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Dec 032008

Format: DVD

IMDB entry: here

A rambling incoherant documentary that is so impenetrable that it will take you some time to realise the subject is beastiality (although if you have just pulled the DVD off the shelf in the video store you probably know). Most of the time skating around the subject in question is wasted time; there is no point in being subtle about this subject. Those who are going to be offended by the subject are going to be offended however subtle you are.

So why waste the time on being subtle ? The extra time could have been better spent interviewing more participants, or more experts on the subject. The long, lingering, landscape shots were very pretty but also pretty pointless.

Thumbs down.

Note that I am deliberately not judging anything other than the film itself; I’m not condeming the film because of the subject matter at all.

Nov 292008

Format: DVD

IMDB entry: here

(although they insist on calling it “The Last Hangman” (which is completely wrong of course))

This is the story of one of the last hangmen in Britain and his journey through learning his trade to becoming the top man in his profession. And his increasing doubt about the morality of his work. It is an oddly fascinating story, with Albert’s home life being so mundane that you wouldn’t have been able to pick him out in the street.

A film that anyone in favour of the death sentence should watch.

When we think of reasons why the death sentence is wrong we normally concentrate on those who are executed. But perhaps we should also look at the executioner and the dehumanising effect of perhaps decades of executions with hundreds of official killings

Not only should we question whether the state should descend to the level of murderers in carrying out executions, but whether the state has the right to ask another human being to kill. Because in the end there is always a killer carrying out the execution.

Aug 262007

Format: DVD

IMDB Entry: here

An entertaining man-chase through the jungle of pre Columbus central America. The hero of the story is taken from his village by slavers to a Mayan city where he only just misses being sacrificed, escapes and is pursued through the jungle by the men who captured him. An added twist is that his wife and child are hiding from the slavers in a hole in the ground and can’t escape from it without his help.

It is a pretty good film, but I was a little disappointed it was not better … given the claims for it. I think because it is a rare example of a film covering pre-Columbus America which did not compromise by insisting on making the audio language Mayan. Everyone then was under the impression that this was the film on Mayan civilisation, and the reality is somewhat less so. We only see a quick snap-shot of Mayan civilisation … perhaps 10-20 minutes of the length of the film.

The film however is pretty good but doesn’t quite come up to an epic portrayal of Mayan civilisation. I guess we will have to wait for that.

Jul 242007

Format: DVD

IMDB entry: here

A “foreign language” film with subtitles with an absolutely fascinating story set in WWII where a Dutch jew infiltrates the regional German headquarters for the resistance. An incredible number of plot twists and turns, together with a fascinating insight into how life was like for someone on the run in occupied Europe during the war. And even in the aftermath.

A film well worth checking out and don’t let the subtitles scare you off!

May 312007

Sony have recently upgraded the firmware available for PlayStation 3s; one of the features is for “upscaling” DVDs to HD resolution. Not exactly the same thing as blue ray, but definitely worth having especially given my situation. However Sony will only upscale DVDs over an HDMI connection to the TV; if you are limited to a component connection for some reason, you are out of luck.

Now this is not solely Sony’s fault as there is an agreement in place to not release equipment to upscale over any kind of TV connection that does not support anti-piracy measures such as HDCP(?). That rules out component cables.

So what is the reason for this ? To prevent piracy, but who is going to pirate “upscaled” DVDs which will offer quality less than blue ray disks and won’t play on DVD players ? Seems a little unlikely to me, or at least it is unlikely to be a serious commercial threat.

The media companies are yet again inconveniencing the legitimate consumer in the name of preventing piracy despite the evidence that pirates can get around the restrictions anyway.

Apr 282007

I am one of those weird people who have bought the PS3 primarily as a film player … to play DVDs and BD-ROMs (Blue-Ray). Oh, I will play the occasional game, but I’ve rarely found a game that is worth spending hours on … not that I have a problem with games or anything, it is just I’m too busy to dedicate that much time to them. This little piece is about the experience of using PS3s to play movies; it could be called a review, but I am not being that formal.

Firstly the experience of setting up the PS3 to talk to an HD TV is not pleasant. This is probably not solely Sony’s fault, but when using the HDMI cable my TV shows no picture. This is probably due to my TV not supporting 576p and the PS3 defaulting to this resolution whilst asking what resolution to use. Resorting to a component cable works fine. However this is hardly plug and play!

Playing back DVDs using the included SCART lead produces a picture that stomps my ancient Toshiba into the ground. Playing back DVDs over the component cables is not quite so good probably because the necessary upscaling is done by my TV which does not do a great job. Overall, good enough that the Toshiba is being retired.

Playing back BD-ROMs is as good as I expected … a big improvement over DVD although not quite as noticeable as the improvement from VHS to DVD.

Lastly there have been quite a few PS3 reviews that have criticised the use of the game controller to control film playback. The common theme is that the controls are somewhat inconvenient to access all the features. Well, I find it perfectly adequate … if all you generally do is hit “Play” and “Pause” (as I suspect most people do) then the controller works perfectly well. Just hit the big X button to do both. Now those who want to playback films upside down at 1/16th the original speed may find the controller inconvenient, but they can buy a more conventional controller.

Using Bluetooth as the protocol for the remote instantly struck me as a bit of an issue … I won’t be able to use my Phillips Pronto to control the PS3. Howvere whilst I would still like that, on using it, Bluetooth strikes me as much better than Infrared. Ever waved a remote at the TV only to find that some component on the floor is blocked and is not listening ? Bluetooth ends that.

Overall the PS3 is a pretty good film player although putting DVD upscaling into the PS3 would be beneficial (this is rumoured to be coming in a firmware update) and adding a USB dongle to allow infrared remote control would be a bonus.

Mar 172007

In the dim and distant past when iPods were something in SciFi films that hatched some nasty alien, and the only people who thought we might be using our computers for music were dangerously unstable visionaries there used to be a big issue called ‘software protection’. The software publishers had noticed that their software was being copied rather than paid for.

Being under the impression that every single illegal copy represented a lost sale (it isn’t, but that’s another story), they hired geeks to make copying software difficult. All of a sudden all the floppy disks (yes that long ago) that software came on were written with all sorts of funky tricks to make copying them difficult.

What happened ? Well the pirates came up with tricky ways of copying the disks and even removing the protection completely. Essentially the software protection schemes did not exist for them … in fact the more geeky ones enjoyed the challenge!

As for legitimate consumers, they started having problems. Those few who had hard disks suddenly had a collection of software packages that they could not copy onto the hard disk. Those who failed to treat their disks delicately found themselves unable to run software that often cost hundreds of pounds. It even grew to a point where the disk protection was so extreme that you found even a new disk did not work reliably.

A personal story from the 1980s … when the game Elite was launched for the BBC Microcomputer, I took some of my very limited money at the time and bought a copy. The game was brilliant but the disk protection was so extreme that I could not be sure of loading the game at any time. This experience ruined the game for me and I took it back. A few months later I ‘obtained’ an illegal copy and carried on playing it.

Do I feel guilty about breaking copyright law in this case ? No. I tried to do the right thing, but the software protection was so obnoxious to me as a legitimate consumer that I was encouraged to seek out an illegal copy.

Eventually after a long campaign, most of the larger software companies gave up software protection as a bad joke and everybody (probably including the software companies) breathed a sigh of relief.

Roll on a few years to now and look to digital music … a whole alphabet soup of different file formats … MP3, OGG, AAC, WMA, FLAC, MIDI … and that is just a few from the software that I run on my iPod. Some of these digital music formats have digital rights management and some do not … and the ones that do have it do not have the same one.

So I ‘buy’ a track from an online store for my smartphone which works quite well providing I keep the music there. Move it to my iPod and the iPod does not know it is music. Move it to a Windows machine, and it says that you’re not allowed to play it here. Some of these digital music formats have digital rights management and some do not … and the ones that do have it do not have the same one.

Notice something similar ? Again those who want to steal something will come up with a way to do it, and those legitimate consumers have to put up with restrictions that the pirates do not. Some of these digital music formats have digital rights management and some do not … and the ones that do have it do not have the same one.

We move onto films, where the same thing is happening. Ever notice whilst watching a DVD that you have to sit through 5-10 minutes of some stupid video telling you not to be naughty and steal the DVD ? Very irritating to be told off for something that you are not doing … especially when you realise those who steal movies usually have hacked hardware so they can fast forward through those bits. And of course movie download sites are using DRM in much the same way as music … you can download the movie and play it once, or play it as many times as you like for a month, or it only works on your PlayStation3 (or something like that). All sorts of restrictions for the legitimate consumer.

And what about those who download films from the file sharing networks ? Well no restrictions of course. In fact you can sometimes even download films before they are in the cinema especially if you are in a strange place like the UK where apparently shipping a film suitable for showing in the cinema can take many months.

Most media companies have yet to learn something that most software companies learnt a long time ago … pirates will steal your content whatever you do, and punishing legitimate consumers for doing the right thing will encourage some to become pirates and is pretty daft anyway. If I were a large media company I would do the following :-

  • Get rid of DRM. It costs money, probably has a negligable effect on the problem and punishes legitimate consumers.
  • Make all the old content available for download in a high-quality media format that can play everywhere for an almost nominal sum … perhaps a £1 a movie. Put the address of the download site at the beginning of the film prominently for a minute or two. This becomes your advertisement to those who get a copy illegally … and some of them will spend a pound to get an obscure
    film they’ve heard is good and then become more likely to purchase downloads.
  • Stop making cinema releases in stages. If you really want to see an over-hyped film that you know is in the cinema in the US but you have to wait months to see it in your country, you are far more likely to download an illegal copy than otherwise. If you have seen that illegal copy (sometimes a low-quality recording from a camcorder in a cinema) you are less likely to spend money on the film again. Especially if it is really over-hyped.
  • Same thing for DVD releases. Release them simultaneously world-wide and make them region free (whatever the excuse, region encoding comes across to consumers as a way of ripping them off).
  • Normalise DVD prices as much as possible. Seeing the same product at different prices in different countries makes the consumer feel they’re being ripped off. And don’t make the sales tax excuse … some consumers are capable of calculating the difference that makes.
  • Make DVD prices as cheap as possible. When consumers get DVDs for free with our newspaper, they feel like they are getting ripped off when they pay £20 for one.

If consumers feel like they are getting ripped off by media companies, they are more likely to try ripping off the media companies.

It all comes down to one simple statement. Rather than trying to stop people stealing using methods that don’t really work (and punish the legitimate consumer), look into why consumers steal films and other media and come up with consumer-friendly methods to alleviate that problem.

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