Category Archives: Reviews

What I’m listening to right now

I don’t often write these kind of basic, “snippet of my life” posts but I’m feeling kind of inspired to do so today so why not. The following are Youtube links to the five hottest songs on the Monzón Billboard 100.

Continue reading What I’m listening to right now

Are HD MiniDV Camcorders Obsolete in 2016?

Though some may write them off as obsolete, HD-capable MiniDV camcorders can actually be of great value to the amateur Youtuber and videographer.

Continue reading Are HD MiniDV Camcorders Obsolete in 2016?

‘We Are Your Friends” – the definition of a guilty pleasure

“Grossly adolescent” is the best way to sum up Max Joseph’s feature film directorial debut, We Are Your Friends. But just like “gross” income isn’t actually gross, Joseph’s film about a group of friends trying to make money and be something better is not necessarily rotten.

The film tells the story of Cole Carter (played by Zac Efron), a college dropout whose best friends Mason, Squirrel and Ollie want to jump over the Hollywood Hills and out of the San Fernando Valley to a life that doesn’t involve sleeping on the floor at Mason’s house and riding around town in Squirrel’s station wagon.

The group explicitly touts Cole as a DJ on the rise to stardom and implicitly lauds him as their ticket out of the valley. Cole prioritizes his craft, which leads him to meet a formerly legendary DJ named James Reed (played by Wes Bentley) and his much younger assistant-turned-girlfriend, Sophie (played by Emily Ratajkowski). After a falling out between the two over the wayward Sophie, James’ penchant for organically produced sound ultimately lands Cole the gig of a lifetime in Los Angeles.

A nightclub-worthy soundtrack weaves the film’s scenes together, as do creative special effects and enjoyable dialogue that’s characteristic of college dropouts down on their luck.

What the film lacks, though, is focus. Joseph said he wanted to make a film “about kids graduating from high school or college and moving on with their lives,” and while that may be a part of it, We Are Your Friends feels more like a mashup of several other possibilities that could have been something better on their own.

One thread is the chemistry and feeling of being in “the golden years” between Cole and his pals. Another is that of the formerly artistically devoted but now financially motivated James Reed.

None of these threads are explored to the point of satisfaction.

maxresdefault.jpg

For one thing, it’s never shown or even explained what exactly makes James a sellout, which is a shame since Cole and James fight each other over it in a strip club bathroom. Furthermore, even though the title of the film is We Are Your Friends, the time spent with the buds feels secondary to Cole, and by extension, secondary to the plot.

The sudden departure of one of the four friends, in fact, comes so out of left-field that its purported effect on Cole doesn’t even feel real.

Ratajkowski’s role as Cole’s love interest also feels tacked on; Cole would have still developed the same way as a character had she not been there.

Then again, being unfocused yet enjoyable may be the film’s greatest virtue. Being in your early 20s involves lots of distractions, and Joseph himself compared the film to “throwing a party. You set it all up but you invite people to the party and they each bring something.”

Joseph chose a predictable production as his first feature but ensured that it was done right. Making a feature film is no easy feat and even Joseph claimed that the production “didn’t have a lot of money” and “didn’t have a lot of time.” He was blessed with the collaborative readiness of the actors and music talent for the film but cursed with the plot of a glorified glimpse into the world of DJ-ing that isn’t very moving.

Ultimately, the movie serves a purpose as a guilty pleasure flick worth watching for the occasional comedy nailed by Cole and his pals, the eye candy provided by Efron and Ratajkowski and the pounding electronic soundtrack that Joseph so valued during the film’s production.

1997 Ford E-150 Cargo Van

My experience with a cargo van is definitely one for the books. So in 21st century fashion, I’m going to present it to you on the Internet.

Cleaned up and posted up against an urban background, the Econoline looks like a proper man's truck, in my opinion.
Cleaned up and posted up against an urban background, the Econoline looks like a proper man’s truck, in my opinion.

There’s no need to bore you with the mechanical facts of a 1997 Ford cargo van, especially one of a base model like the one I had, with two submarine-like windows on the right side that had been spray painted on from the inside and no retractable bed or fancy interior lighting to speak of. Just in case though, my now-defunct van boasted a 4.2 liter V6 engine pumping out a meager 200 horsepower at 4800 rpm and delivering a whopping fuel capacity of 12 mpg in the city and a solid 17 on the highway. The guy I’d bought it from was a Hispanic man who seemed to be concerned solely about making ends meet, for the inside of his van was a dirty, rusty and essentially apocalyptic mess of frayed wires, screws, sand, loose pebbles and derelict tools. The floor of the cargo bed itself had a huge gaping hole in the rear-right side, which provided a perfect conduit for the un-catalyzed fumes from the straight-piped exhaust channel to enter the cabin and stink up the place even more. To round it all of, a dead fuel gauge, weak battery, unreliable alternator and various misfiring cylinders made you feel confident when ascending highway ramps at a barely maintainable 55 miles per hour.

This would be the first of many times that I'd be left stranded by the Econoline.
This would be the first of many times that I’d be left stranded by the Econoline.

You may be asking a perfectly fine question: was there anything positive about the van at all? The answer is yes. The roomy cargo area – once it was rid of its rotted wood floordboard and cleaned to the extent of human capacity – allowed me to install a set of free Craigslist couches, a $20 Wal-Mart area rug and three Walgreens air fresheners. Together, this set allowed me to witness the birth and untimely demise of a fun idea gone awry – the camper van done cheaply.

The Econoline could've been a fun camper van project ... it just never matured in time.
The Econoline could’ve been a fun camper van project … it just never matured in time.

I purchased the van based on the idea that a two wheeled vehicle – propelled by human or motor power – would be my main form of transportation, and that any moving box I ever bought would be reserved for pleasurable drives around the city. While this idea of mine still stands, I admit being very wrong about exercising that idea with this van. Van ownership is not for the faint of heart – these machines are complex works of modern engineering that can take so much abuse from people that treat them like garbage that one day, they’ll just throw their hands up in the air and burst.

BOOM went the engine block when it couldn't take it anymore. I believe there was a lack or an extra amount of oil pressure in the block which made parts shoot out.
BOOM went the engine block when it couldn’t take it anymore. I believe there was a lack or an extra amount of oil pressure in the block which made parts shoot out.

And that’s exactly what happened to this one.

Less than 3 months into owning the van, its engine block blew up into a fiery mess. An array of parts inside the block shot out of the block one day while I was driving the van to my job, leaving a gaping hole on the left side of the block that would make someone think a T-Rex clawed its way into the engine. The hole provided a front-row seat to the flames that bore on inside the block until no more oil was left to be burned.

Off it went, to never be seen again.
Off it went, to never be seen again.

Just a few days later, a tow truck driven by another Hispanic man looking solely to make ends meet picked up the van and hauled it away, as one of the rear cargo doors flew wide open when he made a right turn onto the street (yeah, that door never worked). More than $1500 later (after purchasing the van for a modest $800 but spending the rest on commercial insurance and Florida registration fees), I was back on my bike.

Note to self – never buy a van again. Unless it’s something cool, like a VW van of years past.

2004 Aprilia Mojito 50cc

As you all know, I’m a bicycle guy. I’ve ridden numerous bikes throughout the years and my Electra Amsterdam electric bicycle project is one of my dearest possessions. However, as a student juggling two part-time jobs and working with a college newspaper, I find myself needing to travel longer distances in shorter times than even an electric bicycle could reasonably allow me to do.

DSC20150204141728237

To that end, I got my hands on an immaculate pre-owned 50cc motor scooter a little over a month ago. Prior to that, I’d been exploring the world of motorcycles and scooters for several months, considering new scooters like the 2015 Suzuki Burgman 400 and beginner motorcycles like Honda’s 250cc Rebel. Dealer prices and financing options proved too costly for me, and to that end, I decided on a 2004 Aprilia Mojito 50cc that I purchased from a Honda mechanic in my neighborhood.

The scooter is reminiscent of the Honda Joker despite having a plastic cover on the handlebars. Having been modified with a Leo Vince Touring exhaust and a larger jet in the carburetor, the bike can cruise at a little over 40 MPH with a top speed of about 52 MPH. Its 2-stroke motor sucks up gasoline at about 50 miles to the gallon, which isn’t a spectacular figure for a 50cc scooter but makes sense given the modifications.

Aprilia is a renowned sport bike manufacturer, and it feels as though the same level of craftsmanship and engineering was DSC20150204121410152used to produce this urban jungle warrior. The bike feels peppy within the city streets, with even subtle openings of the throttle kicking the variator into high gear and delivering fantastic acceleration. The seating arrangement is also attractive, with a large and plush leather bench seat providing more than enough room for riding two-up.

Unfortunately, the 50cc model does not include passenger foot pegs, which does compromise passenger comfort a bit.

Storage capacity is adequate – a generously sized glovebox has room to spare after storing riding gloves and goggles, and an underseat storage compartment has room for a jet helmet, Coleman rain coat and pants and not much else. An aftermarket chrome luggage rack that replaces the passenger grab rail and can mount a variety of top cases is available from www.AF1racing.com.

For me, it’s a whole new world to be in control of a gasoline-driven vehicle after having ridden bicycles for so long. That being said, I still see the merit of bicycles as being the most attractive and useful combination of physical activity and transportation out there. My electric Amsterdam project will still see regular use, particularly for commutes no longer than 10 miles and not subject to shorter time constraints.

After all, time is really the enemy – if you’ve got to cross 10 miles but have 2 hours to do it, there’s no excuse to riding your bicycle the whole way!

DSC20150204121432031I look forward to many years of commuting throughout Miami’s streets with this beautiful Aprilia scooter. I’m still getting used to the very notion of having such a useful vehicle in my possession, but I’m already convinced of having made a very good choice. Were I to ever upgrade to a motorcycle or larger scooter, Honda’s Gold Wing, Triumph’s Bonneville or Suzuki’s Burgman 650 would be amongst my options. For the time being though, a modified 50 cubic centimeters of engine are doing me very well.