Monday, January 30

Initial Impressions of Sony's BDP-S185 "Smart" Blu-ray player

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At just $80, Sony's BDP-S185 is an obvious attempt to pillage the wallet of any still Blu-ray reluctant Average Joes with the combo of a trusted brand and multitude of features at an extremely competitive price. What pulled me in was the tiny form factor. The width and length of the unit equals just a half a fingernail over two standard DVD cases set side-by-side. It fits perfectly on top of my standard ATX PC tower with room to spare...

But why would I set it on my PC? Long story short, my parent's already-repaired-once Samsung LCD kicked the bucket, again, so they threw up their hands and shuffled sets around. They ended up getting a larger set for a second room and were gracious enough to give me their 32" Sony LCD (KDL-32L5000) which I'm now looking at as a monitor. With HDMI inputs, I wanted to get a BD player just for this display to watch/spot check Blus and DVDs right at my desk with the push of a button. I could have just bought a BD-ROM drive, but you should already know I'm weird like that. After determining the easiest way to grab one was to join the People of Wal Mart, I found literally stacks of them on an endcap for $78.

The player is simple to set up. Just plug-in, connect with an HDMI cable (not supplied, visit Monoprice), and turn on. The boot-up is less than fifteen seconds and you'll be greeted with a simple version of Sony's XMB interface seen on the PS3. There's selectable icons for Set-up, Photo, Music, Video, and Network. Looking over the video and audio feature set, the S185 supports almost everything the Blu-ray format can currently muster. 1080p/24 playback, Deep Color modes (10/12/16-bit), BD-Live 2.0, and internal decoding and/or bitstreaming of lossless audio types via HDMI. Firmware updates are also a breeze. The only drawbacks are a lack of Blu-ray 3D support, no time display on the player's front, no Wi-fi capability, and the required use of at least a 1GB USB stick for BD-Live features. I personally couldn't care less about the lack of these aspects. The biggest issue might be no front read-out but that's helped by a on-screen display that can be called up with info like the current/total track time, audio track, resolution, chapter number, and video bitrate (again, like the PS3's display).    

Disc load times are speedy, more-or-less matching the PS3. The responsiveness to commands like chapter skipping or audio track changes is instantaneous. Worldly DVD collectors will bemoan the fact that the unit won't play even region free PAL format titles, but I already have several other players that can do that so I'm not holding that against it. One tiny yet extremely important feature is the disc tray design. I can't tell you how annoying it is when you buy a player and the tray isn't user-friendly. Many brands have forgotten this, like LG's BD550 (review here), which drove me up the wall with its ultra-thin tray that took the fingers of an aged Chinese sweatshop assembly worker to simply remove the disc by the edges. This Sony's tray is more like a traditional CD-ROM, that opens all the way out, just deep enough for you to easily see that the disc is properly "seated" to avoid jamming the (quiet) drive. The sides of the disc are also clear of the tray for assured removal even by big hands. It might sound stupid, but this factor alone is a huge plus because I certainly don't want to fuck up my media with scratches and fingerprints from being forced to employ awkward handling to simply use them.  

Outside of the solid Blu-ray and DVD performance, the S185 also offers a bunch of online services like Sony's own movie/music rental service, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, Hulu, Pandora Radio, Slacker Radio, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, and Crackle. I don't have the pay services, so I can't say how their implementation fares here, but the free ones run pretty smoothly. YouTube is fleshed out with most of the options you'd find online, including access to your own account, and the ability to watch videos full screen. Pandora is kinda shitty with Slacker being better thought out. The only problem was Slacker locking up the player if I became too overzealous with hitting the remote. Just like the PS3, hold the power button down on the player to force a shutdown. Crackle works well and offers free streaming movies and television, like NOLD '90 above. There's a useful image noise reduction feature that can be used with the online video services. You can also hook up a keyboard via USB for faster searches. Sony appears intent to add more services in the future, like the "coming soon" CinemaNow. You can even get tips or something from Dr. Oz and Lance Armstrong through their services...yeah...   

I'm an idiot when it comes to all these newfangled media file types available, but there were no problems with viewing images and playing .avis and mp3s on USB drives. The remote is a little too small for all its buttons but compliments other recent Sony remotes. As for odd little features, the audio can be delayed up to 120msecs on DVDs and BDs during playback if the sync with the video seems off. Also in the Audio Set-up there's an option to automatically convert mono or stereo tracks into processed DTS Neo6 Surround. A feature I've never seen a disc player have that's always reserved for A/V receivers or processors. Overall, so far, this plucky player seems like a very good deal at the price point and it shows how far Blu-ray decks have come. It's almost like a PS3 without the gaming feature for a fraction of the cost.
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Saturday, January 28

Some quick, unscientific snaps of the Squeeze LD of T2...

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(the picture is inherently and permanently "squeezed" vertically in 4:3, unlike DVD's 4:3 accommodation)
(when set to 16:9*, the picture is "unsqueezed", yielding greater vertical resolution, it does look quite good)
(between-frame funkiness that happens when photographing running video)

One of my most wanted LaserDiscs...

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...found its way into my mailbox today! Pioneer Japan's withdrawn, anamorphic LD of Terminator 2: Judgment Day with non-color corrected picture and original theatrical audio mix!

Thursday, January 26

Night of the Living Dead (1990) - Nikkatsu Video VHS

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At the risk of getting my horror fan card ripped from my hands and thrown into a corpse bonfire, I actually saw the remake before the original thanks to '90s Turner Network Television (or TNT). You know, back when they actually aired horror movies along with the gone-but-not-forgotten MonsterVision. I even remember their TV spot for this flick featuring the cemetery zombie bursting through the car window toward the camera as its closing shot. It's hard to see why this Tom Savini-helmed update is so vehemently panned by some, but I'm biased since NOLD '90 is one of my seminal experiences with the genre.

As an attempt to recoup some of heavy losses taken by the original's copyright change debacle, it's an admirable attempt with admirable intentions, despite ultimately collapsing at the box office. Isn't it funny just how unbankable the walking dead were before their resurgence a few years ago? The biggest alteration is the character of Barbara being taken from catatonic shambles with female genitalia to strong, self-actualized woman reflective of the cultural shift in the years since the original. However, the greatest achievement is how the same situation plays out with nearly no change in how the living have to deal with their surroundings and others even with over twenty years since Romero's classic (before cell phones and Wi-fi, that is). It almost hurts to say this, but this one stands as a far more complementary and thoughtful off-shoot to the "...of the Dead" series than George's own Document and Survival.

This Japanese VHS is no different compared to the MPAA "R" version released everywhere. The contrast is noticeably darker, like many of the country's tapes, than Columbia's U.S. presentation. The only explaination I can think of for this phenomena is Japan's NTSC video standard being set at a different black level (0 IRE) than North America's NTSC (7.5 IRE). So if the equipment in Japan used in creating the video master and VHS duplication is set to this unique standard, maybe the picture appears darker when played back though American VCRs and TVs? At least that's my theory...
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Saturday, January 21

Made it easier to browse through the tapes I'm selling...

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Just friend yours truly and look in "Tapes for Sale!" under Photos!
(clicky)
Facebook

Thursday, January 19

Operation: Get Victor Corpus: The Rebel Soldier (1987) - 1987 Trigon Video VHS

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What the fuck?! At least that was my first thought as the credits began rolling. I wasn't particularly interested in the real story of Philippine military-deflector-turned-Communist-hero Victor Corpus of which this film details. After seeing and thinking the cover might be of interest, I found this entry over at Bamboo Gods and Bionic Boys with comments from obscure cinehoundist Jack J. of En lejemorder ser tilbage telling of how rare Victor Corpus is on video. Doing some more research didn't prove too fruitful and I couldn't tell if this flick was more action set-piece or docudrama. Nonetheless, I was drawn to its obscurity, seeming to only be known on VHS in Greece and Germany until this U.S. tape was uncovered.

So what provoked my bewilderment? After an English-text disclaimer purporting the "true story" aspect, the film begins with a brazen raid of an armory with men dumping stacked armfuls of rifles into the trunks of cars. The opening credits roll written in English and we're treated to a roomful of rebels watching a newscast spoken in English. The next scene shows a roundtable of military brass discussing what should be done with Corpus and the rebel forces, in English, but suddenly switches in mid-dialogue to Filipino. No subtitles or anything. As the film progresses, more Filipino...with English inexplicably scattered throughout.

If that's not strange enough, the English doesn't sound spoken by a different actor or crudely inserted from a different source. Being so talky, I soon couldn't figure out what the hell was going on. Just Filipino language, someone saying something like "orders are orders" or "it's not the uniform, but the people wearing it", and more Filipino in response. As you can see, the cover (and cassette labels) make no note of the language. As for the film, it seems like more of a docudrama with some gun battles sprinkled throughout. There is one semi-nasty scene of a hand-removal of a bullet to the leg in close-up. It would have been nice to have subtitles and maybe that's why this tape is so scarce being basically worthless to an English-speaking market. Weird!
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Tuesday, January 17

Doin' Thangs...

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Well, what can I say, I've began selling tapes on Facebook and have been busy evenings making deals, boxing, going to the post office, and digging through piles to figure out what I could let go. I'm not planning on selling everything or halt collecting (or perhaps hoarding), but being all new to me, this endeavor has taken time away from clicking the keys here. Once things normalize I hope to get back to BoGD on a more regular basis!

Friday, January 13

Why can't more DVDs have picture quality this superlative?

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Make Them Die Slowly (Cannibal Ferox) (1981) - Uncut Ropponica/Nikkatsu Video VHS

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Sorry about not blabbering on here like I'm prone to over recent days. Not doing so really makes me feel like I'm letting my scant regular readers down. As usual for January, I'm currently slogging through a head cold.

So here's another cover scan of an offensive jungle flesheater epic that I love. As previously described concerning the rare French-Canadian VHS, a scan of the rare stateside tape is here, Umberto Lenzi's Cannibal Ferox is a "fruit roll-up of Italian cannibal delights." Like Zombie Holocaust, it belongs to a unique subgroup within a type of exploitation wholly crafted in Italy's grindhouse output. Instead of cannibalizing a trend spearheaded in the States, Lenzi latches onto Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust to create a "greatest hits" of its sick wonders. Lenzi forgoes any trace of nuance that Deodato accidentally ran into and throws the concept into an even lower part of the gutter. Awesome.        

Tuesday, January 10

Awesome Vestron BURIAL GROUND Pen and Pad on eBay...

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Too rich for my blood, but this promotional item definitely rocks!

Castle of the Creeping Flesh (1968) - 1987 International Video Presentations Clamshell VHS

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Fresh from eBay, my first "domestic" online grab in awhile, love the color fidelity and clarity of this cover!

Sunday, January 8

Nail Gun Massacre (1985) - TCC Video Japan VHS (w/ word of an upcoming VHS release)

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You know, despite seemingly everyone hating this no-budget Lone Star State garbage, I can't force myself to be included amongst these distractors. Sure, it's awfully acted, repetitive, stretches the believability of the lethality of roofing nails (catching one in the hand or shoulder proves fatal), and features an incessant score of woodblock slapping and maracas. Yet it's all never quite too much of any one of those aspects to get irritating. There's also never any condescension and everyone involved appears to get the shit their shoveling with an innocence that outshines all the negatives. I still need to pick up Synapse's disc, only have this one and this home-recorded tape.

EDIT: Huh, according to this on the film's "official" site, Nail Gun Massacre is coming back to VHS!

Saturday, January 7

It seems hard to believe now...

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VHS even cost this much in-store!

Tuesday, January 3

Fright Night '11...or wow, that was shit... (spoilers)

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They decided to remake Fright Night...fuck the world.

At least that was my initial thought, but as usual, I came to realize such laziness on the part of Hollywood wasn't going to harm the original material in any meaningful way. It'll still continue to exist and hold a special place. Sure, some idiot kids might catch this remake and think it's the best thing since Platinum Dunes, but that's other people and their tastes which ultimately have no bearing. Instead of tarnishing my fondness, this well-intentioned modern update of Fright Night actually made me even more appreciative of the many qualities the mid-'80s classic still carries to this day. Literally everything that the 1985 film does so well is quite simply turned to shit here.

Like the majority of mainstream horror that manages to open wide theatrically, there's a real lack of subtlety and real emotion mixed into an onslaught of terribly-executed CGI. This makes the "stakes" so non-existent; one quickly couldn't care less if Jerry turned the whole damn neighborhood into a vampiric army much less root for Anton Yelchin's boring Charley Brewster and his Tinseltown cute girlfriend. Colin Farrell's Dandrige is so monotonous that it's as if he was told his motivation is "handsome new neighbor who's also a vampire." The problem is, unlike Chris Sarandon's increasingly regal and menacing performance, Farrell doesn't imbue Jerry with anything besides being the handsome neighbor who's also a vampire. There's no sense of his status or centuries as a creature of the night. The few times he turns into his true form are dominated by the digital gimmickry we've already seen in the Blade franchise. Same goes for the ashy, human black snake firework vamp flare-ups. Unfortunately, Snipes is still incarcerated sorting through his tax forms.

Christopher Mintz's Ed highlights a lack of emotional weight that Stephen Geoffreys eloquently shouldered. The shades of the original film carried over are shifted around in this remake, like Charley's blow-up with Ed and Ed's subsequent alleyway encounter with Dandrige. This occurs fifteen minutes into Fright Night '11 with their long friendship barely touched upon. Ed has also been tracking Jerry, knows of his secret, and the falling out with Charley happens when presenting him with this revelation. Without words, you can feel the years of quiet rejection and anguish that Geoffreys' Ed endured as a social outsider before submitting to Dandrige. The "death" of Mintz's Ed tries and utterly fails to do the same because we've only known the character for five minutes. What's even dumber is how Charley quickly realizes his friend was right, but doesn't try to seek him out until "Evil" Ed makes a typical surprise re-appearance later on.

Roddy McDowall makes David Tennant look like community theater regular. There's something really exciting seeing McDowall's Peter Vincent transform from screen to real vampire killer. A sort of self-actualization of the most unlikely order. The remake's change in the character to a Criss Angel-like "performance artist" heaves that possibility out the nearest window. There's some rumblings of the new Vincent being the victim of a childhood attack by Jerry; however, it's undersold and half-baked. In a reference to the original, Farrell's Jerry says "Welcome to fright night, for real" but that means jackshit here without the original Vincent's Fright Night horror flick double feature. And needless to say, McDowall's fearful sympathy toward the dying Ed single-handedly has more power than this entire popcorn re-imagining.

There's a lot of little irritating things in Fright Night '11. Right before Jerry "moves in" next door, the previous family suddenly disappears and no one questions anything. Upon not being allowed into Charley's house, Jerry proceeds to ignite the natural gas line and blow up the place. No cops, fire department, and none of the neighbors mere feet away show up or question anything. Not to mention an entire block probably being destroyed by doing such a thing. Immediately afterward, Charley, his girl, and his mom flee in their truck. His mom's reaction to what just happened is stupidly sedate and the angle of her not believing her son's claims of a vampiric Jerry are still played up despite their house being a burning husk. Huh? What the fuck is this thoroughly unfunny and heartless trash? Hopefully the box office revenue is all that's needed to stop another such waste. I'm done and need to watch the original ASAP.
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Monday, January 2

Bruce Campbell yucking it up with Kim's Krypt...

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Short clip of Bruce Campbell in Kim's Krypt's mini-haunted attraction at Horrorfind Weekend 2001 at the BWI Marriott in Baltimore, MD. This is from that year's Kim's Krypt Haunted Attraction compilation VHS. The last ten or so minutes has Kim more-or-less bothering the celebrities that attended. Sorry about the quality, but it's neat to share since it's a scarce tape to those not living in the area...

Sunday, January 1

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) - Thorn EMI/HBO Video VHS (Black Border Variant)

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I'm going to call this black-bordered clamshell version "very rare" since I've never seen it before. The "bigger explosion" cover below seems to be the one that became much more prominent. So much so I have five or six copies in fantastic shape and see it around more than any other Thorn EMI title. It wouldn't be surprising to hear this film was the biggest seller/renter in the distributor's history...with the latter design.

Both releases have matching catalog numbers (TVA 3002) and cassette labels. The only thing I can surmise is that the black cover was the initial release with the explosion cover being quickly favored by Thorn EMI and mass-produced over this disregarded first design. The second cover is more eye-catching and zooms in on the still of Stallone so it would make sense in terms of marketing appeal. What also helps support this assumption is how their clamshell of First Blood advertises the upcoming video debut of the sequel with similar artwork.

...do you dare tread upon the staircase?
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