Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Movie Review: No Country for Old Men

by: Andrew Conway

Miramax Films presents a film written and directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen. It is a critically acclaimed 2007 film adaptation of the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy. The film features Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, and Javier Bardem.

If you like the kind of film that surprises you and takes away your breath at the same time,this is it. It tells the story of a drug deal gone very wrong and the ensuing cat-and-mouse drama as three men crisscross each others paths in the desert landscape of 1980 West Texas. Violence and mayhem ensue after a hunter stumbles upon some dead bodies, a stash of heroin and more than $2 million in cash near the Rio Grande.

The local sheriff, Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), tells of the changing times as the region becomes increasingly violent. The key character of Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) and his weapon of choice — cattle gun — are introduced as he escapes police custody and steals a car by using the cattle gun to kill the car's driver. But at the same time a hunter hunting pronghorn come across a collection of corpses and one Mexican near death which was the result of a drug deal gone bad. The hunter Llewwlyn Moss [Josh Brolin] also finds two million dollars in a suitcase and decides that he will keep the money and leave the Mexican to die, but has a change of heart and returns with some water for the man.

But this good deed sets off a cat and mouse game in which the hunter and the hunted switch roles as a gang of Mexicans,Chigurh,Moss and Bell chase each other and the two million dollars across the Texas and Mexican landscape. But unbeknown to Moss, Chigurh who was hired to retrieve the money has a transponder hidden in it. And Chigurh, who is a professional hit man, will kill anyone who gets in his way.

In the meantime Moss, not knowing anything about the transponder, sends his wife Carla Jean [Kelly MacDonald] out of town and jumps from motel to motel trying to elude not only Chigurh but also the Mexicans. While all of this is happening, Bell main concern is to try and protect Moss after he finds him. Chigurh is closing in on Moss because of the tracking device. 

Chigurh ends up killing some of the Mexicans and a rival hit-man named Carson Wells who is played by Woody Harrelson. Moss arranges a meeting with Carla Jean in El Pasco to give her the money and tries to get her out of danger. All of the action now takes place at the motel when all of the main characters converge there, but not at the same time. Moss is killed by the Mexicans in a bloody shootout. Sheriff Bell shows up and enters a room to discover that the vent covers have been removed and knows that the money had been removed and then leaves, not knowing that Chigurh is hiding in that same motel.

Bell finally gets the opportunity to visit his uncle Ellis [Barry Corbin] and informs him that he is going to retire because he is getting leery of the changing times, but Ellis accuses him of just being vain. Some time later Chiguth confronts the widowed Carla Jean and offers her the same "coin flip"opportunity that he had offered the gas station owner, Carla Jean refuses and in the next scene it shows Chigurh examining the soles of his boots, as if to indicate that he had committed another murder. He ends up in a car accident but he manages to elude the police and escapes again.

At the very end of this story Bell is reflecting on the many choices he had in his life. He tells his wife[Tess Harper] about the two dreams that he has had while heis experiencing an uneasy retirement at home.

Highly praised by critics, the film received several Golden Globe Award nominations. Roger Ebert called it "as good a film as the Coen brothers... have ever made and gave it a four star review and it appeared on many of critics top 10 list of 2007.It took Best Picture at 2008 Critics’ Choice Awards.

*** Andrew Conway is an avid author,writer and a classic movie buff. 

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Learn to Play Guitar ... Fast Way

by Greg Millican

So, you’ve bought a new guitar! If you are like I was, you’ve been going to barbeques for years, having a couple of beers and watching your mates sitting around with their guitars, playing songs you’ve known for years and would love to play! So you finally spent the money and bought a guitar – now what?

You want to learn fast – so you can join in. For this article, I’m going to assume that you’re a beginner who wants basic proficiency.

I’ve done some research on this, as it was where I was, and I found a connection between people who want to “play fast” and those who already play but just want to play "faster". The connection is quite simple, yet very profound.

Through what I found out, I believe there are two parallels:

  1. Study the techniques involved which will make your overall playing faster, and
  2. Re-focus your practice sessions onto the basic concepts that beginners learn, which will allow you to become a faster player.

There is a useful acronym that you can use to help focus your practice and improve your playing: M.O.S.T.

M for Memorization

You can have the world's best "ear", but if you don't memorise:

a) the fretboard notes and
b) the major and minor key chords and scales,

it won't matter how good your ear is. The most frustrating thing about learning a new song is finding that chord or note that you know you've learned but just can't remember! It's funny that song writers don't give you time in the middle of their pieces to find that Aminor chord, or work out if a Db minor chord works in a song in B, and then if it does, where it is on the fretboard!

If you are a beginner - LEARN THE FRETBOARD and memorise it!

If you are more advanced - LEARN THE FRETBOARD and memorise it! You might think you already know it, but can you jump from one note or chord to any other instantly without thinking about it?

O for Observation

Human beings work best when all of the senses work in unison. Try plugging your ears with cotton wool and then trying to play a song. Not very good are you. (People like Ray Charles and Beethoven amaze me).

Your senses of sight, sound and touch all interweave to play guitar. When you play a song really well, you can even taste the applause (just kidding). The more you play, the more your fingers put themselves in the right places, your muscles retain a memory of those positions. You begin to see patterns and relationships on the fretboard. You hear yourself play the correct notes and chords and that gives you confidence, which is essential in fast playing.

Memorization is the foundation for observation, and observation is the key to training your mind and hands to work in concert automatically.

S for strength and T for training

This is not weight training! It is really dexterity training (but MODT isn't a word!). However, being dextrous means you have strength in your fingers in order to play the chords you need to play when you need to play them.

Beginners often struggle to hold down chords and play scales with all four fingers. Consistent and correct practice is the only way to build strength, muscle memory and finger dexterity.

The same problem occurs for intermediate players - the most likely culprit for slow play is a deficiency in strength, dexterity and/or correct technique.

Practise your finger exercise and chord making perfectly - don't settle for "that'll do" or "near enough". You want to train your fingers to go to the correct place in the correct way every time! Sloppy exercises will not help.

In conclusion, the key to learning guitar faster - as well as playing it faster - rests in following the M.O.S.T. formula. It really is all about getting the basics right from the start!

About The Author
Greg Millican

For free advice, lessons and downloads on guitar for beginners and intermediate players.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

CD Maintenance – Keep your CD in good shape

by: Keith McGregor

As we all know CDs & DVDs are prone to scratching, marking, cracking & breaking.

If you leave discs out near your PC or stereo, dust will settle or the data side will get scratched or marked. Now the best ways to prevent this happening are simple. They may sound straight forward but you’ll be surprised how many times CDs & DVDs are not protected properly. Following these simple steps will ensure you can use your CD's and DVD's for dvd copying and cd copying for years to come.

Keep your CDs in there Jewel Cases. If not there are PVC wallets which act as ample protection or Card Wallets. For you DVDs you must keep them in their DVD boxes or, as previously mentioned, PVC Wallets and Card wallets will do.

If your CD or DVD gets scratched, you may think that it’s damaged forever……..Wrong! The scratching on the surface of the disc simply fools the laser and makes it skip. Or, if you’re player has difficulty in loading the data, it’s due the surface being scratched and unable to read the digital data below.

However, do not panic! There are plenty of repair kits around to eliminate this problem and allow you to perfrom that all important cd copying or dvd copying. If you’ve thought you’ve lost a CD forever due to mark or scratch, think again!

These repair kits are a compound mixture of polish, which are specially designed for plastic (which discs are made up of). The mixture interacts with the polymer and allows the polish to get to work on the scratch. This polish will remove the majority of the disc that has been damaged and restore the music/data back to full playability.

Therefore, you revive your discs using these kits. However, I suggest you look after your CD or DVD by putting them back into their Jewel Case, DVD box, PVC Wallet or Card Wallet. Keep them in a dust-free environment or storage case.
Keep your discs playing longer...

When you remove your discs from their CD Jewel Cases or DVD box then you risk the centre-hub cracking or breaking. This will lead to disc failures. Especially for console playing or DVD films. Having looked around for a remedy to this common problem, we have found a solution...

It’s in the form of a metal reinforced centre-hub. It’s easy to attach and will reduce the stress that is normally applied when removing CDs or DVDs from Jewel Cases or DVD Boxes. This will prevent the discs from cracking at the centre. “Hurray!” I hear you say.

About The Author
Keith McGregor is a partner of Strawberrysoup, a web design agency with offices in Chichester and Bournemouth. Strawberrysoup specialise in creative web design, content managed websites, search engine optimisation, search engine marketing and graphic design

How to Step Up Stereo For Your Guitar System

by Matthew Kepnes*

Playing your guitar in stereo gives your music a much larger and 'wider' sound. It makes your sound feel like it is taking up the room and coming from every direction. Pretty much all recorded guitar sounds are produced in stereo to give it a full "presence" in the room and a bigger sound. You can hear this effect when you listen to music on your headphones. Here are a few tips for running your guitar in stereo First,use a stereo amplifier such as a fender Princeton chorus or another digital modeling amp in which line 6 is stereo.
Secondly, use a modern digital guitar processor. Use any modern digital guitar processor. These devices usually have two outputs (left/right). Run the two leads to the two channels of a mixing desk or mixer/amp unit as long as the PA system is running in stereo. It's very important that the PA is in stereo. When you are finished, hard pan each channel to each of the left and right outputs.
Some mixing boards have both stereo channels where you can attach both outputs of your processor into one channel. If you wish to hear your guitar separately from the other instruments, you will still need to "monitor" your sound through some type of amp that is not part of the PA system. Most bands these days choose to run everything into a PA system and have no stage amps at all.
Furthermore, you should use two amplifiers and use an effect processor or any effect, chorus, or delay unit that has two outputs. One output goes to one amp and the other leads to the second amp. You can produce stereo sound using this method without having a PA system.
However, this method takes up a lot of time, requires double rigging, and lots of equipment. It is a lot of work, however, the result is remarkably different from playing through a single mono amplifier. The stereo sound quality is amazing.
Most "intelligent" harmony machines or pitch shifters will only sound good in a stereo configuration when you do complex harmonies. To make sure you are getting the best sound, you need to set up one of these systems.
Do not be under the false impression that running two speaker cabinets out of two outputs of one amp is stereo, this is not stereo. It is just adding another speaker to give extra spread of sound. It does not add any actual power or create a stereo signal.
Stereo ensures your guitar sound better and helps fill the room. It gives the listener more complete music experience and should be used all the time.

* Matt knows a lot about sound and stereo and has been mixing music for over a decade. For more information about stereo and sound, visit his site about used guitars and check out the guitar articles.