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Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Leveson Inquiry, Internet Trolls, And Amazon's Review System!

Oh I do love the Internet...

This wonderful piece of ever-expanding technology, that lets us contact anyone in any country; lets us read about anything in practically any language, on any subject under the sun, no matter how intellectually-complex or how utterly, utterly frivolous, and yet it can cause so many problems, that - in the real world - we would all just safely ignore.

The internet is both perfection in a box, and the biggest, most repulsive, pus-filled wart, all at the same time. In this blog entry, I will discuss why I am currently holding this view...

Today, in the UK, the Leveson Inquiry (or at least the first part of it) came to a conclusion, and Lord Leveson published his report into the culture, practices and ethics of the British newspaper press. Leveson's report was extremely damning, and stopped just a hair-width's short of saying to all UK newspaper editors "You've crossed the line, you've gone too far, and now I'm going to punish you".

Those of you not in the UK, I've briefly mentioned the Leveson Inquiry before, but to re-cap, it was discovered in July 2011, that one of the British Tabloid newspapers - the News Of The World - (or NOTW as it was also known, and a disgusting and odious little wrag, not much better than the Daily Mail, whom regular readers will know only too well what my view of it is) has hacked into the mobile phone answer-machine service of a murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dowler, and listened-in to (and possibly deleted) answerphone messages.

The Inquiry was into whether such action actually took place, whether this was the "norm" for the British Press,and whether the Press Complaints Commission, (hereby listed as the PCC),were going to do anything about it. For the sake of simplicity, I've only covered the bare-basics of the Leveson Inquiry, so I know I may receive some flack from some of you saying that the Inquiry covered other issues also. You would be right, but please indulge me once more, in this instance.

Anyway, the Inquiry Report was published today - 29th November 2012 - at 13:30 hours, and the Report was damning. Very, very damning. Totalling some 2000-plus pages, plus a further 48-page Executive Summary, this mammoth four-volume Report has been a no-holds-barred indictment, heavily criticising the Press, their methods of obtaining private and personal information (in order to help publish a story), and the manner in which they have singularly failed to look after their profession - legally and morally.

The NOTW did in fact hack into Milly Dowler's phone, and the PCC was toothless, and self-serving. Hardly unsurprising. However, many newspaper editors have been concerned that Lord Leveson's report would be calling for Statutory Legislation to rectify the problems. In other words, he was going to stiffle Free Speech, and the Freedom of the Press. Thankfully he hasn't done either. However, what he has done, is come down on the British Press extremely hard. The Report essentially says that the Press have a short time in which to clean up their act, once and for all, get things straight, and if they don't, then they will see Statutory Legislation be imposed upon them by politicians.

The reason I mention this, is that in the better, more educational British Press, there have been editorials over the past few days, demanding Leveson does not demand Statutory Legislation to be brought in. They say, that such legislation would stiffle true journalism, would stiffle a Free Press, and would essentially force newspapers to cease proper, decent and public-interest investigations. The truth is, nothing in Leveson's Report will stiffle any such journalism. In fact, in my view, none of the sensible, decent British Press (The Times, The Guardian, The Independent, the "i") have anything to fear from Leveson's Report. In fact, it will pretty much be business as usual for all of them. These papers, will still bring us worthwhile stories; will continue to run big expose's about philanderings, shady back-hand deals and the immoral actions of senior government figures (or business people like those in the Financial industry), and will still be allowed to print stories that are in the public interest (such as the MP's Expenses Scandal).

These papers, have nothing to fear from Leveson at all.

No. The only papers that have everything to fear, all the tabloid wrags. The Red Tops. The papers that fill their grubby little publications with tales of tittle-tattle; salacious gossip; kiss-and-tell triviata; rumour, speculation, second-guessing, second-rate hatchet journalism, that would be an insult to the average eight-year-old let alone the average adult. They are the ones who should be worrying. They are the ones who should be fearful for the future of their publications, fearful of their jobs, and fearful of what Leveson's Report will do to them, if they screw up again. Ever.

And rightly so, in my view. For too long now, has the British Tabloid Press (The Sun, The Daily Mail, The Daily Express, The NOTW, et al) has decided that anyone, and any story, is fair game. It doesn't matter who you are, what you are, or where you are, if they want to spill their guts about you, they will use any method to do so, and damn the consequences.

Publish a front-page headline that says you like to play Nazi-themed S&M sex games with hookers? Hey, there goes your private life for the whole world to read, in 3-inch-high lettering! Include a couple of secretly-taken photos, which you have demanded get taken by one of the dominatrixes involved, and then threatened to expose her and her private life to her family, just so you can make a quick buck? Yes, that was all allowed in the world of the Tabloid Press. Anything went, and nobody stopped them. Publish and be damned!

Oh, and don't worry if none of the story is remotely truthful. You'll just get a slap on the wrist, and told to publish an apology - which you will invariably do, but in tiny, bible-print-sized lettering, at the foot of page 37, one random day of the week, weeks after you've committed slander or libel, and long after the public has forgotten who you slandered or libelled in the first place.

The point is, that now, Tabloid Editors are going to have to sleep with one eye open. Every tabloid hack and papparazzo, (and to be fair, most of them are hacks and papparazzo's, not true journalists), will have to double or triple-check everything they write and publish. If they screw up, then Leveson's Inquiry may see some of them closed down... And I, for one, will not lose any sleep if they do.

Which brings me onto Internet Trolls and Amazon's Review System. I discussed this in my previous post. Well, there's been a further development. And no, I don't come out of this very well, so this is not exactly a chest-beating blog entry by any means.

After 12 long-winded pages, of name-calling, bitching, slagging-off, vitiriol, accusations - from me and from several of the other postees - I finally removed my 1-Star Amazon Review of Arrow's ZOMBIE FLESH-EATERS Blu-Ray release - which is out on Monday 3rd December, if anyone's interested. Why did I delete it?

Did I give-in to the Internet Trolls who kept having a go at me, and calling me a liar, a treacherous deviant, etc?


Did I do it, because my 1-Star Review was not an actual review?


Did I do it, because my 1-Star Review was for an unreleased product, and therefore invalidated itself?

Again, no.

So why did I delete it?!

Simply because, I could. I got to have the last say. I got to say "you know what, screw you" to the majority of people in those threads who thought they could point-score by simply trying to pick me up on every, single trivial detail. I was the one, who had the last laugh - and, at their expense. Because now, there's no 1-Star Review for them to bitch about slanderous. Now, there's no option for them to go: (insert your own make-believe Internet Troll voice here) "Oh, you said blah, blah, blah, and you know nothing".

I got to delete all of them, and whilst they can try and claim some kind of smug, self-satisfaction that They won the argument. I can say to myself: "You know what, let it go. Most of them are morons. None of them actually knew you. You'll never meant any of them. The majority of them are probably just pre-teen, trolls desperately trying to make something of themselves behind the anonymity of a PC screen, trying to be big and clever at your expense".

And you know what? Deleting that review, and all 140-odd comments that followed-on from that review, are now gone. Au revoir. Arrivederci. Sayonara. Good Riddance. There were one or two, who wrote decent, intelligent posts. Some of those people, I may well come across on Amazon's Reviews again. But the vast majority of contributors were outright idiots.

In fact, I'm starting to think that the Internet is no longer quite the grand place it once was. The trolls are beginning to take over, and ruin the Internet. For everyone. Like the Tabloid Hacks, the Trolls like to make petty arguments, taking a counter-stance to everything you say, and simply regurgitating the opposite, in order to make themselves feel bigger, better, more adult. The Trolls think they know everything. I don't just mean in the general sense. I mean, they really, truly and utterly believe that they really do know every single fucking thing. About every single fucking topic under the sun. Of topics past, of topics present, and of topics to come in the future.

These fuckwits seem to think, they are Stephen Fry-intelligent. Not even close, bud (to coin a totally non-topical phrase from John Hughes' excellent 1985 pre-slacker flick THE BREAKFAST CLUB)!

To the Trolls, I say this: "Start acting less like your shoe-size, and more like your supposed I.Q."

Amazon's Review System isn't perfect. It has many flaws. But one of the great things, is that - for the most part, at least - anyone can review any product, and have their little say in the world. It won't bring you fame. It won't make you rich, and you won't gain any special rewards. But you can have your say. You get to tell others what you think, and let that thought, be dwelled-upon by others. No one's opinion is worth more than anyone elses. And that's the beauty of the Internet. We all become equal.

Look, the Internet gives everyone a level playing-field. No matter who you are. No matter what you do in life. No matter what age, or sex, or race, or creed, or flag you live under, you are all one-and-the-same. You are all equal. No one is better than the rest, and no one need be more stupid. But the Trolls... Oh, god, the Trolls!

If it's not Facebook, or Twitter, or FourSquare, or Bebo, or LinkedIn, or any one of the other hundreds of social-networking sites that exist out there in Internet-Land, the Trolls seem to keep'on coming! Their age, their sex, their race, their creed, all bear no relation to some of the truly dumb-assed things that these Keyboard Warriors are willing to post, to gain their 15-seconds of infamy; to prove to the world, that they are the Number One Dumbass of all Internet Dumbasses.

There is no level they will not stoop too, to try to win an argument, or to better their personal opinion of something, over yours. Nothing, but nothing is too dumb for them to post, to try to come Top Troll.

Thankfully, in the UK at least, we sometimes prosecute the dumbest Internet Trolls. As a Brit, part of that statement makes me feel quite proud. I'm not against Free Speech - hey, look, I run a Blog, so I'm hardly in a position to criticise others - but at least I try not to say extremely dumb-ass things. My blog, is just my opinion. No one has to agree with it. Nobody has to even like it. My readership is small. I have had less than 5000 hits in 2 years. I don't mind. Numbers don't mean that much to me, to warrant giving a flying-fuck. So what, if some Internet Dumbass Troll, has a video on YouTube of him tipping a glass of milk all over his head, and has received 1.5 million hits. That's not something to be proud of. That just means there's 1.5 million other dumb-assses out there in Internet-Land, who think you're a bigger dumbass than they are.

So what if 2,800 other imbeciles "like" your latest Facebook post, in which you equate your President to a member of the ape species. Yeah, aren't you a clever one! I'm sure your parents are really proud of having brought-up a knuckle-dragging, neo-Nazi, racist thug into the world. God, the world really needs yet more knuckle-dragging, neo-Nazi, racist thugs, doesn't it?! I mean, it's not as if there aren't already millions, upon millions of other knuckle-dragging, neo-Nazi, racist thugs who don't already spout outdated bollocks, to any poor bastard that will listen to their knuckle-dragging chanting.

Have we as a species, really become so immune to Trolls, that we are happy to let them get away with anything (or should that be, everything) dumb? Have we reached a stage, where in 2012, it is considered okay to "like" or "re-Tweet" that "Mr X, a Member Of Parliament's a big, fat paedo?!"

What does that say about us? The Internet lets you access anything at any time. All you need, is some basic computer skills, the ability to think for yourself just a little, and then to let ride on the Information Superhighway. Out there, in Internet Land, the World really is your eternal oyster: an unlimitless land of knowledge. You will never got bored. You will never grow tired. You can access information, from the day you are born to the day you day, and not once do you need to stop, for fear of learning too much.

But the Trolls. They don't want an oyster. They want everything to be shit! They want to wallow in it, swim in it, and fling it at anyone who they dislike.What a shame, that Trolls always need to have the last say... on everything! Rather than raising people up, to be better, they want to drag us down. Rather than learn something, they want you to drown in an eternal cesspit of sludge. Not unlike our Tabloid newspapers...

... And isn't this where our story first started?

Just before I end, the BBFC has uploaded its latest Podcast - Number 8 - which covers the 50th Anniversary of Bond. Examining the films, the icon, and the censorship clashes within this long-running film franchise, this is another worthy listen. Alas, it seems the BBFC no longer lets you download these as MP3 files, and you now have to listen to them via  this  website instead. (Boo, hiss!!) Still, the other seven previous files are also there, and are worth your time too.

See you again, soon....

ADDENDUM: The BBFC Podcasts are also available for free download via iTunes, in their Podcasts Section. Just search for "BBFC Podcasts", and you should find them. All in MP3 format, all free, and all legally downloadable.

Monday, 19 November 2012

When Reviews Go Bad: Opinions, Commentary And Getting Things Wrong!

Hello Everyone.

It's been a while since I last posted, and for that, I apologise. However, my usual readers will know that this is par-for-the-course with me, I'm afraid. Life just gets too crazy at times, for me to be able to blog on a regular basis.

Anyway, today's post is about an issue that has recently occurred, over an Amazon Review I posted, or rather, a cheeky, and ever-so-slightly naughty 1-Star Amazon Review, for an item that isn't out yet.

I'm sure most of my readers are aware of the behemoth that is Amazon. Like Google, it's now part of the international psyche of the would in which we all live. Likewise, those of you who use Amazon even vaguely regularly, know about the Amazon Review System, whereby you can rate an item and review it. Many people review their purchases, but I'm sure that there are just as many who don't. Anyway, that's by-the-by.

As you know, I've written a few recent blog-entries about a UK company called Arrow. Now, Arrow is a major UK DVD and Blu-Ray film company. They release hundreds of titles each year, and - for the most part - I like their product. I don't have a problem with Arrow, the whole company. I have, however, had a problem with a small division within Arrow, also called "Arrow", who release the cult horror and exploitation films, in their distinctive white Amaray cases and sleeves. For those who don't know who I mean, their products look like this. For the sake of clarity, all future references to "Arrow" in this article, are solely to the cult horror and exploitation label, and not to any other part of the same company.

About three months ago, Arrow announed they were going to release ZOMBIE FLESH-EATERS (1979, Lucio Fulci). The film is also known as ZOMBI, and ZOMBIE 2, depending in which country you happen to reside. Anyone who follows the world of cult horror and exploitation films will be aware that Blue Underground released this same film on Blu-Ray, in a spankingly gorgeous edition, in October 2011. So when Arrow announced that they were going to do a UK release, also on Blu-Ray, it was met with trepidation by some people. The Arrow Fanboys came out on Amazon UK, and posted a few 5-Star reviews, praising the as-yet-unreleased Blu-Ray to the high-heavens. As they always do. Me being the deviant little git I sometimes can be, decided to post a 1-Star review. My review can be read here.

Now, you will see that following my "review", there are about 67 comments. My review, was really me having a bit of a swipe at Arrow, because I was genuinely skeptical that they would not pull-off a decent release. I mean, the Blue Underground release was pretty-much perfect. Unless you watched their 2-Disc Special Edition Blu-Ray on a cinema-sized screen, then the image and sound were, in my view, almost perfect. A few people did claim that some parts of Auretta Gay's face looked "waxy", and some scenes had an overly-grainy, slightly processed look - whatever the hell that means - but I personally felt these were just nit-pickers. I really couldn't see how Arrow - a company that I feel doesn't exactly have the greatest of track-records - best this. Could they? Would they? Well, if you look back through my posts, you will see that I've been very critical of their past problems.

The fact that when their Blu-Ray announcement was shortly followed with an Amazon UK pre-release listing, including the artwork that they planned to use on the Blu-Ray Steelbook of this infamous horror classic (as shown here), meant that my review began to seem a little bit vitriolic.

In my view, the artwork looks like a six-year-old had been given some crayons, and asked to illustrate the film's themes. This comment raised many laughs both on Amazon UK and on another internet forum I post on. Some even claimed that my comment was an insult to six-year-olds, as they probably would have done an even better job, than what was being shown as the final artwork from Arrow. (I couldn't help but agree with them!)

The artwork cemented my opinion. I really couldn't see how Arrow would get anywhere near as good a release as Blue Underground's edition. In fact, I was actually suspecting that Arrow would simply port-over all or most of the content from BU's edition, and then add-in their own artwork and brochure, before sticking-on an exhorbitant price-tag, like Arrow usually do. (£29-99 for a two-disc Blu-Ray Steelbook?! What the hell!)

Well, over the past month or so, there's been a lot of discussion as to what the final release was going to look like. What really stuck in my caw (sorry if you're not from the UK - a bit of a British colloquialism there) was the fact that a rumour began to get posted around. The rumour, allegedly from Arrow (though this was never confirmed or denied by anyone) was that Arrow were going to go back to the Original Camera Negative, and do a new, 2K scan, then a complete frame-by-frame restoration. The rumour then said, that this was what Blue Underground had NOT done.

Umm, beg your pardon, Arrow?! What's this then...? (Posted on YouTube on 22nd August 2011)

And just to add insult to injury, what's this that BU say on the back sleeve of their Blu-Ray?

Blue Underground is proud to present ZOMBIE in a new 2K High Definition transfer from the original uncut and uncensored camera negative. Each flesh-eating frame has been lovingly restored to skull-rotting perfection under the supervision of Cinematographer Sergio Salvati (THE BEYOND). Now fully-loaded with hours of brand new Extras, this is the Ultimate Edition of ZOMBIE!

If BU were lying, would they not be leaving themselves open to a law-suit? Would such lies, if they were lies, not result in them being in breach of the US equivalent of the UK Trade Descriptions Act? I think the answer is "yes"!

So, why was Arrow, allegedly slagging off their rivals, by suggesting that BU had not done what they had promised? Why was Arrow claiming, (if it was Arrow that were claiming this in the first place, and not just some bell-end on the Internet messing everyone about), that their work was going to be infinitely better? Wasn't this the same company whose extensive care and restoration work on releases like THE BEYOND, DEEP RED (aka PROFONDO ROSSO) and TENEBRAE had resulted in less than stellar results; in faults; in prints that were significantly worse-looking than those releases from the likes of Anchor Bay or Blue Underground? I think the answer, once again, is "yes"!

Had Arrow resorted to slagging off their rivals, to try and increase sales, and to try and make-up for previous problems? Was this the kind of grubby tactic that Arrow had had to resort too, in order to make money?

Well, at this stage, it's all extremely unclear. No one from Arrow has said they did or did not make those accusations up. No one has claimed whether they were speaking on behalf of Arrow or not, for those allegations. And, to my knowledge, BU hasn't threatened any lawsuits on Arrow or any one on the Internet about these rumours and allegations... yet!

It now seems that in spite of those rumours, Arrow HAS gone back to the original camera negative, and undertaken a brand-new, 2K scan, plus a complete frame-by-frame restoration of the film, and all in London, and all under one roof, by one man, for Arrow. In fact, it would seem that a gentleman by the name of James White, who has done work with Eureka/Masters Of Cinema (the UK equivalent of Criterion), is the name of the restorer.

His pedigree is very good, including doing restoration works on films like TOKYO STORY (1953, Yasujiro Ozu) and THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (1928, Carl Theodor Dreyer), so it's not to be sniffed at by any means. Even if his reputation proceeds him, early-reviews are saying that the Arrow edition of ZOMBIE FLESH-EATERS is supposedly excellent, possibly better than BU's edition. Now, Arrow's release doesn't get released to the public at large, until Monday 3rd December, having been put-back twice already, (another Arrow issue that they need to get sorted), so the proof will be in the pudding, as the saying goes. However, the Steelbook has fallen to 50% of its Recommended Retail Price - £14-99 instead of £29-99. Whether that's due to an aggressive price-war on Amazon's part, or simply Arrow being overly ambitious in what they felt they could charge, I don't know. Still, we will see what happens on 3rd December, and go from there.

The point I wanted to make, in this article, is that even with the best will in the world, people can get things wrong.

I can get things wrong.

Sometimes, what starts out as a bit of fun, a bit of a personal sideswipe against a company, can eventually turn into the total opposite of what it should be. I've been labelled as being a "slanderer" on another Forum, but the idiot that made that claim clearly doesn't know the difference between a review, commentary, or opinion let alone the legal definition of what slander entails. But I can see why that line between fact, opinion, commentary and slander can get very, very easily blurred. If my 1-Star Review loses Arrow sales, is my opinion slanderous? Is it commentary? At what point does a review cease being opinion, and start being slanderous (or, for that matter, libellous)?

Arrow may well have actually done a good job on this release, and if they can get it right another couple of times, then I may well start to buy their product again. However, there's no smoke without fire. There are plenty of people out there on the Internet, who don't like people slating a company with a lousy track-record, because they feel, you should always look on the positive side of things. There are many people, who think it's unfair of people like me, who think that what I wrote on Amazon UK, was both: a) wrong, and b) breaches the purpose of Amazon reviews in the first place.

That's a fair enough statement, and I can live with that. But, in my defence, my 1-Star Review was never intended to be anything more than a small joke. However, the joke's backfired on me, and to be fair, I can only blame myself. Likewise, all the Arrow Fanboy's who post 5-Star Reviews do Arrow no favours either. Until a product is released, and in the hands of the customer, Amazon should not let people post any reviews beforehand. Likewise, Amazon should also stop clumping reviews for the same product (e.g. a film, CD or book) altogether, as they may be connected, but they are not the same. A review of a DVD version of a film will not be the same as a review of a Blu-Ray of the same film. They are both films, but they are both very different products. Just as a hardback book and a paperback book are different entities also. The story may be identical, but the reviews can be significantly different.

Anyway, never trust the Internet. It can come back and bite you hard in the arse. See you back here soon!