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Body of Lies Blu-ray impressions

Blu-ray

This evening, we watched Body of Lies, Ridley Scott’s most recent film. I tend to find Scott rather frustrating as a filmmaker. On the one hand, he has one of the best visual eyes of any Hollywood director, and when he’s on the ball and has a decent script to work with, can turn out some truly terrific material. On the other hand, of late he has demonstrated a rather unfortunate habit of picking scripts that just aren’t all that involving. To this day I haven’t managed to make it through American Gangster, and I found Body of Lies to be similarly heavy-going. In spite of the topical material (or, actually, possibly because of it), I just didn’t find myself connecting with any of the characters. Leonardo Di Caprio and Russell Crowe are both fine actors, but their characters never really came to life for me, and more often than not I felt as if I was just watching them wandering from one plot point to another, with nothing to involve me along the way. Frankly, the film just sort of “is”, and while it’s technically extremely well-made, and well-acted across the board, I just wish I had more of a reason to care about what was going on.

As for the disc, Warner really impressed me here. I’m accustomed to finding their transfers rather underwhelming, so it was a delight to be greeted by this extremely crisp and, for the most part, nicely-encoded image. Grain is superbly reproduced and detail is excellent, with no evidence of filtering or sharpening of any sort. Over at the AV Science Forum, Joshua Zyber pointed out some macro-blocking in Chapter 31, describing is as “some of the worst macroblocking” he’d ever seen on a BD. Naturally, I was on the look-out for it, and it’s true, there is some blocking in this scene (the walls and roof in a hospital ward in certain close-ups of Mark Strong are affected - see Example 15). However, I personally would describe it as fairly minor and can name several BDs with significantly worse compression problems. It’s certainly the only blight on what is otherwise an absolutely stellar encode. 9.5/10

Body of Lies
studio: Warner; country: USA; region code: ABC; codec: VC-1;
file size: 25.5 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 28.45 Mbit/sec

Body of Lies Body of Lies Body of Lies Body of Lies Body of Lies Body of Lies Body of Lies Body of Lies Body of Lies Body of Lies Body of Lies Body of Lies Body of Lies Body of Lies Body of Lies

 
Posted: Thursday, February 26, 2009 at 10:14 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology | Web
 

Just arrived…

Blu-ray

Body of Lies (Blu-ray, Warner, Region ABC, USA)

 
Posted: Thursday, February 26, 2009 at 1:30 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema
 

Site update

Web

I’ve removed the Mainstream Cinema and Obscure Categories and combined them into a single Cinema category. The distinction between them was beginning to strike me as a bit pointless, and in any event, the line between the popular and the art-house is often so blurred that, in many cases, assigning a film to one grouping or the other was completely arbitrary.

By the way, if anyone’s found that it’s been taking an inordinately long time for comments to post, or for the Search box to function, it’s not just you. It’s been happening on and off at various points throughout the day, and has also been affecting my FTP access, as well as making Movable Type run like a dog (and I don’t mean a greyhound). Things seem to have improved considerably now, though, so let’s cross our fingers and hope that this was just an isolated blip.

 
Posted: Monday, February 23, 2009 at 4:57 PM
Categories: Cinema | Web
 

Just arrived…

Blu-ray

The Silence of the Lambs (Blu-ray, 20th Century Fox/MGM, Region A, USA)

By the way, despite what the press materials claimed, this is an MPEG-2 rather than AVC encode.

 
Posted: Monday, February 23, 2009 at 12:07 PM | Comments: 14 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

When the hunter becomes the hunted

Dollhouse

I watched the second episode of Dollhouse, The Target, this evening, and have come to the conclusion that it showed a marked improvement over the series premiere. Yes, the majority of the supporting cast are still as bland as they were in the pilot, but I felt that this one had more of a drive to it, the central storyline doing a better job of holding my attention and providing Echo with a personality more suited to Eliza Dushku’s acting and looks (sorry, but I just couldn’t buy her as a prim, strait-laced hostage negotiator last week). I detected a definite Deliverance vibe in this one, and it helped that Echo found herself facing off against a decidedly nasty antagonist this week - an outdoorsman who, tired of hunting defenceless animals, decided to move on to humans. The dialogue this week also struck me as a little more Whedonesque, although this episode was in fact written and directed by his old Buffy and Angel colleague, Steven S. DeKnight.

Incidentally, this episode provided a number of flashbacks which filled in some of the questions left unanswered in the pilot - such as what exactly happened to Amy Acker’s face? For the most part, they helped add a bit of background and texture to the world the series inhabits, but I personally hope this gimmick isn’t going to run throughout the series, Lost-style. A few expository flashbacks can be welcome, but pepper the entire series with them and I tend to find myself beginning to zone out.

 
Posted: Sunday, February 22, 2009 at 7:22 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Cinema | TV
 

Just arrived…

Blu-ray

Changeling (Blu-ray, Universal, Region ABC, USA)

 
Posted: Saturday, February 21, 2009 at 6:35 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema
 

Monitor fiasco update

Dell Ultrasharp 2709W

I received a call today from the extremely helpful Mark at Dell technical support. (Seriously, this guy has been busting a gut trying to help me, which can’t have been easy given that, due to some sort of screw-up, the company has no record of my previous communications regarding my ongoing problems.) The long and short of it is that a third monitor will be delivered to me on Monday and the second one will be uplifted.

In other news, the “pinching” I previously mentioned as occurring in three of the panel’s four corners has begun to recede. No, it’s not completely gone, and it’s still quite noticeable with a black background in a dark room, but it currently looks considerably better than it did as little as five or six hours ago. This is most heartening to me, and suggests that such problems will eventually fade once the screen has been allowed to “settle in”. Of course, dead pixels (or stuck pixels that have been given a rigorous work-out with the likes of JScreenFix) can’t be fixed, but this does mean that, should Monday’s arrival suffer from the same pinching effect, I won’t immediately be panicking and calling up tech support. This allows me to concentrate solely on faulty pixels, and I’ve come to the conclusion that, should monitor #3 suffer from a single dead or stuck pixel in a relatively inconspicuous place, I’ll put up with it in return for an end to the hassle.

(Incidentally, it’s perhaps worth pointing out that the monitor I was using this time last year, the Sony MFM-HT205, had a single red stuck pixel fairly close to the centre of the panel. It actually took me over a year to become aware of it, and only because my brother, bless his perceptiveness, pointed it out to me.)

Here’s hoping the old adage of “third time’s a charm” turns out to be true.

PS. I showed my mum The Descent on BD tonight (my first gala screening of the new Australian release from beginning to end). She thought it was great. Then again, I’m not entirely surprised, because according to my dad I inherited my taste for horror movies from her.

Update, February 21st, 2009 at 08:12 PM: I’ve just noticed that the problem is now once again as bad as it has ever been. It appears to begin to show itself after the monitor has been on for a while and just gets progressively worse. Initially, it looks absolutely fine, but within a short space of time the issues begin to assert themselves.

 
Posted: Friday, February 20, 2009 at 10:03 PM | Comments: 3 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | General | Technology
 

The bird with the bungled audio

Blu-ray

As you may know, Dario Argento’s first film, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, gets its high definition debut in just under a week’s time, courtesy of Blue Underground’s upcoming Blu-ray release. Screen captures and a review have now appeared at DVD Beaver, and I’m afraid it’s a case of good news and bad news.

On the plus side, the screenshots (which are, admittedly, somewhat over-compressed as is the DVD Beaver standard and therefore not a 100% accurate representation of the final product) suggest a very fine video transfer with the natural grain structure intact and a pleasing amount of detail. The DVD was so filtered that it always felt as if you were watching the film through a misty window, so it is a pleasure to see these captures looking so crisp and defined. All of the extras from the previous 2-disc DVD release have also been ported over.

On the downside, what hasn’t been ported over is an audio mix that is in any way representative of Argento’s intentions. Gone are the 2.0 mono English and Italian tracks that were on the DVD. In their place, as with The Stendhal Syndrome, are an array of redundant encodes of the same surround remix. Note to Blue Underground: if you are going to include a DTS-HD Master Audio track, you do not need to also include separate Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital tracks of the same mix. It’s pointless, a waste of space and only causes you to have to pay more in licensing fees. It really sticks in my craw that the original mono tracks were discarded in favour of these space-hoggers, particularly given the twaddle Blue Underground spewed about not having enough space left for the original audio.

 
Posted: Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 7:41 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli
 

A classic that never was

Blu-ray

So my copy of the upcoming Blu-ray release of The Silence of the Lambs was dispatched from MovieTyme today. At the moment, my brother is in the final stages of his work on the upcoming Mondo Vision DVD of Andrzej Zulawksi’s L’important c’est d’aimer, so I’m currently used to seeing (and hearing) Klaus Kinski ranting (in either French, German or English) on a more or less daily basis. During one of his fine tirades, we ended up speculating as to what The Silence of the Lambs would have been like had Kinski played the role of Hannibal Lecter. “Very different” is, I suspect, the answer. From there, I naturally began to wonder what the film would have been like had it been directed by one of Kinski’s most frequent collaborators, and populated by his regular cast. Here’s what I came up with:

The Silence of the Lambs
A film by Jess Franco
Written and produced by Harry Alan Towers

Soledad Miranda as Clarice Starling
Klaus Kinski as Dr. Hannibal Lecter
Herbert Lom as Jack Crawford
Christopher Lee as Dr. Frederick Chilton
Paul Muller as Jame Gumb
Lina Romay as Ardelia Mapp
Romina Power as Catherine Martin
Maria Rohm as Senator Ruth Martin

I’m still struggling to cast the all-important role of Barney. Can any Franco experts out there suggest a suitable actor?

 
Posted: Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at 8:00 PM | Comments: 8 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | General | Mondo Vision
 

The Constant Gardener Blu-ray impressions

Blu-ray

This afternoon, I finally got round to watching Kinowelt’s Region B German Blu-ray release of The Constant Gardener, a great adaptation of the John Le Carré thriller that I previously saw back in 2006 on DVD. The BD is, I suspect, a fairly accurate representation of the source materials, which don’t exhibit a massive amount of detail, although this does vary on a scene by scene basis. What also varies is the grain retention: some scenes exhibit a naturally grainy veneer, whereas others (such as Example 2) appear noticeably noise reduced (pay attention to Ralph Fiennes’ face). It’s unclear at what stage this was carried out, but given the inconsistency I have reason to assume that it was done selectively at the DI stage. Meanwhile, compression is adequate, although certain wide shots do exhibit a degree of blocking (as in Example 6). An acceptable if slightly problematic presentation overall. 7/10

The Constant Gardener
studio: ArtHaus/Kinowelt; country: Germany; region code: B; codec: AVC;
file size: 29.2 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 32.54 Mbit/sec

The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener The Constant Gardener

 
Posted: Monday, February 16, 2009 at 6:12 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Technology
 

Blu-ray review: Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Blu-ray
Charming and unabashedly entertaining, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist may seem like an unexpected choice for one of my favourite films of 2008, but, truth be told, it made more of an impression on me than many of the year’s supposedly more “important” contenders. Sony’s Blu-ray release is largely excellent, with a decent A/V presentation and a fine array of extras.

I review the recent Region ABC (US) release of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Sony Pictures’ latest celebration of illegal music sharing.

Review at DVD Times.

 
Posted: Sunday, February 15, 2009 at 7:00 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews
 

In the end, we’re all just puppets

Dollhouse

So Joss Whedon’s new TV show, Dollhouse, began airing on Fox this Friday, and if viewing figures for the series premiere, Ghost (written and directed by Whedon), are anything to go by, it may very well end up being yanked before completing its initial 13-episode run. Which would be a shame, because, while the episode suffered from some pretty significant problems, what I saw did leave me with some hope that the Joss Whedon in charge of this project is the one who produced the first five seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer rather than the one who oversaw its final two seasons on television and subsequently the dreadful comic book-bound Season 8.

Basically, the premise is that a shadowy organisation rents out young men and women whose minds have been erased to those who can afford to pay for them - whether so they can engage in a bit of hanky-panky, negotiate a hostage release, or even use them for something downright illegal. Basically, these “Dolls” or “Actives” are blank slates who can be imprinted with any persona, and following successful completion of their assignment, their minds are erased once more until their next mission. One of these Actives is Echo (Eliza Dushku, who played the recurring role of Faith in Buffy and its spin-off, Angel), who, following a cock-up which occurs during one such assignment, begins to develop a degree of self-awareness. A maverick FBI agent, meanwhile, seemingly the only person to believe that this “Dollhouse” actually exists, is hell-bent on infiltrating it and apprehending the perpetrators.

Dollhouse

There’s a heck of a lot of potential in this concept, given that the programme essentially serves as a showcase for Eliza Dushku’s range as an actress. Put simply, each episode stands to present us with a completely different scenario and Dushku with a completely different character to play. In this opening episode, we see three basic personae: the go-getter party girl glimpsed in the pre-credits teaser (who arguably has the most in common with Faith), the more or less blank slate that is Echo herself when not programmed with any personality, and the slick, efficient hostage negotiator whose identity she adopts for the kidnapping narrative that forms the main thrust of the episode, in which the young daughter of a rich Mexican businessman is abducted by a gang of unsavoury sorts, one of whom is a child rapist. The latter of these assumed identities is not all that convincing, as Dushku’s style of acting doesn’t really go with the primly-dressed, spectacle-wearing agent she ends up playing here. Then again, maybe it’s my fault for not being able to get her Buffy days out of my head.

The rest of the cast, unfortunately, are neither here nor there. They exist, but nothing about them really makes them stand out - shades of the Initiative from Buffy’s fourth season, I fear, where the various cadets and commandos did nothing to distinguish themselves. Compare this first episode of Dollhouse to the first episode of Buffy, where Willow, Giles, Xander et al immediately conveyed their personalities through their characterisation and dialogue, not to mention the performances of the actors. The same was also true of Angel, which, in its first season, had a minimal cast comprised of three diametrically opposed characters - Angel, Cordelia and Doyle (the latter being replaced part-way through by Wesley). There’s precious little of that here: broadly speaking, you could replace Dollhouse’s supporting cast with that of any police procedural and no-one would be any the wiser. Case in point: I can’t actually remember the name of the male lead (the aforementioned FBI agent), whom I suspect is being set up to be the yin to Echo’s yang. I wonder to what extent this has to do with the almost complete absence of Whedon’s traditional “peppy” dialogue: by and large, the characters here talk like normal people. On the one hand, it’s actually somewhat refreshing to see Whedon varying his style a bit; on the other, what we’re left with is fairly generic and forgettable. There are a few good lines here and there (for instance, our FBI agent, after accosting an informant in the process of making use of the facilities, tells him “Remember to wash your hands… and your shoes”; another good one is “We said no strings,” “We also said no ropes, and look how long that lasted”), but again they’re largely interchangeable with any number of other shows of the ilk. I got more than a few hints of Alias (which featured Jennifer Garner trotting about under a variety of assumed identities, working for a shadowy organisation which hadn’t told her the whole truth about what she was doing… albeit without the memory loss aspect), which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but does show that Dollhouse needs to do something more to distinguish itself.

Dollhouse

Ultimately, I suppose what excites me about this project is where it could ultimately end up going if the network gives it the opportunity. At its most basic level, we have a fast-paced and varied show featuring a charismatic actress assuming a vast array of different personae. On a deeper level, however, we have what essentially boils down to a story about people trafficking and the suppression of free will. We’re told, initially, that the Actives are essentially volunteers who knowingly submitted themselves to having their minds wiped and being turned into what are ultimately prostitutes (both literally and, on occasion, figuratively). However, one has to wonder to what extent any of these people actually knew what they were getting into when they signed up. (It’s a bit like in The Matrix, where Neo is offered the choice of the red and the blue pill. I’ve always wondered if he would really have chosen the red pill had he known what he was letting himself in for beforehand.) The way the B-plot featuring the FBI agent is developing also leads me to suspect that we are in fact headed for a revelation that at least some of the Actives have in fact been abducted and mind-wiped against their wills.

This is quite a potent cocktail of thematic concerns, and the extent to which they are allowed to be played out will, I suspect, be determined by whether or not Fox opts to pull the plug on the show, as they did with Firefly. On the one hand, the Network seems to have really got behind the show and is marketing the hell out of it, as well as using it as a pilot scheme for its new “Remote-Free TV” concept, where shows air with half the usual number of commercials, resulting in an extended running time. According to Eliza Dushku, Whedon already has a five-year arc planned for the characters and storyline. Whether he’ll get to follow it through is, currently, in the lap of the network gods.

Oh, and just in case all that text was beginning to bore you, here is a Dollhouse promo pic of Eliza Dushku with her bum out.

Eliza Dushku
 
Posted: Sunday, February 15, 2009 at 11:34 AM | Comments: 9 (view)
Categories: Books | Cinema | Reviews | TV
 

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist Blu-ray impressions

Blu-ray

In a world where depressing, “serious” movies tend to get all the kudos, it’s sometimes difficult to shake the impression that feel-good films tend to get overlooked. The other night, I watched 21 Grams, which wasn’t exactly a laugh a minute, so it made for a nice change of pace tonight to sit down to Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Sony Pictures’ latest film to celebrate the joys of music piracy. This was very much a blind buy, but one that paid off: I can’t remember the last time I found a movie this damn enjoyable. On paper, there’s not really all that much to it - two misfits bond over their love of indie music and go on a night-time jaunt across New York City to locate a missing and intoxicated friend - but it left me with a great big smile on my face and warmed the cockles of my black and cynical heart.

Sony Pictures’ BD is very good, albeit with the caveat that the bit rate appears to have been decidedly inadequate given the film’s naturally grainy look, coupled with a lot of jittery, hand-held camerawork. The overall bit rate - just over 40 Mbit/sec - sounds pretty high on paper, although in reality much of this goes to the three Dolby TrueHD audio tracks, one Dolby Digital 5.1 track and two 2.0 commentaries. That leaves around 26 Mbit/sec for the video itself, which should have been enough, but the amount of mosquito noise on display suggests that whoever encoded this put it on what is known about the HMS Whimsy as Very Fast Mode™. It’s a nice-looking image overall, considerably more pleasant in motion than in the static screen captures below, but it’s a shame it doesn’t look perfect, as I believe it could have done. 9/10

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist
studio: Sony Pictures; country: USA; region code: ABC; codec: AVC;
file size: 25.1 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 40.17 Mbit/sec

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist

 
Posted: Friday, February 13, 2009 at 9:58 PM
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

Just arrived…

Blu-ray

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Blu-ray, Sony Pictures, Region ABC, USA)

Note: this is part of a new feature I’m trying where, instead of waiting ‘til I’ve done an in-depth examination/viewing of a disc before posting about it, I’ll notify you about any new additions to my collection the moment they land on my doormat. That way, if there’s any interest, we can get a discussion up and running about it as soon as possible.

 
Posted: Thursday, February 12, 2009 at 10:14 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Web
 

21 Grams Blu-ray impressions

Blu-ray

Tuesday heralded the arrival of Alliance Atlantis’ Canadian Blu-ray Disc release of 21 Grams, the second Alejandro González Iñárritu film to make it to BD after Babel. So far, Alliance have released a bunch of titles on BD that aren’t currently available in any other country (including Sin City, A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Butterfly Effect), to date with all the extras stripped out. Still, if you’re not that bothered about bonus content - or (as is the case with 21 Grams) the film in question didn’t have many extras to begin with - then these releases are definitely something to be applauded.

Alliance have provided 21 Grams with a reasonably satisfying if flawed presentation. Unlike Babel, this film did not receive a digital intermediate, so the colour timing and other post production work were done in the lab, and the source used for the HD master is, naturally, a print. The grain structure is at times very pronounced, while on other occasions it is less noticeable, suggesting that, as with Babel, Iñárritu used a variety of film stocks. Unfortunately, the lack of space afforded to the encode means that the grain can tend to get a bit clumpy at times. Certain moments also look like they may have been grain reduced, but this is not consistent by any means, so I’m unclear as to whether an NR pass was carried out on a handful of select scenes, or the whole thing received NR and the scenes shot on grainier stock weren’t so noticeably affected. In additionm, some shots display prominent ringing which looks like the effect of deliberate sharpening rather than the natural halos that can sometimes occur optically. There is also quite a bit of block noise and posterisation in the shadows in certain shots, which can be pretty distracting. 7/10

21 Grams
studio: Alliance Atlantis; country: Canada; region code: A; codec: AVC;
file size: 18.1 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 20.84 Mbit/sec

21 Grams 21 Grams 21 Grams 21 Grams 21 Grams 21 Grams 21 Grams 21 Grams 21 Grams 21 Grams 21 Grams 21 Grams 21 Grams 21 Grams 21 Grams

 
Posted: Thursday, February 12, 2009 at 1:00 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

Hannibal Rising Blu-ray impressions

Blu-ray

This evening, before we sat down to watch the UK Blu-ray Disc release of Hannibal Rising, my brother said to me something along the lines of “You’ll enjoy this, but it isn’t a Hannibal Lecter film.” He was absolutely right. Getting any pleasure out of this shameless cash-in penned by Thomas Harris himself requires you to forget what came before it… or rather after it, given that this prequel purports to show us the making of a madman. Try as he might, Gaspard Ulliel fails to convince us that he could possibly grow up to be Anthony Hopkins (or Brian Cox, for you Manhunter aficionados), and certain events call into question what happens later in the series:

Highlight below to reveal spoiler text:

If the police in France knew that Lecter was killing people and eating their flesh, how on earth did it take Will Graham so long to identify him when he did the same in the United States? I know the Frenchies and the Yanks haven’t always had the most cordial of relationships, but come on. Don’t you think this might have been information they would have considered important enough to share with their colleagues across the Atlantic?

So, it doesn’t really fit in with Hannibal, The Silence of the Lambs or even Red Dragon. What the film does do, however, is function rather effectively as a black comedy. I’m not sure how intentional the humour was (probably not very, all things considered), and if you hated the wryness of Hannibal you’ll absolutely loathe this, but I certainly wasn’t bored for a second. It ultimately boils down to little more than a rollicking period piece slasher movie, with the dapper Young Hannibal (that was the film’s working title, by the way) slicing and dicing his way through a cavalcade of loathsome individuals, not one of them with a single redeemable bone on their bodies. In that regard, the film clearly takes the easy way out by failing to provide us with any moral quandaries. At best, it’s a minor distraction, and if you compare it to any of the previous entries in the series, it understandably falls flat, but in my opinion it’s not the turkey the mainstream press have made it out to be.

Unfortunately, with their BD release, Momentum have continued their tradition of espousing a fondness for MPEG-2 video and lossy audio. The transfer is actually reasonably pleasing, with an acceptable (if not stellar - it’s definitely filtered) level of detail and accurate blacks (I actually feel compelled to point this out after the overly grey Butterfly on a Wheel, viewed previously). Alas, there are some occasional but quite prominent compression artefacts (see Example 7 for the worst instance I could spot), and the quantisation noise introduced by the MPEG-2 encoding prevents the grain from looking entirely natural. Finally, a handful of moments appear to suffer from reduced detail and a distracting amount of ringing (see Examples 3 and 6). These moments, which I suspect are the result of monkeying around at the DI stage, don’t last for long, but they do mean that the overall image is rather inconsistent. 7/10

Hannibal Rising
studio: Momentum; country: UK; region code: ABC; codec: MPEG-2;
file size: 17.4 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 19.18 Mbit/sec

Hannibal Rising Hannibal Rising Hannibal Rising Hannibal Rising Hannibal Rising Hannibal Rising Hannibal Rising Hannibal Rising Hannibal Rising Hannibal Rising Hannibal Rising Hannibal Rising Hannibal Rising Hannibal Rising Hannibal Rising

 
Posted: Sunday, February 08, 2009 at 11:41 PM
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

Butterfly on a Wheel Blu-ray impressions

Blu-ray

If there’s anything good to have come out of the fact that Zammo has gone into administration, it’s that the branches that are still open are flogging their remaining goods at cut rates. Books, clothing and posters are all going for 50% of the advertised prices, and there are some fine deals to be had on DVDs and BDs as well. In the case of the latter, I picked up the UK release of Butterfly on a Wheel on Wednesday - a blind buy that didn’t pay off. (I also snagged Donkey Punch and George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead.) This suspense thriller stars Gerard Butler, he of 300 who’s good at looking constipated and emitting gutteral roars (in 300, it was “Sparrrrtaaaaaaa!”; in this film, he just bellows “Aaaaabbyyyyy!” a lot), and Pierece Brosnan, who is under the misconception that growing a couple of days’ worth of stubble and putting on a horrendously overdone Northern Irish accent makes him seem menacing. Unfortunately, it’s nothing more than a bland and improbably plotted piece of glossy, slickly-produced twaddle that should have gone straight to TV… and indeed it did in the US, where it was released under the title of Shattered. After we watched it (on Friday), my brother turned to me and said “This is the worst film I’ve ever seen on Blu-ray.” Had I had the presence of mind, I would have reminded him that we also watched Norbit, but I guess my brain had been turned to mush by preceding 95 minutes of tedium.

Oh well, at least it’s got Maria Bello in her pants. Actually, screw it, even that isn’t enough to save this train wreck.

For what it’s worth, Icon’s all-regions disc is actually pretty good, albeit with an irritating audio sync issue which affects both the lossy Dolby Digital and lossless DTS-HD Master Audio tracks. The AVC encode suffers from little if any noticeable compression issues, and detail is, for the most part, quite pleasing. The whole image has been slightly pre-filtered, with ringing visible around high contrast edges, such the letterbox bars and the on-screen credits, but, while this is less than ideal, it doesn’t affect the look of the film as negatively as something like Kung Fu Panda. On the other hand, the blacks look quite milky, although it’s unclear whether this is a fault in the original photography or a problem specific to the transfer. (I’m leaning towards the former, since the black screen against which the first few credits are overlaid is “proper” black, unlike, say, Silent Hill, where the black level is off from beginning to end.) 8/10

Butterfly on a Wheel
studio: Icon; country: UK; region code: ABC; codec: AVC;
file size: 19.6 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 29.61 Mbit/sec

Butterfly on a Wheel Butterfly on a Wheel Butterfly on a Wheel Butterfly on a Wheel Butterfly on a Wheel Butterfly on a Wheel Butterfly on a Wheel Butterfly on a Wheel Butterfly on a Wheel Butterfly on a Wheel Butterfly on a Wheel Butterfly on a Wheel Butterfly on a Wheel Butterfly on a Wheel Butterfly on a Wheel

 
Posted: Sunday, February 08, 2009 at 5:46 PM
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | General | TV | Technology
 

Blu-ray review: Domino

Blu-ray
While the film itself is, to put it politely, an acquired taste, Warner and New Line have served up a better package for Domino on Blu-ray than we had any reason to expect. A solid package all round, it trounces the previous DVD release in terms of audio-visual quality and matches it as far as bonus content is concerned.

Prepare to have your eyes seared and your eardrums perforated in glorious HD as I review New Line and Warner’s recent Region ABC (US) Blu-ray Disc release of Domino.

Review at DVD Times.

 
Posted: Friday, February 06, 2009 at 10:58 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Reviews
 

Domino Blu-ray impressions

Blu-ray

I wasn’t particularly impressed with Domino, Tony Scott’s loose biopic of real-life bounty hunter Domino Harvey, when I first saw it back in 2006. In fact, my overall recommendation as regards this giddy fever dream was “Save your money for real drugs.” That said, it’s not a film I forgot in a hurry, and, when it was released on Blu-ray last month, I found myself with a hankering to see it again. My copy arrived on Monday, and I watched it last night. Admittedly, I enjoyed it somewhat more than on my first viewing, but I still found the stylistic elements (particularly the self-conscious editing style and eye-searing contrast) irritating and the script muddled and of the patchwork variety. Despite this, though, it managed to hold my attention throughout, and on some level Keira Knightley is actually quite effective as the gun-toting bounty hunter with a silver spoon in her mouth.

As for the disc itself, I can’t say I was expecting a great deal, given that it is the joint product of Warner and New Line, who together hold one of the most dubious track records in the HDM world. Much to my surprise, therefore, Domino actually turned out to be a very impressive-looking release. It’s sometimes tough to rate image quality with a film as stylised as this, particularly given the deliberately unnatural colours and contrast, the rarely-static camera and the deliberate “degradation” techniques such as the introduction of colour bleeding (see Example 13). Still, my overall impression is that what we’re seeing here is mostly excellent and a faithful representation of the film’s intended look. Unfortunately, a frequent Warner shortcoming - inadequate bit rate - rears its ugly head here in the form of a smattering of compression artefacts (see Example 8 for the most noticeable instance). Otherwise, though, it’s all good. 9.5/10

Domino
studio: New Line/Warner; country: USA; region code: ABC; codec: VC-1;
file size: 18.5GB; average bit rate (including audio): 20.8 Mbit/sec

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Posted: Thursday, February 05, 2009 at 12:13 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 

Monster Blu-ray impressions

Blu-ray

A deeply underwhelming looking disc, this. Okay, so the film was never intended to look like a million dollars, but even taking into account the deliberately gritty-looking visual style, this is still a pretty grotty-looking disc. There may at some point have been detail in the image, but a significant amount of it has been eroded away by grain reduction, which, coupled with some ropey encoding, results in an unnatural, digital-looking image. Artefacting is especially prevalent in the shadows, resulting in an image that is quite unpleasant to look at a lot of the time. Daylight scenes generally fare slightly better, but even these don’t appear too hot thanks to the lack of detail, which prevents all but the close-ups from looking impressive. Frankly, it has the look of one of those muddy HDTV broadcasts that you can’t stop yourself from involuntarily shuddering at when you see captures of them at the AV Science Forum. 5/10

Monster
studio: EMS; country: Germany; region code: ABC; codec: VC-1;
file size: 18.54GB; average bit rate (including audio): 24.32 Mbit/sec

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Posted: Tuesday, February 03, 2009 at 9:39 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Technology
 
 

 
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