Interesting Urban Geography


From The Weather Channel…

…and I had assumed that the Degree Symbol was being used to indicate the location of each city listed, which is way off the mark. Instead, the graphic artist appears to have plopped the huge (relative to the map scale) temp label in the general vicinity of the city. I would assert that this, obviously, fails because it draws my attention away from the message: it’s HOT out there.


SFIFF 55 Closing Night

San Francisco International Film Festival 55

[I provide the San Francisco Film Society promotional blurb and add “My Take.”]

Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey
Thu, May 3    7:00 / Castro — Big Nights USA, 2012, 113 min
director – Ramona S. Diaz, cast – Neal Schon, Jonathan Cain, Deen Castronovo, Arnel Pineda, Ross Valory

CLOSING NIGHT The 55th San Francisco International Film Festival ends on a high note—a really high note—with an all night celebration kicked off by a rousing screening of Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey at the Castro Theatre, featuring director Ramona S. Diaz and all five members of Journey, and a rockin’ party with live entertainment, dancing, food and drinks

Arnel Pineda’s path from YouTube obscurity to stadium fame in becoming Journey’s new lead singer has inspired newspaper articles and TV talk show segments, but Ramona S. Diaz’s inspiring new film is an up-close and in-depth look at his past and present, from a homeless young adulthood singing on street corners in Manila to the sudden pressures of touring around the world and performing before crowds of thousands. Placing interviews with the candid Pineda (who at one point says he looks like he was placed in the band’s photos through Adobe Photoshop) alongside backstage camerawork that faithfully assumes his perspective, Diaz’s documentary is a counterpart to the exploration of public popularity in her 2003 portrait Imelda—focusing on Pineda’s rise from poverty to wealth, Diaz reveals the generosity of his spirit. She and the band also deliver electrifying musical sequences, including two distinctive homecoming shows, one of which registers as a validation of Pineda’s commitment to albums that he kept in his hope chest, and the power of his voice. “The way I see it, it’s a temporary thing,” Pineda says of his current gig, but Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey—while looking at a pair of cities by the Bay—gives it lasting life.
—Johnny Ray Huston

Ramona Diaz and Journey on stage

MY TAKEJourney was never on my radar, so I could not relate to their actual plight of finding a new lead singer, but Ramona Diaz told the story in such a way that made for a fascinating two hours. She focused on Arnel, but wove the story of behind-the-scenes looks at a hot band on the road around him. The closing concert in Manila had the packed Castro audience on its feet as one, nearly drowning out the applause on the soundtrack. WOW. Things calmed a bit during the credits and then the director, producers and all five members of Journey were introduced for a Q&A. The joint erupted again. The questions were mundane, but at one point Arnel sang a cappella; I don’t know or remember the song, but what a voice! Walking out of the theater, I said to Carol and Sarah, “That’s got to be the feel good movie of the Festival.” I’m not going to rush out and buy a Journey album, but I will keep an eye peeled for Romona Diaz’ next film.

Apple iPad Event

Apple Live Blog

  • Apple TV now 1080p
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  • iTune “match” support for movies
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  • 1 million more pixels than 1080p
  • A5X Quad core graphics. Dual core processor.
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  • 5 megapixel camera
  • Image stabilization (for movies)
  • Temporal noise reduction
  • 1080p video camera
  • Siri dictation functionality
  • Pre-orders start today; deliveries March 16th in US
  • 10-hour battery on Wifi; 9 hours of 4G
  • Starts at $499 (Same prices across the board).
  • Software
  • Updated iWork APP w/jaw-dropping graphics
  • New iMovie: new interface, looks like professional tool
  • New iPhoto for iPad: “Amazing” great way to browse and edit photos. Multi touch editing, Professional Quality Effects, Brushes, photo beaming, Photo journals… $4.99
  • iPad2 will be reduced to $399 (16G); $529 for 3Gs
  • iPad Video Introduction (

Chico & Rita

Chico & Rita

Thursday February 9th, 7:00pm Landmark’s Lumiere Theater
1572 California Street — San Francisco Film Society

Cuba, 1948. Chico is a young piano player with big dreams. Rita is a beautiful singer with an extraordinary voice. Music and desire unite them as they chase their dreams and each other from Havana to New York to Paris, Hollywood and Las Vegas. With an original soundtrack by legendary Cuban pianist and five-time Grammy®-winning composer Bebo Valdés, Chico & Rita captures a defining moment in the evolution of history and jazz, and features the music of (and animated cameos by) Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Cole Porter, Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Herman, Tito Puente, Chano Pozo, and others.

MY TAKEFabulous. The animation perfectly captures Havana of the late ‘40s, and ‘50s before Castro, the color, the street life, the clubs, the cars… just right. Later scenes in other cities are less successful, but plenty good. (How do you draw Las Vegas of the 50s???) And the jazz is plentiful and superb.

Tree of Life

I’d like to begin by lamenting that I missed this film when it was in the theaters.  A poor decision, as it turned out.  The cinematography is stunning. I can only imagine what its like to see it in a first-class digital theatre.

Likwise the art direction.  The narrative parts of the story put you back into growing up in the barefoot 50’s, with aluminum tumblers, dark wood floors, less-than-perfect grass (think back…did you call it a lawn then?), and playing cards in the spokes. His interiors are pitch-perfect, with the furniture we all recall from our childhood. The lighting evokes an Edward Hopper painting.

I’m trying to imagine how Terrence Malick even conceived of this film. The centerpiece narrative isn’t that unusual. Brad Pit and Jessica Chastain reflect parenthood in the time, and the struggles they endure are fairly typical. But the surrounding visuals depicting both space and time are reminiscent of the odd sidebars in 2001: A Space Oddessey. But in a good way: I have no idea what they were meant to represent, but without them the context sought would have been missing.

Emotionally the film grabs you by the collar and smashes your face to the concrete in the first ten minutes. A tragedy befalls the main characters so soon in the film that we are still unfamiliar with who they are, and yet the event had me blubbering like a little girl when it happened.  Spiraling down from there, it soon takes you on a soaring esoteric visual trip that astounds the spirit and helps you forget what just happened in the storyline.  This happens again and again throughout.

The basic story chronicles a family of three boys, with the oldest Jack, struggling to deal with his relationship with his father. Sean Penn appears occasionally as the adult Jack, still struggling with his memory of that time. Birth, death, and all in between is Malick’s canvas. Even an afterlife.

Quoting A.O. Scott from the NY TImes:
There are very few films I can think of that convey the changing interior weather of a child’s mind with such fidelity and sensitivity. Nor are there many that penetrate so deeply into the currents of feeling that bind and separate the members of a family. So much is conveyed — about the tension and tenderness within the O’Brien marriage, about the frustrations that dent their happiness, about the volatility of the bonds between siblings — but without any of the usual architecture of dramatic exposition. One shot flows into another, whispered voice-over displaces dialogue, and an almost perfect domestic narrative takes shape, anchored in three extraordinarily graceful performances: Mr. Pitt, Ms. Chastain and, above all, Hunter McCracken, a first-timer who brings us inside young Jack’s restless, itching skin.

What did it all mean? I have no idea, and yet it is very clear to me. So much so that I’m going to watch it again right now. And pray that after the Oscars it comes back into the theaters so I can experience it the way it was intended.

THE SUBMISSION (a book review)

Amy Waldman began her book The Submission long before the “Ground Zero Mosque” or the recent controversy about “American Muslim” .  From that perspective, its frustrating to realize that over ten years after 9/11, many American’s litmus test for legitimacy is its (real, imagined, or contrived) connection with Islam.

Set in 2003, the commission charged with selecting the final design of the site memorial settles upon a garden design submitted by a young architect whose name alone sparks vitriol. An American born of Indian parents, his prominence in his field cannot overcome the fact that he has the most Islamic of Islamic names: Mohammad. That factor alone, exacerbated by the media and reactionary factions, turns this somber effort into a vitriolic debate on who should be permitted to suggest an appropriate symbol of America’s darkest and most violent event in recent history.

Politics, religious exceptionalism, history, immigration, and jihadi myth all play out in the story as it careens through toward what will surely be a LOSE-LOSE conclusion. An unexpected event spins the story into an obvious — yet unexpected — conclusion.

The writer further appends an epilogue which takes us twenty years in the future to imagine the longer-term outcome of the decisions made in the heat of the moment. This device, initially striking me as a bit polyannaish in its optimism for the future, upon further reflection seemed a hopeful possibility.

The book overall was a timely and well-written commentary on what is and what can be.

If you are in a book club, recommend this as a future selection. The themes contained will provide for a lively discussion.

El Bulli: Cooking in Progress

Embarcadero November 17, 2011, a guilty pleasure, film in the afternoon.

Renowned Spanish chef Ferran Adrià is widely considered the best, most innovative and craziest chef in the world. In his kitchen, that which was once familiar disintegrates. Each year his restaurant El Bulli closes for half a year—time for Adrià and his team to retire to his Barcelona cooking laboratory to create the new menu for the coming season. Filmmaker Gereon Wetzel closely observes their quest—from initial experimentation to the premiere of the finished dish. In the course of that process, however, many an ingredient is examined in a totally new way. Taste and texture are systematically analyzed: by boiling, roasting, frying, steaming—vacuumizing, spherifying, freeze-drying—and then, tasting. Ideas emerge, are discussed and, finally, all the results, whether good or bad, are thoroughly documented—on a laptop beside the cooking spoon. Anything goes—except copying oneself. An elegant, detailed study of food as avant-garde art, El Bulli: Cooking In Progress is a tasty peek at some of the world’s most innovative and exciting cooking; as Adrià himself puts it, “the more bewilderment, the better!” (Fully subtitled)
Director: Gereon Wetzel
Cast: Ferran Adrià, Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch, Eugeni de Diego, Aitor Lozano


Revolutionary Spanish eatery El Bulli is a Michelin three-star restaurant in Roses, Spain (two hours northeast of Barcelona); each night, it serves a tasting menu of 30+ courses, prepared by over 40 chefs, to a single seating of up to 50 guests. For the current season, its last before transforming into a culinary academy, over two million requests were received for the 8,000 available seats. Head chef Ferran Adrià, who took over the restaurant in 1987 and instituted the tradition of yearly developmental sabbaticals, has become the leading inspiration for avant-garde cuisine worldwide, alternately referred to as a mad scientist or Salvador Dali of the kitchen.


MY TAKE – This was good and engaging and very well presented; but to me, this wasn’t about El Bulli or about food, it was about research, development and presentation of a product… it happens to be food in this case. But the product doesn’t look like food, one doesn’t lick ones chops at the preparation or presentation of the food… the only reason I was hungry when I left – it was almost dinnertime. There is plenty of Ferran Adria and his top chefs tasting things and words like “brilliant” “exciting” “magic” “bewilderment” and Ferran once admonishes a chef, “This doesn’t taste good. Never bring me anything that doesn’t taste good.”
As for El Bulli, there are gorgeous pictures of the restaurant and the setting, but never the dining room, never patrons enjoying their meal. I was interested in how “china” is selected/created for each dish, but not a word about that. At the end, the camera focused on Adria as he was served each dish in the sequence it will be (is being?) served to the diners.
Would that we could have experienced touch (since many of the courses are eaten with one’s fingers) and taste and smell.
It’s like a long and critical and loving study of a woman’s face and makeup and skin care, but at the end, you know nothing about the woman, except that her face is quite beautiful and she lives in a fabulous house on the Mediterranean.

“For a foodie, the new film about Spain’s renowned El Bulli restaurant is a bit like an Angelina Jolie movie for a teenage boy… Food lovers can now salivate via celluloid. El Bulli: Cooking in Progress, a meticulous exploration of how this famously avant-garde eatery comes up with its insanely inventive creations…for those passionate about the artistry and indeed the science of cooking, it’s dangerously close to porn. There are some unintentionally very funny moments, like when two chefs go to the local market and ask for five single grapes for their testing – and three beans”

– Jocelyn Noveck, Associated Press


San Francisco Film Society Fall Season 2011
A wide ranging lineup of specialty film festivals

Autumn marks one of the busiest times of the year for film festivals, and the Film Society is doing its part to bring the best films from around the world to the Bay Area. The Fall Season—comprised of a growing roster of small, focused festivals—gives adventurous and inquisitive Bay Area audiences the opportunity to delve deep into carefully chosen film series and engage with bold filmmakers.
Hong Kong Cinema
Taiwan Film Days
International Children’s Film Festival
French Cinema Now
Cinema by the Bay
SF International Animation Festival
New Italian Cinema.

I’ve sampled all over the years, but the only one that consistently gets my attention is


Presented in conjunction with New Italian Cinema Events (NICE)
This is my favorite of the sffs Fall Series of films and here’s what I (we) saw. [I give you the SFFS blurb followed by My Take. Sometimes the NICE blurb is included, as well.]

Ginger and Cinnamon
Daniele Luchetti

Continue reading “NEW ITALIAN CINEMA 2011”

The Skin I Live In

I have been a fan of Pedro Almodóvar’s work since I went to see Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown at an art theatre near Boston Commons with Marc & Carol in 1988. I have since seen that film at least six times. Its art is exotic, and its comedy is oh so Spanish.

I have seen every one of his films since the 80’s. Among my personal favorites are Talk to Her, Volver, and Broken Embraces.

His newest is The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito). And it will stand out in my mind as his best.  A totally mesmerizing suspense/horror film, with stunning cinematography and art direction, and a totally unique plotline that will keep you riveted to the screen for the entire 123 minutes.
Continue reading “The Skin I Live In”