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Mother of Scissors

Source: Dark Discussion

According to a news post on Dario Argento’s Profondo Rosso shop web site, The Third Mother’s distributor, Medusa, have not only delayed the film’s release date to October 31st (so they can have a Halloween-themed advertising campaign), but are also demanding cuts to the film’s more violent scenes and effects. This sort of thing truly beggars belief. Did Medusa seriously think that the sequel to Suspiria and Inferno wouldn’t be violent? What is the point of this? This isn’t even a censor attempting to cut things, just a bunch of meddling executives sticking their oar in.

I suppose the best course of action right now is to hope that the news becomes widespread and a backlash from angry fans convinces Medusa to rethink their decision. Failing that, we can only hope that it will eventually surface in an uncut form on DVD. This really is the story of Argento’s career, isn’t it? Something tells me that something is seriously wrong with the way people think when Pelts can be screened on American television without any cuts, but what has got to be one of the most highly-anticipated sequels of all time for the Euro-cult crowd looks set to be butchered at the whims of a bunch of people in suits.

 
Posted: Saturday, March 17, 2007 at 5:25 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Halloween | TV
 

Is it a sign of the apocalypse when an MPEG2 encode looks this good?

Blu-ray

My copy of the Blu-ray release of Resident Evil: Apocalypse arrived today from Amazon.com. Slowly but surely, my DVD collection is being replaced with high definition editions!

Anyway, this guilty pleasure looks very impressive indeed in high definition, especially given that it is an MPEG2 encode (although, to be fair, Sony did have 50 GB of disc space to play around with). It’s far from the best HD title I’ve ever seen, and there are a few instances of noticeable compression artefacts (Lyris has a screen grab of the most offensive one), but this is yet another smooth, crispy, grain-filled title that looks as if remarkably little, if any, digital tampering has gone on. There is a minute amount of ringing at the top and bottom of the frame, suggesting some very mild low-pass filtering, but, for the most part, I am very pleased with how this looks. A mid-range 9/10.

On a side note, as Lyris points out in his review, certain reviewers have been critical of the image quality of this release, seemingly confusing aesthetics with cold technical facts. I’ll grant you this: Resident Evil: Apocalypse is not the world’s most visually impressive film. In fact, it looks downright shoddy in some places. However, this has got nothing to do with the quality of the disc itself. Aesthetics are a matter of taste, whereas technical issues are not. No-one in their right mind would seriously say “Well, personally, if it’s all the same to you, I’m not a fan of detailed, untampered transfers that are transparent to the source - I’d prefer something edge enhanced and DVNR’d, with some compression artefacts for good measure.” We all want the best-looking discs possible, I’m sure, but certain reviewers seem to have trouble differentiating between personal preference and actual quality, and reviews criticising discs that correctly represent the source material are, in my opinion, doing damage to home cinema.

 
Posted: Friday, March 16, 2007 at 11:29 PM | Comments: 6 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

Royale cuts

Blu-ray

Source: Mobius

Much has been made of cuts made to Casino Royale’s infamous torture sequence in the UK in order to secure a 12 rating. All well and good, but few people seem to be aware that the US release is in fact cut as well. The MPAA took the scissors to it (by proxy, at any rate), with two key action scenes being cut quite substantially. The first is the black and white bathroom beating that runs before the opening credits, and the second is the stairwell fight at Casino Royale. In both cases, several shots have been removed entirely, shortened or substituted, although, in practice, these don’t make a huge amount of difference to the way the film plays. I’ve compared my Blu-ray copy with an, erm, other version, and noted the following differences. (Obviously, spoilers abound, although none of them particularly major.)

At 00:01:50:
Dryden: “Your file shows no kills, and it takes - “
Bond: “Two.”
CUT to a flashback of Bond’s first kill. He kicks Dryden’s contact in the chest, sending him crashing backwards into a toilet cubicle.
CUT to a higher angle as the contact flies backwards.
CUT to a close-up of Bond advancing on him.
CUT to a wider shot as Bond punches the contact in the face.
CUT to a slightly different angle as Bond punches again with his other hand. This time the contact dodges. The door to the cubicle shuts in the process.
CUT to a close-up of the two men struggling.
CUT to an overhead shot as Bond barrels the contact backwards, smashing down a wall in the process.
CUT to Bond elbowing the contact in the chest. NOTE: the first and last few frames of this shot are missing in the US version.
CUT to Bond smashing the door into the contact’s face. NOTE: missing from the US version.
CUT to Bond and the contact both barrelling through the door.
CUT to a wider shot as they both land on the ground.
CUT to a different angle as Bond gets to his feet.
CUT to a different angle as Bond kicks the contact in the face NOTE: missing from US version.
CUT to Bond grabbing the contact, who in turn grabs a garbage can, which he hurls at Bond. NOTE: in the US version, we only get the last few frames of this.
CUT to Bond kicking the bin away.
CUT back to Dryden’s office, where he points his gun at Bond.

At 00:02:27:
Dryden: “How did he die?”
Bond: “Your contact? Not well.”
CUT to Bond hurling the contact into a row of sinks, one of which smashes as he hits the floor. Bond hauls him to his feet and manouevres him towards another sink.
CUT to a low angle shot showing the contact’s face as he struggles. NOTE: the US version loses many frames at the start of this shot.
CUT to a wider shot as Bond tries to force the contact’s head into the sink.
CUT to a close-up a gun on the floor, which the contact picks up.
CUT to a wider shot, as the contact tries to aim the gun at Bond. Bond deflects it, causing the bullet to hit another sink.
CUT to a higher angle shot as Bond smashes the contact’s hand into a mirror, causing him to drop the gun.
CUT to a close-up of Bond’s face as he pushes the contact’s head underwater.
CUT to a close-up of the contact as he is held under. NOTE: in the US version, much of this shot is replaced with a shot of the contact’s legs kicking.
CUT back to a close-up of Bond’s face. NOTE: missing in US version.
CUT back to the contact as his struggles weaken. NOTE: missing in US version.
CUT back to a close-up of Bond’s face.
CUT back to a close-up of the now-lifeless contact as he falls.
CUT to a wider shot as the contact hits the ground.

At 01:19:52:
Bad Guy 1 enters the stairwell. Bond grabs him.
CUT to Bond kicking him over the bannisters.
CUT to a low angle shot of him falling. Bad Guy 2 comes in, swinging his sword and knocking the gun out of Bond’s hand. Bond and Vesper retreat down the stairs and BG2 continues swinging, hitting the bannister and causing sparks to fly.
CUT to a high shot showing BG1 hitting the ground below. NOTE: missing in US version.
CUT back to BG2 continuing to swing his sword. NOTE: in the US Version, this is a continuous shot with the shot immediately before the previous one.
CUT to a tight shot as BG2 kicks Bond.
CUT to a higher shot from behind as BG2 swings and Vesper runs away.
CUT to a close-up of Bond’s face as he throws BG2 past him.
CUT to a close-up of BG2 as Bond smashes his head into a window, shattering it. NOTE: missing from US version.
CUT to a wider shot as BG2 recovers and swings again. NOTE: missing from US version.
CUT to Bond throwing him against a wall. NOTE: the first few frames are missing in the US version.
CUT to a wider shot as BG2 swings again. Bond dodges under him.
CUT to a low wide shot showing Bond, Vesper and BG2.
CUT to a close-up as Bond grabs BG2’s arm.
CUT to a wider shot as Bond tosses him down the stairs, flipping him over.
CUT to BG2 landing on his back, narrowly missing Vesper.
CUT to Vesper running.
CUT to BG2 grabbing Vesper’s leg. NOTE: missing from US version.
CUT to Vesper falling but stopping herself in time. NOTE: missing from US version.
CUT to Bond getting up.
CUT to an overhead shot as Vesper runs away and Bond leaps down a few steps.
CUT to Vesper running as Bond and BG2 struggle.
CUT to a behind overhead shot as Bond and BG2 fight.
CUT to a close-up of BG2 swinging at Bond.
CUT to Bond aiming at BG2 with his elbow.
CUT to a wider shot of Bond elbowing BG2 in the face.
CUT to BG2 grabbing Bond from behind and hurling both of them down the stairs.
CUT to an overhead shot as they fall.
CUT to them falling behind Vesper.
CUT to an overhead shot as they hit the floor.
CUT to BG2 getting up and lunging.
CUT to Bond jumping out the way as BG2 swings his sword.
CUT to the opposite angle as Bond falls down the stairs backwards.
CUT to a close-up of Vesper looking up.
CUT to BG2 swinging and Bond dodging.
CUT to a close-up of Bond as BG2 swings again.
CUT to a high wide angle as Vesper runs down another flight of stairs.
CUT to Bond blocking the sword with his jacket.
CUT to BG2 kicking Bond down the stairs.
CUT to Bond hitting his head on the wall.
CUT to a low shot as BG2 jumps down the stairs, waving his sword.
CUT to a wide shot as Bond rolls backwards and gets to his feet. BG2 swings again.
CUT to a lower shot as BG2 drops his sword.
CUT to Vesper running to the emergency exit and trying to open it.
CUT to a wide shot as BG2 shoves Bond pulls back in anticipation of headbutting him. NOTE: missing from US version.
CUT to a wide shot of BG2 falling back. NOTE: missing from US version.
CUT to BG2 reacting as Bond kicks him. NOTE: missing from US version.
CUT to a wide shot as BG2 rams Bond against the wall. NOTE: missing from US version.
CUT to a close-up of Bond hitting BG2 and then dodging another blow.
CUT to a wide shot as Bond smashes BG2’s head into the wall, then throws them both over the bannister.
CUT to a different shot as they fall.
CUT to an overhead shot as they both hit the ground.
CUT to Vesper reacting to the sound of them falling.
CUT to a close-up of Bond and BG2 struggling on the floor, Bond choking BG2.
CUT to BG2’s legs kicking.
CUT to a different shot of his legs kicking. NOTE: missing from US version.
CUT to a close-up of BG2’s face as he chokes.
CUT to him reaching for the gun on the ground. NOTE: missing from US version.
CUT to a wider shot of them struggling. NOTE: missing from US version.
CUT to him reaching for the gun again. NOTE: missing from US version.
CUT to Bond’s face.
CUT to BG2 grabbing at the gun.
CUT to Vesper rushing forward.
CUT to a high wide angle as Vesper grab’s BG2’s gun hand.
CUT to a close-up as Vesper smashes his hand against the floor.
CUT to a close-up of BG2’s face.
CUT to a wider shot of Vesper smashing his hand on the floor.
CUT to the gun flying out of BG2’s hand.
CUT to a close-up of Vesper as the gun fires.
CUT to Bond’s face.
CUT to BG2’s face.
CUT to BG2’s legs kicking, slowly.
CUT to Vesper watching.
CUT to BG’s legs slowing. NOTE: only in US version.
CUT to BG2’s face as it goes lifeless and Bond lets him fall.

Note that I’m not aware of the status of the UK release. It may be that the only cuts are to the torture sequence, or it may be instead that it also includes these MPAA cuts. Either way, the Region 3 release is currently considered to be director Martin Campbell’s approved cut.

 
Posted: Friday, March 16, 2007 at 6:46 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD
 

Come one, come all

She has a gun for a leg! How can you NOT love that?

She has a gun for a leg! How can you not love that?

This is going to be pretty old news for most people, but I’ve been reading up on the upcoming Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez collaboration Grindhouse. Described in the tagline as “the sleaze-filled saga of an exploitation double feature”, this throwback to the 70s features everything you could hope for in a good old-fashioned guilty pleasure: guns, exploding cars, death-defying stunts, saucy ladies, and the perennial favourite: beat-up, scratched-to-hell, grainy film stock (something which, judging by the trailers, works wonders for the aesthetic and overall mood).

There’s a fairly decent making-of available at Rose-McGowan.com, featuring Tarantino, Rodriguez and their compadres spazzing out over how cool the show is going to be. And it’s certainly infectious - I can’t wait to see the finished film when it launches (it’s coming out in the US on April 6th, although a UK release date has yet to be announced), although I’m slightly worried by the news that the distributors are considering splitting the two segments into separate movies outside the US. Apparently, this is because of a fear that non-American movie-goers will not be familiar with the whole double bill concept. This strikes me as more than a little naïve: surely the whole point, with this film, is to bring back a long-dead phenomenon and introduce it to a generation that has never experienced the thrill of the grindhouse? Ah well, whatever form it shows up in, I definitely intend to catch this one at the cinema… and of course, there’s the HD DVD to look forward to.

Update, March 16th, 2007 11:26 AM: Seems you now have to register as a member at the Rose McGowan site to see the videos.

 
Posted: Thursday, March 15, 2007 at 7:33 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD
 

Royale with cheese

Blu-ray

My copy of the Blu-ray release of Casino Royale arrived this morning from Deep Discount (formerly Deep Discount DVD). Given that this looks set to be the fastest-selling high definition title so far (as of writing, it’s number 9 on the DVD chart at Amazon.com - an incredible number for a niche product), it’s the sort of release that can, in many ways, make or break a format’s reputation (I’m sure it will be many customers’ first ever Blu-ray title, with a number of people even buying into the format especially to see it).

Luckily (or unluckily, if you have a vested interest in Blu-ray’s failure), it has been granted a stunning-looking transfer. Actually, I’m tempted to call it the best I’ve ever seen. Some rather puzzling reviews have predictably materialised, criticising the picture for a handful of supposed defects, ranging from a lack of “realistic skin textures”, to “motion-drag and aliasing” to, “too much digital noise reduction” being applied, to, in the most general case, a statement by one reviewer that he “was expecting just a bit more”. These reviews are wrong. Casino Royale is astounding more or less from start to finish. It’s highly detailed, contrasty and film-like, with no visible compression artefacts: Sony have finally ditched the aged MPEG2 codec in favour of AVC, and the result is their first 10/10 title that I’ve seen. Sony’s European division have made a wise choice in dishing out copies of this title to early Playstation 3 adopters.

Lyris has written some more pleasing words about this disc, and highlighted some of the film’s most hilarious examples of product placement.

Blu-ray

I also received a copy of The Devil’s Rejects - a gift from Gary Tooze of the excellent comparison site DVD Beaver for some HD DVD screen captures I supplied for him from Casablanca and The Adventures of Robin Hood. It’s not as good-looking as Casino Royale, but it put a smile on my face all the same. It’s interesting, given the false belief, held by certain individuals, that a film has to actually be shot in HD to look good on an HD disc (a perfect example of the sort of misinformation that is likely to be putting a lot of people off adopting either format), that 16mm material seems to shine so much in high definition, with both this and the Moroccan segments of Babel looking particularly luscious. (Now I really hope Universal UK gives Thirteen a whirl on HD DVD - or Fox on Blu-ray if they promise to tame the rampant DVNR plaguing the DVD release.) Unfortunately, The Devil’s Rejects is an MPEG2 title on a single layer BD25 disc, so there are some noticeable compression artefacts (and a dearth of extras in comparison with the 2-disc DVD), but it’s an impressive presentation all the same - a high 8/10 on my scale.

 
Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2007 at 8:29 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

So who’s in on this HD DVD thang?

HD DVD/Blu-ray

With no new HD DVD releases in the US until near the end of the month, it’s sometimes a little tempting to think that Toshiba and their buddies have forgotten about us (and this is not help by the jeering of the Blu-ray fanboys, who seem to be in high spirits about the fact that Amazon has a Blu-ray sale on, which is causing titles to fly off the shelves). Therefore, this post is for any HD DVD-only people who are currently feeling a little down in the dumps. This morning, I came across a link to a PowerPoint presentation with Toshiba’s name plastered all over it, presumably intended as a morale booster for current HD DVD partners, as well as an advertisement for any companies considering joining the party. Anyway, it gives some rather insteresting details regarding the state of the format at the moment, and what we can expect in the next year or so.

HD DVD supporting hardware manufacturers:
Toshiba
Onkyo
Meridian
Shinco
RCA
Jiankui
Liteon
Alco
Microsoft
Hewlett-Packard
Acer
LG
Fujitsu-Siemens
Samsung
Alpine
NEC
Broadcom

HD DVD encoding partners:
Toshiba
Microsoft
Memory-Tech
DTS
Dolby
Ulead
Sonic
Plasmon
Datarius
Singulus Technologies

HD DVD authoring and disc replicators:
Imagion
CMC
Digital Media Production
DVDPartners
Infinia
Deluxe Digital Studios
Technicolor
Sonopress
Cinram
MPO
QOL
Duplico

HD DVD supporting distributors:
Paramount
Universal
Warner
Eagle Rock
DVD International
Studio Canal
Pathé
France Télévisions Distribution
LCJ
Wild Side Video
2 Entertain
Imagion
EMS
Universum Film
Kinowelt
Nixbu
Opus Arte
SPV
Optimum
Momentum
Twister
ILC
PIAS
Filmax
DeAPlaneta
Sandre Metronome
Cecchi Gori
Contantin Film
Concorde
Inakustik

Projected number of titles by end of 2007:
UK/Ireland: 250
France: 270
Germany/Austria/Switzerland: 250
Spain: 180
Italy: 170
Benelux: 200
Nordic countries: 200

If you have PowerPoint, I strongly urge you to check out the full document. It’s full of lots of interesting information about available and upcoming hardware and titles, including a lot of stuff that, to the best of my knowledge, hasn’t been replicated elsewhere. For instance, did you know that Wild Side Video in France (I think) is planning to release Pan’s Labyrinth on HD DVD in April?

And yes, that’s right, Samsung are getting on board the HD DVD gravy train, at least as far as laptops are concerned. Perhaps this is a direct result of Sony throwing them under the bus last year during the whole Blu-ray image quality debacle?

 
Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2007 at 1:44 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

DVD review: Asterix and the Vikings

DVD
Despite these criticisms, Asterix and the Vikings leaves an overall impression of being one of the better adaptations of the series. We’ve been starved for traditional animation lately, and to see a new film that is not only hand-drawn but also drawn well is a rare treat indeed. Still, if you’re already a fan of the book, don’t expect this adaptation to convey the depth and tone of the source material, although, conversely, it may give you a newfound appreciation for what Goscinny and Uderzo were able to achieve in only 44 pages that the filmmakers struggle to convey in 75 minutes. That said, a new Asterix has been a long time in coming, and I only hope we don’t have to wait another 12 years for the next one.

I’ve reviewed the UK DVD of Asterix and the Vikings, the latest animated feature starring the wily yellow-whiskered Gaul, given a decidedly unimpressive release by Optimum.

 
Posted: Tuesday, March 13, 2007 at 1:02 PM
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | Reviews
 

The Third Mother delayed

Well, I guess it’s official now: the Italian theatrical release of The Third Mother has been delayed till October. Get the news direct from the web site of Dario Argento’s own Profondo Rosso shop:

Dario Argento’s new movie “The Third Mother” release date has been postponed to next October 2007. But the picture’s alredy been finished and most probabily it’ll be screened during the next Cannes Film Market.

According to a poster at The Latarnia Forums, the reason for the delay is to take full advantage of the Halloween festivities on October 31st, which I guess is as good a way as any of drumming up supernatural anticipation. Of course, the danger is that, rather than encouraging more people to see it, it’ll be lost among the scads of generic teen horror movies that tend to be released at around the same time. Personally, I’m still hoping a semi-prominent distributor picks it up and gives it even a limited release over here, although I’m not sure how confident I should be. I also really hope we see a trailer, or a poster, or something, sooner rather than later - those snippets from a Cinecittà promo that emerged back in January were tantalising but all too brief.

 
Posted: Monday, March 12, 2007 at 8:13 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Halloween
 

Asterix in Britain

DVD

I received a check disc of Optimum’s recent UK DVD release of Asterix and the Vikings for review this morning (expect a review at DVD Times at noon tomorrow - one of the fastest turnarounds I’ve ever given a review disc, although the fact that the review of the film itself was already written helps).

Unfortunately, Optimum clearly felt the need to ensure that this disc fit in with their DVDs of the first six Asterix films, which means that it’s not a particularly impressive release at all. The transfer is a slight improvement on its French counterpart, which looked overly harsh and with some oddly jagged outlines. The lines in this new release are still slightly too jaggy for my liking, and there are a few visible compression artefacts here and there, not to mention the fact that the whole image has a rather filtered appearance to it, but the rampant edge enhancement has been tamed, resulting in a smoother and overall more eye-pleasing images.

Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends. The French DVD featured English and French audio tracks (both 2.0 and 5.1) and subtitles, but all Optimum provides is a 2.0 English track - not even any subtitles (take that, disability anti-discrimination enforcers!). Okay, so the film was made in English, but the French dub was, in my opinion, the better of the two, and, in any event, I don’t understand the justification for leaving out the 5.1 mix. It’s not as if the film was made in stereo!

Oh, and there are no extras.

I really don’t understand Optimum. They put out some amazing discs, including what it probably the best all-round version of Howl’s Moving Castle in the world, not to mention what seems to be a fully-loaded special edition of Pan’s Labyrinth (a film I really want to see, by the way, although I’m holding out for an HD DVD release), but they’re also capable of putting out some absolute junk. Okay, so Asterix and the Vikings hardly fits under the category of “junk”, but it’s decidedly underwhelming nonetheless, particularly when a much better version can be had in France… oh, and supposedly an HD DVD is being released in Spain at some point within the next couple of months from DeAPlaneta. Now I sincerely hope they get that right.

 
Posted: Monday, March 12, 2007 at 7:50 PM
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | HD DVD
 

Blu-ray review: American Psycho

Blu-ray
Looking at this Blu-ray release of American Psycho, I am left with the unshakable feeling that Lions Gate put the least possible amount of effort into it. With a shoddy transfer that should never have been allowed through quality control, and a greatly pared-down array of extras, this disc really should not have been released in its current state.

I’ve provided a review for the transfer, audio and bonus content of Lions Gate’s recent Blu-ray release of American Psycho.

I haven’t reviewed the film itself this time round, just the technical elements of the disc. American Psycho is a film that demands an in-depth treatment which, at the moment, I don’t really have the time, inspiration or motivation to give. Therefore, rather than waffle out a couple of putrid paragraphs, I’ve skipped the film portion of the review so I can get the word out regarding this crummy-looking disc as quickly as possible. If you’re interested in reading about the film itself, I recommend D.J. Nock’s coverage of the standard definition release. It’s an appraisal that I more or less agree with 100%, and it’s better than anything I could have written within a reasonable time frame.

 
Posted: Friday, March 09, 2007 at 8:27 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews
 

HD cross-contamination

HD DVD

A couple of interesting high definition title announcements have been made in the last few days, not because of the films themselves, but because of how they play into this whole format war. As you probably know, the rights to many films are owned by different studios depending on where you live in the world - so, for example, Paramount owns Titanic in the US, but 20th Century Fox has the rights in Europe. This, as you can probably imagine, is pretty significant as far as the HD format war is concerned, because it means that a title that might be Blu-ray or HD DVD exclusive in one region may be available in the other format (or both formats) in another, as is the case with Gangs of New York, which is owned by the Blu-ray exclusive Disney in the US, and the Blu-ray exclusive EIV in the UK, but the format-neutral Manga Films has it in Spain (and is planning to release it this month).

Blu-ray

Recently, a Sony Pictures title, The Holiday, was announced for release on April 2nd in Europe on HD DVD by Universal (just under a month after its Blu-ray release in the US). Meanwhile, Basic Instinct, already available on HD DVD from Studio Canal in Europe, has just been announced by Lions Gate in the US for release on Blu-ray on May 29th.

It’s a confusing situation, but an exciting one all the same. It means that, in several cases, it’s wrong to call a title “exclusive”, because just because it is released on one format only in, say, North America, doesn’t mean that it won’t be released on the other elsewhere. This is made doubly fun by the lack of region coding on HD DVD releases. Blu-ray releases are more problematic, given that the format is split into three regions - although, of course, region coding is optional, and the likes of Warner and Paramount have yet to use it at all, while Sony only uses it on catalogue releases. (Fox, as usual, is region coding everything, and overcharging for the privilege of owning these booby-trapped discs.)HD DVD Of course, where this really becomes interesting is when you factor in variables like image quality and extras. The Studio Canal HD DVD of Total Recall, for example, is widely regarded to feature a better transfer than its Blu-ray counterpart from Lions Gate - although, like a number of Studio Canal titles, it suffers from an audio glitch, whereby the sound is pitched a semitone too high (note that this is not PAL speed-up, which many people are mistaking it for). Additionally, Basic Instinct is presented on HD DVD without any extras: the rights to the various bonus materials from the standard definition release are presumably owned by Lions Gate, so it will be interesting to see whether any of them make it on to the upcoming Blu-ray release. I’ll also be interested to hear how the transfers compare: Basic Instinct on HD DVD looks rather poor, with a lot of DVNR artefacts and some distracting softness (of course, the Blu-ray release could end up looking even worse, if American Psycho is any indication of Lions Gate’s treatment of catalogue titles).

Blu-ray

It’s an intriguing situation, to say the least. I intend to pick up HD DVD copies of the “Blu-ray exclusive” Gangs of New York and Underworld: Evolution from Spain, plus any other titles which catch my eye. The moral of the story is that, just because your favourite film is not available on your format of choice in one country, doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to get it elsewhere. (Of course, there are plenty of cases where the same studio owns the rights to a title throughout the world, as is the case with Disney’s animated features, and Sony’s Spider-man, and Universal’s King Kong, so don’t get your hopes up too high.)

 
Posted: Friday, March 09, 2007 at 2:30 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD
 

Cold Eyes of Fear

Cold Eyes of Fear

Italy/Spain: Enzo G. Castellari, 1971

A young lawyer, Peter Baddell (Gianni Garko), picks up an Italian party girl, Anna (Giovanna Ralli), during a night on the town, and takes her back to his uncle’s country retreat for a bit of slap and tickle. Once there, however, they find the butler dead and themselves being held at gunpoint by two thugs, Quill (Julian Mateos) and Welt (Frank Wolff), both of whom have unsavoury plans for uncle dearest (Fernando Rey).

This film has been described as Castellari’s only giallo - he tends to be better known for his poliziesco titles, such as Street Law and The Heroin Busters - but that description is a little misleading, as it has more in common with exploitation shockers like The Last House on the Left, Night Train Murders or The House on the Edge of the Park (all of which, incidentally, came along after this) than any of Argento or Martino’s efforts. Indeed, the most traditional giallo moment comes at the very start of the film, in which a knife-wielding killer disrobes a terrified blonde starlet; even this, though, turns out to be nothing more than a play being put on for a crowd of pompous yuppies. Is it just me or is Castellari poking fun at his audience?

Cold Eyes of Fear

As with Aldo Lado’s Night Train Murders, Cold Eyes of Fear observes a tension between superficial consumerism-fuelled lifestyles and brutal, unprovoked acts of cruelty, creating a false air of civility and then tearing it down: it’s the feigned politeness of the two thugs, combined with the occasional sudden burst of violence, that makes them disturbing. On the other hand, they’re never quite as brutal as one would normally expect from an exploitation film of this variety (they give their hostages so many second chances that it becomes a little ridiculous). The film is definitely tense, though (with my copy, cropped to 1.85:1 from its original 2.35:1, arguably even more claustrophobic than Castellari must have originally intended), although it does begin to lag a bit in the second half. Even so, Castellari still manages to overdo the fisticuffs for which his police thrillers are so famous. And, of course, in the end it does the predictable “Who are the real savages?” role reversal for which these films are so well-known.

I’m not sure I’d call this essential viewing by any stretch of the imagination. I liked it, but Castellari’s poliziesco thrillers are better. It ultimately lacks a Franco Nero or Fabio Testi figure to give it that extra kick. 6/10

PS. You can read another review of this film, by Keith Brown, at Giallo Fever.

 
Posted: Thursday, March 08, 2007 at 3:00 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Gialli | Reviews
 

Business is booming

Blu-ray

Blu-ray sales have just shot through the roof at Amazon.com, thanks to the site discounting over 40 titles to half price (meaning that 20th Century Fox titles now cost the same as a normal Blu-ray disc). If this is part of a concerted effort at Camp Blu-ray to boost their sales, it seems to be working. Indeed, they’ve managed to sucker me in - the opportunity to upgrade to a high definition copy of the delightful cheese-fest that is Resident Evil: Apocalypse for only $14.49 was to enticing to pass up. You may remember that I pre-ordered this title back in May 2006, when my first HD player was going to be of the Blu-ray variety, and when the title was going to be released in June. When those plans fell through, I cancelled it - as did Sony, who, in the end, didn’t actually release this title until January 16th 2007. Well, now it seems that what was originally going to be one of my first ever HD titles will be winging its way to me after all, a mere nine months later than originally planned.

Predictably, certain Blu-ray fanboys are whooping and cheering, clearly of the belief that this is proof that HD DVD is finished. Obviously, they fail to understand the concept of a sale: the whole point is to shift more copies. What did people expect to happen? Do they not think that something similar would happen if a bunch of HD DVD titles got a 50% discount? Of course, the massive rise in sales can only be followed by an even more massive plummet as customers, having frittered away their entire movie-buying budget in the sale, hold off on the buying for the next several weeks.

 
Posted: Tuesday, March 06, 2007 at 11:04 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema
 

DreamWorks goes fishing in the HD pond

HD DVD/Blu-ray

Source: DVD Times (1, 2)

Back in February, I reported on a rumour that DreamWorks was preparing to jump into the world of high definition with HD DVD and Blu-ray releases of Dreamgirls and Flags of our Fathers. The rumours, it would seem, were true, as an official announcement was made today about both titles. They will be coming to both formats in May (the 1st for Dreamgirls, the 22nd for Flags of our Fathers). Distributed by DreamWorks’ parent company Paramount, both will be 2-disc special editions, reproducing the extras from their standard definition counterparts in 1080p or 1080i high definition (although, for some reason, Dreamgirls’ image gallery seems to have gone bye-bye). Neither film is one that I’m wild to see, but it’s great to see DreamWorks finally jumping into the fray, and with what appear to be extremely impressive releases to boot. I really hope to see HD releases of American Beauty and Gladiator before too long…

 
Posted: Tuesday, March 06, 2007 at 10:04 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

Lost in high definition

HD DVD/Blu-ray

Source: HD DVD Format Blog

It seems that we finally have official confirmation from Universal of their second slate of HD DVD titles to be released in May. Coming on the 29th are the remainder of the titles that were recently leaked to The Digital Bits: The Big Lebowski, Dragonheart, The Frighteners: Director’s Cut, Lost in Translation, Midnight Run and The River. Lost in Translation is a shoe-in for me, and I’m also tempted to give The Frighteners a look. The rest don’t particularly appeal, but I’m sure plenty of people will want to pick up The Big Lebowski.

 
Posted: Tuesday, March 06, 2007 at 12:52 PM
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD
 

That Trojan horse never looked so wooden

HD DVD/Blu-ray

According to the News of the World, Troy is “the greatest sword and sandal epic of all time”. Well, I don’t know about that (although something tells me that this is a little unlikely), but I do know that this is yet another high definition title that received rave reviews despite being, well, fairly average-looking. It’s simply not very detailed at all, and there is some ugly ringing around highly contrasted edges. Odd, then, that the Warner logo at the very start of the film basically looked flawless, and yet, as soon as the first image appeared on the screen, it immediately felt as if I was watching the thing through a dirty window.

Where did I get a hold of Troy from? Well, Lyris received a Toshiba HD-E1 (the European equivalent of the American HD-A1) HD DVD player to review today, and Toshiba were kind enough to bundle the disc with it. These companies really need to start selecting better titles to include as review samples! Panasonic, after all, included the mediocre-looking Fantastic 4 with their DMP-BD10 Blu-ray player as well. Discs like these really don’t make good first impressions - why not throw in something that’s more or less flawless like Corpse Bride, if you want that pristine digital look, or Serenity or The Descent if you want something rich and film-like? At least Microsoft had the right idea and included a copy of the magnificent-looking King Kong with the Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on.

On a related note, Lyris has done a very nice rant about the underwhelming quality of so many Blu-ray releases on his new site. It’s well worth a read, and there’s even a nice picture of the hideous-looking American Psycho for you to marvel at.

 
Posted: Monday, March 05, 2007 at 8:12 PM
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | HD DVD | Technology
 

HD DVD review: Babel

HD DVD
One of the better modern films to see a high definition release gets an excellent presentation on HD DVD. The lack of extras is disappointing, but, given that this sparsity matches the film’s standard definition counterpart, it’s hard in this particular case to feel too short-changed. It may not be the sort of material to show off the full capabilities of your home theatre setup, but it’s a solid representation of its source material, and as such, Babel gets my unreserved recommendation.

Courtesy of DVD Pacific, I’ve reviewed the HD DVD release of Babel, the third instalment in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s loose trilogy of fractured narratives. The film receives an excellent presentation from Paramount.

 
Posted: Monday, March 05, 2007 at 5:17 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Reviews
 

Just to set the record straight…

DVD

I think it would be a good idea if I clarify a few issues regarding my coverage of Severin Films’ DVD release of Perversion Story, as one or two people seem to have misinterpreted my comments (or I didn’t make my comments clear enough, or a combination of the two).

First things first, my in-depth comparison of the two cuts is in no way intended as a means to tar and feather Severin or encourage people to boycott their DVD. Rather, it’s there so people can not only make an informed decision about their purchase, but also learn about the differences between the two versions if such matters interest them. I have no intent to persuade people not to buy the DVD: everyone is free to make up their own minds, so I am simply presenting the facts about this release in what I hope is a clear and unambiguous manner. For what it’s worth, I would actually encourage people to buy it, but simply to be aware that it will be missing some key scenes that they may be expecting to see.

According to Marc Morris over at the Anchor Bay UK forum, the French cut was the only version Severin had access to, as it was what was supplied to them by the licensor (who apparently didn’t know that any alternative versions existed). As such, they could either release the version we now have, or not release it at all. Given the choice, I think we all know which is the preferable option. As such, Severin’s only “crime” (so to speak) was not making it clear which version they were releasing (except on their web site). Now, you may say “But they never said they were going to release a full-length version, so what have they done wrong?” Well, as a point of comparison, what if Anchor Bay decided to release George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead on DVD, but only put out the Italian Argento cut, and didn’t indicate anywhere on the packaging that this was the version being included. Technically, they would have done nothing wrong. It’s a legitimate alternate cut of the film, just like the French Perversion Story cut. I suspect some people would be a bit put out, though. The simple fact is that most people, not unreasonably, assume they’ll be getting the complete package, just as, when I order a pizza, I don’t expect it to be delivered with a slice missing (“Well, we never said you’d get the whole pizza…”). Of course, when multiple alternate cuts exist, it becomes a lot more complicated, but I’m a big believer in clear advertising: I think that if you’re going to put out a DVD that features a cut of a film that’s missing material that most people are likely to be used to, you have a duty to state this.

It’s sometimes difficult to reconcile the differences between two distinct crowds of Euro-cult fandom. The way I see it, there are two extremes, with most people being somewhere in the middle. At one end of the spectrum, there are the people who expect every release to be absolutely perfect, cry blue murder if there’s the slightest flaw, and organise mass boycotts to teach those nasty distributors a lesson. I certainly am not going to go this far: I expect a certain level of transparency from distributors (i.e. be honest about what you’re releasing - if there are multiple versions of a title available, make it clear which one you’re putting out, and get the running time correct on the back cover!), and I expect high standards, but within reason.

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s the “put up and shut up” crowd that, for some reason, thinks we should be grateful for anything that gets put out, no matter how expensive and no matter how poor the quality. In my experience, these are quite often people who collected grimy bootlegs in the 80s and 90s and believe that this somehow makes them more “legitimate” fans than those who only came along with the advent of DVD. Of course, they too are only seeing these films second-hand, having not been around for their original 70s releases, although this is something that they conveniently choose to forget. There’s a certain level of masochism here: “I had to put up with a worse copy than you!”

Generalising much? Maybe, but, in the four and a half (or thereabouts) years that I’ve been actively into these films, I’ve come across fans from both ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between. Obviously most people are a bit more realistic, but you do get the odd lone nutter who thinks that a couple of seconds of accidentally misplaced footage is grounds for fire-bombing the distributor’s headquarters, or who thinks that anything better than a VHS dupe is good enough. Both extremes do damage to the Euro-cult scene: the former because, if everyone were to boycott every release with the slightest problem, the companies responsible would soon go out of business; the latter because, if everyone took the “it’ll do” attitude, the overall standard of DVDs would be much lower. Does anyone seriously believe we would have received the excellent new release of A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin without a whole lot of complaining about the previous version?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we should expect high standards, but within reason. And Severin’s DVD of Perversion Story is of a high standard. No, it’s not definitive, and I’m personally disappointed that Severin only had access to the French cut (the English version is a better film, frankly), but it looks as if they’ve made the best of a problematic situation. As such, while I can’t pretend that I don’t hope a more all-inclusive version comes along at a later date, I don’t think that should put you off buying their DVD. At the end of the day, though, the choice is yours.

 
Posted: Sunday, March 04, 2007 at 12:23 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Gialli | Web
 

Oh look, a smear campaign!

https://www.anchorbay.co.uk/forum/showthread.php?t=11321&page=2

Apparently making people aware of the differences between the English and French cuts of Perversion Story, and wondering why Severin elected to include the latter on their DVD, is just one step too far some people. Generally speaking I find fans of the Euro-cult circuit to be most pleasant people, but there are a few really hateful individuals out there.

 
Posted: Saturday, March 03, 2007 at 3:33 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Gialli | Web
 

Blu-ray review: Flightplan

Blu-ray
Flightplan is one of the better-looking Blu-ray releases I’ve seen so far, with any visual flaws being inherent in the master rather than the fault of incompetent encoding. Once again, though, HD customers are being short-changed in terms of extras for no apparent reason. With an efficient codec like VC-1, and 50 GB of available space, there should be no reason to lose a few standard definition extras, but Disney have somehow managed to do so anyway. The Blu-ray exclusive extras, meanwhile, are not impressive enough in their own right to entice people to double-dip.

Jodie Foster trades one enclosed space for another, this time becoming trapped in a plane rather than a Panic Room. I’ve reviewed Disney’s Region A release of Flightplan, which, in comparison with the DVD, gains a solid transfer but loses some extras.

 
Posted: Friday, March 02, 2007 at 3:08 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews
 
 

 
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