Monday, February 25, 2008

Pile Meltdown!

I was enjoying a relaxing Sunday afternoon, I had a couple of non critical articles to finish up, and a couple of movies that needed reviewing, but they could wait a week or so.

Life was fine until Jan and I heard a thump from outside. I peeked out the window and to my horror saw a Canada Post truck parked outside the house. My worst fears were realized when I opened the door, a dreaded Clint box! But this was a Clint box on steroids!

I openned it up and I am now the proud owner of 37 more DVD's and CD's that need to be reviewed!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Exploding Piles

I may have made a bit of a mistake by getting involved with a Sony/BMG label. They contacted me about 10 days ago and asked if I would be interested in reviewing a new artist, an Irish singer/songwriter by the name of Paddy Casey. Well it seemed harmless enough, it wasn't 'Death Metal', 'Remix', or 'Rap', so I said sure, send it on over.

Sony working on the principle of 'it's cheaper by the box' decided that they would add a few extra items. So instead of one CD there were about 10 of them. Mercifully most of them were harmless.

My favorite was a promo for the new Black Crowes album Warpaint that is being released soon, favorite because it only contained one track hahahaha. The bad news is I did an article about it, and now they want to send me the whole album. And I'll bet a dollar that when it arrives it won't be traveling alone!

The piles will be further exploding in the near future thanks to Robert Redford's Sundance cable channel. I have just agreed to two weekly series for them. The Green, is a great show, and I did season one for them last year, so I am quite looking forward to that. It is a series about people and companies using eco friendly approaches to life and business.

They want to use the same format as we did last year, each week I do the review a couple of days before the show airs, and include a short interview with one of that weeks guests. I like that, interviews are fun, and I sure interacted with some curious people last time.

Sundance are also premiering another series that promises to be fairly interesting. Take four young men of Arab origin and relatively new in America, stick em in an RV for 10 weeks and let them explore the country. I think this should be quite interesting.

The net result of this is going to be another 18 DVD's to add to the damn piles! I guess I am going to have to do something with them soon.

One of the genres of music that I enjoy because I am an aging hippie is Prog Rock. And beleive it or not the center on the Prog Rock universe is Katowicz Poland, and specifically the company Metal Mind Productions. One of the artists that they represent is Clive Nolan, Clive is a fascinating musician, he looks, sounds, composes, and acts just like Rick Wakeman in the 1970's.

I have been trying to get an interview with him for over 6 months, which is how long it took me to get an interview with Rick Wakeman (they even treat the press the same way hahaha).

Well last week I saw a press release about Clive, he has a new double CD being released, and there are interview opportunities. The problem though is the CD is not being released in the US until after the interview opportunity. I know that the US distributor will send it to me, but that will be too late. So I got hold of my Metal Mind connection, they are shipping the CD direct from Poland, and I have my interview op with Clive in England. You have to love the global environment that we live in!

Thou Shalt Not Fileshare My Movie!

Earlier this week I received a preview copy of an upcoming movie release. This in itself is not unusual, I get lots of them. But what was unusual about this one was the letter that came with it. Sometimes distributors include a tear sheet with details about the plot synopsis, and actor bios. Not so this studio, the one page closely typed letter is all about not duplicating or file sharing the movie.

It mentions at least three times the fact that this DVD has an individual digital watermark in it, and if it appears on Bit-torrent they will know who did it!

In fact the DVD is not even mine! It is just on loan to me, but they don't want it back! I am not allowed to lend it out, or show it to unauthorized people. I guess Jan won't get to watch it hahaha

All in all I view this as slight overkill. Being long in the tooth in this reviewing game there is no way I bit-torrent a preview disc, of course it is going to be watermarked. If I was going to get involved in piracy I would use a store bought copy. Not that I have any interest in pirating anything. Why the hell would I want to pirate anything?

Oh, and this movie was not from some no-name indie organization, it was from one of the big studios (name withheld to protect the stupid).

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Tools Of The Trade

Yup, the reviewing game needs some tools. And they might surprise you. Books are pretty easy, you just need light and eyes. CD's and DVD's though are a different beast. For a while I used computers to play them. But I was never happy with the quality, particularly with DVD's. It was a constant fight with Codecs, and region codes.

I'll bet you have never even heard of Region Codes. Well they are yet another insidious way that the music and movie industry control what you can and cannot do with the product you have purchased. In a nutshell it works like this:

REGION 1 -- USA, Canada
REGION 2 -- Japan, Europe, South Africa, Middle East, Greenland
REGION 3 -- S.Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Parts of South East Asia
REGION 4 -- Australia, New Zealand, Latin America (including Mexico)
REGION 5 -- Eastern Europe, Russia, India, Africa
REGION 6 -- China
REGION 7 -- Reserved for Unspecified Special Use
REGION 8 -- Reserved for Cruise Ships, Airlines, etc...
REGION 0 or REGION ALL -- Discs are uncoded and can be played Worldwide, however, PAL discs must be played in a PAL-compatible unit and NTSC discs must be played in an NTSC-compatible unit.

In a nutshell, if you buy a DVD in Europe it will not play on a US DVD player. Great system eh?

What a f'ing scam I say.

Oops I have digressed. I was talking about the weapons of the trade. Well I use a couple of portable DVD players and an old LCD Projector.

Now I know that most households have absolutely none of these devices. But they work great for watching DVD's. The one on the left has a 10 inch, and the one on the right a 9 inch screen. That might sound small, but they work great.

Pile Technology

I have talked about my use of piles before. Basically my theory is based around a three pile methodology, the To D0 Pile, The Done Pile, And The Keep Pile. Of course this three pile system has a few problems and exceptions to it. It has been necessary to create a few sub piles, we have the time critical pile, this is generally reserved for previews of TV shows, and tends to be fairly small, right now there are only two HBO documentaries on it. We also have the duplicate pile, yes believe it or not I get duplicates of stuff, and it happens a lot!

The biggest issue is the 'Done Pile', this is without doubt the hardest pile to manage, and requires constant attention. Essentially everything ends up on the 'Done Pile', and when it starts to eat us out of house and home we go through it and decide which items we want to keep, the rest gets put in boxes that we hide around the apartment. Right now the 'Done Pile' is getting out of hand!

Ah, the joys of being a reviewer!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Jan Saves The Day!

The amount of DVD's for review that I was receiving was reaching a critical mass. My original plan was to use the aging, but still working projector. We could watch the big screen, AKA the wall. But it worked fine, the problem that was nagging at me was the projector, or more exactly the bulb that it uses. An internet search revealed that a new bulb was going to be at least $400, that was approximately $399 more than I was prepared to spend.

My solution was to go out and but a portable DVD player with a 7 inch screen. That might sound small, but we are in a small apartment, and it works great, or at least worked great. For the past couple of weeks though it has been hit or miss. No doubt it was not designed with me in mind. We sling two or three DVD's or CD's on it a day. We watch, we review, we stick it in a box. Unfortunately for the past couple of weeks we have had about a 40% failure rate on playing stuff. But it all plays fine on the computers.

I was ready to just go out and buy a new one, but Jan has a better idea! Jan is a pack rat! She found the receipt, and the original box. It turns out that it came with a 90 day 'in store' warranty,
and right now we are on something like day 82. So it is off to Wal-Mart in the morning. I doubt I will tell them how many discs have been through the unit, that would likely void some other warranty!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Ticked Off Film Maker

Being a reviewer is not always an easy job. You certainly cannot please everyone. In many ways it is a tightrope act. On the one hand you want to be fair to the artist, but on the other hand writing a rave review for a mediocre product does no one any good. People will go out and buy stuff only to discover that it is not nearly as good as the review would have you believe.

I tend to work on the assumption that the 'thing' being reviewed, and it could be a book, music, or a movie, is the very best that the artist can do, he or she has put their heart and soul into it. On the odd occasion that I come across something that I genuinely do not like, I still try and find some redeeming feature in it.

For the most part this formula works quite well.

But what happens when you write a good review and the artist hates it? Well this was a first for me. I reviewed an indie movie, documentary in fact, by a fairly 'off the wall' film maker, I gave it a pretty positive review, tho I did remark that the film maker seemed a little eccentric. Well the guy went up one side of me and down the other! So F him, and the horse he rode in on!

He will get no further coverage from me. In fact he is such an ass, I won't even share his name.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Bloody Weather

Who in their right mind would live in Calgary? Jan is firmly convinced that Calgary weather is an invention of the devil!

We, well I, got up a few minutes before 6am. At six we turned the TV on to the watch the local morning news program. The little information bar at the bottom of the screen revealed that it was a balmy -5c outside. -5c is not bad, you need a jacket, but it is pretty livable. Of course Calgary weather is about as stable as Britanny Spears, and by 6:30am it had changed to -18c, and a wind chill of -30c. The TV weather guy then went on to explain that we are due for 40mph winds, ans snow! By tomorrow morning the temperature with wind chill will be at least -40c. Oh and for you folks that don't do Celsius, -40 is where Celsius and Fahrenheit come together. -40 is really stinking cold!

The good news is, I have a plan. I am going to call a cab and go get a good stock of beer so that I can sit this one out!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time

That is pretty much my mantra for life. Now sometimes it can come back to haunt you. A good example was this week. A while back I reviewed a fairly eclectic documentary by a New York Film Maker. I liked it, it was different. Well we started swapping emails, and before I knew it I had another 6 of his movies. Now, he wasn't expecting me to do anything with them, except watch them at some point.

I of course decided that he needed some exposure, so I launched into the Richard Sandler film fest. A review a day, for a week. I am on day four, I love the movies, but boy am I burnned out. A movie a day is just a little much. Meanwhile, the damn books are piling up, I just did a quick look around and it seems to me there are 11 in the queue. There is also a fairly impressive pile of DVD's, god only knows what they are.

I was also contacted a few days ago by one of Sony/BMG's labels, they seem to think that I would have the perfect home for the 75 new releases that they have planned for the first 6 months of this year!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Tangines, Whats The Big Deal?

Whats a bloody Tangine? Well its a traditional cooking vessel from Morocco. Basically it is a clay pot, that looks like something you would bake an apple pie in, circular, and with a diameter of somewhere between 12 and 15 inches. The neat bit is the lid, a conical chimney, which is open at the top.

Morocco is a pretty poor country apart from the drug trade, and I'm sure you can buy a truck load of Tangines for $20.

I love to cook, and I love to explore new things, Jan hates it, but generally goes along. I am pretty certain that she thinks living with me is like being permanently on 'Fear Factor'.

For weeks now I keep seeing Tangines on the damn TV. This afternoon I was happily writing a review of 'Swamp Thing', yes the cheesy TV series from the 1990's, when another damn Tangine appeared on TV. That was it, Swampie was out Tangines were in. "I want one of those" I told Jan.

Some quick research revealed that there are two basic varieties, the glazed and decorated type, these are designed for presentation more than cooking. Well thats not what I want, I want to cook. The second sort is for the most part unglazed, and you have to soak them in water before using. Thats what I want!

Then I hit the sticker shock! Only a few places sell Tangines, and they want $100 for one! What a bloody rip off! At the very most they should be $20. So Tangines have gone on the back burner for now!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Why I Like Indie Movies

I probably belong to the minority in this one. I have no interest in standing in line for hours in the freezing cold to go and watch the the latest $200 million flop from the big studios. In fact in my opinion the whole movie industry is just a complete farce. The majors seem to have created a 'cookie cutter' approach. Take a famous brand name Director, or failing that, anyone whose name includes the word 'Speilberg'.

Next, select the leading man and leading lady, this is where it gets a little harder, your best bet are those 'house hold' names that have most recently been released from Detox. You want to get em nice and clean and sober. Of course this will not last long, so you want to make sure the shooting schedule is pretty aggressive. Certainly no longer than 3 months. Else they will be wanting to 'go dry out' again.

Early in the shooting cycle you want to make sure that you get your leading lady and leading guy on as many late night talk shows as possible. This will vastly increase the 'hype' factor behind the enormous scam being played on the unsuspecting theatre goer.

Even though it has nothing whatsoever to do with the storyline, if the leading lady has any sex appeal at all, you will want to get some footage of her naked. This can be spliced in afterwards as a filler for spots when the dialog gets truly awful.

What about the plot and storyline? Oh, that's cake, put up a Craiglist Ad, asking for a 500 word synopsis of a movie. You will get hundreds of dumb ideas, you might even get some intelligent ones. If that happens, throw them away. Select the absolute dumbest from remaining ones. For a couple of grand any old hack screenwriter can eek 500 words into a 100 minute yawner.

If this sounds like too much effort, and for the past several years this has indeed been the case. Either do a remake of a movie that made it big 20 years ago, or do a sequel to something more modern. If you are super creative you might also try a 'prequel', For example, instead of 'Grumpy Old Men', do Nasty Kindegarteners! And if all else fails, take a cheesy 80's TV series and appall the audience with the silver screen version.

I'll just stick to my Indie Movies, not everyone is great, but almost every single one is better by far than the noxious crap served up at the MegaPlex!