In a recent article, I explained how you can rip DVDs with the free Handbrake. While the solution I describe in that article is easy to use, you might want to consider another way of ripping discs. You can do this using the free MakeMKV, and then using Handbrake. This has several advantages:
There’s no need to install additional tools from the command line, as I explained in the “How to rip DVDs with Handbrake” article.
You can also rip Blu-ray discs with MakeMKV and then convert these files to iTunes-compatible files.
If you don’t want to store your videos in iTunes, you can play them with the free VLC media player, and you can view them in the iOS version of VLC as well.
And if you use Plex to manage and view videos, then you can use the MKV file as is; Plex can read and play this type of file, and it’s got great apps for iOS and the Apple TV.
Here’s how to use MakeMKV to rip optical discs, and how to convert them with Handbrake.
You may buy and rent digital movies, or even get digital copies of your films when you buy DVDs so you can watch them easily on an Apple TV or iOS device. But not all movies offer digital copies, and you may not want to buy movies from the iTunes Store; you may want to own hard copies of your favorite films. Or, you may, like me, buy DVDs of concerts and operas, or have a collection of older DVDs, such as my box sets of The Honeymooners and The Twilight Zone.
Fortunately, it’s easy to rip DVDs and add them to your iTunes library so you can use them more freely and watch them when you want. Here’s how.
With both a lack of players and a lack of disks, there’s no real reason to jump into the 4KBD fray just yet. However, Ultra HD Blu-ray will, for the most part, look better than streaming and Blu-ray. How much better they look is going to depend on the original movie’s picture quality and medium, and how well it was transferred (or remastered) to 4KBD. This was true of Blu-ray and DVD as well.
Will there be 4KBDs that look no better than regular BD? Probably. Will there be some that look no better than streaming? Doubtful.
Interesting discussion of whether 4K Blu-Rays will be any better than current media quality. Executive summary: a lot of 4K Blu-Rays will be upsampled from lower resolutions.
This is quite a messy technological change. I will quote something from one of the comments that highlights how complex all this is:
One fact that was left out but important is the evolution of HDMI to v2.0a and HDCP v2.2. This is the new requirement for native UHD 4K sources and its not forward compatible with older versions of HDMI, meaning you cannot plug a new UHD 4K Blu-ray player into your AVR or PrePro unless the player offers dual HDMI outputs, one for the new video resolution and one that still meets v1.3 or v1.4 HDMI spec. Be sure you have the new HDMI v2.0a, its the only one with HDR, Dolby Atmos, and true native 4K pass through.
Your average TV viewer won’t understand any of what is in that paragraph above. TVs have become more complex than computers, and this is a Very Bad Thing for the TV industry, and for all of us who own TVs. The number of technologies that need to be compatible is much more complex than those needed to transfer files from Windows to a Mac. (Remember how hard that used to be?) 3D TV is pretty much a failure, probably, in part, because it’s too complicated (and the stupid glasses). I can’t see these new technologies hitting critical mass for quite some time, as long as it’s so complex to make sure that all your hardware (especially if you have a home theater system or AV amplifier) is compatible. And, of course, one of the main reasons for all these complications is DRM…
While you may get your movies and TV shows digitally, you probably still have a DVD collection. You can certainly watch these DVDs the usual way, with a DVD player, but wouldn’t it be great to add them to your iTunes library, so you can sync them to your iPad or iPhone, and watch them anywhere? Ripping DVDs on a Mac is simple; it takes a bit more time than ripping CDs, but it’s not much more difficult.
iTunes can’t do this, of course, since ripping DVDs involve a gray area of copyright law. Fair use suggests that you should be able to rip them for personal use, but in some countries this is patently illegal. I won’t deal with those issues here. If you feel that it’s right to rip DVDs you own, then read on to find out how.
I’ve long been a fan of Wim Wenders’ early movies, in particular, Kings of the Road, or Im Lauf der Zeit. When I was living in France, I bought a box set of a dozen of his movies, but they only have French subtitles. Now that I’m in the UK, I want to watch some of these with my partner, and she doesn’t speak or read French.
At the same time, I was planning to rip these DVDs to add the films to my iTunes library. While doing this, using the free Handbrake, I also added English subtitles. Here’s how you can do this.
First, find subtitles for your film, or TV series, in the language you want: opensubtitles.org has gazillions of subtitles. These are all made by volunteers, and the translations may not be as good as those made by professionals which are available on DVDs and Blu-Rays with multiple languages, but it’s better than nothing.
Download the zip file and double-click it to decompress it. The folder has an .srt file. This is what you’ll add to Handbrake.
After you’ve selected your disc in Handbrake, and chosen your settings to rip the video, click the Subtitles tab, then the Track menu, and choose Add External SRT.
Navigate to the file and select it, and Handbrake will display it as the subtitle track. Click Start to have Handbrake rip the disc and add your subtitles.
If you wish, you can add multiple languages to your rips as well. Just select another .srt file and add it in the same way. You’ll be able to choose which subtitles you view when you watch the movie. This is a good way to practice a foreign language: if you watch a movie with subtitles in the original language, it can help you follow the dialog, since it’s often easier to read subtitles than to hear the words that characters say in a movie.
The Royal Shakespeare Company has released the first disc in its Live from Stratford-Upon-Avon series, which features live broadcasts to cinemas of plays from the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and subsequent releases on DVD and Blu-Ray. This release is Richard II, staring David Tennant. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK, iTunes Store) I attended a production of this play shortly before it was filmed, and you can read my review. I liked it, but was not overwhelmed by it; I felt David Tennant was excellent, but some of the company was weak, and the overall design didn’t really grab me.
But it’s worth discussing the quality of the production on the Blu-Ray (and DVD), which, to me, could hardly be better. I’ve become a regular at the RSC; I live a few miles from Stratford-Upon-Avon, and it’s my “local.” Since I moved to the UK just over a year ago, I travelled there often, then moved nearby, in part to have this wonderful theater a few minutes away.
Being in the two RSC theater’s is magical. The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, where Richard II was filmed, has about 1,000 seats; the Swan Theatre, next-door, about 460 seats. Both have thrust stages, where the audience sits on three sides of the stage, in a horseshoe shape. Wherever you are in either theater, you’re very close to the stage. I’ve sat in many different locations for a dozen or so productions, and I’ve never been disappointed. Whether in the front row, or in the back, you get a great view.
From the first scene of the play on disc, it’s obvious that they’ve got it right. I immediately had the feeling of being there, in the theater, in the play. While Richard II starts with a shot from above the stage, which I wasn’t able to see in person, the rest of the filming recalled what it was like to be there, in person.
The camera work is excellent, the lighting perfect for both stage and film, and there is a judicious alternation of close-ups and long shots, letting you focus on faces – better than in the theater – in certain scenes, and giving you the big picture for others. The editing was tasteful; no quick cuts, as often seen in classical music videos, and the overall editing gives a great sense of the entire stage. And one part of the play benefited greatly from the film. When Richard II is in prison, he’s in a cell beneath the stage. A large part of the stage opens up to show him, and sitting where I was in the stalls, I couldn’t see inside. The boom camera, however, can show him there, giving me a bit more than what I got live.
The only criticism I would have was the sound. At times, actors weren’t miked perfectly, notably in the early scene when Henry Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray were kneeling, facing the king, with their backs to the front of the stage. While one of the bonus features on the disc mentioned that the actors were wearing microphones, it didn’t sound like it, at least not at this part.
The disc contains a number of bonus features. Some are videos, most of which were available on the RSC web site, but there’s a director’s commentary, with director Gregory Doran and producer John Wyver, discussing the play and the production. I only listened to a few minutes of it, but I’ll be checking that out in the future.
This is an auspicious beginning to a wonderful project. Artistic director Gregory Doran has begun a cycle of all of Shakespeare’s plays, without repeat, over the next six years, and if the Live from Stratford-Upon-Avon project is successful, we’ll have a wonderful complete set of filmed productions of the plays after that time. This will rival the only existing complete set of the plays, that produced by the BBC in the 1970s and 1980s.
If you like Shakespeare, grab this. If you just like David Tennant – and there were enough people who felt that way to make this production a sellout in both Stratford-Upon-Avon and London – get it anyway. It’s not the best Shakespeare play, but the quality of the filming makes up for any weaknesses in the production.
Classical DVDs and Blu-Rays come in several varieties. There are the filmed concerts, now commonplace, which are created to provide content to the few “arts” TV channels around the world, then sold on disc to music fans. Some of these are operas, and some are just films of orchestras, ensembles or soloists performing in concert halls. There are also the, now less common, films of artists playing in grand rooms and halls in chateaus or other stately buildings.
What do we really expect from them? They can’t replace the concert experience, no matter how good your DVD/Blu-Ray player and audio system. At best, just like CDs, they provide a record of a performance, but in a way that documents a specific artist’s expressions and emotions. Many of them are simply films of concerts, with little advantage over audio-only versions. Operas are an exception, since there’s the staging and the costumes, and, in some cases, inventive camera-work that will get you much closer to the action than if you were in the audience – just as theatre broadcast to cinemas gives you a totally different view of a play than you would see from the cheap seats, or even the front row.
I’ve seen a lot of DVDs and Blu-Rays, and I’ve been riveted by some, bored by others, and greatly surprised by a handful. I very much like the medium, because they let me approach music differently. However, there are only a handful of optical discs that I’ve watched more than a couple of times. A classical DVD or Blu-Ray needs to have something special to stay on the top of my pile.
The latter are probably the films that I watch the most. Not only do I appreciate the subtly inventive camera work, but the performances are excellent. Each program – there are eight in all – provides a selection of the sonatas. Watching these films helped me gain a much deeper understanding of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, and a better appreciation of Barenboim as an interpreter of them.
So, when I heard that EuroArts was releasing a “new” set of Daniel Barenboim performing these works, I was very excited. These were recorded in 1983 and 1984 in four different “palaces” and castles, showing Barenboim at what one might call his middle period. His first recording of the Beethoven sonatas on disc, in his mid-twenties, bore the impetuousness of youth. His later interpretations, such as the mid-1980s cycle for DG, show wisdom acquired through experience. These films are from that period, and catch Barenboim at a stage where he had been playing these works for decades. His performances here are polished and refined, though lacking the sparkle of the 2005 live recordings. Barenboim is generally expressionless as he performs, and, while he gets a bit animated at times, his face betrays very little.
The filming is unadventurous. Edits are conservative, there are lots of long shots, and not many showing Barenboim’s dazzling finger-work. There is much attention to the surroundings; the buildings are merely the setting for the music, however, and shouldn’t be more than that. There are some very long static shots, which are very different from today’s MTV-influenced videos.
This leads me back to the original question: what does one expect from a film like this? It’s got great music – more than 11 hours of it -, an excellent performer, and is a visual record of that performer in his element. But he’s really in a studio – albeit a grandiose one – without the spontaneity of the stage, and in many ways it’s similar to a film of someone in a recording studio. No one will watch 11+ hours of Beethoven, or even the 200 minutes or more on each disc (Blu-Ray), in a single sitting. Unlike CDs, which have the convenient length of about an hour, optical discs require more of a time commitment. You can dip into them at any point to hear a favorite sonata but then you will end up not hearing them all.
Technically, this is another of EuroArts’ Recorded Excellence releases, where the company has scanned old 35mm footage to bring it to today’s audiences. The restoration is as good as possible. Compared to something filmed in HD today, it’s lacking; there’s grain and blur, lighting issues and color saturation problems, but they don’t distract from the performances. The images are judiciously cropped from 4:3 to 16:9, and you don’t really notice the difference. (I have the Blu-Ray version of this set; it is also available on DVD.)
In the end, if you’re a fan of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, and especially of Daniel Barenboim’s performances, you’ll want to own this, as there aren’t many complete sets on film. I prefer the live recitals because they are more spontaneous, and because each one is a programmatic selection of three or four sonatas, rather than them being in number order. If you’re not familiar with Barenboim’s recordings of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, I strongly recommend you give these a listen – on film or CD. This is a fine document of one of the best performers of Beethoven on piano. In a field with a lot of competition, I find his recordings to be among my favorites. Maybe you will too.
Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or What You Will, which dates from the fecund year of 1601, just after Hamlet, is one of the bard’s plays about confusion. A pair of twins is separated in a shipwreck. One, a woman, dresses as a man, and the two are reunited at the end of the play. But between the separation and reunion, much happens, all having to do with wooing and love.
The idea of separated twins is something Shakespeare used in the early Comedy of Errors. In that play, the twins were separated at birth. And the woman dressing as a man was essential in As You Like It, which Shakespeare wrote just a year or two earlier, where Rosalind had to hide her femininity during her travels in the Forest of Arden.
The Elizabethan stage did not allow women on stage, so any time there was cross-dressing, it created double ambiguity: a man playing a woman dressed as a man; the audience certainly understood that two-pronged change. In this production – described as an Original Practices performance – the Globe Theatre company performs Twelfth Night with all men, bringing back the way gender was treated in the early 17th century. Johnny Flynn plays Viola (also known as Cesario, creating yet another layer of dissimulation), Mark Rylance is Olivia, and Paul Chahidi plays Maria, Olivia’s maid.
The play begins with Viola’s explanation for why she dresses as a man. She hear’s of Orsino’s love for Olivia, and realizes that, if she were disguised as a man, she might serve as matchmaker, and “might not be delivered to the world.”
The rest of the play revolves around the confusion that arises when Viola falls in love with Orsino, and when, as courier to Olivia sending messages of Orsino’s love for the latter, Olivia becomes smitten with Viola. A side plot involves Malvolio, who has the beguine for Olivia. Maria, Olivia’s maid, together with two comic characters, Sir Toby Belch (a Falstaff-like character) and Sir Andrew, are involved in a ploy to trick Malvolio and make him think he is loved.
In the end, Viola’s brother Sebastian returns, and there is confusion with Olivia who marries Sebastian, Viola’s twin brother, then sees Viola who knows nothing of the marriage. But all ends well, as the two loving couples unite.
This is a lively production, with wonderful comic timing, with entrances and exits making scenes segue with no interruption. The Globe’s approach to have almost no sets – other than the occasional table or bench – makes the stage very fluid, and the actors all bubble with humor throughout.
The performance revolves around Mark Rylance’s Olivia, who has a strong stage presence throughout. Rylance plays a role that is subtle and powerful, yet I had a bit of difficulty suspending belief. Olivia should be fairly young, yet Rylance is in his 50s. The voice he uses – a slight falsetto – makes him sound like an elderly woman. While his acting is nearly perfect from a textbook point of view, I just didn’t find his characterization believable enough.
Nevertheless, there are certain points in the play when Rylance’s Olivia achieves perfection. Certain gestures, glances, and stuttering words give the character a life that no soliloquy could equal. The look on Olivia’s face when he suggests that Malvolio – clearly a trifle mad – go to bed, and the latter replies, “To bed! ay, sweet-heart, and I’ll come to thee,” is memorable.
Steven Fry (Malvolio) and Mark Rylance (Olivia).
As for Malvolio, Steven Fry gives a powerful performance of this somewhat gauche man who is full of himself, then thinks himself loved by Olivia. The scene in the garden where Malvolio reads the forged letter from Olivia – really written by Maria – is a masterpiece, as Fry falls into the character with ease and grace.
The rest of the cast is very good, if not excellent. While I found Johnny Flynn unconvincing as Viola, I thought Colin Hurley, as Sir Toby Belch, and Roger Lloyd Pack, as Sir Andrew Aguecheck were a wonderful comic duo.
This is a boisterous performance, and, aside from my reservations about Rylance, is delightful and effective. This production is currently on Broadway; the DVD here is a film of a production at the Globe Theatre in London from September, 2012. If you can’t see it live, then this DVD – with a slightly different cast from the Broadway production – is the next best thing. The DVD is not yet available in the US, but if you order it from Amazon UK, it is in NTSC format, and has no region code, and is therefore compatible with US DVD players.
It’d been years since I had seen Stalker, Andrei Tarkovsky’s excellent science fiction film, and I watched it last night. For a science fiction movie, Stalker is certainly an oddity. Released in 1979, loosely based on the short novel Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, and directed by Tarkovsky, the masterful Russian director who lived too short a life, it tells the tale of a part of Russia that has been visited by an odd event. It may have been a meteorite that fell, or it may have been an alien visitation. But the event created the Zone, a dangerous area which was cordoned off by the police, and where few could go.
A Stalker – a sort of guide who takes people through the traps in the Zone – meets up with two men who want to visit the Room, a place where wishes come true. One is a Professor, a man of reason, and the other a writer, a man of inspiration. The Stalker is a man of belief. Very little happens in the movie, which lasts more than 2 1/2 hours, except for their trip to the Room, and their discovery of what they want from it.
Stalker is science fiction only in its premise; there are no aliens, no magic, nothing that would be noticed as science fiction. It is a slow movie; very little happens, and some of the shots are several minutes long. It’s a science fiction movie as it would have been written by Samuel Beckett. Yet it’s a brilliant existential examination of the desires of men and women.
At first, the film begins in sepia-toned black-and-white, but once the three characters reach the Zone, the film changes to color. Just as Oz was in color, so was the Zone. The Zone is located outside an industrialized city, and is full of the detritus of modernity. Yet Tarkovsky films these banal, cast-off items with the plastic beauty that he showed in all his films. Some of the shots are breathtakingly haunting, yet there is nothing special in them.
In a prescient shot, near the end of the movie, the Stalker can be seen returning to his home with his wife and daughter, and, across the river, a nuclear power plant is seen. The Zone could be the area surrounding Chernobyl. There is no devastation, simply signs of nature taking over some human artefacts.