Drinking Wine in the Valley of the Moon

Robledo Winery 3

This is the third in a three-part photo series on my recent trip to San Francisco.  Click here for Killer Views of the City or click here for photos of Muir Woods.

A tour of Sonoma County Wine Country makes for a memorable (provided you don’t drink too much) day-trip while staying in the city.  We opted for Sonoma over Napa as we read it was more bucolic and laid back…and we weren’t disappointed.  Our choice of touring companies was also spot-on.  Green Dream Tours provide guided shuttle services that will pick you up and drop you off at your hotel downtown, stop at scenic overlooks along the way, and take you to family run wineries off the beaten path.  Their shuttles are limited to 14 passengers, and are perfect anecdotes to overcrowded anonymous buses.  They really make you feel like you’re out with a group of friends, and our driver and guide, Dakshina, couldn’t have been more professional, friendly and knowledgeable.

We stopped at three wineries as well as a brief sojourn in the “city” of Sonoma, which for those comparing is a quaint town of about seven thousand people vs. Napa which has swelled to a city of over seventy thousand. Continue reading

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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 or click here 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 or click here 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 to 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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The Two Faces of Cate Blanchett and Woody Allen in Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine 2

Happy Jasmine

Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine

In Woody Allen’s last dramatic mini-masterpiece, Match Point, his protagonist showed that with a bit of hard work, and a bit of good luck, a person could get away with anything…even murder.  But maybe the old Woodster really wasn’t that cynical, and maybe he wanted to atone for that message.  Allen has plenty to atone for.  And so does Wall Street.  His latest, Blue Jasmine, shares a bit thematically with Match Point in its depiction of charades and human beings willing to do anything (even start Ponzi schemes) to hold onto the good life, but it also shows that bad luck is just as easy to conjure as good luck.  Here, Allen’s culprit (Alec Baldwin) gets caught, and Allen depicts the aftershocks of a Madoff-like scandal through the eyes of the criminal’s fractured wife.  With its bi-coastal setting hopscotching timeframes between New York and San Francisco, Allen seems to be atoning for all the time he spent in Europe, and perhaps communally for Wall Street’s dirty deeds…for the gilded life he’s lived for so long in New York alongside those financial schemers…for the snobbery…for the elitism…the casually charming arrogance of it all.  Every good thing comes to an end…right?  And all we need to get through it is a little vodka and Xanax. Continue reading

A Review of David Fincher’s “Zodiac”

Effectively Creepy and Engrossing True Crime Tale, 6 March 2007
8/10

Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

David Fincher has taken nearly five years off between films, and he has returned a more mature and accomplished director with his fascinating “Zodiac.” It may not reach the cult status of his “Seven” or “Fight Club” or find the box office success of “Panic Room,” but by many measures it may be his most carefully crafted film. More in line with the crime epics of directors like Michael Mann than with the typical serial-killer thriller, “Zodiac” is propelled by inventive direction, a great cast, engaging attention to detail, and a killer soundtrack of classic songs from the late 1960’s and 1970’s.

Based on the book by Robert Graysmith (played effectively here by Jake Gyllenhaal), “Zodiac” is meticulous in its details (both in dialogue and Fincher’s finely painted visuals) and sprawling in plot and its parade of intriguing characters. Mark Ruffalo is especially compelling playing the lead detective who becomes obsessed with the case, and Robert Downey Jr. does his best macabre comic relief job as the boozing and drugging reporter Paul Avery who was targeted for a brief time by the infamous killer. There’s also a fine supporting cast featuring Brian Cox, Chloe Sevigny, and John Caroll Lynch among many others, all doing top notch work.

Fincher’s digital VIPER camera lends itself surprising well to the period detail and look of the 1970’s. Though some of the more brightly lit shots aren’t as clear and in focus as you would like, this is the first movie I can think of shot on all digital where some of the cinematography could actually be called beautiful (check out any of the skyline shots and the great overhead of the Golden Gate Bridge). Fincher crafts some truly creepy moments using simple lighting techniques featuring characters hopping into strange cars on deserted highways, traipsing through dimly lit homes, or nervously making their way down a dark creaky staircase into a fathomless basement. There’s also some nice freak-out moments in the classy and sharply filmed murder scenes and when characters receive eerie phone-calls from the so-called killer or his equally sick copycats. I didn’t realize how effective Fincher’s technique was until I went home alone to my dark apartment and felt a sudden lump in my throat when a friend made an unexpected late night call.

There are times when the film becomes bogged down with police procedural aspects, and its epic runtime is apparent, though most of the slow parts still remain engrossing. Graysmith makes it clear who he thinks the killer was, though the case was officially unsolved. When all the pieces finally fit together, the audience feels the same sickening giddiness as Graysmith and the detectives long plagued by the cryptic case that held much of San Franciso hostage knowing that the prime suspect will never be convicted on so much circumstantial evidence. In the end, Fincher leaves you with some haunting feelings, and if anything is certain, it’s that Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” will never be listened to the same again.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database

http://imdb.com/title/tt0443706/usercomments-109