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A tortuous web


Where to start? I haven’t seen the first two Spider-man films, but I’m told this third instalment in the franchise is the weakest of the bunch. Myself, I thought it was fairly mediocre, but too long (as most films are these days), shambolic and utterly cringe-inducing throughout much of its second half.

Anyway, in terms of transfer quality, the detail in the Blu-ray release may well be the best I’ve ever seen. Encoding is also superlative, and indeed, were it not for one small niggle, this would probably have been my top-rated disc of all time, at least in terms of film-sourced material. Unfortunately, it is let down by a handful of shots that have been artificially sharpened (see the first and fourth images below). The rest of the film looks stellar, but this small number of problematic shots lets the side down, meaning that Spider-man 3 falls shy of the coveted 10/10 position, instead earning a respectable 9.5.

Spider-man 3
(Sony Pictures, UK, AVC, 41 GB)

Spider-man 3 Spider-man 3 Spider-man 3 Spider-man 3 Spider-man 3 Spider-man 3 Spider-man 3 Spider-man 3 Spider-man 3 Spider-man 3 Spider-man 3 Spider-man 3

Posted: Tuesday, December 11, 2007 at 8:43 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology

The wonder of Victoria Alexander


Earlier tonight I soliloquised about Mark Kermode and his deliciously brutal reviews. Now I present the work of another reviewer for your pleasure. Unlike Kermode, she doesn’t have podcasts or vodcasts, but she more than makes up for this technological deficiency for being madness personified.

Ever wanted to read a review in which women are decried as irresponsible for resisting rape? Check out her thoughts on 28 Days Later.

Not sure whether you liked the remake of The Omen? Well, neither is she, judging by her write-up, but hey, at least it’s apparently “better than the original since a 30 year-old [huh?] Mia Farrow runs off with the deaf-mute [huh?] Antichrist”. Huh?????

Who ever saw the original version of The Wicker Man? Not Ms. Alexander, and apparently not many other people according to her. But apparently there’s a lot to like in the remake, including a “stringent lesbian cult”. She was also surprised by the ending.

Think Jarhead was disappointing for being “a war movie with not one shot fired, no visible enemy, and soldiers standing around in the desert” that’s “[m]ore gay than Capote”? You’ll love her appraisal of it.

Oh, and want to find more obscure and derogatory references to homosexuality? She’s written over 600 reviews, so take your pick.

Having examined the evidence, I can only conclude that either we are the victims of an elaborate practical joke, or Ms. Alexander is certifiably insane. Credit where credit’s due to Parma Violets for pointing the ramblings of this demented crone out to me.

Oh, and she’s the one who praised Norbit for its positive portrayal of fat black women.

Posted: Monday, December 10, 2007 at 11:21 PM
Categories: Cinema | Reviews | Web

The glory of Dr. Mark Kermode


Over the past few hours, I have been discovering a hitherto unfound appreciation for Mark Kermode. Kermode, for those who don’t know, is an English film critic who, in addition to penning two books on The Exorcist and being hauled out for virtually every horror retrospective piece under the sun, have a regular spot on BBC Radio 5 where, every Friday at 3 PM, he reviews the latest cinema releases in his own inimitable style.

To say that Kermode is somewhat opinionated is like saying the Pope is slightly Catholic. If Kermode sees something he doesn’t like, he will let you know in no uncertain terms, and believe me, there’s a lot he doesn’t like. He has no qualms about insulting the actors and directors who don’t float his boat, and I always have a huge amount of respect for people who speak their mind and don’t feel the need to sugar-coat things. “Absolutely rubbish” is an oft-repeated phrase, although he generally finds more creative ways to express these sentiments. When he gets on to a favourite hatred - such as the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy and Michael Bay movies - he really lets rip and pulls no punches. I’ve listened to at least 30 of his reviews this evening, and, even when I completely disagree with what he has to say (which is with some degree of frequency), I find myself nodding my head and appreciating his no nonsense tone.

You can find an archive of his podcast reviews at the BBC Radio 5 Live site, and a few choice favourites are also available, with video, on YouTube:

Death Proof - I like it, Dr. Kermode most certainly doesn’t. He has a few choice things to say about Quentin Tarantino and his style of “homage”.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End - a ten-minute out of control rant that has since passed into legend. I haven’t seen this instalment in the franchise, but his diatribe is more entertaining than the first two films put together.

Transformers - in which Dr. Kermode loses it completely and explains why Michael Bay’s entire directorial philosophy is analogous to masturbation.

Posted: Monday, December 10, 2007 at 9:21 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Reviews | Web

High definition refinements

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD

I’ve made some alterations to the HD Image Quality Rankings page, despite it being just over twenty-four hours old. Structurally, I’ve altered the HTML code to make it less of a hassle for me to update and move various titles around.

As it turns out, this was a wise move, because moving titles around is exactly what I’ve been doing this afternoon. There have been no jaw-dropping alterations (Ratatouille didn’t suddenly become a 1/10 title or anything, and Universal remains the only studio to hold the dubious honour of having titles in both the 10/10 and 0/10 categories), but I did take the opportunity to tweak a number of titles in the 9, 8, 7 and 6 out of 10 categories. Several titles have been moved down a grade as I’ve built up a broader picture of the range of image quality possible in high definition (for example, I could no longer justify having Mission Impossible II remain a 7/10 transfer, so down it went to a 6). There has also been some degree or rearrangement within the various grades, particularly the 6s, done as an attempt to make the list more linear than it had become recently thanks to a steady influx of new titles, not all of which could be directly compared against each other. The crummier Universal catalogue titles have been reshuffled somewhat, to acknowledge that, for example, the soft, diffuse look of The Game is preferable to Lost in Translation and its harsh edge enhancement. One title, the remastered edition of The Fifth Element, has also received an upgrade from a high 7 to a low 8.

The biggest change, however, has been the splitting of the 10/10 ranking into two separate categories. I have always felt that, with HD, 10/10 should truly mean perfection, as good as it gets within the limitations of lossy compression. Looking at the previous list, which started with Open Season and ended with The Reaping, it was clear that there was a discrepancy in image quality between the 10s at the top and those at the bottom. That’s not to say that there are any obvious problems with The Reaping’s transfer - on the contrary, I think it’s pretty flawless - but, if you watch it side by side with something like Silent Hill, it’s pretty clear that Silent Hill leaps off the screen as the more impressive of the two. That, in all likelihood, is simply because Silent Hill is razor sharp and The Reaping less so - it’s not a flaw in The Reaping, just evidence that its materials have less inherent detail. However, I wanted the 10/10 transfers to come as close as possible to using every one of the 2,073,600 pixels available in a 1080p transfer, so any transfer that wasn’t cutting the mustard in that regard has been moved into the new 9.5 category. These are still, by and large, beautiful reproductions of their sources that can’t be faulted, but they don’t have that extra “punch”.

The creation of this new category has also allowed me to recognise some titles that do have that “punch” but were let down by minor failing - such as the occasional compression artefacts in Transformers and the handful of over-sharpened shots in Spider-man 3 (watched it last night - okay film, but one which ransacks its self-dignity something rotten during its ridiculous second half). These are titles which would previously have been in the 9/10 category, but which didn’t really feel like they belonged there. Mission Impossible III, for example, easily has as much detail as Casino Royale, but is let down by some mild artefacting in a handful of shots. Beautiful, stunning transfer 99% of the time, but with a few teeny niggles that prevent it from being a 10. Therefore, the 9.5 category has also gained some former 9s, which are now free to mingle with some of the former 10s which were demoted.

Posted: Sunday, December 09, 2007 at 8:29 PM | Comments: 14 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology | Web

It’s real

Four Flies on Grey Velvet

Specs here.

Posted: Saturday, December 08, 2007 at 9:29 PM | Comments: 11 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli

The case for euthanising Eddie Murphy

Dear god, why?

Above: Dear god, why?

I thought it would be a long time before I came across a film worse than Dr. Uwe Boll’s House of the Dead. Now, however, thanks to the magic of Amazon’s rental service, I’ve found one.

As you may have noticed, my HD Image Quality Rankings list includes several films that I myself don’t own. The reason for this is that I like to keep abreast of developments in HD-land by renting and checking out as many titles as possible. I don’t always manage to watch them all the way through, but usually I can get a reasonably good impression of how a particular disc measures up within a few minutes. And, if the film happens to be particularly good - or bad - I’ll be more inclined to stick with it for the duration. Late last year, I became aware that a particular film had been released on HD DVD (and Blu-ray). Its name was Norbit, it starred Eddie Murphy, and it brought with it a reputation so abhorrent that I just knew it and myself would cross paths one day.

No escape clause, unfortunately.

No escape clause, unfortunately.

As you will know if you have been reading my brother’s site, he is shortly to be the proud owner of a projector. You’ll probably also be aware that projector bulbs aren’t cheap, which means that, every time you use it, you can almost hear the pennies dropping out of your wallet and hitting the ground. The notion of using some of the bulb’s valuable power on a film like Norbit wasn’t exactly what he had in mind, but we eventually reached a deal: Norbit could be viewed on the projector, but only on the condition that I wrote a full-length review of it.

However, the best-laid plans of mice and men and all that… One of the problems with online DVD rental programmes is that you often don’t know which title you’ll be receiving next. I had banked on Norbit not reaching me until the projector had safely arrived and been installed, so imagine my surprise (and faint feelings of nausea) when it turned up yesterday. (For some reason, this title does not appear to have been in high demand.) Realising, however, that, if I returned the disc or held on to it until the projector arrived, I would have wasted one of my precious monthly rental slots, I decided to bite the bullet and watch Norbit anyway, projector or no projector.

Fifteen minutes in, my brother turned to me and said “You know, it’s okay if you want to just tear up the contract.”

I persevered, however. What sort of watcher of bad movies would I be if I let a little thing like Norbit scare me away? Besides, I knew that my loyal readers would be waiting on tenterhooks for my verdict…

Norbit is yet another low-brow comedy in which Eddie Murphy dons a fat suit and plays several different characters. One of these is the titular Norbit, a weedy, pathetic little man who is married to Rasputia (also Murphy), a virtual elephant of a woman with a personality as foul as her odour. Norbit is an orphan, who was brought up by a Chinese man named Mr. Wong (Murphy, again, this time in yellowface). Mr. Wong’s orphanage is up for sale, and the prospective owners include Rasputia’s three vicious brothers, who plan to turn it into a titty bar and make Norbit’s life hell at the same time. The other is Kate (Thandie Newton), a fellow orphan and the love of poor, browbeaten Norbit’s miserable life. (Can you say “ahhhh”?) Oh, but she’s engaged to Deion (Cuba Gooding Jr., who can currently be seen stepping into dear old Eddie Murphy’s shoes in Daddy Day Camp, the follow-up to that masterpiece, Daddy Day Care), who is in league with the evil brothers! Will this delightful fairytale romance have a happy ending, or will Norbit have his face smashed in with a rusty hook? (I know which I’d prefer.)

Norbit’s humour is best summed up as a never-ending series of fat jokes that aren’t funny, with copious amounts of toilet humour and a healthy dose of racism thrown in for good measure. As an example of what passes for a gag in this supposed comedy, let’s take the scene in which, having failed to carry his overweight bride over the threshold (because she’s fat), Norbit stands quaking in his boots in the bedroom as the delightful Rasputia thunders towards him. She lands on top of him, the force throwing him backwards on to the bed (because she’s fat), at which point the bed collapses (because she’s fat). Safe in the knowledge that the audience will find this absolutely hysterical, the filmmakers then proceed to repeat the exact same gag three times, the only differences being the various costumes that the two Eddies are wearing. Oh, and, on the final occasion, the bed doesn’t collapse, because it has been reinforced with concrete. You laughing yet?

Take, for another example, the film’s witty wordplay. At the wedding reception, the delightful Mr. Wong, delivering the best man’s speech, tells the guests that he is sad for Norbit because he is married to a gorilla. The aforementioned gorilla’s family take exception to this, at which point Wong hastily reassures them that he is only kidding.

That’s the joke.

No really, that’s it. The entire film is one long series of build-ups without any punchlines. Each time the writers provide us with a situation, we continually assume that it’s going somewhere, but it never does. At the same wedding, it is discovered that a slice is missing from the wedding cake. Cut to a shot of Rasputia with icing and sponge all over her face. You assume that the laughs will come from either her or the other characters’ reactions. Instead, the film carries on to the next scene. “Norbit!” screams the cover art. “Funny!” is hollers underneath. I assure you, it is anything but.

Oh, and before I forget, I must take the time to mention that Mr. Wong is easily the single most racist creation I can remember seeing in a film in god knows how long. Why Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips continues to be suppressed while Eddie Murphy is allowed to paint himself yellow and utter all manner of inanities in a guttural voice (hilariously substituting “r” for “l”, by the way - gotta love the attention to detail) is a mystery to me. You get the impression that perhaps the filmmakers were aware that this portrayal of a Chinese man might be a tad offensive, so they attempt to offset this late in the game by revealing that Wong is in fact a screaming racist himself (“Yes, Wong very racist. Don’t like black. Don’t like Jew either. But black and Jew love Chinese food. Go figure.”), which, judging by the inverse logic to which the writers clearly ascribe (the same logic which allows them to mistake “devoid of humour” for “full of humour”), presumably means that everything’s okay. I should probably point out that, if a white actor dressed up as a Chinese man and made these sort of “jokes” in this day and age, he would probably be lynched. However, Eddie Murphy, as a member of a minority group, seems to have a licence to offend every other minority group under the sun.

The rest of the film is made up of the same sort of inane gibberish and schoolyard bullshit that a kindergartener could have come up with. I could be charitable and say that Rick Baker’s make-up effects are impressive (Murphy’s transformation into Mr. Wong is nothing short of completely convincing), but that’s like dishing out accolades for coming up with a completely authentic recreation of faecal matter which even smells like the real thing. It wasn’t funny when Murphy did it in his remake of The Nutty Professor and it sure as hell isn’t funny now. This is a tedious, mean-spirited, nasty, unfunny, noxious, loathsome, fucking tragic waste of celluloid. Baron Scarpia, I lay down the gauntlet.

Victoria Alexander in her review for (one of the only positive appraisals I could find) crowed about how the film “celebrat[es] a big black woman who has not been victimized by a non-achievable, absurd standard of beauty fostered upon black and white women”. Assuming she wasn’t being ironic, then I can only lament for a culture that actually considers Rasputia to be a positive portrayal of a fat black woman.


Oh, and to add insult to injury, the HD DVD transfer is flawless.

Posted: Saturday, December 08, 2007 at 4:20 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Reviews

300 half-naked men


Last night, I finally got a chance to sit down and watch the HD DVD release of 300, which had been sitting on my shelf for nearly three months. Unfortunately, the wait was most assuredly not worth it. While the transfer itself was absolutely stellar, I found myself phenomenally bored by what turned out to be little more than a two-hour display of testosterone, CG and tedious fight scenes. It’s blatantly the most homoerotic movie Hollywood has put out in the last few years, and I suppose for that alone it deserves some kudos, but unfortunately homoeroticism doesn’t float my boat, and there was precious little else to entertain me. If your idea of fun is watching a gaggle of men puffing out their ludicrously overdeveloped torsos, wandering around in skimpy pants and fighting each other, then you may get a kick out of this. I personally just found it all rather boring.

(Warner, USA, VC-1)

300 300 300 300 300 300 300 300 300

Posted: Friday, December 07, 2007 at 9:46 AM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Technology

High definition hootenanny


A handful of discs have landed on my doormat over the last couple of days. First up, on Tuesday, was a check disc for Optimum’s UK HD DVD release of Wolf Creek, replacing the Blu-ray release which wouldn’t play in my Japanese Playstation 3 thanks to a strange bug called region coding. I’ve taken a quick look at it in advance of putting together a full review for DVD Times, and I can report quite categorically that those who already own the Weinstein Company’s US release should stick with it. Optimum have inexplicably decided to encode their version using MPEG2, and the result is a heck of a lot of artefacting. You still get a nicely detailed picture, and some shots do look flawless, but the number of shots that show excessive macro-blocking make this a less than immersive experience.

Oh, and the menus appear to be bugged, at least for Xbox 360 users: the scene selection screen won’t load. The on-screen overlay disappears, leaving the background footage to play in an infinite loop, requiring the disc to be ejected and reinserted.

Blu-ray Blu-ray

Then, on Wednesday, while I was out at work, the Blu-ray release of Masters of Horror: Season 1, Volume 3, containing Don Coscarelli’s Incident On and Off a Mountain Road, Tobe Hooper’s Dance of the Dead and Larry Cohen’s Pick Me Up, arrived. Then, today, this was supplemented by the fourth and final volume of Masters of Horror’s first season, containing Takeshi Miike’s Imprint (the episode which so horrified the executives that they refused to air it in the US), Joe Dante’s Homecoming and Mick Garris’ Chocolate. Given that the only episode I’ve watched so far is Sick Girl in Volume 2 (having previously seen Jenifer one and a half times, which was more than enough), it looks like I’ve got quite a bit of viewing ahead of me.

Posted: Thursday, December 06, 2007 at 10:09 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Dario Argento | HD DVD | Reviews | TV | Technology

Blu-ray review: Ratatouille

All things considered, this is a superlative release. The audio-visual quality is so impressive that, if it had been bare-bones, this disc would have been getting my unreserved recommendation. As it is, you may have to sift through the material on offer to get to the juicy bits, but there is a wealth of information on offer provided you are able to put up with the less than ideal menu system. Ratatouille on Blu-ray is just what this diner ordered.

I’ve reviewed Disney’s Region A Blu-ray release of Pixar’s latest film, Ratatouille, after having promised not to abuse this opportunity to use as many metaphors about cooking as possible.

Posted: Tuesday, December 04, 2007 at 7:11 PM
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews

How low can you go?


Just when you thought the whole Kane & Lynch: Dead Men fiasco couldn’t get any worse, publisher Eidos Interactive has been caught with its pants down yet again. As reported by Kotaku, someone at the company marketing department seems to have decided that, if they can’t get a positive review from Gamespot, then they’ll damn well make up their own and falsely attribute them to other review sites. Care to guess what’s wrong with the image below?

Oh Eidos, you didn't...

If you answered “Eidos pulled these quotes and scores out of its collective anus,” you’d be half way there. As Kotaku explains:

GameSpy did not say “It’s the best emulation of being in the midst of a Michael Mann movie we’ve ever seen” in their review of the game. They said that in their E3 2007 coverage. In other words, a preview. They also did not give the game five stars. They gave it three.

As for Game Informer, same deal. The highlighted quote does not appear in the review of the game. Nor do they give it five stars. Game Informer don’t even score in stars. They gave it a 7/10.

Head over to Kotaku for the rest of the story.

Um... say what?

Um… say what?

Now, I’m no stranger to publishers using reviews in - shall we say? - creative ways. I have seen certain publishers post extracts of my reviews on their web sites with certain parts edited out to make my overall appraisals sound more glowing than they actually were. I’ve also seen quotes attributed to myself (or, more often, DVD Times) appearing on the backs of DVD covers that could only have been compiled by pasting together a word here and a word there. (I mean, come on, does “A little seen gem… with nudity, gore and three Bond girls!” really sound like something I would write? It is, according to Blue Underground’s packaging for The Black Belly of the Tarantula. Well, at least they chose a film that I was genuinely impressed by rather than attempting to make out that I was lavishing praise on something I hated.) This is on an entirely different level, though. I suppose, if the DVD distributors had as little integrity and self-respect as Eidos, I could expect to see quotes like “It’s… very [good]! [Bianchi’s] camerawork is… as accomplished as… Argento’s [most] impressive endeavours!” and “You have to admire Dr. Boll. He consistently churns out [masterpieces]! Alone in the Dark was merely foreplay!” attributed to myself appearing on new releases of Strip Nude for Your Killer and House of the Dead respectively.

It’s nice to know that Eidos is seemingly intent on digging an even deeper hole for itself. Add to that the fact that Gamespot members, protesting against the firing of Jeff Gerstmann, have taken it upon themselves to award Kane & Lynch 1/10 ratings en masse, and you now have a game that, in all likelihood, was nothing more than hopelessly mediocre, but, thanks to Eidos and Gamespot’s dodgy dealings, has now acquired a far worse reputation than it would ever have had if they had simply elected to keep their noses out and let the reviewers get on with reviewing.

Nice one, guys.

Thanks to Lyris for the tip-off.

Posted: Tuesday, December 04, 2007 at 10:02 AM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Games | Gialli | Reviews | Web

The DVD from Hell


While I was out at work yesterday, my 666th DVD arrived… and it turned out to de the decidedly non-satanic Veronica Guerin. Too bad I didn’t have the foresight to mark the occasion with something more appropriate, he he.

I first saw Veronica Guerin two Christmases ago, when I had taken out a subscription to Blockbuster Online and was sifting through various films that I thought sounded interesting. I enjoyed it greatly at the time, and, last week, when I watched it on TV with the sides of the picture unceremoniously lopped off (damn you to heck, 1.78:1!), was even more impressed by it. Heaven alone knows how Joel Schumacher and Jerry Bruckheimer managed to turn a film like this out between them, but they somehow did.

The DVD itself was a mere £3.99, but, upon popping it into my computer, I was a little annoyed to discover that this is in fact a re-release, which strips out the extras from the original version in order to fit the entire film on to a single layer disc. And this despite the back cover claiming that “layer transition may trigger a slight pause”. Go figure.

Posted: Sunday, December 02, 2007 at 6:10 PM | Comments: 7 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | TV

HD DVD review: Les Triplettes de Belleville

It’s great to see more traditional animation becoming available in high definition, particularly when it’s a film as good as Les Triplettes de Belleville. With its solid audio-visual presentation, this release is a must-have for HD DVD-ready animation aficionados.

“Swinging Belleville rendez-vous…” I’ve reviewed the recent French HD DVD release of Sylvain Chomet’s excellent Les Triplettes de Belleville.

Posted: Sunday, December 02, 2007 at 3:22 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | HD DVD | Reviews

DVDs I bought or received in the month of November

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • A Clockwork Orange (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • Eyes Wide Shut (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • The Fly (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • Full Metal Jacket [remastered edition] (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • The Mario Bava Collection Volume 2 (R1 USA, DVD)
  • Pan’s Labyrinth (R0 UK, HD DVD)
  • Peep Show: Series 4 (R2 UK, DVD)
  • Ratatouille (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • The Shining (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • Soldier of Orange (R0 UK, DVD)
  • The Stendhal Syndrome: Special Edition (R0 USA, DVD)
  • Tokyo Godfathers (R2 UK, DVD)
  • Les Triplettes de Belleville (R0 France, HD DVD)

A good month for high definition, this, and another expensive one too.

Posted: Friday, November 30, 2007 at 10:19 PM
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | HD DVD | TV

I’ve run out of Pan puns

Another day, another HD gallery. This one is for Optimum’s recent UK HD DVD release of Pan’s Labyrinth, a film which looks decent but falls short of brilliance. As I said in my review:

It’s a good transfer, but one with some noticeable flaws, most noticeably a strange “eroded” appearance that appears to be the result of attempting to suck out the film grain. As a result, textures tend to look a bit waxy and “cut-out”, particularly faces, while a lot of the fine detail has been removed from the foliage in the scenes taking place in the woodland. It’s a strange effect, as it means there is a superficial sense of crispness, but not the sort of detail you would expect from an image so sharp.

Pan’s Labyrinth
(Optimum, UK, VC-1)

Pan's Labyrinth Pan's Labyrinth Pan's Labyrinth Pan's Labyrinth Pan's Labyrinth Pan's Labyrinth

Posted: Thursday, November 29, 2007 at 9:41 PM
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Technology

HD DVD review: Pan’s Labyrinth

Optimum’s HD DVD release of Pan’s Labyrinth is a good one, and one which improves substantially on all current DVD releases in terms of image quality. It does have its shortcomings, however, particularly with regard to the problem of audio synchronisation, and looks set to be superseded by New Line’s substantially meatier US release, due out towards the end of the year. If you want your HD fairytale fix now, however, you could do a lot worse than picking up this release.

I’ve reviewed the recent HD DVD of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, released in the UK by Optimum on a feature-packed disc.

Posted: Thursday, November 29, 2007 at 6:07 PM
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Reviews

Two worlds collide

I’ve just discovered that Michael Brandon, who played the protagonist, Roberto Tobias, in Dario Argento’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet, has a guest role in this Saturday’s episode of Casualty (source: Yahoo! TV UK). This strikes me as incredibly weird in a quite fascinating way. Now, the question is, will he play a progressive rock drummer who incorrectly believes that he has killed a man who was stalking him,

Highlight below to reveal spoiler text for Four Flies on Grey Velvet:

only to discover that it was in fact all a ruse designed by his mentally ill wife, who was raised as a boy by her domineering father, in order to drive him insane?

Given some of the stories we’ve been getting on Casualty recently, I wouldn’t consider that to be too far-fetched.

Posted: Thursday, November 29, 2007 at 10:27 AM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | TV

Pan’s pipes


I received a couple of review copies of upcoming high definition releases from Optimum on Friday: Wolf Creek on Blu-ray and Pan’s Labyrinth on HD DVD. Both titles are coming out on both formats (the Blu-ray versions were released on November 19th, whereas the HD DVD versions have been delayed a week, until November 26th), and I’m fairly sure HD DVD versions were requested for both, so I’m not sure why I got a Blu-ray Wolf Creek. In any event, I’m not able to review it, because it is coded for Region B only, and, as you may know, my Blu-ray hardware (Playstation 3) is Region A. As far as I’m concerned, Optimum is merely shooting themselves in the foot here, as they are simply denying themselves sales. It makes particularly little sense when you consider that region coding doesn’t exist for HD DVD, so anyone in the world can play their HD DVD titles, whereas only the privileged few who shelled out for overpriced European Blu-ray players will be able to play their Blu-ray titles.

Anyway, I may not have been able to look at Wolf Creek, but I have given Pan’s Labyrinth a cursory glance. The image quality is a bit uneven, with a strange “eroded” appearance that appears to be the result of attempting to suck out the film grain. As a result, textures tend to look a bit waxy and “cut-out”, particularly faces, while a lot of the fine detail has been removed from the foliage in the scenes taking place in the woodland. It’s a strange effect, as it means there is a superficial sense of crispness, but not the sort of detail you would expect from an image so sharp.

Extras, by the way, seem to mirror Optimum’s UK DVD release, with only the bonus trailers for The Devil’s Backbone and cover art of Cronos missing in action. Of course, the only audio option provided is a Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 track, so I suspect many people will prefer to wait until New Line release their own version in the US on December 26th, for its DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track and PiP visual commentary. More significantly, the picture on this release seems to be lagging slightly behind the audio at all times, resulting in some noticeable lip synchronisation errors (particularly apparent given the rapid-fire Spanish in which most of the characters converse).

Expect a full review at DVD Times in the not too distant future.

Posted: Sunday, November 25, 2007 at 4:13 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Reviews

Poster pleasure

Amélie Japanese poster

Above: Amélie Japanese poster

What’s with Japan almost always getting the best film artwork? Time and time again, they seem to end up with much better posters and DVD covers than the rest of the world. A case in point is the Japanese poster for Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie, one of my favourite films, whose French poster (the café exterior variant) already adorns my wall.

As much as I like the French art, however, I found that the Japanese version appealed much more to me as soon as I came across it during a random perusal of AllPosters. The poster was no longer available to buy from there, and, at some point during the last couple of days, its entry has been deleted entirely, but I was able to find an auction for it on eBay, and it now adorns the wall behind me, alongside my giant Opera poster.

Posted: Sunday, November 25, 2007 at 1:47 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | General | Gialli

Musical madre


I received the soundtrack CD to Mother of Tears the other day. I’ve had a chance to sit down and listen to the CD from beginning to end a couple of times now, and broadly speaking, I like it, with some reservations.

This is a very eclectic score, and Simonetti borrows liberally from other compositions, including his own contributions to the Argento universe (lots of shades of Phenomena), as well as Keith Emerson’s work on Inferno, Jerry Goldsmith’s score for The Omen and some of James Bernard’s work for the old Hammer films - all very worthy references to use, if you ask me. There are probably more, but they passed this relatively non-musical individual’s ears by.

The best track by far is the one that accompanies the opening credits (“The Third Mother (Main Theme)”) - it’s very Hammeresque, and I love that grand gothic sound with lots of brass and menacing chanting. The worst, meanwhile, is that truly awful Demonia/Cradle of Filth song that accompanies the closing credits. It’s essentially a metal remix of the opening title theme, with Dani Filth’s tuneless rasping layered over it - that description alone should give you some idea of how bad it sounds. I can’t believe Argento actually agreed to have it attached to the film - it completely wrecks the tone and is far, far worse than any of the heavy metal pieces he used in Phenomena and Opera.

As for the rest of the score, I like it, but I do find that the electronic elements, which are very much like those in The Card Player, jar with the more orchestral parts. It’s not a patch on the music for either Suspiria or Inferno, but it’s a good, solid gothic horror piece that goes quite well with the visuals I’ve seen for the film so far.

Posted: Thursday, November 22, 2007 at 6:26 PM
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Music

DVD debacle


I was out today at university, seeing my MLitt dissertation supervisor for a discussion about my PhD progress, the proceeds of which have left me with plenty of food for thought as regards various avenues that I can explore from now on. While I was waiting for the bus home, I decided to browse the shelves of Fopp, and came away with a couple of books which may or may not prove interesting and/or useful - Best Movies of the 70s by Jürgen Müller and Revolution! - The Explosion of World Cinema in the 60s by Peter Cowie. Oh, and I also picked up a copy of Tokyo Godfathers on DVD - one of the few anime films that I really like. Oh, if only Sony had released it on Blu-ray instead of director Satoshi Kon’s most recent film, the incredibly disappointing Paprika.

When I got home, I discovered a package from DVD Pacific waiting for me, containing The Mario Bava Collection Volume 2. This is an incredibly generous package, containing seven films (the cover lists eight, but I’m not really convinced that Lisa and the Devil and House of Exorcism should truly be counted as two separate titles, particularly given that Rabid Dogs and Kidnapped have been counted as one in the same package).

I’ve taken a brief look at all of the discs, and the best-looking appear to be Lisa and the Devil, Rabid Dogs/Kidnapped and Four Times That Night, while the worst-looking are Bay of Blood and 5 Dolls for an August Moon, with Baron Blood and Roy Colt & Winchester Jack somewhere in the middle. A real patchwork of sources has been used, with the transfers for Bay of Blood and 5 Dolls for an August Moon looking suspiciously like DVNR’d versions of the same transfers used for the old Image Entertainment discs (I haven’t seen the earlier versions of Baron Blood, Roy Colt & Winchester Jack or Four Times That Night, so I can’t comment on them). Lisa and the Devil definitely has a brand new transfer (House of Exorcism looks much poorer, but is anamorphic, unlike the old Image version, so I doubt they are from the same master), while the Rabid Dogs/Kidnapped disc appears to be the same one that Anchor Bay released separately earlier this year.

This is a six-disc set, with Lisa and the Devil/House of Exorcism and Rabid Dogs/Kidnapped sharing a disc each, while, for some bizarre reason, 5 Dolls for an August Moon and Four Times That Night are to be found on either side of a solitary double-sided disc. Weird.

Anyway, looking forward to catching me some Bava, along with some Tim Lucas commentaries.

Posted: Wednesday, November 21, 2007 at 11:06 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Books | Cinema | DVD | General | PhD | Technology

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