Aspiring Writer’s New Year’s Resolutions

December 31, 2010 in Blogging, Novel, On Writing by pacejmiller

(AP / Rob Griffith)

Happy New Year!

Did 2010 really just pass us by?

Oh well.  There’s always 2011!

I guess I did achieve a lot of my resolutions from last year.  I quit my job, started studying writing, did a lot of reading and writing, saw a whole bunch of movies, and I’m a lot fitter than I was at this time last year.  And I achieved the goal of getting published as a writer.  But that novel is still unwritten, and I still haven’t won the lotto (damn that lotto).

Anyway, this year is for real.  My resolutions for 2011:

1. Finish that fantasy novel — starting with writing at least an hour a day for at least five days a week (need to set achieveable goals)

2. Read at least 20 books — starting with reading at least an hour a day for at least five days a week (I read 18 books this year, so 20 shouldn’t be a problem).

3. Finish my writing course — unless I fail, I can’t see how this cannot happen.

4. Break 800,000 hits on this blog — should happen.

Setting my goals real low, aren’t I?  Better ramp it up a bit.

5. Get at least 10 more articles/reviews published in print publications.

6. Get paid for writing (money, not stuff).

7. Win the lotto.

Let’s revisit them in a year and see how I go.

End of Year DVD Blitz: Part III

December 29, 2010 in Movie Reviews by pacejmiller

Part II of my end of year DVD Blitz was downright awful.  Part III is still a bit of a mixed bag, but there are a few decent ones.  Here’s five more, and there will definitely be a Part IV coming soon.

Legion (2010)

I think this film screened at the cinemas but was gone as quickly as it came.

Starring Mr Jennifer Connelly (Paul Bettany), Lucas Black, Dennis Quaid, Tyrese Gibson and Kate Walsh, Legion is a film of two halves.  The first half was actually sensational — intriguing, exciting, bizarre and downright frightening at times, leading me to start thinking this was going to be one of the best biblical apocalopse movies in recent memory.  Weird mutating demonic people, a bunch of characters stuck in the cafe of a service station in the middle of nowhere, and an enigmatic, sinister looking dude who appears to be an angel — Legion really started off with a bang.

And then, about halfway through…everything just fell apart.  One minute I was on the edge of my seat, and the next, I was struggling to stay awake.  Unfortunately, the rest of film stayed that way until the end, failing to provide a final spark that would have redeemed the film.  Oh well.

It probably doesn’t deserve this high of a rating, but on purely on the strength of the first half of the film I’m going to give it:

3 stars out of 5

Chloe (2009)

This film had gotten plenty of publicity, and not just because it was based on the French film Nathalie, directed by Atom Egoyan, and features an all-star cast.  It was because Amanda Seyfried apparent gets her gear off.

While she does, of course, as does Julianne Moore, Chloe is really quite tame as an erotic psychological thriller (most of it is verbal).  But it’s still a pretty interesting, strangely compelling film about a woman (Julianne Moore), her husband (Niam Leeson), their son (Max Thieriot), and a prostitute (Amanda Seyfried).

Moore gives a knockout performance as always, and while the film was rather slow paced, it was atmospheric and well-made.  A great study into relationships and marriages.  A dud of an ending did put a damper on things though.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed it enough to give it:

3.5 stars out of 5

Mao’s Last Dancer (2009)

I had been meaning to watch this one and read the book on which it was based for quite a while, but somehow had done neither.  I finally got the chance to see this inspirational biographical film about Li Cuxin, a guy from a poor rural family in China who was selected to learn ballet and eventually became an international superstar, though it came at the cost of ‘betraying’ the country he was from.

Very amazed that this was an Australian production (even though it features predominantly international stars) because it was quite well made, if not a little heavy handed at times.  The thing that impressed me the most was that they managed to find two Asian actors who not only resembled Li Cuxin, but could also perform ballet, speaking English and Mandarin, and most of all, act.

This was probably one of those feel-good melodramas that I liked more than I should have because I love the true story so much.  And this is coming from a guy who absolutely does not ‘get’ ballet.

Li Cuxin’s youthful naievete, his courage and his resolve were really brought out in this film, which was at times infuriating but ultimately triumphant and inspiring.  This is one film I would recommend to people who want/need a kick to start pursuing their dreams — only, of course, if you are a hardcore Communist, because this film felt like a propaganda (or should I say anti-propoganda) film far too often.

3.75 stars out of 5


Let Me In (2010)

The Swedish original, Let the Right One In, is right up there as one of the best films I saw last year, and one of the best horror films I had seen in a long time (my review here).

And so it was with some trepidation that I approached the obligatory American remake, directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield guy) and starring Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) and Chloe Moretz (Kick Ass).

It’s kind of hard to review a remake when you have seen the original, but I did my best to approach Let Me In as a standalone film and judge it on its own merits.  I’m not sure if I succeeded or not, but nevertheless, I still found it to be a superior horror film — perhaps not as good as the original, but good enough to potentially blow away people who haven’t seen the Swedish version.

Set in New Mexico, the plot closely mirrors the original (of course, though Reeves said this was a remake based on the book, not the Swedish film), though it’s not a shot-for-shot remake as some have claimed that it is close to.  Smit-McPhee is Owen, the bullied boy who finds a friend in the strange and mysterious Abby (Moretz), who is not what she seems.  The two strike up an unlikely friendship/romance that will chance both their lives forever.

The two leads do have good chemisty, and as expected, the Hollywood version is slightly quicker in pace and more explicitly viceral in terms of scares.  It’s a fine horror film in its own right (though not a classic like the original), but I was sorely disappointed that they took out the scariest scene in the Swedish film (the ‘cat’ scene).

4 stars out of 5

30 Days of Night: Dark Days (2010)

I thoroughly enjoyed the first 30 Days of Night, the one with Josh Hartnett and Melissa George, about a bunch of people stuck in an Alaskan town for 30 days without sunshine while vampires roamed the streets.

This straight-to-DVD sequel is a much smaller and less ambitious production, using lesser known actors (Kiele Sanchez, Stephen Huszar) to replace the stars in the same roles.  It continues about a year after the first film ended and follows Stella as she tries to overcome the grief from her husband’s death and somehow ends up in LA, where she finds herself fighting off a whole new network of vampires.

There’s a good reason why this one went straight to DVD — it’s your run of the mill, bloody, gory, uninspiring vampire romp with B-grade actors and lots of guns — but not a whole lot of genuine tension or thrills.  It’s adequate for what it is, but best to keep your expectations in check if you were a fan of the first film.

2 stars out of 5

There’s still more movies — Part IV to come shortly!

Game Review: The Fight (Lights Out) (PS3 Move)

December 28, 2010 in Game Reviews by pacejmiller

Let me just get this out of the way first — The Fight (marketed without Lights Out in the title in Australia) is a good game.  It has been panned by many gaming websites and critics as a horrible game to showcase the capabilities of the PS3 Move, getting some woeful ratings.  While there are undeniably some problems with the game, for hardcore fight gamers, The Fight can be fun, strangely addictive, and an extrordinarily excellent workout.  The game is probably the closest thing to a real fighting simulation out there at the moment.  Those so-called critics who say the game is unresponsive and has poor controls are probably fat slobs who can’t be bothered getting off their lazy butts.

As a fighting fan, I had high expectations for this game.  I had a good time with games on the Nintendo Wii such as Wii Sports Boxing and Victorious Boxers Challenge (Revolution), but the lack of movement control on the Wii made the games frustrating, and once you figured out how to cheat the system, the games became far too easy and didn’t require ‘real’ movements (ie you can flick your wrists as opposed to using fully extended punches).

The PS3 Move is supposed to overcome this problem with ‘perfect’ 1:1 tracking, which not only capture’s hand movements, but also head movement and importantly, depth.  In other words, you actually need to move your body to play the game, punch where the opponent is standing (relative to where you are), and how far you punch depends on how far you extend your arms.

For the  most part, The Fight offers what is promised.  In terms of motion capturing, the PS3 Move blows the Wii out of the water.  Without having tried the XBox360’s Kinect, I can’t really say if the Move is the best on the market, but from what I hear, Kinect’s fighting game offering, Fighters Uncaged, has been rated even worse than The Fight.

Anyway, check out the review after the jump.  I’ll try my best to tackle all the complaints that have been hurled at this game, and discuss whether they are legitimate or not.

(click on ‘more…’ to continue)

Read the rest of this entry →

End of Year DVD Blitz: Part II

December 27, 2010 in Movie Reviews by pacejmiller

Four more movies in this second instalment.  If you want to check out the first one, click here.

Yes, I voluntarily watched SATC2

Sex and the City 2 (2010)

I know, I know.  I must have been really desperate.  I saw the first one and it didn’t strike me as horrible, so I thought maybe this one might have some merit.  After all, it was advertised as a fun movie.

But my goodness, SATC2 was atrocious.  Perhaps not as bad as some people say (ie worst movie of all time), but it was pretty awful.  Basically, this was a self-indulgent 146 minutes of advertising for Abu Dhabi, product placement, and rather insulting jabs at Muslims (and especially Muslim women in the Middle East).

There was a paper thin plot somewhere in there, and I suppose the fans of the show will always be happy to see the foursome on screen together, but SATC2 really should be the last one.  Please, enough is enough.

1.5 stars out of 5

Yeah, I voluntarily watched this too

Charlie St Cloud (2010)

This was a nasty little Zac Efron surprise.  When I first saw the trailer, I thought it looked pretty good.  A supernatural slant on a touching story about life and death.  It may have seemed a little too ‘Nicholas Sparks’, but I loved The Notebook, so why not?

Anyway, despite the terrible reviews, I still decided to watch it.  Perhaps it was the low expectations, but Charlie St Cloud didn’t strike me as one of the worst films of the year.  It’s one of those stories that you can tell would have been pretty good as a book, but when translated to the screen, feels overly melodramatic and frankly, quite ridiculous.  Mind you, I love ghost stories and I don’t mind feel-good, sappy dramas, but Charlie St Cloud stretched my latitude a little too far.

The film has brought comparisons with The Sixth Sense, but that’s not really fair.  To me, it’s a little more Field of Dreams, but nowhere near as good.

While it’s watchable and not entirely uninteresting, Charlie St Cloud is probably only suitable Zac Efron fans.

2.25 stars out of 5

I thought this would be good, but...

Grown Ups (2010)

I was really looking forward to this one, an all-star comedy starring Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider and Kevin James.  But damn, this was one of my biggest disappointments of the year.

The intro was great — a bunch of little kids on a basketball team playing in a big game and spurred on by their enthusiastic coach.  Fast forward 30 years and the coach has passed away, and the funeral serving as a catalyst for the old friends to reunite at some luxurious holiday cabin.

Was I expecting too much?  Admittedly, I have been at least a minor fan of each of these comedians at some point in my life, but Grown Ups was a complete dud.  Why?  It wasn’t funny.  The jokes were repetitve (which is I suppose a trademark of some of these comedians) and surprisingly mean spirited.  I just couldn’t get past how mean they were.  Granted, being mean can be hilarious, but here it only highlighted how obnoxious and unlikable the characters are.

And I don’t get what the deal is with recent Sandler movies always trying to put in some contrived family goodness/poignancy into his comedies these days.  Here, it was a massive failure.  They should have never tried.  It just made the whole thing more uneven.

The only thing that prevented Grown Ups from being an epic disaster was the fact that my main man, Steve Buscemi, had a minor role in it — and as usual, he was brilliant.  Apart from that, this movie sucked.

1.75 stars out of 5 (with half a star for Steve Buscemi)

Nothing to say really...

Killers (2010)

I’m really on a roll here.  Killers is promoted as an action comedy, and while there is decent action in it, there is very little comedy.  Or should I say the attempts at comedy weren’t funny.  Ashton Kutcher is some CIA assassin, and Katherin Heigl is his unsuspecting wife.  Tom Selleck and Catherine O’Hara (the mother from Home Alone) are her parents.

Apart from being completely and outrageously unbelievable (which I could accept if the film took itself less seriously), Killers is extremely bland and formulaic.  Kutcher is okay, but Heigl’s ditzy, flustered routine is really getting old.  She’s very annoying.

I don’t blame it all on the direction of Robert Luketic, because the screenplay really lacks a punch.  I didn’t hate this movie but I can’t think of anything to like about it either.

2 stars out of 5

Wow, I’ve really been watching some shit movies lately.  Can’t believe Charlie St Cloud is the best film of the bunch.  Nevertheless, there’s more to come.  The next set will be better, I promise.

Getting Ripped Off By NBA League Pass!

December 26, 2010 in Basketball, Blogging, NBA by pacejmiller

Update 1 (5 November 2011): It seems League Pass is still ripping people off but in a different way.  This season they have stopped offering monthly passes (unlike in past years) and are only offering season-long passes for either the entire league or just your favourite team, but have continued to allow monthly payments.  Naturally, this would confuse some people into thinking that it is a monthly subscription that can be cancelled at any time, but apparently once you have put in your credit card details they refuse to refund or cancel your subscription no matter what.  Check the latest comments for more details, including the response from League Pass.

Update 2 (21 April 2012): NBA League Pass (NBA TV) is still ripping people off. Badly. Their business model is basically to make it very easy for you to sign up, so easy that it is likely that you’ll miss the crucial terms such as no refunds after the first 48 hours — under no circumstances whatsoever. In other words, if you sign up for a season and you change your mind after 48 hours, too bad. You’re locked in. And if you don’t cancel before the end of that season, it automatically rolls over for another one. But the problem is, they make it virtually impossible for you to figure out how to cancel within 48 hours. The so-called “cancellation clause” in the terms is pointless because the link does not work. It still doesn’t — I just checked. I also checked the support page and lots of people are up in arms over this. I noticed a comment saying that the link doesn’t work, and the reply was that they will be updated “shortly”. Well, that was over a month ago. You are still forced to email them at: [email protected] — however, I have been told that they won’t necessarily respond or won’t respond quickly, so you need to be very forceful and just tell them to cancel it, straight up.

IN SHORT: NBA League Pass automatically renews your membership every time it expires (regardless if it is monthly or yearly) and there is no way to cancel your membership on the website or on your account page (despite what it says in the terms and conditions when you sign up).  The only way to cancel at the time of writing is to send an email to [email protected] (and this email address is nowhere to be found on the website on on your account page).

I just finished watching the LA Lakers getting spanked by the Miami Heat on Christmas Day, courtesy of NBA League Pass.

Don’t get me wrong — I love the League Pass, which allows subscribers to watch every NBA game in HD on their computers for around US$20 a month or US$100 for a season (which doesn’t save much considering the season goes from late October to mid-April) — playoffs cost more.

It uses up a lot of bandwidth, but it’s a dream come true for any NBA fanatic.  If you upgrade to the premium service you can even watch four games at a time and rewind and fast forward at all, and every past game of the season is also catalogued in full or in condensed mode.

However, if you have signed up for it or intend to sign up for it, let me give you a word of warning.  Be very careful, or you’ll get ripped off like I did.

I first signed up to the free trial at the commencement of he 2010-2011 NBA season, and liked it so much that when the free pass expired at the beginning of November I decided to sign up for a month at a discounted rate (around AU$20).  I enjoyed it for a month and forgot about it until the Christmas period, when I decided to give it another go.

To my surprise, my League Pass account was still active, as was my “Monthly” subscription.  It still worked too, which made me realise that the subscription must have automatically rolled over at the end of the month.  Fine, that’s my fault.  I didn’t read the fine print carefully enough when I signed up.  Lots of Internet businesses use the same method (especially under the guise of “free trials” that require your credit card details) to catch less astute consumers off-guard.

Anyway, here is the deal.  When you sign up, at the billing page, you enter your credit card details, etc, and there is a small box containing the ‘Terms of Use’ just before you can click the place the order.

Most people don’t read this stuff.  It’s in a small box, and print is small, and you have to scroll down to read the 5000+ words of terms and conditions.  As I do not live in the States, the terms on my computer were for non-US users.

The relevant provision is this, about a fifth of the way into the terms (I had to dig this up by pretending to be a new subscriber):

Subscriptions and periodic billing: Monthly, Regular Season and Playoffs subscriptions begin when you place your order and will renew automatically at the selected interval (Monthly, Regular Season or Playoffs), until terminated by you as provided in this Agreement.

In other words, if you subscribe, your subscription will be automatically renewed.  I only had to pay an extra month — but it’s the same if you paid for an entire season.  You’ll get automatically billed again if you don’t terminate the subscription.

As it said very clearly a little further down:

ALL SALES ARE FINAL.  We do not give full or partial refunds for subscriptions that you have purchased regardless of the basis for the refund REQUEST.

With a few days left before my monthly subscription automatically renews for a third month, I decided to terminate my subscription.

And here is the problem.  There is no way to do it!

I went into the “My Account” page after logging in and looked around everywhere.  Nothing.  Not a single mention of being able to cancel or terminate the subscription.  Not even in the FAQ, Help or Terms of Use pages (the Terms of Use link was different to what I was presented with when I signed up and did not mention cancellation).  I tried to delete all my Billing Information, but that didn’t work either, not unless I put in another valid credit card.

To add fuel to the fire, there is no email address to contact anyone from NBA League Pass from the “My Account” page or the League Pass front page.  It’s as though they purposely tried to prevent any possible method of cancelling your subscription.

I then pretended I wanted to sign up for a new account and went into the billing page, where I was again presented with the Terms of Use (the one that stipulated the automatic renewal).  These terms do have a termination clause, which states:

YOUR RIGHT TO CANCEL YOUR SUBSCRIPTION

You may elect to cancel your subscription at any time by visiting http://ilp.nba.com/myaccount.  Your election will be deemed to have been received one (1) U.S. business day after you notify Us that you want to cancel your subscription.

Yes, the clause says you may elect to cancel the subscription at any time by visiting the link.  But of course, that link is just to the “My Account” page, which I have already said, contains absolutely no way of cancelling the subscription.  If that is not misleading and deceptive, then I don’t know what is!

Fortunately, I remembered I got an email from NBA League Pass when I first signed up ([email protected]) and I was able to respond to it.  I made it clear that I wanted to cancel and was not happy about my inability to do so.

About seven hours later I got a response that simply said:

Your NBA League Pass subscription has been canceled. Please let us know if you have additional questions.

There you go.  In the meantime, I will continue to use the League Pass until it expires in a few days.

It just amazes me that something like this could happen.  This is the type of tactic you might expect to see from semi-scam sites, but not something as supposedly respectable as the NBA League Pass.  I’m not sure if the problem stems from the fact that I’m a non-US user, but even so, it’s unacceptable.  Not a happy customer.

Has anyone else had a similar problem?