Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, is the least clown-like of the bunch.

So, seriously, guys, I apologise for the earlier review. I don’t know what I was thinking. All I can say is that we all get it wrong sometimes, but honestly, I can’t remember the last time I got it that wrong.

 
Posted: Sunday, March 16, 2008 at 4:57 PM | Comments: 11 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Reviews
 

A tragedy of a film

DVD

Yesterday, I received my review copy of Dark Sky Films’ long-delayed release of Riccardo Freda’s Tragic Ceremony. As many of you will know, this DVD was originally supposed to be released over a year ago, but was held back due to rights issues. These appear to have been resolved now, but I would urge those who want a copy of this film to get their orders… although, to be honest, given how weak the film is, I’m going to have a hard time recommending it. The best I can say about it is that it provides an interesting opportunity to see Camille Keaton, of What Have You Done to Solange? and I Spit on Your Grave fame, playing yet another ethereal and wide-eyed damsel. Really, I’m not surprised Freda reportedly disowned the end product (the director’s credit goes to “Robert Hampton”), as it’s actually worse than his limp giallo, The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire.

Presentation-wise, the transfer is really not all that satisfying. It’s anamorphic and progressively flagged, and looks passable once the opening credits are over, but lacks detail and has an overly contrasty look, with poor shadow detail and blown-out highlights. I initially assumed that this was simply what the film looked like, but the theatrical trailer included on the disc shows a much better tonal range, not to mention offering more detail (despite being non-anamorphic and not properly flagged for progressive scan):

Tragic Ceremony

Above: the film itself;
Below: the trailer
(click images to view them at their full size)

Tragic Ceremony

Oh, and the infamous Dark Sky cropping issue, pointed out to me by a regular reader of this site (thanks, Jeff), appears to be present here, at least in certain shots:

Tragic Ceremony

The image above is the most severe instance of overly tight framing that I could find. By and large, I didn’t find it to be bothersome on any other occasions, although this may be down to the fact that much of Freda’s camerawork is so haphazard anyway that, for the most part, framing is a non-issue. It wouldn’t surprise me if this film turned out to have an intended ratio of 1.66:1 and was over-matted to 1.85:1 for this DVD.

I should also say a few words on the issue of the sound. The only audio track provided here is an Italian one, although it’s clear, from the actors’ lip movements, that this one was shot in English (and post-dubbed, of course). In any event, the film is (laughably) supposed to take place somewhere in England, as evinced by several references to Scotland Yard, names like Lord Alexander, and a currency amusingly referred to as “sterling” (as in “You owe me fifty sterling”). Generally, with Italian films from this period, no “original” audio track exists, so I tend not to be too picky about which language is provided. On this occasion, however, the lack of English dubbing is rather problematic, although I do understand the reasoning behind it: apparently, the Italian cut of the film is dramatically different from the version exhibited in the US, so cobbling together a complete English dub would be impossible.

I really enjoyed the Camille Keaton interview, though - considerably more than the film itself, in fact. It was nice to see someone so obviously proud of her achievements and eager to talk about them.

Expect a full review at DVD Times in the near future.

 
Posted: Sunday, March 16, 2008 at 4:18 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Gialli | Reviews | Technology
 

Bay curls out another

Film

Michael Bay preps Rosemary’s Baby remake

Seriously, Bay, fuck you. Just fuck you. Fuck your desecration of the classics. Fuck your Platinum Dunes “re-imaginings”. Fuck your shit-eating grin. But, most of all, fuck you.

 
Posted: Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 9:20 PM | Comments: 16 (view)
Categories: Cinema
 

Mother of all cover designs

DVD

Cover art for the UK release of Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears, due out on April 28th from Optimum, has appeared online at various retailers, including Amazon.co.uk. It’s quite a classy design, for once, similar to the artwork used for the cover of Variety’s Cannes Film Festival 2007 issue, albeit tinted red.

According to John White over at DVD Maniacs, who has seen a check disc, it’s bare-bones barring a trailer, and has a 2.39:1 anamorphic transfer with English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Given that it looks like the upcoming Italian release is dubbed into Italian (a good 90% of the dialogue you hear in the film is what was spoken on set by the actors in English), and the currently available Russian release is cropped to 1.78:1, this release would appear to be the one to get.

 
Posted: Tuesday, March 11, 2008 at 10:08 PM | Comments: 10 (view)
Categories: Books | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Web
 

Eye of the ripper

DVD

A few quick words on the Another World Entertainment release of The New York Ripper, which arrived today:

First and foremost, the source for the transfer appears to be the same one that was used for the Australian release from Stomp Visual. Based on the screenshots posted with HorrorDVDs.com’s review, I had assumed that the source was different, primarily due to how much more saturated they appear, but I suspect that the person who captured them had his/her DVD playback software’s saturation set too high.

Having compared the Stomp Visual and Another World Entertainment transfers fairly thoroughly, I’d go so far as to say that there’s really nothing to call either way - both look identical, and I did 600% magnifications of several screen captures. AWE’s release does, however, gain several points in its favour for including the scene in which Dr. Davis plays a trick on his secretary, which was omitted from the Stomp release. On the AWE DVD, this scene is sourced from the Anchor Bay DVD and is NTSC-to-PAL standards converted, but it’s better than nothing (it could still have been handled better, though - a proper adjustment of the frame rate should have been carried out rather than a video standards conversion).

Another major boon for the AWE release is the fact that it ports over several of the bonus features from the 2-disc French Collector’s Edition, along with optional English subtitles. Not everything has made it over, but there is a decent amount of material here - enough to keep you occupied for a while.

Ultimately, the AWE release gets my thumbs-up. As far as I can tell, it’s the best release of the film to date. Perfect? No, certainly not. There’s certainly room for improvement as far as image quality is concerned (although detail-wise is very nice), and it’s a shame the extras package is incomplete. But AWE’s efforts to port over some of the material, and to assemble a complete cut of the film (even if the added footage could have been handled better) is appreciated.

 
Posted: Monday, March 10, 2008 at 10:57 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Gialli | Technology
 

Let’s celebrate gun crime

Blu-ray

Aboard the HMS Whimsy, we often use the phrase “the Warner look”. Basically, what this means is an HD transfer that has a smooth appearance, but which has clearly had the top “layer” of fine detail removed through high frequency filtering. Such discs generally look pretty good, and tend to get high marks from most reviewers, but are not representative of the level of detail that high definition is truly capable of. The Brave One is one of the better Warner titles, lacking the unsightly ringing of the likes of V for Vendetta, but obviously coming up short if you compare it with the likes of Across the Universe from Sony.

The Brave One
(Warner, USA, VC-1, 19.6 GB)

The Brave One The Brave One The Brave One The Brave One The Brave One The Brave One The Brave One The Brave One The Brave One The Brave One The Brave One The Brave One

 
Posted: Monday, March 10, 2008 at 6:03 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

Swansong

HD DVD

Well, my last (and I mean it this time) HD DVD arrived this morning: the UK release of Atonement, which I’d had on order since January and more or less forgotten about. Thankfully, it’s a more pleasant way to bow out of the format than American Gangster, as the image, while imperfect, is streets ahead of that blurry, smeared mess. The source is a digital intermediate, and Universal always fare far better with these than their print sources - for one thing, they haven’t attempted to noise reduce it into oblivion. (Don’t be fooled by the Universal logo at the start which appears to have been taken from a dupe print - the film itself is definitely from a DI source.) Like Mulholland Drive (HD captures here), this film appears to have been shot with a lot of filters (I hope I’m getting the terminology right here), and as a result has that same glowy, “soft but detailed” appearance, which doesn’t necessarily result in the best screen captures but is rather pleasing to the eye when viewed in motion.

Atonement
(Universal, UK, VC-1, 21 GB)

Atonement Atonement Atonement Atonement Atonement Atonement Atonement Atonement Atonement Atonement Atonement Atonement Atonement Atonement Atonement

 
Posted: Monday, March 10, 2008 at 5:38 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

All the colours of the rainbow

Blu-ray

Discs like these are the reason why I’m pretty convinced that Sony Pictures, despite the rough shape of many of their early releases, are putting out the best high definition transfers available. Behold Across the Universe, an absolutely batty looking musical drama which arrived last Wednesday but which I still haven’t had a chance to sit down and watch yet. From start to finish it’s an absolute delight to behold, with crystal clear images and beautiful grain. I did spot some light compression artefacts in one scene (see Shot 11), and if I spot any more when I actually watch the disc all the way through, I’ll let you know, but I am very, very happy with this release.

Across the Universe
(Sony Pictures, USA, AVC, 28.2 GB)

Across the Universe Across the Universe Across the Universe Across the Universe Across the Universe Across the Universe Across the Universe Across the Universe Across the Universe Across the Universe Across the Universe Across the Universe Across the Universe Across the Universe Across the Universe

 
Posted: Monday, March 10, 2008 at 5:36 PM
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

Eye slicing never looked more lovely

DVD

I was browsing through some of the reviews at HorrorDVDs.com the other night, and I suddenly noticed something: Another World Entertainment’s release of Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper has a really nice transfer. Personally, I always appreciate it when a review includes full size screen captures, because it means that, whatever the words might say, I can trust my own eyes and have a fairly good idea of what the transfer will actually look at without having to put a whole lot of faith in reviewers whose credentials are unknown to me.

Today, while doing a bit of shopping at Xploited Cinema, in the form of the Italian genre cinema book Esotika Erotika Psicotika, primarily for my PhD work, I decided to bite the bullet and order this, my third copy of Fulci’s notorious Video Nasty. It’s not my favourite of Fulci’s films by a long shot (I still maintain that A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is his best work), but it’s unjustly maligned and is, if not in the “very good” category of gialli, at least in the upper echelons of “good”.

Thank you for the screenshots, HorrorDVDs. You’ve just earned Another World Entertainment another sale!

 
Posted: Friday, March 07, 2008 at 2:56 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Books | Cinema | DVD | Gialli | PhD | Web
 

They’re at it again

DVD

“Great” news, folks - those much-vaunted Suspiria remake plans have resurfaced and are once again doing the rounds. This project has cropped up so many times and in so many different guises in the last couple of years that I’m now fairly confident that it will, thankfully, probably never see the light of day, but I still feel compelled to report on the latest buzz surrounding this travesty.

Today, courtesy of the MTV Movies Blog and Shock Till You Drop, I introduce you to David Gordon Green, the man best known for such southern coming of age hits as George Washington and All the Real Girls. The perfect choice, I’m sure you’ll agree, to stamp his own distinctive mark on a horror classic, particularly given his plans to turn this “low budget Italian 70’s gore movie” into “a pretty amazing, ambitious, artistic (version)”.

Um, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t there already a pretty amazing, ambitious, artistic film called Suspiria?

The writers of the articles in question seem to have a lot more respect for the original than Green does. The MTV piece describes it as “an indisputable horror classic” (and I detect a hint of sarcasm in the discussion of the choice of director for this proposed remake), whereas Green, with his “oooh, aaah, I’m going to take this weird little low budget gore movie and turn it into Art, but I’ve got so many other ideas for projects so you might have to wait for a while before you can bask in the glory of my creativity” attitude, does indeed come across as a smarmy git. If he loves the original so much, I can’t for the life of me fathom why he would want to remake it.

It might not be the next thing on Green’s plate to direct since he has a lot of ideas including a big-budget action movie, adapting John Grisham’s non-fiction book “An Innocent Man” and a “medieval project.”

It certainly wouldn’t be Green’s last venture into horror if the other idea he told us about comes to fruition. “I’d also like to start a straight-to-video action company that just does genre movies. Me and my friend Darius just finished the script called “One in the Chamber.” It’s just a guy going to get his kidnapped son out of prison. Give me a couple million bucks to go explore some schlock. I’d like to be the next Roger Corman. He would have his hand in freakin’ ‘Piranha’ but also in Fellini. I like that idea. I would love to do some genre stuff but also some crazy intimate, no-budget movies. That’s my problem. I only have one me, and I have a limited number of years before I die, and the biggest problem is that I like to do a lot of stuff that has nothing to do with movies and movies are very time-consuming, so you have to make choices, and that’s really frustrating.”

Boy, this guy has so many “ideas” I’m surprised his head isn’t bursting. It must be hard being so creative.

 
Posted: Friday, March 07, 2008 at 1:27 PM | Comments: 11 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento
 

Blue obscurities

Blu-ray

So far, the line-up for Blu-ray titles this year has been fairly underwhelming. Things do seem to be changing, though, with the format being bolstered by the support of independent studios specialising in niche fare. Today, Tartan announced their plans for Spring 2008 with a total of six releases in both the US and UK, beginning with Ji-woon Kim’s A Tale of Two Sisters and Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park on April 14th, followed by Park Chan-Wook’s I’m a Cyborg and [Sympathy for] Lady Vengeance on May 26th, and finally Nick Cave’s The Proposition and Moon-saeng Kim’s Sky Blue (known in its native South Korea as Wonderful Days) on June 23rd.

You can certainly sign me up for A Tale of Two Sisters, which I already own on DVD, and Lady Vengeance, which I’m now glad I held off picking up. I might also be tempted by a copy of Sky Blue, particularly if it’s a review sample: the film itself is, to be honest, about as limp as a dead kipper, but the prospect of seeing the admittedly impressive live action miniature photography is rather promising.

Oh, and New Line is releasing the Guillermo Del Toro-produced The Orphanage (El Orfanato in its native Spanish) on April 22nd, day and date with the standard definition DVD release. This is another title that has caught my eye and is clawing its way towards my wallet.

 
Posted: Wednesday, March 05, 2008 at 9:23 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD
 

It’s funny if it’s not you

In reality, of course, getting knocked up is no laughing matter.

Above: In reality, of course, getting knocked up is no laughing matter.

For some reason, it seemed as if everybody had seen Juno except me. This offbeat, heart-warming tale about unwanted pregnancy and surrogate parenting appeared out of nowhere, catapulting its star, Ellen Page, and its first-time screenwriter, the intriguingly named Diablo Cody, to centre stage. Of course, it didn’t hurt that it bagged itself an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. So, today, I had the opportunity to see it for myself and find out whether the hype was justified.

The answer, in reality, is probably “no”. I wouldn’t call it the greatest film of the last year by any stretch of the imagination, but, at the same time, it’s hard to deny that I enjoyed it considerably. What I liked about this film is that, although superficially the plot is straight out of Movie of the Week territory, it does an admirable job of avoiding sentimentality or mawkishness.

Highlight below to reveal spoiler text:

There’s never any danger that Juno will get all broody and decide she wants to keep the baby. Likewise we don’t have to endure her wrestling with her consciousness as she decides whether or not to abort. She decides fairly quickly on her course of action and then never wavers from it. That’s refreshing.

I can’t say I was particularly enamoured by many of the characters, though. I found the script to be incredibly smug and, occasionally, verging on obnoxious, with the dialogue often sounding like an imitation of the sort of speech patterns that were to be found in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and yes, it’s true, everyone in this film more or less does speak with the same “voice”). The whole thing is a massive overdose of pop culture references and calculatedly “quirky” dialogue… oh, and I can only put Juno’s summation that Herschell Gordon Lewis’ The Wizard of Gore is a better film than Suspiria down to the assumption that being pregnant does strange things to your system. I’m still slightly amazed to hear the name of Dario Argento actually being spoken in a mainstream film, though.

I did enjoy it overall. I wouldn’t class it as a masterpiece, but it’s fun and at times quite amusing - one of the few feel-good films I can think of that doesn’t make me want to go and throw up afterwards.

Oh yeah, and has anyone seen this video? I must confess it made me laugh more than the film itself. (“Oscar, I smell ya later!”)

 
Posted: Tuesday, March 04, 2008 at 7:24 PM | Comments: 10 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Reviews | Web
 

Universal vs. Sony Pictures: Round 2

Blu-ray HD DVD

This morning, my copy of the Japanese Blu-ray release of Danny the Dog sailed through my letterbox and flopped gracefully on to my door mat. I’d been waiting for this release with some anticipation for a few reasons.

Firstly, while this title is (well, was) an HD DVD exclusive in the US, put out by Universal, in Japan the results are held by Sony Pictures, making it a Blu-ray exclusive. Whenever the rights are held by different companies in different territories, the possibility arises for rather interesting results as the two studios each handle their separate encodes (and, as the case may be, masters) differently. Additionally, two different cuts exist for this film: the American/British version, entitled Unleashed, is about a minute shorter than the international cut (Danny the Dog), lacking some character-building scenes and slightly extending an early montage, in addition to substituting the film’s final shot. Personally, I was disappointed when Universal failed to include the international cut on their HD DVD release, so, since 2006, I have been eagerly anticipating another distribution getting a crack at it.

Good news, then: Sony Pictures’ Japanese release is the international cut, complete with Morgan Freeman and Jet Li bonding over groceries (that’s not as weird as it sounds). Even better news: it includes subtitles in Japanese and English, both of which are optional. Beyond that, though, things become a bit confusing, particularly when it comes to the transfer.

In my DVD image comparison between the US, UK and French standard definition releases, I remarked that the French release (the international cut) had a markedly different colour palette in comparison with the other two (both the shorter cut). The short version, by and large, looked to have its colour values more heavily manipulated, resulting in “the warm-tinted scenes looking warmer […] and the desaturated ones looking more monochromatic” (to reiterate what I said in the Comments section of my comparison).

Well, the Japanese release features different grading again, less contrasty than either the French DVD or the UK/US DVD and HD DVD releases, which were quite heavily “pumped”, crushing some of the shadow detail and blowing out the highlights. In addition, while the US HD DVD was clearly taken from a digital intermediate, the Japanese version comes from a film source. It exhibits more grain (I strongly suspect that some noise reduction was performed on Universal’s HD DVD), but, while it seems to superficially show more detail, this is in fact due to edge enhancement, resulting in some unsightly halos around highly contrasted edges.

So, a toughie. I definitely prefer the look of Universal’s release, which appears smoother and more natural, and has (to me) a more aesthetically pleasing colour scheme, but have a look at the images below and see which you think is the more eye-pleasing of the two.

Unleashed
(Universal, USA, VC-1, 12.8 GB)

Unleashed Unleashed Unleashed Unleashed Unleashed Unleashed Unleashed Unleashed Unleashed

Danny the Dog
(Sony Pictures, Japan, AVC, 26.1 GB)

Danny the Dog Danny the Dog Danny the Dog Danny the Dog Danny the Dog Danny the Dog Danny the Dog Danny the Dog Danny the Dog

 
Posted: Monday, March 03, 2008 at 7:27 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

DVDs I bought or received in the month of February

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD
  • Almost Famous (R0 UK, Blu-ray)
  • American Gangster (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • Astérix et les Vikings (R0 France, HD DVD)
  • The Brave One (R0 USA, Blu-ray)
  • Gone Baby Gone (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • The Lady Vanishes: The Criterion Collection [2007 re-release] (R1 USA, DVD)
  • La Môme (R0 France, Blu-ray)
  • The Night of the Werewolf/Vengeance of the Zombies (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • Run Lola Run (R0 UK, Blu-ray)
  • Volver (RA USA, Blu-ray)
     
 
Posted: Friday, February 29, 2008 at 11:59 PM
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD
 

Blu Underground

Blue Underground Blu-ray

Source: Film Talk

Well, this has got to be just about the most unexpected piece of news to round off the month, but perhaps also the most pleasant. Blue Underground, who hold the US DVD rights to most of Dario Argento’s catalogue, not to mention a vast sea of other European cult titles, have added a placeholder page to their web site announcing their intentions to get into the high definition market in the near future:

We are proud to announce that a number of high definition Blu-ray™ releases are in the works. We will have more information soon.

There we go - there’s no actual information besides their statement of an intention to release on the format, but I must say I’m absolutely thrilled. I pretty much gave up any hope of seeing the likes of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red, Suspiria and Inferno in HD any time soon after the rights to these films ended up at Blue Underground and various statements came from the company indicating that they didn’t perceive the market to be large enough to make HD releases viable. I can’t wait to see what their first titles are, and it goes without saying that they should constitute a sizeable improvement on the filtered, edge enhanced standard definition transfers that Blue Underground routinely put out.

My most wanted titles:

  • Baba Yaga
  • The Bird with the Crystal Plumage
  • Deep Red
  • Don’t Torture a Duckling
  • The Fifth Cord
  • Inferno
  • Night Train Murders
  • Opera
  • Short Night of the Glass Dolls
  • Suspiria
  • The Stendhal Syndrome
  • Who Saw Her Die?

Now, obviously, I’m not naïve enough to assume that anything approaching all of these titles will show up, but if even a handful of them get the HD treatment, I will be a very happy gentleman.

 
Posted: Friday, February 29, 2008 at 3:51 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli
 

Garbage baby garbage

Blu-ray

Yesterday, I received a copy of the US Blu-ray release of Gone Baby Gone from DeepDiscount. I watched it tonight, and was less than impressed.

This film gained some level of notoriety in the UK when distributor Buena Vista cancelled its theatrical release, which was scheduled uncomfortably soon after the disappearance of British child Madeleine McCann, and I must confess that my interest in seeing it, while due primarily from the positive write-ups it received, did to some extent stem from the parallels drawn between the McCann case and the one portrayed in the film. (Perhaps Buena Vista’s marketing department should have made a donation to the Maddy fund for the free publicity?) And the parallels are quite striking. Not only does the missing child, Amanda McCready, bear a great deal of physical resemblance to Madeleine McCann, the circumstances surrounding her disappearance are similar: in both cases, a neglectful mother left her child alone in an apartment to get wasted (Kate McCann on alcohol, Helene McCready on cocaine) at a local bar, and later lied about the length of time for which she had abandoned the child. In both cases, a toy belonging to the missing child becomes a vital piece of iconography. And finally, in both, frustrated by the police’s lack of progress, the family of the missing child hires private investigators.

Unfortunately, the most significant similarity between the two cases is how annoying they both are. The media furore surrounding the McCann disappearance, and the manner in which her parents shamelessly and (I believe) insincerely manipulated the media, made me gag. The mawkishness and falseness of the front they adopted was irritating in the extreme, and, unfortunately, Gone Baby Gone is every bit as mawkish and false. This is a film which doesn’t just tug at the heartstrings - it claws desperately at them, using every cliché in the book in a desperate bid to make the audience care about what is, ultimately, a dull, confused and poorly plotted story.

More annoying than all of that, however, is Casey Affleck, who delivers all his dialogue (most of which seems to be about “respec’”) in the same deadpan mumble and is virtually incomprehensible half of the time. This film was co-written and directed by his older brother, Ben Affleck, and I can only assume that this proves that nepotism is alive and well in Hollywood. Similar criticisms are sometimes made of Dario Argento when he casts his daughter in his films, but Asia Argento seems to have a better grasp of English than Casey Affleck and is considerably less annoying to boot. Ed Harris, meanwhile, stumbles over his ridiculous dialogue as best he can, and Michelle Monaghan’s role is so pointless that I wouldn’t be surprised if it was written in minutes before shooting began because the producers realised, at the last minute, that it would look rather bad if all the women in the film were drug addicts and/or negligent parents. I like both of these actors, I really do, but there’s a limit to what they can do without a worthwhile script. The only actor to escape with any sense of self-respect is Morgan Freeman, who I tend to find elevates the perceived quality of just about any material he gets his hands on.

In short, I don’t rate Ben Affleck as an actor, and, based on this, he isn’t much better as a director or writer (bearing in mind that I haven’t seen Good Will Hunting). It’s definitely one of the weakest films I’ve picked up in high definition since its inception, and definitely not worth the $27 I paid for it. Oh, well - you win some, you lose some.

 
Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2008 at 10:32 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Dario Argento | Reviews
 

Anchor Bay sails again

DVD DVD

Fangoria has got the scoop on the long-delayed special edition re-releases of Dario Argento’s Tenebre and Phenomena from Anchor Bay, due out at some point this summer, accompanied by some fairly dodgy cover art. Originally announced in an unofficial capacity a good 2-3 years ago, I forget precisely where they were first mentioned, but it seems to have been common knowledge for some time that these were in the pipeline. Anyway, the specs provided are as one would expect: these two titles, both originally non-anamorphically, will both be receiving new 16x9 enhanced transfers in their original aspect ratios of 1.85:1 and 1.66:1 respectively. Additionally, they will carry over all the extras from their previous releases, in addition to a new retrospective featurette - Voices of the Unsane for Tenebre, and A Dark Fairy Tale for Phenomena.

Unfortunately, the real questions aren’t answered. Namely, will these releases be properly uncut? The previous release of Tenebre was missing a few seconds of footage at various points, while Phenomena lacked over six minutes’ worth of (mostly minor) material in comparison with the longer integral cut. (Both films were released on DVD in their full length variants in various other territories.) Additionally, while the Fangoria article states that each film will feature a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, what I really want to know is whether or not the original mono (or should that be stereo for Phenomena?) mixes will also be provided. Ideally, I’d like to see the original audio mixes provided for both English and Italian, with subtitles… although this is Anchor “you don’t need subtitles if the film is in English” Bay we’re talking about, so I won’t get my hopes up.

Finally, where are the Blu-ray releases?

Anyway, I’ll continue to keep an eye on the buzz surrounding these releases, but with some trepidation. I already own a copy of Tenebre (the Dutch Shadows release from A-Film) which I’m pretty happy with, barring some colour timing issues, and the Integral Japanese version of Phenomena that I own is nice, but for the fact that certain stretches of dialogue are in Italian on the English language track. Ah, we’ll see. I might be tempted by review copies…

 
Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2008 at 8:59 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli
 
 

 
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