March 23rd, 2014

San Francisco Chronicles

The Hookers on Post St.

It has been a good few hours since the sun made its dramatic exit from whimsy San Franciscan horizon, choosing instead, to plunge headfirst into the bowels of the Pacific. The darkness has set in, and with the darkness of the sky, comes the glittering lights of the shopping district around Union Square. Hundreds of shoppers mill around, clutching on to their big red Macy’s bags as the chilly Summer wind tries to rip them away from their hands. Hordes of young couples, the women wearing short tight dresses that exaggerate their bodily curvatures and the men sporting party blazers and pointy leather shoes, trot hand in hand towards the array of nightclubs in the Tenderloin, stealing conspicuous pecks at each others’ lips as they stop for the crosswalk to turn green.

After a sumptuous dinner and heavy philosophical conversations that ensued during that process, I am left with an over-satiated stomach and an over-satiated mind. I mill about the Cable Car turnaround, trying to decide what to do next - do I go back to the office to pick up my bike and bear these monstrous winds as I trudge uphill to my house? Or do I stand in the cold at the bus shelter waiting for a packed bus to arrive in which I will find myself invariably squeezed in between unpleasant smelling gentlemen and feel that once delicious, now obnoxious curry snake its way through my esophagus and into my mouth? Or do I take the long 3 mile walk back home, absorbing the sights and sounds of the city in its frenetic Friday night mode?

The answer is obvious to me, and I begin walking north on Powell Street, alongside the Cable Car line, watching the last remaining tourists of the day, huddling near the ticketing counter, longing desperately, to get aboard that much famed Cable Car ride to Ghirardelli Square.

At some point, I need to turn left and head westward toward the quieter, residential part of the city where I currently live. Nope, can’t take a left on Eddy, can’t take a left on O’Farrell…those two streets define the ethos of the Tenderloin, the cultural epicenter of nightclubs, drug dealers, hustlers, and many people who’ve made the sidewalk their permanent residence …hmm…maybe I could take a left on Geary, for it just borders the Tenderloin, and acts as a force-field, an invisible barrier that prevents all things Tenderloin from creeping into all things Nob Hill. But Geary is a boring road to walk on, one that just has cars and buses involved in the “Who gets to switch lanes” competition. I decide to walk one more block North and turn left on Post. 

By now, the creepiness of the Tenderloin has vanished, and the bustle of the traffic on Geary is nothing but a muffled swish of air. The trees along the road are thicker here, partially covering those historic-looking hotels, whose gates are closed and bored looking men dressed in suits wait at podiums outside. But I can see their interiors glow with exuberance - intricate paintings hung on the wall, delicate vases on ornate wooden tables, plush rugs that smother the floor, and spiral staircases with gilded railings that lead up to the private sanctuaries of wealthy tourists and locals like.

More hotels to my left, more to my right. I pass by a bunch of them in quick succession until I reach Jones St. There are no more tourists to be seen, no more semi-fancy hotels. The glitter of Union Square now fades into a more darker, sinister realism. The tourists don’t venture this far, for there are no more traps here that will sell you a fridge magnet for ten dollars or tell you in vulgar lettering that they represent the most authentic San Franciscan cuisine. Local San Francisco begins here…local, not for the hardened and wizened residents of the city, but local enough for yuppies and the city’s new kids to claim it as part of their own.

You can tell that this is a city obsessed with technology, so much so, that they bask in its exaggerated trivialities. I pass by this Thai restaurant called “iThai” whose signage is written in the same confident flair that we’ve come to associate with technological products prefixed with that conspicuous “i”. A couple of all-night burger joints pass by, their stores currently empty, but in a few hours time, would be buzzing with hungry drunk people when the clubs of the Tenderloin close down.

I cross Hyde Street. The area becomes darker. There are no more restaurants in the vicinity. On both sides of the road are non-descript houses. A few people walk past me on the sidewalk, evidently making their way towards the nicer and livelier parts of the city. This is not a part of the city where one would loiter, not just in terms of safety, but in general, there is nothing here to loiter for.

Just then, I notice a woman standing on the sidewalk on Post and Larkin, dressed in a tight black blouse, a short, tight leather skirt, lacy stockings covering her legs, balancing on tall, sharp heels, with a face that was smeared with gaudy makeup and with an expression of boredom, the sort of boredom that creeps into your face when you perform a mundane, repetitive task. Her eyes scan the road, not the twitchy eye movements of a woman waiting impatiently for her lover, but the composed eye movements of a merchant involved in a delicate trade who is patient enough to wait forever, but is also smart enough to grab the opportunity when one presents itself.

As I walk past her, the intoxicating smell of her perfume hits my head, making me giddy. My heart beats faster. I quicken my pace and look back to see if I was being followed. For a second, her eyes meet mine. A wry, confident, superior smile appears on her face for a fleeting moment, a look on her face that seemed to scream loudly in my ears - “Move away kiddo. Let me do my job.” And then, the woman continued to stand where she was, with that jaded look on her face and her opportunistic eyes continuing to scan the road.

I cross Polk Street. Now I see two more women, dressed similarly, with similar expressions on their faces, smoking cigarettes and waiting patiently for something to happen. Just then, a black Lincoln town car pulls up in front of one of the women. The glass in the rear seat lowers. The woman clicks her heels on the pavement and walks towards the car bending her head towards the lowered window. A few words get exchanged, terms and conditions are agreed upon. The door opens, the woman gets in, and the tires squeal as the car rushes away.

A sickening feeling rises inside of me. It is not due to the question of morality, which is something that I have no authority to comment on, but due to witnessing something that I had believed, though I always knew I was wrong, to be confined only to the fictitious world of cinema.

I always wanted a new truck.

IMDB: 7.9

Rotten Tomatoes: Tomatometer 92% , Audience 85%

Despite knowing too well that Nebraska was nominated for the Oscars for a whole bunch of categories, I refrained from watching the movie, even when they re-released it after the nominations were announced. Well, to be honest, I thought that it would be a slow moving drama about old people, hardly something to get excited about it. But after listening to many of my friends telling me how good the movie was(1), I decided to rent it on Google Play(2) and watch it today.

And I must say that they were very right. The movie is really touching - not in an overdramatic way, but in a very humble, realistic way. The characters look very real (Bruce Dern was brilliant!), and Alexander Payne seems to have done an excellent job in capturing the mentality and spirit of the American Midwest - the ball games, the beer, the fascination with American muscle cars, corn fields and such. The movie is also rib-ticklingly funny, a sort of intelligent, dry humor that will make you burst out with short-lived but spontaneous moments of laughter. But behind these lighter moments are deep, powerful messages that are embedded in the core of the movie - family ties, alcoholism, neglect, repentance, greed, respect to name a few.

The movie is shot completely in black and white, with a beautiful, serene soundtrack that accompanies those wide-angled shots of the midwestern countryside. The movie is a treat to watch and it’s a pity that it didn’t win any of the awards it was nominated for at the Oscars

Footnotes

1- My interest was really piqued after one of my friends told me that the movie was like the tale of a modern day Shravan Kumar :P

2 - No, Google did not pay me to endorse this. But I must say that they have a pretty good collection of recently released movies.

3 - The title of this post will make sense after you watch the movie :-)

March 16th, 2014
Wild flowers in bloom :) #sf

Wild flowers in bloom :) #sf

March 15th, 2014

Non-Stop

IMDB - 7.4

Rotten Tomatoes - 60% Tomatometer, 72% Audience

Liam Neeson is a badass. There’s no doubt about that. And any movie with Liam Neeson as the protagonist is bound to be thrilling, entertaining, vicious and Irish. Non-Stop fits the bill perfectly. If only his daughter had found her way into this “hijacked” aircraft, this could’ve very well been called Taken 3. With an explosive, riveting and sometimes mysterious performance, our protagonist drives home the point yet again - “one does not simply mess with Liam Nesson.”

Unlike its flaccid, mundane name, the movie was a treat, reminiscent of such airline/airport hijacking classics like Die Hard 2 and Executive Decision. With an intriguing plot that leads you on a classic whodunit - every 20 minutes someone gets killed on the aircraft, unless Mr. Neeson, who plays the role of a US Marshall, doesn’t pay up some ransom money. For the majority of the movie, you are on your toes trying to figure out who the killer could be. The suspects are limited, the area is confined. And that makes it even more exciting.

So, for the entirety of the movie, you are waiting with bated breath for the finale. But unfortunately, when the finale does come, and the identity of the mysterious killer is unraveled, instead of going, “HO-OH-LY SHIT!”, you end up going, “Ahh…uhmmm” What the movie lacks is a proper closure, a convincing story arc that ties up all the loose ends. What the movie does have though is last 10 seconds of absolute cheese, running- around-the-trees-Bollywood-cheese (made popular by such movies like The Call, and Man Of Steel).

Nevertheless, the movie is a good entertainer and worth watching.

Spoiler Alert - Liam Neeson does a classic Rajnikanth move. Don’t miss that one!

Basking under the sun at the conservatory of flowers with a book in my hand. Perfect! #sf

Basking under the sun at the conservatory of flowers with a book in my hand. Perfect! #sf

Friday night lights #sf #unionsquare

Friday night lights #sf #unionsquare

March 14th, 2014

An Empire Rises, or so it seems

IMDB: 7.1

Rotten Tomatoes: Critics - 42% . Audience - 66%

Zack Snyder’s second retelling of the Greek-Persian rivalry exactly delivered what it promised - blood, blood, and more blood. Blood bursting out of a hacked hand, blood spewing down from a sliced head, blood oozing around a plucked eyeball and of course blood in slow motion, pirouetting its way on to the screen (and on to your eyes, if you’re wearing those nerdy 3D glasses). Not to forget a lot of muscular men running about in underwear, great wallpaper moments (like the one above) and a full-blooded sex scene deliberately inserted without rhyme or reason…the standard “Hollywood masala”, as “purposeful”, as an item song in a Bollywood movie.

If that was the only purpose of the movie, then I must say that it did a pretty good job. But 300 stands for something more (okay, at least a little bit more). And that is a goosebump-inducing narrative, an intense protagonist and scenes that are meant to be memeified. Sadly, none of those moments exist in this movie. The characters are pretty weak and hard to rally around. Our good protagonist, Themistocles, looks like a wuss in front of Leonidas. (Can’t blame him though…”This is Athens” doesn’t sound as hardcore as “This is Sparta!”). The co-protagonist, Artemisia starts off as seductive, cunning, and ruthless. But eventually, she too looses her way as the movie goes on.

I would commend the graphics and the production style of the movie, but it didn’t add anything new, unlike its predecessor. This style of movie-making has become a boring formula now, but Zack Snyder can proudly call this his own genre. At least his movies are better than others who venture into this.

All in all, 300: Rise of an Empire is a fantasized retelling of a historic battle, and one must appreciate Frank Miller’s creativity in making larger than life characters out of what otherwise would’ve been boring names in a history book. Sure, I would prefer a realistic distortion of history (read: Troy) than a fantastic distortion, but, hey, the movie at least made me spend a good few hours reading about the Battle of Salamis.

March 2nd, 2014

It’s time for the Oscars!

24 hours from now, we’ll know who were the winners and who were the losers, who deserved to win and who didn’t, who were snubbed and who weren’t. My good friend Udit and I were discussing the other day about who’s gonna take home the golden statuette. We thought we’d put out our predictions on the public forum and see how many we get right. Do your predictions match with either of ours?

1. Best Original Screenplay

Udit’s prediction - Her (Spike Jonze)

My prediction - Her (Spike Jonze)

In our minds, the winner is clear for this. Spike Jonze’s post-modern love story was one of the most creative ones we’ve seen in quite some time, beautifully portraying an issue that many others have rarely considered - the emotional implications of our excessive reliance on technology.

2. Best Adapted Screenplay

Udit’s prediction - Philomena (Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope))

My prediction - 12 Years a Slave (John Ridley)

I haven’t seen Philomena, so I really can’t comment on that movie. I have seen 12 Years and I think the lost story of Solomon Nothrup was beautifully brought alive on the big screen.

3. Best Visual Effects

Udit’s prediction - Gravity (Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk, Neil Corbould)

My prediction - Gravity (Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk, Neil Corbould)

Well, this is pretty obvious to me. Gravity was a visually spectacular extravaganza.

4. Best Production Design

Udit’s prediction - The Great Gatsby (Catherine Martin, Beverley Dunn)

My prediction - American Hustle (Judy Becker, Heather Loeffler)

This one’s a toughie. I’m pretty sure it should be one of those two movies, given that both of them seemed to have been made with only Production Design in mind :P

5. Best Original Song

My prediction - Her (The Moon Song)

A very soulful song that fit amazingly well with the movie. The Moon Song has a good chance of grabbing the statuette.

6. Best Original Score

Udit’s prediction - Her (William Butler, Owen Pallett)

My prediction - Gravity (Steven Price)

Although I very much enjoyed the score on Her, I feel Gravity will win it, just because of how, in spite of being sort of minimalistic, enhanced the effect of scaring the living crap out of me.

7. Best Makeup and Hairstyling

My prediction - Dallas Buyers Club (Adruitha Lee, Robin Mathews)

Sure, Johnny Depp had a good getup in the Lone Ranger, but this one’s a clear winner for me. Jared Leto’s appearance clinches it.

8. Best Film Editing

Udit’s prediction - Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger)

My prediction - Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger)

Pretty obvious again. Heck, they made space look real!

9. Best Directing

Udit’s prediction - Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón)

My prediction - Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón)

A unanimous decision again. Alfonso Cuaron just pushed the limits and boundaries of how movies are made.

10. Best Costume Design

Udit’s prediction - The Great Gatsby

My prediction - American Hustle

Another one of those where either of these movies can win it. But I think American Hustle has just more clout this time around.

11. Best Cinematography

Udit’s prediction - Gravity

My prediction - Gravity

Well, Gravity will win it. Same reason as before.

12. Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Udit’s prediction - Sally Hawkins for Blue Jasmine

My prediction - Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle

Sally Hawkins was really good, but hey, the Academy loves Jennifer Lawrence (and she was good too!)

12. Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Udit’s prediction - Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club

My prediction - Michael Fassbender for 12 Years A Slave

This is going to be a tough fight, but I think Michael Fassbender might clinch it, because of portraying a bad guy that everyone would hate from the bottom of their hearts

14. Best Actress in a Leading Role

Udit’s prediction - Care Blanchett for Blue Jasmine

My prediction - Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine

I think the winner is pretty clear to me :P

15. Best Actor in a Leading Role

Udit’s prediction - Bruce Dern for Nebraska

My prediction - Mathhew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club

This one’s gonna go down to the wire. There have just been too many great acting performances this year. But my money would still be on McConaughey.

16. Best Picture

Udit’s prediction - American Hustle

My prediction - American Hustle

There may have been better movies than American Hustle this year, but the academy loves movies like Hustle that do a great job of depicting the glories of a bygone era.

February 28th, 2014

A Writer’s San Francisco

Living in San Francisco and specifically, writing in San Francisco for the past two years, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. (I must say that the pretty artistic rendition of Nob Hill lured me to pick it up in the first place) Slim as it may look, the book is actually a meaty, profound read, something that can be read in a few hours, but whose effects will last for years together. Dr. Maisel, who happens to be a creativity coach by profession, pours his heart out into why loves this amazing city, and his brain into how he helps his clients to get out of the doomed “writer’s block”. While it may not be as inspiring as Stephen King’s On Writing, the beauty of the book lies in a treasure chest of phrases and quotations that manages to thrill me at an emotional level.

Quoting Dr. Maisel :

"I am an urban writer by nature. My true homes are Paris, London, New York, Tokyo and San Francisco. I need cafes, video stores that stock independent films, and bars where everyone is an outsider. I need bookstores, small parks with a comforting glimpse of the concrete beyond, and markets filled with people speaking languages I don’t understand."

“(When) the writer says, ‘I love San Francisco’, he loves the iconography of the Summer of Love, Free Speech Movement and Jefferson Airplane. The writer loves the fog as it pours in; he loves the sun when the fog pours out.”

"The rest of California is Beach Boys country, but San Francisco has that moody thing going, those blues notes wrapped in moisture, an atmosphere that tempers California dreaming and makes life more real."

"It is a trick of dualistic thinking to say that only the poor writer, steeled in the streets, will write, or that only the comfortable writer, not worried about starving, will continue to write. The fact of the matter is that the only writer who will write is the writer who writes. He will write one-armed, blind or with a billion in the bank. He will write in a good suit or naked at his makeshift desk."

February 25th, 2014

#1 - Captain Phillips

AQ: 9.67

IMDB: 8.0

Rotten Tomatoes: 91%

And finally, after that long and arduous countdown, we reach the climax. The award for the most awesome movie of 2013 goes to…Drum roll please!….Captain Phillips!

I really have no words to describe how awesome this movie was. Heart-pounding. Nerve-Wracking. Absolutely sensational! Needless to say that this is going to be one of those movies that I will watch numerous times and will not get bored doing so. 

Based on the true life story of the hijacking of an American freighter ship by Somali pirates, Captain Phillips, follows the sequences of events that took place that fateful day and how one man risked his life to save the lives of hundreds of his crewmen.

Tom Hanks is at his scintillating best (I’m really surprised he wasn’t nominated), and the new kid on the block - Barkhad Abdi, comes in with a stellar performance (I really do hope he wins the supporting actor award). Not many movies hold the distinction of making me cry, but the last scene of this movie, when Captain Phillips breaks down into tears, brought an overwhelming sense of that strange mixture of traumatic sorrow and relief upon me.

If you haven’t seen this yet, go ahead and watch it. I can’t think of any reason why someone wouldn’t like this movie!