Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Les yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face) Review

Christiane is a young woman who is left with a horribly disfigured face after an automobile accident that she blames on her father Dr Génessier. Dr. Génessier has his assistant Louise (a woman who for reasons that become clear throughout the feature is seemingly willing to do anything he asks) finds young woman they deem suitable and kidnaps them. Dr. Génessier and Louise then remove the kidnapped women’s face and attempt to graft it to Christiane’s damaged face to repair the damage he fells responsible for. Unfortunately these attempts to graft a new face onto hers have been unsuccessful and thus there have been several victims.

Unlike many monster movies Dr. Génessier is shown as a caring and compassionate character that is not driven by some sociopathic tendency. Rather his driving force for his horrible actions is his love for his daughter and the guilt he fells for the accident he fells responsible for. Hence unlike many films in the horror genre (especially at the time this film was released) the horror serves to reinforce the characters motivations rather than simply as a gross out visceral ‘thrill’. For instance during the film there is a grotesque scene that is sure to leave many felling sickly whereby a woman’s face is slowly and methodically cut off so that it may be grafted onto Christianes face. Not only does this show the horrors Dr. Génessier is willing to commit to fix the damage he has caused and thus shows how much he loves his daughter and is filled with guilt, but the scenes that proceed show that he genuinely doesn’t directly wish harm on his victims. This all cumulates in a very human character that is conflicted by the inhumane things he feels compelled to commit not out of desire, but out of a need to fix the damage he has done to his daughter.

Christiane (the woman with eyes but not a face) is shown understandably as a very troubled individual who both wishes for a new face but is shown to detest the actions being undertaking to hopefully achieve this. As the film progresses Christiane becomes increasingly convinced that her father will never be able to successfully graft a new face onto her and slowly begins to wish for death. What is most remarkable about Christiane is Edith Scob’s performance, who is able to convey an array of developing emotions despite the limitations of playing a character that mostly wears a mask and has relatively few lines.

When Eyes Without a Face was originally released it was generally received with mixed to poor reviews. However given that Eyes Without a Face is still readily available to this date I can only assume that the films disturbing content was simply too much for many at the time of its release. Resulting in numerous critics being unable to see past the surface level grotesque factor for the more interesting character study that is present (one critic even almost lost their job for simply liking the film and daring to do their job in saying as much).

Make no mistake, whilst Eyes Without a Face is in terms of its disturbing visual content relatively tame to what is often released today. It is the story that surrounds this grotesque imagery that gives the film a level of impact that few films can hope to achieve and thus the film remains one that many will find confronting to view.

Hence Eyes Without a Face comes highly recommended.

Note: I highly recommend considering the criterion blu-ray which is a stunning blu-ray that’s presentation quality has likely not been seen for this film since its original release.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Samsung to End Plasma Production in November

Late last year it was confirmed that Panasonic was leaving the plasma television business and Panasonic plasma stock is now seemingly exhausted in most locations. Samsung sadly is now following suit and the production of Samsung plasmas is due to end in November this year. If you are not a videophile or are not up to date with the market you may be wondering why you should care. The answer is simple, both Samsung and Panasonic plasma's are widely considered to provide the best visual fidelity television within a price range that isn't overly exorbitant (eg: the numerous OLED televisions that often sell for thousands more then what both Samsung and Panasonic flagship plasma's sold for). With the zt and f8500 being the respected leaders for the two companies.

The only real competing tech currently available given the exorbitant cost of OLED televisions (which is a tech still in its infancy) are LCD televisions. LCD televisions include what many painstakingly refer to as LED televisions (which are no more then LCD televisions utilizing an LED light source).

LCD televisions typically fall far behind plasma's in many regards. For instance the black levels of an LCD generally look gray in comparison to a plasma of similar cost, the contrast is notably lower, the motion resolution is worse (which is what lead to the use of frame interpolation, which deviously clever marketing somehow twisted what is a bandage for a flaw into a perceived positive), poor viewing angles when compared to the essentially limitless viewing angles of a plasma, more accurate colors, and the biggest issue I have with LCD's is the poor screen uniformity that plagues all but a select few LCD televisions.

That is not to say that LCD televisions are without there positives. Or more accurately, one main positive which put simply is the brightness advantage LCD has over plasma. This brightness advantage results in better relative performance in brightly lit environments where plasma's look their worse and LCD's their best. Hence for those interested primarily in watching films in a dark or darkened room plasma's continue to be the clear leader and only if one views material mostly in a brightly lit environment would I consider an LCD over a plasma.

Moving forward Panasonic had promised that their new LCD's would be even better then their plasma's. A statement that was doubtful due to the sub par LCD displays that they typically have released, and a statement that has become increasingly ridiculous now reviews for their new displays are now being released (and the results are less then satisfactory for someone looking for a display that exceeds what their plasma's displays are capable of). Likewise, whilst as far as I’m aware Samsung has made no comments as arrogant or spurious as Panasonic has, there is no known 'replacement' that they have planned yet either for their plasma lineup. This leaves LG as the only company still producing plasmas beyond November (and from what I can tell the only company still sinking money into further developing OLED's).

Could this result in LG becoming the go to company in the future for videophiles, it is of course impossible to say. It however would seem rather unlikely given their past of mostly solid but few stand out displays (I also would be surprised if LG didn't stop producing plasma's soon as well). However in the current climate with the potential exception of an unlikely surge of FALD LCD televisions being announced and released, the near future is looking increasingly bleak for those looking for the best visual fidelity available.

Just as Panasonic plasma's are already missed by many videophiles, I am certain Samsung plasma's will likewise be missed. Hopefully LG not only continues producing plasma's, but is able to substantially increase the quality of their plasma's so as they are a comparable product to what has been available with both Samsung and Panasonic plasma's until (and indeed if) OLED displays become a feasible mass product.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Transformers Age of Extinction Review

The Transformers film series is one that whilst at times visually stunning has also been unable to find a consistent tone. The narrative whilst minimal has at times been serviceable such as in the first and third films, and at other times it has been complete train wreck as in the second film which the director himself has now declared as “crap”. Like the director I found the second to be a truly terrible film, however I did find the first and third films to provide for more then serviceable fun action escapism.

Transformers Age of Extinction starts with the American government (or at least a branch of the American government) who once worked alongside the Autobots systematically hunting down both Autobots and Decepticons. From their the plot quickly evolves (or devolves) into a mess of ideas and plot points that are forgotten as quickly as they are introduced. The core idea however revolves around Optimus Prime and the Autobots having there faith restored in humanity. This core idea is one that holds promise, the problem however is that the rest of the film seems to simply be about what Michael Bay thinks would be 'cool', like a kid playing with transformer toys. Thus the narrative fells like it is simply mentioned in passing as apposed to actually being developed in any real way.

The characters as one may expect are lifeless inconsistent caricatures and little to no reason is present to care about any that are present. Mark Whalberg as Cade and Nicola Peltz as Tessa in particular give horrid performances and even the ever reliable Stanley Tucci gives a performance that is passable at best. This problem however extends beyond just the human characters and whilst the performances by the voice actors for the Transformers are extraordinarily good, the characterization for these characters is so basic that it removes one of the few aspects in the story that if handled with more care could provide for the basis of a compelling narrative (the Autobots/Optimus Prime having their faith restored in humanity). Likewise the relationship that existed between the Autobots and humanity in the previous films is not touched on, this absence is in particularly odd given that several of which worked alongside the Autobots in the military that is now hunting them down which could easily have been used to create the conflict that lead to the Autbots loosing their faith in humanity (as apposed to it simply being lost already as the film begins). Likewise the human and Autobot relationship which at times ventured into tenuous territory in the prior films now fells in no way a natural progression for the characters and what is happening. The reason for the continued interaction between Cade, Tessa and the Autobots is simply no longer present, and they exist seemingly for no reason beyond that the film makers decided they wanted human characters to remain the focus.

Transformers Age of Extinction however was clearly not made with the intention of the narrative being the focus. Rather the story simply seems to exists as a framing device for the action. The problem is the action present in this film is far from impressive. The visual effects vary from admittedly impressive to what appears to be embarrassingly unfinished. The action itself also rarely flows together and whilst there are some impressive shoots they remain the minority of the film and even when these impressive shoots do show up there is a complete lack of flow from not only scene to scene but within scenes in of themselves that results in what is simply a chaotic mess to watch that is rarely interesting or exciting. The use of 3d however is well done and whilst some scene it does fell more like an afterthought that is more then enough truly impressive use of the extra dimension to make 3d the way to view the film.

Transformers Age of Extinction in many ways could be described as Michael Bay turned up to eleven. Unfortunately it is all the worst aspects that have been focused on. The narrative achieves the impressive feat of making the seconds films narrative look cohesive in comparison as plot point and characters are introduced only to be not utilized for any purpose beyond a bad joke or getting to an action scene and then is simply discarded. Even the catalyst for the films finale is seemingly forgotten about with the expectation that the chaos that ensues would cover up that little that is happening makes any sense. The problem however is as little makes sense and the action is largely boring, nothing on screen matters so even whilst some shoots are in of themselves spectacular the whole film devolves into what is nothing more then a rushed lifeless bore, full of egregiously in your face product placement that is overly long given the absence of a compelling narrative.

Hence I would recommend staying far away from Transformers Age of Extinction.