Sunday, October 8, 2017

Film Review: Blade Runner 2049 - A+

It is extremely rare that I watch a film and want to see it again immediately. This is the case of Blade Runner 2049, the follow up sequel to the incredible Blade Runner (1982). I was completely mesmerized within minutes by the cinematography, music score, sound design... all the technical awards should just automatically start inscribing BR2049 on the name plates. Set 30 years after Blade Runner Rick Decker (Harrison Ford) disappears, an LAPD Blade Runner, Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is placed on a mission to find Decker because he's the literal key to an important missing link that was recently discovered, which could destroy the so called system of order, or rather, the wall, between humans and replicants.

The replicants are synthetic humans created strictly for slave labor, and there are older model replicants that need to be destroyed. They have been replaced by newer models that are more obedient to the demands of humans. After Officer K kills one of those Nexus model replicants, he uncovers a well hidden grave site that opens a pandora's box of world changing truths. However, the organization that creates replicants learn the truth discovered from those buried bones and are desperate to find Decker. Blade Runner 2049 explores the question, 'Do AIs have a soul'? We certainly see in BR2049 that they are more human that humans in this world, and yearn for the truth to come out so that they can use that information and take control of their own destinies.

Director Denis Villenueve's beautiful, almost meditative journey through an otherwise dusty and dreary landscape makes this 2 hours and 44 minute film go by so quickly because you lose yourself in its beauty, and the anxious moments watching the twists and turns to the climax of this fantastic exploration of human greed, abuse, and oppression over the artificially designed.

Grade: A+

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Film Review: mother! 4/5

I attended the screening of Darren Aronofsky's mother! yesterday at The Landmark in Los Angeles as this was a special sold out screening due to the Aronofsky Q&A after wards. As many of you know, I'm a sporadic novice film reviewer. I don't get paid to review films, and I buy the tickets to the films I plan to write a review on. So when I want to review a film, I have no bias and I really want to give my opinion about a film. With that said, mother! is the rare film that tests my ability to articulate myself about the perfection of a film that I believe is a unique cinematic treat, and should be seen by as many people as possible, although a mere faction of its audience will appreciate it.

mother! is an unconventional film as it starts off with a hint that it is not based in the realm that we humans live in, but instead, it feels like a stage play. Off the bat, you smell the elements of biblical allegories that tug at your sleeve of things you may remember from the bible. Jennifer Lawrence stars as the wife of her writer husband, Javier Bardem. They live in a remote... suspiciously remote, very large house that she remarkably has reconstructed all by herself. She loves to keep a beautiful, clean, bountiful house, and she yearns to have children one day. But her husband is curiously distant, but he plants her hugs and kisses at the appropriate time. He gives off sociopath vibes, but she loves him so much, and want to make their home beautiful and happy, she gives him his space. One day, a stranger comes by, played by Ed Harris, and he becomes too ill to leave. The husband, who never asks his wife to be part of any decision making, invites this strange man to stay. The wife is concerned, but obedient. Too obedient, maybe it's the age difference. Then the next day, the strange man's even stranger wife comes to be with him, and she is wonderfully played by Michelle Pfeiffer. This woman is immediately dismissive of the wife, as if the wife is intruding into her space, her life! Then things really start to unravel.

The wife is haunted by images in her home of past and future decay, a mysterious heart slowly corrupting, uninvited numerous rude stranger guests who are enthralled with her husband, and boy does he love the adulation by these selfish interlopers, and the blood shed by sibling violence which opens up a pathway to a source of power. But with all this going on, this leads to a crescendo of beautiful, crazy, audacious, funny, mindbogglingly, breathtaking, 25 minutes of Seriously, WTF?! Writing about it would be too spoilerish and it has to be seen to be believed! At the Q&A, Darren Aronofsky spoke about how this sequence brings a grin to his face. As the viewer, your mouth will be agape.

And that's not all! The final 10 minutes of mother! is super disturbing in a way that will offend those who are religious and concern those who are feminists. Birth, sacrificing for sins, cannibalism, a woman physically assaulted. All the horrors we read and see in the news of today's world events are captured in these two separate sequences of mother! And in the end, it starts all over and it makes eerie sense.

I've been reading about people walking out of the film, some having panic attacks, and I read on Twitter that the Academy screening had members standing out in the lobby during the last 10 minutes of the film. The real meat and potatoes of the film! Jennifer Lawrence deserves an Oscar nomination for mother! and the film deserves some tech noms as well, especially with cinematography, sound, and editing. This is a film that makes you think about the world today. How we treat mother Earth, how we treat women, how we become blinded by adoration and addicted to that adulation.

I'll go see mother! again, but I need time to still process the first viewing.

Grade: 4 out of 5

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Home for Labor Day

I have been so busy that I can't even bother to update ToZ, but alas, since it's the end of August, I need to keep up the theme of one post per month. However, I'm even more compelled to post this blog article today because I learned that I lost a dear friend back in Michigan over the weekend. I worked at a not so good organization from July 2013 to October 2015. If it weren't for my friend Dana going through the same difficulties, and both of us using each other to be a source of support and private laughs, we would have lots our minds and been even more sad and frustrated.

Dana died suddenly this past weekend due to a rare and aggressive cancer that apparently was just only discovered in the past few weeks. She spent her final weeks at the University of Michigan hospital, where she died. Since the day I left that company in October of 2015, I've been in regular contact with Dana via text messages and phone calls. The last time we texted was on August 1st. She was just checking up on me as usual, and she told me that she was starting a real estate investment company. She wanted to hang in at the 'hell hole' for just a few more months, and then she would be all set to go work for herself. I last spoke with her on the phone back in April. What's so sad is that Dana was only 52 and still had so much to live for. She wanted so badly to leave a bad job that she had been at since 2013, but because of the bad economy in Michigan, and the stigma of the place she worked at, no one would hire her. Because I've lost so many lovely people in recent memory, I have some to accept that death is just a part of life, and it releases the person from the misery that was in their lives. Dana provided a great reference for me upon my move to California which helped me secure my first job. I never had a of friends in my life, just those select few cool people, and Dana was one of them. Dana is no longer sick and in pain, and she is not working at the hell hole anymore. God speed my dear friend, and thank you so much for being there for me. ♥

As I plan to go home to Michigan for Labor Day weekend. I think this particular weekend is going to be THE weekend when I go home to visit family from now on. I look forward to making a pit stop in Ann Arbor to get some U of M paraphernalia, and eat a meal at my favorite sushi restaurant! I'm happy to see family and a few friends again, and to get away from my current "job". I've been interviewing, but haven't found the dream job yet. I know I will soon, I've made it this far to California, I'm not giving up now. The weekend after next, I go see Eddie Vedder at the Ohana Music Festival, and the weekend after that, I'll see director Darren Aronofsky for a Q&A at The Landmark for his upcoming film, Mother! starring his girlfriend Jennifer Lawrence. Since I'm missing out on TIFF this year, I'm looking forward to seeing at least one film that is making the festival rounds that is highly anticipated. After getting the email that tickets were available, I went to the website and had a hell of a time trying to buy tickets. I was lucky finally getting a ticket to this film and Q&A as it sold out quickly for a convenient Saturday afternoon screening.

I want to update ToZ much more frequently moving forward. I miss writing for ToZ, and it's always been cathartic and a source of stress release when I update the blog.

Monday, July 17, 2017

First Summer in LA Update

I haven't updated my blog in a while because I've been so busy. Since my last blog post, I have treated myself to a weekend to Palm Springs; dedicated 24 hours of volunteer time to the LA Film Festival; participated in a short internship that was a dud; continued to have phone and in person interviews for jobs; continuing to learn more about the transition job I'm currently at; house sitting 4 cats and a dog for six weeks at a discount of rent; and preparing for my mother to come for a short visit this coming weekend.

It's good to be very busy, but I'm trying to enjoy myself and also enjoy living in my new surroundings of LA County. I find myself trying to remind myself to pace my life and that all good things will come to me in time. It was an incredible life change just moving here on my own with not a lot of money and  no job lined up. But with all things considered, I'm lucky and doing well... but, I could be doing better: living my dreams. I created the image above with words of inspiration that just came to me. I think it's spot on. I often think about all the planning and hard work that got me to this point, and I look back on those crazy days with a sense of pride in myself. And I know that in a year's time, I'll look back at my challenges now and be even more proud of what I accomplished, but in my next step in life, I WILL have that dream job or at least be at the dream company that will allow me to pave a dream career.  But these things take time, and I'm in the most over populated city in the country, competing with people just as ambitious, educated and skilled as I am. So things are going to work out for me, I just have to keep at it and I'll get the job and home I have dreamed of for a long time.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Film Review: Wonder Woman - A+

When Gal Gadot was first announced as the new Wonder Woman, I didn't see her appeal, other than being a tall, pretty brunette. But when I saw her in the film I worked on as an extra, Batman vs Superman, she turned out to be a great Wonder Woman. As child, I loved Wonder Woman - I saw her as a symbol of the type of woman I wanted to be when I grew up: Strong, smart, independent, compassionate, strong willed, and a serious ass kicker. It was wise for DC Entertainment Inc. to have a woman direct this film. Patty Jenkins did a superb job in directing WW. This story of a Goddess, raised in a secret place that is exclusively women, needed a female director's perception, point of view, and attention to details. Princess Diana (aka, Diana Price) was born to be the one Goddess to destroy the God of Wars, the universal principal behind all the war mongering carnage in the world. Through a mere accident of meeting WWII spy, Steve Trevor, wonderfully played by Chris Pine, Diana is made aware of an active world war that is destroying millions of innocent lives.

With a perfect blend of her bravery to go into battle, and her sweet naivete, which is due to her being segregated from the rest of the world all her life, Diana boldly goes into the human world and is immediately disheartened by what she sees, especially the wicked deeds of humankind. But as she and Steve fall in love, she understands more about humanity and finds a reason to tackle a menace in a way that may kill her. Throughout the entire film, we see Wonder Woman engage in battle with the evil Germans and she destroys them in amazing ways.

Wonder Woman comes out in theaters in a very difficult time of our cultural and political landscape. We all need, especially women, to see the value of a strong brave woman going up against impossible odds, and come out on top in a blaze of glory. Wonder Woman may serve as a mere reminder to women like me that women are capable of extraordinary deeds that men are not only capable of achieving. And for the too many millions upon millions of people in the world, most of them men, who believe that women are weak, second class citizens that are not equal to men, they should see this to understand why WW exist, and how she helps reinforce that women are a unique force to be reckoned with.

Gal Gadot is just remarkable as Wonder Woman/Diana Prince. She makes you feel so proud watching this film. It's not a girly film at all, at the most, it's an amazing action superhero film that is similar, but yet very different than all the rest. As stated before, this is the first female lead superhero film ever, and it's on target to earn over $100 million its first weekend! Gal Gadot is now on the map and surely she will be making a few more Wonder Woman movies because the world will certainly want more now! If you were suffering from superhero fatigue, then Wonder Woman offers the cure!

Grade: A+

Monday, May 22, 2017

U2 at the Rose Bowl!

Inside the Rose Bowl
I've been a fan of U2 since 1985, and I saw them for the first time in 1987! I since then have seen them in 1992, 1994, 2001 and now 2017 at the Rose Bowl where they are playing Saturday and Sunday. That is four decades of supporting this band! As I type this blog entry, I hear U2 playing tonight - right now, they are playing In The Name of Love. It was a fantastic concert and it reminded me of why I have loved their work for so long. Back in 1987, U2 toured for The Joshua Tree and I saw them at their ever first stadium sold out show at the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan. As U2 rose to more and more commercial fame, I fell to the side because their music changed to something more pop and significantly moving away from the heavier political messages of their earlier music. Their music post-1995 still had some political messages, but the style was stamp approved corporate pop music. I got more interested in the anti-corporate sound of the alternative rock scene from Seattle (Pearl Jam is my all time favorite band).  There was a special dedication to Chris Cornell, the lead singer of Temple of the Dog, Soundgarden, and Audioslave, who sadly passed away this past week.

Since I live 4 miles from the Rose Bowl, there was no way I was going to pay $50 to park my damn car. Saving that $50 allowed me to buy a $45 t-shirt. So I found a side street to park my car for free, and it was only a 20 minute walk to the stadium. My seat was up in the heavens so I knew that in order to avoid the rush of fans at the end of the concert, I had to leave about 15 minutes before the concert was scheduled to end at 11pm and to avoid the 60k people in attendance trying to leave at the same time. I heard them sing I Will Follow, another of my old time great songs from U2, as I walked to my car. And it's a good thing that I got a head start because the concert ended on schedule, and I made it home at 11:10. No traffic headaches at all.

I look forward to seeing U2 in concert again, but I'll have to get used to the nosebleed seats as I'm not interested in joining their fan club for pre-sale tickets, nor do I have $3000+ to spare to buy a VIP ticket for access right at King Bono's feet. I love him, but I love Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam more. But I do see why U2 is the biggest concert attraction of all time; they put on an excellent show, very visually beautiful and fun. I'm proud to say I've been a fan of U2 for over 30 years. Maybe one day I'll be able to see them on their turf in Ireland!

Here are some pictures from the concert. It was a great experience and now I have one concert event under my belt from the Rose Bowl (I'll see Coldplay there in October).

About to get in line to enter the Rose Bowl. 

A view from my seat in Sec 9, Row 76, Seat 128.

My seat. I was lucky to get my bag through security.

The show begins. The Joshua Tree in lights!

Beautiful scenes on the screen behind the band as they play.

King Bono!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Got Tickets to Hamilton in September - Thanks to AmEx!

For a couple of months, I have been preparing for April 30th, the day the Pantages Hollywood tickets go on sale for Hamilton, the 11 Tony award winning Broadway play.  Knowing that tickets were going to be difficult to purchase, I knew that I had to zero in on a specific date, a Saturday, and a specific time. Weekend shows of plays usually have a matinee and an evening show. My birthday this year falls on a Saturday, so I wanted to shoot for a 2pm show on that day. About two weeks ago, I emailed a new local friend asking her if she was interested in going to see Hamilton with me if I got two tickets. I was aiming for the lowest prices between $75 to $125 naturally, and therefore, making it easier for me to get two tickets. However, I have not heard back from her so I reckon she's not interested.

The day has arrived and I logged onto my Ticketmaster account, and updated the payment information with my new Gold Delta Skymiles American Express card. And at 10am sharp, I clicked on the September 30th date, and I was automatically placed into a 40 minute holding pattern. I opened up another browser on my computer, and waited. I then logged onto my ipad, and waited. Then I figured I should call Ticketmaster while on hold online. I've been through many stressful ticket buying experiences before, but this one was strange. This is a FIVE month run for a play that has a show every day except Monday and I just thought that it would be a challenge, but not this much. I pushed the redial button at least 3 dozen times before I got through. Meanwhile, on the computer, a $650 ticket popped up. I clicked 'try again' to get lower priced tickets.

So as I'm on the phone, it took forever to have the 'system' find me a ticket, but at this time, I was still trying for 2 tickets at the lower prices. After they found two tickets and asked if I wanted to pay $1332, I said, 'hell no', try again, but this time, I just went for one. I was willing to buy two tickets up to the individual prices of $125, but not two tickets at $650 each! I'm not one for buying tickets only to resell at a profit to a person eagerly wanting to go to this show just like me. That's greedy and rude. So since this is a birthday gift to myself, and the ONLY way I was going to see Hamilton on my birthday was to splurge and buy the expensive $650 ticket, I bit the bullet and purchased it. Thank God I have this new American Express card - which was used for a true emergency, as in this case! I'll have my ticket mailed to me, and I was told that the ticket is in row H, so that's like 8 rows from the stage. AWESOME!!! (Click to see seating chart & prices)

I cannot justify paying this price for any other play, unless it's staring my favorite actor. But now that I have proven to myself that I am willing to pay at most $650, I should not trip out if in the future I need to consider buying a top ticket hovering around the $300-400 range for an excellent theater experience. But this will in no way be a habit. I don't anticipate being in the position of wanting a ticket with such high interest in the foreseeable future, so this is why I'm not too disturbed about paying this kind of money to see Hamilton.

What does irk me is that the tickets are priced in a way that scalpers buy all the cheaper tickets, and then go resell them at 4-6x the face value. So if someone really wanted to see this play on their birthday, and the only tickets that are available are through Stubhub or resold via Ticketmaster, that person will be paying through the nose for those tickets.

Case in point: The image above is for the September 30, 2pm performance, the same show I will be attending. The tickets listed for Mezzanine Left Center were bought by the seller at $95 each. The bastard is now selling these tickets for $415. I pity the desperate fool who buys those tickets, I really do.

I think the Hamilton theater company got wise about the horrible ticket pricing and scalping on Broadway, so they upped the tickets for the very best seats, knowing that those who really wanted to see the play and had the money to buy at that price, were set. But those who had to fight for the rest, risk possibly paying just as much if not more for the regularly priced expensive seats if they had to resort to the greedy, evil scalpers and resellers. You know what... let's just lump them all together. Someone deliberately buying tickets TODAY, with NO intention of going to that performance, and reselling at 5x the face value, is a damn scalper too.

But alas, the theory of supply and demand for extremely popular events will always have scalpers reselling affordable tickets to good fans who could not buy them fast enough from scalpers. I'm lucky I was able to be in the position to buy a high priced ticket on my own, and not resort to buying a poor seat at premium seat prices. Those who do buy a mezzanine seat at a premium seat price need to have a better understanding of the value of their seat and experience, at the value they are willing to pay for it. Is it ok to spend over $400+ for a nosebleed seat instead of a superior seat at just $200 more? If they think that's fine, they are justifying the existence of scalpers.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

An Evening with Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey at Film Independent - April 20, 2017
I'm not the biggest Oprah Winfrey fan, but you have to give credit where credit is due. She's a remarkable, multi-talented/multi-hyphenated person who does a lot of good for the world. When I realized that she was going to appear at the screening of her new HBO movie, I had to be there! The latest thing Oprah has done was help bring the very important story of Henrietta Lacks to life. Based on a New York Times bestselling book by Rebecca Skloot, Oprah produced and starred in the HBO film (airing this weekend), The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, directed by George C. Wolfe. I had the pleasure to attend the Film Independent screening for Immortal on April 20th, where Oprah and the director engaged in a lively conversation afterwards. Oprah admitted that even she wasn't aware of Henrietta Lacks, and it really saddened her. Ms. Lacks was a black woman who lived in Baltimore and was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She died in 1951, but Johns Hopkins hospital removed her cancer cells and used them for research and study that would lead to groundbreaking medical and scientific breakthroughs that have revolutionized all of humanity. Back in those days, it was protocol for human tissue to be used without consent for research. For those with a background and interest in science, you may be more familiar with the scientific name for her cells as HELA cells.

According to the wiki definition of HELA, it is described as, "A cell type in an immortal cell line used in scientific research. It is the oldest and most commonly used human cell line." HELA is abbreviated for HEnrietta LAcks, the human donor of these important and immortal cells. Read up on Henrietta's legacy from this current article at CNN.

The conversation with Oprah was very engaging and informative. She's really proud to be a part of this film. She plays Deborah Lacks, Henrietta's daughter. Deborah had a life long crusade to bring her mother's story to life. Oprah explained that she was hesitant to take on the role, but when she heard one of the interview tapes of Deborah talking to the writer of the 'Immortal' book, Rebecca Skloot, which the movie in based on, Oprah learned that Deborah wanted Oprah to play her if a movie were ever made. Well, her wish came true.

I was able to get my autograph from Oprah and I thanked her for bringing this very important story to our attention, and she said, 'You're welcome'. I shook the director's hand and told him how much I enjoyed the film. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks airs on HBO this weekend. Please watch it, it's a very important film. We have all benefited from Henrietta in ways we can't comprehend.

Oprah deserves an Emmy nomination for 'Immortal'

Director George C. Wolfe and Oprah

Fans getting their autographs

Heading to the wine and cheese reception afterwards

A variety of wines to enjoy