Saturday, August 31, 2013

Vertigo (1958): The Greatest Movie of All Time or Not, It Is Still Worth Seeing

Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo tops a few quite reputable lists pretending to consist of the greatest films of all time, e.g., the Sight & Sound list compiled every decade since 1952 by the magazine of the British Film Institute and based on votes of international film critics. The topping position makes writing about such a movie a bit difficult yet it deserves a try. Whether Vertigo is the best film of all time or not and why is beyond the scope of this article but here are some thoughts that might help a potential spectator to decide on seeing it or not.

In Vertigo James Stewart is recently retired San Francisco detective John 'Scottie' Ferguson who is afraid of high places. He is hired by an old acquaintance of his, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), to investigate the mysterious activities of Gavin's wife Madeleine (Kim Novak). She is dangerously obsessed by one of her dead ancestors and in the process of his investigation Scottie also becomes greatly obsessed ... with Madeleine and her beauty.

To an extent, Vertigo suffers from some of other Hitchcock's movies flaws although they are not so evident or annoying here. There are a few inconsistencies throughout the script, an improbability here and there, some sequences that seem hurried over and a resolution looking way too easy at the end. Then again these are all quite subtle here and readily excusable compared to Hitch's other films. And because of this we are not going to hunt for Vertigo's shortcomings. Instead, we will focus on pointing out why this movie is among Hitchcock's best without trying to judge whether it's the greatest of all time.

So, in addition to the statement that Vertigo is one of Hitchcock's least flawed movies, which is a merit on its own, there are other explicit virtues that deserve to be mentioned. The acting of the leads is quite strong and notable. James Stewart is great as in most of his roles although this is not his typical one. Kim Novak is simultaneously mysterious, fragile, dangerous and tragic. Barbara Bel Geddes in the part of Scottie's friend Midge Wood is charming and caring beyond hope. All of these performances are full of tension and easily memorable.

A strong mystery envelops most of the movie and a twist or two add to the solid suspense in Vertigo. The twists are not forced and the mystery is captivating. The score is apt and it blends with the movie very well. The cinematography and the use of colors are gorgeous. The story is interesting (although a bit absurd) and the problems exposed in the movie are quite timeless. Some consider Vertigo to be Hitchcock's most personal and intimate film. There is certainly a lot of depth here and the delicate subjects of love and existence are handled with mastery and empathy. A dream-like sensation surrounds the shots and makes the narrative even more haunting in harmony with the various obsession themes intertwined into the movie.

This is a film quite different than North by Northwest (one of Alfred Hitchcock's other classics) and not as easily accessible as it but similarly to the latter it could be chosen as a great starting point for exploration of the director's cinematic legacy. Vertigo is tragic but beautiful. It leaves you with haunting thoughts and memories so you are not going to regret seeing it if you manage to avoid setting your expectations way too high.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Got Unwanted CDs, DVDs, Blu-rays or Games? musicMagpie Swaps Them for Cash

I've recently visited an interesting website called, which offers to buy all of your unwanted CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray discs and games. "A very nice idea", was my first thought although after my initial admiration and further investigation, there are a few aspects that will not suit everyone.

To begin with Music Magpie's positive sides, I should mention that the process of selling your unwanted discs seems quite straightforward and easy. You enter the barcodes of your DVDs, Blu-rays, CDs, etc. and their evaluation engine gives an instant price for each of your items. If you are happy with the offered price, Music Magpie offers free shipping so you don't have to pay for anything by yourself. You can choose between UPS and USPS shipment and there are further options to select the exact shipping method. The payment is by check, which is good if you like checks. Another good possibility is to scan barcodes with your webcam instead of typing them. Finally, you can also download musicMagpie's free applications for Android or iPhone/iPad/iPod and turn your mobile device into a barcode scanner.

Independently of how good this service seems at first, there are several drawbacks that should be considered before getting too excited. To begin with, the service is currently available only in the United States. This is not a surprise having in mind the shipping costs for tangible products. Another issue could be the minimum number of discs you can sell. Due to the shipping costs, the minimum is 10 items per shipment. There is also a maximum number per a transaction but this is not an actual limitation.

What could be a drawback too is the paucity of payment methods. The only option is payment by check and although checks are fairly common in the US, not everyone likes them. Also, from what I've tried, it looks like recordable / rewritable discs are not accepted. And last but not least, the price musicMagpie offers for your Blu-ray discs, CDs and games is not very high. It should be treated more as a price for unwanted items rather than a price somebody who really wants your discs would pay.

So, to recapitulate, if you live in the USA, don't mind getting check payments and have at least a dozen of unwanted discs that just take valuable space in your home, musicMagpie could do you a favor. If this is not your case, services like eBay are probably a better option.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

La migliore offerta / The Best Offer (2013)

La migliore offerta
La migliore offerta is the latest film of director Giuseppe Tornatore (Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, La leggenda del pianista sull'oceano, Malèna). Like most of his movies, it is hard to give it a straightforward assessment. The movie is not as good as Tornatore's masterpiece Nuovo Cinema Paradiso but it's better than some of his other films like Malena. It's a movie the European audience will most likely admire and at the same time it's hard to tell whether American spectators would appreciate it. There is definitely a lot to be appreciated in this film but there are also a few aspects that could have been done better (in my humble opinion, of course). This is a movie, which is hard to be reviewed properly without the threat of spoiling the moviegoer's experience so be warned of possible unwanted "hints".

La migliore offerta (The Best Offer) is about a famous and eccentric expert art auctioneer who runs into a great challenge in the face of much younger heiress Claire (Sylvia Hoeks) who is not less eccentric than him. She wants from the auctioneer Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush) to assess her inherited art collection while simultaneously behaves in an inexplicable manner. Gradually, Oldman decides this mysterious girl is probably the woman of his life. Virgil's younger and more experienced with women friend Robert (Jim Sturgess) encourages him in the delicate affair while helping him to repair old pieces of odd machinery.

Giuseppe Tornatore tries to make an artistic film about art. The movie is shot in beautiful exterior locations while almost all of the inside shots are made among sculptures, luxurious furniture, precious paintings, etc. There are many parallels drawn between the world of art and the real life (especially love), both art and love being among the passions which most often lead to strange behavior and obsession. There are also a few of Tornatore's great lines about life in the vein of his Una pura formalità's "advice" that you should never meet your idols in person because they will most likely disappoint you.

The acting in The Best Offer is amongst its major assets. Geoffrey Rush shows a great performance as usual making easily believable all of the eccentricity, torment and obsession of his character. Jim Sturgess seems better a movie after a movie and Donald Sutherland in the role of Virgil Oldman's long-time friend despite not having a lot of screen time is quite important for the story. As for the women in the movie, it could be said that Kiruna Stamell episodic appearances as a midget girl in a bar are probably more mystic and interesting than Sylvia Hoeks in the leading part of the mysterious heiress but this could be actually done on purpose.

Speaking about the weaker aspects of the movie, the predictability is one of the main issues. You can guess almost from the very beginning the direction of the plot and at least 10 minutes in advance where it is heading towards the end. Another slightly bothering matter is that the story is not very likely to happen in reality but considering it's a movie, the narrative does not cross the line of complete implausibility. Finally, the last scenes (you will know which ones when you watch the film) are to an extent redundant and I think the movie would have only benefited by finishing a bit earlier.

Most of the fans of Tornatore's previous films will find La migliore offerta quite good. It's slow paced but rarely boring and delivers on expectations. For people who are not that much into the Italian director's work, chances are this movie is not going to change drastically their opinion about him.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Spring Breakers (2012): Avoid It at All Costs

Spring Breakers
I had serious suspicions about the quality of film Spring Breakers but based on the user rating this movie had on IMDb and especially on its Metacritic score I took the risk and decided to see it. Well, it was a huge mistake. And while I can see where its average user rating could come from, I am completely confused in regard to its Metacritic rating. Usually critics do not vote so high for a boring mess like this. Yes, Spring Breakers is boring. It is far too long for the quantity of content it presents. Thus it is also repetitive and annoying. The camera work is not less annoying either. The movie lacks any substantial plot. The characters are forgettable, it's hard even to remember their names throughout the movie, and some of the main characters (if not all of them?) are redundant. Why anyone who considers themselves knowledgeable about films would like this movie is beyond my understanding even if we label Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers a piece of art just for the sake of it.

Spring Breakers is about four college girls (Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine and Selena Gomez) who long for a spring break vacation. They do not have enough money so three of them decide to rob a restaurant in order to fund their adventure. The job is done and soon they are on the desired vacation. After having some intensive "fun" they quickly land in jail. A local criminal (James Franco) bails them out of the trouble and hopes to get something in return. From then on the mess becomes even bigger and the boredom unbearable.

Having in mind the cast listed above, it's normal to not expect acting miracles from the actors. Add lack of a decent screenplay and performances are totally doomed. All of the girls behave inadequately to what they say and there is not a single character in the movie that demonstrates any integrity. I can understand if there are many viewers, which "like" the film only because of Selena Gomez or the rest of its attractive cast. What is hard to understand though is why the critique has not been harsher.

If this movie was released several decades ago it could be labelled audacious (like MASH, for example). Now it is not. The same is valid for the camera shots. I wouldn't call them innovative. They're just irritating. Selena Gomez's character is hardly in place in this movie and one can wonder why she's in it. The film is full of random events and random monologues, which I do not feel to be helpful at all. And in addition to the awfulness of the content, the amount of substance is so limited that it could work as a short film (perhaps?) but as a feature film it is just plain tedious.

Labelling Spring Breakers "art" do not help either to appreciate the movie (at least it does not help me). I can call the film ambitious at best but this does not make it entertaining or brave. Seeing some mediocre movies is tolerable when someone has nothing better to do but it is hardly the case with this Harmony Korine's film. My humble recommendation is to avoid it at all costs if you are not among those people who have the special talent to enjoy something just because it is different.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

MASH (1970): Widely Acclaimed / Vastly Overrated

MASH is one of Robert Altman's widely acclaimed films and I am one of the many people who do not get the greatness of this movie. MASH is defined as hilarious, ground-breaking, audacious, surprising, anti-war, etc. Well, I can agree it has been audacious at the time of its release. As for the rest of it, I am not quite sure. MASH has its funny moments but it is far from a film I would call great. I consider it a vastly overrated movie.

If you look into IMDb's description of MASH, you will see the movie is about a field hospital (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) whose staff uses humor and sex to escape the terror of the Korean war. MASH teems with disobedience, misogyny and disputable jokes. How we are supposed to know though that keeping their sanity in a good state is the doctors' actual motivation behind their behavior is beyond my perception of the movie. Indeed, there are lots of jokes, many of them really funny but I do not see how they make this an anti-war film or a film about people looking for salvation from the horror of war. The setting for these jokes could have been pretty much anything else and it would have (or have not) worked nearly as well.

The lovers of MASH have a variety of arguments in their bag: the movie has been very efficient at the time of its release but many things have changed in the decades that have passed; the film is funny and horrifying simultaneously and the often brutal jokes are result of the doctors' hopelessness; the same persons would behave differently in a "sane" world.

Now, these arguments are not completely devoid of sense but they are not very strong either. For example, there are many older movies about war but their age doesn't make them less anti-war or worse. Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory is a good example for an older and much better movie. And if we have to rely on the funny moments in MASH in order to appreciate it, I have to disagree once more that this is a very successful presentation of the terror of war. Just take the Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film from 2001 No Man's Land and you'll have a movie that is a way better in every aspect - it's both funnier and more horrifying than MASH while at the same time it demonstrates the actual drama and insanity of wars.

Of course, MASH has a few virtues. Some of the jokes and the situations are comical despite often showing cruelty or indifference. The cast is not bad at all featuring Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Tom Skerritt, Robert Duvall and Sally Kellerman who has been nominated for Oscar for her role of nurse "Hot Lips". Most of these actors have been in far better movies though, playing better roles and demonstrating better acting. Finally, airing audacity and anti-establishment is the movie's last quality I can think of but it is considerably devalued by time.

So, if you are a fan of Robert Altman or you want to see all of the films on the 100 Years...100 Movies list of the American Film Institute, you have a reason to see MASH. If you want to see a good comedy, drama or anti-war film there are better options. The aforementioned No Man's Land is just one of them.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Few Comments on Google AdWords Enhanced Campaigns

Google have just introduced their so-called AdWords enhanced campaigns. Here are a few thoughts provoked by these recent AdWords changes, which I would like to share with you.

At first sight, introducing new possibilities always looks good but after I've given the changes a second thought I am not so convinced about their benefits and I wouldn't called them "enhanced" if I had to name them.

What does not sound good is Google's intention to "upgrade" all AdWords campaigns to "enhanced" after June 2013. As I see, enhanced campaigns actually have some limitations: impossibility to target specific device types, sitelinks' character limit, etc. I do not see why it won't be possible to have separate dedicated campaigns for desktop or mobile devices. In many cases the separate campaigns would be far more convenient, not to mention that probably there are advertisers who want to target just mobile or just desktop users.

Apart from that, I also do not see any significant benefits coming from any of the new possibilities introduced with AdWords enhanced campaigns. They are not useless but I do not find them very useful either. Combining all kind of devices in one campaign will save usually just one redundant campaign at most and at the expense of a weakened control. In the case of combining many locations in one campaign the advantage could be bigger but at the same time if you want to have a separate bid for a particular location, most probably you would like to have separate ads and keywords too, which is actually not possible and practically devaluates the new feature.

On the other hand, if I have to think of some useful changes in a similar to the enhanced campaigns vein and give some actual suggestions, I can immediately think of two things.
1) A possibility to choose (or at least to exclude) locations per ad group would be very helpful. It will limit unnecessary keyword replication across multiple campaigns and will be also more convenient for initial creation and subsequent management. For example, if I would like to create a campaign with 50 ad groups and 100 locations but I want to exclude a particular location (one of these 100) different per each ad group, at the moment I have to create 100 separate campaigns with these 50 ad groups and their keywords. In case of having location targeting per ad group this would be achieved with just a single campaign.

2) Another good feature would be the possibility to select (or at least to enable/disable) sitelinks per ad group (if not per ad). I think this is probably a better treatment in regard to sitelinks cause each ad has it's own destination URL so setting sitelinks at campaign level only doesn't seem very logical. Apart from logic, it would be just more convenient cause the same pack of sitelinks is not always the most appropriate one for each ad in a campaign. In addition, AdWords system does not always show the ads with their sitelinks (depending on where the ad is shown on the page with the search results), so an option to have a different main destination URL per ad depending on whether sitelinks are displayed or not seems also a proper and useful addition.

I think these suggestions are quite easy for implementation, which could be achieved in various ways. I do appreciate Google's work to improve AdWords so my intention is not just to criticize the new features but to offer some constructive feedback. I saw missing AdWords features in the past, which I thought would be helpful, had been implemented later. So it seems Google actually use users feedback to improve AdWords and I hope they will reconsider their current plans in regard to enhanced campaigns and come out with another (better) solution.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Beginners (2010): Realistic and Well-Acted but Underwhelming

I often complain about certain movies not being believable or characters' behavior not being adequate and realistic enough. Usually, I dislike them partially or entirely. And now, here Beginners is. It's completely believable. It's acted out quite well. Even the not so common events portrayed in the movie seem absolutely possible. And despite all of these the movie is somehow boring and not fully entertaining. Maybe its total realism makes it less cinema friendly and at the end less involving. Beginners is good on its own yet it failed to absorb me.

Beginners is about Oliver Fields (Ewan McGregor), a young man who after losing his mother is shocked by his father's announcement that he is gay. Father Hal Fields (Christopher Plummer) is also diagnosed with cancer and dies after a few years leaving Oliver sad and confused about love and life. Oliver often thinks about his father's last years and his happy relationship with considerably younger male lover Andy (Goran Visnjic). He also thinks about his early life with his queer mother and her marriage with his father. These thoughts determine his uncertainty in his own relationships with women. One day he meets Anna (Mélanie Laurent), a French actress, which has also unstable former love life. Both of them like each other but love is not enough to keep them together. They have to deal with their fears and find hope and inspiration in order to end up in a successful relationship this time.

The story of Beginners may seem more interesting as I write about it than it actually is while you are watching the film. There are not any substantial twists. You know from the very beginning that the father will die and that he is gay. Whether Anna and Oliver will end up together or not does not really matter. So, the interesting stuff that has to capture your attention should be hidden in the particular scenes. And there are really some interesting moments but as a whole they are not enough to make for a captivating movie. The characters of Andy and the mother (Mary Page Keller) are in a way fascinating but they are not among the ones having the most screen presence.

Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor perform well. And as I've said everything you see in Beginners is feasible although not everyone in real life is gay and it's even rare a 75-year-old man to find an attractive young male lover. Being believable is not enough though and boredom is not an alien to this film. Personally, I do not find the usage of stills from particular years in the movie to be an effective presentation device either. On a positive note, I think to employ a character of an elderly father revealing himself as gay and achieving happiness at the decline of his life is a good idea when seen as an inspiration to his son.

So, Beginners offers a real life story, good acting and some colorful characters. It's hardly a comedy but you can smile a few times. What the movie doesn't offer is real involvement and caring for the characters. I find it underwhelming and remotely entertaining. Watching Beginners once is not a complete waste of time but it is not a fully rewarding experience either.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Farewell to EuroDNS!

Instead of a list of EuroDNS voucher codes valid for year 2013, this time we are going to announce our parting with this European domain name registrar. There are various reasons for our decision and below are a few of them.

In 2012 EuroDNS discontinued their long-lived practice to offer voucher codes valid for renewals in addition to new domain registrations and transfers. EuroDNS' prices rarely have been the best and their main advantage has been the convenience of offering a variety of domain extensions at one place combined with discounted prices due to their frequent coupons valid for renewals. Now, when the discounted prices are gone, EuroDNS' regular pricing hardly can win permanent customers for the majority of the domain extensions they sell. Their pricing model is just not attractive anymore.

Over the years EuroDNS support services have never been great and while this was bearable in conjunction with their previous advantages now it is not really acceptable. The culmination of this charming customer support experience was last year when there were cases when about ten emails were needed in order to receive a decent and not misleading answer from them. It was nothing more than a painful experience.

Finally, they used to offer an affiliate program offering lifetime commissions for orders made by referrals you had sent. They discontinued it too. And this would have been generally Ok if it was valid only for new referrals an affiliate recruited. The problem is they also discontinued the lifetime status of the older referrals, which in essence means they've been dishonest in the first place. True, this does not directly affect customers registering domain names but it demonstrates the way the company is doing business and for us it is not a reliable way.

The above were the main reasons that drove us away from EuroDNS. It takes more than just a few false promises and an incompetent support team to win devoted customers. We do not like to support such companies so we do not recommend this domain registrar anymore.