Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Day There Was No News

Video created by the horribly talented Adam Buxton.


Saturday, January 5, 2008

On brand name awareness...

I am a huge motor racing fan. While Formula One is my love/obsession (and I will be writing on here about it regularly later this year), I have two real highlights in my year in regards to racing. One of them is the Le Mans 24hr race. I caught my first Le Mans race in the late 90's, and was utterly hooked. I now watch all the coverage I can. Whatever I get on TV for coverage, I watch. Hell, last year I spent more time watching live cameras on the net and listening to Radio Le Mans. (Oh how I love thee, modern technology.) My record is watching all 20 hours or so that were broadcast in recent years on TV. I LOVE it. I love sportscar racing. I love endurance racing.

My other highlight of the year is the Dakar Rally. The yearly trek through Africa by bikes, cars and trucks. Fantastic race. I have a huge amount of respect for those who take part in both the aforementioned events. I am in awe of the dedication, especially on the Dakar. I love racing, and these two events are my personal crown jewels of motorsport.

So it is with absolute disgust that I discover today that the latter, due to go off on Sunday, has been canceled. Not postponed. Not delayed. Outright bloody canceled. Why? Well the rally spends a week traveling through Mauritania, and last week, three French tourists were shot dead. They were having a picnic by the side of the road... Sorry? A picnic? You're canceling a globally renowned sporting event because three people got shot eating a picnic? Clearly this person has never heard of the United States where this is probably just as likely to happen in Florida or several other states I could mention. Of course, this was no ORDINARY killing. Oh no, no ordinary killing at all... This was... *cue scary music* Islamic fundamentalists! Yes, folk, not just terrorists... And not just your regular, run of the mill religious nuts, but the DREADED AL QAEDA SUPERTERRORIST~! Rarely seen, often spoken about, ad fucking nauseum...

I'm sorry, this has got to stop. It really is at the point where someone can shoot someone, say "I'm Al Qaeda" and the certain people just go batshit insane. Like the comedy Scottish airport attack in 2007 where they crashed an SUV into the front doors, managed to set themselves on fire, and run around screaming a bit. I saw Gordon Brown, the UK's Prime Minister giving a very earnest statement on TV, and I was laughing. As terror attacks go, this was pretty pathetic. (And my former home country knows a thing or two about terrorist attacks.) Two guys crash a car then manage to burn themselves and get arrested, and it's marketed (and that's what the news is now people, marketing, telling you what to be afraid of) as an Al Qaeda attack, when ultimately it was more like a Three Stooges short, complete with police beatdown at the end... "Honestly, I was trying to beat the flames out..." (with a big piece of wood.)

I realise asking the world to make sense was rendered pointless years ago, but I at least like to think that grown adults no longer believe in the boogeyman. Clearly I am mistaken.

So back to the rally. The event organizers (who are French incidentally), have canceled the entire rally. Not just because of the three French tourists, but because a specific threat was made against the rally... Please note that, a "specific threat"...

On the Dakar, I don't know the official statistics, but it seems from casual observation that, on average, at least one competitor dies every year. The other gruesome unreported statistic is that a fair number of residents of the areas they race through are killed each year as well. So death is no stranger on the Dakar. The drivers, and especially the riders are already in a good deal of danger the instant they set out.

I really am baffled. This is not a circuit race. This is not the Daytona 500, the Italian Grand Prix... Hell, even Le Mans, where lots of people are gathered in close proximity to each other. This is a race through the desert! I am really keen to learn how the SUPERTERRORISTS~! planned to do something to the Dakar. Near as I can figure, the best bet would be the nightly bivouac where the competitors stay at the end of the stages. So we've got a bunch of racers in tents in the desert. They get blown up. Hardly 9/11 Part 2 is it? On a scale of 1-10, with 9/11 being right up there at number 10, (at least until Al Qaeda complete building the Death Star, which if we're to believe the blathering of the news media, would be their logical next step) blowing up a few racers in the desert is hardly going to register much above a 2 in the public indignation states. Terrorists exist to cause terror. I'm not seeing people fleeing and hiding under the table when a few dust covered guys in the desert get blown up.

So that leaves an attack during the stages themselves. This makes even less sense. The competitors are more at risk from the sand dunes and the local wildlife. Hundreds of miles across the desert. Competitors released individually. No crowds lining the stages (outside of the villages the rally passes through). Not exactly looking like a prime target is it.

I'm sorry, but this whole thing is horseshit, and I smell a big rat. If race organizers capitulated to terrorist threats, and canceled events in the wake of an "attack", or even just a threat, there would have been no British Grand Prix for most of the 1980's thanks to the IRA. Three French tourists does not a terror attack make. The whole point with terrorism, and I remember learning this from people growing up in a country constantly threatened by the IRA, is you don't give in. You live your life as normal. They want you to live in fear. You respond by saying "Fuck you". Instead the folk who run the Dakar have rolled over and played dead and started cowering under their metaphorical tables.

This really is at absurd levels now. Al Qaeda have the worlds greatest PR department it would seem. I have visions of men in suits planning out marketing strategies, and big whiteboards drafting out mission statements etc... We're talking SUPER TERRORISTS here! The phrase "Al Qaeda", thanks to the muppet-in-chief in the US, Tony "God talks to me" Blair and various other sheep across the world, is now the goto phrase for sewing fear. When you want them not just scared... But SHIT SCARED! Al Qaeda is the goto name when you want people so fucked up with terror they won't know whether it's Wednesday or Neptune.

There are companies out there I'm sure who would, quite literally, KILL for this kind of brand awareness. Fuck Heinz. Fuck Coca Cola. Al Qaeda is now the number one brand name in the world, and is used for it's purpose relentlessly.

Stay in your homes people. Live in fear. The boogeyman is coming to get you.

Friday, December 28, 2007

On why modern music sucks

It's all down to "The Loudness War".

Thursday, December 27, 2007

On screwing the consumer

For my nephew's Christmas present, we bought them the last of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies on DVD. Christmas Day phone calls are made and my wife asks if they liked the movie. "It won't play in any of their DVD players. It just says "bad disk".

Now I find this very weird. Of the 200 or so DVD's I own I have NEVER had a disk fail to play. I've had some that won't play in a particular device. (For example the new "Twin Peaks" boxed set, the menus won't work on disks 4 and 6 on my computer, but work fine on set top DVD player) but of my three DVD devices here, I can always play something in at least one of them. 99% of the time there's no problem at all in any of them.

My mother-in-law was staying with my nephews and came down to see us on Boxing Day and brought said disk with her. I pondered what the problem could be as I saw no dye issues or anything else on the disk, and then it occurred to me. Bloody copy protection. (Or "Fair Use Prevention" as it should be more accurately known as.) You see in their continuing paranoid quest to deny you your fair use rights on every piece of media you own so you have to buy it over and over again, some companies are adding new forms of copy protection to their DVD releases that are, in essence, breaking the standard of the DVD format. This particular cancerous protection comes from Sony and is known as ARCCOS.

ARCCOS disks are known to not play in a variety of DVD players, including one from Sony themselves. I won't go into the technical details as the Wikipedia link above tells you all you need to know really. Disney is one of the companies that uses this on some titles, including the aforementioned "Pirates" movie. I did some digging, and found out that the disk won't play AT ALL in certain newer region 1 devices. I took said disk, put it in my new-ish but cheap off-brand DVD player, and the disk played just fine. Same on my computer.

So once again, copy protection has screwed over a legitimate consumer. I decided to see if this act of deception on the part of the media companies had any impact on the availability of pirated versions. A quick trip to a well known Swedish torrent site revealed multiple copies of the movie for download. Not just AVI rip's, but images of the entire DVD. So clearly the protection is doing nothing, other than preventing legitimate end users from using the disk they legally own.

My mother-in-law is returning the disk later today. Now of course we all know the scam that WalMart and their ilk like to pull. They do it with software. You buy software with copy protection, whether it be Securom, Safedisc or, god forbid, Starforce, and you may very well be one of the people who find you've bought a coaster and you can't play the game. So you go to return it to the store only to be told you can't have your money back. Why? Because YOU MAY HAVE COPIED THE GAME!

This is another rant along the same lines which I will save for another day. (Since I can REALLY go off on this subject. In fact it's a large part of why I almost never buy games off the shelf anymore.) Suffice it to say I am very curious to know how much stress and aggravation will be required to return said disk that won't play (I have written down all the details on ARCCOS for her to tell them) and exchange it for another movie. Will update if there is anything to report in this regard.

List of known ARCCOS protected DVD titles.

UPDATE: As expected WalMart refused to take the open package back. To prove a point about how utterly worthless this copy protection is and how it does nothing but screw over the consumer and doesn't protect any of their precious content. I took said disk upon my mother-in-law's return home, and within half an hour had ripped a copy and had it playing on my DVD player, and gave her the copy to give to my nephews whose Christmas was extremely disappointing thanks to this asinine business decision to rape the consumer of their rights. Now my nephews can see the movie I bought as their present. No fucking thanks to you Disney assholes.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

On the best movie of the year

I am a movie geek. Where most people watch movies and take them at face value, I like to analyze them. I find shot choices fascinating. Lighting. Sound editing. I love commentary tracks on DVD. I love extras. Behind the scenes. In short, I love movies. I love learning everything I can about the craft of making movies.

2007 wasn't a bad year. Going in there were multiple movies I was looking forward too. All either met or exceeded my expectations. First of all, there was "300". Now I could be pedantic and say the title should have been "302", since it's pointed out that it's Leonidas, his lieutenant, and 300 of his best men. That equals 302 in my books... Let's not get derailed though, "300" was a great movie, but not without its issues.

My biggest issue with the movie was the "Meanwhile, back in Sparta" segments which I later found out don't exist in the comic book. In fact they bog down the movie so much I've taken my DVD and made a re-edit of the film to remove all these scenes. (Which sadly means removing the awesome Dominic West.)I always feel slightly bad about this, as it feels akin to drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa. The Sparta scenes, however, really killed the movie stone dead, and refocusing the film onto the 300 Spartan's fighting nine foot tall God Kings and their armies made for a much tighter, exciting movie. And what a movie! The visuals in the film are stunning. A lot of criticism of film today is aimed at the speed of the edits. I read something earlier this year that said in the average action movie, there is an edit every 3.8 seconds. I can believe it, as most action movies are edited this way. It makes it all frenetic, but carries with it a degree of smoke and mirrors. Without the edits, the pace isn't as frantic. Quick cuts in the editing room equal cranked up tension from potentially pedestrian footage.

"300" on the other hand had scenes that marveled in the single, long shot. There is one particular sequence of Leonidas fighting his way through the Persian army... Incredibly violent, but it's all shot so wonderfully, in slow motion, that it's almost balletic. There is beauty in the violence. I would put the scenes on a level with the work of John Woo in "Hard Boiled" and similar. It transcends violence and becomes art.

"300" was a truly epic cinematic achievement.

Next up on the list of movies that I personally loved and was really looking forward to was "Grindhouse". Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's double feature of sleaze and violence. A truly unique concept, releasing two movies in one feature, complete with faux trailers in between. Sadly the Weinstein's totally screwed it.

You've got this super violent throwback of a movie, bringing to mind the heady days of the grindhouse and cheap double features, so what do you do? Why you release this grand theatrical experiment at Easter, when family movies traditionally open, then act surprised when it tanks. MORONS! Not only did the movie fail spectacularly in the theatre, the Weinstein's, in their attempt to claw back some money, split the two component movies, Rodriguez's "Planet Terror" and Tarantino's "Death Proof", and released the DVD's seperately! As of right now, the only way you can see "Grindhouse" in the form it was supposed to be seen is by downloading from a torrent site. There are rumours of a proper DVD release next year, but I wouldn't hold your breath.

The movie was terrific. The trailers made the experience all the more enjoyable, especially Edgar Wright's "Don't". Then there's the actual movies themselves.

I could honestly write multiple entries on both films. Audiences seemed split, preferring one movie over the other. I'm a very rare minority in that I liked both movies equally. I'm a zombie movie nut, so "Planet Terror" hit the spot. I'm also a Tarantino fan, so "Death Proof" hit the spot too. I'd be very hard pressed to pick which I liked better.

Edgar Wright's fake trailer is interesting, as a lot of the people involved were also in my movie of the year.

I knew Simon Pegg from stuff I'd seen in the past, and his spectacularly awful American accent in "Band of Brothers". However I had never heard of Edgar Wright. Then in 2004, I kept hearing things about this movie called "Shaun of the Dead". On a whim, I checked it out. "Shaun" led to "Spaced", and me becoming completely and utterly hooked on the works of Messrs Pegg and Wright. Simon wrote "Spaced" with Jessica Stephenson. Edgar directed it. "Shaun" was written and acted in by Simon, and directed by Edgar. It was a great homage to zombie flicks, especially those of Romero. They showed, with this opening theatrical endeavour, that they know how to balance comedy with drama.

The instant I heard about their latest project, "Hot Fuzz", I was interested. I grew up around law enforcement and nearly joined the police, so have a soft spot for them. I was intrigued by the concept. Taking the traditional buddy cop movie genre, and transplanting it onto the English police.

"Fuzz" didn't just beat my expectations, it took them down the alley, gave them a good duffing up, then stole their wallet and left them in a pool of their own blood. The problem with most cop buddy movies are the plots. Asinine and stupid. I mean for all it's action, "Point Break" is as dumb as a box of hair. "Bad Boys" as well. Edgar and Simon took the concept of those films and elevated the genre further than anyone ever has before. The central plot of "Hot Fuzz" is genius, and I found it genuinely interesting, far from just being bolted on. Worthy of the best British detective dramas on PBS. It was a clever, well thought out story, and only has one tiny plothole (which I won't go into as I really don't want to spoil the movie) and even then I could just be being picky for the hell of it.

Simon Pegg is a tremendous comic actor, so to see him play the relatively straight role of police officer Nicholas Angel was an interesting change. Throw in his usual partner in crime Nick Frost as the kind hearted but relatively dense Danny Butterman, and like "Shaun", it's comedy gold. Or comedy fried gold if you will.

I won't reveal anything about the plot of "Hot Fuzz" as it's best to discover it yourself. I pathologically avoid spoilers, cover blurbs, and most trailers these days simply due to too much being given away. "Hot Fuzz" is easily the best British movie in years. A stellar cast, a fantastic script with an extremely well crafted mystery, and a veritable "Who's Who" of British acting talent. Easily the best movie of the year.

Friday, December 21, 2007

On the horror of Christmas

Now I realise that it's once a year, but why, dear god WHY do people act like it's the apocalypse? I like to act with surgical precision over this festive period. Strict military planning. Plan the arrival, the path that'll minimize casualties and time lost, and if we lose a man, we'll raise a glass to his memory that night.

Sadly this plan has become harder to carry out in recent time as people get progressively more insane around this time of year. With five days to go yesterday, I decided that rather than leave stuff until the last minute, it was time to get done. I hit two grocery stores and a liquor store.

The first grocery store was insane. Everyone was crowded into the tiny produce section. Apparently their entire lives were staked on the need to buy a turnip! Sadly I needed a turnip. I managed to snatch one and run before the slavering hordes realised I had stolen one of their prizes. The onions proved less troublesome and I managed to snag me a nice one before bolting for the baking section.

Everyone is so damn miserable when you're out shopping for Christmas. I try and stay chipper. Since having kids I've rediscovered my love of Christmas. Not only that, I approach it with the mentality that we're all in this together, and why be so down about it all? It takes more muscle to smile than it does to blah blah bloody blah.

I'm bored with this entry now. Reliving the horror is no fun... "You weren't there man..." Suffice to say my final shopping experience yesterday sums up everything. For the first time in eight years, I decided to buy some beer. Moosehead to be precise. I know nothing about beer, and my wife hates beer, but remembers having some 15 years ago and it being quite nice. So I pick up a six pack of bottles. I notice a sign that says "Get a free glass when you purchase a six pack of Moosehead." So I figured "SCORE! First time buying beer in eight years and I get a free glass. Sweet!" So I take it to the counter. "It says I get a free glass with this." Judging from the reaction I think it must have sounded like I said "It says I get one of your lungs when I buy this pack." I was given a look by the girl behind the counter like she may turn feral at any moment. She sighed loudly, and reached beneath the counter and with seemingly all the effort in the world, retrieved my free glass. Then proceeded to ring up my purchases while asking the customers behind me for their ID. Asked if I wanted stuff bagged, to which I said yes. This was met with another sigh as stuff was double bagged... Then my receipt was thrown at me and before I'd even managed to put away my bank card she was half way through serving the next customer.

Still, at least I got a free glass...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

On strange videos

This video amused me way more than it should have. Especially the Mayor Quimby quote at the end.