Sunday, June 27, 2010

Check this out! - Inception

Even if it's Christopher Nolan ripping off The Matrix, I still want to watch this piece of plagiarism.

Review: The Book of Eli

What happens when you combine Blade with I Am Legend? You get another science fiction actioner for another prominent African-American actor, Mr. Denzel Washington. The million-dollar question is, is it any good? For a sci-fi actioner based on no existing franchise, The Book of Eli exceeds general expectations.

Set in a futuristic post-apocalyptic world (Which movie world nowadays isn't?), the movie follows seasoned survivalist Eli on his spiritual quest to deliver a mysterious book to an undisclosed location and person. Seems that an implied recent nuclear holocaust has reduced the world into a barren, brutal wasteland. The survivors no longer have the luxury of civility and humanity when even the basic necessities of life are scarce. As dictated by the requirements of the genre, Eli is of course gifted in the murder arts, which conveniently explains his longevity in such a ruthless environment. On the way, he meets Carnegie (Gary Oldman in his trademarked villain mode) who runs a water-rich town like a don and coincidentally has a strong interest in Eli's delivery package. Bloody carnage ensues. The movie is backed by a star-studded cast that includes Punisher No.3 Ray Stevenson, Dumbledore 2.0 Michael Gambon, the Flashdancing Jennifer Beals, That Seventies Showing Mila Kunis and A Clockwork Orangy Malcolm McDowell.

The movie is pretty realistic in depicting a post-apocalyptic world, so people who like realism or some intelligence in their action diet would have little to complain here. I'm only not convinced by Kunis' virginal character, although there's a passable logic behind it. The action sequences obviously does not pass the realism test, but what's a junk food without a little MSG? Give Eli an arsenal from any era and he'll dispatch a roomful of stock henchmen with unexplained superhuman efficiency.

The movie touches on the controversial topic of religion and actually has something interesting to say. There is also a Shyamalan-worthy end twist that gives you the urge to rewatch the movie, as you may have already heard from other movie critics. This is a solid sci-fi actioner that is definitely worth your time.

Format: DVD, 2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Source: Rental (Arts Brother, Jurong Point 1 Level 3)
Experience: Home, 47-inch LCD with home theatre surround system
Cost: SGD $4
The cardboard slipcase is unnecessarily extravagant as it repeats the artwork on the DVD case and serve no other purpose except to protect the case. Ironic, considering the subject matter.

There's a bleak but scenic spread that greets every opening. Less interesting is the disc artwork.

Blessed art thy maker, who hath maketh thee anamorphic widescreen. All is right in the world. - The Book of Wei Lam, Chapter 2, Verse 40:1.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Anamorphic problems even in U.S. releases

The anamorphic woes continue. Previously, I have written about how the Red Cliff Part I DVD was not "anamorphic" and the image quality was not worthy of a high-definition LCD TV presentation. Inspired by a discussion on Facebook, I rummaged my DVD storage for my copy of Silence of the Lambs, the serial killer thriller that popularised the character of Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), hoping to relive the grisly world that the bad doctor resides in. To my horror, the disc also suffers the same problem as the Red Cliff disc, as the video appeared squashed on the original or 16:9 aspect ratio setting.

Jodie Foster looking like prime material for Buffalo Bill's makeover.

Changing the TV ratio setting to 4:3 corrects Jodie Foster's fat quotient. However, this proves that the video was modified to fit the squarish frame of televisions of yore, and not widescreen televisions. Notice that Jodie looks just right, but because the presentation won't fit a rectangular widescreen TV, hence there are two vertical bars on the left and right. 

You can't really fix this, unless you can "zoom in" to fill the screen more, but the video quality will look worse, and the grainy, un-mastered condition doesn't help the situation. Getting the anamorphic Silence of the Lambs DVD or Blu-Ray is the best option if money is not an issue. The movie was shot in 1.85:1 aspect ratio, so the picture should fit the screen fully like this:

I should have used these graphic examples to highlight the problems on the Red Cliff I DVD. You guys may have been and maybe still are a little confused about my babblings on that post. But it's the same problem there and here.

What's frustrating is that the DVD packaging indicates prominently that the disc is made for widescreen presentation.

It didn't say that it was anamorphic, though. But that's like saying you could sell me a car without a steering wheel if they didn't mention it having one in the manual.

I bought the DVD probably five years or more ago, likely from Choa Chu Kang Laser Flair, Lot One branch. (Don't worry, Laser Flair, I won't charge. Free publicity.) High definition TVs weren't so prevalent during those days, so I guess people didn't take much notice of the ratio and anamorphic issues, including yours truly. I'm sure I played this very DVD for more than ten times (on my still-alive ten-year-old JVC cathode ray tube television, of course) and still never noticed anything wrong!  

Can't remember how much I paid for this. No special features.
Nice, freaky DVD box design, though. Sssssslurp!

If you want to know more about anamorphic DVDs, this site explains it pretty well.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge

In my review of the original A Nightmare On Elm Street (ANOES), I forgot to mention another reason why the Freddy Krueger movies aren't scary to me. I'm not sure about your own experiences, but my dreams are usually very hazy, disjointed, frightening, monochromatic, without any sense of time, and mostly beyond my control, like as if they were scripted events - just like a movie! (See Minority Report's psychic scan sequences, which is the closest cinematic representation of dream sequences I've seen so far, even though they're not exactly representing dreams in the movie.) However, when a person dreams in the Elm Street movies, it's like he or she is entering an alternate, parallel world or dimension that progresses in real time, where people can have a substantial amount of free will, participate in conversations, and even make informed decisions! The advantage of doing this is that it keeps the audiences guessing as to whether the onscreen characters are still in the real or the dream world, making the eventual Krueger attacks more unexpected and surprising. This formula makes the movie more fantastical and sci-fi-ish and less relatable to real-life experiences.

This is where ANOES2 gets interesting, as it veers away from the formula even before the formula became formulaic. After the tragic events in the first movie, a new family moves into the Thompsons house, unaware of said happenings. Inevitably, the ghost of Freddy Krueger haunts the sole teenager in the house, this time a reclusive, geeky boy. Probably because the whole nightmare killing thing didn't work out too well the last time, Krueger tries something new, by possessing the kid's body and embark on his killings in the real world. Strangely, his logic-twisting powers in the dream world also applies in the real one. This is more ridiculous than the "alternate world" concept. Trying something new is a good thing because we don't always want to see the same old thing and Hollywood is currently notorious for being creatively bankrupt, but then again in cases like ANOES2, new doesn't necessarily mean it will work for the better.

Many movie critics pointed out the quite-apparent homosexual vibe in the movie, because A: the protagonist is frequently topless and sweaty, B: there's actually a gay bar scene and one S&M-like sequence in the locker room shower involving two men, C: one jock character even made a sober remark that the protagonist would rather "sleep with him", and D: the director claimed that he deliberately made the movie that way. True, they're there in the movie, but they don't deter the movie the way another vibe, the "B-grade vibe" does. Although very tight on budget, the first ANOES felt like a slick, big studio production, with a talented crew and director who were able to stretch every penny with just a little bit of creativity and elbow grease. ANOES2 had more budget, but perhaps with a different director and crew, the producers were unable to replicate the X-factor of the original movie. ANOES2 feels more like a direct-to-video cheapo a la Leprechaun 4: In Space.

The pinnacle of cinematic achievement

With the shift of focus on the real world, ANOES2 loses the novelty that the first movie possessed. The real world of ANOES2 isn't even an interesting place to begin with, having to follow around a mundane lead character that has no apparent appeal or any matter of interest except that he's being psychologically tormented by a supernatural entity. Therefore, I have to agree with the general consensus out there that this may easily be the weakest and dullest ANOES movie, having not yet seen anything else beyond Part 4 except for New Nightmare and Freddy Vs. Jason.

Next: A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

Related links:
Review: A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
The stuff of Nightmares 

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Horror is a strange genre. Movies are supposed to entertain, excite, thrill, tickle your funny bone and even move or inspire you, if done right. Generally, they should affect you in a positive way. Horror movies, on the other hand, strive to affect you negatively, by shocking, provoking and/or frightening. Sometimes, you can admire the craft and thought put into the work, especially with The Exorcist, The Blair Witch Project, The Sixth Sense, etc. On a personal note, despite my respect for the genre, horror isn't my most favourite of genres, and I don't normally rush out to see the next big scare.

This may sound lame, but to me the most frightening movies are those with evil spirits resembling long haired women in white, which are probably the horror villains with the least amount of costume and makeup budget ever. (See The Ring, Ju-On, The Eye, A Tale of Two Sisters, etc.) They are frightening to me in a way clowns or lifelike dolls are frightening to some people.

That said, most Western horrors aren't very scary to me. Shocking, repulsive, maybe. But the scares rarely made me want to cower behind my blanket like the Asian varieties sometimes do. Vampires, zombies, werewolves, the Frankenstein monster, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, Leatherface and Freddy Krueger... they're more supervillains in a movie than something fearful on a subconscious level. They don't crawl under your skin like a good old apparation or just plain weird shit happenings could do. For example, a man standing and facing the corner of a decrepit room for no reason (The Blair Witch Project) does a lot more than the sight of a raised kitchen knife.

Yet, I still enjoyed movies like A Nightmare On Elm Street, although for the wrong reasons. Freddy Krueger, a very iconic horror staple recognisable through his trademark fedora, red and black striped sweater, Wolverine-like blades and charred face, is a memorable baddie more in the lines of The Dark Knight's Joker than a malevolent supernatural force like in the other movies I mentioned. With villains like The Joker, Hans Gruber, and Hannibal Lecter, you find yourself rooting for them despite their nefarious nature. I doubt anyone was in anyway concerned about Dr. Chilton at the end of Silence of the Lambs, and probably wished Lecter got to "have him for dinner" sooner!

Unlike other horror villains, Krueger dispatches his victims in their dreams (or nightmares) where logic and the laws of physics don't apply, which allows for creativity beyond the usual hack-and-slash-with-the-common-garden-utensil death sequences. One infamous scene depicts a teen being swallowed by his own bed, only to be regurgitated as a geyser of blood. This makes Krueger's nightmare attacks a constant highlight in every impending sequel. The Nightmare On Elm Street series becomes more of a morbidly humourous special effects showcase than a true fright fest.

"A Nightmare On Elm Street" is the kind of "must-watch" movie for the movie and horror buffs, simply because the popularity and iconic stature of the series cannot be ignored. I find the movie above-average, with some nice subversion of cliches (a trademark of director Wes Craven) marred by bad acting performances. I also didn't find it frightening for one second, but that doesn't mean you should show this one to your mum or kids either.

Also stars Johnny Depp and John Saxon.

Next: A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2 - Freddy's Revenge

Related links:
The stuff of Nightmares