Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Streaming Subscriptions is a Great Entertainment Value!

I'm one of those people who proudly boast that I do not watch television. But allow me to preface why that is. Way back in 2006, on one particular day I received a bill from Comcast, my cable provider. Apparently I forgot to pay the previous month bill, so when I got the double bill plus some late fee charges, I owed them around $245 in total. That may not be a lot of money for most people, and it's not a lot to me either, but when you don't have it at that very moment, and other pressing financial matters are on your mind, suddenly $245 looks like a large and gross amount of money. Especially for a service where I only used maybe 20% of the channels. Also during this time, my employment was shaky because I was in a dead-end, soul destroying job and I didn't know how long I was going to be there. So I decided that I no longer NEEDED cable. I emphasize need because that's what cable had been to me for the previous10-15 years or so, a "need", not a necessity.

So I canceled Comcast, I paid the bill and I was done with them forever. Again, this was in 2006, so I had to go back to using an antenna for the TV to watch local news and network TV, but even then, I cut my TV watching literally in half. Then in 2008-09, the analog TV signal died and digital television took over the airwaves. At this point, I was no longer able to receive a signal on my TV, I even bought one of those converter boxes for digital signals, and I guess I have too many trees around my apartment or it's not facing in the right direction of the satellite, I don't know, but I cannot watch network TV on my TV. But that's OK because I had more pressing issues than watching TV. That's when my Internet usage went higher and I spent more time online surfing the net, or reading various message boards, etc.

In the past six years now, I have used my television strictly for watching DVDs and blu-ray and I couldn't be happier. When I was paying $107 a month in 2006 for Comcast, I started using Netflix at $7.99 a month, or Blockbuster at the same price. A total savings of $100/month or, $1200 a year! Yes, that's right, getting rid of cable saved me a lot of money during a time when I really needed to start counting my pennies. I started checking out current DVD rentals for free at my local library, and that allowed me to be entertained at no cost. Of the great TV shows that I was missing out on, I was able to get caught up on in due time by renting the entire season all at once. I fell in love with the Game of Thrones this way and I anxiously await Season 3 which is at the top of my Netflix DVD queue for mid-February release.

Being a student and buying books from Amazon, I subscribed to Amazon Prime at the student discount and I came to love Sherlock from the BBC series, and Under the Dome! Streaming these episodes on my TV has been a fun adventure and a great source of escapism when I was drowning with my Grad school projects. And now that school is complete, I finally was able to jump on the bandwagon and see what all the hoopla was about regarding the critically acclaimed 'Breaking Bad'. Unlike you poor saps who hung in there and watched this fantastic show spread out over 5 years, I saw all the episodes in just 2 1/2 weeks (Netflix will release the second half of the finale Season 5 in a few weeks) and it was addictive! With the cold weather, holidays, and snow days, I was able to literally sit in front of my TV and watch a mini-marathon of Breaking Bad. One night it was 2:30am and I wanted to watch just one more episode, but I finally gave in and went to bed. What great fun it is to watch a show like that, on demand, NO commercials!

And that's not all that I have discovered. Amazon Prime announced just yesterday that they have the entire Season 1 of Hannibal for streaming, and guess what, last night I watched four episodes of this show and it's the bomb! I've seen all the Hannibal Lector films and read all the books, so naturally I had to watch the TV show and it's exquisite.  I also recently subscribed to HuluPlus, but I don't know how long I'll keep that as they have commercials and I'm not impressed with that. I wanted HuluPlus for their exercise/yoga videos, but when I'm 7 minutes into a yoga routine and a commercial comes on, I'm not cool with that. Instead, I may subscribe to Gaiam TV for their yoga and health/body/mind/ spiritual videos. So this is life post-cable TV, having carte blanche access to what I want to watch, when I want to watch it at an affordable cost.

I'll never have cable TV again because I cannot justify the cost. I'd rather wait a full season to watch a show because I'll be able to watch more episodes all at once at the time that is convenient to me. Do you still have cable? If so, ponder this. Do I want it, or do I NEED it? If you need it, ask yourself WHY?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Film Review: The Wolf of Wall Street (8.5/10)

Leonardo DiCaprio in Wolf of Wall Street
I was hesitant to watch The Wolf of Wall Street when it first came out a few weeks back. Most of us are aware of the greed saturated scandals that had rocked Wall Street in the 80s and 90s (well, during the entire history of the exchange of stocks and securities, including present day) and I think my not wanting to see that depicted in film and the stockbrokers basking in the glory of their suspicious accumulation of wealth was just too much to bear. However, I'm glad I saw WoWS because this Martin Scorsese film is brilliant in presenting the story of the rise and semi-fall of penny stockbroker Jordan Belfort, played by the fantastic Leonardo DiCaprio. And as you know, this is based on a true story from Mr. Belfort's book.

When Jordan was a 22 year-old kid, he got his first job at a stockbroker, and he was taken under the wings by an arrogant, lunchtime cocaine snorting stockbroker (Matthew McConaughey) who told him that the necessary key to success is using drugs, jerking off several times a day, and hookers. This type of stockbroker, and his wealth was the role model that Jordan had which then ushered him into a world of absolute sleeze, criminal behavior, and greed at a sociopath level. Never have I seen a film that perfectly showcased why women are not taken seriously in society. This film should have been titled, The Gynecologist of Wall Street'. Women are mere sexual objects and breathing flesh in the world of the dominant wolf and his pack of assholes, hence Jordan's moniker as The Wolf. The blatant graphic sex and nudity was a little shock to see because it's unheard of seeing that type of behavior in the workplace. The women are whores (apparently there are three types of prostitutes), mistresses, loud-mouth imbeciles, strippers, etc. I've never seen so many naked women fully disrobed, gyrating, involved in three-ways, gang bangs, and full frontal seductresses. If there's one thing for sure, the WoWS has secured the justification for the continued misuse and abuse of the female form in Hollywood, but this conversation is for another article. But you get my point.

The WoWS presented a story about what people are willing to do to other people just for money. The price for lying to clients and stealing their hopes and dreams is priceless because the Jordan's of the world have the most beautiful homes, the biggest yachts, fastest cars, and so much money that they call $100 bills "fun coupons". The constant need to show off and keep the little people in their place also shows how insecure these people are and it makes them even more greedy to widen that gulf between the Have Everythings and the shitty subway riding Have Nothings. Greed is contagious and brings out a primitive nature in a lot of people. The group rallies at Stratford-Oakmont look like they were at drug and alcohol fueled high school house parties with all the hooting and howling, and beating on the chest in a conquering warlike mantra. Jordan Belfort was their God and his face should be on the money that his training helped them earn. He was their pack leader and they idolized him.

The mighty do eventually fall when the FBI started to investigate Stratford-Oakmont's suspicious exchanges and Jordan goes to jail for 36 months. In the end, when Jordan is released, because of his successes which made him very rich, people still flocked to him as the alpha male who holds the key to earning millions, totally ignoring how corrupt he was and how many people he bankrupt in the process to make himself rich. The final shot of the camera shows the Belfort seminar audience with hypnotic glazed over eyes listening to every word Jordan says about how to become a millionaire. Money talks, and WoWS shows how stupid, morally bankrupt people can become superstars and present a way of life that a lot of people want to obtain... by any means necessary.  A real wolf has much more class and pride.

A beautiful regal gray wolf
Leonardo DiCaprio has been nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for this role, and I tell you, I was impressed with his performance. Leo has been nominated about five times before, and if he were to win the Oscar for WoWS, I would be happy for him because he was really great. From the country club payphone scene to the kitchen scene with Jonah Hill was fantastic, I was laughing my ass off. It was funny, and serious and really showed how talented Leo is in presenting the bizarre effects of a drug-fueled episode that was a regular occurrence in Belfort's life. There has been a lot of discussion about how divisive this film is, and to sensitive people, yes, this may be a hard film to watch with the drug use, graphic sex/nudity, and foul language. But one must keep in mind that this is a film about a wall street securities exchange company, not a sewing-circle in Iowa, so for all the gratuitous nature of those three elements, they were realistic for this film.

Score: 8.5 out of 10 - upon a second viewing, the score could go higher, it's a great film. The 3-hour length is appropriate for this heavy material and 15 year time span.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Boring Globes

Boring by Banksy
My Golden Globes prediction from a few days ago looks like I was on psychotic medication which brought on a severe case of delusion. I was so foolishly hopeful and enthusiastically supportive of the cast and director of 12 Years a Slave, that all common sense just flew out the window when I predicted that it would sweep the Golden Globes. What a silly goose I am!

As per my rants on my twitter account during the broadcast of the show, and some comments posted at the Fassinating Fassbender blog, I quit watching the show half-way through after 12YAS lost its fourth nominated category. It became an embarrassing joke just sitting there and thinking that the film will get the next category, or the next category, and then it seemed clear that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) just couldn't care less about 12YAS, and that's a shame. And the show became dreadfully boring to me. So I stopped watching it, but I followed the progress of the show via twitter and the FF chat I was in.

Jennifer Lawrence
We got a sense of how poorly the film would do when the Golden Globes did what the Golden Globes does all too well, kiss up to the mega-A lister celebrity by giving Jennifer Lawrence, the Best Supporting Actress award over Lupita Nyong'o from 12YAS. Precursor critics awards have showered Lupita with countless wins, and Jennifer has won some herself, but the GGs had the opportunity to make Lupita a household name and give this stellar casted film at least one acting award. The All-American golden girl sweetheart of the moment (or rather, next 2-3 decades), Jennifer Lawrence is just the cherry on top to start off this dull show. I'm not saying that she didn't deserve it, for all intents and purposes, I don't dislike Jennifer, she's a great actress, and for a girl her age, she is respectful, not stupid or skanky like many of her counterparts, but she's bordering on over exposure, in my humble opinion. I'm so tired of her. And because she's on top of  the world, just less than a year after winning her Oscar, they give her this for a retreading of her Silver Linings Playbook character. How original of the Globes! The HFPA set the tone for the rest of the program by snubbing Lupita and it was downhill from there. No award for Michael Fassbender, nothing for Chiwetel Ejiofor, no director for Steve McQueen (no hate on Alfonson Cuaron).

Lupita Nyong'o
But then, then final award of the evening was finally given to 12YAS, the Best Picture award. Oh wow, gee, thanks guys! I almost believe it's sincere too! Hey, a BEST PICTURE award with no other wins? Surely this has to be an afterthought, a cookie tossed to them to give them something and not make HFPA look too bad. But hey, beggars can't be choosers. Steve McQueen and cast got the top award, and as cool as this win is, it's still a bit hollow because how can a film truly be a best film when it fails to win any other award from that same organization? So you see, I'm questioning the entire event for this year. If HPFA would just be honest and vote with their heart of hearts... if they have one, then 12YAS would  have either won at least two other awards, or HFPA should have just stayed the course and gave the Best Picture to Gravity or Rush.

I think that HFPA just gave 12YAS the award so that they wouldn't be tagged with a certain "-ist" after awarding six of the seven nominations for the film to competing actors/actresses and films. You mean to tell me that of all the brilliant acting in 12YAS, that American Hustle, and Dallas Buyers Club actors/actresses in both acting categories won? Really? Well, that question now is moot because that's what HFPA did. So that's why the show was boring to me because HFPA played favoritism lazy voting for mega-A listers. It's good for ratings to have well-known favorite faces up on stage, instead of some foreign born newcomer nobodies, right?

I also think that because the Globes are the first awards for the season, they wanted to set the tone and dictate to the awards groups coming up later, the trends to follow. HFPA doesn't want 12YAS to succeed, that's why the film lost out in six of the other categories, and have the token Best Picture award as a really nice but hollow consolation prize. Be that as it may, I have had my fill of the Golden Globes, they are a mockery of the award season and they are a joke to the industry. But the industry plays along because winning a globe is good PR to help sell films, and if this Best Pic award can help more people see 12YAS when it expands to more theaters this week, that's a good thing. But, this is my last year watching the globes, it's just phony, contrived, predictable, and boring to me.

Best Picture cast of 12 Years a Slave
One final thought, in the past decade since I have been on the Internet and supporting my favorite films and performances, I have never participated in so much mud slinging and personal attacks from other fellow fans. The childish snarky attitudes, comments, rude remarks, sarcasm, and just plain old fashioned trolling and bitching, has really taken the fun out of sharing my opinions with other film lovers. Sadly, there are a lot of hateful people out there who for whatever reason strongly dislike 12YAS, and they are writing the most ridiculous racist, indifferent bullshit I have ever seen. I totally understand that many people simply do not like the film, period. That is fine, that is valid, no film has 100% of the people loving it. But this film in particular, for obvious reasons, is creating a lot of tension on the Internet from people who hate it because it's about slavery, they hate it because it's a "black film", they hate it because it makes them feel "guilty", they hate it because "slavery happened so long ago, what's the big deal", they hate it because it's universally revered and a critically acclaimed film.  When someone writes "I didn't like it, but it's not because I'm racist",...well, since you mentioned it, please check yourself on that.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The 2014 Golden Globes Predictions - No Guts, No Glory!

12 Years a Slave a film by Steve McQueen
The Golden Globes tend to be my favorite awards show because they also cover Television (even though I don't watch it), and there's no music guests and time consuming silliness. I also like the more festive dinner gala presentation that they have - watching our favorite celebrities sipping on champagne, or eating shrimp cocktail, it's a dinner party for those worthy enough to be honored by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA). This year in particular, I'm really rooting for one stand-out film, a film that has divided people, scared people, and cause people to avoid it due to its topic: American Slavery. Not only just that, but the slavery depicted with such realism, and horrifying accuracy that forces you to wonder, how could this have happened, and for so long in America?

My favorite actor, Michael Fassbender, has received his second Golden Globe nomination, but this time in the supporting actor category for his turn as a brutal slave owner. However, it's a tight race as his primary competitor, Jared Leto has won the bulk of the critics honors, and no doubt due to his great performance in Dallas Buyer's Club, which I saw at TIFF and predicted his nomination this award season, but Leto's character offers an alternative to Fassbender's, which may allow some voters, whom did not see 12 Years a Slave, or were so put off by its frank narrative, that they feel more comfortable voting for a performance that is lovely, warm, and fuzzy. With that all said, I still believe that Michael Fassbender has a great chance in winning many awards this season because his performance was just so spectacular, and undeniable.

Here are my predictions:

Best Motion Picture
12 Years a Slave

Best Actress
Cat Blanchett

Best Actor
Chiwetel Ejiofor

Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy

Best Actress Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Meryl Streep

Best Actor Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy
Leonardo DiCaprio

Best Animated Feature Film

Best Foreign Language Film
Blue is the Warmest Color

Best Supporting Actress Motion Picture
Lupita Nyong'o

Best Supporting Actor Motion Picture
Michael Fassbender

Best Director
Steve McQueen  (I'll be shocked, but not surprised if Alfonso Cuaron)

Best Screenplay Motion Picture
John Ridley - 12 Years a Slave

Best Original Score Motion Picture
Hans Zimmer

Best Original Song Motion Picture
Please Mr. Kennedy (Inside Llewyn Davis)

The following are the only two Television categories I'm interested in -

Best TV Series, Drama
Breaking Bad

Best Actor TV, Drama
Bryan Cranston

So there you have it. Many of my predictions are hope based, I don't have the time or the interested to study odds or precursors because you know what, that is antithesis to the actual concept of being rewarded based on the subjective craft of the arts.

The Golden Globes will be aired on NBC at 8pm EST, Sunday, January 12th.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Frigid Winter Wonderland

Facing North bound of Huron Parkway
The snowstorm that hit the Mid-west and my state of Michigan was bad. We got around a foot of snow, but what is worse than the road clogging snow is the frigid cold air that will linger around for the next several days. I took a break from hibernating in my apartment and walked across the road to get something from Whole Foods... here are some pictures:

Exiting my apartment building

 That's my car. I refuse to live anywhere that doesn't have a carport, just for this type of weather.

 Heading towards Whole Foods on foot across Huron Parkway

 A foot path up the hill to the shopping center.
 The parking lot of Walgreens. It's usually packed to the max at noon. Today, nothing.
Walking towards Whole Foods - it's so damn cold. It's 3 degrees, and -20 with the wind chill factor.

 Walked past Whole Foods to go to the BP gas station to buy my weekly lottery tickets.
 Dangerous icicles!
And this is why I walked to Whole Foods. LOL! I really just wanted to get outside for a minute.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Amsterdam Trip as a Graduation Gift!

Happy New Year and thank you for your patience while the ToZ blog was on hiatus as I finalized my final semester of Grad school studies. I hope you like the slight template changes here. Back in October, I realized that my plate was just too full and I could not devote a fair amount of time updating this blog. So it was just best to post a notice that the blog would be on hiatus until after graduation. As I have mentioned all the while, grad school was very demanding, and I was able to graduate on December 21st with a 4.0 GPA! So it makes it all the more worthwhile that I treated myself to 5 days in Amsterdam.

The city was fantastic and has fantastic museums and great shopping! In fact, the new banner photo is from a lamp store in Amsterdam. I came very close to buying an exquisite tealight holder that was made of a similar style and material as the lights in the picture, but I could not squeeze one more thing into my suitcase. I visited the Anne Frank museum, the Van Gogh museum, the Rijksmuseum, and even the Marijuana and Hemp museum. The famous coffeeshops are practically at every corner, and I came to enjoy visiting one of them called the Utopia Coffeeshop. Let's just say that it lived up to its name. I tell you this, America could learn a hell of a lot from Amsterdam, the Capital of Liberalism and Happy people. America is not the greatest country on Earth, not by a long shot, but it's my home, and I love it, but we have some serious ills going on here, and that's why I enjoy traveling overseas so much.

Please check out the first batch of my pictures from Amsterdam at my flickr page. I will update a second set later today. Now that I have graduated from grad school, I can enjoy life a bit more by getting back into more pleasurable forms of reading, and watching movies again. Which by the way, since it's Oscar time, I need to catch up on some films so that I can join in on the debates about which film and which performances should get nominations and actually go on to win.

If you're in the mid-west and east coast sections of the country, you're dealing with a persistent snow storm just like we are here in Michigan right now. We're expecting to get 8-10 inches of the white stuff and it's foolish to even think about going outside in this mess. So stay in, stay warm, and review my 200+ pictures from Amsterdam - one of the coolest, safest cities on the planet!