13 September 2011

X-Men First Class: The Mutant Blu-Ray

I loved X-Men First Class. So much so, that I saw in the theatre on opening day and a week before I bought it on DVD. To my sadness, the movie was CHOPPY. I am running another blu-ray in my PS3 to make sure it's not the new PS3. Here is a tweak to get it to play but skip a lot, and then I finally got it to work beautifully Here's the solution:
  1. Fire up your PS3
  2. Go into the Settings.
  3. Turn off the Internet connection.
  4. Erase all the files in the BD Temp folder.
  5. Erase the X-Men First Class file under the Data tree. (tool around, you'll be able to find it)
  6. Restart your PS3 without the disc in it.
  7. Put in the movie and rejoice! It looks like a cross between an episode of Mad-Men and the first 50 issues of X-Men.

15 July 2011

Roadtrip entertainment: four audiobooks

During our recent roadtrip travelling the highways through British Columbia and Alberta, our choice of entertainment was audiobooks. We finished four during the 10 days of travel:

We had started Planet Simpson before we left on this trip but I am including it here because I haven't reviewed it yet elsewhere. For a family who watches hours of The Simpsons every week, this seemed to be a no-brainer as entertainment. For the most part, it was ridiculously enjoyable since we could all picture the exact sequences that the narrator was discussing as he led us through the show's inception and the many ways that The Simpsons have drawn from and contributed to popular culture.

Toward the latter chapters, we were noticing more repetition and the convention of using the episode numbers was annoying (7F01, 7F11, 8F13... they are meaningless to all but the most hardcore fans). It was also disappointing that for a show that spanned 20 seasons, the book only really discusses the first three or four. Suitable for almost any age though it does delve into some themes such as family values, politics and religion that may be a bit too academic for younger listeners.


Mike had already read World War Z and was disappointed that the audio book skipped over one pretty critical plot point (i.e. how the infection spread globally) but having a full cast (including big names like Carl Reiner, Rob Reiner and Alan Alda) made it more like a radio play than a novel. The story is told through a series of interviews with survivors following a war against ZACK (the Army code for Z, or Zombie). There is lots of descriptive gore from the front line but equal time is given to narrative about global politics and the different styles of warfare in which each nation engages.

While it was nice to have the full cast, I'd have liked the audio engineers to have paid more attention to balancing the levels from actor to actor -- I found myself needing to adjust the volume between each interview. That aside, I was kept entertained for the duration and it made me think about pandemics and how poorly most governments are prepared.


I had heard an interview with Deborah Blum about The Poisoner's Handbook on a Scientific American podcast last year; it had been on my wishlist ever since. The unabridged audiobook is read by Colleen Marlo who does a great job with the script. The book introduces the listener to two of the key players in the development of forensic toxicology: Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler. The two worked in New York from the late 1800s through early 20th century as Medical Examiner and Chief Toxicologist/Chemist respectively. They worked without much of a budget or staff but both were determined to find ways to measure various poisons scientifically and consistently so that the results could be used in court to convict, or clear the accused. They weren't always right and they also made a few enemies (including rather famously New York Mayor LaGuardia) but they did succeed in creating a new field of scientific study that had an immeasurable impact on 20th century criminal investigations.

Toward the end, we were growing tired of the constant discussion about methyl alcohol and its role in hundreds of deaths during Prohibition but aside from that, the story moves through a series of suspicious deaths, murders and crime sprees that mystery writers love and investigators hate. Some, I'd heard of before like the "Radium Girls" who worked in a factory painting glow in the dark paint on watch faces and many that were headlines in the 1920s but would be forgotten were it not for authors like Blum. There are some grizzly sequences, as can be expected and one section that was unexpectedly lurid; parents consider yourselves warned.


Tina Fey is definitely someone I admire -- I totally get her sense of humour and I respect the place she made for herself inside the Old Boy's Club of late-night and prime-time comedy. While she makes fun of her "nerd/librarian" vibe it has worked well for her. In Bossypants, she discusses her life from childhood traumas through her discovery of improv and how it changed her life, to her time with NBC and her life outside work as a parent and a celebrity. It's not a long book but there's not a five minute stretch that I didn't find entertaining.

If however, you are not a fan of Tina Fey you will not be won over by this book. She is, as always, unapologetic about being a woman, being liberal, and moving forward. Of all the books we listened to, this was the most "adult" -- Fey swears and discusses all sorts of subjects easily classified under the "parental discretion is advised" banner.


08 July 2011

Focus by Leo Babauta

Leo Babauta, creator of zen habits, subtitled Focus “A simplicity manifesto in the age of distraction.” It’s an appropriate title for a collection of essays extolling the benefits of slowing down, clearing your mind, clearing your desk, and picking one thing to do at a time.

Babauta never claims it will be an easy task and even admits it’s not going to work for everyone in every situation. He does suggest that if you have even a small sum of control over your workflow, you can make meaningful changes and get more done with less stress.

I have to confess: I read this book in fits and starts in transit and on breaks and wherever I could find 10 minutes at a time until I was finally able to finish the last third in one extended uninterrupted sitting. As I write this review, I have the television on and am constantly switching my attention from one screen to the other. I fear actually tallying the number of hours I spend checking the black holes of Facebook, Twitter and Gmail. And clutter? I am its queen. If there is a target audience for this book, I’m in it.

Almost everything in Focus makes sense to me and yet I can’t yet visualize myself doing most of it. Specifically, two key parts would require me to make huge changes to my outlook: decluttering and disconnecting.

Decluttering is something I have struggled with my entire life. My parents bought in bulk and hung on to things “just in case” they came in handy, and they often did. As a kid, I just assumed this was how everyone lived, surrounded by Stuff. There is nothing new to me in Focus that I haven’t already read and tried to implement at some point over the years.

However, in one of the bonus chapters at the end of Focus, “How to create a minimalist workspace to find focus” by Everett Bogue is this sentence that I think I need to cross-stitch and hang somewhere obvious:

“Just in case” is a place in the space-time continuum that invokes clutter, but not much else that’s useful.

Or is creating the cross-stitch just adding clutter? Oh well.

Disconnecting is do-able for me, but I always feel, as Babauta suggests, like I am missing something. He rightly points out however that we are not omniscient beings and online or not, we are always missing many somethings. It’s an important concept to keep in mind.

These are just my personal hang-ups of course and it may yet be possible for me to overcome them if I wanted to. Is Babauta’s book the answer for me? No, but it is a solid building block. toward a happy medium, I suspect. He even offers some tips on how parents can focus without blocking out their kids and how to work with spouses and bosses in order to find focus.

Focus is a springboard book – it offers some key concepts in how to find and keep one’s mind open and clear by stepping back from some of the worlds’ distractions. If you are looking for somewhere to start, this is as good as any other you’ll find on the self-help shelves.

On the other hand, if you're thinking all this is BS, you're not alone. Penelope Trunk thinks Babauta's minimalist lifestyle is boring and requires too many sacrifices to be realistic for most people.


Buy the full book at focusmanifesto.com or follow the links to Amazon below for other formats:

30 May 2011

Mayor of the Sunset Strip (2003)

Rodney Bingenheimer has launched some of the biggest and most influential acts in North America and yet I'd never heard of him until I saw this documentary. Bingenheimer got his start as a publicist for Sonny and Cher in the mid-60s. He used his position to build up a reputation as a super-groupie -- celebrities' go-to-guy in L.A. -- eventually evolving into a star-maker and an authority on the next big thing in music.

Through a nightclub called the English Disco (which he abandoned once disco hit mainstream) and later through his long-running radio show on KROQ, Bingenheimer introduced David Bowie, Blondie, Bow Wow Wow, Nirvana, Oasis and countless others to his followers. His show still runs on KROQ and though it airs in the wee hours between Sunday and Monday (midnight to 3 am) podcasting could allow him to reach out to potential new listeners.

Written and directed by George Hickenlooper (Factory Girl, Hearts of Darkness), Mayor of the Sunset Strip is a biographical documentary of Bingenheimer that illustrates how much influence one music fan could have on the industry in the 70s and 80s and even into the 90s and beyond. The footage was gathered over a span of 6 years and includes interviews with many of the people whose careers Bingenheimer launched plus notable "Rodneyites" from Mackenzie Phillips to Courtenay Love to Kato Kaelin. The film is equal parts a biography of Bingenheimer and of the world of glam rock, punk and alternative rock -- it's perhaps fitting that someone who spent his life on the edge of society immersed himself in the edges of popular music.

What amazes me is that while Bingenheimer has been surrounded by celebrities most of his life, he is neither rich nor famous. He eats at Denny's, drives a classic GTO, and seems to be living his life in his own shadow. There is a palpable sadness to the film as the music scene has become very much a music industry where radio play is increasingly irrelevant. Though he can count many of the biggest names in music among his friends and has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one senses that he is on some level utterly alone.


Currently, Mayor of the Sunset Strip is available on YouTube in 7 parts.

05 May 2011

Starter for 10 (2006)

Starter for 10 is a British romantic comedy based on David Nicholls' novel of the same name. It stars James McAvoy as Brian Jackson who has been obsessed with quiz shows his whole life. When he leaves his working class neighbourhood to attend University, he leaps at the chance to join the University Challenge team.

On his first night in town, his new roommates drag him to a "Tarts & Vicars" theme party where he meets Rebecca (Rebecca Hall). Their paths cross again on his way to Challenge try-outs but he almost completely forgets her when Alice (Alice Eve), the clever blonde, catches his eye. From here, the film takes a well-beaten romantic path of falling for the wrong girl even though the right girl is clearly under his nose. However, even in this standard arena, the writing is good enough to rise above the average romcom. While Brian is pursuing Alice he is also in pursuit of general knowledge. His main obstacle to that goal is the petty competitiveness of Patrick Watts (Benedict Cumberbatch), the University Challenge team lead. The audience presumes from the outset that the climax will have to occur at the quiz show and the screenplay does not disappoint on that level.

Nichols' Starter for 10 feels very much like a Nick Hornby story -- both authors seem to write about young male adults awkwardly navigating through life. It also features a great soundtrack full of early to mid-80s British chart toppers: The Cure, early Wham!, Buzzcocks, New Order and more -- though I could have done without The Smiths' "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" on yet another soundtrack. The 80s retro-ness is not over the top, however, the movie could take place in almost any era.

Clocking in at just over 90 minutes, the film is well paced with just enough awkwardness to keep it from being saccharine and the cast strong enough to give well-rounded performances to even the smallest roles.


04 February 2011

Mad Men before Mad Men

All out of Mad Men episodes? Get the flavour of 1960s advertising from a retro double feature of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967) and Lover Come Back (1961).

Lover Come Back showcases Rock Hudson, Doris Day and Tony Randall performing their usual screwball comedy shenanigans in this film about competing advertising executives, the drinking, womanizing charmer Jerry Webster (Hudson) and the hard working, ethically-superior Carol Templeton (Day). Randall is Webster’s boss, uneasy in his role under the shadow of his late father. As Webster’s unscrupulous tactics threaten to take down the agency, he cooks up a way to hush up a witness by making her the new “VIP girl.” Unfortunately, VIP doesn’t exist and Webster has to create a product to go with the pitch. When Templeton tries to track Webster (and VIP) down, a mistaken identity leads to madcap adventures.

Lover Come Back is typical of the 60s screwball comedy -- if you’ve seen Pillow Talk (1959) or the more recent Down With Love (2003) then you’ve already seen Lover Come Back -- but by watching it through the eyes of a Mad Men fan, you can interpret it on another level. t’s fun to see the characteristics of Webster and Templeton in Don Draper and Peggy Olson and maybe just a bit of Pete Ramsey in Pete Campbell. It’s also got the same feel for the cutthroat competition between agencies and the lengths to which agents will go to get an account.

The first thing you notice about How to Succeed in Buisness is lead actor Robert Morse who fans will recognize as agency head Burt Cooper from Mad Men. A much younger Robert Morse is J. Pierpont Finch, a window-washer who stumbles on a book that teaches him how to bluff his way up the ladder in an ad-agency. It’s a musical, albeit an uneven one, and Morse also played the role on Broadway. Also reprising his role from the stage is Rudy Vallee as Mr. Biggley.

Unlike Lover Come Back which more or less glamorizes the industry, How to Succeed lampoons it, every step of the way, from the opener about "The Company Way" to the era’s take on sexual harassment with the musical number "A Secretary is Not a Toy" to the constant sarcastic narrative from the booklet. Unfortunately How to Succeed tends to lag in the third act but does eventually redeem itself. Worth seeing just for Morse’s performance.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Mad Men set directors, costume designers, and even the writers took some crib notes from these two films, so while we wait for the next season, why not treat yourself to these two classics.

Lover Come Back (1961) ****
How to Succeed in Business... (1967) ***