Do We Need Blu-rays?

Do We Need Blu-rays? (photo)

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Glenn Kenny poses a provocative question over at MUBI.com: “What, finally, is the point of the Blu-ray disc? Not just for cinephiles, but for anyone with a home entertainment setup?” This none-too-rhetorical query came on the heels of Kenny’s examination of a new set of Yasujiro Ozu Blu-rays from the British Film Institute. In Kenny’s words, the films “do not shimmer” the way many new ones do on BD (and the way many BD connoisseurs expect all films to on BD), largely because Ozu’s films weren’t filmed with shimmer in mind. In that case: what is the point? If you have a Criterion Collection DVD of “Tokyo Story,” do you need to buy it on Blu-ray as well?

It’s a question I’ve been pondering myself recently, having inherited my first HDTV from a friend and bought my first Blu-ray player just a few months ago. At about ten titles, my Blu collection is admittedly small. Do they look better than my DVDs? Abso-friggin’-lutely. To me, though, the real question isn’t “Do they look better?” it’s “How much better do they look?” And in some cases, the answer is “Significantly,” (“Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” on Blu-ray, for example, is absolutely mesmerizing) and in other cases the uncool but honest answer is “I don’t know.” Unless I had two televisions, and side-by-side DVD and Blu-ray rigs, how could I? Sites like DVD Beaver include comparative photographs of DVDs and Blu-rays in their reviews and the results are sometimes shocking: check out how much crisper and richer the images look on the upcoming Criterion Blu of “The Thin Red Line,” for example. But if I showed you the old Malick DVD images by themselves, would you know they were inferior? Probably not. Take a look at the image accompanying this post: is it a scan of the DVD or the Blu-ray?

In this world, looks can be deceiving. I was sent a screener of Kino’s Blu-ray of the 1951 movie “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman.” Watching the film for the very first time, I thought it looked gorgeous. For two hours, I was lost inside Jack Cardiff’s Technicolor visuals. I didn’t want the film to end. When it did, I went online to read what people who know more about this sort of thing than me thought of the disc, certain I’d find raves for one of the finest repertory titles of the year. Nope; turns out the disc is considered by many to be inadequate. Dave Kehr, the fine home video columnist for The New York Times, called the “Pandora” Blu-ray “slightly disappointing,” and added that “to capture… detail the new print seems to have been digitally bleached and brightened; the deep shadows and darkling skies of the old version now seem oppressively cheerful.” Jonathan Rosenbaum, a man who has forgotten more about film than I will ever know, agreed with that assessment, stating that his memory of the film from 1951 was closer to the old transfer than the restored Blu-ray. “It’s obvious that the restored version is superior in terms of definition, lighting, and color,” Rosenbaum wrote on his blog. “But rightly or wrongly, I remember the film in 1951 as being darker, at least in my mind’s eye — a film bathed in black more than auburn hues.”

Let’s ignore for the moment the ludicrousness of someone speaking authoritatively about the visual quality of a print they saw almost 60 years ago, and assume that Rosenbaum and Kehr are correct. When released to theaters as a motion picture projected from 35mm film in 1951, “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman” was a significantly darker looking movie than the one I watched on Blu-ray in 2010. Does that invalidate the joy I had in discovering it? Should I discard the Blu-ray in exchange for a more primative (but supposedly more accurate) older DVD?

This to me is the point where the argument becomes vaguely insane. How do we ever know how any movie really looks? And I’m not speaking in pothead pseudophilosophical “How do I know that what I see as orange isn’t what you see as red?” nonsense. I’m talking concretely. That new “Thin Red Line” Criterion Blu-ray boasts a “new, restored high-definition digital transfer, supervised and approved by director Terrence Malick and cinematographer John Toll.” But how I know if my television is calibrated to match the monitor Malick and Toll approved the transfer on? How can I be sure that Malick and Toll weren’t watching the film on a monitor that was slightly too dark? Or too light? Questions like this could drive a man to commit himself. Once they start, they never end.

Though I’m skeptical of Rosenbaum’s ability to remember how a movie looked when he saw it in 1951, I love that something he saw so long ago still resonates so powerfully for him. To me, that personal connection is what makes movies special. And that personal connection very rarely has anything to do with objectively “perfect” picture quality. I loved watching “Taxi Driver” on NYU’s faded, grainy 16mm print; the dirty, degraded image quality seemed to match Travis Bickle’s worldview of “the hell” of New York City better than any DVD or VHS copy I’d ever seen. But then watching a movie on film is always preferable to digital, right? Except when the film is projected in the wrong aspect ratio or the guy in front of you won’t stop texting. And so on.

I think we need Blu-rays, but I don’t know that we need to obsess over them quite so much, especially if that obsession gets in the way of our enjoyment. Because that, ultimately, should be the point.

Here’s a video comparing the old transfer of “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman” and the new restoration. Is it too light? Judge for yourself:


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.