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Do We Need Blu-rays?

Do We Need Blu-rays? (photo)

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Glenn Kenny poses a provocative question over at “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:


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.