Saturday, June 14, 2008

It may get a bit quiet around here!

I've wasted pretty much all of Saturday morning taking part in a senseless 'debate' (ie heated argument) with people on an online forum. Will I never learn?!

The 'debate' was about an American company's pricing policy. The company are continually promoting 'discounted' prices that have a limited time on them, with such gems as 'special price - ends tonight'. The trouble is that those 'special' prices almost invariably change to a new, even lower price just days later, which tends to annoy newbies unfamiliar with the way the company works its strong-arm sales tactics who've purchased the items thinking they've got a bargain, only to find it bettered days later.

Understandably, people get annoyed that before they've even taken delivery of their goods the 'special' price has turned out to be not so special as if they'd waited a day or two and ignored the so-called 'special' deadline that was advertised. This happens so often that the controversial subject of 'unfair business practices' or 'rip offs' tends to crop up fairly frequently on the company's forums. What's odd though is that this particular company has a small number of loyal, but extremely vocal, fan boys who moan endlessly about how often the subject comes up. This might be acceptable if that small minority didn't continually fan the flames themselves, by mercilessly bullying anyone stupid enough to show even a hint of disapproval about the company's practices. What usually happens is the poor naive newbie pointing out the obvious unfairness of the company's sales approach gets such verbal abuse that he invariably beats a hasty retreat, usually never to be seen again.

Today's 'debate' got more heated than normal because it centred around the fact that a week ago the company boasted a launch price that was "never" (their word) to be repeated, only to, as usual, then advertise a better deal just a few days later. Understandably, this upset a few folk who'd purchased before the "never to be repeated" better deal came into effect, with the salt in the wound being that they were still waiting for delivery of the items advertised under the older deal. I foolishly leapt into the debate when I felt the usual forum's fanboy minority were yet again bullying someone who had a legitimate complaint.

The counter-arguments put forward can best be summarised as 'The company products are so good nobody cares about the pricing. I'd sell my house, wife and kids to buy these products even if the day after I'd bought them I found they were being given away free to any newcomers. So why is anybody else complaining?'. OK, I exaggerate a little for effect, but you get the general drift.

The folks who've wasted so much of my time this morning don't seem to appreciate that the argument is about business ethics and 'truth in advertising' and not about the value for money of certain products in certain price ranges. Suggestions that they look up the word 'never' in a dictionary and then consult the guidelines of The Advertising Standards Authority to see why something's not just unfair but (at least in the UK) just plain wrong, are invariably met with intelligent, reasoned responses like 'You're always complaining. Why don't you leave?'. Fortunately I've had the good sense to exit the 'discussion' before the inevitable word 'whinger' raised its ugly head, which at least means my Saturday afternoon won't be a complete write-off too.

Generally, criticisms that I'm a 'frequent complainer' or a 'whinger' are just water off a duck's back. Especially when those making the calls (Microsoft evangelists on salaries take note!) have vested interests, or who demonstrate time and time again all they're interested in is point scoring rather than a fair and objective view. And there's a reason why this blog is called 'Irascible Ian' after all!

But the wasted time and energy in dealing with the negativity that radiates from idiots is getting to me so much today that I've decided it's time to take some good advice: 'If you've not got anything nice to say about somebody don't say anything at all'.

Well at least for the next few weeks anyway! Old habits die hard ;-)

Which is why there's no review of The Incredible Hulk in this blog entry, which I was lucky enough to see a preview of on Monday (lucky in the sense I didn't have to pay money for it). And why there isn't a lengthy discourse on how great the new Narnia film Prince Caspian is. Or even The Happening.

Heh! Look at the time I've reclaimed by not having to write about those things under this 'nice things only' policy!

The danger of course is that this blog might just disappear completely if all the negative stuff gets taken out.

Fortunately there's last week's Doctor Who, which was so well written and filmed, that I feel I can actually mention it here on this blog with a sense of enthusiasm and respect. It was the second of a two-parter by Stephen Moffat, whose episodes over the last four years have easily been the stand-out ones of the series.

Apparently the next few episodes - including tonight's - are written by Russel T Davies. I won't be watching. I'll be going to The Magic Circle instead. That way there's a chance I'll have something to write under the new policy on this blog tomorrow!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Another "Catch up" Post

My blogs have all suffered as I've wasted one weekend after another trying to get Shiny Discs properly launched. It's now 'on hold' until I can afford decent hardware to ensure I don't spend two days producing a weekend show, only to then find it needs a week to edit in titles and then render them out.

I may revive the old DVD reviews in the absence of the weekly video podcast if I haven't got things sorted by the middle of July, but in the meantime here's a few quick thoughts on titles I've seen recently.

National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (on Blu-Ray) - not as bad as the critics have said it is. Formulaic and a bit pedestrian perhaps but I was never bored and this is worth seeing just for the incredible London car chase scenes. Nic Cage isn't my idea of someone who makes for a good leading man (although his sidekick in this film, Justin Bartha does, with quirky humour, some great lines and traditional good looks what's not to like?!) Helen Mirren joins the 'franchise' and it's good, if somewhat old-fashioned and extremely silly, Saturday teatime popcorn fare.

My Kid Could Paint That is a fascinating documentary on DVD about a four year old child hailed as an artistic prodigy. But as the story unfolds suspicions arise that it may be the girl's father who's actually doing the painting. The film and to an even greater extent the extra's show how scarily able human beings are to totally delude themselves to justify their decisions, even when the evidence is right in front of their eyes. One of the most enjoyable documentaries I've seen in a long time.

The Savages on DVD was a disappointment for me, despite starring the wonderful Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney. All the best bits are in the trailer, and the film loses its way by not sticking to the main story that starts the film - that of two siblings forced to face dealing with a father who develops dementia. His predicament pretty soon gets dropped as the story moves all over the place trying to show the two childish siblings finally reaching adulthood. I'd expected more laughs and more of a single-strand story than I got with this one.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead on Blu-Ray was a real joy for me. Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman give incredible acting performances in this story of two brothers who set up a bank robbery on their parent's jewellery store to sort out their financial problems, only for things to go horribly, horriby wrong. It's the 84-year old director, Sidney Lumet who's the real star of this film though - he brings a fresh, exhuberant energy to the direction that totally belies his age.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days on DVD has won a lot of festival awards. I was worried the bleak subject matter (abortion in 1980's Romania) would mean this would end up like the last Romanian DVD I saw (The Death of Mr Lazarescu - ejected after a long hour that made the prospect of watching paint dry for a week seem exciting). But I was gripped throughout, and it's a very well made, powerful film.

I've also been catching up on some TV by way of DVD box sets.

24 Season 6 is just turgid and I gave up on it about 2/3 the way in. Repetitive, unbelievable and just plain dull this is by far the worst series of the show so far. Previous series have had me hooked from start to finish. Not this one! Did the regular writers leave or something?

Dirt was also disappointing given the generally enthusiastic cricial reviews. Admittedly Courteney Cox gives an impressive performance, but the show is so obviously trying to shock with its endless sex scenes and drug-fuelled storylines, I got very irritated with it very quickly. It's like someone tried to steal all the best bits from the likes of Six Feet Under, Nip/Tuck and Ugly Betty, but forgot that you need more than just 'quirky' to make it addictive viewing. There isn't a single remotely likeable character in it and the whole thing comes across as a 'we've got a deadline - write something' rather third rate soap opera. Not terrible, but not great either!

The big surprise has been Skins on DVD (Series 1 and 2). The trailers on Channel 4 put me right off watching this when originally broadcast, and the tagline 'From the makers of Shameless' did nothing to dissuade me that this was the sort of rubbish that lay at the root of London stabbings, yobby, foul-mouthed youth and endless reality TV rubbish. Truth is I have zero interest in drug-addicted, sex-obsessed teenagers. Or so I thought. But the series is great because it has real fleshed-out characters that you find yourself sympathising with. The series has great writing, with wonderful laugh-out-loud moments mixed with 'Reach for the Kleenex' tragedy, and a cast able to deliver on the writing. I now understand why the show is so popular with the young folk. It's well worth renting out if you missed it on TV.

On the big screen yesterday I went to a preview of Narnia: Prince Caspian which hits cinema's on June 24th. Of the four of us who went I think I was the only one who actually thought it was rather good. I didn't like the first 'The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe' film, finding the acting, particularly from the children, very poor, the direction lackadaisical, and the pacing tedious in the extreme. It was a kid's film, pure and simple. The new film is definitely more of an adult's one, although it's become one by emulating (or trying to) 'Lord of the Rings'. As a result the original book by C.S. Lewis has been pretty much lost, with lots of silly new stuff added (jealous rivalry between the two elder boys, a love affair between Caspian and the eldest girl, an invented battle in the thin second act etc.). The film is MUCH too long at 2 hours and 25 minutes, but the effects are consistently good throughout and much better than those in the Harry Potter franchise. But I went in with pretty low expectations which may be why I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Certainly I'd agree with most of the early reviews that suggest there's nothing original that we haven't seen before in the film.