.. the truth is I never loved you. Except Disney+ which is still showing the big fellas like Netflix and Amazon Prime how one should present a streaming service and offer value added content. Though Netflix does get a few points for allowing Criterion to distribute one of their original movies.

Today I received another haul of Blu-Ray discs, mainly featuring titles from the UK Criterion Collection:

It might have been cheaper for Zaavi to send all of them in a box…

But let’s start with a non-Criterion title. Watchmen, the limited series from HBO. I missed out when it first aired on Sky Atlantic. It was well received, and being a fan of the original comic and Zack Snyder’s film, it seemed fitting that one should add it to the collection. It also reminds me that I should also get HBO’s Chernobyl. I’ll add it to my wishlist.

Watchmen – An HBO Limited Series

Bob Dylan not included

On to the UK Criterion Collection titles:

It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

It’s still very much a mad, mad, mad, mad world.

I remember watching this a fair old while back and enjoying it. I also happen to like 60s films. I also caught Rat Race, which is a direct influence and found it lacking. This being Criterion, you get some decent extras including the general release version, the extended 197 minute version, audio commentaries, documentaries and so much extra stuff that it’d take you an eternity to get through it all. Just the way I like it.

Tampopo

The Search for Noodly Goodness

I’m pretty sure I originally saw this on Channel 4 in the early 90s and was captivated by it. So it’s difficult to judge whether my fondness for this film remains, but I recall that I liked it – plus it’s got some very decent reviews, so I’m hoping for the best. Includes a documentary, a video essay and several interviews.

The Royal Tenenbaums

Red tracksuits optional

Another Wes Anderson movie. I’ve only ever seen this once, but I remember it like it was yesterday. That’s the kind of movies Wes Anderson makes. You never forget them. Contains audio commentary, documentaries, interviews, etc.

La Cage Aux Folles

A French Tickler – ooer missus, whoopsie, etc. etc.

I’m sure that I saw the remake first – The Birdcage starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane and finding it very funny – which meant that I had to track down and watch the original. And I seem to recall that too was very funny – each version having its own take on things. But I love French films, and the stranger the premise, the more interesting things get.

That said, I recently bought French Twist, a film I saw back in my university days – probably part of the UEA French Society (I was a casual member) – on iTunes having thought it was funny. The plot – a womanising estate agent finally meets his match when a butch lesbian truck driver pulls up at his family home and woos his wife.

What follows is an insane twisty-turny series of events which feels more dramatic than funny after 20 years from first watching it. It does have some genuinely funny moments, but it really does get very poignant at times, and you think, how the hell are they going to resolve all this?. Interestingly the film was co-written by Telsche Boorman, daughter of British film director John Boorman (and also features a cameo appearance from his other daughter, Katrine).

La Cage Aux Folles comes with several interviews and some archival footage.

The Fisher King

A film that only Terry Gilliam could make

Another film that I’ve only ever seen once, but have never forgotten, this is a film that only Robin Williams and Terry Gilliam could make. And they do it so well. Mixing fantasy and (hard) reality is a staple of Gilliam’s films, and this is no exception.

And it features the most romantic (or at least the most straight forward and truthful) line ever spoken by a man (Robin Williams) wooing a woman (Amanda Plummer) in cinematic history: “I have a hard-on for you the size of Florida” (thankfully she doesn’t smack him in the moolies with a blunt instrument).

The Fisher King is a wonderful film, and it ought have done much better than it has – but I’m so glad it’s come to Criterion where we can enjoy an audio commentary, interviews, screen tests, essays and deleted scenes.

Roma

Truly Offline Netflix

When I first saw Roma on Netflix, I was extremely impressed with this film. It showed a whole different side to Mexico that I had no idea about, plus the performances were truly extraordinary.

I’m very glad that Netflix has allowed Criterion to release this movie on physical disk, as it includes a number of extras (including interviews, documentaries, and also comes with a booklet – the whole package feels very weighty, which is nice).

I sincerely hope Netflix and Criterion will team up again for Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, as I’m sure that would be a very worthy release – especially if it comes with a decent set of extras.

Bottle Rocket

Another Wes Anderson, yet I’ve never seen it!

This is a first – a Wes Anderson film I haven’t actually seen yet! Don’t know much about it – don’t really care. Looking forward to putting this one on and just letting it take me wherever it wants to take me.

Coming Soon!

Later this month (or early next), I hope to collect Akira Kurosawa’s Samurai Collection which contains several of his films: The Seventh Samurai, Throne of Blood, The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo and Sanjuro. The Seventh Samurai is, of course, famous for inspiring other filmmakers and stories including George Lucas and Star Wars and The Magnificent Seven.

Alongside that, I also hope to get Rashomon and Kagemusha, as well as Criterion Lone Wolf and Cub (though I fear they use cardboard sleeves for the discs which is a big no-no for me due to scratching).

Despite digital film releases being more convenient (especially as they usually include an extra week or two window before any rentals or physical disks are released), I was shaken up by Apple’s revelation that they can remove content from your library unless you download your purchases (and even then you don’t get to download the 4K version of the film if it’s available, nor any extras). You can read a lot more about that on this blog.

As you can tell from the previous few posts, I’ve started buying more Blu-Ray disks again. Heck, you can head over to my recently re-launched Instagram account where I detail many of them as they come in. Many of them are classic titles that I’ve enjoyed over the years, but I’ve added a few modern titles to my wishlist.

I’ve a feeling that physical disks will still play an important part in a film lover’s collection because (a) removal of digital content at will by the seller and (b) offline/higher bitrates than digital streaming services lead to better overall quality. It’s also much harder to find rarer films from the likes of iTunes and Amazon, and physical disks usually contain many more extras than that of their digital counterparts.

Most importantly, I think that the sales of Xbox One Series X and Playstation 5 which both come with UHD Blu-Ray players by default (though there is a diskless version of the PS5) will continue to drive the market and demand for films on disk.

Back in the late 1990s, I bought myself a chipped Sony DVD player which could play region 1 disks. I wanted this ability because there was a company called The Criterion Collection which released (or in many cases re-released) movies on DVD which came with a plethora of special features. And these were absolutely brilliant for the film fan. And it helped also when I first went to the US back in 2000 and travelled across the entire country by bus and came back with a huge stack of DVDs of films not yet released in the UK.

That Sony DVD player has sadly gone away, and I never replaced it with a multi-region player again (which is a shame because I still own a copy of Pixar’s Cars on DVD which came directly from Pixar to my boss at MPC as part of a gift pack that was sent out to Renderman customers – he didn’t have a multi-region player, but I did at the time). So I’ve been restricted to region 2 or region B disks.

But the good news is that The Criterion Collection has been releasing titles in the UK/region B and I’ve started collecting all the good titles. Arrow Films has also been doing similar, and I’ve picked up some truly wonderful titles.

Robocop

You have 30 seconds to comply..

When the movie first came out in 1987, I was only ten years old. But I was desperate to see this film. Thankfully my mum managed to buy a copy on VHS when it came out for consumers. It was my very first 18-rated film, and I loved every minute of it. When I bought the original Criterion DVD back in the 90’s, this contained extra sequences (including an extremely gory death) and audio commentaries galore. This Arrow Films release contains all that and includes both the director’s cut and theatrical release.

Nightbreed

So much potential for a TV series

I came across Clive Barker’s work after reading about Hellraiser in Fangoria (or one of the other many film/horror magazines I bought at the time). I’m sure I watched Hellraiser before Nightbreed and was extremely impressed (and as Clive Barker’s directorial debut, absolutely incredible).. Hellraiser is technically my first horror – but I was so impressed with the special make-up and creature effects that I had to see what they did next. Nightbreed was that film. I absolutely loved it. I even bought the Titan behind-the-scenes book which contained high resolution photos of the monsters and other behind the scenes photos. Loads of information.

It’s horror/fantasy, but more emphasis on fantasy than horror. It stars Canadian director David Cronenberg in a major role, and the creatures themselves are wonderful. Danny Elfman’s music score is suitably ethereal, and the ending is crying out of continuation – maybe in the form of a TV series.

This release comes with a huge bunch of special features that I look forward to perusing through.

Being There

I like to watch..

Peter Sellers last film, and possibly his very best. It took me a very long time to get around to watching this, despite being a huge fan of Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude (which is crying out for a Criterion Collection UK release).

Is Chance the wisest men in the world? Is his autistic? Is he just a simple gardener with simple thoughts? Regardless of his mental state, his words have a heavy influence in US politics and becomes a major political figure – quite by chance. What follows is a farce on a similar scale to Dr. Strangelove and ends in a rather mystical and open-ended way.

Moonrise Kingdom

As a fan of Benjamin Britten, I approve of this film

Wes Anderson. The man can make a thoroughly entertaining film out of virtually anything. It’s very difficult to pinpoint exactly why I love his work, but he is by far one of the best directors of the past 20-30 years. His adaptation of The Fantastic Mr. Fox is one of the greatest Roald Dahl adaptations I’ve ever seen (including the Tim Burton adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that I worked on). He adds part whimsy, part conflict, part surrealism, some really superb dialogue work, oddball characters and a dash of romance (where needed) and gives you a film that is incredible to watch and a story that’s engrossing as any book.

The Criterion Collection UK has a few of his films, and I’ve just bought the rest – they should be arriving this week – but there is still room for Criterion to add a few more of his works to the Collection (namely Fantastic Mr. Fox, the Isle of Dogs, The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Darjeeling Limited). I’m also crazy excited to see his new film, The French Dispatch, when it hopefully opens in cinemas in October.

But Moonrise Kingdom is a beautiful coming-of-age film about two adolescents on a made-up New England island running away after feeling alienated from their parents and peers. This triggers a massive police search, including that of the islanders. Featuring an insanely wonderful score from Alexandre Desplat, and isn’t afraid to borrow from Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to The Orchestra (which also features). It’s worth listening throughout the end credits as the soundtrack breaks the fourth wall.

If life could be a Wes Anderson movie, I think we’d all be better off..

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Features some damn good covers of David Bowie’s music, including Starman & Life on Mars

More Wes Anderson! This time we follow Steve Zissou, renowned oceanographer (and meant to parody Jacques Cousteau) on the hunt for the infamous “Jaguar Shark” which ate his business partner. Part Moby Dick, part mockumentary, part family drama, and part sea adventure. It also features some wonderful stop-motion animation of imaginary sea animals to boot, and an insane set containing most of the submersible and its rooms.

This is a very ambitious film from Anderson, featuring a fantastic cast, great music score, and.. oh, you know – I just love everything about this film. Like his other stuff, infinitely rewatchable. And it comes a load of extras which will keep any film fan happy.

Midnight Cowboy

Hey, I’m walking here!

It’s been a while since I first saw this film, but it stuck in mind ever since. What really makes it special is the relationship between Dustin Hoffman’s Ratso and Jon Voight’s Joe Buck. I’ll also never forget Ratso’s dream sequence in which the music I recognised from the 1980’s Animal Show with Johnny Morris. The origins of some music tracks defies belief!

The ending is surprisingly emotional, which is not helped by John Barry’s wonderfully haunting theme (dabs eyes). Never has the harmonica sounded so beautiful. And Harry Nilsson’s Everybody’s Talkin’ is such a classic that it’s difficult to count how many times it’s been re-used elsewhere.

Again, plenty of extras to keep the most ardent fan happy.

And the rest..

Arrow Film’s Summer Camp 2020 Sale

Arrow Films is having a sale on – with many titles at £5/£7.50. It was rude not to indulge, so I picked out a few that I’ve been wanting to own for a while.

I’ll mention Zardoz because it’s a film that I watched late at night, possibly during secondary school, and found it to be utterly weird. And it stuck firmly in my mind. It’s been a right bugger to find it ever since and this Arrow Films Blu-Ray is the jackpot. Not only do you get a lovely remastered copy of the film, but audio commentaries and all manner of extras. I’ve been a big fan of John Boorman’s films since watching this (as mad as a box of frogs Zardoz is as a story). It also features one of the best version of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 that I’ve ever heard – but alas, does not exist anywhere other than the film. No soundtrack was ever released.

And Zardoz was shot at Ardmore Studios in County Wicklow, Ireland. I had the very great pleasure to visit there for the filming of Miramax Ella Enchanted (and was driven from Dublin to Ardmore by Richard Harris’ former driver). Didn’t get to see much of Country Wicklow’s beautiful hills – but it’s an impressive studio that’s for sure.

Oldboy I already have on Blu-Ray – but not the two disc edition. The second disc contains a THREE hour documentary on the making of the film. The film itself is absolutely fantastic, so for £5, I’m not going to say no just to get at that documentary.

Similarly, the extra features on A Fish Called Wanda are worth it alone. I’ve always liked the film, so now I can get to see and hear a bit more about how it was made (and why).

Being John Malkovich is a title I originally owned on region 1 DVD back in the 1990’s, but never got around to replacing it until now. Extra features also made it a lot more attractive as well as the cost.

Children of Men is a film I’ve seen a couple of times, and features some brain melting VFX and cinematography, so I had to get this. I’ve also recently purchased Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma on Criterion Collection UK which I thoroughly enjoyed (and features some stunning VFX work from my former employers MPC), so looking forward to that.

That’s all for now – but stay tuned for more movie madness.

I’ve always appreciated cinema, but not quite to the extent before I was a college and university student. Then I really became a film nerd. I’d stay up late watching films (many foreign) on Channel 4 or through Alex Cox’s Moviedrome (here’s a list of films that were shown) on the BBC, my mind buzzing with incredible stories from around the world.

But there were a few films that affected me very deeply and have become my all time favourites. One such film is Giuseppe Tornatore‘s Cinema Paradiso. Right from the get-go, Ennio Morricone‘s score provides an emotional rollercoaster of joy, happiness, excitement, heartbreak, and sadness throughout the whole film. I believe it to be his best ever score, for any film, and he’s scored many, many, many films throughout his career.

Cinema Paradiso is about innocence. It is about the very magic of storytelling and cinema itself. It is about love. It is about loss. It is about regret. But at the very heart of the story is perhaps the most important of all: it is about friendship.

The entire film is pure unadulterated joy, looking at the lives of a young boy, his widowed mother and a local cinema projectionist. When the boy shows an interest in learning how to use the projector, his fate is forever changed – whether for the better or for the worse.

Even now the ending has me in floods of tears – both crying and laughing in equal measure. It is a film that should provoke all the emotions. For me it does; it pushes all the right buttons and has fast become my favourite movie of all time.

And the thing is, this film makes me rather rather sad for the current state of the cinema industry. Going to the pictures used to be such a great joy. With family. With friends. With dates. Or with the wife. It was a proper afternoon/evening out. You could be transported to a different universe for a few hours and come out unscathed, or maybe even just a little bit affected by the experience. Now, we have an industry on terminal decline and, along with regular theatres, need help just to survive.

I already own Cinema Paradiso on regular Blu-Ray and iTunes already – including the much longer director’s cut which deals with the eventual outcome of the relationship between the boy (later, the man) and the girl that he fell in love with back in their village. The pacing of film is altered as a result, but it’s definitely worth a watch. For me, both the theatrical versions and director’s cut are both valid.

So I’m pleased to hear that Arrow Films (through Arrow Academy) are bringing out a 4K/UHD Blu-Ray version. Here’s the trailer. I’m definitely grabbing a copy when it’s released on the 28th September 2020. It can be pre-ordered through Arrow Film’s online store.

When I first got married back in 2001 (A Space Odyssey – cue the monolith and a hairy Martyn throwing a bone into the air), we spent the majority of our honeymoon backpacking around New Zealand which, at the time, was in the midst of making the first of the Lord of the Rings movies – the Fellowship of the Ring.

Though they didn’t make too big a fuss of the filming or even the mention of Lord of the Rings in the country, the merchandising was slowly beginning to creep in. I bought my copy of the official movie tie-in branded Lord of the Rings book from a NZ bookstore hoping to have something to read on the plane home.

I did start the book while flying home, but never finished it. It’d take me a good few more years until I had the patience to sit down and read it in its entirety (and even then, on a Kindle) and likewise for The Hobbit. But the movies were the first time I was exposed to J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterworks and it was an absolute blast.

I already own the extended editions of all six movies on iTunes, and I got it at a very good price when there was a sale on. But they don’t include all the extras. Plus, as you’ll have no doubt read my other posts – Apple and their content providers can remove purchased content from your library at any time, and for any reason. So I needed a back up anyway.

So I splashed out the £55 at Amazon and I’ve got say I’m very impressed with the packaging. A good while back I purchased the Breaking Bad Complete Series box set which contained a fair number of Blu-Ray discs which were all stored in scratchy cardboard sleeves (which, unsurprisingly, resulted in scratched discs on delivery and the whole thing had to be sent back – I now have the iTunes version which comes with all the extras, including audio commentaries – a first for an iTunes TV show package). Before sending the discs back to the retailer, I asked Sony, who distribute Breaking Bad on physical media, if they’d replace them. Nope. So why design such a poor storage system when you KNOW they’re going to get scratched? Sony are idiots, and doubly so when you consider they invented Blu-Ray discs in the first place.

Warner Bros., on the other hand, have done a fantastic job with storage – each movie comes in its own Amray case where the discs sit on a spindle and the disc’s surface is not exposed to a scratchy surface such as plastic or cardboard. This system ensures that your Blu-Rays will last a good while.

Speaking of Blu-Ray storage. Disney can join Sony in the doghouse because I’ve seen reviews of the £200 UltraHD/4K release of the Star Wars Skywalker saga where they store all the discs in cardboard or thick paper sleeves within a glossy and gorgeously designed book. Yes, it’s an impressive book, but it’s absolute shit for storing physical Blu-Ray media. And that price. I’m giving that one a massive pass. Plus I get the 4K/UltraHD versions of Star Wars on Disney+ if so desired. I already own a decent Blu-Ray set of the movies anyway – all stored in decent cases.

FInally, I am more hopeful for physical media these days. The Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, when released, both will come with UltraHD Blu-Ray drives which means that people are more likely to have these in their homes than dedicated UltraHD players from Sony, etc. And this, in turn, should boost physical disc sales. (Though I always take that with a pinch of salt – streaming services are still the most popular way of consuming movie content – but assuming movie studios add value to the physical media in the way of extra content, maybe it’ll work out in the end.)

Blonde woman misplaces her pet gorilla: “Oh, Gaylord? Where are you Gaylord?”

I’ve just bought King Kong Ultimate Edition because I used to own a version of King Kong that didn’t come with all the fancy trimmings. And there’s a reason for doing so:

Back in 2005, I had the audacious opportunity to travel to New York to attend Universal Picture’s updated version of King Kong. Written by the team that brought you the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies and directed by Peter Jackson, this would turn out to be an eventual trip.

Kong talk

I was a member of a community called Kong Is King (kongisking.net) where we discussed all things Kong, but particularly Peter’s vision of it. Fresh off the Lord of the Rings, many of us were fans of both LoTR and Kong. It was a great place to hang out, and I met some truly interesting people.

Time to break out the tuxedo…

A fellow Kong Is King community member who knew somebody at Universal managed to persuade them to get tickets to the premiere in New York. It also seemed a good opportunity for the community to meet up in real-life, so we made it a proper event.

Central Park and The American Museum of Natural History

Our first adventure as a group was to the American Museum of Natural History – the US equivalent to London’s Natural History Museum. I made my way through a very snowy Central Park and met up with my fellow Kong fans and went for an explore around the museum’s many interesting and often awesome exhibits. After a pleasant wonder, we eventually all went our own way until the next event. I had a stroll. To this day I still cannot get how stunning New York is.

Eat and greet at over a thousand feet?

We all arranged to go up to the top of the Empire State Building. This was my second visit (the first was back in 2000 when I travelled across the US from coast to coast by coach) and it was much more fun because there was somebody up on the viewing platform dressed as Kong. Of course we had a group photo, which I’ve sadly lost over the past 15 years. It may still be out there, but the photo library at KongIsKing.net seems to be a little fragile.

The night was spent at a bar drinking and talking shop and awaiting for other members of the community to turn up who couldn’t make the earlier trip up the ESB.

The following day saw us make our way to Stout NYC, a bar at 133 West 33rd Street for a sit down menu, plenty of booze, and to generally socialise. The strangest moment was when I was asked to call Oscar-winning creature effects/model effects/costume designer/supervisor Richard Taylor from the Weta Workshop to invite him to the meeting. I couldn’t get through, so that never happened. But what did happen is the team that was responsible for the production diaries (included with the King Kong Ultimate Edition) turned up and shot a short piece.

A menu fit for a King.. Kong.

We headed out afterwards for a bit of stroll, and noticed the preparations underway for the premiere.

I saw Kong completely naked!

As preparations for the premiere got into full swing, a group of us discovered Bob Burns out and about with the original 1933 armature of King Kong as used by Willis H. O’Brien in the film. He had no fur and was completely nude. Kong, not Bob Burns. To look at this piece of cinematic history was a true privilege.

Here’s what I saw – being handled by Andy Serkis and Rick Baker:

Embed from Getty Images

Wearing my fancy Debenhams rental Tuxedo and wondering about a cold New York, I spent some time hiding behind a massive stage where the stars of the film and other celebrities all gathered behind a massive sculpture of Kong and had their photos taken. It was all rather surreal.

Embed from Getty Images

It’s only George bloody Lucas?!

You must understand that when we were invited to this event, we’d thought we’d just get tickets to a spare screen somewhere within the many cinemas in NYC.

Oh no. No, no, Universal Pictures had pulled out all the stops for us. We sat in the primary cinema where the cast, senior crew and celebrities were all going to watch the movie. A big group of us sat in the first two/three rows of the cinema. Behind us, the seats went up a bit further and lo and behold there was George Lucas with his son. It’s not often I do double takes, but I probably did quadruple takes. And though we were told not to approach the VIPs, a few people did and he was extraordinarily nice and obliging. Also spotted: Rick Baker, the special make-up effects maestro whose work on An American Werewolf in London won him an Oscar. Stephen King. I can’t actually verify he was there, but I’m pretty damn certain it was him.

Before the film, Stacey Snider who was the chairman of Universal Pictures at the time came out in front of all of us – only a few yards from where we were sitting and introduced the film’s stars and director. All of this was being filmed and beamed into other cinemas participating in the premiere. Some of this footage should be on the King Kong Ultimate Edition Blu-Ray. But it was remarkable of seeing Peter Jackson, Jack Black, Naomi Watts, Andy Serkis, etc. all up close. And another star from the film, Jamie Bell, was sitting in the row behind all of us – with what appeared to be a bit of an entourage full of women with him.

All of this was quite surreal, but I am glad I came dressed up for the occasion. I was staying at the YMCA Vanderbilt which is cheap for New York, and pretty decently located. The pipes in the room were rather nosiy, but for the price I wasn’t going to argue. I had my own private room, though the showering and toilet facilities were shared.

I got a King Kong goody bag after leaving:

It includes the PC game, a comic book, a book and a Universal bag. But most importantly it was a tremendous experience and I have many people to thank for it – least of all my ex-wife who bought the flight for me for Christmas.

And the strangest thing about all of this was that the associate producer of King Kong would come to work with us at MPC for a short while. I had just come off this little beauty which deeply divided the critics, but I appreciate and love because it felt closer in tone to the original Roald Dahl book:

I went into the production office one day and the AP of King Kong (Annette Wullems) saw my Kong Is King T-Shirt and remarked that we both at the same premiere. The film industry is huge, and yet is it really?

Bargain price!

King Kong Ultimate Edition is only £7.99 on Blu-Ray and contains 2 discs. The entire Lord of the Rings and Hobbit extended trilogies containing all the audio commentaries and more documentaries than you’d ever want to see in your life comes on 30 discs and a whopping £55 – though I am very tempted to buy it because it’d take years just to go through everything. We joked on KongIsKing.net that Peter Jackson intended releasing a 10,000 disc edition of King Kong at some point.

So get everything on 2 discs is quite an achievement.

Over the past couple of days I’ve been keeping tabs on the SpaceX/NASA launch of the Dragon module to the International Space Station. This is the first time in nine years that a manned space mission has launched from the United States using US hardware, and in conjunction with a private company.

And it was spectacular. The first thing that struck me was how minimalistic the space suits were. They’re almost fashioned in a Thunderbirds-style uniform (albeit the astronauts still need to wear a helmet). As for the Dragon module itself, it too is very minimalistic. All touch-screen displays with very few physical buttons. It’s as if 2020 finally caught up technology wise (though marred with the the awfulness going on in the world right now, it has to be said that those two astronauts are two very lucky buggers escaping Earth for a short while).

Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

While I was waiting for the module (now nicknamed Endeavour) to rendevouz with the International Space Station (ISS), I decided to take the opportunity to watch Netflix’s Space Force, created by Steve Carrell and The (US) Office’s Greg Daniels (who also manages Amazon Prime’s excellent TV series, Upload – think of that one as a funnier, yet bleak version of Black Mirror’s San Junipero.)

While Space Force lampoons a certain president’s mad ambitions to conquer space for the US, the message (and mission) is by and large a good one – to work with others to put humanity out there in space. By co-operating with each other rather than going against each other – and at the same time, treat the planet with respect. However, it doesn’t exactly start out that way.

We have Steve Carell’s Mark Naird, a four star general who is promoted to lead the Space Force division. His experience in the army leads him to make rash decisions and ignore the advice of the science team. In the first episode, a $6 billion project is in jeopardy because the science guys are not confident of a successful launch and the chief scientist (played by John Malkovich) goes out of his way to persuade Naird to abort due to weather conditions. After struggling with incompetent and annoying members of staff, advisory boards, etc. (which is why the show partly reminds me of Veep) he eventually decides to launch. He comes to realise that this is a job where you need to balance risk. The launch is a success, but is ultimately sabotaged by.. well, let’s say it gets messy.

The second episode is pure delight, and features some of the best VFX in a TV series second only to The Mandalorian. Weta FX provides a fully mocapped space chimp which was abandoned (along with a dog) as part of an earlier mission. The chimp is still alive, but hungry, and General Naird – through a sign language interpreter – has to get the chimp to try and re-attach the solar panels of the module that was launched in the last episode that were cut off by a rival nation. And the chimp has to do all this with only a promise of a non-existent banana, or a human baby (or chimp). After 3 hours of getting the chimp to pick the right tool, he goes out into space – and well, some of the finest comedy involving a drill and weightlessness ensues.

Space Force is incredibly funny. It is poignant. It highlights bureaucracy (both good and bad) of a space programme, and the potential dangers of weaponizing space. Let’s hope that doesn’t become a real thing. The SpaceX/NASA collaboration is wonderful thing to behold, for the right reasons. But let’s not turn it into something destructive.

I realise that I’m starting to sound like a broken record at this point, but being able to easily back up, retain and watch movie and TV purchases from the iTunes store is important to me – and it should be for anybody who regularly uses the iTunes store.

I’m struggling to understand Apple’s approach to how it stores and manages music, movies and TV show purchases through the iTunes store. Apple is actively promoting the iTunes Store’s ability to buy and watch purchases everywhere because it stores everything you purchase on its own servers.

But they have the right to remove content at any time and strongly advocate that you need to download it so you can keep your purchase. However, with that comes some major disadvantages: you lose 4K and you lose iTunes Extras if they come with the film. It takes away a lot of the features that attract people to the platform (name me any other online video retailer that offers audio commentaries and featurettes). Apple needs to significantly improve in this area because it’s not inspiring consumer confidence in cloud computing and services if content you’ve bought is removed without knowledge or compensation, leaving either nothing or significantly less than what you bough. Cloud computing something Apple is keen to increase its interest in, especially after it’s been revealed that Apple has gone on a hiring spree.

To avoid you having to go through my previous rambling rants, I’ll summarise the key points here as I understand the situation:

  • Apple can remove any music, movie or TV show title you’ve purchased from your library at any time, for any reason. The most likely explanation is the ownership of copyright has changed rights owners and Apple hasn’t been granted permission to continue selling that title. Apple doesn’t give any notice if this happens. Nor are you entitled to any kind of refund or compensation. Then again, it’s also possible that you could potentially still access your purchase. In summary: it’s effectively completely random as to whether you keep your purchase with all its features to stream or download from Apple’s servers. You might keep a title forever, a week, a month, a year, 5 years, 10 years. You just don’t know.
  • Apple recommends downloading and backing up your purchased media content. Music purchases are DRM-free, usually small, and this is usually no problem for the majority of people to keep backups of their music files. Movies and TV shows, on the other hand, are large, multi-gigabyte files which are DRM protected, meaning that this restricts playback to your Apple account and devices that you own. iPhones, iPads, Macs and Windows machines can playback downloaded movies and TV shows. If they’re not downloaded, they’re streamed from Apple’s servers. iTunes Extras after the 10th July, 2014 are streaming only and cannot be downloaded. 4K content is streaming only, restricted to certain devices, and cannot be downloaded. So they cannot be backed up.
  • Apple TV HD and 4K devices are streaming devices only. iTunes purchases are not officially supported being accessed from NAS devices. Home Share doesn’t seem to support a new movie/TV show container format that I’ve found which is being used for newer titles in the iTunes Store. AirPlay should be used to stream to an Apple TV device from an iPhone, iPad and Mac/Windows machines if the title is not available anymore from Apple’s servers. Again, a reminder: you will lose access to 4K (if it was offered in that format) and iTunes Extras if the film is pulled from Apple’s servers. Your movie download only consists of the HD movie (or SD if not available in HD).
  • iTunes purchases downloaded to iPad and iPhone are not backed up if the device is set to only backup to iCloud. You’d need to connect your device to a computer running iTunes and macOS Catalina and back up the entire contents of the device there.

It should be noted that the terms of Apple’s Media Services are extremely ambiguous (for example, streaming is barely mentioned – just “redownloads”) and in my initial dealings with Apple Support, it feels as if they’re making excuses on the spot to get around their flawed and consumer unfriendly policies.

So, with regards to not being able to play newer iTunes movie purchases through Home Share (to test backup strategies), I reached out to Apple Support on a separate ticket and used examples such as Warner Bros. Birds of Prey, Lionsgate’s Knives Out and Warner Bros. Joker. All recent films, and all appear to use a new container format (HLS) when downloaded from the iTunes Store to a computer via the Apple TV app (on macOS Catalina). I discuss the symptoms on my previous post.

Apple Support and I have had some interesting conversations about this – nearly 90 minutes spent on the phone. The first revelation is that Apple does not officially support Network Attached Drives (or NAS). So if anybody is using Synology or similar NAS tech to share media libraries with an Apple (TV) device – Apple won’t support you.

The second was that AirPlay is the recommended method by which to play this type of content to the Apple TV. From your Mac, iPhone or iPad, you start playing the content and select the AirPlay symbol, select the device you want to stream it to, and it starts playing there.

The trouble with downloading content to an iPad and iPhone is the limited space available, and you’d still need to back the whole device up to a computer (Mac or Windows) to be able to backup any purchased media content because it won’t be backed up to the iCloud.

So what you really need to back up your movies and TV shows is a Mac (I can’t speak for Windows too much because I have no idea at what state it has move on from iTunes and transitioned to separate apps like the Mac) – but you need to either download the entire library to your Mac’s internal SSD/HD, or to an external drive. If the latter, you’d have to find your own way of ensuring that you have backups of that drive. Apple recommends using Time Machine to back up the Apple’s internal drive(s), though (again, see previous post) – this doesn’t always yield favourable results and I had to rely on the Apple cloud to restore everything for Apple Music. I only hope it was because of the separation of iTunes and library folder layout which was the problem (dramatically different layouts when I compared my Time Machine backup to that of the new Apple Musics app).

Note: Any iTunes Extras content made after 10th July, 2014 cannot be downloaded – it’s streaming only. So if Apple pulls the plug on a title, you’ll only have access to the file(s) containing the movie (up to HD quality only).

What Apple told me about the HLS container files is that it’s possible that the DRM is preventing playback on the Apple TV device via Home Share. If so, that’s crazy – especially as I’m using an all Apple ecosystem. And that this is not a bug. Regardless of whether it is or isn’t (I say isn’t), it seems that me that Home Sharing could be for the chop in a later tvOS/macOS. If it’s not able to handle these new container formats, it makes future iTunes purchases impossible to play via Home Share. Obviously one would use the Apple cloud service to stream in all cases where possible – but if Apple removes the content (without notice), you’ll be forced to use the method described above.

UPDATE (19th May, 2020) – the issue of the HLS package download can be resolved by going to Preferences -> Playback in the Apple TV app in macOS Catalina and ensuring that Download Multichannel Audio and Download HDR when available are both unticked.

I’ve still yet to hear back from Apple why this has to be done, and why Apple TV devices can’t see the HLS format (and what good does it do anyway if the download has no effect whatsoever).

Fix .movpkg / HLS file downloads in Apple TV app by deselecting the above

I’ve asked Apple Support to continue investigating and raise this accordingly with the technical engineering teams responsible. But I still say that Apple needs to keep all previous iTunes Store purchases on Apple’s servers even if the seller has pulled the title from the Apple platform – unless it is a genuine mistake by the seller, and then compensation needs to be organised accordingly. I don’t care about the legalities of this – and neither should the average consumer – we shouldn’t care about what licenses or agreements Apple has with their sellers. Keep the purchases on Apple servers indefinitely!

Downloading and managing files is the very least thing I want to be doing – I chose Apple because the process of purchasing and watching movies and TV content across multiple devices using their servers is quick and convenient. When you start to bring in backups (and only half-arsed backups at that due to the strange download/streaming hybrid Apple has found itself in), it becomes inconvenient and you see the cracks in the system that Apple has spent decades building up.

It also has to be said that we really need better consumer law surrounding digital content and protecting consumer purchases – especially if it’s being stored in the cloud.

(Well, more of a mugging than a robbery, I suppose)

Yesterday evening I was looking for something to watch. Something I hadn’t seen in a while. I was sure I had purchased it, but according to the Apple TV app running on macOS Catalina 10.15.4.1, it wasn’t able to find it when I did a search.

But I did find it within my library when sorted alphabetically. Phew! It just looked as if Apple was no longer selling that particular title. But at least I could stream and download it. That title was Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s MicMacs, a wonderfully comic French film about the arms industry (got to love the French sense of humour!).

Oh, really? Tell that to the Apple TV app on macOS Catalina and Apple removing content without notice

But I decided that I’d leave it until I’m off on holiday next week when I can really start binging on movies (many of whom were purchased via Apple’s iTunes store recently) – I’ve got:

  • Knives Out
  • Once upon a Time in Hollywood
  • Rocketman
  • Birds of Prey

as well as a few older titles that I’ve not seen in a while that were on sale.

While I was reminiscing over Sylvain Chomet‘s The Illusionist (which is based on an unproduced Jacques Tati script, and was directly responsible for me falling in love with the city of Edinburgh and have not regretted it since), I thought about his other film, Attila Marcel. I hadn’t seen that for a very long while, and thought it’d make for a good evening’s viewing.

ALAS!

Like MicMacs, I couldn’t see it in Apple TV’s search function. What was worse: I couldn’t see it listed alphabetically in the library either. Yet I was damn sure I bought it on iTunes.

Thankfully Apple keeps all orders and invoices going back many years – though they could consider introducing a text search function within the Apple TV and Apple Music apps to make it easier to find particular titles – otherwise it’s you need to do a LOT of scrolling. That, plusan export function for any and all invoices as CSV or Excel format.

I managed to find the original order/invoice:

So that confirms I wasn’t going stark raving mad (entirely possible during this lockdown phase). Tried to go through the usual route of reporting a problem with Apple, but the order was so old. I managed to set-up a generic support ticket with Apple Support. After an hour or two I got a reply:

It’s important to note that I quoted the original order ID when establishing contact. I replied to say that I’ve never hidden any purchases and gave them a screenshot to prove there was nothing being hidden. I then received the following:

Effectively:

“The content provider decided to stop selling their movie on our platform, and either we don’t have the file or are not allowed to give it out – even if you’ve purchased it.”

Where it gets unnecessarily complicated is that Apple sells the Apple TV 4K device which has limited storage – 32Gb or 64Gb. They also sell the iPhone which has a maximum storage capacity of 512Gb. They also have the iPad which goes all the way up to 1Tb. My entire Apple TV/iTunes library sits in around 1.75Tb. And until recently my MacBook Pros have only had a maximum of 1Tb of internal storage – and half of that was being used by Apple Photos and project work.

The entire point of buying from the likes of Apple is to make it easy to access and view my film collection (haha, I’m trying to find another word for collection as it’s not really such if some swine can just come along remove stuff from it at any time without my permission or notice) via the Apple TV device, my iPhone, my iPad or my MacBook Pro.

In the UK, the fair use law prevents us legally from ripping content from physical media that we’ve purchased. Apple seems the best option – especially as they generally give you a similar set of extra features content that you’d find on a DVD or Blu-Ray release.

Now, even if I download all ~4Tb of my content to my Mac and back that content up either to the likes of Backblaze or an external hard drive or NAS, I cannot download the 4K version of the film, nor the iTunes Extras content. Then we have issues of presenting films that have been removed from iTunes like Attila Marcel to the Apple TV, iPhone and iPad. There are options for this:

  • AirPlay (think Google’s Chromecast)
  • Home Share (sharing media library direct from Mac or NAS)

But this isn’t a consistent or nice experience – something that Apple does so very well in almost all other areas of the business.

Some questions:

  • Why Apple doesn’t inform you of any content that’s about to be removed from your library?
  • Apple has seriously screwed the pooch because there is a difference between download and streaming, which is the heart of the matter here (and especially so with the Apple TV device). I keep the movies in their “cloud” to save space and to be able to stream because I generally always have the bandwidth to do so. There is very little need for me to download an entire movie. I think this applies to the vast majority of Apple’s customers, too. This hybrid download/streaming system is an utter mess.

Apple’s own storefront web site makes absolutely no mention that content can be withdrawn. This is what it has to say (at the time of writing, 5th May 2020):

Oh, really?

Buy. Rent. Watch. All inside the app. Welcome to the new home of thousands of films, including the latest blockbusters from iTunes. Now you can buy, rent and watch, all from inside the app — as well as watch everything you’ve previously purchased from iTunes.”

But Apple has done a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy style maneuver. To quote from the book written by Douglas Adams, who was a big fan of Apple:

“But the plans were on display…”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a flashlight.”
“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”

The search for Apple’s Terms of Service in a nutshell

Apple’s Terms of Service (which, strangely, I found only through a third party web stite) only stipulate redownloads, NOT streaming – which is how I use iTunes/Apple TV content. Again, we’re back to the problem which is a legacy hangover from the early days of iTunes where you had to download everything to be able to watch it. Then the iPhone, the iPad and Apple TV came along. Especially the Apple TV which MUST stream the content.

REDOWNLOADS

You may be able to redownload previously acquired Content (“Redownload”) to your devices that are signed in with the same Apple ID (“Associated Devices”). You can see Content types available for Redownload in your Home Country at https://support.apple.com/en-gb/HT204632. Content may not be available for Redownload if that Content is no longer offered on our Services.

Associated Devices Rules (except Apple Arcade): You can have up to ten
devices (but only a maximum of five computers) signed in with your Apple ID at one time. Each computer must also be authorised using the same Apple ID (to learn more about authorisation of computers, visit
https://support.apple.com/en-gb/HT201251). Devices can be associated
with a different Apple ID once every 90 days.

Associated Devices Rules for Apple Arcade: You can have up to 10 devices
signed in to Apple Arcade per Family member at one time. Devices can be associated with a different Apple ID once every 90 days.

Redownloads vs streaming – nowt mentioned about streaming, necessary for Apple TV

The link in the above only mentions general availability of Apple Media Services. It does not mention the conditions in which content may be removed (and event then, only referring to downloadable content), nor that you will not be notified that the content is no long available.

Not if they’ve pulled the title from their servers you can’t. Be prepared for fiddling with file transfers and AirPlay instead – and extra features going missing as they’re streaming only and can’t be downloaded.

Compare this against Amazon Prime Video’s Terms which are linked to at every option to rent or “buy” (and I use that term loosely now). Amazon are much clearer on the point whereas Apple has been super vague for the past 7 years despite constantly removing content from people’s libraries.

4. DIGITAL CONTENT

i. Availability of Purchased Digital Content. Purchased Digital Content will generally continue to be available to you for download or streaming from the Service, as applicable, but may become unavailable due to potential content provider licensing restrictions or for other reasons, and Amazon will not be liable to you if Purchased Digital Content becomes unavailable for further download or streaming.

Amazon’s Terms for “buying” digital movie or TV content from them – this is very clearly set out: don’t use them for buying film or TV content.

Amazon have made it very clear anything you “buy” from them can vanish at any point. That they don’t have to give you any notice. That they owe you nothing if this occurs. Apple’s terms are more ambiguous because it merely states “redownloads”. Yet the service is primary a streaming service; downloads are a legacy from when iTunes first started when streaming wasn’t available and which just happens to be convenient these days for going offline (for travelling).

  • Why Apple doesn’t offer an immediate refund or compensation if content is removed – people make the assumption that if you purchase something from these services, they have access to it indefinitely. There’s no big massive asterisk next to the purchase button warning you about Apple or the content provider’s ability to remove the film from your cloud library. It should not be considered an extended rental. If you buy a physical CD, DVD or Blu-Ray – you don’t have somebody turn up at your doorstep from the shop that sold it to you and demand it back because their supplier no longer sells to them. Just because something is intangible should not bring about Houdini style hijinks.
  • Why Apple hasn’t thought about and solved this problem already? There have been sporadic reports of content being removed from people’s libraries since at least 2013.
  • If Apple can’t sold this problem technically, then why doesn’t it try to resolve this through its significant legal resources and the major film studios and distributors? If Apple truly is a consumer champion, dedicated to the likes of privacy et. al, it needs to be seen doing a heck of a lot more for protecting consumer’s rights. (Ironic, given the whole right to repair fiasco which is stil ongoing.)

Some experiences of other people:

There are plenty more articles about this, but the point is that in an age where we’re relying more and more on cloud services (including storage), it seems highly unreasonable for Apple to expect us to download every single title we buy from them and keep it somewhere local.

I’ve reach out further to Apple Support and Tim Cook to see what they have to say on the matter and have asked them what they intend to do in the future to protect consumers’ purchases. Apple needs to resolve its issue with the legacy iTunes stuff because it’s now becoming a major problem. Until then, I’m extremely damn nervous to buy anything more from the Apple TV/iTunes store knowing that at any time a content provider can pull the plug just like that.

I’d reach out to Metrodome who distributes (or at least did) Atilla Marcel and ask them what the bloody hell they’re playing at, even though my contract for the purchase is with Apple. But they went into administration in 2016. Maybe the rights reverted to Pathé? Though this doesn’t explain why it has taken this long for the title to be removed from iTunes – I’m pretty sure it was still there at the end of last year (2019). In any event, Amazon’s Prime Video has the title to rent or buy. I may reach out to Pathé and ask them what the hell THEY’RE playing at – especially as there a good number of titles from them happily existing on iTunes that I “own”.

Apple, live up to your creed: Think Different. Yet just don’t think different – do something!

BTW, when the BBC Store closed down, I had around £150 worth of purchases refunded to me in its entirety by BBC Worldwide PLUS a voucher for Amazon which could be used to buy physical or digital content by way of an apology. More companies – especially Apple – need to take note.

43 (nearly 44) year old man still collecting Star Wars figures

Disney+ in the UK has finally released all eight chapters of The Mandalorian, the first ever live action Star Wars TV series, and I’ve got to say that in all my years of following the Star Wars films: this TV show is the dog’s knackers.

Jon Favreau, who created the series as well as wrote the majority of the episodes, has done an absolutely fantastic job of creating a modern Western in space (or maybe a better analogy – a modern Eastern, since a lot of it aligns itself similarly to Lone Wolf and Cub, as well as the Seven Samurai).

The plot follows a bounty hunter (much like Boba Fett) belonging to the Mandalorian clan (they’re not a species, but more of a creed) who takes a job tracking down and retrieving somebody who is only described as being 50 years old. But this is no ordinary job. The client (played by Werner Herzog) offers the bounty hunter (Mando, we’ll call him for now) a significant bounty if he brings him back alive.

The Child (aka Baby Yoda)

The target happens to be a child. Albeit one that ages extremely slowly. As far as we know, this is the same species as Jedi Master Yoda (hence the nickname) – though Mando doesn’t know that. After finding and rescuing the child, Mando can’t bear to leave the kid with the client, whom he suspects is torturing him/running experiments, so after he pockets the reward (which he turns into protective armour), he rescues the kid – which results in him being banished from the bounty hunter’s guild and making many enemies in the process. They both go on the run.

Throughout the course of the series, we see Baby Yoda demonstrate remarkable feats of Force power, much to the amazement of Mando and his rag-tag team that he assembles to bring down an Imperial warlord (played by Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul’s Giancarlo Esposito).

The show is an extraordinary testament to what can now be achieved in television production: the visual effects, the sound design, sets, puppets/creature effects.- everything that you’d expect to see in a major Hollywood movie. It’s shot anamorphically too – with two big black bars at the top and bottom of the screen, giving it a true cinematic quality. All split across 8 30-minute “chapters”.

It’s funny. It’s exciting. It’s exhilarating. The Mandalorian is a joy to watch. Some would argue 30 minutes is too short, and I’d agree to an extent – though what they manage cram into those 30 minutes ensures that everything remains fresh and keeps on moving.

The Mandalorian has been the best thing on TV in ages, and I can’t wait to see season two when it airs in October.