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“No More Late Fees?”-The death of the local video shop

About five years ago at secondary school, a friend who worked at a Video Ezy store predicted the video rental industry will became extinct because of the Internet. Five years later, he was right.

Last year, video rental giant Blockbuster has closed down a thousand branches in the US and the company recently filled for bankruptcy. No doubt the already fading Blockbuster stores will close down in Australia. It’s hard to believe Blockbuster and other video rental chains used to be top business twenty years ago. There’s a strong chance Video Ezy and Devoted DVD are next. It seems everyday we see less and less of video rental outlets. Video shops were common as Fish-N-Chips at the streets and now there are only one hidden at your suburb.

What’s killing the video rental industry is anyone’s guess. Here’s the list:

1) The damn Internet. Everybody are streaming and downloading (either legally or illegally-I choose the later) movies online without leaving the house. Computers has further dominated our entertainment viewing with the introduction of iTunes, YouTube and BigPond Movies.

2) Current generation consoles PlayStation 3 and X-Box 360. Same reasons above. Sony and Microsoft have introduced movie downloading service where people can own or rent downloaded movies without any use of DVD and Blu-Ray discs. All movie files from Sony and Microsoft are in HD.

3) Movie piracy. Has always been a threat to the movie industry in general but with everyone using DVD burners, the threat is here to stay.

4) The new fangled DVD rental vending machines. On paper, they may sound like a joke but they’re real and on the rise. They started to appear in Melbourne and now appearing at Shell petrol stations and supermarkets. Just insert 2 bucks and like a Coke can, you will get a movie out of the hatch.

5) Everyone wants a bargain. Granted the $2 Super Tuesday deal is great, but with vending machines, you rent cheap DVDs anytime you want. Internet you’ll download a pirated copy for free.

6) “Word Of Mouth.” This is probably the most common reason of the demise of video rentals but has not been discussed in the media. Friends and family would burn DVDs to each other or pass them through their USB drives. Why go to the store when you could get a movie off from your cousin, brother, school mate from the playground, etc.

It’s part of the changing times and the evolution of technology. Cassettes were killed by compact discs which are now challenged by MP3 players. Sadly like VHS, video shops are becoming extinct. Unless you’re going to do something about it.

If you can’t stand bad quality downloaded movies or you want to watch a movie that you never heard of, do yourself a favour and support your local video shop! Bring life back to the shelves!

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Categories: Featured articles

Freeview in a nutshell: The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

Freeview

Let’s rewind back to 2003. Quite frankly, 2003 was a terrible year to watch free-to-air television. All the three major networks (Seven, Nine  and Ten) were airing nothing but “reality” TV programing and hundreds of house renovation shows that all looked the same. The early ’00s was a period when scripted drama (both Australia and US) were, believe it or not, close to extinction as everyone seemed to like watching wannabees singing badly at a karaoke contest, couples renovating a block and housemates doing absolutely nothing at a “big brother” house.  Just because everyone are watching reality TV, doesn’t mean they all like it.  The only TV shows that were entertaining back  then were old-school  Doctor Who repeats and CNNN-The Chaser’s Non-Stop News Network on ABC, mostly because they were different from the saturated prime-time trend. Apart from the non-educational offerings of ABC, the only resort for home entertainment are pay TV service FOXTEL and DVD box-sets but they cost tons of money. In retrospects, it’s impossible to tell the networks what you want to watch on TV but we should have given more viewing choices and variety without breaking the bank.

Daleks

It was either Big Brother or this.....

Let’s fast forward to October 2010. It’s the best time to be a TV viewer and a booming period for home entertainment. FOXTEL and DVDs from retailers, like JB HI-FI, are increasingly affordable while the introduction of Blu-Ray and high definition TV makes even the most boring show watchable just for the picture quality alone.  Broadband Internet has turned online videos into a legitimate medium and downloading music became more accessible. Finally, digital TV and Freeview has totally revolutionised living rooms across Australia.

Originated from the UK in 2002 and adapted by Australian networks to compete against FOXTEL, Freeview is a digital TV service that allow viewers to get extra channels in good picture & sound quality depending on your reception. Oh did I mention its for FREE? All of the free channels are spun-off from the the major networks (i.e. ONE Sports HD is part of the TEN network) and in addition to the recently launched 7mate and GEM, there are 24 channels available for your viewing pleasure. Obviously the best thing about Freeview is the wide selection of programs you want to watch on TV and each channel is crafted for a specific audience. Feel like watching repeats of Hogan’s Heores instead of watching the AFL Grand Final rematch? You switch to GO! Want Australian news anytime you want, there’s ABC 24/7 News Channel. For kids and big kids alike, there’s ABC3. Upset that the later seasons of Heroes and Lost were shown at the Gravyard shift on Seven?  You can watch them at a better timeslot on 7mate.

Great to see you again, Fred

As the above headline suggested, Freeview is a major step forward from what we used to have ten years ago. It’s great to see classics like The Flintstones make its surprise primetime return on free-to-air  and more choices for everyone’s viewing needs. Despite its original purpose, its unlikely Freeview could rival FOXTEL as there are popular programs , such as Australia’s Top Model and the WWE franchise, that are pay TV exclusive but they’re close to it.  Freeview shouldn’t be counted as the final nail in the coffin to the already dying video rental industry as DVDs are still popular and its insane to suggest anyone would prefer to watch commercial-interrupted movies over Blu-Ray. However, Freeview is welcomed for opening arms.

The only catch of Freeview is you need to get either a plasma or LCD digital TV set. If you want to keep that old bulky idiot box, there’s always the digital set top boxes. Either way, they’re worth every cent.

TV is finally cool again and 2003 is just a distant memory.

Montana Lives-Scarface: The World Is Yours

CGI Tony Montana


“In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women.”

Those are words to live by, Tony.

Before we begin, let’s look at this timeline:

1983-Epic crime drama Scarface, directed by Brian De Palma and written by Oliver Stone, shocked the world with its disturbing portrayal of the cocaine-driven criminal underworld and the American Dream gone wrong. Acclaimed Godfather star Al Pacino delivered a memorable performance as underdog Tony Montana-a Cuban refugee turned drug lord who would do anything to get his big break…but paid the price in Greek tragedy fashion. Despite mixed critical reactions during its release, Scarface is a cult classic with an ever- growing fanbase and credited for inspiring today’s  hip-hop/rap culture.

2006-After the success of the crime-themed Grand Theft Auto games, Vivendi Universal Games and Radical Entertainment developed Scarface:The World Is Yours for Playstation 2 and X-Box. Players finally take the role of Tony Montana as they climb back on top of the Miami crime ring.

2010-A certain movie fan walked past the gaming section at BIG W Doncaster and bought the Scarface game for only $15.00. A rare bargain worthy enough to give the now obsolete Playstation 2 one last spin.

NOW let’s push it to the limit….

The World Is Yours

Although the game is best remembered as a Grand Theft Auto: Vice City clone (funny enough that most of the underdog/crime ring storylines in the GTA series is inspired by Scarface), Scarface: The World Is Yours is a fun romp.  Usually gamers can’t stand the sight of a movie-licensed game. Since the infamous E.T. game on the Atari 2600, movie tie-in games have a bad reputation of being mere cash-ins and generally not fun to play. Thankfully, Scarface joins Goldeneye N64 and the 2009  Ghostbusters: The Video Game  in the list of licensed games that are worth playing and lives up to the spirit of the movies they were based on.

Unlike your typical film-to-game adaptions, Scarface: The World Is Yours doesn’t retell the movie’s story and just add levels to it. Instead the Scarface game is a sequel to the first film (think of it as  “Scarface 2” or the lost Al Pacino movie that never made it to the big screen) and picks up where the movie left of. Oh, what was that? Tony Montana died at the end of the movie? Yes he did bit the bullet but the game’s storyline (brought to you by the screenwriter of American History X and Blow) answers what would happen if Tony looks behind his shoulder, sees that no-good sunglasses-wearing assassin (Known as “The Skull” in Scarface lore) and blast his bloody head off (literally) during the Mansion Massacre scene. So players have a chance to go back in time and change the first film’s ending (arguably for the better). After surviving the shoot-out, Tony vows to rebuild his million-dollar empire and get revenge on the man who made his life miserable: his former business partner Alejandro Sosa.

Real ending

This is how Scarface should have ended.

As said earlier, Scarface is very influenced by Grand Theft Auto. It has a third-person open world gameplay where players can explore Miami city without restraint and pick the missions they want to play rather than the old linear tradition of beating one level to get to the next one. Like GTA, Tony get to hi-jack cars, take on rival gangsters with a wide range of weapons (including a chainsaw) and confront cops. However, Scarface is more than a GTA clone. In fact, Scarface has few improvements over the original PS2 GTA installments including the ability to save money in the bank so players won’t lose their hard-earned cash after dying or arrested (a recurring and frustrating problem in the GTA franchise) and more options in the  ’80s-themed soundtrack . That’s right you can play Beth Anderson’s Dance Dance Dance during a car chase mission or whenever you want. Since Tony’s a gangster who can buy off anything, players can  bribe the police and rival gangs to reduce heat, leaving Tony a free man.

The game also does a fantastic job of expanding the Scarface universe by recreating memorable locations including the Babylon Club and of course, Tony’s mansion which is worth exploring on its own. To follow up with the storyline’s continuity, the bosses you face are actually minor characters from the first film who have bigger roles in the game ranging from the Diaz brothers to Gasper Gomez.  Sadly the only surviving character who didn’t make an appearance  is Tony’s ex-wife Elvira (Michelle Pfieffer’s character) but she did get mentioned in the game.

Perhaps the most unique feature is the *ahem* Balls Meter where players build up momentum for invincibility by pressing the circle button to make Tony swear and taunt. After the  Ball Meter is filled up, players can unleash Tony’s rage by switching into arcade-style  first-person view and shoot those “cock-a-roaches” without getting hurt.

Chainsaw

Although the graphics are terribly outdated and blocky compared to today’s consoles, Sierra captured Al Pacino’s likeness perfectly. Pacino didn’t reprise his famous role for the game (however he was involved in the game’s production),  his sound-a-like replacement was spot-on and all those profanity-filled catchphrases are all here.

After four years of its release and considered to be one of the last big releases on the last-gen consoles, Scarface has aged well and worth going retro again if you are fan of the Cuban anti-hero.  In 2008, there were plans to make a second Scaface game for PS3 and X-Box 360,  but it unfortunately got canned due to the corporate merger of Sierra and Activision.  It’s ashame really. Scarface is an underated gem that is worthy enough to be  a franchise or get at least one more outing on high-definition TV. Titles like Scarface proves that not only players should give movie-to-games titles a chance but licensed titles can  further legitimise video games as cinematic storytelling mediums. If Hollywood can’t make a sequel to a big budget movie due to the cast being too old, set problems and so on, there’s always video games to keep classic characters alive.

Like the alternate mansion scene, Tony Montana don’t die that easy.

This wouldn’t be a Scarface article without quoting…

“SAY HELLO TO MY FRIEND LITTLE FRIEND!”

Been There Goth That: Repetition of Tim Burton (Part 2)

Tim Burton sure like his dogs dead….

Zero from Nightmare Before Christmas (Left) and Scraps from The Corpse Bride (Right)

And finally, Burton’s movies are the same because of these two….

If there’s any Burton similarties, please send me an e-mail and I’ll post them here. This could be a recurring segment, Burtonites!

-Anthony.

Been There Goth That: The Repetition of Tim Burton (Part 1)

Tim Burton

PUT ON YOUR BLACK AND WHITE SHIRTS ON. IT’S BURTON TIME!

By now everyone who’s not living under a rock should know who Tim Burton is. In the past 30 years, the former Disney animator  turned visionary film director have brought Batman back to his dark roots,  made people cry with Edward Scissorhands and spooked kids out with stop-motion cult classic Nightmare Before Christmas. All of his film provide escapism fantasy, dark yet quirky imagery, adventure, eye-popping special effects and box-office success.

Tim Burton himself is a character of his own. The mop-like hair curls, those big square glasses and beard makes him a bit of an outcast from the usual Hollywood crowd.  Despite his famous status, Burton is seemingly a shy and introverted person especially during TV interviews and DVD commentaries. Not much of a talker but he expressed better visually on film or illustrations. Perhaps what made Burton different from other filmmakers is the fact he considered himself an artist first and a director second.

Recently, Burton immortalised himself by releasing his own film and art exhibition that tours worldwide and currently open to the Melbourne public at Federation Square until October 10 (I’ve been to the exhibition and its a cross between the movie memorbillia you would see from Planet Hollywood and a malevolent art gallery).

Yes, Burton is a household name but ever since his “re-telling” of Alice In Wonderland came out early this year, critics and audiences are getting tired of the vintage “Burton touch.” Although Alice was a huge success (huge in fact that it has made more worldwide money than Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight thanks to the 3D craze) , but it joined a long line of Burton movies that were adaptions, reboots, biopics and stale remakes including the 2001 version of Planet and The Apes and Charlie and The Chocolate Factory . Oddly enough, Mars Attacks was based on 1950s’ bubble-gum cards.  Burton has not made an original idea film since Nightmare Before Christmas. Even The Corpse Bride isn’t a fresh tale as it is based on European folklore.  More importantly, viewers are generally bored of seeing the same dark fantasy themes in Burton’s films during the past five years. It’s unlikely Burton would make a realistic grown-up drama about, let’s say, the Iraq War (however it doesn’t hurt if he tries), but at least well-known directors in the 21st century moved out of their comfort zones and made something different that people enjoyed. He’s famous for E.T., but Steven Spielberg didn’t devote himself in making alien movies throughout his career nor did Robert Zemeckis kept on  making time-machine movies.

What’s really striking is that Burton now recycles ideas from his old movies into his new ones, therefore many people believe his movies look the same. Instead of me typing about it, I’ll show them to you.

poodleanne

Batman Return's The Poodle Lady (Left) and Anne Hathaway from Alice In Wonderland (Right)

I don’t know who played The Poodle Lady, but she sure was Anne Hathaway’s inspiration for The White Queen.

wonkahatter

Willy Wonka (Left) and The Mad Hatter (Right)

Yes , Burton’s buddy Johnny Depp played the two awfully similar characters but at least he did something different when he played Glen from Nightmare On Elm Street.

In speaking of The Mad Hatter, he reminds me of a certain Michael Keaton..and I’m not talking about Bruce Wayne.

Beetlejuice (Left) and Mad Hatter again (Right)

And let us not forget the star of stop motion creepfest Nightmare Before Christmas, Jack Skellington and his twin brother from the lesser known 1997 Tim Burton/Roald Dhal adaption, James and The Giant Peach.

two jacks

Jack Skellington (Left) and Captain Jack Skellington (Right)

There’s more to come….

The Day The Comedy Died…Again

Vampires Suck

To this day, I wish the Wayans Bros never made Scary Movie ten years ago. Not only we would have saved Wes Craven’s Scream franchise from mockery and prevented the redundant sequels, we wouldn’t have  Jason Friedberg and Adam Seltzer directing “Movie” movies. Who’s those two you asked? Friedberg and Seltzer are two former Scary Movie writers (They happened to be *in trailer announcer’s voice* “The Guys Who Brought You Scary Movie” on the posters) who somehow convinced Hollywood to let them make a bunch of spoof movies in the past five years. They directed Date Movie, Meet The Spartans, Epic Movie and Disaster Movie. Now they’re at it again with Vampires Sucks which happens to parody, you guessed it, the Twilight franchise (Noticed I said “Franchise” instead of “Saga”. Teen angst vampires sure know how to sell out). Like a zombie  popping out of its grave, it ain’t pretty.

I admit I never seen any of the Friedberg/Seltzer movies, but I doubt there’s anyone here who’s going to argue against me. Just seeing one of their trailers or TV commercials is enough for me and everyone else in the planet. The previews alone tell what the audience expects  and obviously none of the parody movies care about the importance of storytelling and character development. Don’t expect them to add anything new. My main problem with these parody movies is  rather than just spoofing a popular movie or genre (like Scary Movie or the only good reality-bending cop spoof flick The Naked Gun), Friedberg and Seltzer would mock contemporary pop culture and tease the latest overexposed celebrity from the TMZ headlines. All those Michael Jackson jokes from the Scary Movie franchise were already outdated and I think nowadays everybody is tired of hearing about Tiger Woods or Lindsey Lohan by now.

This is probably the first review I have written where I didn’t watch the movie in discussion at all.   Critic Leigh Paatsch best sums the Friedberg/Seltzer artworks as “reading Twitter when you are drunk.”

I’m not a Twilight fan but whatever happened to the Bela Lugosi-espue, stereotypical “guy in cape” Dracula? Is he a negative stereotype of vampires today or he’s still doing the Monster Mash with The Mummy and The Wolfman ?

Bela Lugosi

Old-School Dracula

At least that Dracula didn’t star in a spoof movie.

But yet again…..

Dracula dead And loving It

Maybe the next Twilight movie should be directed by Mel Brooks.