Author Archives: Mark Azali

About Mark Azali

A simple search on google will help you understand what Mark Azali is all about. He loves talking with random people at conventions, Google Plus, and twitter. Besides entertainment, he has an unusual obsession with starchy foods. Follow him and discover just how crazy he is: @notjohnlee (Yes. That's a reference to The Replacement Killers)

Review: Blue Apron – Gives You Another Reason To Stay At Home

It started off with movies being in your mailbox several times a week. Harry’s brought us razors. Naturebox gave us snacks. And now complete meals can be delivered to your door thanks to Blue Apron. If there’s hardware you need to prepare these meals, there’s a good chance Amazon has you covered so you never have to leave the house.

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Review: Google Photos – Skynet Is Here

Ages ago, we used to think of Google as just a web search engine. The ability to pinpoint searches into answers has become an invaluable tool and just like a living organism, Google continues to feed on inputs of users and content around an endless sea of content to become better at finding search results to even abstract questions.

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Review: Pitch Perfect 2 – Still in key

Pitch Perfect 2

While Pitch Perfect had a modest box office gross, it received a much larger life in home video through word of mouth advertising by those who were pleasantly surprised at it’s funny lines and charming pop mashups. Considering Anna Kendrick’s “Cups” is still in regular rotation on top 40 stations, it’s not a surprise that a sequel was conceived.

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Of Course Disney Is Making Frozen 2

Disney's Frozen

Disney’s Frozen is nothing short of a hit. It had a terrific run at the box office, generated a ton of revenue (theaters, home video, and soundtracks), and it’s music has became an instant classic among fans. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a sequel is in the work.

While Pixar has managed to raise the bar with sequels (Toy Story/Monsters Inc), we’re a little skeptical about Disney Animation’s efforts (think Cars). Thankfully, the same team behind Frozen is on board (Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck) as well as Josh Gad (Olaf). There’s no date yet, although it seems Disney has it’s hands full already with with Star Wars and Marvel movies scheduled for us well beyond next year.

Source: Variety

Vimeo Finally Adds Chromecast Support… for iOS

The Chromecast may not be in every house yet. There’s plenty of competition from the likes of Apple TV, Roku, cable set top boxes, and home theater PC’s. One of it’s key advantages is price and ease of use.

After over a year of wait, Vimeo now has an easier way to get to your big screen. While there have been some workarounds, the official app (just iOS for now) now lets you cast Vimeo video to your TV.

I don’t use Vimeo much because I just generally prefer YouTube. It’s been available on my Roku forever, but browsing videos on that interface isn’t always that great.

So now that it’ll be easier to watch original shows like “High Maintenance” on your TV.

Chromecast support is currently limited to iOS devices right.

Source: Vimeo

In Defense of Super Bowl Ads

Esurance

The Super Bowl is an interesting event in that the NFL managed to attract a higher volume of viewers that don’t care about the actual main event. Think about other events. Is anyone watching PGA tournaments for commercials? Think you’d tune into the Oscars if you never watched any of the movies that were nominated? Indeed the power of advertising has turned the Superbowl into a platform for companies to pour huge amounts of their budget into capturing the short attention of audiences. In many cases the products or services being advertised are completely unrelated to football (I’d bet the average football fan has little use for domain services like GoDaddy). But what makes some ads more memorable than others?

Advertisers enlisted the talents and imagery of some of the best iconic characters in pop culture this year. One of my favorites was the Walter White Esurance ad. This didn’t feel like a subtle tribute to Breaking Bad, this was Heisenberg in a deleted scene giving a comedic performance. If you didn’t watch Breaking Bad (why wouldn’t you?!?), you probably didn’t care for the commercial or even recognize one of the biggest lines “Say my name”. As a late-but-passionate fan of Breaking Bad, the concept felt like a home run as the show has forever created a footnote in history of the (elicit) pharmaceuticals industry.

The Mindy Kaling commercial was also a hit for me. If you watch her show, you’ll know how caught up her character is in her image. Seeing Mindy Kaling run through a car washer, eat ice cream from the tub, and sunbathe nude in a park all seem like plausible scenes if she were to be granted the power of invisibility. Again, this context makes the commercial appealing. The impact simply would not be there if Nationwide were to use an anonymous face.

Probably the most surprising ad came from Clash of Clans maker, Supercell. The ad shows Liam Neeson enraged at another gamer, acting his best like Taken character, Bryan Mills. Like the Esurance ad, we’re transported to a character’s world. It’s easy to wonder if Hollywood has already conceived the plot of Liam Neeson getting revenge on a troll.

So what’s different between these loveable ads and the loathsome ones I endure on Hulu or live TV? It seems like they connect so much better with the viewers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the same boring Disneyworld ad on Hulu while watching “Mindy Project” or “Jane the Virgin”. Just imagine if services could get people excited for ad supported content the way they do for the Super Bowl. Isn’t it reasonable to think Hulu could just run the Esurance ad for the “Mindy Project”? Hulu could at least mix up the commercials a little bit. If I’m paying for content that’s ad supported, at least show me some really entertaining ads.

Wavelength’s Ultraviolet Service Isn’t Quite Working… Yet

Wavelength

It’s been over a week since Wavelength launched and it seems the new “social” Ultraviolet service is off to a rough start. I’m not sure you can call their beginning a start as I was never able to experience any of Wavelengths promised features due to their site having trouble keeping up with the high traffic once folks became aware of it.

The first somewhat alarming flag I noticed while registering was a prompt to enter your Vudu login. That seemed a little odd considering Vudu itself is just another gateway to the Ultraviolet service like Flixster and even M-GO. Why would Wavelength need access to my Vudu account if my Vudu account has titles that aren’t Ultraviolet?

Wavelength seemed to crop up out of no where and I suspect they may have put the cart in front of the horse. Perhaps an initial invite only launch would have kept their service, which seems to skirt around the terms of service for Ultraviolet, under the radar more.

Ulltraviolet could really leverage Wavelength as a marketing tool to help debunk myths that the nearly universal cloud service is as easy to use as its hard core users try to pitch it as. Until then, we’ll have to patiently wait for wavelength to sort, what I assume, its legality issues out.

It also remains unknown if Wavelength is planning any connected apps for devices like game consoles and the Roku. One of Vudu’s strengths as an Ultraviolet provider is their high bitrate video and surround sound that really makes watching movies immersive. While having access to our friends’ collections is swell, I’d much rather watch movies on an actual home theater than my computer screen.

In the meantime, don’t forget to link your Disney Anywhere account to your Vudu and Google Play account to maximize/consolidate your digital locker collection.

Source: Wavelength

LAX: Now Home to Kogi BBQ

Chef: Roy Choi

If you live in Los Angeles, you may have noticed the food scene upping its game over recent history. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone as the diverse demographics are conducive to not only a wide variety of culinary palettes, but one of the biggest perks perks of living in a melting pot are the fusions of complementary flavors that push the boundaries of dishes you thought couldn’t be made better.

I used to in Santa Monica and was lucky enough to benefit from the food truck trend. If you head over to 31st and Ocean Park, you’ll see a variety of trucks serving anything but run of the mill food offerings from gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches to curry cheese fries. If there was a man to thank for the explosion of trucks that shattered the notion of mediocre food from roach coaches, it’s Roy Choi, and what could be better than his delicious food having a home at the Los Angeles International Airport?

In more recent media, if you’ve seen (and drooled while watching) the movie Chef, you’ll see why the residency makes sense. Any airport can have a McDonald’s or Starbucks, but bringing Roy Choi’s famous Korean taco fusion to the masses sends a bold message that Los Angeles is more than a home for sports teams, insufferable traffic, earthquakes, and the entertainment industry.

So if you’re looking for a reason to get to the airport earlier or dread layovers, maybe your next traveling experience will be more memorable after a bite of Kogi BBQ.

Source: Eater

 

The New Living Sisters Album Proves There’s Room for New Holiday Tunes

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The Living Sisters: Eleni Mandell, Becky Stark, Inara Geoge, Alex Lilly

I absolutely adore The Living Sisters. If you don’t know, they’re a supergroup of VERY talented artists with amazing voices that specialize in harmony. I played their first album “Love to Live” to death, but sort of struggled with their follow up release “Run For Cover” (maybe I just need to give it another chance?).

So they just released a holiday album (I can’t call it Christmas because there’s Hanukkah song) and I really recommend you check it out if you’re a skeptic about new holiday songs. The album also has 3 really great covers: Jingle Bells, Little Drummer Boy, and Silver Bells. I would even argue that their renditions are better than some of your favorites or original versions.

Let’s discuss the original tracks:

  1. Harmony Is Real: I’ve seen The Living Sisters a couple of times and this always a dominant message whether part of their banter or just music. This track isn’t really a holiday tune per se although the instrument arrangement lends itself to that.
  2. Kadoka, South Dakota: I thought for sure this was a cover because it just sounds so timeless (I figured the original came out in the 60’s or 70’s). It’s sort of like the first time I heard “Mele Kalikimaka” for the first time just a few years ago. It’s a fun, peppy track that’s just addicting to sing along to even if you don’t know much about Kadoka. I’m guessing you never heard of Kadoka before this track either.
  3. Jingle Bells: A favorite classic.
  4. Merry Happy Christmas: This track is heavy on Inara George and has a bittersweet tone to it (“When love turns to a minor key”).
  5. Skip The Sugar (Good Girl): What a splendid sexy Christmas track. It’s got a bit of a reggae feel to it and harps on Santa loving a good party even if there’s a bit of naughty involved.
  6. Christmas In California: THIS should be your new anthem if you’re from California. It’s so true! I actually went home recently after work and had to turn on the AIR CONDITIONER… in NOVEMBER. I especially love the part about using Hollywood if you want to see snow. I guess people who snowboard know where to find real snow though… The song has a wonderful surf rock sound with great harmonies.
  7. Baby Wants A Basketball For Christmas: A cute track about what the guys want. I love how it turns has that broadway feel to it in the chorus.
  8. Little Drummer Boy: A great classic but I would have really loved to hear the David Bowie/Bing Crosby version.
  9. Neon Chinese Christmas Eve: Like “Christmas In California”, I think this track has a ton of appeal for fans in areas like Los Angeles who know about a special restaurant that’s open year round. It’s easy to get caught up in the madness of shopping and there’s nothing that screams comfort food quite like Chinese food. The rolling gong really sets the tone so well.
  10. Hanukkah: Shout out to all the Jewish fans out there. I love the mention of potato pancakes.
  11. Silver Bells: One of the best songs to flex their harmony. You’ll love this rendition.
    Don’t Go To Sleep: This one definitely sounds like a Becky Stark track (mostly because she opens the song with her marvelous high range).

So check out this lovely album on your favorite streaming service or just buy it.

2014 Comikaze Expo: Talking With Cosplay Fans (Day 2)

It’s been a pretty long time. I finally returned to Comikaze to talk with cosplay fans at the 2014 Comikaze Expo. If I had to sum up trending costumes, I’d say Marvel has really figured out how put obscure characters in the spotlight. I saw MANY people dressed up as characters from Guardians of the Galaxy. I probably should have talked with some…

Comikaze Expo Video Timeline Breakdown

00:00 A basketball showcase

00:39 I’ve never been more creeped out/impressed with a take on Bram Stoker’s Dracula than this. Check out her work here.

01:44 Wall-E and Eve wander the halls gather attention from many. It’s very impressive how Eve floats right next to him.

02:08 A fan favorite, R2D2 shows it’s inner child, literally

02:22 Aang is really a Jimmy John’s delivery guy from Wyoming. Who would have guessed?

03:37 El Chapulín Colorado is not very well known. That’s because he’s from Mexico. He’s a clumsy hero with a hammer

04:14 Uncle Fester is a regular at the conventions and I finally spoke to him about how he transformed into the lovable oddity. He assured me that he’s carrying real fat and actually more scary without the makeup.

06:03 Radioactive man is an original creation that shines bright. He works with electronics so the costume probably was a cinch to make.

07:38 It’s a guy with a small body or a puppet with a large head. This is a pretty fun costume and the guy pulls it off well. Check out his work at lincolnworld.com.

09:00 Zapp Brannigan and Leela tell us about their love for Futurama and energy efficiency.

Mark Interviewing Futurama

Interviewing Futurama’s Leela and Zapp Brannigan

11:17 fans try to break a world record of connected Tetris pieces.

11:44 a very impressive Slender Man cosplayer strides across the halls on tall stilts

11:52 Smoke (Mortal Kombat) loves every single Mortal Kombat and plays Diablo and hopes to get Dragon Age Inquisition. She shares her thoughts on gamergate. Oh yeah. She’s also vegan. Check her out on Facebook

14:05 Raiden was probably one of my favorite cosplay fans. It’s probably because I just like led lights. His hard work of constructing the outfit for 3 months definitely paid off. We get his thoughts on the future of Mortal Kombat on the big screen. When he’s not Raiden, he’s a longshoreman.

16:03 I’ve always heard how crazy Game of Thrones. I’ve only watched the first episode and was pretty shocked at not just the nudity but very carnal nature of the show. It seemed that I would find very young fans getting into the spirit of some characters from one of TV’s grittiest shows. I asked about the dragon and it turns out to be a creation of one’s mother who’s a big fan of the show.

18:38 Harley Quinn loves being fun and awesome while carrying a bat around. If there was another Batman movie with Harley Quinn, she’d want Sarah Michelle Gellar to play her because she loves Buffy. She’s a musical theater dancer that dreams of being on Broadway.

21:07 These two girls do Anna and Elsa from Frozen so naturally because they’re sisters! One is in marketing and one is a scientist.

22:52 I bumped into the Chicano Joker/Harley Quinn represent the Mexicans of Southern California.

Interviewing Chicano Joker

Interviewing Chicano Joker

24:14 I probably sound like the biggest ignoramus when it comes to Lord of the Rings. How crazy is the facial hair on Fili and Kili. They agree with me on the franchise being stretched out a bit thin. They’re no stranger to the cosplay scene.

28:00 Hellboy loves men with giant fists and wants to be a game artist.

30:26 Mystique is a model that’s been in makeup since 9am. This is her first Comikaze and she’s very impressed with the large robotic cosplayers. Check out EI School of Professional Makeup if you’re seriously into makeup.

32:28 The Pikmin do it all for the ladies.

33:40 A weeping angel from Dr. Who can send you back in time and tells us who her favorite Dr. Who is. She took a month and a half to make her costume. She wants to be a homicide detective.

A journey through phones or how I fell in love with T-Mobile

Full disclosure: I’m a T-Mobile shareholder    . So here’s why:

My first phone was a little Nokia running on Cingular (now AT&T). I was a junior at college (let’s just say this was around 2002) studying telecommunications at Cal Poly Pomona, so it’s appropriate I learned more about the wireless industry’s early efforts at bringing consumer cellular phones to the masses through some actual hands-on experience.

There wasn’t much to this phone, Nokia 3390. I could play Snake, make calls, and text as long as I managed  to keep track of my usage.  Likewise, there wasn’t much I was looking for. Broadband was not an option for me when I came home on weekends to do homework. My dealings with high speed browsing was confined to my wired LAN connection at school.

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In my mind, Nokias were king of the hill before smart phones became big.

As time went on, I came to expect internet connections wherever I went. I convinced my parents to get cable internet at home and there was no looking back since. Just like my desktop browsing speeds, Cingular (now AT&T) was offering customers a faster mobile experience. And just like the humble days of dial-up service, the wireless industry was tempting to earn more customers through all you can eat service.

Believe it or not, there WAS a time when dial-up services counted bytes too. Can you blame them? They were trying to maintain service levels and also grow. The same happened with the wireless industry except for slightly different reasons.

In the United States, there are 4 major competitors: Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. At some point they all realized they could move from unlimited service pricing into tiered pricing. Pay less for less or more for more. It felt like a horrible step back considering the wireless technology was only getting better. We were getting to a point where cellular speeds were getting faster than the slowest DSL packages available for homes and then this happened.

I was still on AT&T and luckily grandfathered into an unlimited 3G plan. I was a happy camper browsing Facebook and uploading mobile pictures from my phone at the time (some Nokia/Windows Mobile).

I didn’t get my first true smartphone experience until I got an HTC Magic. Luckily, I was evading AT&T’s more expensive unlimited plan by using an unlocked phone from Canada (Rogers). But this was not a sustainable option, especially if i wanted a phone with proper 3G bands that didn’t break the bank (I always calculated the cost of a new phone against the increased data plan premium). I loathed the thought of renewing a contract with AT&T due to all the negative experiences I had trying to finesse the lowest possible phone plan. I was in a family plan with 4 other family members and it was a relatively low cost per phone.

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Nexus S (i9020A)

After countless minutes on the phone with AT&T trying to maintain a grandfathered plan, I gave up and went to the next best thing: a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) that ran on AT&T’s network for a lower price. At this time I was really only interested in 3G speeds without the worry of hitting a data cap. I was wrong.

This is where the freedom of being off contract came to light. I wanted to stick with AT&T’s network but hated the price it came with. I decided to try T-Mobile’s prepaid plan. By this time I was using an iPhone 4s and ready to try T-Mobile even if it meant I was only able to get 3G service using refarmed PCS band (1900Mhz). They were also late to the LTE game but I had read they were going to roll out 4G service aggressively.

This was it. I learned to fall in love with my carrier again. After coming to terms with my love for iOS, I decided to go for a 5s. While the 5 eventually supported T-Mobile’s AWS LTE, I decide to the 5s would be worth the wait, especially since I would be paying for one at full retail cost (I hate financing).

Months later, I am SO happy with my service. I get great speeds, hotspot ability, wifi calling, international text/data, and HD Voice.

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Samsung Blaze gave me first taste of really fast HSPA+

The ability to hotspot is a game changer. If you’ve ever been on a vacation, you know one of the worst realities is that not every hotels provides complimentary wifi service. Having hotspot ability included is fantastic because you’re never limited to enjoying fast internet on your phone. You can using your tablet and with decent LTE or HSPA+ service, you can even cast video on a Chromecast.

Last month, I used 13 GB of data. Most of this happened while on vacation in Texas for a week. You can’t even get service like this from AT&T/Verizon for 80 bucks a month.

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I went back to an HTC because Samsung doesn’t like making metal phones

While Sprint (I also hold a few shares) is also another unlimited carrier, their CDMA phones are not as easy to travel around the world with. They’re also harder to resell after since most of the world doesn’t work with their handsets (in their defense, this is getting better although they still have a wacky policy towards true unlocking where phones are allowed on other domestic carriers). While the international data coverage by T-Mobile is pretty limited in speed (think EDGE), it’s great to be able to text folks back home. I eventually broke down and picked up an all you can eat data prepaid SIM from 3 while in England earlier this year. Of course T-Mobile unlocked my phone prior to the trip, making this a viable option.

But…. it’s not all sunshine and roses though. T-Mobile still has to work on their coverage. If you’re going to Big Bear or driving through any rural area, chances are you’re not getting great speeds or even coverage at all. Even inside buildings T-Mobile struggles to keep up with the big dogs at times. That one drawback SHOULD be getting better with the rollout of 700MHz A-block service. Think Verizon’s building penetration coverage since they also run on 700MHz.

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Using an unlocked One X gave me my first taste of LTE on T-Mobile. It had to go due to various frustrations with the software.

If you still aren’t convinced you should follow John Legre. He’s crazy in a good way and I love that he runs T-Mobile.

Review: Bad Words – bad to the bone

Bad Words

Bad Words is story of a man driven to win a spelling bee championship by exploiting contest loopholes and using ruthless competitive tactics against competing kids. The movie has been rolling out as a limited release, hoping to gain momentum through buzz among those daring enough to witness Bateman’s directorial debut.

While the movie isn’t actually written by Jason Bateman, Bad Words is essentially his baby. Howard Stern show fans will recall Jason discussing the challenges of pitching the script to other leads in Hollywood after finally settling on putting himself in front and behind camera

The good; If you loved Bateman in all his other comedic roles, you’ll love him here. Just like his contrived character in Arrested Development, we get to see the Guy weasel his way to a goal we patiently wait to understand the motives for.

Kathryn Hahn does a good job as Jenny. The chemistry between them is believable (just like “This Is Where I Leave You”) and I doubt this is the last time we’ll see those two together.

Rohan Chand is charming and sweet and provides both contrast and parallels to the ruthless Guy Trilby.

The bad; needless to say this movie isn’t for everyone. It probably falls under the same category as Bad Santa but doesn’t quite have the same potency.

While we come to closure at the end, the motive we discover may not resonate with most viewers. To an extent, Batemen leaves us with more questions, pondering what an alternative ending might have looked like. At nearly 90 minutes, however, we must conclude the focus of Bad Words is a comedy and not intended to be a drama based on greater character development.

Overall; the movie has its moments but never quite reaches the heights of an instant cult classic I was hoping for.