Monday, January 25, 2016

I Won the Pearl Jam Fan Club Lottery!


I have been a fan of Pearl Jam since 1991/1992, and I first saw them in concert at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor, March 1994. My love for Pearl Jam has never wavered. Although I could not always travel far to see them, or had the money to see them back to back within driving distance, I have been able to see them approximately 25 times. Some of you may say, 'What? You saw PJ 25 times?' But trust me when I say that a lot of old timer hard core fans like me, are just much more hard corer and have deeper pockets, and more vacation days to travel and see the band anywhere in the world.

There were sad dry spots of several years where I was simply not able to go to PJ concerts, and it really hurt my morale. I was working poor broke and depressed and it was common sense to pay rent and buy food than travel to the East coast to see Pearl Jam. Meanwhile, many of my jamily friends had no financial problems and went to many shows. There were times when I had to scrape up the money for my annual membership, which in years past was 10 to 15, to 25, and now $40. But in recent years, I've been doing much better and I was able to see Pearl Jam in Toronto in 2011, then in Detroit 2014, and now in 2016, I'm going back East, to Philadelphia to see the best band in the world. It was important for me to win fan club lottery tickets to this leg of their 2016 North American tour because it's my last time living in the state of Michigan as a resident, that I can drive from home to the East coast to see the band. Back in 1997 to 2001 while living on the East coast, I was able to see PJ in Maryland, in New York at Madison Square Garden and at Jones Beach, and there's something really cool about seeing Pearl Jam in those crazy states. I've seen Pearl Jam in 2003 in Pittsburgh, so traveling a few hours further East to Philly will close out my mid-west/east coast living experience and enjoying 'local' PJ shows.

In the future, post-October 2016, I'll be in California, and I will have to fight the people out there for lottery fan club tickets. Meanwhile, as I'm currently in Michigan, only two cities were really feasible for me to attend: Philadelphia on April 29 (a Friday night show), or Toronto on May 10 (a Tuesday night show). Philly was my first choice and Toronto was second. I didn't bother with General Admission (GA) tickets because, and let's face it, there are a lot of tall and fat people in the world, and combine that with Pearl Jammers, the GA is not so much fun. I have the energy and stamina, but I'm short, petite, and I want to see and enjoy the show without some old frat boys all up in my shit - jamily or not, unless I'm in the front row of GA and wearing depends, the GA is over rated.


WHY this lottery? As a fan club member since 1996, I have a nice low member number. The lower your membership number, the higher you are on the seniority food chain. The lottery works by you selecting the shows you want to attend and ranking them from highest priority to the lowest. When the lottery begins, they randomly select people, and you may win the opportunity to simply and comfortably purchase premium fan club seats without all the hand wringing and refreshing your browser on Ticketbastard on sale day. I wanted to go to Philly so bad that I put the wheels in motion to just GO there, some way, some how. Last week I booked a hotel within walking distance of the Wells Fargo Center, the Courtyard Marriott Philadelphia South at The Navy Yard. I just checked at Booking.com, and the hotel is now all sold out the night I'll be there. I'm sure Pearl Jam fans are staying at that place.

I'm just so damn happy and relieved. I could only afford to go to one show, and taking a Friday off from work is all I can afford to do, so this is perfect. I'm grateful to the 10 Club and Pearl Jam for making this happen, it's a great way to close out my time here in Michigan by being able to drive to an East Coast PJ show this spring!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

My Fun and Short Trip to Palm Springs, California

A month ago I blogged about an exciting adventure I spontaneously found myself in. I had an opportunity to attend the Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) Awards Gala on January 2nd, and I jumped on this unique chance to attend. This was an extended Christmas gift to myself, as well as a chance for me to visit early in the year, my future home state of California. I have visited California many times, but this was the first time I visited a desert city. I've been to San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, and now, Palm Springs. Unlike the other bustling large cities of CA that I have visited, Palm Springs really is laid back, walkable, calm, and quiet. It's a place where the rich go to chill out, go to spas, eat well, or hike the mountains.

I arrived in PS at 8:30pm PST/11:30pm EST. Although I was tired, I was so excited about being in PS. It was totally dark and a little nippy outside, but no where as cold as in Detroit. I arrived at my hotel, checked in, and walked along the manicured lawn to my room. The Days Inn PS was on the budget side at $115 a night, but it was perfectly located in the northern side of town and newly renovated. The pool area was just outside my door and as I walked by, people were relaxing in the heated Jacuzzi. I was starving so I walked about 10 minutes up the road to Del Taco and devoured a burrito. I went to bed in a king size bed so excited about being in my favorite state and looking forward to the next day's event.
Wow, mountains!

My room 324 was just straight ahead on this small path.
I woke up early to the bright sun peeking through the side of the curtains of my sliding door window. I open the widows and wow, the mountain views almost brought tears to my eyes. That's a mountain!!! I literally walked around PS smiling at the sun, the mountains, and the palm trees. It's amazing the restorative powers a quick visit to paradise has on one's soul. While there are neighborhoods in PS that are normal looking working class streets, there are many sections of town that have homes that cost tens of millions of dollars. They were absolutely breathtaking, so much so, I got dizzy looking at them.

For my short visit to PS, I was to attend the festival awards gala, spend time with my friends, shop, walk about, and watch one movie. The select pictures after this cut will present my trip in a nutshell.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Film Review: The Revenant (3.5/4)

During my brief visit to Palm Springs this past weekend for the Film Festival gala, I was able to watch one movie, The Revenant on Sunday night. I have long admired Leonardo DiCaprio and have enjoyed much of his work. So I knew going in watching The Revenant, I would see Leonardo in his most top form. The Revenant is inspired by true events about a fur trading frontier man, Hugh Glass. As unforgiving as life can be in the vast wilderness somewhere in early 1800s America, people have each other and the cruelties of mother nature to contend with. The film opens with Hugh, played by Leonardo, and his half-Pawnee Indian son, hunting. Their camp is attacked by Indians in a horrific battle scene that pulls you in and gets your adrenaline pumping, makes you avert your eyes and is reminiscent to the too realistic opening battle scene of Saving Private Ryan. Among the fur trappers who survived is a surly and jaded John Fitzgerald, played by the outstanding Tom Hardy. Moving away from the siege, the survivors are dependent on Glass to help them reach a safe outpost. In the first of many unbelievable near death events, Glass is ferociously attacked by a bear that is protective of her cubs. The CGI effects is near perfection in the creation of the bear, and you feel the complete horror that Glass experiences, and every rip of skin, every toss and being flipped over several times like a piece of hamburger. When Glass is found by his comrades, he's so messed up and they can't believe he's alive. Fitzgerald makes it clear that Glass needs to be put out of his misery for his own sake. And eventually, he gets the chance to deal with Glass with devastating results.

The Revenant, or rather, The Revenge is relentless is revealing all the trials Glass has to go through as he's hell bent on revenge for being left for dead. The film becomes slightly comical in the Tom and Jerry type of deathly misadventures that Glass endures. It's like he's a human cat and has nine lives. How can a man who was mauled by a grizzly bear keep going on and on and on? And that's where Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's talent comes in by using beautiful spiritual imagery that helps us understand the inner strength that compels Glass to find Fitzgerald and kill the fuck out of him. Suspension of disbelief needs to be employed big time when watching The Revenant because the average man living in the 1820s only had a life expectancy up to 40, and most were simple farm people. So for Glass to experience the following harrowing events is a bit too much to accept: bear mauling, untreated infection from said mauling, fever, no medicine, unprotected from the freezing elements, frostbite (they didn't have North Face back then), broken leg, throat ripped open, rotting skin, hunger/malnutrition, PTSD, mourning, chapped lips, falling off a mountain cliff only to be saved by a tree, going over a waterfall in freezing cold water, out running Indians with arrows, being shot at, and a very, very bloody crescendo fight with Fitzgerald. And these are the outrageous sagas I can remember. I rolled my eyes when Glass, somehow, escaped death, again.

The Revenant is a well made and entertaining film, but it's not for the faint of heart and it's extremely bloody and brutal. Regarding all the talk about Leonardo finally winning his Oscar, well, he's definitely deserving of an Oscar, and the emotional narrative of him being nominated 5-6 times already and not winning, certainly has Oscar gurus, bloggers, and some voters itching like hell to just give it to him. Just give it away so that Leonardo can calm down a bit and not take on year after year of Oscar bait films in pursuit of the Oscar. I'm sure loads of voters are tired of him, feel sorry for him, are feeling guilty, and they are tired of voting for actors who simply gave stronger performances in the past. The sentimental tide is definitely on Leo's side, but I'm stubborn and believe another actor had the better performance this year (Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs - see review).

With Leonardo receiving so much manufactured and PR paid for praise, his co-star, Tom Hardy is being ignored in the Oscar chatter. Within 12 months, Tom has been consistently outstanding in Locke, Legend, Mad Max: Fury Road, and now The Revenant. Tom Hardy deserves to be acknowledged with an Oscar nomination for The Revenant, and hell, he could even win! Whenever he was on screen as the dirty rotten Fitzgerald, I loved it. He had more dialogue than Leo - but then again -  employing suspension of disbelief - because Glass had his throat ripped to shreds by a Grizzly bear, so he couldn't say much. Sigh.

Go see The Revenant if you're up for a wild adventure tale of survival by any means necessary, witness the miracle of self-healing by being pissed off and revengeful, and lots of blood and gore (humans and animals).

Grade: 3.5 out 4 arrows

Friday, December 11, 2015

I'm going to attend an awards gala!


Last week I wrote about my hopes to win a lottery contest to get tickets to sit in the bleachers along the red carpet for next February's Oscar telecast. Well, the winner notification email time frame has come and passed and I did not win the lottery. However, a better opportunity presented itself instead. I'm going to attend the 27th Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) awards gala and after party on January 2nd. Have you ever made such a spontaneous decision and planning within a 72 hour window that could possibly change your life and leave your head spinning? Well that's what I experienced with the last, last, last minute decision to attend this event (Jan 1-4).

I'm going primarily to support my favorite actor, Michael Fassbender, who is being honored with the International Star award by PSIFF and this is literally a once in a lifetime opportunity to be at a public Hollywood and entertainment industry event where he will be there accepting a much deserved honor. I'm excited about attending the event with friends, and dressing up really nice to attend an event where I can network and help lay down some bricks for my future move to LA in late 2016.

This year's roster of honored talent is ever growing and I look forward to meeting, if just for a moment, all of this year's honorees:


PSIFF has announced that Carol actress, Rooney Mara will receive its Spotlight award; Black Mass lead actor Johnny Depp will receive its Desert Palm Achievement Award (Actor); Carol and Truth lead actress Cate Blanchett will receive its Desert Palm Achievement Award (Actress); The Danish Girl and Ex Machina supporting actress Alicia Vikander will receive its Rising Star Award; Room lead actress Brie Larson will receive its Breakthrough Performance Award; Steve Jobs lead actor Michael Fassbender will receive its International Star Award (male); Brooklyn lead actress Saoirse Ronan will receive its International Star Award (female); and Spotlight co-writer/director Tom McCarthy will receive its Sonny Bono Visionary Award. - The Hollywood Reporter

Image from last year's event

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Fingers crossed for Oscar bleacher seats

I promise to look more enthusiastic and happy to be sitting there!

I have been a fan of the Academy awards since the mid-80s, that's when I really started to pay attention to them when I was in my teens. In 1992, when my favorite film of the year, The Silence of the Lambs won five well deserved Oscars, predicting the Oscars and watching the show has been in my blood ever since. In all this time, because I'm such a cinephile, I have been very, very disappointed with decisions that the American Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has made over the years. Politics/Religion/Sexism/Racism/Intolerance should have no place in truly honoring the best in cinema... but it does, and that's what happens when you have a voter base that is not reflective of the diverse society and world we live in. In response to winners that I was disgusted with, I boycotted watching for a few years. Sure, I kept tabs on predictions, nominations, and the end results, but at an arms length.

Due to my favorite actor, Michael Fassbender, possibly getting his second (should be his third) Oscar nomination for his excellent work in Steve Jobs, I have entered into two lottery contests for the chance to win a pair of tickets to sit in the fan bleacher section along the red carpet at the next Academy Awards, February 28th. One contest via AMPAS just gives you the tickets to attend (after passing a background check), and the other is through People magazine where they will not only give you two tickets, but pay for hotel and airfare. I would prefer the People contest, but if I won the AMPAS lottery, I have already created my AirBnB and Uber accounts to help me enjoy my quick LA visit.

If I won either contest, I'm so there and I'm very excited to take part in this once in a lifetime opportunity. In years past, for people to get into the bleacher seats, they camped out for days. But it was always the same strange fanatics who would camp out, save spots for friends, and sit in the bleachers for years and years and years. But AMPAS put a stop to that in 2011-ish and in an effort to be more fair and give other people from around the country and world a chance to sit in the bleachers, they have this annual lottery contest. I think this is fair and if I win the lottery, what a dream come true for a lover of cinema and the art of fine films and performers!!!

Fingers crossed!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Viva la Paris

It's been a week since the terrorist attacks in Paris (by an evil terrorist group whose name shall never be typed by me), and I just want to take this time to send my love and thoughts to the citizens of Paris. As I have written in the past year, I am in the planning stages of a big European summer trip with my mom and niece next June. We'll be spending 4 days in London and 4 days in Paris. My niece is particularly interested in Paris and this once in a lifetime trip for all of us is going full speed ahead.

I lived in New York City when 9/11 occurred. My apartment was a mere 6 miles away from ground zero. Although it took a few weeks for us New Yorkers to wake up from the shock of the horrific terrorist attack, we did eventually moved on and became stronger and more united. That is what is going to happen in Paris, and any other unfortunate city that meets the same attack by these barbaric subhuman scum in the future. I know good prevails over evil, but there will be times when evil hurts us, but we always get back up, reassess things, and defeat them. This will happen. But meanwhile, I refuse to change my vacation plans. We're going to Paris and we're going to have an excellent visit.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

My Ancestry.com Results!


To my great surprise, it only took two weeks for Ancestry.com to send me my DNA results, saving me up to an additional four weeks of waiting. I'm excited to share the findings and for the most part, I'm not too surprised, but it was fun seeing the results of what I suspected. To summarize, my African roots are primarily from West Africa, and the map from Ancestry.com representing my DNA ancestry reminds me of just how large and diverse the continent of Africa is. The largest portion of my African ancestry is from Cameroon/Congo (25%), and the remaining 46% is from other parts, including 14% from "Trace regions". According to Ancestry.com, trace regions are: These are regions where you seem to have just a trace amount of genetic ethnicity — there is only a small amount of evidence supporting the regions as part of your genetic ethnicity. Because both the estimated amount and the range of the estimate are small, it is possible that these regions appear by chance and are not actually part of your genetic ethnicity.

And Europe is 26% of my DNA Ancestry with 13% of that from Great Britain, and 13% from trace regions in Europe. In the European DNA ancestry break down, the second largest region at 7% is from Spain/Portugal. I had no idea that I have Iberian Peninsula ancestry, so that was the really cool find.

Overall, I find my DNA results to be enlightening and fun. There are so many other DNA tests out there and they are continuously developing these tests to have even better estimations. Perhaps I'll do another test in 10 years to see if the science of the testing can confirm these trace regions or merge my DNA definitively into the currently dominate ancestry regions.

Here is the complete breakdown of my DNA ancestry results:

25%    Cameroon/Congo
23%    Benin/Togo
9%      Mali
14%   Trace African regions (tiny percentages from five other African countries)
13%   Great Britain
7%     Spain/Portugal
3%     Scandinavia
2%      Ireland
1%      Europe East
3%      Native American/Asian
100% = ME

Friday, November 13, 2015

Love & Vodka is a Fish Out of Water

I got my book signed y'all!
This past Wednesday evening (Nov. 11th) reminded me of why I love living in Ann Arbor so much. My long time dear friends, Laurie and Jon Wilson, invited me to the book launch and reading of R. J. Fox's new book, Love & Vodka - My Surreal Adventures in the Ukraine, which is the first book published under their new publishing company, Fish Out of Water (www.fowbooks.com). The reading was appropriately held at the downtown Ann Arbor bookstore, Literati. A brilliant corner bookstore that reminds me of my days in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City circa 2000. Nothing beats buying a book and then shoving a fancy $5 cupcake into your mouth as you walk home to read your new find.

RJ reading from 'Love & Vodka'
R.J.'s new book is about his ambitious endeavor to travel from the States to the Ukraine to ask a girl he just met on the street, to marry him. It's a funny story about how a young American experiences life so bizarre and completely different from his Michigan and California life, all in the pursuit of happiness. R.J. read for a bit and answered about a dozen questions. I knew going into the reading that this was a book I wanted to buy, and after R.J. shared some key bits from the book, I was sold, this is going to be a great, funny, and educational read.


Jon and R. J. toasting the book launch with a shot of honey vodka.
Jon and Laurie worked with R.J. for seven years to make that evening come to fruition. And if there ever was an example of synchronicity, Nov 11th was the night because it was that very evening, seven years earlier, when the Wilsons and R.J. friended each other on Facebook and began sharing dreams about book writing and creating a publishing company. Yup, the universe works in mysterious ways, but you have to put the action into motion to get what you want.

Please check out Jon and Laurie's Fish Out of Water publishing website (read about the book or short story submission guidelines), and order RJ's book! Cheers to Jon, Laurie, and R.J!

This was a deliciously smooth vodka.