Muir Woods: A Cathedral of Trees

Muir Woods 42

This is the second in a three-part photo series on my recent trip to San Francisco.  Click here for Killer Views of the City and stay tuned for photos from Sonoma County.

No trip to the San Francisco Bay area is complete without a day-trip across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County and the famous redwoods of Muir Woods.  Word to the wise: go early (the park opens at 8am) before the throngs of tourists and locals descend and make parking and silence impossible.  We got there around 8:30am on a Saturday, and the timing was perfect for primo parking and thin crowds hiking the paths.  Another word to the wise:  the road up is winding, cliff-side, often without guard rails, and has no bike lanes but plenty of suicidal bikers competing for road space.  Once safely ensconced in the belly of the forest, the trees – amongst the tallest on earth and towering like cathedral spires – are astounding, and I could imagine Terrence Malick coming here to die and be buried so he can forever be under sunlight streaming through treetops.

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San Francisco: City of Killer Views

Marin Headlands View 5

This is the first in a three-part photo series on my recent trip to San Francisco.  Click here for photos of Muir Woods and stay tuned for photos from Sonoma County.

San Francisco is one of those cities that flaunts convention and tempts fate.  The bay, the fault line that promises destruction, the fog, the jutting and tempestuous hills…it’s a city that by normal rights shouldn’t exist (much like two of my other favorite cities: Amsterdam and New Orleans).  But when you’re there, you can see why people refuse to leave and continue rebuild and adapt.  Iconic bridges (with the Golden Gate straddling into Marin County and the Bay Bridge connecting the city to Oakland), impossible hills, beautiful architecture, a temperate quasi-Mediterranean climate, and views to kill for make San Francisco the most beautiful city I have visited in North America to date.  You simply can’t understand the insanity of the views until you see them for yourself…and although I’ve tried…no pictures can really do them justice.  No wonder this is the city where hippies are eternal, the most daring of bicyclists flock, homeless people retire, and real estate prices soar higher than the headlands.

The following spots we found to be the best bets for leaving you gobsmacked:

  1. The view from the Marin Headlands scenic outlooks – just over the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge one can tempt fate and precipitously winding roads to end up at the top of the Marin Headlands (which moved upwards a full 40 feet after the 1989 earthquake) where along the way you can see exposed tectonic plates and once parked can enjoy nose-bleed, windblown-hair views of the bridge, bay, and city beyond.
  2. The view from atop Twin Peaks – right in the city proper not far from the Presidio and Golden Gate Park is this outlook that can be easily reached by car and will shock you with its amazing view of the city spread out below.
  3. The view from inside Top of the Mark – this swanky but laid-back old-school bar on the top floor of a swell hotel will give you the best building-top views in the city and is the perfect spot for a drink at twilight.

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Boardwalk Empire: Friendless Child

Boardwalk Empire 5.7

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – Friendless Child

Season Five: Episode Seven

Directed by:  Allen Coulter

Written by:  Howard Korder, Christine Chambers and Riccardo DiLoreto

The Spin:  Coulter masterminded his best Scorsese impression, harkening back to the style of the Marty helmed pilot, with montages and narration and a tick-tock-gun-shot-gavel-pounding score accentuating this written-by-committee penultimate episode.  It was a refreshing and impressive piece of workmanship coming off the jaw-dropping events of the previous episode and the scattershot nature of the season prior to this.

AS ALWAYS, BEWARE OF SPOILERS:  The gang war between Luciano (Vincent Piazza) and Nucky reaches a fever pitch that results in the nabbing of Ben Siegel (Michael Zegan) as a bargaining chip.  Luciano one-ups Nucky, however, by nabbing Eli’s eldest son (Ben Rosenfield) in return.  Continue reading

Boardwalk Empire: Devil You Know

Boardwalk Empire - Chalky and Daughter

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – Devil You Know

Season Five: Episode Six

Directed by:  Jeremy Podeswa

Written by:  Howard Korder

The Spin:  SUPER DUPER SPOILERS AHEAD – A skipping record plays over the closing credits of Korder’s masterfully penned slow-build to the two-fold finale, and Daughter Maitland’s (Margot Bingham) rendition of “Dream a Little Dream” haunts the hour as our dear Chalky (Michael K. Williams) makes a deal with the devil Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright) in order to give Daughter and her/his daughter a chance (even if only in a dream).  It’s been a roller coaster season of highs and lows and mostly frustration, but Korder, who has always been the most reliable of the Boardwalk scribes, operates on this one with the expert precision of a Shakespearian surgeon.  Did anyone ever really doubt this was a tragedy?

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Is Gone Girl the Greatest or the Worst Hate Story Ever Told?

Gone Girl Rosamund Pike

I’m drinking a glass of wine as I write this review of Gone Girl, as I imagine this is how many fans of the book enjoyed reading Gillian Flynn’s twisted and twisty tale of the worst marriage ever.  I didn’t read the book, so the twists came as genuine surprises to me, and I credit my fellow critics for not really spoiling much in their reviews when the book and film are so damn spoilable.

But the thing you have to know about David Fincher’s film adaptation (spun for the screen from Ms. Flynn’s own hands) is that EVERYTHING about it (okay, and maybe this is a spoiler, so sue me)…is a ruse. Continue reading

It is Happening Again

twin-peaks-25-years-later

Did the faithful ever really doubt that we would see them again 25 years later ?

Twin Peaks is Happening Again…on Showtime…for a limited 9 episode run in 2016 to be directed in whole by David Lynch with scripts by Lynch and Mark Frost.  It will pick up exactly 25 years later just as Laura had always promised us.

I really can’t think of any better news or anything else to say.

Get that coffee and pie ready.  2016 is gonna be a damn fine year for television.  Damn fine!

And smell those trees!

(And as a side note, I’d like to think the Flying Spaghetti Monster and I had something to do with this, and by that, I mean we had nothing to do with this)

Check out the official news on Variety.

Now Let’s Rock.

twin-peaks-01

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Boardwalk Empire: King of Norway

Boardwalk Empire 5.5

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – King of Norway

Season Five: Episode Five

Directed by:  Ed Bianchi

Written by:  Steve Kornacki

The Spin:  The title of tonight’s episode refers to the picture of the king the Norwegian Mrs. Muller hangs in the kitchen.  Turns out she’s been having drunken afternoon tristes with Eli (Shea Whigham) who can only barely remember a thing.  Too bad his memory gets jogged by the mustachioed regent, and Mrs. Muller chose to reveal the tawdry details at a disastrous dinner where Eli’s pregnant wife had come to visit from Atlantic City, a dinner that could only have gotten worse if say, I dunno, the Feds had shown up.  Oh, they did.  The Muller formerly known as Van Alden (Michael Shannon) and Eli have been paired as a some sort of tragic comedy team this year where they try to one up each other with their sad, ironic life events.  Two former law men nabbed by the feds who now want their help getting the books on Capone so they can nail him on tax evasion – what a joke.  And sadly it was about the only interesting turn of events tonight.

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The Last Cut is the Deepest for The Skeleton Twins

Skeleton Twins

There’s a truly fantastic scene about half-way through Craig Johnson’s dramedy, The Skeleton Twins, where Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig lip-synch to Starship’s hilariously 80’s anthem, “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.”  It’s been highlighted ad nauseam in the TV spots for the film, but it’s even more dynamic and infectious on the big screen.  Its almost painfully prolonged unfolding is built upon the rising tension of Wiig’s character being supremely pissed off right now and refusing to play along with her brother’s antics until that moment comes where she just can’t take it anymore and has to join the insanity.  The look on Wiig’s face as she reluctantly (yet deep down so happily) mouths the lyrics, “Let them say we’re crazy…” is a perfect moment for this gifted actress inside a wildly imperfect film.  Hader, likewise, is borderline idiot genius with his mannerisms and body language.  It’s a shame then that writer-director Craig Johnson saddles them with such obvious clichés.

The dysfunctional sister-brother relationship dramedy has long been the bastion of many an indie filmmaker.  Most of these films star Laura Linney (think You Can Count on Me, or probably the ultimate example of this sub-genre, The Savages).  Wiig is an interesting substitute for Linney, as the comedic actress has never been allowed to go dramatic before, but with such a great built-in chemistry with Hader (who is most beloved as SNL’s Stefon, the worst NYC tour guide EVER) the two click whether they’re lip-synching to bad music or revealing devastating secrets to each other. Continue reading

Boardwalk Empire: Cuanto

Boardwalk Empire 5.4

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – Cuanto

Season Five: Episode Four

Directed by:  Jake Paltrow

Written by:  Christine Chambers, Howard Korder and Terence Winter

The Spin:  There’s been a melancholic pall hanging over Boardwalk Empire’s fifth season.  Yes, it’s the last, which is sad enough alone, but it’s also strangely fitting that in the real world the actual current Atlantic City is on a generational decline with the closing of multiple casinos (most notably the lavish Revel) and nothing seeming to go the city’s way.  Watching the flashbacks to “The Education of Nucky Thompson” where the city was but one resort and a modest boardwalk before the turn of the 20th century reminds those localized to its current perils just how far the city has come and how long the way down is (I fear in the real world we ain’t seen nothing yet about how down and out AC can get).  You see this mirrored in the lethargy of 1930’s Nucky, a man who’s gonna have to wake up.  And could Capone’s warning call to Nucky about Luciano’s insinuation that the Italians should cut out Nucky from their empire at the end of tonight’s episode be that wake up call?  Nucky is a man who’s come so far (from Dickensian beginnings so painstakingly tailored in the flashbacks) and runs the risk of falling ever harder.

The episode oozed a calming dread in almost every scene.

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Drop it Like it’s Cold

The Drop

Michael R. Roskam’s Brooklyn set crime thriller, The Drop, is a deceptively pleasant nasty piece of work.

While walking home from work at his cousin Marv’s bar, Bob hears the heart-tugging yelps of a pit bull puppy in the trashcan of the unsuspecting Nadia.  Left with no choice but to rescue the poor dog, Bob is also drawn to Nadia, and thus blooms a romance.  The Drop is one of those “feel-good two lost souls getting together while raising a pet” movies that just so happens to take place inside a gritty little crime flick.  You see, Marv’s bar isn’t an ordinary dive, but a key drop bar for money flowing into a Chechen crime ring.  And that dog was dumped by Nadia’s ex, Eric, a scumbag who may have been involved in the disappearance of a former friend of Marv and Bob ten years earlier.  Adapted for the screen from his own short story “Animal Rescue” by Dennis Lehane, Roskam’s film is oddly paced but still wholly satisfying, where everyone plays their parts effectively, and all of the carefully crafted pieces fall towards a tense and tidy, albeit unpredictable, conclusion. Continue reading