Wednesday, 29 March 2023

Why Gift Cards May Suck and Why They Don’t!

For decades, gift cards have become a common way to shop and give as gifts to our family and friends. But when it comes to gift cards, are they a good way to spend your money? Are there downsides to purchasing them?

Remember Gift Certificates?

Gift certificates, those pieces of fancy paper used like money in the stores, sold well year-round but were never as popular as during the holidays. The only trouble for the customers was that they had to stand in line at the customer service desk to purchase them, usually as gifts for someone else. No discounts, no small convenient plastic card, no online purchases, and they just weren't convenient. Just a big piece of paper and a fancy envelope that brought in tons of cash for the store. But how often were they actually used?

Today, almost all retailers offer consumers gift cards as a way to shop or give money to friends, both online and in their brick-and-mortar locations. And there are two types of gift cards – physical and digital (e-gift cards).

Each includes a wide range of features and benefits, but they also have drawbacks for you, the consumer, not the retailer.

What You Need To Know About Gift Cards

If you're interested in purchasing gift cards for others or for yourself, it helps to understand the rules (and there are plenty of them) and how they compare with other payment methods.

You already know the financial dangers credit cards can present, but gift cards are a tad different. First, they are often received as gifts, meaning someone else's money is involved. Plus, they have a defined value, removing the possibility of overspending.

Physical vs. Digital Gift Cards

Gift cards can be physical, meaning a plastic card, or digital, often received through your email. Digital gift cards are assigned a unique gift code number that you can use to redeem at online retailers when making purchases. While digital gift cards have grown in popularity over the years, physical cards remain the more popular option.

Research by CardCash shows sales of physical gift cards are growing at an annual rate of 9%, while digital gift cards are projected to grow at a yearly rate of more than 26% by 2025.

In addition, the pandemic understandably boosted sales of digital gift cards, with 32% of consumers purchasing a gift card online for the first time or with greater frequency than previously.

You can even use an app and gift card on your phone for things like food and drink at many restaurants adding to the convenience factor.

The global gift card market led by companies like Amazon and Walmart is projected to reach $584 billion by 2026, with some even projecting it to hit $1.8 trillion by 2030.

Why Consumers Purchase so Many Gift Cards

The reasons haven't changed, except for necessity during the pandemic.

The top reasons are:

  1. Gift cards allow the recipient to select their own gifts
  2. Gift cards are easy and fast to buy
  3. Recipients do not have to deal with returning gifts
  4. It is easier to mail a gift card than a gift
  5. Giving gift cards helps you stick to your gift-giving budget
  6. Gift cards can pay you rewards

Millennials and Gen Xers led the way with the highest likelihood to purchase gift cards, with almost two out of three stating they are interested in receiving gift cards through social networks or messaging apps.

Cons of Buying Gift Cards

The biggest drawback to purchasing gift cards is that you buy the card now, and the retailer gets your money. Yet, it's quite possible the recipient never actually uses it, as gift cards are commonly lost, stolen, or forgotten about.

Another con is that gift cards are almost always non-replaceable, and some may also have expiration dates, possibly making them worthless after a specific time.

It can lose all its value if it's placed in a drawer someplace and forgotten about it. Even if it doesn't expire, many cards charge inactivity fees, making them less valuable.

Lastly, gift cards feel impersonal for many and show a lack of thought. Often, a well-thought-out gift, even a homemade one, means more to someone than a gift card.

Out of Luck

Perhaps the biggest con is that if a retailer goes out of business before a gift card is redeemed, you're simply out of luck. So people who had gift cards from any of these major retailers lost out: Borders, Pier 1 Imports (now online only, doesn't accept gift cards from the stores), Sports Authority, Payless Shoes, or Toys R Us, to name a few.

Lastly, once a customer purchases with a gift card, a small amount of money often remains and is wasted.

In some states, state law allows you to redeem used gift cards under a specific dollar amount for cash at the store. For example, if $5 or less is left on your gift card, you can generally redeem it for cash value in New Jersey.

Still, if you decide to keep using a card, you may have to pay purchase or reload fees to add money to it. And thus starts the cycle all over again.

Buying and Selling Used Cards

If you're looking for a bargain, there are sites where you can buy and sell used gift cards. The pro here is the discount; the con is that these transactions always come with risk, mainly if the site you are using goes defunct. So be sure to do your homework on third-party sites and understand their policies if a transaction differs from what is expected.

Final Thoughts

Gift cards do offer several advantages.

They can be a good substitute payment if you'd rather not carry around or use cash or a credit card.

In terms of gift giving, gift cards might be preferable if you have absolutely no idea what to buy for someone on your gift list.

You can also use gift cards to control your own spending when you shop. You can even purchase gift cards for manufactured spending to earn rewards and bonuses on your credit cards.

Lastly, another important benefit is using gift cards to help kids learn the basics of spending. Research prepaid debit cards for kids and teens. They work similarly to a gift card and can be valuable as an educational tool.

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.


15 Honest Things Fictional Characters Said That Stick With You

Quotes from films, TV shows, and books are wisdom. That wisdom from characters can make us laugh, make us cry, or make us think. While the situation that they are in is fictional, that doesn't make what they say resonate less with the audience. Members of a well-regarded Internet forum discussed their favorite film quotes, which reminded everyone of their favorite films and the movie moments that mean the most to them.

1. The Godfather Part II

“My father taught me many things here — he taught me in this room. He taught me: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”

Michael Corleone, played by Al Capone, said this in a moment of tension, telling them his father's wise words that ruled his actions. The first Don Corlene taught him to be so subtle that even people who were his enemies trying to harm him might never know that he was already on to them and was purposely letting them be near him for his reasons.

2. Hustlers

This film, directed by Lorene Scafaria and starring Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Keke Palmer, Lizzo, and Cardi B, was based on a real-life incident where strippers at a club started to drug and rob their wealthy clients who worked in the stock market.

Ramona Vega, played by Jennifer Lopez, boldly states a truth about the 2008 economic crash in the film, “These Wall Street guys, you see what they did to this country? They stole from everybody. Hard-working people lost everything.” When Ramona points out that none of these Wall Street financiers went to jail, people felt that.

3. Phantasm (1979)

When I was a little girl, in my grandparent's home with a fully stocked gun cabinet, my father told me a rule about gun safety. Little did I know then that he was quoting one of his favorite horror movies, Phantasm, directed by Don Coscarelli in 1979.

The quote is simple but effective, “Now, remember: you don't aim a gun at a man unless you intend to shoot him. And you don't shoot a man unless you intend to kill him.” Bill Thornbury, the actor who played Jody in the film, says the quote to his younger brother Mike.

4. The Princess Bride

This a painfully honest quote from the usually ever-patient and hopeful Wesley disguised as The Dread Pirate Roberts. After feeling the pain of losing Buttercup's love, Wesley takes on a more cynical outlook.

At one point, Wesley tells Buttercup, “Life is pain, Highness! Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

5. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy

According to the book created by the author Douglas Adams, the people who want the President's job are those you shouldn't trust as President. Adams had many pointed things to say about Life, The Universe, And Everything, but this particular bit of advice was proven to be spot on more than once.

“To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”

6. Men In Black

Men In Black is another galactic adventure with nuggets of wisdom nestled within a highly entertaining package. Directed by Barry Sonenfeld and stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as Agent K, along with Linda Fiorentino and Vincent D'Onofrio, there's a lot of humanity among the film's aliens.

Agent K tells Agent J (Will Smith) something that is very much the truth. “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it!”

7. Dune (1984) and (2021)

Let's go for a third space epic with the films and the book called Dune. Frank Herbert wrote Dune, and the book has been adapted twice for film by David Lynch and Denis Villeneuve. The most quoted dialogue by far is the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear, and I can tell you from personal experience that it does work. It's powerful.

“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little Death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

8. Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring

When Frodo says that he wished that finding the Ring of Power had not happened within his time, a wish that many people have in recent years for different reasons, Gandalf the Wizard responds wisely.

“So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

9. The Perks Of Being A Wallflower

In the film, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Charlie (Logan Lerman) asks his teacher Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd), “Why do nice people choose the wrong people to date?” Mr. Anderson thinks for a moment and sadly responds, “We accept the love we think we deserve.”

10. Friday (1995)

F. Gary Gray directed Ice Cube, and Chris Tucker starred in this hilarious stoner comedy with some profound moments. Ice Cube's character Craig is angry in one of them and talks about getting a gun to defend himself. His father, Willie Jones (John Witherspoon), tells him his fists were all he and his friends needed to protect themselves.

He said, “You win some, you lose some, but you live, you live to fight another day.”

Ice Cube and his friend DJ Pooh wrote the film and wanted to inject a sense of reality into the story and show other sides of “the hood.” They succeeded while still making one of the best comedies of the 1990s.

11. Ikiru

I didn't expect to find a quote from one of Akira Kurasawa's quietest masterpieces on this site, but I did. The selection is from Ikuru, Japanese for To Live, where a bureaucrat finds out one day that he is dying of cancer. After working tirelessly for his family for most of his life, the man searches for meaning.

Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura) loses his hat when it is stolen and gives chase. His new friend says, “You'll lose twelve hats trying to get the one back.” The moral? Don't waste time chasing what you have already lost.

12. Mad Men

Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is a seemingly all-powerful but strangely vulnerable character. One of his most wise quotes from the TV show Mad Men was this: “People tell you who they are, but we ignore it. Because we want them to be who we want them to be.”

13. Gladiator

A marvelous film about bravery and mortality, the lead character Maximus (Russell Crowe) says this about Death, “Death smiles at us all. All a man can do is smile back.” He attributes the saying to the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the great philosopher. The film was directed by Ridley Scott and remains an elegiac masterpiece.

14. Blade Runner

While we don't know any of the experiences named by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), an android programmed to die but doing anything he can to live, we still feel the loss through the incredible performance of Hauer. Batty has spent the entire film killing people without hesitation, and that moment encapsulates the regret sentient beings feel when they know it is over.

“I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain—time to die.” As a director, Ridley Scott never forgets to give you that emotional depth in a scene like this.

15. Pet Semetary

This last quote sticks with the ongoing theme of mortality. In the book and the film Pet Sematary, Louis Creed's new neighbor, Jud Crandall, tries to counsel him to deal with his grief and his family's grief rather than taking what could be a deadly shortcut to bring something back to life.

Crandall, a taciturn man who has learned from previous painful experiences, says, “Sometimes, dead is better.”

This thread inspired this post.

This article was produced by Wealth of Geeks


10 Awesome Apocalyptic Movies for Total Chaos and Destruction

How will the world end? Human beings are fascinated with watching films about our annihilation regularly. Movies about the Apocalypse are considered some of the cinema's most excellent entertainment. While there are more thoughtful versions of how the human race will meet its demise en masse, generally, the biggest hits and most remembered films are the ones where the Earth dies in flames, and people scurry around looking for safety.

Is this some morbid fascination with death, or is it something else? It might be a way for humans to reckon with their mortality by watching a version of the story where no one makes it. Okay, if just a few people make it, we all imagine ourselves among the survivors. Usually, these are serious dramas, sometimes warning us about a real danger, like climate change, an accident, the work of God, alien life from outer space, fungus, a rogue planet, or sometimes just zombies. We love zombies.

1. This Is the End

During a party filled with some of Hollywood's most recognizable comedians, suddenly, the Apocalypse begins as people fly into the sky as part of the Rapture. This film is one of the rarest types of Apocalyptic cinema, a comedy. This Is The End is the brainchild of two Canadian comedians, Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg, that stars James Franco, Jonah Hill, Rogan, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Michael Cera, and Emma Watson. The film has the Earth cracking open and literal demons and cannibals roaming the land. You'll notice that, amusingly, it took almost no time for people to turn cannibal.

In the film, it's as if you were watching the worst versions of what you imagine insensitive celebrities behave as they inadvertently destroy themselves with their bad behavior. But the film has a strangely moral lesson, even though at least one pot-smoking Canadian made it. It's a smaller-scale Apocalypse, but you learn the value of friendship, unselfishness, and staying away from cannibals and self-absorbed people. It also includes demonic possession and an appearance from Satan. But don't worry. There's Heaven too.

2. Threads

Threads was a British and Australian coproduction and a TV movie, but don't let the fact it is a TV movie make you think that it isn't a heart-rending gut punch because it is. Directed by Mick Jackson on a $400,000 budget, this portrait of two families in Sheffield, England, during and in the aftermath of a nuclear war is amazingly compelling. As one person said, “This film ruined my day.”

This film is the warning that the world needs and is utterly fascinating. Threads came out around the same time as two other nuclear war films, The Day After and Testament, but neither of those films has the depth of detail in the lead-up to the nuclear exchange, the individual deaths, and the consequences of the attack on everyday people. They certainly don't end ten years into a future England sunken into the darkness of a Medieval-like state with such a hopeless final frame. Terrifying and highly recommended whenever someone might think that using a nuclear warhead is a good idea.

3. The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

The Day After Tomorrow (2004), directed by Roland Emmerich, is popcorn entertainment that also warns about the dangers of climate change. The movie is based on the book The Coming Global Superstorm by Art Bell and Whitley Streiber, which projects what could happen if global warming escalates to a point where it causes sudden and dramatic climate change. It's haunting, and Emmerich uses the familiar tactics of watching the destruction of monuments and symbols of our modern world to thrill and draws us into the ruin. It's thrilling and well done, with pointed barbs and emotional connections to doomed characters based on location.

Of Emmerich's disaster films, this is the most heartfelt. As the ice caps melt, this is an Apocalyptic scenario that seems all the more plausible and scary by the day. The Day After Tomorrow stars Dennis Quaid, Sela Ward, Jake Gyllenhall, and Emmy Rossum. A forum member said, “This movie granted me the glory of my first existential crisis at 12, maybe?

4. Invasion of The Body Snatchers (1956), (1978), Body Snatchers (1993)

A strange invasion of pods that imitate and steal the identities of individualistic Americans makes for one of the most haunting versions of Apocalypse. Technically, everything looks the same, but what makes people who they are is leeched out of them by weird plants from outer space. The plants are delivered to them by their former loved ones who want to be one. Creepy.

There are three separate versions of this story from the book by Jack Finney, directed by Don Siegel, Philip Kaufman, and Abel Ferrara, respectively. Ferrara's version is called Body Snatchers. All are amazing in their own ways. The distinctive qualities of each era are all over the screen, giving such character and pathos to the struggle of the characters to retain their humanity against an implacable enemy. The most significant danger is our need to sleep, a compelling plot device used again in the A Nightmare On Elm Street series. It's as if the Apocalypse came, and only some people noticed, only for a short time.

5. Train to Busan

The Zombie Apocalypse is one of cinema's favorite ways to end the world. Since George Romero revolutionized the zombie subgenre, countless films and TV shows have hit theatres, but rarely is one as emotionally poignant to a worldwide audience as Train To Busan. This zombie film is one that people openly admitted to loving and having strong emotional reactions to it. People told stories of crying in the movie theatre while watching it.

South Korean director Yeon Sang-ho scored a massive hit, revitalized the ailing Zombie Apocalypse genre, and led the way for different types of zombie storytelling, like more emotional stories, other kinds of zombies capable of even more vicious violence, and tales from around the world. Most of all, the deep reverence for the film's deeply passionate, sentimental, and moral storytelling was apparent after the film's release.

6. The Girl With All The Gifts

The Girl With All The Gifts is more of a sleeper film directed by Colm McCarthy. It goes from a quiet, more reflective character study of a highly intelligent young hungry, the film's name for a zombie infected by fungus, and unexpectedly bursts into scenes of Apocalyptic violence.

The film's most significant assets are the cast, led by young actress Sennia Nanua as Melanie and Gemma Arterton as Helen Justineau, a kind and understanding teacher who is also like the best mom a neglected child could want. Much like Train To Busan, the emotional connection between the characters and the different ideas within The Girl With All The Gifts make this a marvelous success. It also stars a stern Glenn Close and likable Paddy Considine. The cast is terrific as an ensemble. Even the bad guys are still human and relatable. Newer zombie films are borrowing from it even now.

7. 28 Days Later

While this Danny Boyle-directed film is concerned more with the post-Zombie Apocalypse events, it does have one of the all-time great opening scenes, which is frankly shocking in its violence, even now. 28 Days Later is another horror film that recognizes the importance of casting great actors to tell a compelling and emotional story rather than focusing on zombies attacking.

That said, the zombie violence in this film is horrifying and usually unexpected, with the fabulous work of the actors like Cillian Murphy, Brendon Gleeson, Christopher Eccleston, and Naomie Harris as the machete-wielding no-nonsense Selena making this Apocalypse machine run. Selena may have been the template for The Walking Dead's Michonne. 28 Days Later is another masterpiece that succeeds by putting emotion and human relationships first and then adding incredible frights to the mix to drive the audience mad with terror.

8. Night of the Living Dead Series

George Romero is the director of one of the most influential films of all time, Night Of The Living Dead. Without a doubt, it not only changed the game on nearly every level, but Romero's work changed how the archetype of the zombie as a monster was perceived forever. He destroyed the world quietly, relentlessly, yet in an utterly gruesome way. Night Of The Living Dead upped the stakes with violence, gore, brutality, and a central core of humanity simultaneously, and then he made Dawn Of The Dead.

Other films in the series focus on exploring the post-apocalyptic survival horror subgenre, but Night‘s sequel Dawn Of The Dead was in color and upped the ante in every way. Night's crisp black-and-white footage and Romero's production company's experience making documentaries made the film even more plausible, which is what made the film even more nightmarish. What makes Dawn Of The Dead equal in innovations to Night is that Romero added a grim sense of humor and absurdity and leaned into the subliminal American distrust of its institutions while skewering consumer culture. Whew, that's one heavy load for a film to carry, but Romero did it with ease.

The films set the template for the Zombie Apocalypse and spelled out the terms on which films made after their release would have to aspire. Great actors, realistic motivations and scenarios, and emotional resonance were all a big part of what made Romero's Living Dead films work so well and reach many people. The most successful Zombie Apocalypse and Apocalyptic films generally are wise when they work off of Romero's template and do their best to innovate as he did within the framework. George Romero has gone on record to say that his sympathy lies with the zombies, and creators in the genre would do well to remember his words.

9. The Sadness

The Sadness is one of the most disturbing Zombie Apocalypse films I have ever seen. I never thought anyone would make a film this intense with this subject matter. Make no mistake. The Sadness is a film that makes even people who are fans of horror cinema cringe and nope out. The concept is simple. A virus causing a mild pandemic suddenly mutates into a form that causes people to go on brutal and deranged sprees of disgusting acts of violence. These smiling maniacs visit every perversion you could imagine on any uninfected person they can grab.

Directed by Canadian transplant to Taiwan Rob Jabbaz, it looks great during the depths of the lockdown phase of the pandemic on a tight budget. Starring a magnificent cast, right down to the infected and gleeful extras, including Berent Zhu, Regina Lei, Ying Chen, and the dark God himself, Tzu-Chiang Wang, these characters evoke pity, anger, and, yes, sadness. The film is also a wildly funny satire, but at its core, it is a rumination on how love never dies. Based on such works on the Garth Ennis graphic novel series, The Crossed, Raccona Shelton's The Screwfly Solution, and, most strangely, Pee Wee's Big Adventure. I rate The Sadness as one of the best films of 2021. However, you have to know what you are getting into. It's distressing on multiple levels.

10. Zombieland

Just from a pure entertainment standpoint, Zombieland has part of this list. I could include such great Apocalypse films as The Mist or Dawn Of The Dead 2004. I would be remiss if I didn't include the movie I regularly quote in real life. Zombieland is notable because while it does have exciting actors turning in charismatic and touching performances, it's also laugh-out-loud funny. It repurposed the concept of The Rules as used in the Scream series. The movie had floating titles in scenes explicitly made to illustrate how the rules worked in the United States of Zombieland.

It may have originated the idea of dressing up like a zombie to ensure you don't get eaten when you go outside, and the Bill Murray storyline is a piece de resistance. But, similarly to Dawn of the Dead (2004), it has a spectacular opening sequence that is almost entertaining enough to be its mini-movie set to a scorching rock soundtrack. I must appreciate the work of director Ruben Fleischer, writers Rhett Reese, and Paul Wernick, and stars Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harralson, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin. I've watched Zombieland many times.

This thread inspired this post.  

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.


The Best Movies on HBO Max

HBO Max may be one of the newest platforms to enter the streaming world, but already it’s one of the best. Not only does the service offer a ton of exclusive content related to its hit properties — like Game of Thrones, The Wire, and The Sopranos — it also has a ton of fantastic films strengthening its online catalog.

Thanks to HBO’s partnerships with standout companies and networks like TCM, Studio Ghibli, and DC, the service has an absolutely stacked selection of films you’re able to choose from.

Whether you’re in the mood for a classic black and white monster movie from the ‘30s, a beloved anime film from Hayao Miyazaki, or a recent blockbuster from this past summer, there’s no end to the number of great films you’re able to choose from.

From universally praised films like Howl’s Moving Castle and Point Break to celebrated modern films like Argo and Borat, here are some of the best films you can find currently streaming on HBO Max.

Updated: March 28.

Thriller: Argo

Image Credit: Warner Bros.

A first-class suspense film, a fine political thriller, and a highly deserving Oscar winner for Best Picture, Argo is also undoubtedly among the best films of the 2010s, a decade filled with strong competition like Boyhood, The Revenant, and The Shape of Water (to name just a few).

In the midst of the Iranian hostage crisis, a CIA operative (Ben Affleck) organizes an effort to extract six Americans hiding in the Canadian ambassador’s residence, entering the country under the guise of a Hollywood producer scouting locations for his upcoming movie.

Based on a fascinating true story, Argo is one of those movies with a plot almost too ridiculous to believe. However, the movie’s basis in reality makes it all the more enjoyable to watch, giving a long overdue spotlight to some of the little-known heroes responsible for the hostages’ extraction in the first place.

Comedy: Borat

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Image Credit: Twentieth Century Fox.

You might love Sacha Baron Cohen’s style of comedy or hate it vehemently, but there’s no denying his influence and popularity among mainstream pop culture today, especially when looking at his most famous creation: the hopelessly offensive, ignorant-minded documentarian, Borat.

Wanting to make a documentary about life in America, clueless Kazakhstani reporter Borat Sagdiyev (Baron Cohen) ventures to the U.S., interviewing many of its citizens on a diverse range of bizarre topics.

Offensive, crude, and often darkly comic, Borat sees Baron Cohen and team at once tell a tongue-in-cheek narrative about American customs from an outside perspective, and offer a more introspective take on distinctly American topics. Just as funny, if not more so, than its later 2020 sequel, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, it easily ranks among the most-watched comedy films of the 2000s.

Drama: Precious

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Image Credit: Lionsgate

Arriving in theaters in 2009, Precious was immediately hailed as one of the best movies of the year, owing to the commanding lead performances of its cast (notably breakout star Gabourey Sidibe) and its powerful central themes.

In the mid 1980s, overweight, neglected 16-year-old Precious (Sidibe) learns that she’s pregnant with her second child. Hoping to escape the impoverished conditions of her childhood, Precious is offered an opportunity to attend an alternative school program — something she believes will ensure a better future for herself and her children.

Precious is a film that emphasizes the idea that, no matter how difficult or seemingly hopeless your situation in life is, things can always get better. Improvement does not always come easily, but if you’re willing to commit yourself, with time, you’ll be able to rise above the most arduous of circumstances (as Sidibe’s Precious does here).

Horror: Sinister

Image Credit: Summit Entertainment

Annoyingly high number of jump scares aside, Sinister is one of the more bone-chilling movies of the 2010s — if not of all time. Downbeat and depressing throughout, its eerie atmosphere, gradual pace, and believable performances make it a nightmarish horror movie you’re not likely to forget, even if you tried.

Moving his family into a home where the previous occupants were violently murdered, a true crime writer (Ethan Hawke) starts to experience some disturbing, unexplained phenomena around the house.

According to a 2020 study, Sinister was deemed the certifiably scariest movie of all time, based on observation of viewers’ heart rates (other films measured include The Exorcist, Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre). Even if the movie relies a little too much on jump scares, it's an unforgivably haunting film that’s as terrifying as it is upsetting.

Crime: Point Break

Point Break 1991
Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

In 1991, director Kathryn Bigelow churned out her first major film in the form of Point Break. A highly stylized police procedural film that doubles as a heist movie, it’s a far cry from the gritty, realistic movies of Bigelow’s later career (The Hurt Locker, Detroit), but nevertheless demonstrates her immense talents as a filmmaker.

After several high-publicity bank robberies, a rookie FBI agent (Keanu Reeves) is sent undercover to infiltrate the local surfing community, discovering the robbers may in fact be a group of carefree thrill-seekers.

Imitated and referenced in numerous crime films from the ‘90s onwards, Point Break tends to be a little heavy-handed in its action elements, but that’s exactly what makes it so fun to watch in the first place. Whether you’re seeing Keanu Reeves skydive without a parachute or a charismatic Patrick Swayze hanging ten through massive waves, you’re guaranteed to have a good time.

Biopic: Milk

Image Credit: Universal Pictures

A pioneer in the LGBTQ+ movement, Harvey Milk helped push the boundaries for people’s acceptance of homosexuals in societal settings. His ascendance to San Francisco’s political landscape gave him a national spotlight to inspire millions of people across the country — even if his life was cut tragically short.

Nine days before his 1978 assassination, gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) reflects on a life spent advocating equal rights for homosexuals, and his influence in becoming the first openly gay public official in California.

An examination of Milk’s life, political career, and all-important work in LGBTQ+ advocacy, Milk also focuses on the strange personal dynamic that existed between Milk’s colleague and eventual murderer, Dan White, an occasional ally turned fiercely competitive rival.

Anime: Howl’s Moving Castle

howls moving castle
Image Credit Studio Ghibli

If you ask 10 different anime fans what their favorite Studio Ghibli is, it’s probable you’ll walk away with 10 different answers. But even when held up to some of the studio’s best films (Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke), an argument can be made that their 2004 film, Howl’s Moving Castle, is among the company’s strongest releases.

Cursed to inhabit the body of an old woman, a young woman searches for ways to reverse the curse, traveling to the perpetually moving castle of a mysterious young wizard.

Devised by Hayao Miyazaki as his response to the Iraq War, Howl’s Moving Castle is filled to the brim with anti-war subject matter, portraying the harsh reality of battle and the negative effect it has on local communities and societies at large. Not only that, it offers a more sentimentalized portrayal of old age than most other movies, depicting it not as an inevitable inconvenience, but as something natural, healthy, and that you’ll be able to enjoy just as much as youth.

Mystery: Mystic River

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Image Credit: Warner Brothers Entertainment

Clint Eastwood has always been a world-renowned actor and director since his career took off in the mid 1960s. In the decades that followed, Eastwood turned his attention more heavily towards crafting evocative drama films that made use of masterful storytelling and skilled actors, one of his best efforts being the 2003 neo-noir mystery, Mystic River.

When a teenage girl (Emmy Rossum) is murdered in Boston, three former childhood friends (Kevin Bacon, Tim Robbins, and Sean Penn) are brought together in the subsequent police investigation.

Analyzing the topic of sexual abuse, trauma, and childhood estrangement, Mystic River is a brilliant, chilling, and at times heartbreaking portrayal of people doing their best to move on from the events that have uprooted their lives. Each of the three principal leads are astounding in their respective roles, able to dwell on their boyhood friendship with one another, and their tragic antagonistic relationship of later years.

Classic: Seven Samurai

Seven Samurai 1 Toho MSN
Image Credit: Toho.

In no uncertain terms, every action film released today owes a serious debt of gratitude to Seven Samurai. The defining masterpiece of the legendary Akira Kurosawa’s career, it’s influence can be deeply felt on nearly every action movie that came after it, from ‘60s Westerns like The Magnificent Seven to later blockbusters like Star Wars.

With their food supply threatened by a band of vicious bandits, the residents of a small town recruit seven vastly different ronin to protect their village.

In a career full of unabashedly great films, Seven Samurai is the pinnacle of Kurosawa’s efforts, released when the master was at the height of his technical and artistic prowess. At three and a half hours, it can make for a lengthy watch — but as any self-effacing cinephile will tell you, it deserves to be seen at least once (if not a few times) in everyone’s lifetime.

Underrated: Speed Racer

speed racer
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

When it first came out in 2008, Speed Racer was instantly dismissed as one of the worst movies ever made. Like so many critically panned movies before it, though, public opinion of the movie has gradually warmed, with many considering it a deliberately cartoonish cult classic.

Pursuing his lifelong dream of becoming a high-speed racing star, the 18-year-old Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) rises through the ranks of the sport, earning the attention of an unscrupulous racing mogul (Roger Allam).

Described equally as an “underrated masterpiece” and “misunderstood art film,” whether this 2008 Wachowskis film lives up to the expectations of dedicated Speed Racer anime fans is a matter of opinion. Even if the story or cartoonish nature of the film doesn’t grab you, though, you’ll likely be impressed by its bright colors and incredible visuals — which, for 2008, were truly ahead of their time.

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.


Love Adds up Most in ‘A Thousand And One’

Teyana Taylor may owe her first screen appearance to an episode of MTV’s My Super Sweet 16, a show devoted to the lifestyles of the young and financially well-endowed, but just watch her career-defining performance in A Thousand And One and try calling her a nepo baby.

Taylor shines so bright she dazzles the screen in a film that’s a love letter to Black women, Black mothers, and the neighborhoods that were swept away in a blaze of gentrification. That included many residents who were forced out long before even well-off white people started to think that maybe pricing entire swaths of people out of their homes might backfire.

Set in the 90s

Grainy shots of New York City reinforce the movie’s embrace of its 1994 opening setting long before we get to the fashions of the time, which include the biggest ear rings, firmly defined brow aesthetics, and beeper numbers. But just before a certain weariness about how we’re meant to appreciate that this a grittier side of a city so familiar from countless glossier treatments sinks in, establishing shots give way to Riker’s as Inez (Taylor) emerges, 22 and unapologetic.

Much like Kathleen Collins’s groundbreaking feature Losing Ground, the grainy aesthetic is no mere flourish or affectation, or merely reduced to budgetary constraints. And as Inez heads to her old stomping grounds, it’s also an informal tour of the ties she’s managed to maintain despite her background of familial dysfunction and many of the self-sabotaging instincts which typically accompany it.

This is a film that’s made no secrets of how Inez’s love for her son Terry is her driving force, but that love doesn’t define her so much as keep her afloat, providing a motivator that gives her already steely determination a focus. She builds a life out of what can only loosely be described as sheer willpower, making the bootstraps and pulling up until she has an apartment, a husband and father figure in Lucky (William Catlett), a job that pays the bills, and eventually, opportunities for Terry that could have him on track to the Ivy Leagues.

The Dream is Alive

In short, Inez carves out a tiny piece of the American Dream, and manages to provide more of it for her child. Like many so-called success stories, it’s also more complicated than that, in this instance founded on circumstances that could be generously referred to as extralegal, since Inez kidnapped Terry from foster care to keep him with her and give him a shot at a life where his ambitions could become something besides pipe dreams.

Various politicians also have vocal cameos which double as reminders of how it could all come tumbling down (and to some extent did), as various neighborhood staples close and are replaced by shiny corporate outposts, stop and frisk kicks in. On the even more personal level, smiling new landlords make their appearance, determined to push them out as passive-aggressively as possible.

A.V. Rockwell manages to weave together the political and personal remarkably well in her feature debut, if not altogether seamlessly, borrowing a bit from Moonlight as she casts Aaron Kingsley Adetola, Aven Courtney, and Josiah Cross to play Terry at 6, 13, and 17, respectively. The change isn’t as smoothly managed as it was with Barry Jenkins, with Terry showing little in terms of growth as he struggles to adjust to the secrecy in which Inez has cloaked his life, and his mother and stepfather’s deteriorating marriage.

Portrait of a Black Woman

Simplistically uplifting stories are nowhere to be found, but it is refreshing for Rockwell to give Harlem some of the much-needed attention which is bestowed more often on flawed, complex portraits of Black women in Brooklyn, including Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. and Mother of George. A Thousand And One more than earns its place, with Taylor proving the standout almost by circumstance, since nearly every performance, no matter how brief, feels worthy of descriptors like lived-in, phenomenal, and capable of holding their own on any screen, any time.

Mothers kidnapping their children from a dysfunctional system have fueled many a news story, TV movie, and Law & Order episode, but few have been so concerned of the lives of people on the periphery as A Thousand And One, including those who can’t quite accept the prospect of a better future, with Catlett giving an exceptionally layered portrayal of a husband and father so damaged by his own experiences he is unable to fully give and accept love.

Where the detritus from a life constructed and partly undone washes up exactly is left frustratingly and heartbreakingly undone. Chances are it’s somewhere beyond the watchful gaze of the grid, but as Rockwell movingly delineates, they can still leave behind something that lasts. In the best of circumstances, it’s love.

Rating: 9/10 SPECS

A Thousand And One plays in theaters March 31.

We've got the latest on all the movies in theaters now!

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.


Skip the Junk Food: Try These 8 Tasty and Nutritious Substitutes for Potato Chips

Something about the crunch of a potato chip is so incredibly satisfying. I LOVE a good salty snack. While potato chips are great, they're also not the healthiest option, being deep-fried and covered in salt. But here are eight alternatives to potato chips, just in case you want to snack on something healthier.

1: Popcorn

Popcorn is an excellent snack substitute for potato chips. But you're going to want to avoid dumping a butter bucket on your popcorn and opt for some lighter seasonings. “I use popcorn with sour cream and onion or ranch seasoning,” one person shared on social media.

“Popcorn with some seasoning similar to what you like. Spicy/cheesy – you can get nutritional yeast and add that on top with some spice, and it’s far better for you than chips,” added u/Unlikely-Slide6402.

2: Baked Chick Peas

As the core ingredient of hummus, chickpeas are delicious and nutritious. They're packed with protein, which makes for a great snack to satisfy your hunger pangs between meals.

“You could bake or air fry chickpeas or other bean types and put your favorite seasonings on it. I feel like that would give you the crunch and spice of chips, plus some fiber and protein,” wrote u/pddleboard.

3: Crispy Fruit Chips

Have you ever tried banana chips? Those things are absolutely to die for. They're a little sweet and a lot crispy, so you get a fantastic crunch with every bite.

“I've been eating dried Fuji apple chips from Costco,” shared u/SlainAlbatross.

Dried fruit chips are a fantastic way to encourage yourself to eat fruit while also enjoying the crunch of a potato chip.

4: Quest Protein Chips

There are many healthy alternative chips out there designed to fulfill your potato cravings.

“Quest Protein Chips are the best thing I’ve found. 10 chips are about 60 calories, 1 gram of fat, 2.5 carbs, and about 11 grams of protein. Goes great next to a grilled chicken wrap and a pickle for lunch,” said u/Robert315.

5: Nori Crisps

If you love the act of snacking, nori chips are an excellent replacement for potato chips. You can shovel a bunch of these crispy, thin seaweed snacks into your face without feeling too unhealthy.

You can always find nori chips at your local Asian grocery store, but they also have some options at Trader Joe's.

6: Crunchy Veggies and Dip

If you find a dip you're excited about, it can be easy to transition from chips to vegetables. While creamy dips like ranch often have a lot of calories, you can replace those with greek yogurt-based dips if you're extra health-conscious.

7: Kale Chips

While many people hate on kale, it can actually be extremely tasty. Especially in chip form. Kale is full of nutrients like vitamins A, K, B6, and C.

8: Nuts

If you want a snack to fill you up and help you resist the urge to overeat, nuts are a fantastic choice. They're chock full of protein to help fill you up quickly. And, they're delicious!

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.


Tuesday, 28 March 2023

10 Honest Insights: Should We Ban TikTok In America?

POV: You're scrolling through TikTok, watching dancing cats and people lip-syncing to the latest pop hits, when suddenly a video pops up with an urgent message. It's about banning TikTok in America.

That's right; the popular video-sharing app has been facing scrutiny from politicians and lawmakers for potential security risks. But before you panic and start stockpiling your favorite TikTok dances, let's closely examine the situation. Here are 10 honest insights on whether we should ban TikTok in America.

1. Ban All Social Media

People are calling fire for widespread bans of all social media platforms; why stop at TikTok? Oh, the love-hate relationship we have with social media. On the one hand, it's a breeding ground for negativities. On the other hand, it's a platform for marginalized voices to be heard.

Decisions, decisions.

2. A Distraction From The Real Problem

Privacy is a serious concern, and TikTok is not immune to scrutiny. However, it's worth noting that the app is singled out amidst a broader lack of privacy laws and the prevalence of US-based data brokers selling user data. These brokers collect and resell personal information, including employment history, political leanings, and social media activity, to name a few.

While the potential security risks associated with TikTok are a valid concern, addressing the broader privacy issues is essential.

3. Ownership

Ownership can be a critical factor in assessing security risks. In this context, concerns over TikTok's ownership by the Chinese Communist Party are valid, as it raises the possibility of direct access to and influence over American users.

In the event of a conflict, such as a hypothetical attack on Taiwan, the CCP could leverage this access for propaganda. While all social media platforms can be used for propaganda, one thinks the direct control of a foreign government is a legitimate cause for concern.

4. Hypocrisy

Some see the focus on TikTok as political posturing rather than a genuine concern for national security. One user argues that targeting the app is hypocritical, while other social media platforms engage in similar practices.

Facebook and Instagram are known to collect user data and share it with third-party companies and promote certain political agendas.

5. Everything Is Spying on You

Feeling frustrated when our lawmakers seem focused on the wrong things is easy. While there are certainly concerns about data privacy and security, the panic over TikTok may be misplaced. After all, plenty of other tech devices and platforms collect data and share it with third parties.

And while it's tempting to blame everything on the Chinese, it's worth remembering that foreign entities also own many other companies and media outlets.

6. Even China Doesn't Want It

TikTok, known as Douyin in China, is banned in China because of the Chinese government's strict internet censorship laws. The app is seen as a potential platform for dissent and free speech, which most, including citizens, claim the government aims to suppress.

In addition, the Chinese government has raised concerns about the app's data privacy practices. One person raises the matter: if the creators don't want it, why are they invested in keeping it in America?

7. TikTok Bad, But IG Good?

Studies show Instagram harms children's mental health, especially females, by promoting unrealistic beauty standards and social anxiety. Instead of banning Instagram, some lawmakers want to make it more accessible to children, raising further concerns about health risks.

The impact of social media on young people's well-being remains a growing concern. People wonder why all the rage is on TikTok while IG seems to thrive.

8. The Good Side of TikTok

One user argues that most people's hate for TikTok is based on videos they've seen shared online, but that's not the whole app. It's got one of the best predictive algorithms out there, which makes it addictive, and the range of content is vast.

Sure, there are alarming trends and pranks, but TikTok can be a fun, educational, and even helpful app if you train it right. There's something for everyone.

9. Giving Back The Data

During a hearing, Shou Chew, the CEO of TikTok, presented a plan to move user data to a third-party company based in the United States, specifically in Texas. However, even with proof, some members of Congress didn't believe him, making the whole hearing a bit of a mess.

It's understandable not to be very trusting of “enemy nations.” Still, if there will ever be peace, someone has to budge, and many believe this is an excellent pact.

10. Free Speech?

Another person argues that TikTok, a platform for sharing user-generated videos, is a privately owned service. The courts have interpreted the freedom of speech more broadly than what it means to fit their desires. Therefore, criminalizing it could be considered a government violation of freedom of speech.

Although a complete ban is unlikely to occur, if it does, the federal courts may eventually overturn it, as it violates free speech. And if it isn't overturned, then what is America's future as regards free speech?

It's an excellent point to ponder.

This thread inspired this post.

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.


Why Gift Cards May Suck and Why They Don’t!

For decades, gift cards have become a common way to shop and give as gifts to our family and friends. But when it comes to gift cards, are t...