Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Play Misty for Me (1971): Suspense and Efficient Acting

Play Misty for Me
Play Misty for Me is Clint Eastwood's directorial debut released in the distant 1971. He has embarked on various directions making all kinds of films for the next 40 years but rarely his movies have been so suspenseful as his first effort. This does not necessarily mean that Play Misty for Me is his best film (in fact, it exposes enough shortcomings) but on the thrilling side, the movie has a lot to offer (especially for an early 70s film).

The story revolves around disc jockey Dave (Clint Eastwood), a demented female fan of his (Jessica Walter) and the consequences of their brief affair and Evelyn's obsession when Dave's ex-girlfriend Tobie (Donna Mills) comes back into the picture. It has appeared earlier that Evelyn phones to the radio station every night asking Dave to play Erroll Garner's song "Misty" but this is the nicest of her doings. She spoils Dave's business appointment, penetrates into his house, offends his housemaid and makes his life terrible. As Dave's current love interest, Tobie is in danger even more.

The movie offers plenty of suspense and most of the time throughout its second half you would look forward for something (bad) to happen. The acting contributes a lot to the overall tension. Jessica Walter is a brilliant psycho that makes you constantly wonder what to expect next when she's on the screen and even more when she's not. She looks harmless and in the next moment violent. Her unstableness only intensifies the terror. Clint Eastwood makes one of his strong performances and his self-confidence fits well the movie and its threatening atmosphere. Donna Mills is fragile and unsuspecting, almost self-attracting troubles. The rest of the cast is Ok with director Don Siegel deserving mentioning primarily because of his peculiar game with Eastwood's character.

Now for the worse part. While Play Misty for Me offers enough of suspense, it's not so scary as many of the movies released in the years following it. The narrative and most of the events are predictable and there are almost no surprises. This perception however could be referred to the genre's oversaturation nowadays. Another weakness is the Semi-Obligatory Lyrical Interlude (the name comes from Roger Ebert) when Dave and Tobie walk for a couple of minutes under the tunes of a hit song. Although the scene is nice to watch and shares the dark tones of the movie, the whole sequence is just too long and boring.

Another unnecessary scene is the festival one. I can't find its purpose and probably the only thing it helps for is to make you wondering whether something wrong is going to happen during it. Finally, we have a police officer behaving unprofessionally and apparently marching towards his demise with ease.

Despite its flaws Play Misty for Me is a solid debut effort for Clint Eastwood. Although it has probably not aged quite well, the movie has offered a good thrilling story at the time and efficient performances. It's a film that a lover of the genre will enjoy and it drops a hint of Eastwood's directorial potential which we have been able to witness for decades.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

When Fall Movies Are Too Happy or Too Dark What Are the Alternatives?

This is a guest article from our friend Raj.

Happy Feet 2
Major Hollywood productions have recently become more black and white in their emphasis, particularly during the fall season. New films have lately been either entirely happy and sweet hearted affairs (think of Happy Feet Two, The Muppets, the entirely bubbly New Year's Eve, and so on), or rolling to the dark, violent or gloomy side of the human experience (the latest Twilight installment, Immortals, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). There are always films in between, but the most promoted blockbusters tend to trend between one pole and the other.

So what is a moviegoer, from the humble malls of Peoria to the Leicester Square Cinema, supposed to do with their entertainment money, with a range of depicted human experience that is only snowflake white or pitch black? Well, what more and more people are doing is widening their menu for getting access to new movies. Many film lovers are getting acquainted with the smaller, quirkier, and most often more honest independent films that don't necessarily cleave to a particular formula, or paint the world as either Day-Glo colors or as a zombie horror fest. On cable, channels like IFC or Sundance are often proving to be preferable to stay home and watch, compared to new releases.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1
Others are getting reacquainted with the classic Hollywood and international features released between the '30s and '60s, which offer a sea of choices for those looking for all varieties of possible views and tones about the drama of life, quite often with superior performers doing the roles. This may mean, again, staying at home and being entertained by Blu-Ray discs and Turner Classic Movies selections versus running to a multiplex. Avoiding wasting money is the immediate benefit of this approach to movies, as well as regularly viewing a higher grade, classic example of each genre.

After all, when it comes down to it, it may just be necessary to stop subsidizing the dumbing down of human drama that is going on with current Hollywood product, by not attending each month until they produce a better crop of films. The average family now has two rich sources (DVDs, and cable movie channels) that provide over 80 years of choices to mine from, that makes it possible to skip the latest pile of simplistic box office releases altogether. Perhaps the studios would then get with the program and give the public more original, complex, and satisfying explorations of the human experience.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Seatwave.com Ticket Exchange Service: Unprofessional & Irresponsible

In a nutshell: If you have any other alternatives, do not use the ticket exchange service of Seatwave.com!

Since there was not anyone to warn me and I was not smart enough to do a small preliminary research on Seatwave's service (as I usually do for other services), I made the mistake to buy tickets via their fan to fan ticket exchange. I suppose, it's needless to say that practically Seatwave is not a "fan to fan" exchange service rather than a platform for reselling tickets on a speculative basis. But this is not the real problem as far as you are aware of it initially and I assume that everyone who is not excessively naive would guess this fact immediately.

The actual issue with Seatwave.com (and all of the website's variations like seatwave.it. seatwave.ie, etc.) is that their service is extremely unprofessional and they rely only on chance in order to complete the ticket exchange between the involved parties successfully. You will read about many guarantees on their site which they offer automatically for free with your purchase of any ticket(s) and you may even pay for some additional protections. All of these mean nothing if you are not prepared to lose a lot of your time and nerves.

So, here goes my experience with Seatwave. Unaware that I should not use them, I ordered several tickets for Paul McCartney's concert on 26/11/2011 in Bologna, Italy. I made the order on 15/11/2011 and it was explicitly stated the tickets were already ready for shipping. Since I didn't receive any tracking information until the end of the next day, I contacted their support with a question when the tickets would be shipped cause I was worried they would not arrive before 24/11/2011 when I intended to fly to Italy. A kind of an automatic reply followed on the next day notifying me that the tickets should be shipped on 18/11/2011 (three days after my order). I actually received a UPS tracking number on 18/11/2011. For my surprise, after checking the tracking information I found that the scheduled delivery by UPS was for 25/11/2011. I would not need the tickets at that time. I contacted Seatwave support again (a little bit more worried now) and this time I received a human response informing me that the tickets probably would travel faster and I should expect them to arrive by the end of 22/11/2011.

I checked the UPS tracking page again on 21/11/2011 and I found the tickets were not travelling fast enough and I didn't see any chances that they would arrive on the next day. I contacted Seatwave.com support once more. This time they confirmed that according to UPS the tickets would arrive on 25/11/2011. And now the bigger fun began. I contacted Seatwave via the chat option on their website. Without even asking them about a refund (I didn't care for a refund at that point anyway) they informed me they would not refund me because the tickets would arrive before the date of the event. Seatwave's support didn't care the delivery would be after my flight to Italy and they also didn't even try to observe their User agreement which stated that Seatwave would try to deliver the tickets at least 2 days before the event and if they were unsuccessful in that attempt they would either find replacement tickets or otherwise refund the full amount you had paid.

I explained to them that they were in violation of their own user agreement and the fun continued. They answered me that normally people had to travel to the venue at the date of the event and more bullshit like this. I still do not believe that most people book flights for international trips at the actual date of the flight, especially when they intend to attend a concert or any other kind of event. After almost a whole day lost in stupid arguments with Seatwave's support, I informed them again that I didn't care about the refund and all I wanted was they keep their guarantees listed on their site. I wanted tickets, not a refund which I would get one way or another if eventually I needed to.

Read the second part of this article by following the link Seatwave.com Experience, Part 2.

Seatwave.com Ticket Exchange Service: Unprofessional & Irresponsible, Part 2

(Read the first part of this article by following the link Seatwave.com Experience, Part 1.)

On the next day, I began to think about other solutions because apparently Seatwave's support was useless. I was considering several options but the one that appeared successful was to contact them via Twitter. Meanwhile, the support offered me another useless solution by offering me to use a particular courier service to redeliver the tickets (expected to arrive at my home by the end of the day on 25/11/2011). This had to happen eventually in less than a day (from Friday night to Saturday afternoon). Seatwave assumed that this service will cost about 50 euro and they agreed to pay for it. But after I contacted the courier it appeared there was not a standard service like this and a customized one would cost no less than 600 euro, far more than Seatwave's estimate.

Finally, after contacting them via Twitter, somebody (from their headquarters I suppose) contacted me by phone and at the same time I received an email from their support's supervisor who informed me that they would find replacement tickets. And they actually did. But I received them a couple of hours before the concert in my hotel in Bologna and because of some traffic on the way to the venue, I arrived just before the commencement of the gig and I was at an unenviable position in the arena.

Since the article became too long, I intentionally skipped several more inadequate actions by Seatwave like for example, sending me a wrong tracking number for the second delivery. But just to make the whole story even more ridiculous, here is another one. The first set of tickets actually had not arrived on 25/11/2011 at my home. The first delivery attempt by UPS had been on 28/11/2011 (2 days after the event) and it failed due to inability of the UPS guy to find the address (it's strange why they hadn't used a map in 21st century) so the actual delivery happened on 30/11/2011 (4 days after the concert).

So, to recapitulate:
- It took Seatwave.com 15 days to deliver tickets that they claimed were ready for sending at the date of my purchase;
- Seatwave's support was completely unaware of the time needed for a delivery by UPS;
- Seatwave refused to observe their User agreement until I contacted them via Twitter;
- They hurried up to inform me that they were not going to refund me even without asking them about a refund;
- The initial set of tickets was delivered 4 days after the date of the event and would be delivered not earlier than 2 days after the gig anyway (even if the UPS guy had found the address the first time);
- I lost literally two days to write and argue with Seatwave for something that was obviously their fault. Despite all of their guarantees and without any sensible reason, they delayed the initial shipping with 3 days, they used the slowest possible UPS service and their support didn't care at all that the tickets wouldn't arrive on time;
- I didn't know whether I would receive the tickets for the gig almost until its commencement (this was really unpleasant).

For me, it's clear I will never use Seatwave again. I strongly recommend that you avoid them too. It seems much better to use eBay or another service in order to find tickets for an event instead of using Seatwave. My obnoxious experience unambiguously shows (at least to me) that Seatwave.com offers an unprofessional and irresponsible service and apparently, they rely only on luck in order to fulfil their side of the agreement. They try to discourage you from pursuing justice and it's not until you show them you have some legal knowledge and customer rights awareness that they start doing something really constructive and helpful in order to resolve an issue.

P.S. I initially thought the tickets would be sent directly from the person on the other side of the particular "fan to fan" ticket exchange deal. Actually, both of the packages have been dispatched with "Seatwave, Milano" filled in the "sender" field so I don't really know who has initiated the shipment.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Paul McCartney's Concert at Unipol Arena, Bologna, Italy

Paul McCartney
While being abroad last week I managed to see Paul McCartney's concert in Bologna, Italy on 26/11/2011. The event was the first of the European gigs on his "On the Run" tour and I hope this article could give a good overview of what to be expected from Paul's subsequent shows. Because I don't like sitting at the sides of a venue and since there were not any seating places in front of the stage in the case of Unipol Arena, I had to get a standing ticket. And because all of these tickets were sold out at the time I knew I could go to the concert, I made the mistake to use Seatwave.com aftermarket ticket service, which unfortunately appeared to be among the most amateurish services I had ever used in my entire long-lived Internet experience. Due to the latter fact as well as for some Bologna traffic problems on the way to the venue, my position in the hall was not among the best and although I had a direct view to the stage, it was mainly for the presence of a couple of big screens that I was able to see Paul McCartney and his band in good proportions.

The gig started with a small (normal) delay and continued for not less than two and a half hours. Sir Paul McCartney was in a relatively good shape considering his age. He changed half a dozen of musical instruments including bass and 6-string guitars, piano, mandoline and a small size guitar. McCartney's band comprised of good players who were almost constantly smiling and apparently having a good time on the stage. Because of Paul's frequent instrument changes some of his fellow musicians were also able to demonstrate skills on various instruments.

The audience counted about 20 thousands of fans. They were of all ages but I was surprised that the number of young people was considerable. I saw several persons that almost lost consciousness but I would attribute this to their inexperience in crowded areas rather than some 21st century "Beatlemania".

The sound was not at its best in the beginning of the show but after a couple of songs it got better and was decent until the end of the gig. The lighting was Ok and as mentioned already the big video screens were of huge help for many of the attendees. There were not numerous lighting or pyrotechnic effects. There was not any fancy choreography. The major part of the show was just great music, dedicated performances, a lot of smiles and just occasionally there were some remarkable special effects. It was just as it had to be for a performer who created (many of) the most recognizable songs of the 20th century.

As for the songs, many of Paul McCartney's masterpieces were there. He played more than 20 songs of the Beatles, 5 songs of his great Band on the Run album plus several other gems from his long career. Of course, in a setlist comprised of just 35 tracks (otherwise, more than enough for a single concert), Paul could not include even every big hit he had ever written. But it was nice to hear many of the songs which had made the Beatles such a significant phenomenon and some of McCartney's Wings and solo greatest hits. Sir Paul McCartney tried to include a bit of everything. There were plenty of ballads as well as many harder rocking tracks. He sang a song for John Lennon ("Here Today") and included a part of "Give Piece a Chance" at the end of "A Day in the Life". He sang "Something" for George Harrison. He played a small tribute to Jimi Hendrix (a piece of "Foxy Lady"). There were some fireworks on "Live and Let Die" and of course, the recent Grammy winner "Helter Skelter" was also included in the set list. Several times, Paul tried to spoke a little bit of Italian as a kind gesture to the public and at the end he performed his usual two small sets of encores.

The gig was a good value for money, something I would naturally expect from Paul McCartney. The only thing I have to stress and it is not a fault of McCartney's or his crew is that if you are a fan of a particular performer or a band, you should try to be closer to the stage, either sitting or standing, because the emotions are completely different there. I almost always manage to achieve a good position (if I care for the artist) but unfortunately, I was not able this time which spoiled the gig a bit for me. Apart from this personal reason, Sir Paul McCartney and the concert as a whole were great and I would definitely recommend attending one (or more) of his "On the Run" tour gigs if you have the chance.

At last, below are the songs Paul McCartney played in Bologna, not ordered in the particular setlist's sequence (note that "Come and Get It", a song first recorded by Paul at the end of the Beatles' era, was performed live by McCartney for the first time ever).
The Beatles songs: A Day in the Life / Give Peace a Chance, All My Loving, And I Love Her, Back in the U.S.S.R., Blackbird, Day Tripper, Eleanor Rigby, Get Back, Golden Slumbers / Carry That Weight / The End, Got to Get You into My Life, Helter Skelter, Hey Jude, I'm Looking Through You, I've Got a Feeling, Let It Be, Magical Mystery Tour, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, Paperback Writer, Something, The Long and Winding Road, The Night Before, The Word / All You Need Is Love, Yesterday
Paul McCartney / Wings songs: Band on the Run, Come and Get It, Dance Tonight, Here Today, Jet, Junior's Farm, Let Me Roll It, Live and Let Die, Maybe I'm Amazed, Mrs Vandebilt, Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five
The Fireman song: Sing the Changes

Friday, December 2, 2011

Wizz Air: Another Unpleasant Experience

It happened to me again. Another unpleasant experience with Wizz Air. You can read my first adventure with them here and my opinion about the website wizzair.com, which is an important part of Wizz Air service, here. This time there were not large queues of passengers at the airport, still one of the flights was late due to accumulated delay. The leg room was again very insufficient but nothing unexpected in this department either. In addition, they made us to replace our home-printed web check-in papers with new boarding passes at one of the airports, which made the home-printed passes pretty much unnecessary. Yet, people will continue to print expendable paper at home until Wizz Air is charging an airport check-in fee if you have not preliminary made a web check-in. But all of these were not a surprise.

The thing that really annoyed me was that they broke my suitcase. I suppose, it happens sometimes. But in the case of Wizz Air it's more irritating cause you have to pay for your check-in luggage. This is the reason why almost everybody travels with just hand baggage on Wizz Air flights and this leads to additional discomfort for all of the passengers since there is not enough space for everyone's hand luggage in the cabin of the plane. Everyone carries a big piece of cabin luggage (up to the allowed limits and sometimes even exceeding them) which actually results in even more uncomfortable trip because many passengers have to put their "real" hand luggage below their seats.

Another related problem partially due to the above one is that you have to compete for earlier boarding on the plane because first, you have to be ahead of the others if you want to put your baggage in the designated compartments and second if you are not flying alone chances are you will seat separated from your fellow-travellers if you've not been fast enough to leave behind the majority of "competitors". I don't know why Wizz Air do not assign seats at the time of check-in, especially when you are forced to check-in twice actually. This "first-come, first-served" principle seems a little bit inappropriate for an airline company. After all, assigning seats is a far easier task than transporting passengers.

Now, to return on the broken trunk. I wouldn't be so annoyed if there were not 2 particular reasons. First, most of the passengers do not pay the additional tax for baggage so Wizz Air flights practically have almost nothing to handle in this aspect. I would expect that a large company as they are pretending to be should know how to handle just a few suitcases. They should have enough time to handle them carefully because of their small number. And second, I had paid for my luggage explicitly. It had not been just a free supplement to my ticket but a separate service I had paid for. If they cannot handle my luggage properly, they should not charge me for such a service.

Finally, when I arrived at the airport and I saw my trunk had been broken, I asked the corresponding clerk should I file a complaint against Wizz Air. The answer was, "you will just lose your time and most likely receive nothing". I wouldn't usually agree easily to not take any action but in this case, I did. Having all of my previous experience with Wizz Air in mind, I thought the guy was probably right: Wizz Air don't care too much for the services they offer, neither for your opinion.

You may ask, why did I use them for a second time. Well, they are obviously cheaper, especially if you catch the right time to book. And what is not less important there are itineraries that are not covered with direct flights by any other airline company so you do not have much of a choice anyway if you don't want to change several planes before you reach your destination.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Avoid International Roaming Charges with Rebtel

Calling from:
Calling to:
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Since I've been recently abroad, I want to share with you a cool way to avoid the usual high roaming charges. With this idea, international roaming calls you make will be charged as local calls and this is possible with the help of Rebtel's cheap international calling service. If you already have a Rebtel account, you probably know the basic principles of their service but for the rest, I am going to make a short introduction of Rebtel before delving into particulars about how to cut your international roaming charges.

Rebtel offer a service that allows you to make cheap international calls by calling a preliminary assigned local number instead of your contact's foreign number. When you create a Rebtel account you have to add your international contacts in it so the service can assign a unique local number for each of your friends or relatives. This means that if you are in the United Kingdom, Rebtel will create UK local numbers for all of your contacts which you can use forever from then on. The trick is that when you call one of these local numbers, you are still able to talk with your foreign friends but the international part of the call is accomplished over the Internet. The result is that you only pay for the local call and a small charge for the service provided by Rebtel. As far as I know Rebtel's service is provided in about 50 countries in the world and you can check their calling rates from country to country by using the box on the left.

Now about the mobile roaming. In order to use Rebtel to your advantage while being abroad, you will need to purchase a local SIM card on arrival in the foreign country. It doesn't have to be some special international roaming SIM card but the one offering the cheapest calling rates for making local calls in the particular country. Having a local SIM card enables you to use a cell phone calls provider originating in the foreign country and thus you can avoid the hefty international roaming charges that your domestic provider normally charge. When you buy the new SIM card, you have to add it to your Rebtel account and new local numbers will be automatically created for your previously saved contacts. Now, you can dial to any of your contacts back home by using these new local numbers and the charges for the international part of the call will be avoided in a way similar to the already described before. So, this was the easier part.

The trickier task (if you want to achieve it at all) is to receive cheaper calls from your relatives or friends when you're abroad. In order to call you they have three options: either to dial your old number; to call to the number of your new local SIM card; or to create a Rebtel account themselves and call to your new number without paying for an international call by using the standard Rebtel service. Of course, the best option for them (without even knowing that you're abroad) would be to dial your usual old number. But in order to avoid the international roaming fees in this case you have to forward your old number to an assigned by Rebtel number to your new foreign local SIM card. Thus, the international part of the call would be practically between your old number and your new SIM card but since this forwarding will be serviced by Rebtel, you will avoid the roaming charges for it. Now, this might seem like an additional trouble (although it involves nothing more than just entering the number of your new foreign SIM card into your Rebtel account in order to get an assigned Rebtel number for it and just one forwarding from your domestic number to the assigned new number after that) but the good news is you can simply ignore the task of making the incoming roaming calls cheaper cause the prices for them are significantly lower than the prices for outgoing calls.

Having said the above, we should stress that this solution may not be always better than using just the conventional international roaming service of your domestic mobile provider. For example, if you plan to call back home only once or just to receive a couple of short calls from your relatives at home, using your usual phone number won't lead to very high roaming charges. Yet in other cases you can save considerably by using Rebtel's service abroad. Some proper usages would include:
  • staying abroad for a long period of time;
  • making a lot of calls back home over a long or even a short period of time;
  • making (even a few) very long calls to your home country.

Usually, since the international roaming charges are in times lower for receiving incoming calls than for making outgoing ones, if you only plan to receive calls, probably you don't have to bother for the roaming charges too much. If you intend to initiate calls yourself, it's good to consider the Rebtel option. You should check their prices from the country you're visiting to your own country and also the prices of the local SIM cards in the country you will temporarily reside in. Having both in mind, you should be able to make the best decision for your particular situation.

Of course, even if you don't plan to use international roaming a lot, you can still create a Rebtel account in case you don't have one yet cause you can always use it for making cheap international calls even when you are home (which is Rebtel's service primary intention anyway). And remember that calling to international landline phones is up to tens of times cheaper than the calls to international mobile phones so Rebtel can bring you even higher savings in this area.

I am glad to inform you that a couple of days after publishing this article Rebtel offered our site a coupon for 100% bonus on first deposits so if you want to sign up and try their service (they offer also a first free call) use this link which will automatically land you on the page with the bonus offer (I do not know exactly how long the offer will be valid but I hope it will stay active until the end of December).

If you are further interested in Rebtel, you can find a few Rebtel highlights here and several tips for making even cheaper international calls here.