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Mamma Mia! BD impressions


If you don't like Mamma Mia!, you're a miserable git. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Well, okay, I'm not pushing for a law to be passed forbidding any negative criticism of this deliriously-stupid-and-actually-a-bit-crap-but-still-outrageously-entertaining musical, but personally I had a great time, and I'm usually pretty cynical when it comes to stuff like this. For the record, I can't say I have an opinion on Abba one way or the other, so listening to a bunch of Hollywood A-listers massacring their greatest hits was no skin off my nose. I will say this thing, however: listening to Pierce Brosnan attempting to sing is quite possibly the funniest thing I've witnessed so far this year. You have been warned.

On to the BD, and the look of the video can best be described as "inconsistent". "Processed" is another adjective that springs to mind, as is "baked", at least as far as the flesh tones are concerned. The film's look is obviously deliberately stylised, and I suspect that all the flaws are the result of tinkering at the DI stage rather than any foulplay when the BD transfer was created. The look varies wildly on a shot by shot basis, with some looking quite natural indeed, with a nice amount of inherent film grain, and others looking scrubbed beyond the point of recognition. Our old friend the airbrush crops up on several occasions... well, basically every time Meryl Streep appears in close-up (look under her eyes - oh my!). Poor old Meryl is not the only victim, though - the youthful Amanda Seyfried gets the same treatment on occasions, and at times the whole screen appear to have been molested. It's not exactly The Counterfeiters, is it? 7/10

Mamma Mia!
studio: Universal; country: UK; region code: ABC; codec: VC-1;
file size: 29.2 GB; average bit rate (including audio): 38.50 Mbit/sec

Mamma Mia! Mamma Mia! Mamma Mia! Mamma Mia! Mamma Mia! Mamma Mia! Mamma Mia! Mamma Mia! Mamma Mia! Mamma Mia! Mamma Mia! Mamma Mia! Mamma Mia! Mamma Mia! Mamma Mia!

Posted: Friday, April 03, 2009 at 10:39 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: BD Impressions | Blu-ray | Cinema | Music | Technology

That was the year that was


With another year been and gone, now seems like a good time to sit back and reflect on the past 365 days. I've experienced some highs and lows, the lowest of which would undoubtedly be losing my last two surviving grandparents in the space of a few months. On the upside, I feel that I've begun to make real progress with my PhD, which is finally evolving into something tangible, the process of which will no doubt continue in 2009. Otherwise, I can't say that very much has changed for me. I continued to work part-time in my job at the library, with the various rounds of staff transfers mercifully passing me by and life continuing as before. Is it my dream job? No, I should say not, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't go through periods of finding it (and the Great British public) incredibly frustrating. However, all things considered, I can think of plenty other less desirable jobs I could be doing. At least this one is convenient and, all things considered, reasonably well-paid.

Zeros and Ones

Logitech Z-5500 Digital

In relation to the battle between rival high definition formats Blu-ray and HD DVD, last year's annual round-up included the statement "With no end to the format war in sight any time soon, 2008 looks set to be another interesting year." Well, it seemed that I'd barely finished writing those words when the HD DVD camp threw in the towel. To be honest, the writing had been on the wall for some time, but several people, myself included, still adopted an "It ain't over 'til it's over" mentality in the early days of 2008. With Warner's abandonment of the format only a few days later, however, the writing was well and truly on the wall. Within days, the game was up and the remaining HD DVD-supporting majors (Universal and Paramount) were pledging allegiance to the Blu flag. In any event, once the stragglers got up and running, it turned out to be a pretty damn good year for HD content, with some truly amazing transfers seeing the light of day, while the arrival of several high profile titles such as The Godfather trilogy and The Dark Knight, plus the certainty afforded by there now only being a single HD format, undoubtedly contributed to more people taking the plunge and lending their support to the platform.

I bought myself a new computer - a full tower system after my brief dalliance with the world of small form factors the previous year. After relying on my more technologically competent relatives in the past, I was quite pleased with myself for managing to build the whole thing from scratch myself - seriously, deciphering some of those poorly translated user manuals practically requires a diploma in itself. I also upgraded my PC's aged Creative audio system with some nice new Logitech speakers and a veritable beast of a subwoofer. I also ultimately succeeded in going region-free for Blu-ray playback, thanks to SlySoft's AnyDVD HD software, allowing me to use my system as a multi-region HD home theatre PC.

At the Pictures


This year, my brother put together a pretty impressive projection system, accompanied by a meaty sound setup, allowing us to enjoy a film-watching environment that more closely approximates the big screen experience. Despite this, however, my overall viewing figures were somewhat reduced in 2008 compared with 2007 (themselves a reduction from 2006). I maintain a log of all the films I watch, and the total tally for 2008 is 128, 67 of which were first time viewings. The increasingly wide array of available Blu-ray titles certainly led to me taking increased risks with titles I hadn't previously seen, but at the same time caused me to be far less likely to tune in to television broadcasts of films. (I watched 56 films on Blu-ray, 44 on DVD and 14 on HD DVD, versus 7 on TV.)

I got the opportunity to see several what might be termed "significant" films, among them the great - 28 Weeks Later, Across the Universe, Atonement, Bonnie and Clyde, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Dark City, Eastern Promises, Enchanted, Fight Club, The Fly (the David Cronenberg version), Juno, The Life Before Her Eyes, The Maltese Falcon, A Matter of Loaf and Death, Mean Girls, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Orphanage, Persepolis, The Plague Dogs, Rabid Dogs, The Shining, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Volver, Wall-E - the good - The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Almost Famous, Blow, The Brave One, Chungking Express, La Femme Publique, Grindhouse, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Kiki's Delivery Service, Memento, My Blueberry Nights, Nikita, Resident Evil: Extinction, School of Rock, Shaun of the Dead, La Vie en Rose - the disappointing - 30 Days of Night, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, The Dark Knight, Doomsday, Gone Baby Gone, Running Scared, Tekkonkinkreet - and the downright dreadful - Freddy Got Fingered, Omen IV: The Awakening and, last but not least, Seytan.

Best film I saw this year? Definitely Atonement. Worst? Oh, come on, do I even have to answer that? I saw Freddy Got Fingered, for god's sake.



Much to my chagrin, my reading this year was pretty limited. In addition to perusing a number of academic tomes as part of my PhD research, I sat down with The Field of Blood, The Last Breath, Garnethill, Exile and Resolution by Denise Mina, Day After Day by Carlo Lucarelli, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P.D. James, Demo by Alison Miller, The Deceiver and The Fourth Protocol by Frederick Forsythe, and Above Suspicion by Lynda La Plante. I also re-read Mercy Alexander by George Tiffin, and tucked into The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins - the latter serving as my sole piece of non-fiction reading that had no direct relation to my PhD. I also started Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carré, a celebrated classic that I must admit I'm making very slow progress with indeed.

Song and Dance

I picked up the following CDs: Atonement (Dario Marianelli), Echoes of War: The Music of Blizzard Entertainment (Eminence Symphony Orchestra), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Pink and the Lily (Sandi Thom) and Planet Terror (Robert Rodriguez).

Posted: Thursday, January 01, 2009 at 5:36 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Books | Cinema | DVD | General | HD DVD | Music | PhD | Reviews | Technology

Well, at least I didn't have to buy an iPod

World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King soundtrack

Earlier this month, I wrote an article on game music, listing my ten favourite pieces. One of these was the backing music to the introductory cinematic for the latest expansion set to Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft juggernaut, Wrath of the Lich King. The game itself was released in both vanilla and Collector's Edition variants on November 13th, the latter containing a soundtrack CD showcasing 21 tracks from the game, composed by Russell Brower, Derek Duke and long-time Blizzard composer Glenn Stafford, who seems to have made a return to the game universe that gave him his big break after a brief venture with Sony writing music for the rival Everquest franchise. When I wrote the aforementioned article, I lamented the fact that there was no way to listen to the cinematic's music without voice-over narration and sound effects in the way. It seems my pleas were heard, as Track 3 of the CD is that very piece of music in isolated form.

Given my thoughts on World of Warcraft, buying this release (and the earlier The Burning Crusade expansion, which is also required in order to play), in either its standard or Collector's Edition guise, was out of the question. However, in a gesture that seems almost like tossing a bone to people like me who don't like the game but love the music, Blizzard have released the soundtrack to download via their iTunes store for the price of $9.99 (or £7.99 if you're in the UK). It does mean installing iTunes, a program I've never been particularly crazy about, but on the plus side it comes in Apple's iTunes Plus format, which offers AAC encodes of the tracks at a reasonable bit rate of 256 Kbps and is completely DRM-free, meaning that you can easily re-encode them to a format of your choice and use them in your preferred music player. Okay, so the quality won't be as good as proper uncompressed RedBook audio, but given the cost of the Collector's Edition, and the speed with which copies of it have been snatched up, it's a reasonable sacrifice to make in order to get what is, in my opinion, the more desirable component of that release - the music.

Posted: Sunday, November 16, 2008 at 9:41 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: DRM | Games | Music | Technology | Web

La Femme Publique LE looks great!

La Femme Publique: Limited Edition

Here's a special peek at the contents of the Limited Edition of Andrzej Zulawski's La Femme Publique, recently given its first ever English-friendly DVD release. You can click the image above for a closer look at the package, which includes the DVD, a soundtrack CD, a sizeable booklet, an individually numbered certificate of authenticity, and ten black and white reproductions of Japanese publicity stills.

Posted: Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 10:00 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Mondo Vision | Music

Great game music

Music Games

One aspect of the games industry that I feel doesn't get the attention itself is its music. Steve Townsley of film music review site Tracksounds says that he pays particular attention to the gaming scene not because he is by nature a gamer but because he considers it a "proving ground" for composers from which "musical talent seems to flourish". I completely agree with him. Whereas movie soundtracks are becoming increasingly bland and derivative, often dominated by what the industry has termed "sonic wallpaper", I often find myself marvelling at the richness being achieved by composers in the gaming field, virtually none of whom are household names but who frequently outdo their better-known colleagues in the film industry. A few game composers have crossed over to the world of movies (perhaps most notably Michael Giacchino), but by and large there is little back and forth between the two media.

With that in mind, I decided to put together a list of my top ten pieces of game music. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and my tastes are such that I can go through a period of overdosing on one particular piece or soundtrack, before becoming burned out on it and latching on to something else. It's also, unavoidably, coloured somewhat by my genre preferences - RPGs and RTSs on the PC, mainly - so no doubt there are a whole bunch of great golf game scores I've missed out on... or perhaps not. I should also point out that I haven't played nearly as many games as I've seen movies, so I'm sure I've missed some real corkers out there. This is particularly problematic when you consider that very few game soundtracks are released on CD or to download, meaning that more often than not the only way to hear a game's score is to dig out the CD-ROM and re-install it.

Still, after much consideration, I came up with the list below. I set myself a rule of only choosing one track from a single game, in order to avoid the list from becoming overly populated with pieces from a small number of titles (there are at least a dozen tracks in Icewind Dale that put most movie scores to shame). I also opted not to order it in any way (well, actually, that's a lie - I sorted it alphabetically). Because these scores are not exactly well-known outside the immediate circles of fans of the games in the question, I've linked to online clips of the tracks I've nominated wherever possible. Bear in mind, though, that their quality in many cases will be less than stellar, concealing the subtle nuances of the original compositions.

[Continue reading "Great game music"...]

Posted: Wednesday, November 05, 2008 at 10:55 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Games | Music

Softly, softly

Diablo III

This morning, I blew the dust off my Diablo and Diablo II CDs (remember when games came on CDs?) and went for a spin with both of them. Watching the Diablo III gameplay movie got me thinking about the ways in which the gameplay mechanics have changed since the original Diablo in 1996, and what this might mean for the third instalment.



The first game in the series is a pretty basic game on the surface. One of the hallmarks of the Diablo series as a whole has been its straightforward gameplay mechanics, stripping away a lot of the daunting complexity of a traditional role-playing game and combining what remains with fun, satisfying action elements, but this first outing is the most simplistic of the lot. The multiple act, multi-dungeon structure of the second and, it would seem, third games is nowhere to be found; nor are the weird and wonderful character classes like the Necromancer and Witch Doctor. Instead, players get to choose from one of three broad fantasy archetypes - a Warrior, a Rogue or a Sorcerer - and do battle in a single, multi-level dungeon, descending gradually deeper into the earth.

In many ways, though, simplicity is its greatest strength. This is a game that knows exactly what it's meant to do, and more importantly, so does the player. Right from the beginning, you know that your mission is to make your way deeper and deeper underground until you ultimately face and defeat the Lord of Terror himself, Diablo. The tone is remarkably consistent: everything is dank and murky, swathed in shadow, and the atmosphere is incredibly foreboding. This feeling of dread is achieved in many ways, and it's not just the gloomy visuals and highly evocative sound design. Movement in Diablo is rather slow-paced, meaning that, should you be overwhelmed by insurmountable odds, running away is rarely an option. And it's easy to be overwhelmed, particularly if you play the rather frail Rogue and Sorcerer classes. If you aren't looking where you're going, chances are you'll find yourself slap bang in the middle of a pack of angry monsters, in which case it's often game over. This ensures that you're constantly on your toes, gingerly creeping down each corridor and round each bend, mindful of the fact that you could, at any moment, be signing your own death warrant.

Diablo II

Diablo II

Superficially, Diablo II is a direct continuation in every way. It retains the same basic premise and gameplay mechanics as its predecessor, but I can't help feeling that the developers changed the tone in a subtle way. With the first Diablo, it quickly became clear that people liked doing two things: killing monsters and collecting loot. So, thought the designers, let's give the players more of what they want. Let's throw in more monsters and more loot, and let's have people get to the monsters and loot quicker. To lessen the wait between dispatching one group of enemies and the next, players were given the ability to run, which had the immediate result of doubling (at least) the speed at which the game was played.

Unfortunately, this had the effect of stripping away a lot of the tension. The ability to run made it possible to stage a hasty retreat should you stumble into the middle of a gaggle of bloodthirsty monsters. In other words, you could afford to be more reckless, which in turn made the game more of a clickfest than ever before. Add to this a reduced emphasis on dungeon crawling with the addition of wide open outdoor maps, and the game not only lost a lot of its tension, it more or less completely removed the feeling of claustrophobia. Likewise, much of the atmosphere created by the first game's moody locales and limited colour palette fell by the wayside thanks to the sun-scorched deserts and lush green jungles which players found themselves exploring. Put simply, Diablo II was a lighter, brisker, less tactically-oriented game than its predecessor.

Now, I love Diablo II. I consider it one of the greatest games ever created, and despite being eight years old, it remains permanently installed on my hard drive, and I continue to sink countless hours into frying skeletons to a crisp and beating zombies to a bloody pulp. When I want to whittle away a few minutes, or indeed a few hours, without having to tax my brain too much, chances are I'll be reaching for the Diablo II CD. But, if I want a deeper, more immersive, more mentally taxing experience, it's the original Diablo for me.

Diablo III

Diablo III

Flash forward to the present day, and Diablo III has just been announced. Now, without any hands-on experience with the game, and with numerous changes no doubt due to take place between now and the release date, it's impossible to be sure of anything, but, with the help of the screenshots and particularly the gameplay trailer that have been released, it's possible to speculate as to how Diablo III will compare to its predecessors in terms of atmosphere and gameplay style.

While watching the gameplay trailer, it's abundantly clear, right from the get go, that the designers are intent on stressing the quantity factor, throwing massive hordes of monsters at the player, to be dispatched in a highly visceral show of splattering blood and squelching sound effects. So far, so Diablo II, and it's also clear that we're once again going to find ourselves playing in a combination of tight indoor and crowded outdoor environments. The official list of features states that players will explore the world of Sanctuary (with an emphasis on world) "in gorgeous 3D", which suggests another globe-trotting yarn. No tightly-controlled Diablo I-style focus this time round, then.

That said, much of what has been stated and demonstrated in the gameplay trailer suggests that the developers are intent on pushing for a return to tactics rather than simply wading in and popping potions while spamming one or two spells. There appears to be a commendable emphasis on enemies working together to bring the player down, using their skills in conjunction and therefore requiring the player to use all the abilities at his or her disposal in order to survive. That gets my heartfelt approval, given the extent to which Diablo II is populated by cookie cutter builds relying on only a couple of overpowered abilities.

Likewise, I commented yesterday that the new game seemed to herald a return to the gloomy, foreboding atmosphere of the first Diablo. This is a particularly impressive achievement given that the colour palette is more saturated then ever before (something which has, rather predictably, already drawn its fair share of professional whiners who hate the notion of the game coming in colours other than black, grey and brown). Perhaps not surprisingly, this is only really evident in the interior levels, with the outdoor areas seeming lighter and breezier, but, provided there is plenty of dungeon crawling, I have no complaints about that. Particularly impressive is the sense of scale: at any given time, it's hard not to be impressed by the high walls and expansive nature of the maps. This is especially evident when traversing higher ground, given that the truly 3D nature of the new engine allows the player do look down at areas below him or her, shrouded in fog and shadow. Sound design will, I suspect, once again play a key role in maintaining a dark mood, and I'm crossing my fingers that Blizzard are able to get Matt Uelmen, composer for the first two games, to once again provide the music.

Posted: Sunday, June 29, 2008 at 11:30 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Games | Music | Technology | Web

Why I hate sound cards

Auzen X-Fi Prelude 7.1

Over the last few days, I've been getting to grips with my new system. So far, in all but a single area, I'm 100% satisfied. It runs fast, it runs quiet, and it's reliable... until, that is, you put sound into the equation. I specifically picked out Auzentech's X-Fi Prelude 7.1 sound card for this new system, because it offers real-time encoding to Dolby Digital (Dolby Digital Live), as well as featuring Creative's X-Fi chipset, and therefore being compatible with their EAX 5.0 hardware audio acceleration (third parties can include EAX support for their sound cards, but only in software and only up to version 2.0). Other sound cards support Dolby Digital Live, and others (i.e. those from Creative) support EAX 5.0, but to the best of my knowledge this is the only one which supports both.

Unfortunately, to call the Dolby Digital Live implementation buggy at present would be a massive understatement. Every so often, the Dolby Digital stream seems to simply die, leaving me with an intensely irritating endless loop of the same snippet of sound being repeated over and over, a bit like a record that has become stuck. Disabling and re-enabling Dolby Digital Live fixes this, but this is not exactly a viable solution when it happens every four or five minutes, as it did when I played the demo of Bioshock last night. It also happens when I'm watching TV via Windows Media Center or playing a movie or video file in PowerDVD or Windows Media Player, which rules out this being a software problem. It's also not a problem with my audio receiver, as the issue occurs even when it isn't switched on. Other people have reported this problem too, and some have contacted Auzentech directly about the matter. One posted the manufacturer's response:

Thank you for contacting Auzentech.

We have concluded that the DDL driver is still unstable.
(Crackle, Noise, To get sound back, we need to re-check the DDL)
We are working on the next driver continously and bring out the conclusion as soon as possible.

We appreciate your support and patience.

On the plus side, at least they acknowledge that there is a problem. On the downside, this post is more than three months old, and more driver updates have come along since then which have failed to solve the problem. Perhaps the DTS Interactive (the DTS equivalent of Dolby Digital Live) support which is supposed to be getting added before the end of the second quarter of 2008 (which, by my reckoning, gives Auzentech just under a month to make good on this promise), will be more stable? Until then, I've disabled my Prelude and gone back to my old Audigy.

Oh, and, for various reasons, it's clear that I'm going to have to keep my installation of Windows XP around for certain tasks. One of these, currently, is playing Hellgate: London, which, on the Audigy, only seems to be able to output 2-channel audio in Vista. (With the Prelude, I was getting full 5.1 support, but what use is that when the sound is constantly getting stuck in an endless loop?) Another is playing Unreal Tournament 3, which appears to have a bug which causes the game to crash after a few minutes' play when using the OpenAL audio mode. The solution? Disable OpenAL. All well and good, but, in Vista, you need OpenAL to be enabled in order to get 5.1 audio. Ah, sound cards. Don't you just love them?

(Incidentally, I can't get the DirectX 10 mode to work in Hellgate. When it's enabled, I am greeted with a blank screen when I attempt to run it, occasionally with an error message telling me that an "unknown software exception" has occurred. Apparently, from what I've read on various forums, getting DirectX 10 to work with this game is basically a case of pot luck. It's becoming more and more obvious that Hellgate's coding is a joke.)

The final thing that I need XP for is transferring music to my MP3 player. No, I'm not kidding. Do you remember how, a while back, I posted about problems with video playback in Vista? Originally, I thought that the culprit was the ArcSoft TotalMedia TV capture software I had installed. Well, this morning I discovered that the blame should in fact be laid at the door of Sony's SonicStage software, which I need to install in order to get my computer to interface with my MP3 player (curse Sony and their stupid proprietary formats). The moment I installed it, my video playback went belly-up. Uninstalling it didn't fix things, but performing a roll-back via System Restore did. Just to make sure this wasn't a coincidence, I repeated the trick three times, and each time, video playback went wonky as soon as the SonicStage installer had finished working its magic. So now, if I want decent video playback in Vista, I have to use XP to transfer MP3s to my player. The thing to do, I suspect, is to get my hands on a new MP3 player (Sony's more recent players allow you to simply drag and drop music on to them without having to deal with any proprietary software), but I've just bought a new computer, so you'll forgive me if I don't feel like shelling out yet more money for new hardware.

Posted: Sunday, June 01, 2008 at 1:56 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Games | Music | Technology

Sex and Death

I would expect a suicide note to be heartfelt and dramatic. Not this one, though. Wouldn't be very much in keeping with me, would it? I think someone may have forgotten to fit me with a heart. I can't even think of anything worth writing. I am summed up by three piece of paper: a birthday card from a father who never loved me, a Christmas card from a man who I foolishly thought did, and a visiting order from my brother. My family have to order me to visit them, and still I don't. What a hate-filled person I am.

It's not much of a legacy, is it? Maybe I can go down in history as author of the dullest suicide note ever.

I tried to be a good doctor. Really, I did. But it was too hard. It beat me, and I'm so ashamed. I never wanted anything else out of life, so there is no life. I am so sorry to the patients I caused suffering; to their families, my sincerest apologies. I don't belong here. (Casualty 22.25, "Sex and Death")

Casualty is now just over half way through its 22nd series, and now seems like as good an opportunity as any to examine its status, particularly given that last Saturday's episode, the 25th of the series, entitled Sex and Death (a nickname that would be quite appropriate for the programme as a whole throughout its "dark period" of Series 16 through 21), seems destined to go down in history as a real eye-opener.

I previously wrote about how much of a turnaround the two part season premiere constituted, only to be disappointed as so many of the promises of the first two episodes turned out to be empty. By and large, my observations remain the same as they were the last time I wrote about Casualty: the first two episodes were excellent, heralding a real return to form, but, while the standard has, on the whole, been higher than it has been for a very long time, the quality is just too uneven, with every decent episode being countered with a complete dud, and a general feeling that, for all the promises of a return to socio-political issues and medical drama, the most of the current writers (many of whom are more generally associated with soap operas like Doctors and EastEnders, or even, if rumours are to be believed, writing students submitting scripts as part of their annual assessment) just don't have sufficient skill or experience to cope with this style of writing.

Sex and Death

Above: Sex and Death.

The 24th episode, Before a Fall, brought to a head the ongoing storyline of Ruth Winters (Georgia Taylor), an F2 (a junior doctor in her second year out of medical school) and Lily Allen lookalike (seriously, the resemblance is uncanny - luckily, though, Ruth doesn't sing). She first appeared at the beginning of Series 22 and, from the start, she was established as cold, rude, arrogant and, for all her textbook knowledge, worryingly incompetent when it came to actual patient treatment. Her actions had already led to two near fatalities, plus the paralysis of another patient, the latter leading to her passing the buck on to the nurse who had been assisting in the patient's treatment, resulting in said nurse's resignation (although, given that the nurse in question was one of the worst characters ever to grace the show, I doubt that many people mourned her departure). In Before a Fall, however, Ruth's incorrect diagnosis led to a patient's death, which seemed to be the final nail in the coffin, leading to her returning to her halls of residence and hanging herself. The episode ended with the team desperately trying to resuscitate her. (The character is currently in a coma and will presumably make a full recovery, given that the actress has recently signed an 18-month contract.)

Sex and Death

Above: Sex and Death.

Sex and Death, meanwhile, picked up the story where it left off, and, in a radical departure for the normally formulaic Casualty, went back over the previous five months in flashback, filling in many of the events which occurred off-screen and led to Ruth's decision to attempt suicide. It really was an exceptionally well put together episode, both in terms of Ian Barnes' direction (the blue-tinged lighting and use of Arvo Pärt's composition Spiegel im Spiegel, in particular, were gut-wrenching) and Georgia Taylor's performance, while the script, by Mark Catley (who also wrote the two-part series opener), did the impossible and actually made me feel somewhat sorry for Ruth. Unfortunately, feeling sorry for a character is not the same thing as liking them or excusing their behaviour, which I suspect was the episode's key aim. Despite clearly establishing the character as a tragic figure (her father was abusive; her mother committed suicide; her brother is in prison; she was bullied at school; she was utterly exhausted from working long hours; the one colleague she allowed herself to open up to rejected her advances; a cancer patient whom she befriended ultimately died), none of this changes the fact that she was a callous bitch who endangered several lives, ruined one co-worker's career and repeatedly rejected others' offers of friendship and assistance.

Sex and Death

Above: Sex and Death.

Unfortunately, this seems to be par for the course in Casualty these days: introduce a character as completely unlikeable, and then, a few months later, do an about-turn and heap misery after misery upon them in an attempt to make the audience like them. (A similar technique was used, to an even greater degree, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer's sixth season.) The method demonstrated in this episode, using flashbacks to establish a sort of double life for Ruth, almost enters into retcon territory, effectively telling us that what was shown for the last six months was in fact been only half the story. I don't object to surprise revelations within reason, and, despite it being clear in retrospect that this must have been quite extensively planned from the start (at least judging by the manner in which seemingly innocuous scenes sampled from the previous 24 episodes suddenly took on a different meaning when mixed in with new material), it reminds me a lot of the sort of trick the writers of Angel used to pull all the time, suddenly announcing that an entire episode had actually been a hallucination, or that a character's behaviour was in fact nothing but a charade, despite the viewers not being given any clues with which to work this out for themselves. Had more hints been given towards Ruth's mental breakdown throughout the previous episodes, I would probably have looked on this episode more kindly, but as it is, it feels almost like rewriting a character with little or no foreshadowing whatsoever, and it's hard not to feel manipulated. The Series 12 episode Love Me Tender (my second favourite of all time) did a much better job of revealing the reason for a character's coldness in a genuinely heartbreaking manner while still having given the audience ample opportunity to work out what had happened beforehand.

It's an achievement for Casualty if for no reason other than for successfully jettisoning the formula in a way previously only matched by the non-linear continuity of Barbara Machin's two-parter last Christmas, but I remain undecided on how I actually feel about the end result. Certainly, it was all extremely well put together, and I suspect will remain one of the high points of the current series, but I think that, in resorting to such blatant manipulation and rewriting (or concealing) of facts, the writers have broken a certain unarticulated contract with the audience, which, in a sense, is really not playing fair.

Oh well. Right now, I'm most looking forward to the imminent departure of the pompous git known as Harry Harper (Simon MacCorkindale), whose tenure as the department's senior consultant has been like listening to nails scraping on a blackboard non-stop for the last six years, and the impending return of Charlie Fairhead (Derek Thompson), who has been on another of his sabbaticals since Christmas. Maybe he'll find a way to kick this sorry lot into order.

Posted: Tuesday, February 12, 2008 at 12:12 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Music | Reviews | TV

Hello, it's me, I'm back from the sea

Well, not literally, because I wasn't anywhere near the sea. But it is indeed me, and I am indeed back. As I mentioned previously, I was away at my gran's funeral, which was held down in Warwick, meaning that we had to head down a day early and come back a day late. I'm not sure what I can really say about it ("I'd give this funeral a 6/10" doesn't sound quite right), except that the cremation was set to a piece of music by Ennio Morricone, chosen by my aunt. Unfortunately, it wasn't anything daring like the opening title theme to Four Flies on Grey Velvet, which would have been an eye-opener indeed (although I do think Come un Madrigale could have worked), but rather a piece from one of his Hollywood projects, The Mission.

Anyway, over the last three days, I've spent about twenty hours sitting in the back of a car, so I'm understandably not feeling entirely loquacious at the moment. Just a quick note to say that the French HD DVD release of Asterix and the Vikings and the US Blu-ray release of Volver were waiting for me when I got back this evening, so I'll be discussing them in due course. Hopefully tomorrow, but I've had very little sleep over the last couple of nights, due to a variety of factors, so I'll be hitting the hay before too long. I need to be up at 6:30 for work anyway.

PS. Thanks for all the well-wishing, people. For those who asked, no, this was not exactly an unexpected death. My gran had Dementia and had been going south for a long time. She more or less spent the last month of her life unconscious, and I think most of us would have agreed that it was better for her to go now than to hang on in there without any real quality of life.

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2008 at 7:44 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | Dario Argento | General | Gialli | HD DVD | Music

The Year in Review, 2007

Well, another year has been and gone. We're all a year older, but probably not much wiser. As usual, I'm going to do a brief run-down of various events and issues that I've touched on in my news posts over the year. It's generally not my style to comment on current affairs, so I won't be saying anything about the murder of Benazir Bhutto, Tony Blair's departure from office or anything like that. This year, I've decided to split things into several sections.

Life Itself

Life™ was somewhat different for me this year. The biggest change was, fairly obviously, that, at the end of March, I landed myself a full-time job, working for the NHS on their Smoking Cessation programme. I spent four and a half months working thirty-seven and a half hours a week in an office, entering data and phoning people to ask them whether they had managed to successfully stop smoking, and, while I'm not about to claim that this was the most unpleasant way anyone could ever spend four and a half months, I won't deny that I was extremely relieved to see the back of the place in August, at which point I went into a part-time Library Assistant position at the Gallery of Modern Art. To say that I find this job vastly preferable to my previous one would be the understatement of the year, and that's not just because I work fewer hours.

On a not entirely unrelated note, my application for funding for my PhD was unsuccessful, but my four and a half months of back-breaking (I kid) labour with the NHS was enough to pay for my first year of part-time study, and more besides. I started the PhD, on portrayals of gender in the giallo (following on from my MLitt dissertation on the same area), at the end of September and, while illness in November prevented me from making as much headway as I would have liked, the work that I've done so far has certainly gone a long way towards getting me back into the swing of things, academically speaking, and I look forward to properly delving into my subject of choice over the next twelve months.

Zeros and Ones

HD DVD and Blu-ray

The big technological issue of 2007 was the ongoing battle between the two rival high definition home video formats, HD DVD and Blu-ray, and the perpetual game of teeter-totter in which each format continued to vie for supremacy, engaging in a conflict of words as much as sales. A war in which what your opposition doesn't have is every bit as important as what you do have, the biggest surprise was undoubtedly Paramount's shock decision, in August, to ditch Blu-ray entirely and concentrate on HD DVD. With no end to the format war in sight any time soon, 2008 looks set to be another interesting year.

For me, my most significant purchase was that of a Japanese Playstation 3, reneging on my single format stance and embracing neutrality. Personally speaking, the balance continues to lie firmly in favour of HD DVD in terms of exclusive titles (a fact only compounded by the aforementioned Paramount decision), but I can't deny that it's nice to be able to own and watch high definition copies of Casino Royale, The Descent and Ratatouille.

I also bought three additional pieces of hardware: a new desktop PC in May, an Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on drive in July (to replace my clunky and oversized stand-alone HD-A1 player), and a Blu-ray enabled laptop in October. In the case of the latter, my original intention was to use it primarily for PhD work, although, in reality, I've got just as much, if not more, use out of it as a convenient means of taking screen captures from Blu-ray discs.

At the Pictures


Perhaps largely due to my period of full-time employment, I watched somewhat fewer films this year than in the previous two years. By my calculation, I watched a total of 164 films, 77 of which were ones that I hadn't seen before, down from 216 (99 new) in 2006. Still, I did manage to see several significant films, including the great - 2001: A Space Odyssey, Babel, Black Book, Black Sabbath, the Final Cut of Blade Runner, Blood Diamond, Children of Men, Full Metal Jacket, Grindhouse, Hot Fuzz, Inside Man, Life of Brian, The Lives of Others, Pan's Labyrinth, Ratatouille, Sicko, This Film is Not Yet Rated, Zodiac - the reasonably good - 1408, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, Brokeback Mountain, Brotherhood of the Wolf, The Bourne Ultimatum, Chicago, Crank, The Game, Hard Candy, Idiocracy, Mission Impossible, Mission Impossible III, Mother of Tears, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, Red Road, Syriana, Tideland, Transformers - and the guff - Aeon Flux, Fantastic Four, The Fountain, Futurama: Bender's Big Score!, Hostel, House of the Dead, The Matrix Revolutions, Mission Impossible II, Norbit, Paprika, A Scanner Darkly, The Simpsons Movie and the remakes of Poseidon and The Wicker Man.

Best new film I saw in the year? Either Black Book or Children of Men. Worst? Without a shadow of a doubt, Norbit.

I bought or otherwise received 118 films on disc, 42 of which were HD DVDs, 31 Blu-ray discs and 45 standard definition DVDs. I wrote 44 reviews for DVD Times, down from last year's 66. Of these, 16 were for HD DVDs, 12 for Blu-ray discs and 16 for standard definition DVDs.


The Historian

I read the following books: Legion by William Peter Blatty, The Naked Drinking Club by Rhona Cameron, Casino Royale by Ian Fleming, The Day of the Jackal and The Odessa File by Frederick Forsythe, Carrie by Stephen King, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, The Red Dahlia by Lynda La Plante, Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin, Almost Blue by Carlo Lucarelli, The Dead Hour by Denise Mina, The Mephisto Waltz by Fred Mustard Stewart, Odette by Jerrard Tickell, Mercy Alexander by George Tiffin, and The Devil Rides Out, Gateway to Hell, Strange Conflict and To the Devil - a Daughter by Dennis Wheatley. Which, now that I think about it, is a heck of a lot more than I'd expected.

Song and Dance


I snagged the following CDs: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Ennio Morricone), Blood Diamond (James Newton Howard), Cars (Randy Newman), The Descent (David Julyan), Grindhouse: Planet Terror (Robert Rodriguez/John Debney/Graeme Revell), The Iron Giant (Michael Kamen), Kingdom of Heaven (Harry Gregson-Williams), Mother of Tears (Claudio Simonetti), The Professional (Eric Serra), The Secret of NIMH (Jerry Goldsmith), Serenity (David Newman), This is the Life (Amy MacDonald), V for Vendetta (Dario Marianelli), Veronica Guerin (Harry Gregson-Williams), Why Bother? (Peter Cook and Chris Morris).

Well, all in all, I think that's it for another year. Look back on it, it reads a bit like a shopping list with the occasional personal titbit, but I suppose that's the way of things in our evil capitalist society. Anyway, here's to a great 2008 and yet more wanton spending.

Posted: Tuesday, January 01, 2008 at 4:26 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Books | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | General | Gialli | HD DVD | Music | PhD | Reviews | TV | Technology | Web

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 | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Music

Madre di musica


Messaggerie Digitali has made the score to Mother of Tears available as a downloadable album for the price of €9.90. Personally, I'm going to wait for my order of the physical CD from MovieGrooves, which should be dispatching in early November, but the Messaggerie Digitali site allows you to sample the first 30 seconds of each of the 46 tracks. Just be warned that the track titles are very spoiler-intensive.

Posted: Monday, October 29, 2007 at 11:36 AM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Music

The optimum Mother of Tears experience

Mother of Tears

Source: Dark Discussion

Dark Discussion is reporting that Optimum Releasing has picked up the UK distribution rights to Dario Argento's Mother of Tears, with a view to releasing it on DVD in February or March 2008. A general theatrical release is, unsurprisingly, not planned, but Alan Jones is apparently trying to persuade Optimum to put together a screening of the entire trilogy in London with Argento himself in attendance.

Bear in mind that Optimum are also a supporter of high definition media, currently releasing HD DVDs and also supporting Blu-ray as of November. They haven't released a whole lot of HD content as of yet, but in their most recent press release they stated an interest in responding to "the demand for a greater variety of product", so it's possibly worth contacting them and asking them to consider releasing Mother of Tears on either or both formats. I've sent them an email (, and I would strongly encourage you to do likewise.


In related news, the soundtrack to Mother of Tears is being released in Italy by the label Edel to coincide with the film's theatrical release at the end of the month. MovieGrooves hope to have copies in stock by early November, and I've already got mine pre-ordered. I'm very curious to hear the score in all its glory - I've heard mixed reports about it, but the Jerry Goldsmith/Omen-esque snippets that I've heard in various trailers and the like sound quite enticing, and, if nothing else, it suggests something of a change of pace for Argento and Claudio Simonetti.

Posted: Monday, October 22, 2007 at 7:38 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | HD DVD | Music

I've seen some bullshit in my time...

What Hi-Fi? mains cable round-up - click image to enlarge

Above: What Hi-Fi mains cable round-up - click image to enlarge

...but this has got to take the cake. My dad bought a copy of What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision, a UK technology publication that prides itself on being "The world's No. 1 home entertainment magazine". While flipping through it, Lyris alerted me to an article that reviewed and rated different brands of mains cable. My initial thought was "You must be joking", but, as I sat down and read the one-page exposé from beginning to end, my eyes began to bug out of my sockets, while my jaw grew slacker and slacker with each word I read.

I may not be the world's biggest technology expert, but I can tell you for a fact that many of the claims being made by this article are complete and utter bunkum. Seriously, read it for yourself, soak up the outright nonsense being fabricated by the (curiously enough, uncredited) writer, and then ask yourself how anyone in their right mind could seriously believe £325 to be a worthwhile investment for a power cable. I'm just surprised there wasn't an accompanying article telling you to colour in your music CDs to improve the audio clarity.

Posted: Sunday, September 02, 2007 at 2:24 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Music | Technology

The return of Captain Whiggles

I'm back, and I'm a whole day older. I have now walked this blighted earth for 24 wholes years and a day (give or take a couple of hours), although, believe it or not, I don't feel a whole lot different. Actually, since I turned 18 and could legally do pretty much anything I might want to do, my actual age has ceased to be much of a concern for me, to the extent that, when people ask me how old I am, I often actually have to stop and think about it.

Anyway, I had a pretty good day, albeit with a couple of minor monkey-wrenches thrown in. I had a bunch of parcels waiting for me when I got up yesterday morning:

Birthday presents 1

The big box at the back is, as you can probably gather, the Lego Café Corner set I ordered a couple of weeks back. I finally finished putting it together this morning, and, while I can't exactly claim it to have been a challenge, it took me a decent enough amount of time, and the level of detail present in the finished building is commendably higher than what you get in most of the sets aimed at a younger audience. Now, if only Lego would do something featuring a similar level of detail for a castle or a pirate ship...


In front of the Lego box, from left to right, we have: The Simpsons: The Complete Sixth Season and The Simpsons: The Complete Seventh Season on DVD, Black Snake Moan on HD DVD, and Crank on Blu-ray. And yes, that hideous Homer head for The Simpsons' sixth season really is as bad as everyone says. The plastic outer "cover" was dented out of shape when it arrived (unavoidable, given its flimsy construction, and I don't hold DVD Pacific, the US Postal Service, Royal Mail or anyone else responsible for this - the blame lies solely with 20th Century Fox), and the tray housing the four discs that resides inside the cover is a pain, filled with bits of paper (advertisements, episode booklet) that fall out as soon as you open it. It's very frustrating that the standard cardboard box was never released to buy in the US, as it was elsewhere, because ordering the replacement is, for someone without a North American postal address, a bit of a challenge. By the way, I've taken a look at some of the episodes from both Seasons 6 and 7, and, while there are still some visible DVNR artefacts, they are nothing like as bad as the ones affecting the PAL version.


Me and Lyris also watched Crank last night. First, the bad news: the film looks like ass. It was shot in 1080p, so ideally this should have been a pixel-to-pixel reproduction of the source materials (barring compression, of course). Unfortunately, someone took it upon themselves to add a tonne of edge enhancement, making the picture look harsh and ugly. Strangely enough, the edge enhancement is is inconsistent, with some scenes (basically those in which the protagonist doesn't appear) being less affected, and the two of us both came to the conclusion that the filmmakers intentionally decide to over-sharpen the image as a stylistic choice, presumably to make it appear "harsh" and "raw". Whoever is to blame, though, they should be severely chastised for their decision.

Luckily, it's an enjoyable film. I hesitate to call it "good", because, to be honest, it was pretty much a complete load of garbage, but it continually kept us entertained, and was, on several occasions, laugh out loud hilarious. Jason Statham's hard man shtick gets a little old after a while (I'm still not sure why they got a Brit to play this part), but the characters surrounding him help keep him in check, and Amy Smart plays the greatest blonde ditz I've seen in a film since Anna Faris in Lost in Translation: "Don't talk to him like that! My boyfriend kills people!" Oddly enough, the most similar film I can think of to this is not Speed, as most people seem to suggest, but Run Lola Run. Obviously, it's less high-brow, but it has the same sort of energy and the same basic plot - if "person runs around the city for 90 minutes" counts as a plot.

Oh, and Black Snake Moan has a really impressive transfer, at least judging by the brief glance I had at the first couple of scenes. Paramount has really come a long way in the last few months.

Birthday presents 2

Anyway, I also went to Braehead Shopping Centre for lunch and shopping. Luckily, I didn't see any shifty types looking to ram burning vehicles into buildings (Braehead is just down the road from Glasgow Airport), so I was able to make my purchases in peace. I actually ended up buying a hell of a lot more than I intended, not least an Xbox 360 HD DVD add-on. You may remember that I bought one earlier this year and ended up selling it on to a friend, because it didn't meet my needs. Luckily, the situation has now changed. For one thing, Lyris now has an Xbox 360, so we both decided that this would be the perfect moment to dispose of our large, clunky Toshiba HD-A1 player and replace it was something faster and less space-hungry. In addition, HD decryption software has progressed considerably in the last six months, which makes it much easier now to rip discs to my hard drive and take screen captures for review purposes (the add-on connects to either the Xbox 360 or a PC via USB, so it only takes a couple of seconds to plug it into the required device).

I also picked up two HD DVDs and one Blu-ray disc, all of them blind buys: La Haine, Syriana and Layer Cake. I know next to nothing about any of them, but it's nice to be pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately, the goons at HMV not only forgot to take the security tabs out of La Haine and Layer Cake, meaning I couldn't actually open them to get the discs out (most store-bought UK DVD and high definition cases feature a plastic tab which seals it shut and can only be removed using a special machine in the store), the case for La Haine was also quite badly smashed (okay, so it's partially my fault for not noticing until I got home). Luckily, my dad was able to run me back in to get the tabs removed and the case for La Haine replaced.

I'm not done yet, though! I also bought the soundtracks to Serenity and Cars, and picked up the games Empire Earth II and Quake 4 in a "2 for £15" deal at GAME.

So yeah, all in all a good day was had, although my wallet is no longer speaking to me.

Posted: Thursday, July 05, 2007 at 3:47 PM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Games | General | HD DVD | Music | Technology



I somehow managed to drop my HD5 yesterday on my way home from work. The result: a fairly prominent dent and some rather nasty scratches on the back, which have surely devalued the thing's resale value considerably. Luckily, it still works, and it's a good thing it fell in the position it did, because if the dent had ended up on the other side, the battery would probably have ended up stuck inside the thing permanently (just like an iPod, hehe). Also, I'm pretty happy with it (great sound quality, decent disc capacity, actual buttons rather than a touch-pad), so I don't foresee myself wanting to trade it in for another model any time soon, but I always hate when this sort of thing happens. Call me picky, but I like my hardware to look new and cared for, not like something I've been playing Frisbee with.

Posted: Saturday, June 16, 2007 at 10:38 PM | Comments: 0 (view)
Categories: Music

Mater Lacrimarum in the flesh!

Mother of Tears

The trailer for Dario Argento's upcoming Mother of Tears/The Third Mother has been running in Italian cinemas in front of Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof (his half of Grindhouse, which was split into two films for its European release), and one thoughtful viewer had the presence of mind to camcord it, the results of which are now available on YouTube. Bearing in mind that this is just a very brief trailer, and that the image and audio quality are both quite poor, it's very exciting to see these tantalising glimpses of the film.

The musical accompaniment, which I'm guessing is an excerpt from Claudio Simonetti's score for the final film due to the presence of the words "Mater Lacrimarum" in the choral accompaniment, reminds me very much of Jerry Goldsmith's work on the Omen trilogy (and I consider this a very good thing, because I think they are among the finest movie scores ever created), while the presence on the traditional Satanic imagery (in particular the goat's head with a pentagram on its brow) suggest a distinctly different tone from the more fairytale-oriented Suspiria and Inferno. This is all good, from my perspective: while I hope Mother of Tears includes many of the elements that we know and love from the first two films in the trilogy, it's also nice to see Argento experimenting with new ideas. October 31st (and whenever the film becomes available to those of us outside Italy) can't come soon enough.

Thanks go to Mariana at Dark Discussion for uploading the video to YouTube.

Posted: Friday, June 08, 2007 at 8:08 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Music | Web

What sort of noise does a goblin make?

Are you a fan of Goblin? Do you have a lot of money to fritter away? Then you might be interested in this 8-CD box set from Japan, featuring the scores to Profondo Rosso (2 discs), Suspiria, Roller, Il Fantastico Viaggio del Bagarozzo Mark, Zombi, Tenebre and Cherry Five. Myself, I doubt that I'd be prepared to spend this much money on music even if I could afford it, but I'm sure it will make a few collectors out there very happy. Incidentally, I do need to pick up the scores to Profondo Rosso and Tenebre, which for some reason are missing from my library of CDs.

Credit for discovering this little gem goes to Andrew Monroe at DVD Maniacs.

Posted: Tuesday, May 01, 2007 at 10:22 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | Music

Amateurism as a style

Apparently, this is style.

Apparently, this is style.

I've been meaning to do a rant about this subject of amateurism for some time now. At the risk of sounding like a crusty old fart (at the tender age of 23), I'm becoming increasingly aware of how poorly produced so many products are, whether it's packaging, music, DVD transfers, films or television. Something that, in my eyes, has come to define this decade so far is a misguided notion of "irony" - a belief that, by saying or doing something, you're actually saying or doing the opposite. In the absolute broadest sense, it means you have garbage masquerading as quality. Therefore, a TV show like Shameless isn't amateurishly shot - it's "raw and gritty". A boy band who dress in suits and ties, and spend hours making their hair look as if they've just been dragged through a hedge backwards, aren't a bunch of sad-sacks - they're somehow cool. A music video with some baggy-eyed, messy-haired twentysomething barely even attempting to mime the lyrics of his song isn't a complete layabout or a pretentious tosser - he's full of burning passion. And so on and so forth.

You can see this all the time - you only have to turn on the TV and you're more than likely to be assaulted with a barrage of trendy amateurism. I've ranted before about badly-animated shows like South Park and Family Guy, asking why they look so awful. The reason, apparently, is that they look like that on purpose. Why? Well, I've yet to receive a coherent answer to this. There seems to be this bizarre belief that, by making something look awful, it somehow comes closer to illustrating real life - only I don't know about you, but my life isn't the badly-deinterlaced, shakycam nightmare that is Shameless, or any of those other shows that are receiving accolades for their apparently realistic portrayal of the world. A clunky piece of garbage like Hoodwinked gets praised for having "style" (so that's what they're calling it these days - "Honey, come and see the style the dog has left on the carpet"). Actual good-looking cartoons like Ren & Stimpy: Adult Party Cartoon don't even get to run for a full season while ugly, has-been sitcoms like King of the Hill and The Simpsons are likely to remain on the air indefinitely while we all wither and die. Recently, the local news showcased an animation student who was convinced he was the Scottish answer to Pixar - his "film" turned out to feature the sort of graphics that would look embarrassing in a 1995 Playstation video game.

So, what's the deal? Does nobody actually aspire to high standards any more? Why is it that I can turn on the TV and think "Wow, I could do better than that"? And I'm not trying to be pompous here - I think that just about anyone could make a more visually appealing show than Family Guy if they actually put their mind to it, while the average home movie doesn't look that much worse than the latest episode of Casualty. There are, of course, occasional exceptions - Peep Show, for instance, is able to use its wonky looks for a purpose, and, of course, there are occasions where the underlying material is good enough to make the ham-fisted execution bearable, like early episodes of The Simpsons, which, ugly as they are, are damn funny - but, for the most part, virtually everything I ever see on TV has me asking myself, "How on earth did this get made?" There are plenty of good artists, musicians, filmmakers and so on around, so why does it always seem to be the crap that gets commissioned?

Posted: Monday, March 05, 2007 at 12:44 PM | Comments: 24 (view)
Categories: Animation | General | Music | TV

Deep Red... the Musical?

Oh my...

Posted: Saturday, February 10, 2007 at 12:17 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Gialli | Music

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