Saturday, January 24, 2015

I'm Going to See Bradley Cooper in The Elephant Man in London!

Bradley Cooper as The Elephant Man. 
In the nearly three years of writing for Theatre of Zen, I haven't written about my experience at a theatre production. Well the time has finally arrived and I'm excited to announce that in reference to my previous post about my London trip this spring, I am going to see Bradley Cooper in The Elephant Man! It was just announced officially yesterday (Friday, Jan. 24th) that Cooper's play will be in limited run in the West End starting in May through early August at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.

I visited the box office website last night and searched for tickets during the brief time I'll be in London (26 May - 30 May). As per seat availability at the right price and location, I was able to snatch up an orphan seat in the second row of the Stalls from the stage! Seats in the Stalls are £108 or £65, so I was very lucky to find the cheaper ticket so close to the stage. With the exchange rate, it's about $100 - a lot of money for a theater ticket, but this is a unique and rare opportunity to see an A-list three-time Oscar nominated actor. And to think, to my now embarrassment, I ridiculed his Oscar nomination back in 2012, for Silver Linings Playbook, as 'the pretty one from The Hangover movies'. But upon review of Bradley's IMDB page, you know he's not just a pretty face, he's a good actor, and after his stunning portrayal in the divisive film American Sniper, Mr. Cooper deserves some respect. And what's the highest praise a fan can do other than drop some nice coin to see him on stage in London.
Seat highlighted in green is mine for the May 28th evening performance
(stall section as of Jan 24th)
According to his IMDB, he has been mesmerized by the story of the real Elephant Man, John Merrick, since he saw the 1980 film starring John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins. So much so that for his Master's thesis (he's well educated too!), the Elephant Man play was his thesis project... and here he is playing John Merrick on Broadway and now the West End. Talk about having a life long passion for a project!

I'm so excited about seeing this play because I too am very familiar with the Merrick story and saw the movie when I was a kid. Meanwhile, Bradley's American Sniper is going into its second weekend and the film is expected to be number one again with earnings close to $60 million, pushing it well past $200 million. That's an amazing feat for an R-rated film released in January.

Bradley Cooper a Navy Seal sniper, Chris Kyle
If you haven't seen American Sniper yet, this weekend is a good time to go check out what everyone is talking about.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

My Quick Weekend in Toronto & American Sniper

The previous 5 weeks have been very stressful for me, so this past weekend in Toronto was exactly what the doctor ordered. My mood and attitude was uplifted and it gave me time away from the sources of stress so that I could re-calibrate and forge ahead with my life plans. The plunging Canadian dollar turned my $120US into $143CAN, a great sign for fun spending. To start off my trip, on Saturday afternoon, I got a Shellac pedicure at Pink Nails and Spa. I must do this more regularly! But I'm afraid that they set the bar so high, I may be displeased by going somewhere else. I did some shopping on Queen street by filling up with some Buddha's Blend tea from David's Tea, and I splurged on some bath products at a new natural wellness store, Saje (read my Yelp review). Later that evening I saw American Sniper (read below). On Sunday, I met with my TIFF/Awards Watch friend David A, and then I went to TIFF Bell Lightbox to check out the Stanley Kubrick exhibit and watch 2001 A Space Odyssey in 70mm. I ate really well... so well that two days later I'm still bloated. Here are some pictures -

American Sniper 8/10

I'm not going to review this film like how I usually review films. I'm very, very disturbed by the insane reaction towards this film from BOTH the Left and the Right. They should be ashamed of themselves, acting like imbeciles and playing the same old stale games to put down and antagonize those whose opinions about the film differs from theirs. So what Michael Moore and Seth Rogen don't like the film, there's no need to verbally abuse them and cyber bully them, and there's no need to use a broad brush on everyone who actually watched the film and enjoyed it. I liked the movie, period. I don't own a gun, don't want to own a gun, and I'm not a racist, pro-war, or pro-killing of human beings. I just felt that Clint Eastwood's film about a Navy Seal sniper who was particularly talented at killing people from over a mile away, to protect other Navy Seals from being attacked, was a damn entertaining movie. The film also focused on the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on these military personnel. Everyone reacts differently from PTSD; I even suffered from it post 9-11.

American Sniper appeals to a wide demographic of people, not just a certain type that detractors of the film want to view all supporters as. For a film to earn nearly $108 million in just 4 days and garnered 6 Oscar nominations, it is clear to me that this Oscar season, people who have a vested interest in it (financially, and emotionally) have a lot at stake due to the success of this film and they want to do all that they can to tear down this film. I believe Bradley Cooper did such a fine job that he should win the Oscar, and the film may win in at least the Sound category. I think it is too divisive for AMPAS to give it Best Picture, but that would be fun to see instead of the little seen, kinda dull but sweet Boyhood.

Go see what all the hype is. Don't let ignorant comments from anonymous lowlifes distract you from seeing a good film. Make up your own mind to see this, don't allow other people with warped agendas and anti-social attitudes turn you off from American Sniper. Because if you do, you're being just as immature and reactionary as they are.

ETA: A twitter friend posted the link to an excellent article that analyzes the controversy surrounding American Sniper. I read it and I hope you take a moment to read it too.

The Film Grapevine: Making Sense of the Controversy Surrounding Clint Eastwood's 'American Sniper'

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Travel Plans 2015

In my last post from a couple weeks ago, I announced my sudden inspiration to visit Toronto. I'm so excited to go there this weekend, especially since I have Monday the 19th off as a paid holiday for MLK Jr. day. I'll be staying at the new Holiday Inn Hotel with a special King bed suite deal, and I'll get a fancy pedicure at Pinky Nails & Spa at 544 Yonge Street. I was scanning Groupon Toronto for some good deals, but the really great deals were far away in the outer parts of Toronto. I wound up selecting Pinky Nails because of the great Yelp reviews. There are hundreds of salons for me to go get a pedicure, but I'm very particular about where I want to go. Not every place has Shellac Pedicure - this is what I want. The pedicure last like 6 weeks! And I prefer the individual chair pedicure set up instead of bench style where you won't have much privacy. I'll be eating well, have a drink or two, I'll do a little shopping, and of course, I'll go to the Kubrick exhibit and watch '2001: A Space Odyssey' on the big screen in 70mm. This is going to be a great short trip!

Meanwhile, I have just finished up the final details of my trip itinerary for my Ireland and England trip this May! I have been thinking about this trip for two years. A month ago, the trip was in turmoil due to some horrendous price gouging by Delta with their non-stop service from Detroit to London Heathrow. What has been a reliable and affordable non-stop flight since 1994, has now become cost prohibitive. Back in the day, when British Airways and Northwest was at DTW,  prices were always under $1000 for round trip, posh door-to-door service from Detroit to the almighty London. Today, with Delta being the only airliner at DTW that has service to London, these bitches have decided to increase the price, and decrease service! I'm sorry, but I'm no fool. Sure, if I can afford to visit London as regularly as I do, I'm not a poor person, but at the present, nor am I a millionaire, therefore, I refuse to be used by Delta this way and pay MORE for less service. So instead, I'm going to deal with a short layover in Philly via US Airways to fly to Shannon, where I will spend 4 days in Killarney, and then book flights on Aer Lingus to fly to London for 4 days. Then I'll fly back to Shannon, stay there overnight, and fly home the next morning. All of this flying will still save me a precious $1100. Can you believe that? These savings will PAY for my Killarney and London hotels! I was trying to include a couple days in Dublin, but the train and bus to get up there just took too much time. I'll visit Dublin next time when I can stay longer in Ireland.

The planning of these trips have lifted my somber mood as of late and I'm just grateful that I'm able to travel like I can. It's a great way to enhance your life and get away from the daily routine of life which can cause so much stress. Life is short so why not have fun and travel the world?

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Visit to Toronto in January

In this last week of 2014, I am already looking forward to the month of January because I'm excited about my newly planned trip to visit. When I was in Toronto for TIFF this past September, I learned that a fantastic Stanley Kubrick exhibit was going to start in October at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. I recall the great James Bond 50th Anniversary exhibit I went to back in 2012, and so I know how well done these film exhibits are in Toronto. After a strange and stressful week at work, I needed something to cheer me up - so I made hotel reservations and I'm going to Toronto January 17-19th.

Also, as this year is coming to an end, I was looking forward to writing a Top 3 list of the coolest things that happened to me this year. The third thing has yet to manifest (it will soon though), but the other two events is related to my being hired last May as an extra for the Batman vs Superman movie filmed here in Detroit in which I played a journalist for The Daily Planet. And the second great event was the Pearl Jam concert in October in Detroit. Not only was it such a great concert, as usual, but it was my FIRST time seeing Pearl Jam in the City of Detroit in the 22 years I have been a fan of them. And to top it off, Eddie Vedder got off stage and came up to section and was just two rows from me while singing one of my favorite Pearl Jam songs, 'Last Kiss'.

I'm confident that 2015 will be my year and great changes are coming for me soon! This is my last post for this year, so Happy New Year and may you too have a prosperous, productive, and positive new year!

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Babadook at Cinema Detroit

You know you want to see a good movie when you drive 33 miles, one way for its 9:15pm showing in a theater in Detroit. The Babadook was the movie I had to see, and I'm so glad I made the trip! There have been only a select few films that I have driven great distances to see, and all of them were limited release films that weren't going to screen in Ann Arbor, or take another month or so to come here. A tweet made a couple weeks ago by The Exorcist director, William Friedkin, where he wrote that Babadook was the scariest film ever filmed, made my spine tingle and got me excited to see it and hoped that it would play somewhere, anywhere in metro Detroit. Alas, that theater would be Cinema Detroit located at 3420 Cass Avenue.

I love to be scared, and horror films and heavy sci-fi films are my favorite genres, so upon reading various commentaries about how insane scary and psychological The Babadook was, I steered clear of spoilers and not reading in depth critical reviews. Thus far, The Bababook has a 98% fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes and an 86% Metacritic rating. That's unheard of for a straight up horror/monster movie!

The Babadook is about a stressed out and socially isolated widow, Amelia (Essie Davis) and her hyper and demanding six year-old son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Through flashbacks, we learn that Amelia lost her husband in a horrible car accident, and that Samuel was born that very night. The supernatural elements of the story makes you ponder if there's a connection between the husband's death, the son's birth, and the mysterious arrival of an entity that only the boy is aware of from nightmares. As a long grieving widow, Amelia has a nurse's aide job at a retirement community and that is the only time she has being away from her son who does not get on well with other children, even his own aunt doesn't like him. Eventually, Samuel's dreams start to become more vivid in that he can't sleep in his own bed and he needs his mother's constant assurance and protection from 'the thing' under his bed and in his closet, every night. In order for him to fall asleep, she must read him a bedtime story. This extra care and attention to her son is at the risk of her own need for sleep, and thus leading to mind altering sleep deprivation - a perfect time to be susceptible to something sinister.

One day, a mysterious large red book titled 'The Babadook' appears on Samuel's book case and he asks his mother to read it for him. Almost immediately upon opening the book and reading it, Amelia is startled by the disturbing images and the text which was haunting and horrifying, and thus prompting more nightmares for both of them. Thinking she could just rip the book up and throw it away, that would be the end of her problems. Amelia's sanity is slowly breaking down due to not being able to sleep, and after her son's continued disruptive behavior at school and telling everyone about The Babadook, he is removed from school and medicated so that he could sleep. The Babadook makes his existence known at this point and is quite bold. Noises in the house that makes the heart stop, or forces Amelia to hide under the covers, doors opening, panic attacks, heavy breathing, lurking shadows and a menacing ghostly face, all combined make The Babadook a psychologically wearing down horror film. The Babadook takes a familiar plot of storybook induced nightmares and add several desperately needed new twists to modernize this long favored storytelling fable. A film does not need tons of gushing red blood, chainsaws, or zombies to scare the crap out of you, it's the psychological aspect of a true horror film that can do the job.

Australian films really tend to think outside of the box and be very unconventional in the story telling, and The Babadook is a prime example of that country's fresh take on horror. The film is playing at Cinema Detroit through Thursday, December 18th.

Grade: 4.5/5

This was my second time watching a film at Cinema Detroit in a year, and I'm so glad that there is a theater of its kind in the heart of the city of Detroit. I had the pleasure to speak with Paula Guthat, the co-founder and CEO of Cinema Detroit, and she explained how they are utilizing a portion of a former school that was built in 1912; the other part is a current Montessori school. Inside the lobby of the theater are artifacts from the heyday of early 20th century cinema house film projectors and other instruments providing a museum quality historical perspective of the evolution of film viewing in cinemas. Paula also told me about the positive buzz Cinema Detroit has received from patrons, and some of them are from far away as New York City, and from Europe. They are most impressed with the re-utilization of such a beautiful space in an area that is in dire need of more re-vitalization.

If you're in the area, I encourage you to visit Cinema Detroit and support this lovely theater.

The lighted sign which guides you to the entrance way.

A few historical early 20th century cinema artifacts.

The left side of the theater room 1.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Lamenting Moving to my Home State

There's no place like my future home in California
Lately, I have been chronically thinking about my future move to California. I think about it everyday: day in and day out. It's non-stop. They say, "home is where the heart is", and although I'm physically in the state of Michigan, my heart certainly isn't here, it's in Southern California.

To keep my spirits high and forward thinking about a life I know I will have in California, I think about the house I'll be living in, the car I'll be driving (a Prius, in Blizzard Pearl, of course - I even have a CA personalized license plate selected), the smell of the ocean breeze, the sweat on my skin from hiking in the Santa Monica mountains, the taste of eating sushi everyday, enjoying favorable weather and sunny skies daily, and welcoming regular visits from family and friends from Michigan. A part of me is working hard everyday to make my current existence in this state as comfortable and productive as possible, but obstacles, dead-ends, and disappointments have been littered about notably in the past few weeks. But, I am devoted and determined to remain positive and hopeful to ensure that what I want will happen.

I read a quote on twitter this morning that triggered this blog post:
Your destiny is in your hands. Creating the life you want is only, and always, up to you.

I've always believed this statement, and especially in the past several months, it has been a focus of my concentration in reinforcing to myself that I'm in control of my life. We are the architects of our lives, and I used to whine and complain a lot about stuff that wasn't going well in my life. And when I look back at those times, my negativity was only reinforcing my life at that time and keeping me under a dark cloud for so long. It's useless looking back in the past because what's done is done, there's only moving forward. I know what I want, and I know what I have to do to get it. It takes planning and due diligence, and like many important favorable things that have come to fruition for me, just like I planned it, this too will happen for me.

Life is too short to stay somewhere I am not happy. I smile and have happy thoughts when I think of California. When I'm a little down, my feelings perk right up when I think of California and the life I'll have there. I'm done with Michigan, it'll always been my family home state, but my heart home state is California!

I have this background on my home computer - Daily Motivation

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Pearl Jam at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit

Pearl Jam 'Lightning Bolt' mini-Midwest tour 2014 - Detroit
My favorite band in the whole wide world is Pearl Jam, and I saw them for the first time in April 1994, and this past Thursday night in Detroit, was my 24th or 25th time seeing them in these 20 years. In what first started as a stressful event in trying to obtain concert tickets from the 10 Club (PJ fan club, member since 1996), I lost the raffle for General Admission seats. But as luck would have it, I wound up getting great seats from Ticketbastard instead. And as luck would have it again, Eddie Vedder found his way to MY section, 109, to sing during one of their most mainstream popular hits, 'Last Kiss'.

As you will see from the video, it was surreal. Eddie left the stage to sing in the audience. He goes towards the back first but then realizes there is no way up to the audience at that time. So he comes back up towards the front and on the left side of the stage to Section 109, my ticketbastard seat section! You can hear me saying 'Oh my God, Oh my God'! as Eddie comes up the rows. I'm in row 9, so he got up to row 7. It was just so awesome! The Detroit show was incredible and Eddie was very chatty, drinking a lot of the wine - he shared a bottle with the audience. Stone, Boom, Mike, Matt, and Jeff were as usual, putting on excellent performances. Words fail me to fully express what this band means to me. I love them so much and wish that time, money, and logistics allowed me to see them more frequently. So it means all the more to me when I do see them that I am always, ALWAYS so happy and enjoying the show.

The last time I saw Pearl Jam was in 2011 in Toronto, and earlier that year I saw Eddie Vedder on his solo tour. I look forward to 20+ more years of seeing PJ in concert! Here is the video and some select images from the concert:

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Film Review: Gone Girl 9/10

The look of love,or control?

Having not read Gillian Flynn's popular book Gone Girl, I only had a faint idea what the movie was going to be about. Yet another pretty wife gone missing, evidence of a fatal bloody attack in her home, and her husband is prime suspect number one. Don't read any further if you haven't seen the film yet - Spoilers. Gone Girl is a case study of what happens behind the scenes of a media story when a woman goes missing and what her family does to try to find her. On the other side, we see how ridiculous the media frenzy is with the speculations, media stalking, self-appointed feminist crusaders ala Nancy Grace style in the pursuit of finding the missing pretty woman. Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, has been married to Amy Dunne, brilliantly played by Rosamund Pike, for five years and just as things were really breaking down in their marriage, she disappears.

Through well executed flashbacks, we see how Nick and Amy fell in love, but we also see how the dynamics of the relationship were strained by conflicting personalities, selfishness, control freaks, infidelity, and pathological conniving manipulation. When Amy is missing, Nick's actions are monitored closely by the police, the media and the public (just like how we do in real life). As Amy's character is being created in the media as being a doting wife, along with the announcement that she was supposedly pregnant, public opinion turns on Nick quickly and he needs the help of a high-profile lawyer, Tyler Perry, to clear his name. Meanwhile, Amy is alive and well in her hideaway plotting the finishing touches of her painfully detailed scheme to destroy her husband's life for her disappearance/murder.  This twist is what makes the story unique and entertaining because Amy really isn't the innocent simple wife who sits back and let the man do everything, she controlled everything. And when she learned of Nick's adultery with a sexy cool-girl student, she plots her revenge in a way that only a psychopath can. Other women would have just divorced him, or some would have tried to kill him, but no, Amy goes all mind fucking out to destroy him. By the way, the state they live in, Missouri, has the death penalty for capital murder. How convenient.

Some marriages are a match made in heaven, but this was a match made in hell. Although Nick is arrogant, he's not a murderer, we know who is the true cold calculating murderer and schemer of this relationship. In the end, Nick and Amy are united under nefarious purposes and you kind of feel sorry for Nick for the first time because he's scared of Amy and he's trapped. Usually, it's the other way around in such relationships. In a world when so many women are true victims of horrendous crimes by their partners, it's refreshing to see such a strong female character manipulate everyone in her life for her own selfish needs, and still come out on top as beloved and a media star. This movie is also a snapshot about our culture in how the media loves current event news stories about upper-middle class, attractive white females who appear to be victims of a horrible crimes.

Gone Girl is a great film, but I know a lot of people may not like it because it doesn't seem realistic, it defies belief that a woman like Amy exists and does the things she does. David Fincher did a fantastic job and I don't know if this is the type of film that will be recognized by AMPAS, but at the least, Rosamund Pike deserves a Best Actress nomination. She transformed herself not only physically, but emotionally, and psychologically as Amy Dunne. To begin to feel empathetic with her, then to see her as the complete psycho that she is, takes talent, and Rosamund Pike is overdue to be recognized for the great actress she is. When you go see Gone Girl, watch it with an open mind and employ suspension of disbelief because you're going to see extreme acts of a controlling psychopath who will do anything to get her way.

Grade: 9/10