Monday, March 30, 2015

The Boy from the Crowd

Music is a very personal thing for me. In many ways, it helps define who I am. So when I get asked to say what I think about a song or an album, I take it seriously. I'm also petrified that I will hate the sound, because I am an honest person and wouldn't want to crush anyone's dream. A couple of days ago, I was approached by Vinny from The Boy from the Crowd, offering me a download of Revelator.

Here's what I am talking about:

If it had sucked, I probably would have politely said that it wasn't my kind of thing. After all, I can't possibly give an opinion if I hate the genre. But this song is actually pretty good.

It's not punk, or pop, but the spiky guitar and high energy borrows from both of those genres. But what bands sound similar to this? Well, the vocals at times seem like a more forceful version of Pete Shelley, so I definitely thought of post-Devoto Buzzcocks. I also thought of Jet's Are You Gonna Be My Girl.

The two have a pretty full sound for a duo. Don't get me wrong, this is not the White Stripes (I thought of them immediately on hearing the word revelator). That said, the guitar does some interesting things, and everything sounds tight.

As a fan of Kristin Hersh, I'm fascinated by the success of CASH music and the way that social media can be such an important tool. I'm happy to help an aspiring band get heard by a few more people. There's definitely a market for this kind of sound. The uplifting delivery could even make it a hit on sports shows, the way Blur's Song 2 did.

If you have three minutes to spare, click the video above and see what you think.

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Sunday, March 8, 2015

Modest Mouse - Strangers to Ourselves (First Impressions)

Modest Mouse - Strangers to Ourselves
Tracks 15, Duration 57 minutes

1. Strangers to Ourselves
2. Lampshades On Fire
3. Shit in Your Cut
4. Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL. 1996)
5. Ansel
6. The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box
7. Coyotes
8. Pups to Dust
9. Sugar Boats
10. Wicked Campaign
11. Be Brave
12. God is an Indian and You're an Asshole
13. The Tortoise and the Tourist
14. The Best Room
15. Of Course We Know

I love music. Really love it. Some of the best moments of my life have taken place at concerts. I grew up liking glam rock, before graduating to artists with more depth. My favorite bands have changed over the years, although many of my absolute favorites have been in my collection for as long as 40 years.

David Bowie was my favorite artist from 1974 to 1978, before Pink Floyd took over. Then I discovered alternative music and The Fall took over the top spot in 1980. I've seen them live more than 30 times. Their 14-year reign was finally broken when I discovered Throwing Muses (years after I should have). The first five Pixies albums eventually captured my attention and they usurped the Muses, before Sonic Youth rose to the top in 2000. Modest Mouse graduated from a place in the middle of my Top 10 to my favorite band in the summer of 2014. I played their albums to death for about three months in preparation for Toronto's August 1 concert and I'm having trouble playing anything else at the moment.

I didn't discover Modest Mouse until around 2005, when I moved to North America. Although I was able to anticipate the release of We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank, this is the first time I have looked forward to a Modest Mouse album while they were my Number 1 band. I've been listening to whatever live versions of the songs I could, as well as the few official tracks which were made available early. Now I actually have my hands on all 15 tracks and I feel compelled to share my thoughts.

Bear in mind though that I think it's impossible to fully appreciate any album on one or two listens. Until you know a song well enough to know what's coming from beginning to end, any initial impression is something that can easily and will most likely change.

That said, what do I think of Strangers to Ourselves?

The title track was completely new to me as of this morning. It eases in slowly, with Brock's vocals thoughtful and subdued. It's a reflective song which introduces us to the album. Unlike Brock's more abrasive vocals, Strangers to Ourselves isn't a song that a non-fan might hate. More than anything, it leaves me anticipating the inevitable explosion of energy that is surely present on the album as a whole.

Lampshades On Fire has been on my playlist since it surfaced late last year. I love the rhythm and the way that the seemingly chaotic structure seems to flow together. It's actually quite catchy! I could imagine casual listeners wanting to hear more from the band after being exposed to it.

"We'll kill you off and then make a clone
Yeah, we got spines, yeah, we have bones
This is how it's always gone
And this is how it's going to go"

Shit in Your Cut contains a lot of heavy bass. I'm extremely familiar with the song after seeing it performed at Echo Beach at the concert and hearing various live versions on YouTube. Brock's vocals are measured, but forceful. Unlike the live renditions, the album version reveals more layers of sound. The drums in particular are more prominent, and the swirling guitar fits perfectly. The backing vocals work well, and are less jarring than on songs like Florida from the last album. I could imagine this song becoming a favorite of mine.

"I guess we'll ride this winter out"

I'm really loving the extra depth on the studio versions so far.

Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL. 1996) begins with a disco drum intro (gulp) and it makes me think of Blondie's Tide is High. But Brock's vocals are more of a growl on this track and it carries plenty of weight. That said, this is easily the weakest track so far.

Ansel begins with Brock saying "Here we go" and it feels like the beginning of a musical journey. That matches the theme of the song, which is about a trip to New Mexico during which a brother is lost. I hope it wasn't a real event. The structure feels like vintage Modest Mouse.

Edit: Thanks to @ravenval for doing my research for me via
The song is inspired by the death of Isaac Brock’s brother, who died in an accident on a mountain in the early 2000s. While Isaac’s brother was not actually named Ansel, the track still marks a rare, personal moment from the songwriter, who typically obscures his feelings with copious amounts of metaphor.

"The last time that you ever see another soul
No, you never get to know
No, you don't know"

The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box is a sprawling jumble of layers with a funky beat reminiscent of Talking Heads. The songs are more polished than on early Modest Mouse albums, but Brock's vocals still have that unmistakable feel. I can see how fans might be divided by this album if they are hoping for another Lonesome Crowded West. Make no mistake, this is a BIG sound. The track is dense with all kinds of percussion, but it holds together well.

"Our predecessor left this box
and something's crawling around
I think it really wants out"

Coyotes is raw and beautiful, with Brock in reflective mode again. The song features layers of backing vocals and stark acoustic guitar. There's a lot to like about this structure, but it isn't typical Modest Mouse. I must have heard it a hundred times over the past few weeks and it's still growing on me.

Pups to Dust begins like a trail song, but then emerges as the Modest Mouse sound that we know and love. More backing vocals on this one. There's a lot going on, so it's hard to take in everything on just a couple of listens. It's a pretty slow song, and quite accessible for the casual listener.

Sugar Boats has been available on YouTube as a live song for a long time, but none of those versions sound like this one. There's more depth, keyboards, and Brock's vocals are much clearer in the mix. I've noticed that a few songs on the album have a carnival quality to them, but with guitars rather than a fairground organ. The driving guitar is hypnotic and it's a strong track.

Wicked Campaign is a synthesizer-laden track which ebbs and flows. It ranges from tribal drums to stark vocals. It sounds...strange.  The more I listen, the more I get a feel for the structure. The last minute is blatant Modest Mouse with Brock in full flow. Yeah, I like it.

Be Brave has been around a while as a live track. Brock spits out the lyrics and it sounds better on the album than any version I have heard before. The fairground quality is there again, but the vocals are forceful and dominate the song. There's so much depth here. It's definitely one of the highlights from the album. It's amazing how the staccato vocals can still flow so well.

God is an Indian and You're an Asshole is the shortest song on the album at just over a minute. It wouldn't work well on its own, but it serves well as a link between the other songs, repeating a single idea.

The Tortoise and the Tourist starts off with discordant guitar, before bursting into action when the full band kicks in. It's a towering wall of sound, with Brock's vocals at their shouty best. I'm probably going to love this track after a few more listens.

The Best Room is probably my favorite song from those released early, and I have played it dozens of times. It has multiple phases, ranging from driving vocals to a more laid back sound. There's a great sequence in the middle with Brock's unaccompanied vocals. The abrupt ending always leaves me wanting more.

We all signed the card:
"Get well, but don't you try too hard"

Of Course We Know ends the album as it began, with a multilayered and epic sound. The keyboards and backing vocals don't sound like you would expect Modest Mouse to sound, but Brock's scratchy vocal removes any doubt.

So where does the new album rank when compared to other releases from my favorite band? Well, it's somewhere in the middle. My top three are The Lonesome Crowded West, The Moon & Antarctica, and This is a Long Drive. I would put Strangers to Ourselves in the same tier as Good News for People Who Love Bad News and We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. As my disclaimer mentioned, that could change drastically when the songs are more familiar to me. I'm encouraged by my first impression.

Overall rating: 3.5/5 for Modest Mouse albums, 5/5 when compared to other bands.

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Birdman: Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance

Birdman: Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2014)
Comedy, Drama, 119 minutes
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Zach Galifianakis 

Birdman won four Oscars from its nine nominations; best picture, director, original screenplay and cinematography. It also more than doubled its budget at the box office, so it's fair to say that Birdman was a success. That said, I don't think it will have massive appeal.

Why do I say that?

The film does not follow a conventional structure. I would imagine that most people will sit down to watch Birdman expecting to laugh every couple of minutes; after all, it is described as both a comedy and a drama, and Michael Keaton and Zach Galifianakis are involved. What we actually get is something quite unexpected. It feels like we are part of a play.

Iñárritu caught my attention with the way that he weaved together four threads in the excellent Babel, and used a similar structure in 21 Grams. Birdman is nothing like either of those films. Instead, it's shot like a documentary. He uses extreme closeups and we experience just about everything from the perspective of Riggan Thompson (Keaton). He plays an actor who was once famous for playing a superhero. That seems fitting considering Keaton's turn as Batman. Iñárritu is aware that superhero movies are popular, and that most people crave action and special effects over true art. Riggan expands on that idea by pouring everything he has (physically, mentally and financially) into a broadway play that writes, directs and stars in.

Emma Stone plays Riggan's daughter, Sam. She's a bit of a problem child, and that seems to fit Riggan's lifestyle, which is anything but trouble-free. The other actors in the play are Mike (Edward Norton) and Lesley (Naomi Watts), and they provide plenty of conflict both on and off the stage. To add to the overall feel that we are part of a play, Iñárritu uses a series of long takes. The result is almost a superior version of reality TV.

I often use the word 'interesting' as a throwaway word, but Birdman is genuinely interesting. It held my attention throughout and I wanted to know what would happen next. Keaton and Norton deserved their nominations, but there were definitely better performances in 2014. I like Keaton, and am glad that he got so much recognition, but in all honesty, I don't understand why Birdman won best picture. I enjoyed it, and I'll revisit it from time to time, but in my opinion it's not even Iñárritu's best film.

Overall score 3.75/5

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Sunday, March 1, 2015


Whiplash (2014)
Drama, Music, 107 minutes
Directed by Damien Chazelle
Starring Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons and Paul Reiser

I've never been a fan of jazz, so why would I want to watch Whiplash? The movie deals with a young man's passion for drumming and his ambition is to be the next Buddy Rich. To answer my own question, I wanted to see J.K. Simmons in his Oscar-winning role.

I've been a fan of Simmons since I saw his humorous cameo in Burn After Reading. He has the ability to make us forget that he's acting. Do you remember him as Juno's father, or as a fired worker in Up in the Air? I once decided that if I ever became an established writer of screenplays, I would write something that featured Simmons so that he could showcase all of his talent. Damien Chazelle has beaten me to it.

It's common to idolize people in our lives, whether it's in the sporting world, music, or whatever your individual interests happen to be. But Peyton Manning didn't just become great; he dedicated himself to the game and worked to connect with his teammates. While Jimi Hendrix had perhaps the most instinctive musical talent, he probably worked like crazy to develop his ability.

Whiplash is essentially about the struggle for greatness.

Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) doesn't seem to care about making friends or maintaining social relationships of any kind. He believes that they are merely distractions which take him away from time he could spend perfecting his drum playing. We see Neiman at Shaffer, which has the reputation of being the best music school in the US.

Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) teaches at Shaffer, and seems to spend most of his time terrorizing his students. His style is reminiscent of a Sergeant Major, making most students afraid of him and unable to look him in the eye. But it would be a mistake to pigeon hole Fletcher because his character is multifaceted and impossible to consistently predict. One minute he's shouting into someone's face, and then he'll shed a tear or say something surprisingly encouraging. His motivation is to discover the next great jazz musician, but his methods are unorthodox and extreme.

As the story unfolds, we watch Neiman try to impress Fletcher. His drumming is just a small part of the equation; Fletcher wants to see Neiman stand up to him and overcome adversity, believing that such qualities are a vital part of the mix in any truly great musician.

I won't give away any more of the story, but I should say that Neiman's journey isn't the smoothest. We are left guessing right up until the final scene (and perhaps beyond) about Fletcher's true motivations and whether Neiman will succeed. I would have to say that it's one of the best movie-endings I have ever witnessed.

I watched Whiplash for the first time just 20 hours ago with two friends who had no interest in the subject matter. We all loved the story. I'm struggling to stop myself from seeing it again tonight. Be prepared for a lot of foul language and an intense experience. It's a unique movie with excellent performances. I hope that you give it a chance.

Overall score 5/5

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything (2014)
Biography, Drama, Romance, 123 minutes
Directed by James Marsh
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones and David Thewlis

Good films can hold my attention even when I have very little interest in the subject matter. I'm sure that most people have heard of Stephen Hawking, but I doubt that many of us think too deeply about what he has achieved. His synthesized voice appeared on Pink Floyd's Division Bell and he featured on an episode of Star Trek Next Generation, but what is he like as a person?

The Theory of Everything answers that question and provides insight about how life would be if we lost the power to walk and talk without mechanical assistance.

You might imagine that Hawking's story is dry and boring. After all, he's a scientist, and they just think about mathematics, don't they? I am happy to say that this film deserves its five Oscar nominations and is anything but boring. At its very heart, The Theory of Everything is a romance, but this is a moving story with moments of comedy. By the end of the film, you will be inspired and uplifted, if you care about any other human beings at all.

At the beginning of the film, Hawking (Redmayne) is young and socially awkward. He meets Jane (Jones) at a party and gets her phone number. He's obviously intelligent, but it's his charm that impresses Jane. Redmayne's performance shows Hawking as a likeable and humorous man. When we learn of his disease, we feel something. However, Jane is not deterred by his gloomy prognosis. The two decide to marry and make the most of whatever time they can have together.

Time is another important theme in the story. As Hawking impresses his Cambridge University professor (Thewlis) with his theories about time and the universe, I couldn't help contemplating my own existence. The film made me realize that everyone has a chance to contribute something to the world. In some ways I feel ashamed that I have wasted much of my own life with trivial matters.

I won't reveal any more of the story, but I want to emphasize how good the film is. It made me think of The King's Speech and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and that's a huge compliment. Jones and Redmayne have good chemistry and their relationship seems real.

If you are worried that the subject matter may be too depressing, I think it's safe to say that the overall feel is uplifting. Yes, you will see some of Hawking's struggles, but you'll also understand the immensity of his achievements.

Where there is life, there is hope.

Hawking reportedly approves of the film and commented that Redmayne's performance was so good that he felt he was seeing himself on the screen. I have to agree that it is an excellent performance.

Too many movies cater to audiences that demand instant gratification and thrills. The Theory of Everything will make you think and feel something. Ultimately, you will remember the story and take something from it if you are the type of person who likes to think beyond the immediate moment.

Overall score 4.5/5

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Friday, December 26, 2014

2014 Blu-ray Bin Boxing Week Sale

There's a great Boxing Week sale over at Blu-ray Bin. Prices start at $2.99 and many of the items are brand new. Use code freeshipdec2014 on most items, or get free North American shipping on anything when you spend at least $25.

Here's an edited list:

007 - James Bond - Casino Royale 2.99
007 - James Bond - Die Another Day 2.99
007 - James Bond - For Your Eyes Only 2.99
007 - James Bond - From Russia with Love 2.99
007 - James Bond - Goldfinger 2.99
007 - James Bond - Live and Let Die 2.99
007 - James Bond - Moonraker 2.99
007 - James Bond - The Man with the Golden Gun 2.99
007 - James Bond - The World is Not Enough 2.99
007 - James Bond - Thunderball 2.99
30 Nights of Paranormal Activity with the Devil Inside 2.99 2.99
Amateurs, The 2.99
Armored 2.99
Better Living Through Chemistry 2.99
Days of Thunder 2.99
Devil's Island 2.99
Dilemma, The 2.99
Dreamgirls 2.99
Extract 2.99
Frankie Go Boom 2.99
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay 2.99
Hesher 2.99
Jackass 3 2.99
JCVD 2.99
Killers 2.99
Kingdom of Heaven 2.99
Love Happens 2.99
Machete 2.99
Marine, The 2.99
Paperboy, The 2.99
Phantom Punch 2.99
Point of No Return 2.99
Poseidon 2.99
Resident Evil: Degeneration 2.99
Resurrecting the Champ 2.99
Sacrifice 2.99
Sanctum 2.99
Scream 2 2.99
Scream 4 2.99
Season of the Witch 2.99
Siege, The 2.99
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 2.99
Something Borrowed 2.99
Splice 2.99
State of Play 2.99
State of Play 2.99
Street Kings 2.99
Three Musketeers, The 2.99
Tie That Binds, The 2.99
Traitor  2.99
V.I. Warshawski 2.99
Vantage Point 2.99
Venom 2.99
21 3.99
300 3.99
360 3.99
Adventureland 3.99
Albert Nobbs 3.99
An American Werewolf in London 3.99
Antiviral 3.99
Breed, The 3.99
Dead in Tombstone 3.99
Dead Space: Downfall 3.99
Death Race 3: Inferno 3.99
Delivery Man 3.99
Don McKay 3.99
Enemy of the State 3.99
Green Hornet, The 3.99
Green Lantern 3.99
Halloween    3.99
Halloween (1978) 3.99
Halloween Triple Feature 3.99
Henry's Crime 3.99
Hero 3.99
Igor 3.99
Labor Pains 3.99
Lakeview Terrace 3.99
Lincoln Lawyer, The 3.99
Live Free or Die Hard 3.99
Michael Clayton 3.99
Mirror Mirror 3.99
Mr. & Mrs. Smith 3.99
My Sister's Keeper 3.99
Nanny McPhee Returns 3.99
Office Space 3.99
One Day 3.99
Pan's Labyrinth 3.99
Predators 3.99
Red and White 3.99
Scorpion King, The 3.99
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World 3.99
Super 8 3.99
Surveillance 3.99
Sympathy for Delicious 3.99
Takedown - The DNA of GSP 3.99
Training Day 3.99
Transsiberian 3.99
Underworld - Rise of the Lycans 3.99
Underworld: Evolution 3.99
Ward, The 3.99
Water for Elephants 3.99
We Bought a Zoo 3.99
What to Expect When You're Expecting 3.99
Windtalkers 3.99
XXX 3.99
Zookeeper 3.99
Aliens 4.99
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked 4.99
Anchorman 2 4.99
Attila 4.99
Battle of the Warriors 4.99
Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome 4.99
Beautiful Planet - England/The Low Countries 4.99
Best of Europe: France 4.99
Best of Europe: Italy 4.99
Cirque Du Soleil - Worlds Away 3D 4.99
Conan the Barbarian  4.99
Conan the Destroyer 4.99
Drive Angry 4.99
Earth from Above - Preservation of Water and Forests 4.99
Earth from Above: Amazing Lands - Deserts - Forests - Mountains 4.99
Earth from Above: Life - Animals - Plants - Biodiversity 4.99
Fifth Estate, The 4.99
Ghostbusters (4k) 4.99
Godfather Part III 4.99
Great Gatsby, The 3D 4.99
Green Paradise - The Americas - Pure Nature 4.99
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 4.99
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 3D 4.99
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 4.99
Haunted House, A 4.99
HD Moods - Aquarium 4.99
HD Moods - Blue Ocean 4.99
HD Moods - Enviroscapes 4.99
HD Moods - Hawaii 4.99
HD Moods - Mountains 4.99
Heat 4.99
Hobbit, The: An Unexpected Journey 4.99
Icy Killers 4.99
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom 4.99
Jackie Brown 4.99
Limitless 4.99
Line, The 4.99
Lion of Judah 3D 4.99
Little Rascals Save the Day 4.99
Lost Worlds - Life in the Balance 4.99
Love Actually 4.99
Man on Fire  4.99
Man with the Iron Fists, The 4.99
Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, The 4.99
Muppet Treasure Island/The Great Muppet Caper 4.99
My Week with Marilyn 4.99
Nature: Antarctica 4.99
Nights in Rodanthe 4.99
Nowhere Boy 4.99
Ocean Predators 3D 4.99
Pawn 4.99
Picture Perfect HD - Arkansas 4.99
Picture Perfect HD - Hawaii 4.99
Pride & Prejudice 4.99
Rio 4.99
Soaring Over America 4.99
Soaring Visions - Over Alaska in High Definition 4.99
Soaring Visions - Over America in High Definition 4.99
Son of No One, The 4.99
Terminator 3 4.99
The Princess Diaries/The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement 4.99
This is 40 4.99
This Means War 4.99
Three Kings 4.99
Trouble with the Curve 4.99
Weeds Season 1 4.99
Weeds Season 2 4.99
Words, The 4.99
2 Guns 6.99
Admission  6.99
Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad 6.99
Amazing Spider-Man, The (4k) 6.99
Angels and Demons (4k) 6.99
Birds, The 6.99
Braveheart (Steelbook) 6.99
Cape Fear (1961) 6.99
Cape Fear (2011) 6.99
Cars 2 6.99
Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader 6.99
Chuck Season 1 6.99
Cirque Du Soleil - Journey of Man 3D 6.99
Clash of the Titans (Steelbook) 6.99
Curse of the Dragon Slayer 6.99
Dark Knight, The (Steelbook) 6.99
Despicable Me 2 3D 6.99
Doctor Who - Series Seven - Part One 6.99
Fighting Man, A 6.99
Fright Night 3D 6.99
General Education 6.99
Hangover Part II (Steelbook) 6.99
Hangover, The/Old School 6.99
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Iron book) 6.99
Hitchcock 6.99
Hobbit, The: An Unexpected Journey (Extended) 6.99
Immortals 3D 6.99
Karate Kid (2010) (4k) 6.99
Lego Movie, The 6.99
Mercenaries 6.99
Monsters Inc. 3D 6.99
Pineapple Express (4k) 6.99
Rescue 3D 6.99
Rise of the Planet of the Apes 6.99
Scorned 6.99
Seeking Justice 6.99
Small Time 6.99
Snake & Mongoose 6.99
Town, The (Steelbook) 6.99
Transformers 4: Age of Extinction 6.99
Warrior's Way, The 6.99
Winnie 6.99
World War Z 3D 6.99
Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad Fun and Fancy Free 9.99
Angriest Man in Brooklyn, The 9.99
Battlestar Galactica Season 1 9.99
BBC Earth - Life - Oprah Winfrey  9.99
Behind Enemy Lines: Seal Team 8 9.99
Breaking Bad - The Complete Third Season 9.99
Cats & Dogs 2: The Revenge of Kitty Galore 3D 9.99
Dredd 3D 9.99
Face of Love, The 9.99
Fringe Season 1 9.99
Fringe Season 2 9.99
Frontera 9.99
Girls - The Complete Second Season 9.99
Goodbye World 9.99
Green Planet 9.99
Heatstroke 9.99
Hobbit 2: The Desolation of Smaug 3D 9.99
Hobbit, The: An Unexpected Journey 3D 9.99
In the Name of the King 3 9.99
Jack the Giant Slayer 3D 9.99
Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D 9.99
Jumper 3D 9.99
Last Passenger 9.99
Legend of Hercules 3D 9.99
Man of Steel 3D 9.99
Picture Perfect HD - Caribbean 9.99
Prometheus 3D 9.99
Rampage: Capital Punishment 9.99
Road to Paloma 9.99
Sanctuary Season 3 9.99
Sanctuary Season 2 9.99
Slasher - 4 Movie Collection 9.99
Sleeping Beauty 9.99
Smallville Season 9 9.99
Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World 9.99
Stan lee's Mighty 7 9.99
Star Trek 2: Into Darkness 3D 9.99
Tapped Out  9.99
Tekken 2 9.99
Titanic 3D 9.99
Toy Story 2 3D 9.99
Toy Story 3D 9.99
Turtle's Tale 2, A: Sammy's Escape from Paradise 3D 9.99
Ultimate Wave Tahiti 3D, The 9.99
Words and Pictures 9.99
Workaholics Season 3 9.99
Yogi Bear 3D 9.99
Deliver Us From Evil 12.99
Grey's Anatomy Season Four 12.99
Justified Season 1 12.99
Dragonfly Squadron 3D 14.99
Frankenweenie 3D 14.99
Hotel Transylvania 3D 14.99
Rampart (UK Steelbook) 14.99
Saw 3D: The Final Chapter 14.99
Wizard of Oz 3D 14.99
Breathless (Criterion) 19.99
Uninvited, The (Criterion) 19.99

Saturday, December 6, 2014

My first brand new car

I've been driving cars for 34 years, but before today I had never owned one that was brand new. The nearest I ever came to owning a new car was in the early 80s when I bought a 3-year-old Ford Capri to replace the Ford Escort my grandfather had given me (affectionately known as the banana due to the hideous yellow color).

Growing up in England conditioned me to believing that new cars were a terrible waste of money. That was partly due to the cost of living and also because of the reliability factor. Moving to Canada has meant that prices are much more reasonable, and technology has improved vastly over the past three decades.

When I arrived in Canada in 2005 with a quarter of a million dollars in my account, my ingrained instincts about cars never left me. I paid $3,750 for a 1999 Ford Taurus and have driven it over the past 10 years. As you can see, I have been loyal to Ford up until now. My last English car was a Ford Mondeo.

Something in the back of my mind prompted me to consider a new car, and I have been researching the possibilities for about a month. I'm not sure whether I was ready to ditch the Taurus, or drive it into the ground, but recent events made my decision for me. Last Wednesday, it overheated on the way home. I hoped that I had just been careless and had allowed the coolant level to drop, but it was more serious than that. I checked with my local garage and they informed me that a couple of steel hoses would have to be replaced. With the labor costs factored in, I was looking at a $400 repair bill.

I was lucky enough to get a ride to and from work the following day from two friends that I work with, but I knew the time had come to do something drastic. If you have ever been without a car for even a day, you'll probably understand how the loss affects your independence. Even simple tasks such as shopping become more annoying because you have to get your purchases home. The price of my weekly pizza would rise $6 because I wouldn't be able to make the 2-minute drive to pick it up.

After explaining the situation to my bosses at work, it was agreed that I could take Friday as an unplanned vacation day to test drive cars.

I mentioned that I had been researching for a while, so I already had my choices down to a Volkswagen Jetta, Toyota Corolla, or a Honda Civic. However, the mechanic who gave me the bad news about my Taurus made me consider another option. He has always been loyal to Honda, but after working on all kinds of cars over the years, his family will be buying a Hyundai the next time they change vehicles. The reason being that he believes they are built just as well as the more popular cars such as Honda and Toyota, but at a much more reasonable price. I added Hyundai to my final shortlist. Thursday night's research looked promising, so I called my local Hyundai dealer in Whitby.

The phone was answered by Phil McLean and I explained that I would like to test drive the Accent and Elantra as soon as possible. The hope was that it could be arranged for the following day in order to take full advantage of my day off, beat the weekend rush, and perhaps get a new car by the middle of the following week if I liked either of my choices. I was expecting to take two buses to the dealership, but Phil arranged to collect me from home at 9:30 the following morning and bring me home after the test drives. I was certainly not expecting anything like that.

So I met Phil Friday morning and he talked to me about what I was looking for. The Accent was ready and waiting and he told me to take my time and drive around as long as I wanted. Apart from the necessity of replacing my Taurus, the reason I had already been looking at options might sound rather childish; the Taurus was equipped with a cassette deck. While that might have been relevant 15 years ago, it had become extremely inconvenient in recent years. Try buying your favorite music on tape these days and see how far you get. I own all of my favorite music on CD and have about 1,500, so I bought a cheap boom box to record my favorites onto tape so that I had a better choice while driving.

You should understand that music is a massive passion of mine. If you have read any of the concert reviews or my Modest Mouse series on this site, you might begin to understand that this is an important thing to me. The lure of being able to plug in a USB and have access to 200 of my favorite albums was particularly strong. It was part of my decision-making process during the search. Ideally, I wanted the ability to play music from a USB as a standard feature. I told you my reasoning might sound childish.

The Accent was better than I had hoped for. After selecting Modest Mouse's The Lonesome Crowded West from the USB stick I bought with me, I began the test drive. After driving 10 yards I learned that the brakes on a new car were significantly more efficient than those on my Taurus. It took me a while to adjust, but the car was already starting to feel familiar by the time I got onto the highway. The acceleration was effortless and I noticed how quiet the car was compared the one I had driven for 10 years. Within a few minutes, I knew that there was no point in driving the Elantra. The 138-horsepower Accent had everything I needed and quite a few things I didn't need. I'm one of the few people on the planet without a cell phone, so the Bluetooth technology won't be fully utilized unless I decide to get one.

During the drive to the dealership, I was open to the idea of buying a manual car without air conditioning, if it would save me $4,000-$5,000. By the time I drove the Accent GL, I knew that I wanted automatic transmission and air conditioning. If I was going to make the unlikely decision to spend a fortune on a new car, I didn't want to regret not having certain features a few months from now. So the only thing left to do was negotiate the price and see how good my credit was.

One great thing about Hyundai is the financing terms. On a 2014 Accent, you can finance over 84 months at 0%. On the 2015 version, the 0% offer drops to 72 months, but that's excellent when compared to competitors who typically won't offer 0% beyond 48 months. As you might expect, I felt the need to haggle at least a little bit because of the large nature of the purchase. The ultimate resolution involved my Taurus, and $700 was removed from the cost of the Accent. The biggest challenge would be getting it there without vanishing in clouds of steam as it overheated.

I should say at this point that I don't generally like salespeople. They are often aggressive and fail to listen properly. I really hate the forced laughter which is so obviously fake. The majority of salespeople insult my intelligence by trying to force me to buy things I don't need at a price I am not willing to pay.

Phil McLean is not one of those people.

He was friendly, attentive, and came across as sincere and passionate about what he was selling. I understand that it's a business and that a salesperson's job is to make you spend more than you planned on things you might not have considered. Phil patiently answered all of my questions and presented the true cost of the features I asked about. Everything was completely transparent and he gave me the impression that he valued my business and respected my intelligence and my right to negotiate.

After four hours, my decision was made and my financing secured at the promised 0%. Phil arranged for me to be driven home and even dropped off some paperwork that evening on his way home. My ailing Taurus limped to the dealership Saturday morning and the car was ready for me just 24 hours after I signed the agreement. My independence and peace of mind are assured for the foreseeable future.

Buying a car is a serious decision and can cause a lot of stress. However, my experience was nothing like that. Hyundai Whitby understands that a few low-cost courtesies can make all the difference. A few cups of coffee and a shuttle to and from the dealership helped put me in the right frame of mind, but that was just the beginning. For me to even consider spending more than $20,000 on something that I had always considered a waste of money, Phil had to have the right approach. He made me feel valued the whole time and even sealed the deal as I picked up the car by giving me a golf umbrella and attaching the plates from my old Taurus. The picture at the top of this post was the ultimate finishing touch. I'll never forget the day I drove home my first new car. It still has less than 20km on the clock.

I know that my first call will be to Hyundai if I ever decided to change cars again. Not only that, the treatment I received from Phil, Dan and Alan will not be soon forgotten. If you live in the Durham area and have any interest in a Hyundai, it's well worth a visit. At least check out the vehicles in your price range and compare it to the others on your shortlist. You might be pleasantly surprised to see the features that come as standard.

If you do visit the Whitby dealership, feel free to call Phil and mention my name. He'll give you $20 for calling ahead if you are interested in a new vehicle. I'm not a salesman or an expert, but I would say that it's worth your time if you are serious about buying. Here's his card:

When watching a great movie, I usually don't mind being manipulated if the outcome is to my liking. My car-buying experience gave me a similar feeling. Now all I have to do is agonize over the various albums and playlists to include on my USB, and read the manual so I can figure out how all the controls work. Turning on the headlights will be my first challenge.

I've just made the biggest purchase of my life, with the exception of my house. Right now, I feel pretty good about it. Thanks for reading.

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