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The Giallo Project #12: The Fifth Cord

DVD

Alternative titles: Giorna nera per l’ariete; Evil Fingers; Director: Luigi Bazzoni; Starring: Franco Nero, Silvia Monti, Wolfang Preiss, Ira von Fürstenberg, Edmund Purdom, Rossella Falk, Renato Romano, Pamela Tiffin; Music: Ennio Morricone; Italian theatrical release date: August 28th, 1971

Note: this review contains significant spoilers.

In his excellent essay Playing with Genre, Gary Needham descibes Luigi Bazzoni’s giallo The Fifth Cord as an example of the more progressive side of the movement. The first time I watched the film, I really wasn’t sure what he meant, but, after mulling the issue over in my mind for a while, I’m beginning to see where he was coming from. I’m going to do something a little different with this instalment of the Giallo Project, in that, instead of doing a general overview of the film, I will focus in depth on a handful of scenes which specifically refer to the subject on which I am currently interested: namely, the character of Andrea Bild (Franco Nero) and his relationship with the two women in his life, his ex-girlfriend Helene (Silvia Monti) and his current catch, Lou (Pamela Tiffin). This is part of the work I am currently doing for my PhD, a piece which I am hoping to use to explore the wide variety of ways in which women are portrayed in gialli, and as such, a lot of the material below was written with an eye to being incorporated into an academic essay.

Andrea Bild: the image of the stereotypical hard-drinking macho man turned on its head

Above: Andrea Bild: the image of the stereotypical hard-drinking macho man turned on its head

Andrea embodies the hard-drinking, virile, macho male stripped of all the qualities normally found in giallo portrayals of such characters. Rather than the suave George Hilton type, he is an unkempt, pathetic drunk, engaged in an affair with Lou, a student several years younger than him, but clearly still dependent on his ex-girlfriend, Helene, a firm, sensible, working single mother fighting a divorce (at one point, she says that, until the proceedings go through, she will not be able to “live [her] own life”). In this film, it’s not so much the plot or the basic character archetypes that are unique (on the contrary, they are actually somewhat generic), but the manner in which what we are supposed to infer from them is reversed. In the average giallo, the J&B Whisky bottle is an ubiquitous simple of sophistication and finesse (Koven, 2006, pp. 49-50); here, the first time we see a J&B bottle is when Andrea, drunk and unshaven, swigs from it while driving home from a party after being snubbed by Helene, who has already commented with disdain on his drunkenness. What’s particularly interesting about this is that it is a clear reimagining of the persona Franco Nero portrayed in the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s and would go on to play in the action and crime thrillers of the mid to late 1970s. In these, the gristled, tough-talking antihero who takes the law into his own hands was romanticised; here, he’s practically a joke. Just watch his first speaking role, where he drunkenly tries to woo Helene, gazing pleadingly at her, only for it to be made clear that she finds his state of intoxication pathetic. As someone who finds macho culture intensely irritating, this pleases me no end.

J&B: the classy gentleman's drink

Above: J&B: the classy gentleman’s drink

In the scene above, Helene returns to her car to find him sitting in the passenger seat, dishevelled and slurring his speech. It is made clear from the start that he is encroaching on her territory (in this case, her car) and that she holds the power. Throughout their conversation, he gazes at her pleadingly, which she refuses to even dignify him with eye contact. When he begins to caress her hair, she firmly and calming removes her hand, responding to his statement that drinking “makes life much easier” with the statement that she, on the other hand, has not been drinking, the implication being that she would have to be drunk herself in order to entertain any prospect of anything happening between them. She controls the scene from its beginning to its end, when she orders him out of the car with the simple statement “Goodnight. Goodbye, Andrea”, and turning on the car’s ignition, all the while refusing to look at him. Bazzoni, meanwhile, underscores the lack of connection between the two of them by filming the entire scene as a single medium shot in which each character occupies either side of the frame, the camera adopting a detached distance rather than priveleging either character’s point of view with subjective shots.

The first scene to feature Andrea’s young girlfriend, Lou, taking place the morning after his encounter with Helene, shows him to be even more dishevelled and pathetic than the night before. He wakes up in bed, groggy and half-dressed, to the sound of the telephone ringing, and it is revealed, through dialogue, that he has slept through two previous calls after returning home in such a state that Lou had to undress him and put him to bed.

Andrea: You always liked undressing me.
Lou: Not when you’re drunk.

The modern man: emblematic of suavity and dignity

Above: The modern man: emblematic of suavity and dignity

Here, drinking is once again held in contempt, the impression being given that, far from making him the virile ‘ladies’ man’ that most male giallo protagonists seem to embody, drink is a turn-off (rather than a turn-on) for women and makes him unable to function sexually. Alcohol, therefore, is here used to diminish masculinity rather than embody it.

Lou, however, is a considerably different character from Helene. Content to allow Andrea to be unfaithful to her (a courtesy which he does not extend to her in return - see the scene in which he slaps her about after suspecting that she has been seeing another man) and to dote on him (Helene refused to give him the time of day; Lou, on the other hand, took care of him when he came home too drunk to even undress himself), she is instantly portrayed as a more submissive character. What is unusual, though, is that, while the Italian gothic horror films of the 1960s generally portrayed assertive women as dangerous and a threat to (patriarchal) society and weak, submissive women as embodying the ‘proper’ characteristics of femininity (see Günsberg, 2005, Chapter 4), this film does not appear to make any judgement calls about either of the two women in Andrea’s life. Indeed, if anything, she is the most positively portrayed character in the film. (Other examples of positive portrayals of independent professional women in gialli include Vittoria Stori in What Have They Done to Your Daughters? and Gianna Brezzi in Deep Red. These are, I must confess, about the only ones I can think of.) On the contrary, we see the level of respect Andrea has for Helene when he is sober, heading round to her house to apologise for his inappropriate behaviour the previous night when he discovers that Lou has gone away for the weekend. (In a note she has left for him, Lou tells him that, if he wants to “get laid”, he is free to go ahead, but this clearly is not his intention when he pays his visit to Helene.)

Helene, a woman in control of her own life

Above: Helene, a woman in control of her own life

Is with their previous encounter, Bazzoni once again emphasises Andrea’s futile attempts to make eye contact with Helene and her refusal to look at him. It is only when he makes a disparaging remark about her lack of a sex life, telling her that “it’s bad for [her] not to make love”, that she finally grants him more than a brief glance, and only then to once again refer to his drunkenness and to tell him to get to the point of his visit. His purpose, incidentally, is to ask her for information about a case he is investigating, in effect priveleging her with information which he does not possess and even going so far as to imply that he needs her to succeed at his job (whereas she is self-sufficient). Throughout the scene in which she provides him with the information that she needs, her authority is accentuated by low angle shots in which the camera looks up at her, while the scene’s first shot shows her standing on the balcony at the top of a flight of stairs, looking down at Andrea. Throughout the scene, she moves freely around the house, pouring herself a drink and monologuing without directly looking at Andrea, until towards the end, when she sits down and faces him, maintaining a clear distance from him.

Andrea: I didn’t notice anything.
Helene: I’m not surprised. You were drunk.

Are you getting all this down, Laura Mulvey?

Above: Are you getting all this down, Laura Mulvey?

The difference between the portrayal of Helene and Lou is once again accentuated when Andrea, after believing Lou to be having an affair with another man, returns home to confront her. Whereas Helene, in the scene previously discussed, was dressed modestly in a black pullover and trousers, Lou is completely naked, lying on Andrea’s bed as she waits for him to return. Even more significantly, she is introduced via a subjective shot, the camera adopting Andrea’s point of view as he enters the bedroom. This time, it is Andrea who moves freely around, putting his groceries away while talking at Lou rather than to her. It is tempting to view Lou, who tells Andrea that she was “dying to see [him]”, as his attempt to make up for his failure with Helene. One gets the impression that Helene’s independence frustrates him, and that he entertains Lou simply for the convenience of someone who can alternately dote on and be dependent on him.

Andrea: What kind of dump do you come from? Your mother doesn’t take care of you, your father’s gathering mould in a state home for the aged, and you play tramp in one sports car after the other.”
Lou: Was it a red sports car?
Andrea: That’s right.
Lou: Well, that car just happens to belong to my brother Walter, you idiot! You know, ever since you’ve been playing detective, you just can’t get anything right. You really had me a laugh!
[Brief pause]
Andrea: You’re pathetic.

In a sense, Lou is pathetic. Immediately afterwards, she eagerly tries to please Andrea by providing him with further information for his investigation, before pleadingly asking where he is going when he head out without a word. (Later, she seems to forgive him completely, indulging in a giggling play-fight with him before having sex.) Andrea, however, the drunk who seems to take his frustration regarding his ex out on his current girlfriend, is nothing if not a hypocrite. This is not, of course, the only giallo in which a male protagonist treats his girlfriend badly, whether by treating her with contempt or physically assaulting her, but it is one of the few in which the filmmakers seem to condemn this behaviour. Often, George Hilton (or one of his counterparts) will slap a female character whom they believe to be in a state of ‘hysteria’ (the impression given that the filmmakers believe such violence to be justified in order to calm down an unhelpfully ‘hysterical’ woman); here, however, Andrea’s assault of Lou is that of a scruffy alcoholic hitting a woman in complete control of her senses on the basis of a false assumption. Andrea is not ‘punished’ as such for this; rather, it is simply yet another in a long line of cases of bad behaviour. (When she reappears once more, towards the end of the film, to tell him that she is leaving him and getting married, it’s tempting to view this as Andrea getting a taste of his own medicine.)

And it looks really nice, too

Above: And it looks really nice, too

Of course, the characterisations are far from inclusive. For all her strengths, Helene does, rather regrettably, submit to a brief passionate snog with Andrea after her turns up at her house, wanting her to comfort him after a particularly unpleasant encounter with his boss. (To her credit, however, she does call a halt to it, opting to head back indoors to take care of her son rather than allowing herself to be used by Andrea as a cheap lay to make himself feel better.) And let’s not forget that the killer’s motivation, seemingly plucked out of nowhere at the last minute, is that old reactionary staple, that of the homosexual turned down by a straight man going mad and deciding to kill a bunch of people. Still, I can see exactly what Gary Needham means when he calls this a progressive giallo which “play[s] with the conventions of detection and investigation procedures in order to explore issues of masculinity and identity”.

 
Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2008 at 5:06 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Gialli | Reviews | The Giallo Project
 

Mater Lacrimarum revisited

Mother of Tears

Today, I had the opportunity to watch the English version of Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears. This was my second viewing of the concluding part in the Three Mothers trilogy, after watching it in Italian on Christmas Day. The viewing conditions weren’t ideal (the version I saw was cropped from its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio to 1.78:1), but overall the quality was better than my Italian copy. (A Russian DVD appears to be available now, but it seems to have been the source of the cropped version I saw, so I would recommend holding out for a different release. Medusa will be releasing it in Italy on April 9th, while Optimum are supposedly putting it out in the UK on April 28th.)

In most respects, the English version improves things somewhat, although Asia Argento’s performance is still uneven, closer to Trauma than to The Stendhal Syndrome. With the benefit of the English audio, Valeria Cavalli (Marta) definitely emerges as the best actor of the group, giving a strong and believable performance (the monkey is still great, though). Adam James (who has previously appeared in Casualty and Waking the Dead) is, like Asia, uneven. In some scenes he is quite effective (his final scene is quite chilling), but in others, such as when he is going nuts after his son has disappeared, he comes across as quite weak. Oh, and I don’t really see the big deal about Udo Kier’s performance. A lot of people described it as hammy, but it didn’t strike me as problematic in any way.

On the downside, Moran Atias (Mater Lacrimarum) is awful, and I mean awful. She looks ridiculous and can’t act her way out of a paper bag. She really made me yearn for Ania Pieroni. Her bald, male lackey is also hamstrung by some really atrocious dubbing, and the gothic witches continue to make me cringe. Actually, if anything, they came across as worse rather than better on a second viewing. I knew they were coming this time, but it didn’t make the experience any less painful. Really, Dario, what were you thinking?

On a related note, watching the film again revealed all sorts of squandered opportunities to throw in some of the bravura colours and lighting from the first two instalments. I can only imagine how much more magical moments like Sarah lighting the fire in Michael’s apartment and Marta summoning the spirits would have been had Argento used them as an excuse to unleash some Technicolor brilliance. And what happened to the idea of Mater Lacrimarum’s jewel-studded robe casting primary colours on the faces of her grovelling followers? All we get now is a red T-shirt with glitter writing on it.

My original rating of 7/10 still stands. It’s not a bad little film, but, as a conclusion to what was started in Suspiria and Inferno, it’s a let-down. I never expected it to be on the same level as them, so I can’t claim to be disappointed, but it remains a middle of the road entry in Argento’s filmography - better than Trauma and The Phantom of the Opera but weaker than all his other theatrical ventures (it’s better than his three recent TV projects, though, especially those embarrassing Masters of Horror episodes).

 
Posted: Sunday, February 24, 2008 at 11:01 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | TV | Waking the Dead
 

Lola redux

Blu-ray

This is a follow-up to my previous post on the Blu-ray release of Run Lola Run, Dear Universal, this is what a catalogue release SHOULD look like.

In the comments section to that post, I was contacted by a regular reader who called into question the Blu-ray transfer and its authenticity as regards Tom Tykwer’s intentions, due to comments made by his friend, a hardcore fan of the film, who reacted in horror, upon seeing my screen captures:

At first glance, I always thought the colours looked messed up on those pics (based on my memory of the film). Lola looked green/yellow-ish on lola4.jpg, and Manni looked purple on lola7.jpg. I compared them to the DVD. And I can now say the colours are totally messed up on the BD. There is also framing issues. As the BD looks cropped on the left/right sides. I’ve seen this movie probably well over a hundred times, and based on these pics, the BD presentations is WAY to much on the green side. I’ve attached pics that showcase all these problems.

Link
Link
Link

My regular reader also sent me a few more of his friend’s thoughts on the transfer (among other issues) via email, and, with his permission, I thought it would be worthwhile to post some of the material that pertains specifically to the matter at hand.

Regarding his familiarity with the film (lest he be accused of basing his opinion on how it should look solely on the previous DVD release):

Well, I’ve seen the film theatrically, but it wasn’t the best presentation. As it was one of those tiny garbage arthouse theatres, with a screen smaller than todays Plasmas and no better than stereo sound.

But I never remember the film looking that green. And, 10 years ago, I had near photographic memory.

The reason I’m taking the time to post all this is to provide an alternate viewpoint on the issue of the film’s transfer. I don’t feel qualified to make a case for the transfer being right or wrong - clearly, my reader’s friend has a familiarity with the film which I do not possess (I consider it a favourite of mine, but at the same time I must point out that I have only seen two versions of it: the Region 2 UK DVD and the Blu-ray release), and on that basis alone (not to mention his obvious technical knowledge, when discussing such issues as VC-1 compression and digital intermediates in his email), I am inclined to trust his viewpoint.

But it’s not my place to say whether the Run Lola Run Blu-ray release looks “correct” or not. I suspect that, as is always going to be the case with a medium like film, especially when we are in the realm of lab printing, which does not provide the accuracy of digital colour timing (where you can create a single master with a locked down colour palette), every source is going to look somewhat different from the others, meaning that it is virtually impossible to identify a single correct look. Looking at the comparison shots linked to above, it should be clear to all that there are obvious differences between the DVD and Blu-ray releases in terms of colour palette, but that’s the one thing I can say for sure.

What I can’t say with any degree of certainty is whether one is more accurate than the other. Yes, you could argue that the Blu-ray release looks a bit too yellow in terms of flesh tones, but someone else might just as easily turn round and say that the DVD looked a bit too magenta. In any event, I’m always somewhat wary of using flesh tones as an indicator of the accuracy of a transfer’s colour palette. Lighting conditions, film stock and all manner of other variables can all affect the look, and that’s before you get into the issue of artistic intent. Who’s to say Tykwer was going for natural flesh tones anyway? One can hardly consider this to be a film with a naturalistic style.

As is always the case with issues like this, the one person who can truly clear up the issue is Tom Tykwer. Did he supervise the original DVD or the Blu-ray release? Did he supervise both or neither? How does he feel about the new look? I don’t know, and, therefore, the only advice I can really give on this matter is to use your own judgement based on the evidence at your disposal. The bottom line is that I’m very happy with the look of the Blu-ray release, although I readily admit that it could be the wrong look. Caveat emptor, and all that.

 
Posted: Sunday, February 24, 2008 at 8:44 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology
 

HD DVD review: The Bourne Ultimatum

HD DVD
Jason Bourne’s third and no doubt final outing on the HD DVD format is a resounding success in terms of audio-visual quality. While the bonus materials are a bit of a mixed bag, it’s the presentation of the film itself that matters, and in that regard, this release is among the best available on either format.

Courtesy of DVD Pacific, I’ve reviewed the HD DVD release of The Bourne Ultimatum. How does the third and supposedly final instalment in the spy franchise stack up in high definition?

 
Posted: Sunday, February 24, 2008 at 2:41 PM
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Reviews
 

Putting the “tosh” in Toshiba

Toshiba HD-EP30

Well, I got home today from work (and from visiting my granny, who is seriously ill) to find that my Toshiba HD-EP30 had arrived from Amazon.co.uk. After extracting the two free HD DVDs (300 and The Bourne Supremacy), I hooked the thing up and decided to give it a whirl.

Physically speaking at any rate, it’s an improvement on my first HD DVD player, the venerable HD-A1. It’s about half the height, and weighs significantly less. Also, from a standpoint of pure convenience, because this is a European model, it doesn’t require a step-down transformer. (Good old HD DVD and its lack of region coding!) That’s about where the differences end, though, as the Windows CE-based interface is virtually identical, and it takes almost as long as its predecessor to power up and load discs. The Xbox 360 add-on, in comparison, was positively sprightly.

Of far greater concern than the speed, however, is the issue of image quality. When I switched the machine on, my first port of call was the picture menu to change the output mode from 1080i to 1080p. As soon as I popped in my first disc (The Bourne Ultimatum, which I hope to finally get reviewed by the beginning of next week), I knew something was up. The Bourne Ultimatum is one of the best-looking discs released on either format - an extremely detailed encode with no sign of artificial sharpening or detail reduction, and yet, on the HD-EP30, there was ringing in abundance, and a distinct lack of fine detail. A couple more high quality HD DVDs later, and I ruled out any possibility of the discs themselves being at fault.

Lyris suggested that the problem might be the 1080p output. Rather predictably, he was right: setting the output to 1080i immediately resolved the ringing problem and returned the detail to its rightful place. All well and good - but I paid for a device with 1080p output, and 1080p24 output at that. Why should I have to limit myself to 1080i60 just because Microsoft and Toshiba couldn’t get their acts together? Lyris’ projector correctly resolves 1080i film mode, but it means we’re still stuck with 60 Hz output rather than pure 24p, resulting in the infamous 3:2 pull-down judder that many viewers raised on a lifetime of PAL material find extremely difficult to ignore when watching NTSC content.

So, what do I do now? Do I attempt to return the player and attempt to explain to Amazon that I don’t want it because its 1080p output introduces ringing? (Somehow, I don’t think there’s an option that quite fits that description on their returns form.) Is there even any point? For all I know, all Toshiba’s standalone players could exhibit this problem. I’ve spent the last half-hour on Google and have yet to come across a single review or report that mentions the bug, so I have no realistic way of knowing whether I’d be any better off with one of the other 1080p-capable models.

Urgh! This just makes me respect Sony’s Playstation 3 all the more.

Update, February 25th, 2007 09:01 PM: I updated the firmware to version 2.0 at the recommendation of others. Alas, the image quality is still as rotten as ever. See photographic evidence of the disgrace at Lyris Lite.

 
Posted: Saturday, February 23, 2008 at 9:12 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Reviews | Technology | Web
 

Academia dissected

Web

Earlier this month, I wrote an off the cuff post expressing my frustration with what I perceived to be academia’s obsession with penis symbols. I wrote that after trawling through a particularly turgid chapter on the Italian horror film written by Maggie Günsberg, who seemed intent on collapsing the entire movement into a series of phallic and vaginal icons. Now, of course, I don’t think that this obsession with male members extends to every corner of academia, and, as a part-time academic myself, it would be a little hypocritical if I tarred everyone with the same brush.

With that proviso out of the way, I want to take the time to point out an utterly hilarious parody of a psychoanalytic academic essay that I came across today. The subject matter is 2 Girls 1 Cup, a video circulated all over the World Wide Web that has gained some level of notoriety since it first appeared around last October. If you’re not aware of it or its content, then I suggest you read the Wikipedia entry on it rather than actually seek out the video itself, but, if you’re feeling lazy, the premise is this: two women take turns vomiting and shitting into a cup, then perform various acts which involve the aforementioned waste being transferred from the cup (and each other’s various orifices) into their mouths. Delightful. Yes, I’ve seen it, and no, I haven’t been the same since.

Anyway, read the essay. It is, quite possibly, a work of demented genius. I just wish I could read the last three paragraphs, which you can just make out on the opposite side of the paper.

Update, February 21st, 2007 09:42 PM: You can read the entire essay here (thanks, Lyris).

 
Posted: Thursday, February 21, 2008 at 6:07 PM | Comments: 12 (view)
Categories: Cinema | PhD | Web
 

Dear Universal, this is what a catalogue release SHOULD look like

Blu-ray

With Universal on the way to Blu-ray, they will soon find themselves up against Sony Pictures, whose transfers for catalogue titles, while not always perfect, are generally of a much higher standard than the ones being put out by the other majors - particularly Universal, who are often guilty of the worst Crimes Against Film.

Today, I received the UK Blu-ray release of one of my favourite films, Run Lola Run, and I’m pleased to report that it looks better than I could ever have hoped. Is it perfect? No, it’s not, and, unsurprisingly, it doesn’t have the detail that you would get from a DI-sourced transfer, but it does look really, really good, and puts Universal’s HD DVD release of American Gangster, which I also received today, a film that is nearly a decade younger, to shame. That’s just plain wrong.

Run Lola Run
(Sony Pictures, UK, AVC, 23.3 GB)

Run Lola Run Run Lola Run Run Lola Run Run Lola Run Run Lola Run Run Lola Run Run Lola Run Run Lola Run Run Lola Run

 
Posted: Tuesday, February 19, 2008 at 9:41 PM | Comments: 10 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

In memoriam: HD DVD

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

Well, it’s been a fun year and a half, and I hope you’ll join me in remembering HD DVD’s brief but promising life. I picked up a scant few discs - 68 - in comparison with some people, but it’s a nice little collection, with some truly great titles in it, and here they are:

2006

#1: Million Dollar Baby (Warner, USA)
#2: Constantine (Warner, USA)
#3: The Bourne Supremacy (Universal, USA)
#4: Sleepy Hollow (Paramount, USA)
#5: Unleashed (Universal, USA)
#6: Red Dragon (Universal, USA)
#7: Land of the Dead (Universal, USA)
#8: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Universal, USA)
#9: The Machinist (Toshiba, Japan)
#10: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Warner, USA)
#11: Corpse Bride (Warner, USA)
#12: V for Vendetta (Warner, USA)
#13: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Warner, UK)
#14: Serenity (Universal, UK)
#15: An American Werewolf in London (Universal, USA)
#16: Wolf Creek (The Weinstein Company, USA)
#17: Miami Vice (Universal, USA)
#18: Casablanca (Warner, USA)
#19: Basic Instinct (Studio Canal, France)
#20: The Adventures of Robin Hood (Warner, USA)
#21: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Warner, UK)

2007

#22: Brokeback Mountain (Universal, USA)
#23: Babel (Paramount, USA)
#24: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Constantin Film, Germany)
#25: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (Paramount, USA)
#26: Children of Men (Universal, USA)
#27: A Scanner Darkly (Warner, USA)
#28: The Game (Universal, USA)
#29: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Universal, USA)
#30: HDScape: Antarctica Dreaming (DVD International, USA)
#31: HDScape: Visions of the Sea (DVD International, USA)
#32: The Fountain (Warner, USA)
#33: The Ultimate Matrix Collection (Warner, USA)
#34: Lost in Translation (Universal, USA)
#35: The Skeleton Key (Universal, USA)
#36: Mulholland Drive (Studio Canal, France)
#37: Brotherhood of the Wolf (Studio Canal, France)
#38: Dawn of the Dead (2004) (Universal, USA)
#39: Black Snake Moan (Paramount, USA)
#40: La Haine (Optimum, UK)
#41: Syriana (Warner, UK)
#42: Being John Malkovich (Universal, USA)
#43: Blood Diamond (Warner, USA)
#44: The Bourne Identity (Universal, USA)
#45: Mr. Bean’s Holiday (Universal, UK)
#46: Silent Hill (Concorde, Germany)
#47: Underworld (Concorde, Germany)
#48: 300 (Warner, USA)
#49: Mission Impossible III (Paramount, USA)
#50: Seed of Chucky (Universal, USA)
#51: 2001: A Space Odyssey (Warner, USA)
#52: Les Triplettes de Belleville (France Télévisions Éditions, France)
#53: A Clockwork Orange (Warner, USA)
#54: Eyes Wide Shut (Warner, USA)
#55: The Shining (Warner, USA)
#56: Full Metal Jacket (remastered) (Warner, USA)
#57: Pan’s Labyrinth (Optimum, UK)
#58: Wolf Creek (Optimum, UK)
#59: Inside Man (Universal, USA)
#60: Blade Runner: Ultimate Collector’s Edition (Warner, USA)
#61: The Bourne Ultimatum (Universal, USA)
#62: Running Scared (EMS, Germany)
#63: Tideland (Concorde, Germany)

2008

#64: Cat People (1982) (Universal, USA)
#65: Eastern Promises (Universal, USA)
#66: Pan’s Labyrinth (New Line, USA)
#67: Astérix et les Vikings (M6 Vidéo, France)
#68: American Gangster (Universal, USA)

As they say, it’s been a good life.

 
Posted: Tuesday, February 19, 2008 at 7:18 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

Bandits and bricked hardware

HD DVD

Given today’s major news, this seems almost irrelevant to mention, but what it likely to be last ever HD DVD purchase came slinking into the house today in the guise of Ridley Scott’s American Gangster. Somewhat fitting, given the format’s sorry end, it turned out to be a less than stellar release from Universal (gee, now there’s a surprise). I’ve said before that, when they release a title sourced from a digital intermediate (DI), they generally manage to deliver a flawless or at least very good image. When it comes to film-sourced material, though, the results are rarely so positive, and American Gangster, despite being a recent title, is one of these. Evidence of noise reduction and a general lack of fine detail conspire to make this a deeply underwhelming presentation.

Pictured, an Xbox 360 giving up the ghost.

Above: Pictured, an Xbox 360 giving up the ghost.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t investigate the disc any further because, this afternoon, my brother’s Xbox 360, presumably in mourning over the demise of HD DVD, popped its clogs. Given that it will have to be returned to the US to be either repaired or replaced, it’s going to be out of action for some time, so this evening I decided to order a stand-alone HD DVD player, a Toshiba HD-EP30.

I know, I know, I’m probably the only person in the world who’d buy a player the very day the format was officially pronounced dead, but I have my reasons. For one thing, we’ve been yearning for an HD DVD player that could do 24p output for some time (the Xbox 360 is limited to 60 Hz playback). For another, today’s incident hammered home just how accident-prone the console is, and, with that in mind, I’d rather have a stand-alone device on which to play my existing HD DVD collection rather than having to rely on there being a fully functioning Xbox 360 to connect to my HD DVD add-on drive. And finally, it was a mere £77.99 from Amazon.co.uk (with two free titles thrown in for good measure). While I have no doubt that the price will drop even lower in the coming weeks, the fact remains that I have a copy of The Bourne Ultimatum sitting on my shelf that I really need to review for DVD Times. And I’m impulsive.

 
Posted: Tuesday, February 19, 2008 at 6:39 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

Day After Day

Almost Blue

There’s something of a sense of predictability to Day After Day, a giallo novel by Carlo Lucarelli, better known to some as the co-writer of Dario Argento’s Sleepless. As the second book to focus on the character of Inspector Grazia Negro, the first being Almost Blue (itself turned into a film by Alex Infascelli), it continually evokes its predecessor in terms of plot points and overall style. Once again, the scenario is that of a serial killer who proves to be a master of disguise, and once again, the key to catching him seems to lie in the lap of a socially maladjusted young man with an affinity with technology, who stumbles upon the killer by pure chance.

Like Almost Blue, the novel is a brisk and pacey affair, and once again I suspect that the translation, by Oonagh Stransky, has a lot to do with its effectiveness, given the rhythmic quality of the language. Lucarelli has quite a flair for getting inside the heads of his characters, particularly the villains, describing what they see and what they are thinking in such a way as to make the mundane seem interesting. In the case of the killer, Vittorio (that’s not a spoiler - his identity is revealed to us from the outset), we get to see what goes through his head as he observes the public, storing nuggets of information about their appearances and mannerisms that may or may not be useful in the future for one of his disguises. It’s all quite fascinating and well observed.

Something else that I like about Lucarelli’s writing is his ability to use description to give the impression that the reader is watching a film. There is a scene in which Grazia is in her office, listening to a tape recording of the interrogation of a suspect. The dialogue between the suspect and the investigating officer is intercut with descriptions of the office and the various items inside it - post-its on the notice board, photographs and so on - gradually unveiled in such a way as to suggest that a camera is snaking its way around the room, moving from one object to the next. I’d be very interested to see this adapted as a film, although I do wonder to what extent the characters’ inner thoughts, so important to the novel, would have to be jettisoned along the way.

The stand-out scene, meanwhile, is one in which the aforementioned social outcast, Alex, flees injured through a busy street in broad daylight as Vittorio, having killed all of his work colleagues, calmly follows him. It reminded me of the scene in Tenebre in which Bullmer is murdered on a sun-drenched plaza in full view of several people: this idea that that something terrible can be happening in a public place, and no-one notices. As if to hammer home the similarity, Alex later describes the experience as reminding him of when he watched Profondo Rosso on television.

It is, however, largely business as usual. The plot is such a retread of Almost Blue that there’s really nothing new to be gleaned. The book’s strengths lie largely in the telling rather than the story itself, and, while I would certainly read any future instalments in this series (the book’s open-ended nature suggests that there will be a sequel somewhere down the line), I would hope that Lucarelli would be able to come up with something less of a retread.

 
Posted: Monday, February 18, 2008 at 10:03 AM
Categories: Books | Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | Reviews
 

Congratulations, Buena Vista - you’ve managed to make Universal’s catalogue releases look good

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

Is you probably know by now, my eye is, to put it lightly, rather critical when it comes to image quality, whether it be standard definition or high definition. You’ll probably also know that I hold the majority of review sites in contempt - or, at least, the ones which concentrate on reviewing the audio-visual elements of discs rather than the films themselves, and which present themselves as authorities on technology but prove to be nothing of the sort. I’m the sort of person who, when I read a glowing review of a new release, will think “Okay, so what have they missed?” rather than “Great! I can’t want to see it for myself!” Broadly speaking, though, I tend to expect that if a disc is really - and I mean really - shoddy, even the most vision-impaired critic will notice.

Well, today, I have been proved wrong once again by Mr. Peter M. Bracke, the lead reviewer over at High-Def Digest, one of the most contemptible of the contemptible web sites. Until recently, my “favourite” (in the same way that a tornado is my “favourite” natural disaster) Bracke review was of Universal’s HD DVD release of Traffic, in which he showered praise on a standard definition upconvert. Now, he’s done it again, this time with the Blu-ray release of Scary Movie, just one of the many masterpieces from those auteurs of cinema, the Wayans Brothers. Here is Mr. Bracke’s assessment:

[T]his transfer is bright and colorful, exceedingly sharp, and bolstered by a crystal clear print. There’s not a blemish to be found on the print, and I was particularly taken aback by the almost complete lack of grain and noise, even though the majority of the film takes place at night. Likewise, colors are bold but smooth, and fleshtones are naturalistic. Most astoundingly, detail is strong enough that it rivals most of the new releases I’ve seen on Blu-ray lately, and the “three-dimensional” effect is well in evidence.

The only irritant I could find is some edge enhancement, resulting in some visible halos. Otherwise, when it comes to picture quality, ‘Scary Movie’ is a top-drawer catalog release.

He goes on to give the transfer an overall rating of 4.5 out of 5.

Here is what the transfer looks like:

Diarrhoea-like!

(Picture nabbed from the AV Science Forum, captured by benes.)

Granted, Cindy Campbell may have skin as smooth as a baby’s bottom after spending the previous evening shaving her moustache in the bath (I’ve seen the movie, unfortunately), but this is going a bit too far. This is some of the worst degraining I have ever laid eyes on, and is the sort of thing I’m talking about when I refer to images that look “waxy”… although, having used that word to refer to comparatively excellent transfers like La Vie en Rose, I’m thinking I need a new way of describing the likes of Scary Movie. “Diarrhoea-like” might suffice.

I could also point out the massive halos, but in this particular case, it’s almost beside the point.

Seriously, Buena Vista (and every other studio), don’t think you can get away with putting out turkeys like this. And reviewers, don’t think that your shoddy journalism is doing you any favours. A picture is worth a thousand words, and one press of the Printscreen button can quash oodles of uneducated writing.

 
Posted: Saturday, February 16, 2008 at 7:22 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

Just don’t take my wings

Film

An open letter to Michael Bay:

Dear Michael Bay,

I have nothing in particular against you. You may be an arrogant blowhole who has no idea what he’s talking about, and your films may be widely derided as everything that’s wrong with modern cinema, but I personally don’t consider you to be completely without merit. The Rock, for all its inanities, is a pretty entertaining action film with some amusing dialogue, while Transformers and The Island are harmless fun, although each could have used an editor to cut a good 45-60 minutes out of them. I haven’t seen either of the Bad Boys films, so I won’t comment on them, but the point is that I’d probably actually defend you if someone called you a talentless hack who should be locked up and never allowed within a hundred feet of a movie camera ever again.

Sometimes, however, you seem to insist on making my job difficult for me. I have just watched your bombastic wartime epic, Pearl Harbor, on Blu-ray, your preferred high definition format, no less, but I now find myself in the unfortunate position of having scarcely a kind word to say about you. The script is awful, your direction shambolic, your attention to historical detail non-existent and your capacity to bore with over-wrought dialogue and a turgid love triangle knows no bounds. To say that the best part of the film is the 45-minute long special effects reel that is the attack on Pearl Harbor would be about the kindest thing I could say, although, given your aesthetic sensibilities, you’d probably take that as a compliment.

By all means make films about aged MI6 officers teaming up with annoying lab rats to take on platoons of marines holed up on Alcatraz. I have no objections to you making more glossy rip-offs of Logan’s Run with Ewan McGregor doing an appalling imitation of an American accent and Scarlett Johansson gaping for two and a half hours. I don’t even mind you making more movies about robots urinating on John Turturro. Hey, whatever floats your boat. But please, Mr. Bay, for the sanity of all concerned, never consider making a film like Pearl Harbor again.

Yours sincerely,
Captain Whiggles
HMS Whimsy

 
Posted: Wednesday, February 13, 2008 at 10:48 PM | Comments: 17 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema
 

I fear to watch, yet I can’t look away

Film

In recent months, I’ve been developing a keen interest in bad movies. Since I subscribed to the Amazon UK rental service last September, I’ve seen such doozies as the remake of The Wicker Man starring Nicolas Cage, the Eddie Murphy shit-a-thon Norbit, Uwe Boll’s meisterwerk House of the Dead, the made-for-TV Omen IV: The Awakening and, most recently, Tom Green’s Freddy Got Fingered. Most of these titles were “recommended” by my good friend Baron Scarpia, the bad film connoisseur to end all bad film connoisseurs. He has recently enjoyed Andrea Bianchi’s The Zombie Dead and Claudio Fagrasso’s Troll 2 (the latter being the only film I’ve ever heard of that is so awful that it had to be reviewed in two parts), and I believe he has Norbit in his rental queue lest he renege on his wager with me.

I, however, believe that I may have found the bad movie that puts all other bad movies to shame. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…

The Hottie and the Nottie.

Starring Paris Hilton.

I like how the poster has to tell us which one is meant to be hot. Notice also that Hilton's name does not appear anywhere on it.

Above: I like how the poster has to tell us which one is meant to be hot. Notice also that Hilton’s name does not appear anywhere on it.

Imagine it, people. Not only is Paris Hilton still permitted to appear in movies, someone actually allowed her to take the starring role in one, and then, sealing the deal, decided to release it in cinemas throughout the United States. That, surely, is irresponsible enough to serve as grounds for a lengthy stretch in prison, if not death by hanging. Keith Phipps over at The A.V. Club has written a warning to the faint-hearted not to go and see the film (this sort of thing is known in some circles as a “review”), but I doubt that he will dissuade me. I have survived Nicolas Cage and the killer bees. I escaped unscathed from rampaging zombies and their turn-table effects. Heck, I even made it through Tom Green masturbating an elephant without even throwing up. You think Paris Hilton’s going to stand in my way? My only previous encounter with her was her guest appearance in an episode of Veronica Mars, where she proved that not only does she look like a deformed wax sculpture (I know, I know, looks aren’t everything, but if you’re starring in a film in which you are described as a “Hottie”, it might help to be at least passably attractive), but also can’t act her way out of a paper bag, so I can only hope that my immune system is high enough not to be struck down by such a prolonged exposure to her.

Some of the comments appended to the A.V. Club review are pretty funny in their own right. On the subject of the infamous Paris Hilton sex tape:

My freshman year of college one of my hallmates got that and had us all watch it. It was so long and slow that Tarkovsky could’ve directed it.

- KaneLynch

I love movies that tell you that being ugly doesn’t matter as long as you turn out to actually be really hot.

- Tooncedale

I’m pretty sure Paris Hilton herself pitched this.

And by “pitched” I mean sucked cock.

And by “sucked cock” I mean let an executive shit on her chest.

And by “let an executive shit on her chest” I mean told Zach Braff that people like him.

- Elitist Trash

By all reasoning this movie is something that should make me absolutely furious but for some reason it doesnt. For one I think it is pretty awesome that even though they clearly tried to make “the nottie” as hideous as possible she still isnt really that much worse than Paris Hilton. And I am not saying that because Paris is a cum dumpster. If I was at a club/bar and saw these two together I would have to think for a few seconds which one was better.

- Fuzzy Cootie

Am I alone in thinking Daniel Day Lewis might actually be able to pull off a convincing portrayal of Paris Hilton?

- Johnny5000

I think Paris Hilton looks like Squidward.

- Middle Man of Time

I think I’d rather fuck Squidward than Paris Hilton.

- Persia

The estimated box office for this weekend is $23,000, opening on 111 screens. It made $76 a screen on Friday.

- Juggernaught_

Pfff! They don’t know what they’re missing.

PS. A rental copy of the Blu-ray release of Michael Bay’s dog turd of a wartime epic, Pearl Harbor, landed on my desk today. I’m sure that, compared to The Hottie and the Nottie, it will seem like a masterpiece.

 
Posted: Tuesday, February 12, 2008 at 7:22 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Reviews | Web
 

Speaking of sex and death…

Blu-ray

Who would have thought a film with murder and incest as two of its primary themes could be so damn good-natured? I watched Pedro Almodóvar’s 2006 film Volver on Blu-ray recently, and am kicking myself for not coming across this gem sooner. Okay, I did spend most of its running time feeling that I was working the twists out a good half hour before the characters themselves, but that’s the only real flaw in what is otherwise a whimsical masterpiece.

Sony Pictures’ Blu-ray transfer isn’t going to win any awards, but it’s a solid enough presentation of a film-sourced (i.e. non-DI) master, with even the aged MPEG-2 codec not hampering things too much (though there are certainly artefacts there if you look for them). Detail isn’t exactly breathtaking, but I’m pleased that Sony have, as far as I can tell, left the image alone, rather than resorting to artificially sharpening it or trying to stamp out the film grain.

Volver
(Sony Pictures, USA, MPEG-2, 27.2 GB)

Volver Volver Volver Volver Volver Volver Volver Volver Volver Volver Volver Volver

 
Posted: Tuesday, February 12, 2008 at 3:46 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

The rat that got the cream

Blu-ray

Ratatouille may have been denied a Best Picture nomination by the Academy, but there can be no doubt it absolutely owned the animation industry’s own equivalent of the Oscars, the Annie Awards, on February 8th. Nominated for virtually every category in which it was eligible, and winning most of them, this is a success that seems to have been matched only by Brad Bird and Pixar’s previous collaboration, The Incredibles.

Ratatouille’s wins were in the following categories: Best Animated Feature, Character Animation in a Feature Production (Michal Makarewicz), Character Design in an Animated Feature Production (Carter Goodrich), Directing in an Animated Feature Production (Brad Bird), Music in an Animated Feature Production (Michael Giacchino), Production Design in an Animated Feature Production (Harley Jessup), Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production (Ted Mathot), Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production (Ian Holm), and Writing in an Animated Feature Production (Brad Bird).

The short piece, Your Friend the Rat, included on the Ratatouille Blu-ray and DVD releases, also won Best Short Subject.

In addition, animation historian John Canemaker, Ren & Stimpy creator/director John Kricfalusi and veteran Disney animator Glen Keane were honoured with the Winsor McCay Award (for career contributions to the art of animation), while historian Jerry Beck picked up the June Foray Award (for significant and benevolent or charitable impact on the art and industry of animation). Flash creators Jonathan Gay, Gary Grossman and Robert Tatsumi, meanwhile, received the Ub Iwerks Award for technical achievement, while a Special Achievement Annie Award went to Edwin R. Leonard for “promoting the Linux open system for animation in animation studios and gaming software development”.

For a full list of the nominees and winners, see here.

 
Posted: Tuesday, February 12, 2008 at 11:15 AM
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology
 

Edith Piaf’s waxy face

Blu-ray

Some screen captures from TF1’s Blu-ray release of La Môme (La Vie en Rose) for your appreciation. This is a very strong transfer in all but one respect: noise reduction. Whoever encoded the disc (or perhaps it was done at the digital intermediate stage?) made the decision to apply a grain-sucking effect on certain shots, which has the effect of making textures, particularly the actors’ skin, look waxy and unnatural. This is most pronounced in the first shot below, but crops up throughout to varying degrees, although some shots appear to be completely unaffected. It’s just a shame that the studios feel the need to resort to such image manipulation, because interference like this shows up especially badly in high definition.

La Môme
(TF1, France, AVC, 20.2 GB)

La Môme La Môme La Môme La Môme La Môme La Môme La Môme La Môme La Môme La Môme La Môme La Môme La Môme La Môme La Môme

 
Posted: Saturday, February 09, 2008 at 10:27 PM
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

The worst HD images I’ve ever seen

Blu-ray

I got home from work today to find a package from Amazon waiting for me, containing BCI’s recent double-disc Blu-ray release of Paul Naschy’s The Night of the Werewolf and Vengeance of the Zombies. I’d heard varying reports about these discs, with some viewers reporting what sounded like severe playback problems, so I decided to investigate the matter myself. Suffice to say, I’m so shocked by what I saw that I’m uncharacteristically going to say nothing and leave it to my brother, who encodes DVDs for a living, to explain just how appallingly bad these discs are. From his site:

As someone who’s authoring SD DVDs on a comparatively miniscule budget, I understand entirely what it’s like to be working with limited resources and some old film stock. My job is to make damn well sure that not even a trace of this shows in the end product (I look forward to the day I can show screen grabs, the wait is pretty agonising for me).

So, I can almost sympathise with BCI Entertainment, who have just released their first Blu-ray Disc. My situation, where I’m working with a mature, standard-def format is very different to their one of working with a relatively new HD disc spec.

The difference is video knowledge, and knowing where to stop (I’m sorry, but I’m done with being afraid of looking arrogant - this is quite clearly a release gone wrong). BCI’s release, a double-feature of “The Night of the Werewolf” and “Vengeance of the Zombies” - two Spanish horror films the 70s and 80s - contain unforgivable mistakes which are related to authoring mishaps, not a lack of money - which is much less understandable. Both films are presented in 1080i (the packaging claims 1080p) which is unusual, given BD’s native support for 1080p/24, but isn’t fatal.

Firstly, the black level hasn’t been correctly set somewhere along the line, so no matter how good your display is, the best blacks you’ll get (without compensating for it, that is) will be very milky grey. As I said, that’s a baffling mistake, but because we can lower the “Brightness” setting on our display, it’s not entirely unrectifiable (I’m not entirely sure what effects this will have on the image’s tonal range, though).

The Night of the Werewolf. Click for full size image.

Above: The Night of the Werewolf. Click for full size image.

As usual, my biggest gripes with these discs are how shoddily digitally manipulated they are. There’s nothing we can do to undo these effects - these copies of the films are ruined for good. The film grain on both titles has basically been eroded with what looks like a purely Spatial process, which gives things a waxy appearance and cuts off details. In my opinion, film grain reduction should ideally not be done at all, but if you’re going to attempt it, it should be done first across the time axis (temporally) rather than at the single-frame level.

Every so often on “Zombies”, the picture will freeze up entirely for a few frames. Either this is a weird encoding bug, or it’s a botched attempt at hiding areas of damaged film. If it’s the latter, I sympathise because I know how tricky film damage is to undo, but as I said, know when to stop. Removing entire frames from the film is much, much more distracting than any film defects and is much more damaging. If you can’t undo the film damage - then leave it alone and make the best of a less-than-ideal situation. If it’s the former, well, it should have been fixed.

The audio on “Zombies” appears to be very out of sync. I’m not sure if this is down to shoddy dubbing or a disc authoring error, but I suspect the latter. In that case, it’s not forgivable. It should have been corrected before the discs were mass-produced.

The Night of the Werewolf. Click for full size image.

Above: The Night of the Werewolf. Click for full size image.

Moving on to “Night of the Werewolf”, the image is just as eroded - the same shoddy attempt to hide film grain is here. What’s the point? The grain is still here, the difference is that now it looks waxy and ugly, rather than like natural film grain. Now you’re left with a still grainy image with lowered detail, so you’ll please neither camp. Secondly, the film stutters badly throughout. I’m assuming that the 3-2 pulldown hasn’t been correctly applied (it shouldn’t have been applied at all - BD supports native 24p).

Most bizarrely of all, this one actually has DVNR artefacts. By “DVNR artefacts”, I mean instances where an automated system set up to remove dirt and scratches from the film has mistaken parts of the image for dirt and tried to remove them (example at 19 minutes, 20 seconds). So it would appear that the people in charge DO have access to this expensive equipment?

Before anyone says “These are low budget films, they’d never have looked great”, I wouldn’t be entirely sure. What’s there shows more potential, underneath the digital mangling. Again, leaving things alone looks like it would have been the best policy. And yes, I know what these films are. People would be much more upset if, say, “The Godfather” had been bungled in this way, but I don’t care whether it’s “Night of the Werewolf” or “Revenge of the Valley Girls III”, because 1) we can’t start judging and 2) good mastering techniques are free.

Oh, one other thing. Both discs have 14.1gb and 12.8gb filled respectively, falling way short of the 25gb maximum capacity of a single layer Blu-ray Disc. I’m not sure what the point of this is.

I think it’s great that smaller companies are beginning to release films in HD, but honestly, these discs should never have gone out the door in this state. They are seriously dreadful by anyone’s standards. I would hate for poor quality releases like these to add fuel to the already-existing “only Hollywood live action blockbusters should be released in HD” fire - these releases do more harm than good and if I had been calling the shots, I would never allow for these to have gone into mass-production. Small companies have it rough in the HD world, but there’s a difference between having limited funds and making a mess.

Oh, the one thing I have to add is that Vengeance of the Zombies is in the wrong aspect ratio. The entire film is presented in open matte 1.33:1.

 
Posted: Saturday, February 09, 2008 at 7:50 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

Sickness and parasites

Blu-ray

I’ve just seen The Fly.

The 1986 David Cronenberg version.

In high definition.

Yuck.

PS. Just in case anyone’s wondering, I liked it. I wouldn’t put it at the top of Cronenberg’s filmography, but I enjoyed it more than Shivers, Spider and A History of Violence, about as much as Dead Ringers and Eastern Promises, and not as much as Naked Lunch, Crash and eXistenZ.

 
Posted: Friday, February 08, 2008 at 9:23 PM | Comments: 14 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema
 

What is it with academics and penises?

I’m currently reading Maggie Günsberg’s Italian Cinema: Gender and Genre as part of my PhD work. At the moment, I’m making my way through her chapter on horror cinema (which concentrates on the “pure” horror films of the mid-50s to mid-60s, barely even mentioning the giallo thrillers of the early 70s in which I’m interested), and I’m wondering if I’m the only person who finds it disconcerting that so many academics specialising in Film Studies seem to see penises everywhere. Particularly when discussing horror films, any object that is long, cylindrical and/or pointy is interpreted as a phallic symbol. (Likewise, the narrow corridors of the old houses that so often appear are invariably described as “vaginal” and their decaying state, plus their frequent use by evil spirits, proof of these films’ misogyny.) Sometimes it’s understandable - there are only so many ways one can interpret a lesbian character having a spear thrust into her nether regions and out of her mouth in Mother of Tears, for example - but most of the time, it’s bordering on the ridiculous.

Maybe it’s just me, but would it not be fair to suggest that, if you see willies everywhere, then perhaps you’re just a wee bit immature?

 
Posted: Thursday, February 07, 2008 at 10:15 PM | Comments: 12 (view)
Categories: Cinema | General | Gialli | PhD
 

Choice = good, waxy faces = not

Blu-ray

I’d just like to take a minute to commend TF1 Vidéo for the subtitling options they have provided for their Blu-ray (and presumably HD DVD as well, but I bought the Blu-ray version) release of La Môme (released outside France as La Vie en Rose). Not only is it that rare beast, a French disc which caters to English speakers, it also includes two different variants of subtitle for both English and French.

The first is what the menu describes as “pour lecture sur écrans plats” (for reading on flat screens), which positions the subtitles at the bottom of the screen, overlapping on to the letterboxing. Some people like this, but I don’t, as it means my eye is drawn to the letterboxing rather than the image itself. It is also a pain in the neck for those with projection displays who routinely mask the letterboxing for 2.35/9:1 ratio discs. Unfortunately, the majority of Blu-ray and HD DVDs that I have seen deliver their subtitles in this fashion.

Vive le choix! Click to enlarge.

Above: Vive le choix! Click to enlarge.

Luckily, TF1 has supplied a second subtitle stream, “pour lecture en vidéoprojection”, which places the subtitles (smaller than the “flat screen” ones) within the picture frame itself. This looks much more natural and avoids any masking problems, and I really wish more studios would provide this sort of choice for the consumer.

As for the transfer itself, it’s largely pleasing (an AVC encode from a digital intermediate source), but unfortunately seems to be have been subjected to the same sort of noise reduction that also affected the UK release of Pan’s Labyrinth to some degree (and the US release to a much greater degree). While the detail remains largely intact, textures, particularly the actors’ skin, tend to take on a rather waxy appearance, and sequences shot in low lighting conditions (i.e. ones that would normally appear grainier) suffer more noticeably than those taking place in broad daylight. It’s not horrible, but it’s really not the sort of thing I like to see on my HD discs (although I’m coming more and more to expect this sort of digital manipulation, sadly).

The disc, by the way, arrived last Saturday, but, in my lazy fatigue, I forgot to post about it. (I ended up sleeping for thirteen straight hours that night, so you can perhaps forgive the oversight!)

 
Posted: Thursday, February 07, 2008 at 5:31 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 
 

 
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