Monday, December 31, 2012

A delightful time in wintery Toronto

I spent the weekend with friends in Toronto for the first time during winter, and the results are: Toronto winters are the same as in Ann Arbor. I just traded one wintery mess for another, but in this case, I just had more fun things to do with a friend.

Here are some pictures from my weekend -

 I haven't eaten so good, meal after meal like this in so long. Byzantium on Friday night, Le Societe and the AGO on Saturday, and this brunch on Sunday morning at The Windsor Arms Hotel.

Hot chocolate at Soma in the Distillery district, very spicey, hit the spot after all the walking around the city.

 Daniel Craig's 'Casino Royale' swim trunks. I never thought I'd be so close to them.

 I took a few pictures on the inside of the X-Men exhibit when I was told I could not take any. Ooops.
 I answered this question via twitter at the AGO and my tweet posted up on their twitter feed board in the Contemporary Art section.

 Great exhibit, but very, very strange.
 A high view from a cozy cubby hole at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
 No pictures allowed, this is my only proof of a wonderful exhibit.
 They got a lot of snow in Toronto and it was cold. I discovered that my boots aren't waterproof from the road slush.
I'm going to have to treat my friend Glenn to this restaurant at Holt Renfrew when I visit in September. He's a great friend, great dining partner, and has walking stamina just like me.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Buddhist Christmas

Since 2005 I have been a practicing Zen Buddhist, and in Buddhism, we do not celebrate Christmas. However, westernized Zen Buddhism recognizes that many of its followers grew up in Christian, Jewish, Catholic, etc., lifestyles, so it is understood that when December 25th comes around, many Buddhists happily embrace their family tradition of celebrating Christmas. And as a matter of fact, many Buddhist Jewish people I know happily still celebrate Hanukkah too. What I would like to try to impress upon my readers is that my practice of Buddhism is really all about the individual being of an open minded, open hearted mind frame, and open to participate in activities that bring joy to them and sharing in the goodness with others. Buddhism does not pray to Gods, and we do not think of the Buddha as a God or deity. He was a remarkable human being who taught humans about the ability for all of us to find Nirvana through meditation and looking inside oneself for peace. All human beings have this capability, the Buddha is inside all of us, but one has to seek it for themselves as no one or nothing can do it for you. I have a very long way to go in continuing to build up and strengthen my Buddha nature, but at least I'm on the right path. (Read this interesting view point from a Buddhist who celebrates Christmas with her family.)

Back in 2007 is took the precepts in Toronto (our sister sangha to the Ann Arbor community) and accepted a Buddhist name, Suhak, which means, 'To cultivate and learn'. Due to a very busy schedule thanks to school and work in the past 2 years, I haven't been able to attend services as often as I would like. But I do go, and I even volunteered for an event in September and participated in a memorial service in August. In 2006, that was the first year when I stopped putting up my Christmas tree. Especially living alone in my apartment and not having many visitors come by, I did not see the need to have it up anymore. And as the years passed, I got more used to not putting up a tree. On a trip to London in December 2010, I even donated to my friend Lucinda, some Christmas ornaments that I no longer used. They were beautiful and I wanted my English friend to decorate her pretty tree with them (I helped her put them on her tree even). I still very much enjoy the Christmas spirit and I love looking at trees when I am out and about town, and when I visit family and friends. I do burn Christmas scented candles from Yankee Candle, and I have a cool tree topper in the form of a star that turns different colors. Although I don't have a tree to attach it to, I hook the clasp upon the window sill of my living room, and me and my cat Krystal like looking at the pretty star turn into 5 different colors. This is my way of scaling back on the Christmas decorations, but also still acknowledging it in my own Buddhist way.

Because I'm blessed with friends and family who give me gifts for Christmas, I'm more than happy to keep that tradition by giving them gifts as well. But I am mindful of a budget and I get cool, unique, personal gifts that I know they will enjoy. I splurged a bit on my baby nephew Myron who is now 10 months old, and my oldest nephew, well, since he's 19, he expects money (his birthday is Dec. 19) and I'm also pitching in a bit more money to make up for his mom not being with us (Suzy died in 2008). Just because I'm Buddhist doesn't mean I expect everyone else to scale back on Christmas, and I do enjoy being with my family. I don't make it a big long day of celebration, but I spend quality time with them, exchange gifts, eat, and go. That's how I roll on Christmas.

So tonight, my dining room table is full of packages of small cool gifts, and I'll be making some chocolate chip oatmeal cookies that only I appear to be able to successfully make in my family, and I got some small cookie packages to add those homemade cookies as a gift too. I don't have to travel far to see family, and I didn't stress out with shopping. In fact, I used only a handful of merchants:, Barnes & Noble, Walgreens, Michael's Craft, Game Stop, Avon, Teahaus of Ann Arbor, and Bellanina Day Spa. Two of these places were online, and the others were just across the street from where I live, or close to work. No mall shopping at all!

Now that I'm on winter recess from school, I have so much time available, I literally am at a lost for what to do with my time. I feel like a slacker... I should be doing something that's causing me a migraine, but I'm not. I'm going to chill out, lay low, and prepare for my wonderful getaway trip to Toronto this Friday - Sunday. I'm so glad I booked this trip! So with that, I just wanted to say, Merry Christmas to those who celebrate and just have fun and be nice to people. Cheers and hapchang.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Film Review Double Feature: The Hobbit & Lincoln

What better way to use a Visa gift card to purchase movie tickets to catch up on the hottest films in theaters at the moment? So this weekend, I treated myself to two films that were on my must see list in December, and I'm very pleased to report that I enjoyed both immensely.

The Hobbit

On Saturday I watched The Hobbit! The last time I was in the theater to see a Peter Jackson film from the Tolkien novels was back in 2003 when I saw Return of the King three times. Why so many times? Well, the movie was brilliant, and it was, at the time, thought to be the final film that any Lord of the Ring fan would see from Jackson on the big screen. So when we all first learned a few years ago that The Hobbit was going to be made into a film, but directed by Guillermo Del Toro, we were just excited to see the story continue, but more as a prequel to offer the back story to everything that preceded The Ring coming into Bilbo Baggins' possession. Yes, we saw a glimpse of that in Return of the King, but as The Hobbit told the story, it was much deeper than that.

In The Hobbit, it begins with the older Bilbo writing a book about his adventures so that his nephew Frodo could read about it one day. It was nice seeing Ian Holm and Elijah Wood reprise their roles, and of course it was great seeing Ian McKellen as Gandalf. But in The Hobbit, Gandalf comes to Bilbo on behalf of the dwarfs in soliciting his assistance in helping the dwarfs return to their Lonely Mountain home which they lost to a dragon, Smeagol. Slowly we are introduced to about a dozen dwarfs and some we immediately take to. They are a lively and funny bunch, but all the hysterics are probably saved for this first of three films as the dwarves are headed for a battle that not all will survive. Like in the first trilogy, a hobbit is USED again to help another race of people because apparently, due to their simple low key lifestyles and having no natural enemies, Hobbits are the go to people to help other races or all of Middle Earth from doom. To me, that makes the smallest and simplest people in Middle Earth to be the most powerful off all creatures because they are the key to solving major turmoil in Middle Earth. The Hobbit is surely an adventure that Bilbo Baggins is cut out for, and the role is wonderfully played by Martin Freeman, who does look like a younger Ian Holm. A highlight in the film is the scene with Gollum which reminds us of the brilliance of Andy Serkis and CGI. Gollum is a hot mess and we see him in a state of madness that we have missed in almost a decade.

The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey is completely entertaining, nostalgic, and fun. It can be a little dizzying with the introduction of a lot of characters most of us aren't familiar with yet. I read the trilogy, and I have the Hobbit book, but, I just never got around to reading it. But I shall! As of this weekend, worldwide the film has passed the $200 million box office and I think it's safe to say that a lot of people are excited that a new Middle Earth saga trilogy is back in theaters again. I am too.

Score: 9/10


Out of all the United States Presidents, most Americans can easily say who was the 16th President, and it was Abraham Lincoln, the President who freed the slaves! In Steven Spielbeg's Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln, it tells the story of those pivotal two years after his second re-election, and at the height of the stupid Civil War (evil Southern states wanted to keep slaves), and his determination to abolish the slavery of human beings from Africa. Although most people know about Lincoln, they don't know the details of his presidency that is depicted in Lincoln. As usual, Day-Lewis was marvelous... he's such a brilliant actor that it's getting tiring seeing him bring to life a character, fictional or non-fictional, and the viewer totally losing themselves in his performance due to how mesmerizing he is. He will receive yet another Oscar nomination for this performance, and I'm pretty sure he'll win the damn thing for the third time. He'll deserve it!

In keeping with the tone of the day, ignorant and hateful people who sadly were in charge of the country used the N-word ad nauseum throughout the film. Sometimes brutal honesty can be hard to watch or listen to, but that did not distract me from appreciating this cinematic adventure which felt like a documentary for a bit. And that's a good thing because it demonstrates the rich research that went into creating this film. Sally Field as Lincoln's wife Molly was very good. The women back then were just... women, they gave birth, wore dresses, and did their hair, and that's about it. But the relationship between Molly and Abraham revealed a disconnect due to his responsibilities for the nation and a historical crisis unfolding which could change the path of the country. So no, he could not mourn with Molly about the death of their child, as much as he wanted to, he couldn't, he had to be the President to set things as right as possible so that all Americans can live their life free and as equals. I expected to see Lincoln's assassination depicted in the film, so I was surprised when it was excluded.

I don't understand why the Ford Theater scene was not shown, perhaps to shave time off a film that was hitting the two-hour mark as it was, but Lincoln's assassination was announced to a crowd in a theater of a different performance and the people's reaction there was used as a substitute for those at the Ford theater. For the first president to be assassinated, and for this film to be about said president, I have some issues about them not presenting the historical Ford theater incident. Instead, we see Lincoln laying on a bed surrounded by his cabinet and a doctor, and his wife grieving, and then he's pronounced dead. The film ends with Lincoln giving a speech to demonstrate not only his orator skills for those times, but to also highlight what a remarkable man President Abraham Lincoln truly was, and what the country lost too soon after he installed the all important 13th Amendment to the United States constitution. If you think long and hard about it, if there was no President Lincoln, what would the world be like today, in fact, what would America be like today? I shudder to think.

Score: 9/10

Friday, December 21, 2012

I did it! - Weekend movies

Hey everyone, all the stress, sleepless nights, and migraines paid off! I got A's in both my Communication Activism and Marketing Management grad courses! I'm so damn relieved, and that means that after 7 courses, I still have a 4.0 GPA!!! I should treat myself to sushi for lunch today!! Yeah!!!!!

Also yesterday, my supervisor from a separate department gave me a Chase Visa gift card. So I will use that to go see the Hobbit on Saturday, and then Lincoln on Sunday! On Wednesday, the pediatric endocrinology department head doctor gave me a $50 Macy's gift card and I sho 'nuff turned that bad boy around and ordered via, these Zelda faux fur boots! They will arrive just in time for me to wear them while in Toronto NEXT weekend!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Whew! I made it! | The Hobbit | Lincoln

As you can imagine, I have been terribly busy with final projects for the winter term of grad school, and I lie not to you when I say that it took every bit of strength I had to complete the four papers and two presentations. I am by all legitimate accounts, fucking exhausted. I'm so tired that my body is aching from the stress and tension, and I haven't slept well in the past week because I tossed and turned at night thinking of my projects. Last night I took a muscle relaxant pill, and tonight I'll take another one to help catch up on sleep and calm the hell down. But with all that said, I strongly believed that my work paid off which will allow me to maintain my perfect 4.0 GPA, a feat I was hesitant to claim possible at the beginning of the semester. I knew as per the syllabus from both classes, I was going to have my work cut out for me, so it pleases me to know that was able to give my all.

In this three week break from school, I need to catch up on watching movies as the Oscar season is upon us. This weekend, I aim to go see The Hobbit and Lincoln! I will also go see Zero Dark Thirty in a couple of weeks. This prime Oscar bait film is so oscar baity that it has already debuted in 'select cities' to qualify for the Oscar nomination process, but the rest of the country will have to wait until Jan 11th. This time of year is when I am at the theater multiple times over a several weeks period. I try to watch all the best picture nominees, but if a particular film does not appeal to me, I won't bother with it, and in this case, it's Les Miserables for this year. I just detest musicals.

Controlled Christmas Shopping

I will do my Christmas shopping this weekend, and as always, I'm on a budget, but I'm halfway done because I bought all the females in my family their stuff from Avon. I will try to do all the dudes shopping at one place to keep my patience under control due to how busy it is at stores this time of year.

Detroit Film Theatre member

When I visited the Detroit Institute of Arts last month for the Faberge Egg exhibit, I paid for a membership with the Detroit Film Theater. As a cinephile, this was something that was long overdue and I'm glad I did it. Especially since I love and have supported the Toronto Int'l Film Festival for nearly 10 years, I also need to support the DFT. I received my membership information in the mail the other day, and it included a movie pass to watch four films at the DFT in 2013. I didn't expect that so I'm doubly excited to be a part of the DFT now!

And lastly...

On Friday, Dec 14th, like many of you, when I learned of the horror of the massacre of those children at Sandy Hook elementary and their brave teachers, I felt like someone kicked me in the stomach. I was in a state of disbelief that I got dizzy and had to sit down. I was watching the news report unfold via at my co-worker's computer and we both were just horrified. I then declared that this country is going to hell in a hand basket. How many more innocent people will be murdered by a deranged person with guns that were designed to murder people? Why is this act so prevalent in America? This gun loving society still doesn't get it! Like my professor mentioned in the final class last night is that the president needs to seek out the brightest minds to create a commission that is dedicated to figuring out this problem in our country. There is no quick solution because the gun lovers are holding their guns closer to them now more than ever. They know it was bad what happened at Sandy Hook, and they are even more afraid of laws that will ban the very weapons that they have to use against human beings whom they perceive may bring harm to them. The weapons used to murder those beautiful innocent souls were not designed to kill rabbits or deer, it's military style weaponry that regular gun crazy civilians can buy.  It's just so fucking insane, and it's embarrassing to live in a country where it's ok to possess these type of powerful tools. And in the wrong hands of an insane, chemically unbalanced fuck, the horror is increased five-fold.

American society is sick, we need help, we need a cure in the form of solutions to limit access to these powerful weapons that were made to destroy lives either under the pretense of self-defense, or flat-out murder because of delusional hate, envy, jealousy, or just insanity. More of these types of mass killings by a semi-automatic weapon will occur... it can happen today, tomorrow, on Christmas day, or two months from now. It's going to happen again, and again, and again. So I ask this, what particular situation needs to occur on a more grander scale than Sandy Hook elementary for everyone in this society to proclaim in unison, ok, enough is enough, let's prohibit guns in this country? Let us become a civilized country by reviewing the state of mental health care, and start by banning the guns that were designed to kill dozens of humans all at one.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Overwhelming time: School, Projects, Movies!

I am in the final two weeks of Fall semester of Grad school and I cannot wait until it ends. I am utterly exhausted, and very stressed out. I'm so stressed that I have a pinched muscle in my upper back from tension, and my apartment looks like a tornado has gone through it! As of this week, I had an exam on Monday, and I have to complete four - yes, 4 papers, two presentations, and a website for my Communication Activist course 'F.A.C.T' (please visit it and reply to the blog posts on the main page, it's part of my class presentation on Dec 11th) - all this must be completed by Dec 17th. I'm staying up til midnight each night, and one of the papers is for a class project for my marketing mgmt class in creating a Marketing Plan for a cool local company called Balance Massage Therapy. And yes, I already reckon I'll be using their services to de-stress after this term!

I'm going to need one of these by month's end!
There are six people in my group, led by me (I'm the top student in my class and my instructor arranged the group dynamics this way so that I could lead by example - basically, I'm a victim of my own success) - however, one person is so far not pulling her weight and it's pissing me off, causing stress too. But, we'll get this project done and when we rate each other's participation, she'll be scored appropriately. I knew this semester was going to be tough, but so far I'm doing well in each class and I'm on pace to maintain my 4.0 GPA... fingers crossed.
In other news, there is a new addition to my family as of Tuesday. I have a new niece, Mackenzie Elise, born a month early on Dec. 4th at 4lbs. I'll meet her on Saturday on a quick escape from studying. And that brings me to another thing that occurred on Dec. 4th, I received from Amazon my Dark Knight Rises blu-ray (I pre-ordered two weeks ago), and I was surprised because I forgot about it. Sadly, I can't watch it right now, I won't be able to sit down and watch it until after the 18th, which is the final night of classes this term.

Yes! I'll be seeing these in person!
As I reported a couple weeks back, now more than ever I am so excited about my upcoming trip to Toronto. My friend has confirmed the tickets for the James Bond exhibit at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, and we'll see the Xmen exhibit as well, and then go another museum to watch a cool exhibit. And speaking of films, I did manage to treat myself to a second serving of Skyfall and I'm tempted for a third viewing, but, I'll save my pennies for other films that I need to watch in preparation for the upcoming Oscar season. And it's already off to an interesting start.
This week we have seen the announcements from the New York Film Critics, they have given Zero Dark Thirty their top honor, along with Daniel Day Lewis as Best Actor for Lincoln. But the National Board Review also named ZDT as the top film, but gave Best Actor to Bradley Cooper. Hmmm. But what really impressed me was the Best Original Screenplay winner for 'Looper' (read my 9.5/10 review). Usually in December/January, I go to the theater to check out the new released films that are hot and part of the Oscar chatter, so that means I'm obligated to see ZDT and Lincoln automatically. Perhaps I'll see one of those in Toronto. I can tell you which films I'm very lukewarm about, and they are Django Unchained and Les Misérables. You know, sometimes there are just films that don't turn you on, and of the films released this month, these two are the ones I'm least interested in. Quentin Tarantino's latest film 'Django', I have heard about all this summer and it automatically just falls into the 'wait until it comes out on DVD' films. And for Les Misérables, I just don't like musicals, so that has been scratched off entirely from my must see list. But just because I don't like musicals doesn't mean that Les Miz is not a good film, it most likely is as it is directed by 'The King's Speech' Oscar-winning director, Tom Hooper, and starring Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, but I'm still not moved by it.

Here is the NBR list of winners per Hitflix:

Best Film: "Zero Dark Thirty"
Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow, "Zero Dark Thirty"
Best Actor: Bradley Cooper, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Best Actress: Jessica Chastain, "Zero Dark Thirty"
Best Supporting Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, "Django Unchained"
Best Supporting Actress: Ann Dowd, "Compliance"
Best Adapted Screenplay: "Silver Linings Playbook"
Best Original Screenplay: "Looper"
Best Animated Feature: "Wreck-It Ralph"
Breakthrough Actor: Tom Holland, "The Impossible"
Breakthrough Actress: Quvenzhané Wallis, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Best Directorial Debut: Benh Zeitlin, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
Best Foreign Language Film: "Amour"
Best Documentary: "Searching for Sugar Man"
Best Ensemble: "Les Misérables"
Spotlight Award: John Goodman ("Argo," "Flight," "ParaNorman," "Trouble with the Curve")
NBR Freedom of Expression: "The Central Park Five"
NBR Freedom of Expression: "Promised Land"
William K. Everson Film History Award: 50 Years of Bond Films
Top Films (in alphabetical order)
"Beasts of the Southern Wild"
"Django Unchained"
"Les Misérables"
"The Perks of Being a Wallflower"
"Promised Land"
"Silver Linings Playbook"
Top 5 Foreign Language Films (in alphabetical order)
"The Intouchables"
"The Kid with a Bike"
"War Witch"
Top 5 Documentaries (in alphabetical order)
"Ai Weiwie: Never Sorry"
"The Gatekeepers"
"The Invisible War"
"Only the Young"
Top 10 Independent Films (in alphabetical order)
"End of Watch"
"Hello I Must Be Going"
"Little Birds"
"Moonrise Kingdom"
"On the Road"
"Sleepwalk with Me"
The National Board of Review Gala will be held on January 8, 2013.