Monday, February 20, 2006

eyeCandy: The Matador (2005) 4/5

I just finished watching The Matador, and I really liked it. The darkly comic storyline revolves around a hitman, or "fatality facilitator", Julian Noble (Pierce Brosnan), who has a chance meeting with a friendly businessman, Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear), in Mexico. Initially coy about his work, Julian ends up revealing to Danny over a bullfight exactly what it is he does in his life. Skepticism turns to fascination and the two share in conversation and antics until Danny heads home and Julian heads off to his next job. While all goes well with Danny, Julian quickly unravels and his failure to make his next hit ends with Julian himself as the target. The result is a late night arrival to the Wright residence by Mr. Noble, a turn of events which ends up being more than just a chance visit to whom Julian reveals is his only friend.

The movie is well written and provides some very funny dialog (Brosnan's ongoing one-liners are great, e.g. "I look like a Bangkok hooker on a Sunday morning after the navy's left town"), but the greatest pleasure in the Matador is watching Pierce Brosnan play so dramatically against type as a crass, manipulative hitman - no James Bond here (and you won't want to miss his notorious Speedo and boots scene)! The chemistry between Brosnan and Greg Kinnear is also a highlight, with the two sliding perfectly into their respective roles and working perfectly off one another.

The story takes a couple of unexpected turns (the biggest of which turns right back around again) but is generally straightforward and easy to follow. The focus on character exploration is appropriate and the 96 minute running time feels just right. Maybe this won't be the most memorable movie you'll ever see, but it's a solid and rewarding effort - a movie that knows what it is, what it wants to accomplish, and which goes about doing so without getting caught up in any excess. Great acting, funny dialog, and a solid story - sounds like a good movie to me! ;-)
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2/20/2006 09:18:00 p.m.  

Thursday, February 16, 2006

earCandy: Mr. Bungle - California (1999) 5/5

First let me say that, and this is something that I've thought about a lot, I don't think it's right to just review new releases, because if you haven't heard it before then it's a new release to you, right? (no getting caught up in the marketing craze for us, no way! ;-) ) To that end, I now submit for review the last release by Mr. Bungle, 1999's California.

Mr. Bungle is a bit like crossing Ween with John Zorn (who produced the band's 1991 self-titled debut album). They delight in genre-crossing, like Ween, but they tend to do it several times in the same song (e.g. the second tune on the album, None of Them Knew They Were Robots, is at its heart a hardcore swing song, complete with full horn section, but with some death metal mixed in to good effect)! I'd love to watch their live show to see if the band can pull off these aural gymnastics in real time, because the recordings are totally seamless in this respect.

When I first got this album, it was my favorite CD for a long time. It had everything I love: great musicianship, complex tunes, and the requisite level of strangeness (and then some). For example, I don't know if it's the opening seaside strains from Sweet Charity, the album's first tune, but I really think there's an element of the Beach Boys in all this - the album has some great harmonies and is generally more melodic than Mr. Bungle's earlier fare. And even though almost everything breaks into some manicness at some point, there are a couple of great down tempo songs here too (like Retrovertigo and Pink Cigarette). I couldn't make it through this review without mentioning one of my favourite songs on the album, Golem II: The Bionic Vapour Boy, which sounds an awful lot like what I'd imagine from the Residents if they were a acid-drenched techno-funk band :-) . The only weakness overall is that the superlative lead singer Mike Patton's vocals (probably best known from the band Faith No More) are unfortunately buried in the mix in places - not something you want when your compositions are as densely packed as Bungle's.

Mr. Bungle probably aims to be relatively inaccessible - their first album and, to a lesser degree, 1995's Disco Volante are totally impossible to listen through in mixed company - but California is a close as they've gotten to an album that most people can listen to end-to-end without reaching for the fast forward button. So keep in mind that, although I think this is a 5/5 album, that rating probably only applies for more adventurous listeners. ;-)
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2/16/2006 04:56:00 p.m.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

eyeCandy: Capote (2005) 4/5

The film Capote is about the infamous writer, Truman Capote - a role which is played to eerie perfection by the exceptionally talented and versatile Philip Seymour Hoffman (who lost 40 lbs for his part).

The story centres entirely around Capote's research for, and subsequent writing of, his popular "non-fiction novel", In Cold Blood (which, along with Breakfast at Tiffany's, is among his most popular works). The book is to be written about the murder of a family of four in Kansas, an act for which the two perpetrators provide no real explanation. As his research continues, the lead character establishes a relationship with one of the killers, with whom he develops a trust that Capote must ultimately break (given that, despite his occasional attempts to help the killers, Capote is convinced that this is the book that will make him, and a death sentence would wrap things up nicely).

The film provides some interesting insights into Capote, the man (e.g. he claims to have "94% recall about conversations" and was harassed about his unusual voice in school), and the story is well developed and delivered. There isn't exactly a lot of excitement in Capote, but the performances by Hoffman, Chris Cooper, and others are top notch. Once again, the movie, in my opinion, is that much better due to being based on a true story - it is interesting to see the times and tribulations of Capote in his heyday.

Capote was filmed in just 36 days, though this doesn't seem to have affected the craftsmanship evident here (it was nominated for 5 Academy Awards). In the end, though, the movie just didn't impact me very much, despite being a solid film. Still, it is a worthwhile watch (and respectfully clocks in at under two hours ;-) ).
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2/15/2006 03:35:00 p.m.  

Saturday, February 04, 2006

iRant: HDTV (follow-up to comments posts)

FYI, I just completed the first of a two part HDTV segment for this coming Monday's episode of commandN. I cover Display Types and Display Technologies, which can be a little confusing for HDTV newbies.

I've gotten quite a few comments asking about what kind of TV I bought and whether I survived the delivery process, so here goes...

I just got my final delivery for my Superbowl party/den of audio-visual delights, so all has gone well and the ordeal is now over! :-) The television I bought was a 52' Toshiba DLP rear projection HDTV (Toshiba 52HM85). I am VERY happy with this television to date. One cool thing about it that I didn't know was that you can do split screen viewing from different inputs, i.e. I could play my XBox (or watch a DVD or whatever) on the left hand side of the TV screen while watching digital cable on the right hand side of my screen - very cool!

I'm also very happy with my new HD cable box, which has a built in DVR (digital video recorder - a hard drive to record digital programming, like a TiVo) with two separate receivers. What this means is that I can watch one channel while recording another, or record two channels while watching a third previously-recorded show. It doesn't have the "I thought you might be interested in watching this show"-TiVo ability (I'd want a bigger hard drive for that anyway), but it's got just about everything else. A simple interface integrates well into the digital cable guide listings to record individual shows or recurring episodes of a series, and you can pause and rewind live TV (b/c the DVR is always recording a buffer of what you're watching). The biggest limitation that I expect I'll face is that my box will only record about 10 hours of high definition programming (which is all I eventually plan to watch :-) ).

Another point: I've certainly noticed a difference in quality levels of HDTV programming (and a lack of programming generally). For example, "CSI" and "My Name is Earl" look like their are SHOT as well as broadcast in HD (which means they look FANTASTIC!!!), whereas "That 70's Show" and a lot of others just seem to be upconverted to HD for broadcast. There are also a couple of high def channels that I can't get right now that I'd love to have - DiscoveryHD, for instance, and GlobalHD (for Canada).

I'd love for people to let me know what shows they think look best in HDTV, so leave me a comment with your favs!

PS: I just realized that I told a small lie above, I'm still waiting for my new Yamaha 5.1 home theatre system to arrive. This won't affect my Superbowl enjoyment too much, but it'll be a great addition for movies and shows broadcast with 5.1 (6-channel: 2 front, 2 rear, 1 centre, and 1 bass speaker) sound. I'll also likely be buying a new DVD player that upconverts to a high def signal pretty soon - I was a little disappointed at the results from my current DVD player, which looks pretty much like TV used to :-) .
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2/04/2006 10:13:00 a.m.  

Friday, February 03, 2006

MacOnMacs: GarageBand 3 Podcast/Movie Tools Crash

NOTE: This failed to publish last night, so I'm reposting it now. :-)

I am extremely disappointed with the GarageBand 3 update in iLife '06. It's not that I don't think the new podcast or movie scoring tools aren't great, it's that I can't use them - at all - trying to do so just results in a nasty crash. I can start a "New Music Project" without any problems, but when I select "New Podcast Episode" or "New Movie Score", GarageBand goes ahead and starts loading in a bunch of stuff until it freezes on "Loading 'projectName' (Equalizer)...". At that point, GarageBand freezes and needs a "Force Quit" to close. I know there will be people that leap up, as they always do, to defend Apple as not possibly being able to predict and test all use cases, but I've seen enough complaints about this particular issue that I have to point the finger at Apple for not doing enough testing before releasing this to the public.

I've tried the recommendations that I've found on the web...
  1. Flip4Mac, the free software that replaces Microsoft's discontinued Mac support of .wmv files, was rumoured to be a problem (although apparently the latest update fixed this), but I uninstalled that to no effect;
  2. People also talked about there being an issue with some unsupported media types that get accessed through iLife's new Media Browser, which is built in to some of the new apps. It was suggested that you remove all your video media to somewhere other than your Movies or home folder to test this. I did them one better and created a fresh account, but to no avail. Besides, the Media Browser seems to work just fine in iWeb, so I doubt this is the problem.
Those are the main tips I've seen out there, but they've gotten me nowhere (hopefully they'll help some of you, though). I was so excited about using both of these great new tools in GarageBand, as they incorporate two things that I do professionally: making podcasts and scoring videos/film. If anyone has some other recommendations that you think might help then please let me know. Until then, I will be waiting for an update from Apple that I don't even know is going to come.
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2/03/2006 11:32:00 a.m.  

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

iRant: HDTVs, FutureShop, the SuperBowl, and Snowstorms

I've been doing a lot of research into HDTVs lately and, being a bit of a videophile, I finally decided that buying one would be worth the hefty price tag. So, somehow convincing myself that, after all this time, I simply had to get the TV before the SuperBowl, I trotted out to the nearest FutureShop and proceeded to look around. Through some unknown inspiration, it seemed that my SuperBowl sense was right and that FutureShop was having a great sale on a couple of nice widescreens. However, this meant that I needed to buy the TV by January 26th. I thought about it and then returned to buy on that day, in plenty of time for the SuperBowl on February 5th.

Only they don't keep TVs like that in stock - too big - it had to come down in the next load from their warehouse in Montreal or Toronto. I was told that it would arrive on the morning of February 1st, but couldn't be delivered directly to my house (for $60) until the week after the SuperBowl. I opted to pick it up on the 1st instead (gotta see the SuperBowl) and was told to call the pick up place the night before.

In the meantime, I find out that my cable provider will not send people to hook up an HD box (and yes, they have to hook it all up themselves), unless the HDTV is there. Fine, but I wanted to make sure I got the most use out of it, so I booked it for Thursday the 2nd, figuring I'd be sure to have the TV at my place by then.

Unfortunately, this TV is way to big for my car, so I have to try to find a way to get it from the warehouse to my place. I managed to find a cab company that would send a van there and back to my place for $25, but I had to move it myself. Only I couldn't, so I arranged for my neighbours to be at my place when the cab arrived with the TV (and trusted on the good heart of the guy at the pick up place to help me put it in the cab).

So last night I call the pick up place and leave a message on their answering machine asking them to call me to let me know when they're open tomorrow (Feb 1st - 10am-4pm, it turns out). As I go to bed, a pleasant snow begins to fall on our frozen lawn.

I wake up to the phone at 7:15am - the guy from the pick up place - doesn't look like they're even going to be open today because, while I slept, over a foot of snow had fallen in Halifax. I asked if my TV would not get in until tomorrow (the 2nd) - he checked and told me that my TV had been there since Monday (the 23rd)! Well I could have easily picked it up Monday or Tuesday but, apparently, FutureShop don't bother to include phone numbers on the information they give to the pick up guy! He's complained about it too, so I end up asking him what it would cost to have it delivered to my house tomorrow. $50 - that's funny, if I had booked that through FutureShop (using the exact same delivery guys) it was to mysteriously cost me $60! Is this why they don't supply the phone numbers to the delivery guys? In any case, it didn't matter because he couldn't deliver it tomorrow because of the backed up deliveries he'd have from today (big snowstorm). In the end I look up some delivery service numbers in the Yellow Pages and, with costs ranging from $50-$175, I opt for the cheapest one I can find. We're to go tomorrow morning, in time for my cable provider's appointment in the afternoon.

I hope all goes well tomorrow. I'm really looking forward to having my new television and experiencing some high-def programming, DVDs, and, yes, the SuperBowl. :-)
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2/01/2006 05:43:00 p.m.