Monday, April 30, 2007

The Lives of Others

After spending Saturday doing accounts and studying for an upcoming certification exam, Sunday became a drop-out day where I slept for ten hours straight (where I normally struggle to get more than five) and got to catch up on a couple of movies.

Dream Girls on HD-DVD was a very pleasant surprise. I'm not a big fan of musicals, and since this is from the director who gave us the extremely average Chicago my expectations were low. I guess my enjoyment is partly down to the superb High Definition presentation of the film - a two-disc set with an excellent 'Making of' documentary which, at two hours long, is about the same length as the main feature. Eddie Murphy was a revelation, Jamie Foxx was as superb as ever, and newcomer Jennifer Hudson gave a performance that was worthy of the 'Best Supporting Actress' American Academy Award it won. The music is great, beautifully integrated into the (admittedly somewhat clichéd) story, and the visuals are stunning. Highly recommended!

In the afternoon I finally got round to renewing my Clapham Picture House membership, and took advantage of the first of the three free viewings membership gives you by going to see The Lives of Others which beat Pan's Labyrinth to the 'Best Film in a Foreign Language' oscar this year.

The film is very much a low-budget 'art house' picture, but an excellent one for all that. I went in expecting it to be about 90 minutes long, and exited to find my watch had jumped forward an hour past the time I expected it to be. There are't many two and a half hour films that are so gripping you lose all sense of time. All that being said, I think the American Academy got it wrong this year and should have given the oscar to Pan's Labyrinth.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Customer Service

I was all set to write a long rant about Adobe Software, whose latest upgrades to Photoshop et al officially shipped in the UK this week. Every time there's a new version I know it's going to be a nightmare of problems installing it (I never did get Adobe Acrobat from the last release installed, with Adobe support spending hours wasting my time before giving up with 'We know there's a problem with certain Sony laptops. Do you want to return the software package for a refund?!')

This new release is no different. In the UK we pay more than twice the price Americans do for the same software. Adobe UK justify this as being the cost of supporting the software in Europe! If you get a problem - and if my experience is typical, you will!- and you're American you can email technical support.

But in the UK, where Adobe Europe are telling all the magazines they justify the huge mark-up because of the superior support we get - we're told this facility is not available. Instead you can spend forever on hold on a telephone line!

Suffice to say that after half an hour on 'hold' and £350 down the swannie I still don't have software that will successfully activate, which means it will stop working in 30 days time! In the meantime hundreds of students are downloading cracked versions from the internet that they're getting for free. The whole anti-piracy thing is a scandal that penalises only legitimate purchasers, without in any way solving the problem of the freeloaders and thieves. Anyway, apparently I will have another hour on hold on Monday trying to get the mess sorted out. I'm hoping that this time I'll get someone who has at least a rudimentary knowlege of English picking up the phone, unlike my Friday 'technical support assistant'!

Fortunately, I have a happier story to share - excellent customer service from, would you believe it, the Post Office!

I've been meaning to replace my scrappy paper driving license with a photo card version for several years now, but getting new photo's done and working through the complicated DVLA application process (you have to send them your passport, even though it's just a replacement license you're after!) has meant that I've kept putting it off.

A few months ago I sold my Mini Cooper S. It's a nice car but BMW Servicing is a scandal in London, BMW central never even acknowledge the receipt of complaints about dealers, and if the Mini isn't used regularly it dies. Every time I've wanted to use the car it's been a case of having to call out Homestart to get the thing started! A car in London is an expensive luxury and with easy travel to my place of work via the train and underground I figured it was time to get rid of the wretched thing. My reasoning was that I can always get a hire car if I need one, although this assumes I have a legal driving license. And therein lies my problem!

I suspect that my tatty old 'pink piece of paper' license (or, more accurately, several pieces, after years of abuse inside my wallet) would not pass muster. And with my current contract employment ending on May 25th (I FINALLY realised that it really was time to move on - Lord knows it took me long enough!) there is a very strong possibility I will need a car for the next contract, assuming I can find one! And to get that car I'm going to need a driving license that doesn't look like it's been flushed down the toilet several times before being set on fire!

So Saturday morning has been spent digesting the ridiculously complicated DVLA leaflet telling you how to apply for a driving license, getting a new photo done, and trotting off to the Post Office to start the whole process off.

DVLA charge the princely sum of £19 for a replacment photo license, and selected Post Offices will, for an additional £4, give you a 'premium' checking service where they'll check you've filled out the form correctly and stamp it to say they've verified your identity and seen your passport so that you don't have to send it off in the post with the application, wondering if you'll ever see it again.

I'm used to long queues and slow, lazy, de-motivated staff in the many different post offices I visit on my various travels, so I was resigned to a morning of hell trying to chase down a post office that offered the service, and then wait my turn to get served. Given past, painful experiences I felt really lucky when I got the only smiley, perky sales assistant in the history of UK-wide post office staff, as my turn in the queue arrived.

"You're doing this just in time", she smiled as she stamped the form. "The price goes up next week."

"Really?!", I replied. "That's odd. My luck usually runs the other way. Nice to have some good news for a change." She gave me a funny look and went to check how much the price was going up by, and returned looking very conspiratorial.

"I shouldn't be telling you this - no wonder they're closing down post offices like this with people like me telling customer things - but I got it wrong. The price goes down on 1st May. It will be just £10 instead of £19 after Tuesday. If I were you I'd come back then and save yourself some money!"

So the 'approval' stamp (which is dated) was scribbled out, my form returned and I'll be £9 richer as a result. Now THAT'S what I call customer service. Alas good customer service is all too rare these days, and I have a horrid feeling that I'll return to the post office next weekend, only to find some bored jobsworth telling me that because my signature was originally dated April I'll have to pay the old, more expensive, rate. Fingers crossed!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Distant Voices, Still Lives

It's still manic at work (another Saturday spent in the office) so no new reviews, but I did at least get a chance to go and see Terence Davies in conversation after a showing of his 1988 film Distant Voices, Still Lives at the BFI Southbank on Friday night.

My main reason for going was my love of Davies' film The House of Mirth based on the novel by Edith Wharton and released theatrically in 2000. I haven't read the novel, but caught the film late on DVD, mainly because it starred Gillian 'X Files' Anderson, and I'm a fan of hers. It is a stunning piece of work - beautifully shot, and filled with incredible sadness. It's not a 'feel good' movie - which I guess is why so few people went to see it - but it made such an impression on me that I quickly purchased a framed poster of the film for my flat. In many ways it reminded me very much of my first reading of Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge novel in my late teens, which left me with an aching sadness when I read it, and delivered a gut-punch I've never had from the silver screen - at least not until House of Mirth came along. It is, in short, a wonderful movie, if not one that will leave you celebrating the milk of human kindness.

I hadn't seen any of Davies' other work until Friday, but most of the magazines have carried short, rave reviews of the 'digitally restored' version of Distant Voices, Still Lives which is about to do the rounds ('digitally restored' my arse! I don't think I've ever seen a film where every single second of film had speckles, dust and other debris all over it, the way this one did!) The reviews rang alarm bells, with a lot of talk of shifting non-linear time periods, no real story arc or hint of a plot etc. The sort of thing that usually has me running a mile.

Despite the poor quality of the film print - which I guess it could be argued helped convince that its setting in the 40's and 50's was authentic - I thought the film was fantastic, and very unique. Although the BFI board member who interviewed the writer/director after the film showing was far too gushing, I have to agree with his commments that Davies truly understands cinema and knows how to make something truly cinematic. Like House of Mirth the film seemed to be steeped in melancholy and nostalgia, but without, as the writer/director himself later put it, the sort of sentimentality which can ruin everything. I was very glad I got a chance to see it.

Terence Davies himself is a rather strange, if very endearing, character. He comes very much from an older generation of gay man, who has never felt confident enough to do anything about his sexuality (he referred to himself as 'celibate'), having 'come to terms' with it at a time when homosexuality was illegal. It wasn't hard to see where the melancholy which seeps from every frame of the few films he's been able to make comes from, although he had a camp, sometimes waspish, manner that made his Q & A very funny, whilst being very self-deprecating.

Joyous music and pub singing plays a strong part in Distant Voices, Still Lives, and it wasn't hard to understand that cinema, and musicals in particular, were Davies' passion when trying to escape a very lonely childhood. With strong opinions on what British film-makers should be doing (clue: NOT doing a bad copy of Hollywood films) Davies was awarded the 61st Fellowship (their highest honour) from the BFI last night.

I had to laugh at his snippy comments about the foolishness of Brits trying to do musicals when we're crap at it ("Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor String Vest" as Davies put it), and there was gossip about why he hasn't made a film for seven years - funding is the problem! It's depressing to hear that when the talented, quintessentially English, director finally had a project ready to go, one of the producer partners pulled out, apparently thinking the universally panned The Potatoe Men (was that what it was called?) was a better bet. Davies also passed on gossip about one of the American actors in the sublime The House of Mirth telling him he HAD to recut it as it was a mess and would kill his (the actor's) career otherwise. Fortunately Davies has the strength of will to intuitively know when something is right, and when actors and their ego's should be ignored, although he admitted to being extremely hurt by the comment. When the American critics started praising it the actor, who wasn't named but my guess is Stoltz or LaPaglia since the director positively gushed about how nice Dan Ackroyd was, apparently had a change of heart. Alas, the rave critical reviews for House of Mirth failed to turn into bums on seats, and I have a horrible feeling the same will be true of the re-release of Distant Voices, Still Lives.

One of the clips shown during the Q & A was from House of Mirth and I was surprised at how much more of an impact it had on the big screen. It's going to be showing in a week or two at the BFI Southbank as part of a Davies retrospective, and I am going to have to see it on the big screen, instead of just rewatching the DVD.

So many anecdotes were told about the lack of money, lack of respect, lack of work that clearly genuinely gifted talent like Davies gets I am just so glad I don't work in the movie industry. It must be totally soul-destroying.

I left the BFI somewhat depressed that one of our best writer/director's should find himself so out of work, but grateful that he has at least managed to give us some real gems. Clips from some of his other work so impressed me that I think I'm going to have to trot down to the BFI again - not just to see The House of Mirth, but to see other gems in this wonderful man's canon of work which are currently showing as part of the retrospective at the BFI.

Given his persuasive arguments that we should be making British (not American) films, I wonder what Davies would have made of the one DVD I've managed to view this week. Starter For Ten is light, rom-com fluff. But it is quintessentially English, even if it does come across at times as rather too heavily influenced by the likes of Richard Curtiss (I'm not a Curtiss fan!). To my surprise, and despite the Curtiss influences, I enjoyed it. There are a good few laughs in it, some great performances, and the music (The Cure, The Buzzcocks, The Smiths - hoorah!) is wonderful. Well worth a rental if you want something light and frothy!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Sunday Synopsis

Having had to go into the office on Saturday, I was more interested in watching a few films than writing about them today, so the various review blogs are all looking a bit sparse this weekend. Things will probably stay that way for a week or two as I try and juggle a major project deliverable at work with trying to get the web site prepped ready to launch at the end of May.

Fortunately, I don't feel too bad about the absence of new shiny disc material because it gives me the chance to point you to a rather excellent piece I read today about the great 'double-dip' rip-off the companies seem to be getting more and more into. Check out this excellent entry over on the Blowing my thoughtwad blog, which talks, far more eloquently than I could, about the whole situation, and has been inspired by the great Sony rip-off that is the Spider-Man 2.1DVD, which is being released in stores tomorrow.

However, I don't feel totally let off the hook by pointing you to a good blog entry, so here are a few quick thoughts on the three films I ended up seeing today....

Thanks to Brian Sibley the day started off with a free preview screening of The Bridge to Terabithia. Not a film I'd normally have gone to see, this is being marketed as a kid's fantasy epic along the lines of the Narnia movie. Understandably, some of those who took very young children along to see it over in the States (and there were a LOT of very young kids at the preview screening this morning), have got rather angry about the real nature of the film over on imdb. The main cause of ire is the fact that the trailer is apparently misleading and the Disney involvement has mislead parents who haven't done their research as to the exact nature of the film. It's hard to see how the film COULD be marketed without giving the game away (which would somewhat ruin the rather powerful impact) or dramatically reducing the box office. Suffice to say, it is far more adult-oriented fare than the posters might lead you to believe, although I should also add that all the kids at this mornings preview remained seated and quiet throughout, so kids can get something from the movie too. The FX and fantasy elements are actually a very small part of the film, and it's all the stronger for being more reality-based and far more subtle than the usual family-oriented fare that tends to be advertised in the same sort of way. A couple of reviews on imdb have called the film 'Pan's Labyrinth for younger viewers' which is probably the best description you can give it without giving the game away. About three quarters of the way into the film, what has been a generally 'run of the mill' family film suddenly throws an unexpected sharp left turn that turns it into something very unexpected. It's a brave film, that doesn't take the easy route out and assumes intelligence on the part of its audience, delivering an emotional and uncompromising ending that won't be to all tastes. There were some fundamental flaws in terms of the ages of the main child characters and what appeared to be re-shoots with key cast members missing, but overall I thought it was an excellent film! I hope reviewers don't spoil the film for would-be viewers who don't already know the story from the book, because it's rare you get as dramatic a surprise and punch to the gut in family-oriented fare as you do three quarters through this one. Powerful stuff that will get weakened if mean critics give the details away.

After brunch in the sun with Brian and David I returned home to watch the old 1960 classic The Apartment, which I've never seen before but which rightly won several academy awards. The print appears to be in pretty good shape, but the transfer has a LOT of artefacts all over it (every single horizontal line shimmers and shakes in a distracting fashion throughout the whole thing). But at a price of under £7 for the DVD (no extra's!) I can't really complain. Jack Lemmon was absolutely superb in it, and the dialogue was crisp and intelligent, as one has come to expect from anything with Billy Wilder's name on it. Definitely worth the two hour viewing!

I followed the black and white DVD of The Apartment with the HD-DVD of The Architect, a 'made for TV' movie starring Anthony LaPaglia based on a Scottish play written by David Grieg. The Architect is interesting because it has been largely rewritten for the American marketplace, relocating the Glasgow sink estate at its core to Chicago. The film was simultaneously released in theatres and on DVD, HD-DVD and Blu-Ray disc at the end of last year. Shot in 20 days on high-definition camera's, with a budget of under $1 million, the reviewer over at the normally reliable (an excellent review site) slated the film itself, whilst praising the picture quality, and so this has sat near the bottom of the 'to be watched' pile for several weeks. My bad, because I really enjoyed it. The HighDefDidgest review (which you can read here) is actually accurate in many ways, but I disagree with the overall rating the reviewer's given the film and his argument that the situation between various members of the main dysfunctional family are never resolved. It's certainly worth a look if you like art house 'character' pieces with a strong social subtext.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

(Runaway) Bride Comes Before A Fall!

Ooops! My Wibble Wednesday entry didn't happen yesterday because of time pressures at work and other commitments.

Luckily, I don't have the same problem today because I cheated and wrote a quick Telly Thursday review over the Easter break that I can now post as if it had been freshly produced this morning, rather than written several days ago! So today's TV show on shiny disc is Doctor Who: The Runaway Bride over on my UK DVD Review Blog (click on the link to read it).

Easter actually proved to be a great chance to catch up on a whole backlog of March and April DVD releases. Little Manhattan, Cinema Paradiso, Trust the Man, The Thing from Another World, Jackass number two: the movie, Peeping Tom and Dog Day Afternoon (on HD-DVD) all got watched over an extended Easter break. But the weekend is when most reviews get written and it looks like I'm going to have to go to the office Saturday and Sunday, so I'm not sure when I'll actually get round to writing reviews to go with the screencaps I've already prepared for these titles.

What I can say for now is that by far and away the stand-out DVD on the above list is Cinema Paradiso. Selling for the same price as a standard single-disc release, this lavishly packaged deluxe edition contains FOUR discs (including the excellent soundtrack album by Ennio Moricone). The digital restoration of the film is excellent, and the film itself makes for wonderful viewing, and would do so even if viewed on a scratchy old VHS tape. It's not hard to see why Cinema Paradiso won the Academy Award for 'Best Film in a Foreign Language' when originally released to cinema's. A full review will follow at some stage, but in the meantime if you're tempted to spend £12 on the DVD I reviewed today (Doctor Who and the Runaway Bride), PLEASE reconsider and get Cinema Paradiso instead. It's a masterpiece, and a bargain at any price, never mind the ludicrously cheap online price of not much more than a tenner!

And in other news, I finally got some feedback on this blog. Not in a comment, but in an email from an Australian using a hotmail account. I suppose I should have sent him a reply, but decided I couldn't be bothered and this blog footnote will have to do instead. What eloquent feedback did my Antipodean writer have to contribute? 'just read your review of 300. im now pretty convinced. your a wanker', it said. I don't know what's more impressive - the spelling, lack of capitalisation and incorrect use of "your" instead of "you're" - or the fact that someone's actually sad enough to waste time hunting out the email address of a stranger just to send an inane insult.

For some reason I am reminded of the English peer who was stopped by customs on trying to enter Australia as a visitor. 'Do you have a criminal record?', asked the official. 'Oh, I'm terribly sorry.', the Englishman replied, 'I didn't realise you still needed one to get in'.

Oh well! At least it makes a change from the daily spam that people keep trying to post on my Ice Age 2 review. Obviously someone somewhere has linked to that review as the whole world and his wife keeps trying to publish a comment on that one entry, alone out of hundreds of others, along the lines of 'Nice blog. I shall come back often. Get your Viagra from...'.

Ain't the internet a wonderful thing!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I'm Glad "The Holiday"'s Over!

It's High-Def Tuesday, so time for a new review of something that's been released on HD-DVD.

The Holiday was released on a UK HD-DVD disk last week, 'day and date' with the standard DVD, stars Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law and Jack Black.

It's a rom-com, so you can probably guess that I didn't like it much ("chick flicks" and me just don't get on!). All the details are over on my HD-DVD blog but suffice to say, as I face a return to work after the Easter break, that this is probably the first and last time you're going to hear me say "I'm glad The Holiday's over"!

Monday, April 09, 2007

An Embarrassing Train Journey!

I decided to take advantage of the long, slow train journey to Southampton by taking my laptop so that I could watch a couple of DVDs en route.

First up was This Film Is Not Yet Rated, due in stores tomorrow. This is a documentary on the American equivalent of our board of film censors, and has received very good reviews from the critics. Advertised as being 4:3 ratio it seemed like a good choice for viewing on a laptop rather than on a big widescreen plasma where too much space would be wasted on black side-bars.

The first thing I need to say about it is DO NOT BUY THIS DVD!!!! It's the first one I've purchased in many a year that I am sending back as 'Not fit for purpose'. The wretched thing is actually a widescreen movie presented in 4:3 ratio, which means that when viewed on a widescreen TV you get big thick black bars around all four sides of the picture. This sort of cheap, shoddy release may have been acceptable ten years ago when owners of DVD players were desperate to get hold of anything on DVD, but in this day and age it's inexcusable. What you're getting is a very low resolution copy of the film just because someone at the film company was too lazy to do the transfer properly! And the only way film companies are going to learn that charging close to £15 for this sort of crap is totally unacceptable is by hitting them where it hurts - deluging them with returns and demands for refunds.

However my main reason for mentioning the film now, rather than in a review over on my DVD review blog, is a warning about the opening pre-title sequence. This features a LOT of almost pornographic 'sex' scenes as a lead-in to a discussion of how inconsistent the film board are in terms of what they regard as acceptable vs what they regard as unacceptable. Admittedly the makers have judiciously used big black bars to hide any of the 'naughty bits' of the main actors, but when you're sat on a train next to the parents of a toddler and a young baby you're going to get some very odd looks of disgust when they glance over to your screen and notice what appears to be playing!

It is at such times that PC DVD software will invariably refuse to acknowledge the 'STOP' command or eject the disc. In my case this meant a very red face on my part, as a frozen, extremely indelicate image on the PC refused to budge no matter how many times I stabbed at the Stop and Eject buttons! It was all very embarrassing, and I suppose I should have noticed the '18' certificate on the DVD case BEFORE I started playing it on a train that seemed to be carrying every mother who'd recently given birth in the London area.

When I eventually got over the embarrasment of the frozen screen and managed a reboot that enabled the wretched disc to be removed, I started watching the excellent new digital transfer of The Thing From Another World instead, which was much more fun and, arguably, better than the more famous John Carpenter remake which came out many years later.

As a result of my trip away, and a backlog of work I need to catch up on today, I'm a day behind with my DVD reviews. The promised review of The Devil's Backbone has only just been posted - a day later than intended - but I suspect there will be other days this week where there's nothing new posted on this blog because of the work situation.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Super 8 Movie Days

Watching Guillermo del Toro talk about his early addiction to cinema on the extra's on the Cronos DVD, which I've reviewed over on my UK DVD Review Blog today, brought back some memories of my late teens.

It seems that, like me, del Toro fuelled his addiction to movies by buying Super 8 copies of films to project at home. Alas, the Eumig projector I had was silent (although I purchased a sound projector later on) so I had to make do with silent flickering images of such classics as Planet of the Apes or Star-Trek out-takes (Captain Kirk getting the giggles at lines like 'Have no fear. Gorgon's here'). I didn't have enough pocket money to buy more than a handful of titles in total, but looked forward each month to browsing through the pages of the now defunct Movie Maker magazine, dreaming of the day I could afford to buy more such treasures (along with the frequently dreamt of Bolex 16mm camera!)

The beauty of those early Super 8 films was their length, cutting the main feature down to 8-12 minute highlights. They were significantly more expensive than DVDs are today, but no less addictive, and in those days if I'd had the money it would have been possible to watch and review several in a day. Having sat through a rom-com that lasted more than two hours yesterday (The Holiday - if you think eating too much chocolate tomorrow will make you feel sick, let me just say that things would be much worse if you watched this film!), I sometimes think that maybe the Super-8 format was superior to today's DVDs, at least in terms of running time!

Friday, April 06, 2007

It's "Good" Friday

I hope you're enjoying the Easter Break. With it being Easter 'Good Friday' it seemed somehow appropriate to review The Good Shepherd, Robert de Niro's epic take on the formation of the CIA, released on HD-DVD format just this week.

Like the film the review's probably too long, and doesn't really meet the 'Friday Film' target I'd set myself, although since it was only released in the UK last month there's a chance it should, in theory, still be showing at some cinema's across the land.

I'm away the next couple of days, but will be posting a couple of reviews tomorrow morning to cover Saturday and Sunday anyway.

Director Guillermo del Toro has had huge success with Pan's Labyrinth released just a week or two ago on double-DVD and reviewed by me here. Del Toro's previous two Spanish-language films Cronos and The Devil's Backbone have been released, together with a single-disk version of Pan's Labyrinth, in a special three-disc boxed set, so I'll be reviewing the other two titles. One of the titles disappointed because of the appalling quality of the transfer, the other is up there with Pan's Labyrinth as one of my favourite films of the last twelve months. To find out more check back tomorrow!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Neighbour has pushed me over the (H)edge!

Well I suppose you could say that my Easter has started a little earlier than planned, although with the workload I've got at the moment I could really have done without it doing so!

My stupid neighbour has for the second time in 12 months let his bath overflow. So I now have a very wet bathroom, no lights working and electricity working only in the study, bedroom and lounge. Oh joy! I now have a day of chasing down an electrician to try and get this mess sorted so that Easter weekend doesn't turn out to be a COMPLETE wash-out.

At least the computer still has juice, and since the lounge isn't affected DVDs aren't totally out of the picture so I guess it could be worse, although right now it doesn't feel like it!

One thing I did get done before my idiot neighbour did his 'flood the flat below' routine is the rather brief (and, admittedly, somewhat rushed) review of 'Over The Hedge'.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the review (and ideally the film if you get a chance to rent/purchase it) and that your Easter is getting off to a better start than mine!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Welcome to Wibble Wednesday! - Coming Soon!

Posting a new DVD review every day is proving difficult. It doesn't take much time to write the review (as you can probably tell!) but watching the feature and all the extra's, and taking/editing screencaps (especially the HD-DVD ones) can be very time-consuming.

Luckily I have no life, so it's not TOO much of a chore! ;-)

In planning the upcoming (end of May at the earliest!) Shiny Discs web site I'm hoping that a couple of new DVD reviews a week, a Blu-Ray review and an HD-DVD review should be do-able. That doesn't make a full week so I thought that a weekly film review (not strictly speaking a shiny disc, but something that will likely soon become one!) and an 'archive' review (ie a disc that's been out a longish time but which I never got round to reviewing) should help pad things out. But even that leaves one day of the week free. So you're now reading an example of the sort of post I'll be making on what I'm going to be calling Wibble Wednesday!

I have to admit I'm struggling a bit with naming the different days of the week for the new site. At the moment I have the following:

  • Blu Monday - that'll be the Blu-Ray Review

  • HD-DVD Tuesday - you can tell I'm struggling can't you?!

  • Wibble Wednesday - effectively the week in review.

  • Thursday on t'Telly - a TV show on shiny disc

  • Film on Friday - in cinemas now, but coming to shiny disc soon!

  • Saturday Night at the Movies - an archive movie

  • in-Store Sunday - review of shiny disc due to be in stores the next day

If you have some better suggestions (you must have, surely?!) PLEASE let me know! I'm happy to move the days of the week around to accommodate different titles.

Cinefex issue 109

Things will likely be a bit quiet on this blog over the weekend (probably no daily updates) because I'm going away for Easter Saturday and Sunday.

Sod's Law says Network SouthEast would choose the one time I decide to travel by train to Southampton to decide to close off half the line so that the usual journey time is more than doubled.

The extra time will at least give me the chance to read the latest issue of the excellent Cinefex magazine which I get on subscription. You probably haven't seen this excellent magazine which focuses on special effects in the movies, and is published quarterly.

It's a lavish publication with great articles that concentrate on just a handful of films instead of trying to cover everything in a rather trivial manner. Somehow they manage to get exclusive behind the scenes photo's you just never get to see anywhere else.

The latest issue has Ghost Rider on the cover, which seems a little odd given the much more interesting films covered inside. There are 'Overview' pieces of Apocalypto and Norbit, and then some solid in-depth features on 300 (hoorah!), Pan's Labyrinth (double-hoorah!) Zodiac (not out here yet, but the trailer looks awesome!) and the afore-mentioned Ghost Rider. Only one or two very specialist cinephile shops stock it, which is why so few folks seem to know about it. I can't recommend it enough if you're a movie fan. If you think it sounds interesting you can subscribe to it using the Cinefex web site. It's well worth taking out a subscription!

DVD Profiler Version 3

Keeping track of over 2000 shiny discs can be a nightmare! Fortunately I've had an excellent program called DVD Profiler to help. You simply enter the bar code number that's printed on the back of the DVD into the program, and the software downloads all the details (cast, film studio, cost, cover images etc) for you. Sweet! If you buy a cheap barcode scanner you can even save yourself having to type in the number and have the scanner do all the hard work for you!

Also included is an online web site which you can use to host your collection so that anyone with internet access can check it out. If you've ever clicked on the 'My DVD Collection' link on the right hand set of links that appear on this page then you're actually being taken to a web site that is maintained automatically just through me hitting a button in DVD Profiler!

Amazingly DVD Profiler is free!

... if you don't mind the odd advert and are happy with DVD cover scans being relatively low resolution. For just 30 US Dollars you can upgrade to a 'lifetime subscription' that takes the ads away and gives you hi-res images. It's a steal! I've been using the program for several years now and it must warrant as the best value-for-money software I've ever bought!

However, over the last couple of years the software has felt much neglected. A long-promised mobile version of the software, to enable you to carry around your whole collection synced up with a mobile device (useful when checking those Sale bins that you haven't actually already bought the title!) never materialised. It has been 'coming in a couple of weeks' for over 2 years now! And it's noticeable that each week UK title bar codes take longer and longer to be recognised, as you can see if you visit my collection and see the paucity of information on some of the titles, several of which don't have a cover image because the central DVD Profiler hasn't been kept as up-to-date as it might have been.

But it turns out that the author of the software has now launched a new version. And the long-promised mobile version is available too.

The new software looks much sexier than the old (with glassy reflected DVD cover images and stuff) and it's free again! The only reason I'm mentioning all this is that if you use DVD Profiler's 'Check for Updates' feature it won't work because the new software is supported by a different company and the old company doesn't know about the newer version. You have to manually go and download the new version from the new web site.

That being said, upgrading to the new version (version 3.0) is fairly easy: you have to backup your old database using the old DVD Profiler; register at the new web site to receive a new key for the new version (assuming you want the full version not the free one); install the new version and then import your old database. And upload all your collection to the new web site.

I haven't updated the link to 'My DVD Collection' on the menu on the right yet, but if you want to see the latest status of my collection you can see it here.

If you like the sound of DVD Profiler (and why wouldn't you?!) you can download it from the new web site: Highly recommended, but for Windows users only I'm afraid (according to those ridiculous ads Apple owners shouldn't need it - you get everything you need with iLife!)

That's the end of this first Wednesday Wibble. I'm hoping to finish off the CGI 'toon reviews tomorrow with a review of Over The Hedge. However, as things are a bit manic at work this may get delayed a day or two! As soon as the review's available I'll post a link here.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Easter Eggs For Kids

You can tell it's Easter weekend coming up because there's a sudden rush of 'family-oriented' movies been released on DVD this week. Night at the Museum has been rushed out so quickly that cinema's refused to keep showing the original film to register their protest at having such a short window of opportunity to make money from the film.

CGI 'toons always sell well, and the Easter holiday represents an opportunity to shift even more copies. Yesterday I reviewed Flushed Away on DVD and today it's the turn of the Happy Feet on HD-DVD. The title is released on standard DVD in the UK, but has been available for a couple of weeks on import as a high definition release, and it's this latter release that I've had a look at.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Flushed with Success

Monday's the day new DVD releases officially hit the stores, and Aaardman's Flushed Away CGI adventure is made available today - just in time for the Easter holidays. You can read my review of it here .

Sunday, April 01, 2007

This is NOT an April Fool!

After the mess that was the Christmas episode of Doctor Who, and the infantile crap (Stephen Moffatt episode aside) that was Season 2, I hadn't intended bothering with the first episode of Season 3, which kicked off on BBC1 last night. But needing a short break from writing reviews I decided to give it a try... and was pleasantly surprised. The episode was actually pretty good, despite having been written by Billy Bunter aka Russel T Davies, the man responsible for all the REALLY dire episodes of the bunch that we've had so far.

Admittedly he used the same pathetic 'deus ex machina' ending he'd used in the school dinners story last year (Planet earth is about to be destroyed, people panicking everywhere as the seconds tick down and the Doctor saves the day by simply unplugging the weapon of mass destruction - yup, it was THAT silly!). But everything else about the episode was rather good. The appallingly bad CGI work that featured in the last season's opener was absent, as were the totally unfunny 'jokes' and seemingly obligatory gay characters.

And against all the odds, the new companion was actually very good. If last night's episode proves to be typical I may well find myself addicted to tuning in on a regular basis. Fingers crossed!

Before watching Who I spent most of the day catching up on a bunch of CGI cartoon films in the endless 'Still to be watched' DVD pile.

Expect reviews of Happy Feet (on HD-DVD), Over the Hedge, Flushed Away and Elephants Dream (an excellent German import - thanks Reiner!) over the next few days. But today's review is of the DVD release of The Notorious Bettie Page which was released on DVD last Monday.