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Saturday, January 19, 2002

New speakers! New Speakers! I've finally got me some very nice and mucho coolo new Kef speakers for my steadily evolving Home Theatre set-up. Aren't you just as thrilled as I am? Oh, well, be like that then, you miserable gits...

For my part, I'm well into my humble yet thrillingly boxy and delightfully Black additions to the Hiroprotovitch family - At a restrained 70 watts per channel, they certainly whup the ass of my previous, faintly rubbish, cheapo boxes and have a satisfying ammount of low-frequency rumble, even without the assist of a fat Subwoofer box in the corner of the lounge. Bought some cool, affordable speaker wire, too, to make the whole thing system sing even more sweetly.

Sure, my set-up won't make it into the Home Theatre magazines as an example of a supremely desirable and inordinately expensive installation, but it does the job for me and makes my DVD movies even more enjoyable than they were before. Now, if I could only afford to snag one of those 36 inch widescreen Toshiba CRT sets, my movie life would be somewhere close to Heaven on Earth...

"Blackhawk Down"? It's good. Bits are even great. But there's still something off about it and I can't quite figure out what that is.

Ridley Scott's direction is absolutely assured, as you would expect, whilst his visual acumen and poetic imagery survive a potentially fraught working relationship with popcorn movie Godhead Jerry Bruckheimer remarkably unscathed, which is surely some kind of achievement - I'm the guy who hoped that "Pearl Harbor" would demonstrate that arch widescreen stylist and occasional Ad hack Michael Bay had an honest to goodness great movie in him, and we know how THAT particular $170 million sinkhole turned out.

Collaborating with Scott for, I think, the first time, my favourite cinematographer John Toll follows up his fantastic work on "The Thin Red Line" with two-and-a-half hours of gloriously beautiful imagery and horrible, remarkably intense battle zone photography - Scott is noted for his desire to shoot a lot of major sequences himself, but there isn't really a jarring note in the work on screen here and you would have to be a smarter cinephile than I to point out who shot what. If you were a fan of the slowed-down, frame-dropping, hand-held sequence that Scott and Pietro Scala delivered in the opening fifteen minutes of "Gladiator", you'll find a lot to appreciate in this undeniably grim and unflinchingly violent tale of modern warfare: It's nightmarish, but still awe-inspiring stuff.

A lot of critics have been quick to tear strips off Ken Nolan's screenplay, with the main charge seeming to be that it is, at heart, an unquestioning and gung-ho actioner with pretensions far above it's humble station. This is, so the received wisdom would have it, a prime example of the new American psyche following 9/11/01, and a glib piece of historical revisionism which arrogantly rewrites the fallen US troops participant in the Somalian campaign against terror of October 1993 as the doomed gilded youth of countless heroic myths. The people of Mogadishu who shot down the Blackhawk helicopters are ciphers who exist only to kill US troops, multilate their corpses and generally not have the common sense to know when the UN is trying to flush out the Somalian warlords who are starving the war-destroyed Somali citizens and thus save their lives.

So far, so New Statesmen. All of the above arguments have some degree of merit, it has to be admitted - This is a movie which awkwardly tries to combine the full-tilt, fire-fight action movie dynamics of a Bruckheimer blockbuster with serious, state-of-the-nation, hand-wringing political storytelling and Ridley Scott's skill at creating genre-bending mainstream flicks with aspirations towards Art with an unashamed capital 'A'. There's a lot that could go wrong, here, and it is to Scott's credit that "Blackhawk Down" is never reduced to a blood-pumping, fist-waving revenge fantasia for an American audience still left reeling by the notion that they are not invisible to the Bin Laden's of the world.

Essentially, this is a very accurate translation of Mark Bowden's fascinating book, down to the very specific, nuanced and doubtlessly truthful details of the final moments of individual soldier's lives. This could be seen, by career cynics out there, as the stuff of trite Hollywood cliche, were it not for the fact that we saw doomed passengers on the planes flown into the World Trade Centre making last phone calls to loved ones and finding themselves sharing final, terrified epiphanies with answering machines - We know how shattering and heart-rending those communication age testimonies were. At this point in our history, we are somewhere south of reflexive, knee-jerk irony, and Scott's film doesn't cross the line into cringe-making sentimentality that is so easily could have.

It's just a shame that the Somalian point of view is so rarely depicted with such attention to verisimillitude - But that's scarcely the focus of Bowden's book, either, so I suppose that we can understand this shortcoming, if not entirely excuse it.

I recommend this film - It really is well worth your time, be you Scott devotee or just in search of something to see at your mulitplex that isn't the usual crud which distributors hastily sneak into cinemas at this undeniably fallow time of year. There's a seriousness of storytelling intent and technical execution here which shouldn't be overlooked, even if it is difficult to escape some disquiet at the idea of Scott's latest being endorsed by members of the Bush administration - I think that his film is about more than making a shaken country feel better about itself, though Monday morning's US box office figures may tell you a somewhat different story.

Stay well, live right and please, whatever you do, DON't buy lazily-cropped, print-damaged 4:3 transfers...

Patster Hiroprotovitch


Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Thanks Paul, for the hydro-spanner assist and general technical expertise.


Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention that I've added a Google search box on this loopy excuse for a site, so you need not venture any further into the Digital Hinterland if you feel the need to go a-searching whilst reading my piffle and claptrap.

Enjoy! Or something...


Having taken a look around at the work of fellow Blogsmiths in the last few days, I feel like something of a fraud and thus duly renounce my position as hapless movie geek, in order that I might instead take the Long Walk out into the wider world and return when I have something worth saying and reading about.

Well, maybe later, perhaps. I really have to give props to the good people at Twentieth Century Fox, who certainly know how to put a Special Edition DVD together - Those of you who own the Region One editions of "Fight Club", "Cast Away" and especially "Moulin Rouge" will happily attest to this - following the delivery this morning off my hot off the presses copy of the 2001 martial arts thriller, "Kiss Of The Dragon", which stars the awesomely skilled martial arts legend Jet Li, the quite desperately-underrated Bridget Fonda and the snarling, perpetually pissed-off and blood-curdlingly intense French character actor, Tcheky Karyo (You may remember him as the similarly peeved, in-need-of-anger-management-training villain in "Bad Boys").

Whilst it isn't the most high profile release to arrive on DVD this year, Fox have put together a surprisingly comprehensive and interesting package for what is essentially 90 minutes of Chinese supercop Li taking a trip to Paris and pummelling the living bejesus out of a whole complement of unfortunate,and hopefully well-insured, stuntmen.

There is, remarkably, a plot in evidence here -The screenplay is written by producer Luc Besson and his regular collaborator Robert Mark Kamen - but it's the usual mix of Eastern drug runners, remarkably trigger-happy local law enforcement types and convincingly downtrodden junkie hookers (The only female character in the movie who isn't a working girl is the young daughter of one, and is even then threatened with being so employed, in one particularly queasy-making, tasteless throwaway line). We need not bother with the story, frankly, as the main purpose of this flick is to show Jet Li cracking heads and showing just why he's the preeminent Martial Arts hero working today.

It seems trite to say that the action and fight scenes are quite breathtaking, but they do deliver just the right blend of balletic, acrobatic physicality and full-speed, all-out visual pyrotechnics - There's a bit where the manic bad guy takes a short cut down the wrong side of the road to get to his quarry, driving at least 90mph and spitting what would seem to be actual venom at some poor lackey on the other end of his mobile, which all left me quivering in a heady mix of movie geek delight and actual fear. Debuting director Chris Nahon certainly brought all of his previous editing skills to bear when cutting this particular heart shredder of a sequence together.

Technically, this disc offers a fairly muted colour scheme but compensates in fine style with a blisteringly-sharp and eye-catching 2:35:1 anamorphic picture which should surely do the business for all but the most analytical viewers. The sound is your basic, everyday, neighbour-irritating Dolby Digital 5.1 treat and boasts all kinds of gunfights, car chases, punch-ups and window-shattering moments to give your long-suffering subwoofer another workout. There's also a commentary from Nahon, Li and Fonda - Chortle as Mr. Jet explains the symbolism of the otherwise inexplicable four bunny rabbits at the start of the movie - and a bunch of TV spots, trailers, deconstructions of fight scenes and more than enough content to justify the £16.99 or so that you'll pay to import this disc.

Still haven't watched "American Pie 2", by the way. More news as and when.

I'll end this hopeless farrago today by promising a review, on Friday, of the new Ridley Scott action drama, "Blackhawk Down", which is previewing at my local cinema on Thursday night. Will it be a completely gung-ho military epic with the prerequisite stirring shots of American flags in the breeze, or a more considered examination of a fairly disasterous US mission which led to a 1000 Somali civilians and 18 Army Rangers dying for an ultimately ill-defined purpose? You'll know when I know, fellow online visionaries....

Patster Hiroprotovitch




Tuesday, January 15, 2002

I would be remiss, as a movie junkie, to begin this update without saying a few words in tribute to the very talented young filmmaker, Ted Demme, who tragically died over the weekend at the far too early age of 38.

You might have seen some of his movies and not known it, such was his increasing comfort in a number of genres and with independent and studio projects alike.

Personally, I think that his diversity is best illustrated by the fact that my two favourite Demme movies are streets apart in subject matter: "Beautiful Girls", which so neatly underpins the many stupid things which occupy the feeble minds of men, and last year's rather cool 1970s Coke drama, "Blow".

Sure, a lot of critics were quick to critique "Blow" for being nothing more than a cinematic love-letter to Scorsese's back catalogue, but I think that it was more than a visual white-knuckle ride with great attention to period detail. Demme's skill with actors really shone through, which is probably why he attracted a cast which included the incomparable Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz (Actually justifying her hype with a superbly gritty and nuanced performance) and the wonderful German star, Franke Potente and allowed them enough freedom to deliver as fine an acting ensemble as I can remember in recent movie memory.

He was a director with great potential ahead of him, a gift for making visually interesting, well acted, musically-thrilling, intelligently mainstream movies. Hollywood is poorer for his loss.

Still haven't seen "American Pie 2", I'm afraid, but I did manage to find the not-so-sneakily hidden Easter Egg on the disc - It's really an egg-citing one, too, Mena Suvari fans - so I'll have to check back in later in the week with a review of this no doubt wilfully juvenile slice of teenage hedonism and gross-out humour.

I found myself, instead, watching the new rental version of "Jurassic Park 3", which came out over here in the UK yesterday, with a bunch of surprising elements which absolutely justified the price of renting the movie in the first place.

First of all, the transfer was, to my untrained eye, nigh on flawless and a joy to watch. Deep blacks, misty scenes which didn't break down into a murky digital fog, fast pans which were pretty much exhilarating to behold, some perfectly-integrated CG dinos and Stan Winston's splendidly-designed and realised live action beasts - And this is RENTAL, folks. I don't know why, but I expected this release to be a little half-assed in comparison to the retail release later in February.

And, get THIS, fellow surround sound geeks - A rental disc with a choice between Dolby Digital 5.1 and (Drum roll!) DTS 5.1! Your neighbours will hate you but you will turn cartwheels at the awesome battle sequence where our old friend T-Rex takes on the new, spectacularly nasty Spinosaurus. Loud isn't the word.

Go rent it now. Go on. I'll still be here when you get back.

Ok, maybe I won't. I should really tell you about my PlayStation 2 experience this morning.

I had a few minutes free before going into town and so called around to my friend Adam, who has just borrowed a PS2 from another friend, Rich. He loaded up the new James Bond game (Adam's a huge Bond fan - And can't wait for Halle Berry in the new, just-filming 20th 007 adventure) and pretty much floored me with the graphical dexterity of Sony's unjustly-maligned console. Sure, it's a mainstream gamer's platform of choice, but I really loved the all-out action of the gameplay, the way that the game presented the Bond universe - It's honestly like playing through a movie, and who amongst us hasn't wanted to do that? - and the sheer mayhem which ensues when you get in a gun battle with the bad guys. Try it, you'll really dig the hell out of it.

The clock on the clubhouse wall informs me that I really should be getting along and trying to do some of that tiresome, responsible adult stuff which I make a pretence at being interested in - I've tried using the excuse about not being emotionally ready to pursue a mortgage and the minefield which is property ownership, but it just doesn't wash, apparently. Never mind.

Stay indoors, folks, it's cold outside...

Patster Hiroprotovitch


Sunday, January 13, 2002

This is all Paul's fault. I mean, if you really need someone to aim your befuddled irritation at, he's your guy.

Paul, you see, publishes his own Blog-type thing and was so animated and enthusiastic when discussing it in the pub last night, that I felt oddly compelled to investigate the Online Journal thing further and put together my own attempt at recording my life in the digital realm. Hence the First Season Journal. Of course, being the only sober person in the place, I should have spotted the first potential pitfall of this medium: I have nothing to say about anything important. And, as much as that should promise me a glittering career in broadcast entertainment journalism or local politics, It scarcely promises you, my new online friends, a riveting reading experience.

I can only apologise, in advance, for my complete irrelevance and lack of any point whatsoever. Think of me as the online print version of one of those manufactured, production-line pop bands, only minus the robotic good looks and nifty dance routines. And the songs.

As this is a journal of my lack of a life, the spectre of movies may very well come to haunt you as you read these entries - Because I don't seem to do much except work (Let's not go there, for now - It's not worth the hassle of explaining my job or the mind-scuttering boredom which ensues from the act of thinking about it), sleep (I regard six hours as a positive King's Ransom, eight as cause to dance arhythmically in the street) and obsess over movies.

Good movies. Bad movies. Indifferent movies. Val Kilmer movies. I've been addicted for most of my twenties and see no end in sight to this cinematic monkey on my back (Though if Tim Burton makes an "..Apes" sequel, there's gonna be consequences and repurcussions, let me assure you).

I would have spent last night at the cinema, but my local palace of filmic delights - The evocatively named Hollywood Plaza - had some kind of technical kerfuffle which necessitated my going to the pub and being the only teetotal soul in a bar populated entirely by the merrily tiddly and absolutely plastered (Well, that would explain the fashion choices at least - Is there really any place in 2002 for the ill-advised 'Mullet-and-White-Sport-Coat combo worn by one clearly confused fellow on Saturday evening? I hope not, for all our sake...). It was a fine night, but I was unable to play my favourite, movie-going game of "Guess what's going on in the film when your local cinema doesn't have a Dolby Digital surround system, you can't hear the dialogue clearly, and the sound effects are a huge mush of roars, music and other stuff that you can't make out". Anyone else have to play that game at their local independent picture palace? No? Just me, then....

As I couldn't go to the flicks last night, I'm making do with a couple of DVD releases to ease my pain. My copy of "American Pie 2" arrived through the letterbox yesterday - I live in the UK, and have a suitably region-code mocking DVD player, which allows me to order US region one titles as they debut over there, instead of waiting months and years for the same movies to make it to the UK - so I shall indulge my sad crush on "Buffy" star Alyson Hannigan anew, and try not to laugh at all of the vulgar, gross-out humour in the film which is so clearly beneath me. Ahem...

Also in my marvellous, long-suffering Samsung DVD 709? The anachronisitic joys of "A Knight's Tale" - Paul Bettany as Chaucer is all the reason you need to see this movie, although I concede that Heath Ledger is kind of good-looking and Shannyn Sossamon is also a bit on the lovely side - and the full-tilt depression boogie of "Requiem For A Dream", because it reminds me that however dull my life is, it's way better than the nightmarish existance of the characters in that tale of drugs, unpleasantness and homicidal fridges.

I think that I'll close out this premiere edition of the First Season Journal here, if only for no other reason than the previous paragraphs make some kind of sense and read as though I can actually structure my habitual banality into proper, grown-up sentances, which is quite the achievement in my book. I don't want to push my luck by wittering on further and boring you unduly, so I'll get out whilst the getting is good (It's a local colloquiallism - Don't worry about it). Also, the radio in the Cyber Cafe is playing Britney and my head may very well implode at the world-bestriding poppiness of her enthusiastic, studio-assisted yelping. Which would be not only messy, but preclude future editions of this Blog. Imagine the horror of THAT prospect, why don't you...?

So, It's been an actual, honest-to-god pleasure writing this, online friends, and I only hope that the onslaught of unconnected ramblings and blithely pointless whimsy hasn't been too much of a chore for you. If, by some miracle, you happened to read this and enjoy it, I will make every effort to post new dispatches from the slow lane as much as life and my access to a PC permit.

Until the next time our paths cross, stay well, try to keep your head up and don't, whatever you do, query the wonder of the Anamorphic Widescreen transfers on your DVDs. If I can only impart one piece of wisdom to you, let it be THIS: The Black Bars are your friends....

Patster Hiroprotovitch


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