Friday, March 30, 2007

The Week In Review(s)

It sure has been an interesting week, and certainly one that I will be remembering for a while. It certainly had it's ups and Downs. The good news is that most of the downs were at someone else's expense!

A definite high was the very funny book Schmucks by Jackie Mason and Raoul Felder. This is a riotous read, it is well worth the price of admission. This review ended up getting syndicated, so it is all over the net like a rash. I was not expecting to be able to get an interview out of this book because these guys are so well known, but the publisher (Harper Collins) is telling me that they would love to do an interview.

On a not so high note, I reviewed a new DVD about the 1990's Brit band Oasis. I am sure that you all remember the songs from their album 'Morning Glory'. The press release claimed that this DVD contained live and studio versions of the Morning Glory album, and each track is critiqued by experts. I thought this would be a wonderful idea, alas it remains only an idea. You get a 20 second sound byte of each song, followed by 10 minutes of pontificating by people who are having a bad hair day. Needless to say this did not impress me a lot, and I think it might show in my review.

It was a great week for interviews. I have been really lucky recently, all my victims have come up with great interviews. Corey Fayman delivered up a wonderful interview about his new murder mystery Blacks Beach Shuffle. While Robert Wickes offered up some great insights into his latest book The Myth America Pageant.

The ultimate experience of the week though involves a music CD. I don't do a lot of music reviews, personally I think a lot of the stuff these days is crap. But a couple of weeks ago I spotted a press release about an upcomming CD and book, celebrating the life of June Carter Cash. The book being written by her son John Carter Cash, and the CD being produced by him as well. Anchored In Love A Tribute To June Carter Cash seemed like a fun read and listen. The list of musicians on the CD read like a who's who of country music. So I sent in a request for a review copy. I received a polite reply that I was on the list, and they would be shipping out review copies in late May, with a launch date in the stores set for June 19th.

Launch dates for books and CD's change every 30 seconds, they are even more unpredictable than the weather here in Calgary! So when the CD arrived in the mail on Monday I was not suprised. What dis suprise me was just how good Anchored In Love is. I am not really a country music fan, but this is a 'blow your socks off' album, all of the songs were penned by June Carter Cash, and the renditions of the songs are fabulous.

I gave this CD a great review. My friends at Blogcritics concurred that this is a great CD and they syndicated the review. So once again I have an article all over the net. So, I sent off an email to the PR people thinking they would be really happy about this. About 5 minutes later World War III broke out! Apparently someone in Nashville screwed up. No, NONE, ZIP copies of this CD were supposed to be shipped to anyone until late May. I guess someone did not understand this, and popped a copy in the mail to me. And boy are they pissed over this!

I am pretty sure there are 'Wanted' posters for me in Nashville, and I am sure that I am banned for life from the Grand Ole Opry.

Just another week in the life of a reviewer!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Alton Brown, Now This Guy Has Some Problems!

I am a big fan of the Food Channel, I watch it more than any other channel, well hell, whats not to love about food. One of my favorite characters is Alton Brown, he has the most unique way of dealing with whatever subject he is espousing on.

Quite by accident I found a YouTube piece starring our good buddy Alton. It is 8 minutes long, but you only need to watch the first minute to get the idea of how funny this guy is.

Now This Guy Is Nut's!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

A Career Ending Move?

This could be the end of my not quite career as a movie reviewer. To get free copies of unreleased movies you obviously need the goodwill of the studios and publicists. In other words, you stroke them, and they stroke you. Panning a movie is OK when you have lots of sources, or you are very well known in the industry. Panning a movie when you are just starting out is an entirely different thing. Alas I am guilty as charged!

I suspect that it will be a cold day in hell that this publicist will send me another movie to review. In my defence, I will say this, Idol was the worst movie that I have ever seen. Wild drug crazed Budweiser Clydesdale's could not drag me into a theatre to watch it!
It took 3 abortive attempts with the home DVD player to suffer through this travesty in movie making.
Oh, if you want to read what I said, you can find the review here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Xentel - Canada's Answers to Big Brother?

I am amazed, I wrote a couple of pieces about this sleazy organization a while back. And on a daily basis I see hits to my articles hit by people searching for the name Xentel.

Who are these people? Maybe more important is what the hell do these people want?

In a nutshell they are a big league collection agency. They don't brag about what they do, because no one would talk to them! These people are the modern version of a leper! Of course this version of leprosy does not involve the leaving of body bits, fingers, toes etc, it involves the removal of money from your wallet. As far as I can see they take exactly zero time to ascertain if their selected victim has anything to do with the actual money owed.

I am keen to hear from other Xentel victims, with the idea of doing an investigative piece on them. If there is one thing that sleazy organizations like Xentel hates it is publicity.

So all you folks that read this looking for Xentel info, drop me a line. I do have the street address and telephone number for the Edmonton sweat shop, but I am looking for the 1-800 number. That way we can all call and complain!

It will be so much fun!

Previous articles include:

The good news is.. since I got really rude with them, they have stopped bothering me.

I do still want the stinking 1-800 number, because I think we should all have the opportunity to tell them to 'Go To Hell'

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Diet Coke The New IED!

Yup, you heard it right, cans of Diet Coke could be used by Iraqi insurgents to attack the US military. Diet Coke can be used as an IED (Improvised Explosive Device), I know this for a fact because a Diet Coke attacked me yesterday.

Jan and I went grocery shopping and we picked up a 12 pack of the stuff. They have changed the packaging of the 12 packs "in order to make them fit better in a refrigerator" the Coke official apologizer told me.

Anyway Jan was trying to open this damn thing. As you can see in the picture above there is a yellow flap on the end that you are supposed to pull off. Jan could not get the thing to budge, this type of design I refer to as adult proofing.

Being the gallant guy that I am I tell her to stand back and let me do it. I grab the yellow tab firmly and pull it the direction indicated. There is a hissing sound, followed by a sharp pain in my thumb! "That's odd" I think to myself, and pull my hand out. Hmm wonder where all that blood came from?

One of the cans had exploded, leaving metal as sharp as any damn razor blade.

So what is a guy going to do under these circumstances? The answer was obvious, first order of business was to stem the blood flow. Next, a quick trip to the store to get some Band-Aids.

Having performed triage on myself I was ready to shout at someone. Being the Internet weenie that I am, I went to the Coke site, found a comment form, and let em have it!

Within 10 minutes I received a reply asking for more details, and about 10 minutes after that the phone rang. It was the official Coke apologizer from Vancouver, BC. She offered some truly interesting insights into the art to damage control.

Rule number 1, regardless of what the problem is, the problem is not with the product! It was not the Coke that had a problem, it was the CO2 in the Coke!

Her advice was that in the future I should ignore the big yellow tab that says 'open here', and open the package from the other end!

So, there you have it from the horses mouth, if you buy a 12 pack of Diet Coke, the official Coke recommendation is to ignore the big yellow sign that says open here, and open the package from the other end!

Oh, and for my pain and suffering Coke are sending me some complementary 12 packs! I'll be opening them with a howitzer from a safe distance of about 15 miles!

From now on I am sticking to beer, I have never had a beer try to kill me!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

What The...........????

I'll just bet you are wondering what the hell I am up to, posting a sensible article. It's OK, I have not lost it, I do actually write sensible stuff on occasion, but not usually on here.

The review of Tortilla Heaven was an article that I wrote for another site I needed a place to test out the formatting before I published it. So that's why it is on here!

The real review is here. Actually it was quite a fun little movie, I liked it. I believe it opens in Southern California on the 16th. So if you live in the L.A. area you should go check it out.

I believe that the publicist said that it will be available on DVD sometime in April.

Reviewing movies certainly is easier than books, ya just have to sit in front of the screen for 2 hours, that is way easier than having to read 400 pages. Of course you have no clue what a movie is going to be like till you actually watch it, and I can say with some degree of confidence that they are all NOT Oscar material.

Right now I have three more to review, a re-release of Ghost that has been reedited. I got that one because its one of Jan's all time favorites.

Harsh Times is set in Los Angeles and follows two friends through the murky world of drugs and gangs. I gave this movie a brief whirl last night. And I suppose I am just going to have to sit down and watch it.

Last but not least, we have Idol, now this is a movie that I am beginning to regret getting involved with. The synopsis from the publicist made it sound pretty humorous. Out of work gay actor who makes his living by dressing up in a carrot suit to entertain kids.... Well, there is no doubt that he is gay, as indeed the entire cast seems to be. I managed about 20 minutes before I just had to go have a beer and a cigarette. I can see this one being a real chore to sit through!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Movie Review: Tortilla Heaven

If you are looking for a deep and meaningful movie, you are in the wrong place! However if you are looking for a delightfully funny and slightly irreverent movie, this could be the one for you. Written and directed by Judy Hecht Dumontet. Tortilla Heaven is great family fun.

The action is set in Falfurrias, New Mexico, a sleepy community boasting a population of 73. Our hero is Isidor Navarro (José Zúñiga) , who is the proprietor of the town’s only restaurant Tortilla Heaven. Falfurrias is a tight knit community centered around church and family, in many ways an idyllic, but poor existence.

One Sunday morning Isidor makes a batch of tortillas in readiness for the after church crowd. Unfortunately things are not going well with his dough, and he is frustrated, not just with the dough, but with his life in general. He makes the best Mexican food for many miles around, maybe the best food in the whole of New Mexico, but few people eat at Tortilla Heaven, because Falfurrias is 3 miles from the highway, and there is only a dirt road, a pinche, and few travelers want to make the dusty trek. “Jesus pinche Christ”, Isador shouts, his frustrations peaking.

The tortilla that he makes burns in a unique way, a picture of Jesus is formed on it. Not being a seeker of fame Isidor tries to keep the tortilla a secret, but secrets are hard to keep in a town with a population of 73. The news spreads like wildfire, everyone wants to see the tortilla with the picture.

Falfurrias becomes a very popular place, the opportunities to become rich are everywhere. Everyone has an angle, everyone wants to own this tortilla that can change the fortunes of the town, the Mayor thinks that the profits should be used to build a golf course, the local priest Father Pancacio (Marcelo Tubert) declares “Jesus Christ is the registered trademark of the Roman Catholic Church!”.

Isidor creates a shrine for the tortilla in a regrigerator and starts charging people $3 to view it, “a dollar for the Father, a dollar for the Son, and a dollar for the Holy Ghost,” he explains.
Luckily (or unluckily) for Isidor, help arrives in the shape of Gil Garcia (Miguel Sandoval), Management Consultant, attorney at law, and all round con man. Gil is the man that can take control of the situation. Gil can show Isidor, and the other 72 residents how they can all become rich, simply “sign on the dotted line”.

Needless to say chaos ensues as the protagonists lose their family values in search of the almighty dollar.

Judy Hecht Dumontet has created a very fine movie, the camera work is very well done, and the scenery is spectacular. Miguel Sandoval is nothing short of brilliant as Gil Garcia, he is slick, and he exudes all that is bad in the world. Tortilla Heaven has a PG-13 rating because of some very brief nudity, however I would classify this as a movie that anyone could enjoy. It opens in theaters on March 16th . There is a very well done web site to accompany the movie, and it has some interesting articles and also the trailer.

My wife and I both enjoyed watching Tortilla Heaven, so we give it ‘two thumbs up’.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Battle Of The Last Mile

The last mile is a term often referred to in the communications world. There are huge fiber-optic pipes that voice, data, and TV signals flow through from coast to coast. The last mile refers to the problem of getting all of this lovely rich media into the average household, that lovely big fiber optic pipe gives way to twisted pairs (Telephone) and coax cable(TV) in the last physical mile of it's journey. This week I discovered that the last mile also is an issue for some courier services.

For the past 6 months or so I have been inundated with packages, all sorts of different companies have dropped stuff off at our apartment. This is the joy of being a reviewer, it is Christmas year round.

I have noticed that each of the delivery services have their own unique method of delivery.

Fed-Ex ring the door bell and run. By the time my wife opens the door all she can see is the dust being kicked up by the tires as Mr. Fed-Ex burns rubber onto his next mission.

UPS are a little more laid back and usually wait for her to open the door, hand her the package, and have been known to say pleasant things like “hello”.

Even Canada Post manages to get stuff to us. OK, it’s a bit slow, and they tend to put the items in the wrong mailbox, but at least it does eventually arrive. The 3 day Global Mail service that the US Post Office offers does not apply to Canada, it takes Canada Post at least 3 days just to decide that it is a priority shipment, but at least they try.

All in all I have been pretty satisfied with the way objects move from place to place. Mostly the objects that I deal with are books and movies that I write reviews for. Books tend to come in two priority levels, it is going to be published two months from now, or it was published two months ago. If it takes 2 days or 7 days (10 days for Canada Post) to get to me, it does not make much of a difference.

Movies are a little different, if it is a pre-release screener, the chances are that it is going to be opening in theatres pretty damn soon, and so it is important that there are no delays.

As an independent reviewer I source most of my material direct from the ‘horses mouth’ so as to speak. Most companies that I deal with understand the rules of engagement in this game. If they want a quick return on their project they have to get the goods into my hot little hand quickly. The priority is entirely up to them.

Life took a little turn for the worse this week when a Publicist in Los Angeles attempted to ship a time critical item to me. In order to protect the not-so-innocent we will use a fictitious name ‘Daryl Harry & Larry International’, for the sake of brevity I will just use the abbreviated form of DHL (which should not be confused with any actual company).

According to the official version, this poor defenseless package left Santa Monica, California on the evening of March 2nd, and Arrived in Calgary in the wee hours of March 3rd. I was pretty impressed with that bit. Hell it takes the local mail a week to move a letter a couple of miles, yet this company had managed to move a package well over 1000 miles in under 9 hours!

Unfortunately DHL has a frequent flier program and decided that a quick trip to Ohio would be good for more points. Late in the evening, and no doubt a little jet lagged and grumpy the package made it back to Calgary.

The 4th of March was a Sunday, and the little package rested. It sat happily in the package hotel knowing that it was close to its final destination.

Monday was a bright and sunny day, the little package was happy to catch a ride on the package shuttle bus, the last step in the journey. Unfortunately the shuttle bus driver did not know how to read a street map.

Based on the fact that I found the bright yellow ‘We missed you card’ two days later, when the snow started to melt, I would guess that the shuttle bus driver got within 50 feet of the target. I still can not figure out why he did not put the notice in the mail box, or stick it to the door, but. what do I know! Maybe it is company policy to put them in the snow bank.

The next day I found another ‘We missed you’ within 3 feet of the door. More snow had melted and it was kind of soggy, it had spent a good number of hours in the rather large puddle outside the front door, but it was still legible.

A phone call to our good buddies Daryl Harry & Larry International revealed that they run a two strike system, two strikes and you are out. You now have to either pick the item up at their location, or select a new address for it to be delivered to.

I thought this was a disappointing turn of events. The driver had had two opportunities to deliver, and he was definitely getting closer to that elusive front door. Three more feet and he would have made it! The concept of giving them a different address was a little disconcerting to say the least. However they were insistent. My argument that the driver was just getting the hang of where to deliver the package to did not wash with them.

Plan B was formulated quickly. Let them deliver it to where I work! It is probably one of the best known (not necessarily best loved) structures in Calgary. Of the million people that live in the city there are maybe two people that do not know where the ‘Drop-In Centre’ is. I had not bargained that one of those two people would be the Daryl Harry & Larry International driver!

So here we are, it is now Friday morning, and I still do not have it in my hands. Nine hours from California to Alberta, and six days to make it that last mile!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Another Week Of Books And Other Bull!

Hell, where does the time go? This has been another week that went by in a blur. I have read and reviewed 4 books, and interviewed three of the authors.

The week started with Ron Standerfers great air force fighter pilot tale The Last Flight Of The Eagle. I was really impressed with this book. Ron has done a bang up job of creating a book that is part air jock action and part love story. A definite must read! Ron is a character, and gave a great interview. If every author interviewed as well as Ron does, the book reviewing business would be a cake walk.

Next in line was the mysterious sounding P. M. Terrell's new mystery book Ricochet. This was another great read. It has elements about smuggling, id theft, and terrorism. This is a real page turner and I give it very high marks. P. M. also turned out to be a great subject for an interview.

Of course I knew my luck could not hold, and pretty much the week started to go downhill.

Cyber Lies by John Paul Lucich is a 'how to' book about computer forensics aimed at people who think their spouse is cheating on them. The book contains step by step instructions on how to check out the home computer to find any incriminating evidence. The concept behind the book as far as I could tell was to present the material in the style of the popular for dummies series. However, Mr. Lucich manages to produce a 200 page book with not one picture or diagram!

Thinking that it could not get worse I tackled Instant Income by Janet Switzer. Well it did get worse. Instant Income is yet another one of the already millions of books about how to make extra money. And like all the other books on the subject, drags the unwilling reader through a highly tedious review of the obvious. By page 50 I was ready to gnaw my own arm off so that I would be unable to turn the pages! hahaha

Oh, and somewhere during the week I read most of a book about Alan Seigel. Alan who? I hear you ask. This is the marketing guru that while you may not know the name, you sure know his work, he created the MasterCard logo, the NBA logo, and about a gazzilion other logo's. I didn't review the book tho, the agent told me to hold off.

Whats next? Well I am part way through a really great book by Dave Fox. Getting Lost is just a riot from the front cover on! It has to be the first book that I started laughing while reading the foreword! The foreword is not usually known for its humor, but Dave has taken it to new heights. I am only half way through it, but this is one damn funny book.

On Friday I was trolling the Press Releases and discovered that the movie Ghost was being re-released. This is going to be a collectors edition DVD. Well I just happened to remember that this movie is one of Jan's favorites, so I snagged a review copy. I also noticed a new movie that is coming out Idol, the press release was pretty funny so I sent off an email. I will have a screener copy next week.

Just another regular week in the Barrett household.......

Friday, March 02, 2007

Not All Books Are Born Equal

Sometimes you get good books, sometimes you don't. It is the luck, or unluck of the draw.

I have just finished a book that I would not wish on my worst enemy, in fact I think the book probably contravenes the S.A.L.T. (Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty). Much has been made of what is going on in Iraq, from what I see the place is pretty much a country in civil war. My theory (and lets face it, everyone has a theory about Iraq), is to take a B52 loaded up with copies of the book I just read, and drop em on Baghdad.

Within 24 hours the Sunnis and Shiites would be best buddies, once more joined with the common goal of eradicating the country of the dreaded book!

I finally finished the book, and I left scorch marks on the rug putting it back on the bookshelf. Of course the next problem was to write a review. There are no real parameters involved here, but I like 500 words, that's about one page of regular typing.

My wife was watching, and she saw the excitement in my eyes when I told her that I had managed to type in the title for the article.

Of course the problem was what to write in the article itself. I do try and pick out the positive aspects in the books I review. My first thought was how at 300 pages, it would light several fires. In fact if you had nice dry kindling you could light 300 fires.

Unfortunately this is not the sort of stuff that publishing houses want to hear, and trashing a book would likely jeopardize my chances at getting into their catalog.

So I will just shut up about the whole fiasco!