Sunday, November 26, 2006

Separate DVD Review Blog Now Launched

I've finally copied all the DVD reviews from this blog to their new home at which means new DVD reviews are now being added to that blog:

UK DVD Reveiw blog

The new blog has launched with reviews for Cars, Joyeux Noel and Love in Thoughts. New reviews will be appearing one-per-day over the next week or so as I catch up with the backlog that's built up over the last two weeks.

You can subscribe to the RSS (Atom) feed of the new blog using this link. In the meantime, this Personal Blog isn't going away. I'll still be updating it with everything EXCEPT DVD (and when the players finally launch) HD-DVD reviews.

My 'hub' web site of hasn't been updated with links to the new reviews yet, but that's because it's about to become a real (ie programmed) site rather than a static one so that I can add things like Search functionality for different DVD reviews rather than having an ever-growing long list. So bear with me on that front (there just aren't enough hours in a day!)

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Pan's Labyrinth at the NFT

Pan's Labyrinth, the latest film from Mexican horror director, Guillermo del Toro, went on limited general release yesterday (Friday) and earlier this week I went to a screening of the film at the NFT that was followed by an interview/Q & A session with the director.

The film was introduced by film critic Mark Kermode as "the Citizen Kane of the fantasy world" which is a rather silly claim to make, but probably one to be expected from a critic who STILL seems to think that The Exorcist is the best film ever made. I enjoy Mark's review programme on Radio 5 (and downloadable via podcast) and his very individual style, but sometimes he can get somewhat carried away!

That being said, Pan's Labyrinth (actually called 'The Fawn's Labyrinth' in its native Spanish) is a wonderful film, albeit one that is extremely violent in places. I've very much enjoyed what I've seen of the director's previous work - Mimic and Hellboy, if we're being precise - but this was the first film I'd seen in the director's native language (it's an English subtitled movie) and which apparently he's been able to make without any external interferences. It's currently being advertised as a fairy tale for adults, and there's a danger that with the fantasy elements that are appearing in magazines and reviews, people will think this is a movie for children, which it most definitely isn't. I won't say any more because there are reviews everywhere, but suffice to say this is a powerful, affecting film that I think is genuinely deserving of the 'masterpiece' accolade that many critics are throwing at it.

The Q & A session I attended after the screening was a little disappointing, because it merely repeated everything that had already been covered in Kermode's article on the film that appeared in the December issue of Sight & Sound. I also felt that Kermode could have been better prepared and more focused with his questions, rather than adopting the 'Me, me, me!' lecturing style which works well on radio, but not so well when your job is to interview a guest. However Guillermo is always good value for money (I'd enjoyed hearing him speak at Comic Con in San Diego when he was promoting the upcoming Hellboy) and it was good to hear him speak directly about the film, and the nightmares of his past experiences in film-making. The special effects in the film are fantastic, and it's amazing to learn that the film only had a budget of 13.5 million Euro's - it looks like a far bigger budgeted movie.

After the screening I went for a bite to eat with friends Brian and David, and the meal had a couple of surprises (aside from the Christmas menu, featuring a Christmas pizza, that was already in place mid-November). We found ourselves on a table opposite Michael Palin and then an old friend/former work colleague from IBM that I hadn't seen for a year or so appeared from nowhere to say hi.

Pan's Labyrinth is apparently a 'sister movie' to Guillermo's earlier film The Devil's Backbone and I'm now seeking it out on DVD. But Pan's Labyrinth is a masterpiece in its own right and I encourage any readers over the age of 16 to go and see it. It's encouraging that in the homogenised world of the braindead 'blockbuster' (I saw Pirates of the Caribbean 2 last week - enough said!) there are still individual, independent film-makers out there able to make films as original and classy as this. Highly recommended!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Why no new reviews?

Apologies for the fact there have been no reviews for a while! I blame Google (who now run these blogs - aaarrrrggghhh!)

I'm migrating all the DVD reviews over to their new "Home" - but it's taking a lot longer than it should. If you post more than a certain number of entries in a day a "spam" filter kicks in and it becomes impossible to post.

The idea is that this blog really will become what was originally intended (ie a personal blog, with comments on books, movies, theatre, whatever's happening in life that has nothing to do with work) while all the DVD and HD-DVD stuff will get their own separate blogs over at and

Alas, there are a lot of problems because Google have a "new" set of beta blogging software (why is everything at Google called beta even months after it's gone live? Could it be because they never finish their software properly and so are attempting to explain this by having all their stuff permanently displayed to the public as "beta", as if it's something sexy and cool and that we should be proud of?) The help pages often bear no relation to the reality of the software as it performs, the problems you're having, or the fact you're locked out of posting. Which makes setting up a new blog a complete pain in the derriere.

I guess they'll update the "How do I?..." FAQ pages after they've squashed the many bugs with the new system that users are reporting over on the public blogger forums (am I overly-optimistic, or what?!! ;-)). In the meantime other bloggers are trying to help each other over on the public forums, so it's not all hopeless.

But needless to say I am NOT going to be in a rush to migrate THIS blog to the new format any time soon, despite the constant nagging every time I log in, telling me I really should migrate this forum to the "new" format. No thanks! Unlike the new software this "old" stuff still works (kinda!) - a bit like me, really!

In the meantime, the DVD watching has suffered a little because the flagship DVD player is still with Toshiba's official repair company. The "We'll phone you at the start of the week with an estimate to repair" turned into me phoning them at the end of the week to ask why nobody had phoned, only to be told "We're talking to Toshiba and will call you tomorrow" - they didn't! So I'm reviewing new DVDs on a noisy old XBox that gives a pretty good picture on a 50" plasma - "pretty good" considering the cheap price of the XBox and the fact it was never really meant to be a main DVD player - but frankly it isn't great when there's a lot of motion and it's hard to use it as any sort of measure of DVD picture quality.

In the meantime Toshiba have much egg on face owing to the fact that their high definition format (HD-DVD) players that were due in early November are now "officially acknowledged" as being delayed. It seems only a handful of lucky people will get the early basic player (Toshiba are launching two models) this side of Christmas. The expanded model with more features that was due at the end of November is now rumoured to be slipping to February - at the earliest! Way to stop Blu-Ray, you morons!

Blu-Ray have already won the media marketing war about new hi-def formats. Despite players that are broken and cost six times what anybody's prepared to pay, and disks that look rubbish despite the supperior technology because of the crappy codec and lack of software authoring tools Blu-Ray marketing is everywhere in the media! This is only the battle for what will take over after DVD in the average living room, so why should Toshiba care about their technically inferior format actually winning by having any sort of quality control? Or have customer support that has ANY kind of clue what it's talking about?

Maybe I shouldn't rant at Toshiba so much - after all, they've only had seven months since the US launch (where they started as the underdog but appear to be "winning" the great hi-def war at the moment) to get this right?! The whole of the European market for the next 10 years? Pah! Like I said, Way to go Toshiba!

The excuses from Toshiba for the delay have been hilarious and left right until the very last minute, varying from "They're here, but stuck in customs" (the same excuse used when their new LCD TVs were late back in May) to a final press release that announced "there's a very minor problem with one of the chips from an outside supplier but we care about quality blah-blah-blah". The signs were all there when they were trying to tell people at the What Hi Fi? show the player would be out in 2 weeks and had a 'smoke and mirrors' display that showed shells of the new players seemingly hooked up to the TVs on display. Behind the scenes the older American first generation players with big transformers to convert the voltage to UK 240 volts were what was actually being used.

It's enough to make you want to jump ship and deal with arrogant Sony and their seriously broken Blu-Ray format, if not for the fact that Microsoft seem to have come to the rescue with their HD-DVD add-on for the XBox 360 (albeit one in limited supply - thank God for Amazon pre-orders!)

Sad fact: I now have over 30 HD-DVD disks waiting to be watched/reviewed and still nothing to play them on. There's an important message in there about why you should NEVER become an early adopter!

Oh, and while I'm on the subject DON'T ever buy any UK-released HD-DVDs - there's no region differences any more (all HD-DVDs play on all HD-DVD players regardless of country) so the only reason for buying a UK-issued HD-DVD is (a) because you like paying twice the price for each film (b) you like cases that take up twice the room on your shelf and have annoying empty extra prongs for a non-existent booklet added to them (c) you don't care about getting vaguely decent films to watch (d) you are happy for the UK distribution companies to take off all the interesting extra's on the original US releases to make space for foreign language stuff instead just in case you ever decide you want to watch the film in any one of over 20 bizarre Eastern-European soundtracks at some point in the future. Enough said!

Anyway, as is usually the case with these mini-rants, I have digressed from the subject at hand: new DVD reviews! So here's the position....

I have a stack of NEW DVD reviews piled up waiting to go "Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest" (lousy, lousy movie, great, great extra's), "Joyeux Noel" (wonderful World War I film), "Balls" (good feel-good 'gay football' comedy - who knew the Germans had a sense of humour?!! ;-)), "Pet Shop Boys - A Life in Pop" (great for fans, dull otherwise), and a few others I prefer to be a surprise waiting to be published. I guess they'll be appearing one-per-day on the new blog over the next week or two once I've caught up with moving the old reviews across.

I'll make a new post here when the new blog is ready!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

End of the Week Catch-up/DVD Reviews

A whole week off (or maybe not!)

I had the whole of next week booked off as a holiday. A chance to do some studying for exams and also hopefully to get through the 24: Season 5 DVD box set which is officially out on Monday. Alas, I went down with a stinker of a cold on Monday and although better by Thursday it made more sense to just count my "sick" week as the holiday (being self-employed I don't get paid when I'm sick) and go back to work on Monday. No fun! One side-effect of this was that I also missed Hollywoodland as part of the London Film Festival screenings, although thankfully I was better in time for the Thursday night closing gala premiere of Babel.

London Film Festival: Babel

I'm glad I was feeling better by the time Babel came around. It's not an easy watch, but very powerful nonetheless. The cast are uniformly excellent and the three separate stories that are intertwined, albeit with some juxtapositions of time, are powerful, if somewhat self-indulgent in the Japanese scenes. It's a film I'm still thinking about a couple of days later, which is always a good sign :). My friend Brian Sibley who came to the screening with me tells me that the film isn't officially released in the UK until January, which seems a bit far off, but this is one well worth watching out for. The only real downside to the presentation in Leicester Square was the volume of sound. Normally I struggle to hear the sound and I complain that they need to turn the volume up. With Babel I was desperately hoping they'd turn the volume down - way down - it was ridiculously deafening!

From Hi-Def to Very Low Def

I've started buying movies on High Definition DVD (HD-DVD), ready for the arrival of the first HD-DVD players in the UK. On Friday, against the doctor's advice ('stay in bed' had been the advice on Monday) I went to the What Hi-Fi? show to see some hi-def demo's. The show itself was disappointing and not worth the £15 (£13 with pre-booked online tickets) asking price but at least I got to see some of the new display devices and to see Blu-Ray and HD-DVD demonstrations. Neither of them really struck me as THAT much better than the best DVD disks, but since we're starting to see 'day and date' releases of DVD and HD-DVD titles I'm making the switch anyway rather than buying what will eventually become obsolete, inferior resolution formats. Alas on the day that Toshiba announced that the player I've been waiting on is being delayed to January (originally expected mid-November) my main DVD player has started throwing 'Check disk' errors and needs repairing. The new HD-DVD players can play both ordinary DVDs and the new format, but I can't wait until January for a DVD player. My existing player, a Toshiba SD-900E, is not a cheap model and although I have a cheap spare in my study it doesn't have the component output my plasma needs, so I'm reduced to watching DVDs on the plasma through an XBox player which gives a noticeably inferior picture. I decided to pay the no-doubt extortionate repair charge for the Toshiba SD-900E and sounded the nearest repair centre (10 miles away) about an estimate and arranged to take it to them. Except the car wouldn't start. The battery is completely dead and this is the highlight of owning a Mini Cooper S - leave it for more than a week or so and the battery dies - on this occassion it had REALLY died and wouldn't even display any of the electric data when the key was inserted. So no DVD player! The car is now running (thanks David!) but too late to get the DVD player to Toshiba until next Saturday (I wasted four hours today trying to get to them before they closed, but failed thanks to God-awful London traffic).

DVD Reviews On Hold

The DVD reviews are therefore on hold. To be honest I was looking at moving them elsewhere anyway as this blog had subtly changed from being Irascible Ian's Personal Blog to Ian's DVD Reviews and needs to somehow reflect that. I own the domain name but am not sure yet whether to use that domain name for a new HD-DVD blog, to use it for both HD-DVD and DVD reviews or to move reviews to another address. I'll post here when I make up my mind, probably not until the end of the year as software will take a while to write and spare time is one thing I never seem to have :(

Mini DVD Reviews

In the meantime I did get to see Entourage - The Complete Series 1 on DVD (officially out last Monday) and Doctor Who: Invasion (officially out next Monday) before the DVD player died. I was really disappointed with Entourage given the rave critical reviews. I didn't laugh once - I guess I'm just not of an age where I find four American brats talking about "ho's and bitches" funny, no matter how much it sends up Hollywood, or how well written it is. Not a bad show, just one that I feel promotes the sort of lifestyle that makes having any sort of dealing with today's youth a nightmare. Guess I am now officially old! The series is based largely on the experience of Mark Wahlberg, so I shouldn't be surprised. I've always thought him a tosser, probably because of his Marky Mark days where he performed with some homophobic 'Kill the batty boys' rap artist on The Word and refused to condemn or even disagree with his colleague when Mark Lamarr lost his temper with him for encouraging people to kill gays. Enough said! Nothing about Entourage made me think my initial judgement that Wahlberg is a dumb schmuck who just got lucky was in any way wrong, and to see a series glorifying a guy who treats women like shit as 'the nice one' says it all really!

Doctor Who: Invasion was more fun for me, coming from the old black and white Patrick Troughton era. Two of this seven-episode cybermen story are lost for good but the BBC still has sound recordings so they've animated the two missing episodes. I only have very vague memories of the original broadcast, and of course by modern standards, the story is way too slow moving, but far scarier than anything new Who (or even the disappointing Torchwood) is throwing at us. The two animated episodes work very well - in fact I prefer the cartoons to the televised episodes. An interesting curiosity and one, I suspect, that we'll see more of in future releases. The Beeb have a lot of 'lost' episodes, although they often still have the sound recordings, and this clever way of making the episodes releasable on a visual format really worked for me, so I'll be surprised if we don't see more of it in future.