Will Bueché

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David Bowie, Rest in Peace

Posted in Music,Personal by Will on Monday, January 11th, 2016 ~ 2pm

On David Bowie: What can I say? I got his albums on vinyl when I was a youth. As an adult I got everything he released and always cited Heathen as his return to form. I sometimes took my time getting to listen to his later works; I’d started listening to the second of two available tracks from Blackstar on Friday, and was so impressed! I opted only to listen, choosing not to watch the elaborate music videos he made for them until today, after I heard of his death this morning.

I knew, or had an idea, that he was going to pass away imminently, in the sense that I’d worried that his choice to wait until his birthday (Jan 8) to release Blackstar was a risky proposition if he wanted to be around to hear the critical reaction. (I hope his family – Iman and Duncan and whomever else was in his close family – told him that the reception to it was very warm indeed, and that he knew they were being truthful).

I knew he’d been ill since his heart attack in 2004, in fact my first blog entry was written about him, back in July 2004 (writing, “he’s so good right now at this stage of his recording career, it would be a shame for earth to lose him.”) I don’t mean to sound as if I am competing with other Bowie fans when I note that my music player has more than 250 recordings of his concerts; I simply found that not only was his writing superior, but his many different performances were almost all worth hearing. And yet it took a reporter to make me notice the obvious bit that Bowie was a bit of a science fiction writer, in that many of his albums are close to concept albums about aliens and future dystopias and such. I knew I liked science fiction, and I had to laugh when I realized that his sci-fi bent may also be part of why I got into Bowie!

I am so grateful for him. There’s a meme going around saying that “the Earth is 4,345,000,000 years old and somehow you managed to live during the same time as David Bowie”. Truly, in our time, we were better off to have had David Bowie among us.

Last word about Bowie today: By leaving with the video of Lazarus, he completed his artistic life on his own terms. Bravo.

Buffy HD campaign a success… on 3 or 4 shots

Posted in Uncategorized by Will on Tuesday, July 14th, 2015 ~ 8pm

Our voices were heard! Fox has made quick fixes to the most egregious errors seen in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer HD / Blu-ray remastering process!

As you may recall, Fox hired a no-name company with no experience to do the remastering of Buffy from the original film elements, and fans campaigned to bring awareness to the ineptitude of the company’s effort so that Fox would take notice. And notice they have!

See sample image below.

I am hopeful they are continuing to fix the errors, but we really don’t know anything beyond the fact that this week’s airing of Buffy on ABC family included several corrected shots – shots that had been ruined by the original remastering team, now done perfectly by the (presumed) new remastering team.

About this campaign: As is my usual method of operation, I didn’t create the BuffyHD facebook page nor do any heavy lifting myself; I simply dashed off an action plan over on the forum where we were discussing the problem (a home video forum where I am known as willbfree) and presented it to a guy who was motivated to enact it. I don’t know his real name either, but he’s the hero in this story. Everyone was ready to do their part, and the effort was joined by super-talented folks who made videos illustrating the problems which got zillions of views on YouTube.

I am so very proud of everyone.

This fan-led effort has been wildly more successful than my iZombie petition, enacted by iZombieObsessed, which has thus far only received 23 votes.

UPDATE: THEY FIXED THOSE FEW SHOTS, AND THEN PROCEEDED TO COMPLETELY RUIN EVERYTHING AFTER THAT. Evidently they used an artificial intelligence to reframe everything, and they had it set incorrectly. The AI was erroneously set to center and crop on any figures in the frame. As such, even the later seasons WHICH WERE ALREADY IN WIDESCREEN were reframed AGAIN, turning wide shots into closeups, and turning medium shots into closeups, and turning closeups into even closer closeups. Fox could easily sue to recover their expenses and hire pros to redo it.

 
The green area shows the original shot – a close-up of Buffy. The remastering program was incorrectly set to zoom in even more. Nearly every shot is like this. By the way, the green part of the frame is courtesy of an earlier DVD release; that’s how we can see what is missing.   Here, the AI recognized a human figure in the frame and automatically centered & zoomed in on it. So instead of being a shot of people in hospital beds, it become a shot of the floor. (Why even build sets?) There are hundreds of shots like this in every episode.

My Firefly Malcolm Reynolds Legacy action figure from Funko

Posted in Personal by Will on Sunday, July 5th, 2015 ~ 10am

Blu-Ray review: Highlander Endgame, Hong Kong release

Posted in Uncategorized by Will on Friday, June 12th, 2015 ~ 8pm

(My user review of the region free import of Highlander: Endgame)

The Story

Endgame is the first Highlander film to feature both Connor McLeod and Duncan McLeod, but it is not the first time these two highlanders have stood by each other’s sides – the pilot episode of the television series has that honor.

The producers of Endgame seem to have wanted to make up for Connor’s absence from the rest of the tv series by giving fans many flashbacks of Connor and Duncan together, even if it meant that the pace of the film would be a bit languid. The content of the flashbacks is solid though – we see Duncan and Connor both making mistakes across the centuries, which sets up the present day conflict.

When the inevitable super villain threatens impending doom, each of them must try to find forgiveness with those who they’d wronged before it is too late. It is a good, moral story. (The villain himself is suitably loathsome but not too original – a haughty religious figure who now taunts his adversaries with overtly homosexual taunts and exhibits hedonistic tendencies. His cliche is fortunately contrasted with the authentic love that Connor and Duncan express for one another).

It is a story that would have worked better as a season of the tv show rather than as a movie. But in the 1990s television did not have the kind of respect it has today; it is unlikely Christophe Lambert would have made himself available to be a recurring character alongside Adrian Paul in even one season of the tv series. If this had been possible it could have been an incredibly dramatic season.

Taken on its own merits as a single film, Highlander Endgame will remind fans of the tv series of the greatness the tv series sometimes achieved, while it fails to rise to that same level itself. As such it is a bit heartbreaking. And fans of the earlier film series will have their own cause for heartbreak – not only for the ultimate fate of a certain character, but also for the somberness with which that fate is foreshadowed.

Video Quality

This Hong Kong release is region free, with the menu (Play, Scenes, and Setup on a still image of the poster art) in English. Only the Chinese anti-piracy warning belies that this is from Hong Kong.

The encode is poorly done. Temporal noise reduction has been applied amateurishly, causing trails (moving objects smear and leave a trail behind them), especially noticeable in darker scenes. Smoothing (grain removal) has also been applied unprofessionally. Dark scenes should have a visible grain structure since low light shooting tends to be grainy, but someone attempted to eliminate the grain and wiped out all detail. Daytime scenes have also had been overly smoothed, and there is some edge ringing too. Blacks never get deeper than a dull grey, and sometimes break up into blocks.

The scan may also have been poorly done, or it may simply be that scans from 2001 were never expected to be used for anything higher quality than VHS and DVD. The print that was scanned has no obvious dirt or scratches, but the lack of detail and some picture unsteadiness calls for a rescan on modern equipment if this film is ever released on BluRay in the United States.

Additionally, the film suffers from many missing frames. The missing frames aren’t from damage per se – six editors worked on this film trying to make it gel, and I suspect we are seeing edit points that were reconsidered and patched back together.

Another longstanding problem with this film’s visuals is that a very prominent billboard seen throughout a rooftop fight sequence was blurred out after some controversy regarding non-payment for in-film advertising. Once you notice this you can never un-notice it, and this again is something which a restoration of the film should correct. Despite the amateurish blur placed over it, it is clearly an ad for “JVC”. Let it say “JVC” without the blur, please, if this film is ever restored.

Audio Quality

The soundscape is acceptable. Simple surround sounds, appropriate to the scenes, nothing distracting, just a nice wrapping around of the sound. Endgame actually had a rather good musical score, and it sounds fine here.

Dialogue is clear. It remains obvious that all the dialogue in the post-script scene (and one line early in the film) are spoken by someone other than Adrian Paul. The producers who edited this cut of the film must have worked on it after Paul had concluded his part.

Extras

The version of the film presented on this BluRay is what was known as The Producers Cut when it was originally released on DVD in 2001 as part of a 2-disc set. The second disc of that 2-DVD set contained an early rough cut of the film with different scenes. That early rough cut is not included in this BluRay release, indeed there are no extras of any kind. If you have the 2-DVD set, you will want to hang on to it as well. (I actually prefer many of the scenes in the rough cut, and hope that someday the remaining producer will commission a Final Cut of Endgame that will bring some of the best of those missing scenes over.)

Overall

Overall, this is a poor transfer of a film that admirably tried to bring the tv series universe to the big screen, but never achieved the greatness of the tv series. For many fans, this was the final story set in the tv series universe – a sequel shot several years later in the frigid Baltics on an extraordinarily low budget called The Source, which again follows Duncan McLeod, is essentially disowned by all involved.

As the final story told in the tv universe, fans of the tv series will no doubt want Highlander Endgame in their BluRay collection. However, it needs a new scan and a new encode for it to satisfy anyone.

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