Ten Reasons to Love São Paulo – plus one

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Most foreigners have an image of Brazil which includes the beaches of Rio, thick forest of the Amazon, or the Carnivals of Salvador. But Brazil´s 3.3. million mi² makes it nearly the size of the United States and big enough to fit most of Europe inside of it. It´s only logical that an array of different landscapes are spread across this vast country.

When I came down in 2009, I ended up in the mammoth metropolis which is São Paulo City.  Stretching over 580 mi² and with a population of over 12 million, it is one of Brazil´s and Latin America´s most important cities. It may not have the street parties of Salvador, the endless beaches of Rio, or the exotic wildlife of the Amazon, but São Paulo has a lot to offer. It´s also my favorite place I´ve been in, thus far, in this enormous country.

Below are ten reasons to love São Paulo (plus an added nugget). However, I am sure you can come up with more, so feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Cultural Center of Brazil

Brazil has a lot of unique locations that are filled with their own distinct types of music, food, talking, and drink, but São Paulo is the city which reunites them all. Surely there is nothing like actually visiting Minas for its cheeses, Salvador for its Samba, or heading to Rio Grande do Sul for their churrasco; however, there are so many migrants in São Paulo from all those places, and more, that one can get a slice of the entire country´s culture in nearly every neighborhood.

São Paulo also has more than 70 theaters that hold 100 people or more, major sports arenas, a plethora of museums (all free to enter on Tuesdays), and innumerable venues for music concerts and festivals. It is impossible to go a day of the week without finding something going on in this city, even if it´s an erotic poetry reading in one of its more bohemian neighborhoods.

There are other cities in Brazil which can boast about their cultural prowess but don´t sleep on São Paulo as being one of the powerhouses in the country when it comes to getting one´s culture on.

Economic Center of Brazil

Although the city offers cultural events which range from free to very expensive, one must have some money to go and enjoy the sights. Luckily, São Paulo happens to be the richest city in the nation with a lot of jobs to go around. For the foreigner who either wants a traditional job or works with English as a teacher or consultant, it is a gold mine.

Of the multinationals which do business in Brazil, 63% are headquartered in São Paulo and 44% of the registered national companies have their base in the city also. In short, São Paulo is the place to be to make money – and there is a lot of it to be made.

Though the cost of living can range from high to medium, depending on where you choose to live, it´s a safe bet that if you know how to network and have a clear vision of where you want to be economically, you´ll do pretty well for yourself in São Paulo.

World Class Parks and Reserves

Ibirapuera Park was chosen by The Guardian as one of the top parks in the world. This is a well-deserved honor for the sprawling 546-acre park, but it is only one of the many beautiful green areas spread across the great city of São Paulo.

In total there are 113 parks in São Paulo (2017 figures) maintained by either the city or the state government. São Paulo simply excels when it puts its mind to constructing beautiful green recreational areas as mini oases inside the concrete mayhem. A lot of the larger parks also hold food and national and international music festivals on the weekends.

Besides the parks, almost 1/3 of the city is covered in Atlantic Forest, which gives a sharp contrast to the endless sea of buildings in much of the city´s central region. Some of those areas are designated as reserves for hiking, biking, and other outdoor activities. The Cantareira Park, alone, on the north side of São Paulo, takes up around 19,500 acres of land.

You can read about my favorite park, Agua Branca, by clicking here. This particular park is very quaint and almost feels as if someone took a piece of the quiet interior and planted it in the middle of the city. You may also want to take a hike up to the top of Jaraguá Peak and see the entire city from above. You can read about that here.

Mix of People

America owns the moniker “The Great Melting Pot” but Brazil could easily borrow it. This is a country of immigrants from all over the world and São Paulo is where many of the progeny of those immigrants reside.

The different mix of people one sees from neighborhood to neighborhood and even from block to block never ceases to amaze me. And with each shifting landscape comes the cultural differences from food, architecture, music, and festivals.

As I mentioned earlier, the capital also has migrants from around the country, primarily the northeast. The great rush to the city began in the early 20th century but really boomed in the 1930s and later in the 60s and 70s. Because of these large waves of migration, which at times reached the hundreds of thousands per year, São Paulo is a city where you can literally get a taste and feel for the rest of Brazil.

Finally, São Paulo boasts a pretty varied crowd when it comes to lifestyle, music, likes, and dislikes. The contrasts are many and often time jarring. For example, the annual Gay Pride Parade, which is the biggest in the world, takes place on the same day as the March for Jesus, which is one of the largest faith gatherings in the world, and both boast attendance numbers in the millions.

If one takes a walk down Avenida Paulista (São Paulo´s main strip) and some of its side streets, it is not uncommon to see rockers and funkeiros (fans of Brazilian-style funk music), business people and hippies, skaters and nerds, all rubbing shoulders with one another. If you want variety, this is the place to find it.

Distinct Neighborhoods

We talked about the mix of people. Their greatest contribution to the city, in my eyes, is their ability to transform each neighborhood into its own mini-city. It´s possible for two people to live in separate (yet not extremely distant) neighborhoods in São Paulo and feel as if they are in different cities.

São Paulo has old traditional Italian and Portuguese neighborhoods, like Belenzinho or Bixiga, but it also has modern multi-national skyscraped wonders like Berrini and Avenida Paulista. There are Japanese and Korean areas. There are also places like Largo 13 that make you feel like you just took a trip to Bahia or Ceara in the north. And of course, downtown is its own special blend of old-world architecture and new world style.

I, for one, live in a part of São Paulo which feels like the suburbs of New Jersey at times. Houses, little parks, and squares are sprinkled throughout my neighborhood. I am only about 30 minutes from the main business hubs with their modern buildings and endless traffic, but I feel like I actually live outside of the city. There are even horses near my house.

São Paulo really thrives on its diversity and neighborhood pride is strong. Discovering the different styles from rich to poor, to very Brazilian to cosmopolitan, and from traditional to progressive is one of the reasons to visit the city and stick around for a while.

Relatively Safe

Brazil is not the safest country in the world, but thankfully a lot of the very serious crime is not located in São Paulo. In fact, the capital is not in the top 50 out of the most dangerous cities in the state of São Paulo and is not in the top 100 out of the entire country. This is not to say that crime can´t and doesn´t happen here, but it is very predictable and is more localized than in other places in Brazil.

Homicides have also been on a steady drop in São Paulo, so chances are that even in an armed robbery, most bandits will just want your stuff and then run off. Pretty much, if you don´t act like someone who has never walked around in any large city around the world, chances are that you will be fine in São Paulo.

Nearly everyone I know that has visited the city has had a great time without incident. Bars stay open until the wee hours and revelers can be seen walking home at dawn without a care in the world. Be smart and you shouldn´t have a constant worry or threat of crime riding your shoulder.

For those who do want some safety tips, read an article I wrote on staying safe in São Paulo by clicking here.

Food Choices

Brazil´s culinary options can rightfully be described as pretty bland and boring. Its base is rice, beans, and a piece of meat. One can end up eating that every day of the week if they don´t look hard enough for alternatives, or if they live in areas that are perfectly fine with switching the chicken for a piece of beef and calling that a mixture. Luckily, São Paulo manages to evade that sameness, somewhat.

I believe one of the city´s saving graces, as far as food is concerned, is that Italians make up the bulk of its immigration roots and they brought their cuisine with them. São Paulo is where one can find delicious plates of pasta, Mediterranean salads, and even decent pizza – the latter not being a Brazilian strong suit.

Of course, Italians weren´t the only ones to make São Paulo their home. There are Portuguese and Middle Eastern influences in every bakery and restaurant item you can think of. Sfiha and Kibbeh, for example, are treated like national foods though their origins are Levantine. Codfish is also served in little dumplings or as dinner item almost as readily as any traditional Brazilian dish.

In the last ten years, I have also seen the growth of food choices from places like Mexico, India, Syria, and Thailand. There has been an increase and vegetarian options across the city, as well. Brazilian pallets are evolving and São Paulo is doing a great job to evolve along with them to meet the demand.

Finally, due to the huge migration of people from the rest of the country, Paulistanos have the luxury of eating the best of each region. There are Bahian and Mineiro restaurants all over the city, and Gauchos have made São Paulo a second home for their famous churrasco from the South.

In short, food is a very subjective matter, but I doubt one will go hungry in São Paulo. With restaurant options galore and a weekly feira (food fair) where one can purchase fresh meats and produce, São Paulo truly stands out above the rest when it comes to eating well.

Proximity to Many Cities

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São Jose dos Campos in the Vale de Paraiba

São Paulo is not only a metropolis, but it can also be considered part of a megalopolis for its proximity to a number of very large cities. This not only creates an economic and cultural hub but gives one plenty to see and do around a roughly 50-mile radius from the capital. Some of these places include modern-industrial cities like Campinas and São Jose dos Campos in the western interior and the port cities of Santos and Guaruja to the south. If you add in Rio de Janeiro, which is a mere 270 mi to the north, the population of São Paulo´s surrounding area amounts to more than 30 million people – or close to 20% of the entire population of Brazil. Together these regions fuel a lot of what Brazil present to the world.

Although some will choose to live in less populous locations, so as to get away from the madness and mayhem of metropolitan life, São Paulo is a perfect alternative for those who want to have quick access to an assorted number of regions. And remember what I said about neighborhoods in the city, not every place is a sea of skyscrapers. There are quiet little corners in São Paulo which disguise themselves as quaint little suburbs. So, being in the city does not necessarily equate to being part of all its freneticism – only a connection to it.

Free (or very cheap) Stuff To Do

Living in São Paulo can be expensive but to counter that, the city has free events galore. Every night of the week I can go online or in a Facebook group and find live music, poetry readings, athletic events, and even some food fairs. This city is full of free (or very very cheap) options for leisure and entertainment.

One such example of the free-for-all is Avenida Paulista, which closes on Sunday to car traffic and allows pedestrians to wander about. There are live bands and musicians on every corner. These artists replace the usual honking horns and roaring engines with the sweet sound of music, which ranges from hard rock to light bossa nova and even some drag queens and an Elvis impersonator. Pedestrians use this time to wander about as if they were in a mega-sized outdoor picnic.

São Paulo is also home to many SESCs. These are cultural centers which not only have sporting facilities, pools, and gyms but also hold expos and theatrical pieces. If the events at SESC aren´t free, they usually cost very little to attend. If you don´t know about SESC, read my blog post about one of the most famous ones in the city by clicking here.

Another great advantage to the city are the amount of neighborhood cultural centers which hold dance festivals, indie groups, art fairs and a host of other events. One needs simply to look and find.

The best site for being up to date on cultural events in São Paulo is CatracaLivre or Oba Oba. I, however, find that writing keywords on Facebook´s search bar will help you key in on a bit more on lesser-known local events. Happy hunting.

Very Active Expat Community

São Paulo has a super vibrant expat community. There are a bunch of Facebook groups which cater to the needs and questions of this ever-growing group of people. I am an administrator on an expat page of over 3000 people, and we here in São Paulo get out to meet each other a lot to either drink or drink or drink …

In all seriousness, leaving your home country to face a new one is not easy. Having a support community online is helpful, but having a support community on the ground can be even more essential. I wrote a recent blog post about that very subject, which you can read here. The expats I have met in São Paulo have given me real-life experience and advice because they have been in my shoes. I only hope that now I can return the favor.

The city also hosts parties from a variety of expat networks like Internations, The Polyglot Club, MeetUps, Couch Surfing, among others. Chances are that you will be able to find at least one person from your neck of the woods (or other places around the globe) to have fun and network with in the city of São Paulo. And while it´s good to soak in local culture – there´s no place like home.

ONE More ThingSão Paulo has Amazing Street Art!!!

While putting this article together and gathering pictures I have taken over the years, I was reminded of one last special thing I love about São Paulo, the amazing street art. Below are just some of the incredible artwork, which speaks for itself. You can see more on my Instagram page: saopaulotours.

 

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What I am Watching: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, The Lion King (2019), and John Wick … finally

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) (NO SPOILERS!!)

Quentin Tarantino’s new movie shows a maturity in character development and style that I hadn’t seen since his adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Jackie Brown. Here he manages to do it without help and creates characters that are driven by their dreams and hopes and not by a plot device hanging like a carrot in front of them.

Don’t get me wrong, Tarantino is probably the best at creating a premise and allowing his characters to flow in it with their dialogue and quirks. But I am rarely moved at the end of Tarantino movie, as I see many of his heroes and heroins as simply set pieces in a the elaborate mind of the writer/director. This film was starkly different.

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio play best friends, Leo is an aging television actor, Rick Dalton, trying to take the next step into the movies before his star fades and Brad is his long-time stunt double, Cliff Booth, who tags along to pretty much just see what comes next. There is no McGuffin, no final battle, no revenge, nothing to stash, simply two men who are trying to figure out where they fit in life in their respective stages of their careers. Their bond is not based on snappy dialogue and funny one-liners, but rather, real curiosity, doubt, and fear for their usefulness and future.

Intermixed with this story is Margo Robbie, who plays Sharon Tate, discovering her new found fame. She lives next door to Dalton in the house where the infamous Tate-murders took place. Margo, who wowed me in last year’s Tonya, continues to be an impressive screen actor. She has a light air about her that is contagious – no wonder she was also the saving grace of the mess which was Suicide Squad.

One particular scene, where she goes into a movie theatre to watch herself on the big screen for the first time, is a delight. Her glee when she hears the audience laugh at her on screen antics while she sits quietly in the dark with her bare feet up on the seats in front of her (Tarantino does not disappoint on the foot fetish tip) was impressive in that it gave us a window into her humanity and joy without one word being spoken by her. The king of gab proved that he can give us depth of character without ten pages of scripted lines.

Where Once Upon a Time in Hollywood truly excels are in these moments like the one in the theatre. Tarantino ripped away the sheen of Hollywood but not to show us the usual fare about how many of these people are psychotic assholes behind the scenes. This movie decides that it wants to show these celebrities as real people with anxieties, moments of elation, and constant worry.

There are a few hiccups along the way as far as scenes I felt went on for too long. The Bruce Lee bit in particular gave us some important background and character information on Cliff but didn’t really sell it for me. There is also a very long sequence where we tag along as Dalton is filming some scenes for a western called Lancer. It’s set up to explore his failings, but the pacing is laborious.

I also didn’t think Tarantino’s camera style was appropriate for trying to show us what a filming from the sixties would look like. At first I thought I was supposed to be seeing Tarantino filming the Lancer set. However, when Dalton flubs a line,  someone asks for the camera to go back to one and we are whipped back around to the first position of the shot. I realized then that this scene was was supposed to be a representation of Lancer’s own director, Sam Wanamaker, filming a scene. It’s all very meta and blurred between when it’s Tarantino and when it’s Wanamaker. But, alas, perhaps that is exactly what Tarantino was going for, which takes us to the end.

I will not spoil the end, because I believe it will definitely take away from the pleasure of watching the movie. But, I will say this – the movie definitely has a hard cut in style in its last 25 minutes or so. There is a six month time jump and a voice-over narrator appears from nowhere as the film takes on a much more procedural documentary style leading up to the night of the Tate-murders. All of a sudden, it starts feeling like a Tarantino film – and no, it’s not a spoiler to say it gets quite bloody.

This shift didn’t sit to well with me. The nearly two-hours of intricate character development and tension (we do meet some of the Manson family in the film in one of the best elongated suspense sequences Tarantino has ever put on screen – think an even longer-burn version of the opening of Inglorious Basterds) felt like it had been thrown out for a quick and bloody resolution. Although, I did like what Tarantino did in the end as far as the message he was sending by mixing fact with fiction (think Inglorious Basterds again), I felt it cheapened all the players. These character’s arcs seemed to have found resolutions before the six-month jump and the last bits felt shoe-horned in only to bridge Dalton and Cliff’s stories-As with Tate’s story-B.

Still, I give high marks for what this movie did accomplish for most of its running time, proving that Tarantino can still be great without trying to work a gimmick. The Hateful Eight seemed like an attempt at this by having everyone just sitting in a room and building a story off of that, but those were all types who we, as an audience, knew would eventually blow their tops.  Once Upon a Time in Hollywood actually delivers when it comes to following people around for two hours that I truly cared about and wanted to spend that time with regardless of who might be lurking right around the corner.  Too bad Tarantino decided to go all Tarantino at the very end.

The Lion King (2019)

Shoot me now – I saw the original Lion King in the theatres and hated it. Saw it on VHS later and still hated it. It’s objectively not a bad movie, but something about it just never gelled with me. So, believe me, the problem is with me and not the finished product. I will admit that the music and score are lovely and Timon and Pumbaa are pretty funny, though.

Since Disney’s last couple of reboots have been damn good, I wanted to see what they had done with the movie. Maybe I would finally fall in love with it.

My first take away of this  version of the movie is that it’s very emotionally dark. I did my best not to try to compare it to the original, but it was nearly impossible. Like I said, I am not a fan but respect the merits of that movie – one of these being how The Lion King – 1994 manages to remain vibrant and hopeful even while including a pretty intense death scene. This new version felt like it was going to go into the dark corners of Simba’s mind after Mufasa’s death like Disney meets Scorsese.

The main reason for this dark feel, I believe, is the photo-realism technology that they used. The main characters in this story are mostly dangerous carnivores, and there is no way to make them not look like dangerous carnivores throughout – their eyes are small and expressionless and their claws and teeth sharp.

A cartoon can still give these creatures a cuddly feel – but this style of animation simply does not. Add to that, the fact that this film follows the trend of most modern film in that it’s a shower of dull colors and natural light. The lushness of the original film’s color palette is one of the factors that still make it pop off of ours screens more than two decades later.

But here I am again, doing what I shouldn’t be doing – comparing the two versions. It is hard given these new movies are supposed to be a call back to our youth as almost scene for scene recaptures of the Disney animated classics. So, erasing any memory of a movie I saw when I was about 13 and judging it on its own merits, I give The Lion King – 2019 a strong B.

I think that the darkness did appeal to the adult in me a bit more. I wouldn’t take a little kid to see this movie as there was a real sense of dread throughout. Again, not sure that is what the Lion King is supposed make someone feel, but that is what I felt.

The music helped build on this feeling. It was a lot more toned down than the original, which worked, but didn’t inspire any happy-Disney feelings. Hakunna Matada is still the best song of the bunch, Can You Feel the Beyoncé Tonight was horrid, but Scar’s song was magnificently malignant even if it sounded like it could have been a Nick Cave B-side.

In short, this was a downer of a movie: the dad dies for real and hyenas chase two lion cubs like orcs through underground tunnels!!!

If Disney made this movie with a post-911 audience in mind, which expects and wants more realism, that thinks Bambi’s death is a footnote in history, and that have the word terrorist as part of their childhood vernacular, then it is great. It works on that adult level, and kept me tuned in until the final battle. I could barely distinguish one lion from the other with the bad lighting and photo-realism, but it was reminiscent of the final fight in the Revenge of the Sith, which works for me.

The Lion King is not a bad movie, at all, but it may just give you some nightmares afterwards. The circle of cash flow will be strong with this one, regardless of the critics. So, watch it and make up your mind.

John Wick (2014) (this will contain spoilers)

I fell asleep the first time I tried to watch John Wick. I think I made it to the part where the dog dies. Didn’t quite get it. A year has passed and just this past week I tried again and this time I pushed through to after the pup gets offed, and I must say it was an enjoyable, yet absolutely ludicrous little action film.

Keanu Reeves has got to be the most unlikely action hero ever. With the exception of his very frenetic style in Speed, he always looks like he is on a constant high. It works for Bill and Ted (you bet I am excited for the new one) and even The Matrix (where he is in sort of an alternative techno-trip) but is pretty laughable otherwise. I know he is a darling among movie fans for being such a great guy off-screen, but I never quite got how it is that he manages to trudge his way through these movies – yet, he does. John Wick is no exception, he looks like he is half asleep sleep-fighting throughout this movie, with few exceptions.

Speaking of sleep … there is a lot of death in John Wick, that is a plus. But he manages to kill off bad guys so easily that I did end up dozing off again about mid-way through the movie. There is not much suspense involved when this one guy can cut through ten guys in one minute. I woke up and rewound (ooops, what do you call it these days when you push the movie back???) about 20 minutes only to find out all I had missed was another ten guys that he killed.

By the time Wick is explaining his reasoning for his actions, based on the love he had for his dog, I began to wonder if this movie was done as a spoof and just happened to get bigger than they could have ever imagined. Then I thought about my dog, and said, “You know what? I’d kill about ten people in one minute if they killed him too.” Good for Wick.

I’ll probably watch part two and three just to say I did. The movie is not bad, in the end. One must simply turn off all intelligence centers and hold on tightly as the movie veers onto so bad its bad territory while still having one foot firmly planted in the so bad its good arena.

But, for those who follow me and couldn’t believe I fell asleep on this one, there, I watched it!!!

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What I am Reading: True Grit

I have a thing for strong female characters, especially when they have to weave their way through a man´s world to get what they want. The main character in True Grit, 14-year-old Mattie Ross, is a shining example of one literature´s finest. She is scrappy and tenacious, but in a much more straightforward way than say, Jean Louise Finch, who is more a spectator than an agent for setting the plot into motion.

Many of you have probably seen both Hollywood versions of this book (strangely, I have not) so I won´t bore you with all the details of the story. The short version is that a drifter, named Tom Chaney, kills Mattie´s father during a barroom quarrel. She seeks recompense and so goes into town and hires a mean-old drunken US Marchal, Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn, to help her on her quest. They are later joined by a Texas ranger, named LaBoeuf, who happens to also be looking for Cheney for a the killing of a senator and his dog in Texas.

At first both men don´t take a liking to each other but do agree that Mattie should stay behind. Her tenacity pays off as she continuously manages to stay on their trail even when they try to lose her along the way to finding Cheney.

The story is pretty straight forward and simple and the inevitable respect that all three eventually garner from one another is expected. What makes the book special, is the characters themselves.

Mattie is tough as bricks. Cogburn has seen better days but still has the heart of a lion hidden under his overweight shell. LaBoeuf is experienced but learns to accept the absurdity of his two companions.

True Grit is exactly about exactly what the title says – finding grit in impossible odds. It is at these moments that we learn who we truly are and how far we are willing to go for justice.

The book did not leave me philosophizing about life, but it gave me a rush of energy as I cheered for our heroes. It is written in simple terms and one can see why Hollywood picked up on it for its very cinematic-adventure style. The one lull for me was in Chapter 3 where Mattie introduces Cogburn by way of a court transcript – she had met him on the day he was serving as a star witness for the prosecution in a trial. The shift in style (written as if it were dialogue in a play) is a bit jarring and derailed the narrative flow. Once that matter is out of the way, the book delivers until its final pages.

If you have seen the movies and want to run through a light, but entertaining, book, I recommend True Grit. As for me, time to check out those movies.

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What I am Reading: The Walking Dead Comics Come to an End

I began reading The Walking Dead comics during the break from seasons 4 to 5 of the television show. And just as I had binged my way up to season 4 (I got turned on to the show late) I binged my way straight up to Negan and All Out War in the book.

I have read a lot of comics in my life, but I had never read anything quite like The Walking Dead. In those black and white pages, I found characters and stories that kept me up into the wee hours and gave me nightmares. No lie! Negan haunted my dreams for a few weeks.

The Whisperer arc that came after All Out War felt a bit anti-climatic at first, but in the end it exploded into something even bigger and more epic than anything the comic had put out before. My only criticism is that I did feel that it ended a bit abruptly. The death of Alpha is something I hope the television show skips, as she is being portrayed as much scarier villain on television.

Most recently, the New World Order story seemed to be the one which would expand the universe beyond the area in Alexandria, where our heroes had been stationed for years, and show us communities which had managed to grow to the size of small cities. Perhaps we would finally see how the rest of the county or even the world was dealing with the zombie apocalypse. Yet, it is there that The Walking Dead comic book series came to a sudden end.

Kirkman

Excerpt from Kirkman´s letter. NO WAY OUT was the planned end for the comic.

Robert Kirkman wrote a lengthy letter at the end of the last issue explaining that he had been planning to surprise us with this end for quite some time. Furthermore, he admitted that he had actually considered ending The Walking Dead as far back as when they had first arrived in Alexandria (pre-Negan!!!). Fortunately, back then he realized he still had more story to tell, but he made it clear that this time around he did not.

The right decision was made, though. I think that many fans, including myself, felt that the series was stalling a bit, not knowing exactly where to go with the new cast of characters and location. I feared that at some point the comic book was in danger of running into the same problem that the television show has run into on more than one occasion – repetition. I had already felt that Negan was a redux of The Governor (just much more epic and fleshed out), so for us to have to sit through our heroes once more encountering a group who may or may not have good intentions, only to then have our heroes take over that community, did not feel as exciting as the first dozen times they did the same thing.

The New World Order story was also taking its time to develop. The Commonwealth´s only threat is that it believed in some retrograde-meritocracy i.e. if you were wealthy, successful, and powerful in the old world, you would be wealthy, successful, and powerful in this one.  Rick´s company did not agree with this, as his version of meritocracy only rewarded people for their capacities in the new world.

Would The Walking Dead turn into a political drama? The arc sure did seem to be moving in that direction: there were popular protests and uprisings and assassination attempts (funny, how bad news follows our heroes). Thing is, I love political intrigue, I am just not sure Kirkman was the most talented guy to write it, nor that it was something worth waiting a month to get more of.

New World Order climaxed with attempted coup of the Commonwealth and a near battle with Rick´s community (with a horde of Walkers thrown in the mix for extra drama). It all ended peacefully with Rick giving another rousing speech in which he declared that “We Are Not The Walking Dead” – a clear call back to when he stated that they were the walking dead.

 

 

As I was reading, I did get a feeling of closure. Fortunately for us, Kirkman must have felt similarly, so, Rick was promptly assassinated in cold blood, and the following issue took us into a time jump to end a story that took nearly two decades to tell.

Was it abrupt? Yes! Was it less than satisfying? Yes! But was it fitting? Yes!

There are only so many ways you can tell the same story again, and Kirkman had already done it in every imaginable way. Drama needs conflict, and the only real conflict that matters in a dystopian world is the “civilized” vs the “anarchist” or “totalitarian”. There are not that many variables. Everything from The Walking Dead to Mad Max to even The Handmaid´s Tale operates on that level. Going that route again with The Commonwealth would have been predictable and boring.

While the comic book did its best to keep us guessing about the true nature of the Commonwealth, it made the right choice of not making it anything more than just a bit of class struggle/criticism. Anything else would have been redundant.

Although I was not exactly excited or touched by the last chapter of The Walking Dead, I believe that it ended in the most resolute way it knew how. This was Rick´s story after all, so it made sense to end with his death and his legacy.

I also thought it just for the story to end on a high note. Kirkman stated in his letter that his first ending was dark, with the Dead winning in the end, and that in hindsight he made the right decision in flipping that outlook around. This ending was hopeful but not in a sugary way. It was simply realistic: people banded together and got on with their lives while others did not adjust to the new world and still resented the past.

The Walking Dead comics will be missed. The universe still lives on in two AMC shows – with season 9 of the original show being one of the best it has put out in years. I would suggest that the television version begins thinking about its own end-game, too. It´s sad to see a story we love come to an end, but it´s not as sad as seeing it stick around for longer than welcomed.

Thanks for the great adventure, Robert Kirkman. Until next time.

Phil Ray Continue reading

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Ranking the Best Picture Oscar Movies – 2019 Edition

I got a bit busy during Oscar season and didn´t publish my picks before the Oscars aired. Not a big deal as I plan to do an Oscars edition for every the Oscars have been around! Sounds crazy? That´s because it is.

To be honest, I may have delayed because I was not very keen on most of the movies nominated this year, aside from my top pick. Even in my original review for Blackkkansman, I said it was a good film but not Oscar-worthy. I edited that little bit out.

I understand that the Oscars are trying hard to capture a larger audience, thus pushing for more ticket-sale-friendly films in their nomination brackets, but I hope they don´t continue on this trend to the detriment of higher quality films that perhaps fewer people have seen.

Well, here are my picks from worst to best.

A Star is Born

I tried watching this movie twice and twice I felt it lost steam mid-way through. Lady Gaga is a decent actress but not once in the movie did I feel I wasn´t watching her in a very long music video. Bradley Cooper also didn´t hold my attention enough to care about his personal problems with alcohol and family.

This movie started out fine – and Shallow was a deserving entry to the pantheon of great Oscar-winning songs, but perhaps my heart it too “shallow” to appreciate this one. It was pretty by the numbers.

I do remember enjoying the 70s version a lot, though.

Image result for barbra streisand a star is born

Here is a podcast I did with some friends with lengthier reviews of this and other films on this list.

Vice

Vice was not a bad movie, but it was also an entirely forgettable one. It flitted between humanizing and demonizing a man, that did not need any more of either. There was really not point to the film that couldn´t have been expressed better in an actual documentary feature.

The saving grace was Bale´s performance.

He did his best Gary Oldman and submerged himself in the role of Dick Cheney, transforming his body and face to impressive standards.  The difference between this performance and Oldman´s is that Oldman´s was buffered by a superior (albeit not great) story to back it up.

Vice is certainly not a terrible choice for Best Picture, but I doubt it will be remembered down the years as a crowning achievement for anyone involved.

Black Panther

I shocked that this movie received a Best-Picture nomination. I saw it in the theatres twice and it was a spectacle for the eyes, but there was nothing about it, story-wise, that I hadn´t seen a million times before – and usually in other MCU movies.

I rank it higher than A Star is Born only for entertainment value. Killmonger was also one of my favorite MCU villains.

There is, of course, the cultural aspect of having a nearly all-black cast in a major money-making superhero movie, and although I was happy to see this, I can´t allow its blackness to override its quality. Black Panther was good, but it is certainly not a movie which I hold near and dear to my heart.

You can read my full original review of Black Panther here.

Green Book

This is cute little movie is Driving Miss Daisy 2.0 and could, like that movie, yet again stymie Spike Lee in the Oscar race. The big change from Miss Daisy is that in The Green Book the roles are reversed – a white driver and a black passenger.

I was entertained by this movie, throughout, but felt it was a bit simplistic. The friendship and bond that is built between these two men was the only standout, but predictable. The rest of the movie was basically the writers patronizingly explaining to us over and over again why racism in the deep South was bad.

The problem is that even in its most harrowing moments (like when Dr. Shirley and his driver Tony are arrested by some racist Southern cops, or when two men scope Dr. Shirley out and prepare to rob him, or when he is being beaten up in a bar, or even when he is caught doing illicit things with another man in a YMCA) there is never really any suspense. We, the audience, are assured by the music, the lighting, and the tone – that all will end well.

This being based on a true story, I can understand not adding extra drama where there was none, but by removing all tension from what must have been a somewhat harrowing journey for a black man alone in the pre-integration South does the film an injustice. It turns what could have been a true masterpiece of grander scope about the climate of America in the 1960s into a great story of friendship set in whatever city they ended up in next.

If Green Book set out to be an accessible movie for all ages about a rough period in American history, it probably succeeded (although with less humor and vibrancy than 2017s Hidden Figures) but it stands far below other films depicting that period and the people who lived through it – skip ahead a decade and watch Blackkksman for a better version of that.

(P.S. Edit *** I can´t believe this actually won Best Picture. Twice Spike Lee has been beaten by an interracial driving movie.)

Bohemian Rhapsody

This movie had moviegoers and critics on opposite ends of the spectrum. It took me a little while to get around to seeing it, but I have to say, I am with the people. Bohemian Rhapsody was comfortable in its leotards and sequins and played to the audience the way Freddie would have done.

Critics have derided the film for not being introspective enough, but I am not sure that is the movie I would have liked to have seen. Queen was about the flash, the pompousness, the audacity and that is where this movie shines brightest.

At the end Freddie finally tells his bandmates that he has AIDS, he cuts them short before they can mope about it and explains that he doesn’t want tears nor sympathy. Had this movie spent more time than it did with Freddie’s struggles with identifying as gay, or coming to terms with his illness, I think it would have detracted from what Freddie and the band’s essence was: energy and life.

This is not a masterpiece of filmmaking but as far as a movie that felt sure about what tone and road it wanted to take and executing that mission perfectly, it gets high marks. I don’t think it deserves best-picture, but Rami walking away with an Oscar might be the highlight of Oscar night.

Blackkklansman

Spike Lee makes up my trinity of great NYC filmmakers (Allen and Scorsese being the other two in the Holy Club). Sadly, Spike´s feature film output hadn´t been that great in quite some time (although I do recommend watching any of the documentaries he has put out of late). This is why it was gratifying for me to see that Blackkklansman saw him get a little of his stride back. Perhaps Jordan Peele´s socially-conscious and extremely smart “Get Out” (Peele had his hands in this film too) got his competitive juices flowing.

Blackkklansman is based on the true story of two cops (one black and one white) who infiltrate the KKK. Spike seems to recognize the absurdity of this plot and wastes no time in utilizing that to his benefit. This movie is 80% comedy with just enough drama sprinkled in to not completely wash over the important themes and messages.

Sure, there are times when he stumbles, like his “in case you didn´t get it” connections he makes to Donald Trump´s current “Make America Great” rhetoric, but thankfully these slip-ups are far and few between – although opening the film with Alec Baldwin trying to make a political statement was a mistake. I absolutely hate when a movie gets preachy even if I agree with the sermon!

These moments stand out like a sore thumb only because the rest of the movie is vintage Lee. It´s filled with characters who are polar opposites – even while being on the same side. It´s got a soundtrack that drives you along as much as the story. It´s got flashiness and snappy editing. It´s the Spike Lee I remember loving.

The only part of the movie I thought was a bit underdeveloped was protagonist Ron Stallworth´s (played with a sardonic air all the way through by John David Washington) relationship to a black activist, Patricia. Although their scenes together allowed for some back and forth about how to deal with racism in America, it felt like they were written in only to serve those purposes. Never did I feel that these two were actually building anything extraordinary together because their conversations were mostly flat and surface level.

To close, I haven´t been this excited about a Spike Lee feature film in quite some time. This movie is certainly worth taking a look at from both a historical and entertainment angle, though. Mr. Lee is back, and I hope he can keep his groove going for a good while.

The soundtrack is pretty hot too!

The Favourite

This is a period piece for people, like me, that don’t usually like period pieces. It is shot with the audaciousness and vibrancy of film set in the modern day while keeping its feet firmly grounded in 18th Century England during the French and English War. It tells the story of a power struggle between three women: Queen Anne, who seems slightly mad; her confidant, Lady Sarah; and a newcomer who seeks to be the Queen´s new confidant, Abigal.

What impressed me about this movie is the way that it manages to build its characters without pressing too hard. Little by little we see the balance of power shift from the Lady Sarah to Abigal – it’s subtle and subversive yet perfectly paced and delivered by the three actresses.

This movie has a lot going for it both in front and behind the camera, and in the age of #metoo, a film about three strong women doing anything they must to retain power may be a hit at the Oscars. It did lack moments of deeper feeling among the characters, and that is what keeps it out of first place for me. But, overall, The Favourite is a triumphant piece of film making.

Roma

Roma is many stories and I will go into them in a minute. But, the movie primarily focuses on the year in the life of a young maid named Cleo, played by Yalitza Aparicio with steady restraint. She is a simple woman who accepts life as it comes but learns by the end of the movie that sometimes life throws things at us which are hard to accept or not worth accepting. In this, she finds her inner strength and core.

But like I said, Roma is many stories.

Another of its stories is the story of women. For as Cleo grows, her employer, Sofia, goes through a similar realization towards inner power but from a different route. She is much more self-assured and seemingly in control of her life. She already understands the curve balls of existence. But her journey is in learning to cope and rise above that which she sees before her, namely her husband´s infidelity. She must not only accept reality but acknowledge what it means to her life.

Another story of Roma is the story of betrayal mostly by men who, though shown in roles of masculinity and power (skilled martial artist, doctor, wanna-be rock star), are lacking in their ability to be truly strong for the women in their lives.

Roma is also about revolution and civil struggle. The movie is set in 1971 Mexico during President Luis Echeverría Álvarez government. There is a sense of foreboding as student activists and para-military groups march and train for their respective causes. Yet, the social schism is used only as a backdrop to relate to the same theme of “not knowing and/or accepting what is laid out before you.” These young people are willing to live and die for a cause which may or may not be greater than their own lives.

Roma is also a story about being stuck in a place (both emotionally and physically) while learning to view that place in different ways. Throughout the film (including its opening and ending) airplanes are shown in the background while these characters deal with their daily challenges. This juxtaposition of those who have (by fate, hard work or whatever it may be) managed to “buy their ticket” out of their circumstances versus those who must make the most from what they have is both the most saddening and empowering message of the movie.

The tone of the movie is sad because we, the audience, understand that no amount of changing cars or moving things around in a room can truly deconstruct that which has always been there and will remain – our path in life. Yet. the movie also manages to empower because we can have hope that those same changes can allow us to see that which was always there in a different light. We can start to believe that with new eyes we can make the following day greater than the last.

Roma is a beautiful movie all around. It excels in its writing, acting, direction and especially its cinematography, which subtly hints at its themes and emotional beats throughout. It’s a two-hour movie, but it is beautifully paced and a marvel for the eyes. Don’t expect a Hollywood style exposition straight into the conflict and plot. This movie takes its time with its characters and the small journey they take from the movie’s start to the end.

I highly recommend this one –  it ranks as one of the best movies to have ever been nominated in the best-picture category a very long time.

 

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Brazil: Where I Became Who I Wasn´t Time and Time Again

When I arrived in Brazil in 2009 I had a very difficult time finding an expat network. The only platform in Brazil that I knew which had any real reach back then was the now-defunct Orkut, and it mostly catered to young Brazilians wanting to show off their new haircuts.

My contact with foreigners extended to a friend I knew from New Jersey and anyone I met via work at an English school.

Needless to say, it was rough going. Without anyone to bounce ideas off of, I made some huge mistakes that cost me a lot of time and money.

This could have been avoided had I not been so afraid to accept something that I had grown up believing, “You can do it on your own.” This mindset is what kept me from reaching out to the friends I did have when stormy weather arose.

This is partly cultural.

In The US we are taught early on that being self-sufficient and independent is the pinnacle of human achievement. In many ways, I still believe this, but after a while I allowed Brazil to teach me differently. I opened my heart and my mind and let this country say to me, “You are stupid and you know nothing. Most importantly, you need people.”

Don´t get me wrong. American culture also teaches us that it is okay to ask questions and make errors. But never had I had so many questions and been so wrong on so many occasions about what were seemingly simple things. It wasn´t humbling, it was embarrassing.

As a response, I isolated myself more. I cut my circle of friends down, got into a serious relationship with a Brazilian, and became a homebody. Before I knew it, I had turned non-adventurous, static, and bland.

I stopped writing, singing, traveling, or producing.

In short, I became someone that I wasn´t. This hermitical attitude felt like a reasonable trade-off for not having to deal with the daily frustrations I had encountered in the country.

This changed when I did eventually find other expats via Facebook groups. I realized quickly that I wasn’t alone in my anger and ennui. The same dumb questions and scenarios that I had run through in my first five years in Brazil were nearly identical to theirs. It did take a long time, but I was eventually able to accept that being an expat was not easy and that one needs a support network they can count on at all times for support of all kinds.

I once again became who I wasn´t: someone who needed a strong arm to hold me up.

Though my upbringing had taught me to stand alone, my reality was teaching me that alone I was bound to fall – and worse, there would be no one there to help me back up when I hit the bottom.

So, what is the lesson in all this?

Well, I meet plenty of new expats who think they have the world figured out. I meet plenty of expats who are afraid to look stupid. I meet plenty of expats who think they can rule the world by their will-power alone. I meet plenty of expats that remind me of who I was.

My message is simple: forget who you were before you arrived in Brazil and become who you aren´t. Allow yourself to be dumbfounded and reach out to others when you feel you truly have no answer. And, most definitely, be shameless.

I will share one last tidbit about the power of shamelessness.

During Brazil´s 2015 financial crisis, I was drowning in debt and losing business clients right and left. I needed money quickly to pay my rent and eat.  The “ME” of a few years back would have probably defaulted on the rent and ended up moving into a little room until I got my life in order. However, the “ME WHO I WASN´T” said, “Screw that! I am going to post on Facebook that I need help and money.” It took a lot of courage for me to bare it all for all to see, but, guess what? People helped.

Of course, the catch to all of this is that I have always done my best to help others and show myself as a responsible steward of such help when it comes from others: one hand washes another. Still, it was shocking that people were willing to reach out. It was humbling and illuminating to know that in weakness I found a lot of strength which I gathered from others.

My fellow expat, you have to understand that being in another country is an achievement in itself – we probably all know people who have yet to leave our home towns. That said, it is not an easy task starting a life in a new country. Some of our friends back home don´t understand that and expect us all to have the same level lifestyle, social circles, and mental fortitude as we did in our previous life. Some of us work to try to feed that illusion.

The truth is that the expat reality is quite different and affects us all in a myriad of ways.

I know expats who are doing great but I also know poor expats, depressed expats, homesick expats, and lonely expats. I also know of expats who have taken their own lives – one, as recently as this year. The thread that connects the “good” from the “bad” is that from the outside looking in, many would never be able to differentiate between the “good” and the “bad”.

Perhaps being this open about your struggles is not something you feel comfortable doing with people back home who may not understand the minutiae of daily expat life. In that case, open up to other expats who do know. While many of them love to pretend that everything is alright, there are those who are willing to tell it how it is and help you get to where you need to be.

I end by asking you – “Who aren’t you?”

If you say you aren’t vulnerable, helpless, depressed, lonely, and unprepared (among other qualities most would rather not admit to having) then check yourself.

Real recognizes real and those real friends and acquaintances are what you´ll need to get past the learning curve. Accept failure, defeat, and the unknowable.

Once you are able to lose with confidence, be completely dumbfounded but with pride, and courageously confused, I believe you will start to find new ways of succeeding and thriving as an expat. And not only this, you will be able to extend your success to those around you.

Phil Ray

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What I am Watching: The Handmaid´s Tale going to the next level, Godzilla, Gotham, a Hitler-and-Bigfoot Assassin, and Killer Condoms

The Handmaid´s Tale: Season Three – Episodes 1-5 (2019)

Game of Thrones has come and gone. If you missed my weekly podcast with my buddy, Peter, be sure to click on the link below to my YouTube channel and listen. While the mediocre ending did not infuriate me as much as it did others, it did leave a big gap open for “the next big epic television series”. After having watched the first five episodes of The Handmaid´s Tale, I believe this show has everything going for it to take on that mantle and run with it. Although the series has always had a high-quality standard, I did not always feel that this was the case.

Season one of The Handmaid´s Tale pretty much covered and even went past a lot of what was covered Margaret Atwood´s classic 1985-novel. As such, it really focused on June´s story and could have very well ended there as a one-off mini-series. I was actually surprised to hear they were even going to make a season two.

With no more source material, season two had to fly solo, so I was both curious and excited to see where the show would go. And while it did have a pretty strong opening salvo (especially with June´s escape) once she was recaptured I got a sense that the writers were going around in circles, wallowed in showing us the many ways Gilead can torture a handmaid. There were even some articles written about how borderline to torture-porn the show got to be at times. I disagreed with the sentiment but could understand where it was coming from, too.

Fortunately, episode 6 of season two opened the story up with a literal, “bang” as a bomb was set off in Gilead, planting the seeds for revolution. The back-end of that season proved that this show was not a one-trick-depression pony – that is until the last episode, where June had yet another chance of escaping but decided to stay behind.

“Would season three be more of the same gloom and torture?” I wondered.

How wrong I was.

Season three of The Handmaid´s Tale has gone all in on revolution (the sort that does not get televised) and has begun world-building in a way it has previously only hinted at with its bits in the Colonies, Canada, and Jezebel´s. While in past seasons these side-journeys felt clumsy and out-of-place (we were here for June´s story, not Luke´s), this season the producers of the series have managed to balance it out perfectly so that while June remains our main protagonist, I also care about the separate chess pieces throughout the world of Gilead and beyond.

The best of these side-stories so far has been that of Emily, who managed to escape at the end of last season with June´s daughter. Her reintegration into society, in Canada, and reunion with her wife has been some of the most heart-wrenching, yet hopeful (we do need some hope in this show), drama the series has produced outside of  June´s struggles.

Along with Emily, we also have more of Serena not longer in her safe zone. She is slowly accepting the fact that the utopia she fought for is not the utopia she imagined. We are able to see this struggle from her point of view and not as a reflection of June. This deepens her character and keeps us guessing as to whether she can truly join in the resistance or fall back into comfort. As things usually go with Serena, it´s one step forward and two steps back. The difference is that the show is willing to give us this complex character arc on Serena´s terms.

The show does well to present us with deeper looks into how these very different women are surviving, accepting, and resisting. Even Aunt Lydia, who is as evil as ever, has a moment where allegiance to Gilead becomes a bit too much.

This season has also dared to spend more time in Canada and show us what the outside world thinks of Gilead. I would love it if they did the same even for other parts of the world. This comparison makes Gilead feel like even more of an anomaly. If Gilead is all we see then we almost become desensitized to accepting that that is simply the way the world is everywhere. That might very well have been the producer´s intentions – make us feel as if we are truly part of that horrid society – but I prefer de-normalizing Gilead via sheer abrupt contrast.

I also like that the show has teased us about Chicago. The windy city has been mentioned various times as a place where rebels are holed up. To think that there won´t be a payoff of an actual armed conflict between Gilead and the resistance would be upsetting. It would be a great moment to present some of the men of Gilead – the ones who, perhaps, like Nick, don´t know exactly what they are fighting for or simply have no choice but to fight.

Yes, The Handmaid´s Tale is a tale of women, but it makes a point to not vilify all its male characters. The men who built this hell have moments where they seem to question what exactly it is that they did construct – these moments are far and few between, but the roots are there.

Clearly, I don´t want The Handmaid´s Tale to turn into a war-drama and the show still works beautifully on a very personal and visceral emotional level. However, these conflicts are real and expand the world of the series beyond its quiet suburban Gilead streets.

Of course, I need to mention June. Her new posting with Joseph Lawrence has given us new layers to her character. She is finally matched with a man who may very well be her equal in wits and tenacity. He is also not as easily manipulated by June because, unlike Nick and Fred, he has no emotional or sexual interest in her. This is a new challenge for our heroine and a pleasure for us viewers on a dramatic-conflict level.

While it is a relief to be able to breathe a bit easier knowing that June is in a safer house than in the psychological torture chamber which was the Waterford home, we are still met with a different sort of frustration when Joseph exposes how naive June is – even if her heart is in the right place. When he puts the responsibility of saving some women or sending them all to the radioactive colonies flat on her lap, we understand that June is in over her head but that she also needs to think beyond what she believes are the perfect plans if she truly wants to make the impossible choices that can change the course of Gilead. Up to this point, June has made tough decisions but they have come with little intentional collateral damage. This is not the path anymore and it is important for June to grasp this quickly as this season has not just had whispers of rebellion but has begun to take tiny steps towards it.

The Handmaid´s Tale has attempted to both world-build and to spend time away from June´s story before, but the results were mixed. I believe this is because Atwood´s novel tells a very insulated and personal story and begs us to fill in the blanks about Gilead and the surrounding world.  As we saw with Game of Thrones, filling in the blanks is not always the easiest task. Yet, season three has demonstrated a great capacity of the writers to do just that. The show is filling out just as much information as we need while also keeping June as our centerpiece.

These last few episodes have also given me hope that the show will be working towards filling in the biggest blank space of all from the novel – what happens from the end of June´s diary to the epilogue, where Gilead has fallen.

While The Handmaid´s Tale can still get weighed down by its own brooding and cumbersomeness, it has done a better job this season of feeling as if it is moving in a forward direction through the rabbit-hole which is this fictional society and not just giving us a circular ride through the different levels of Gilead-hell. Repetition, after all, is a show killer.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

“And now for something completely different!”

2014´s Godzilla brought the first respectable American big-budget version of the legendary lizard monster to audiences. While this fanboy did enjoy that movie a lot, its major flaw was not giving us enough of the big guy, choosing instead to rely heavily on its human drama.

2019 meant course correction and what a course correction it was.

We not only got more Godzilla, we got more of everything – action, destruction, fights, environmental awareness, and monsters!!! This movie was a true love letter to the fans while building its own universe.

Godzilla truly is the King of the Monsters and he goes to hell and back to prove it.

My only complaint is the color of the movie – everything has a blue filter. I understand that the old-school color schemes would look too campy for today´s audiences but what is the problem with trying to use at least some color!!! Everything is dark and blue, like almost everything else on television today (looking at you Battle of Winterfell).

I do hope that the upcoming King Kong vs Godzilla uses more of the bright and varied colors as utilized in Kong: Skull Island.

Go see this one if you want to turn off the brain but not go brain-dead. Godzilla is well paced, acted, and put together. America may never be able to match the absolute camp and charm of the original Godzilla (Hollywood takes itself too seriously in these movies) but at the very least they are finally producing versions which are respectful additions to the kaiju genre and lore.

Gotham Season One and Two (2014 – 2016)

Better late than never, I suppose.

I am a huge DC fan but have not had the patience to sit through any of the television shows aside from three or four episodes of Supergirl and some bits and parts of The Flash. They weren´t bad, but I felt they were definitely targeted for a teen audience and did not hold my attention for long. Thinking that Gotham was more of the same,  I skipped it, despite being a huge fan of Batman.

However, one day, boredom got the best of me and I pressed play on episode one. While the episode wasn´t perfect, it had enough campy-charm and an adult feel to make me press episode two … and so on, and so on.

For those that have been sleeping under a rock. The show centers around the city of Gotham many years before Batman arrives. In fact, the series begins on the night that Bruce Wayne´s parents are murdered. Although Bruce does play a big role in the series, it mostly follows the exploits of a young James Gordon while showing us the rise of some of the Batman-Universe´s most notorious villains.

Season one is up and down – and I “watched” a few episodes while doing the wash or cleaning the house. Its biggest fault is relying on “monster-of-the-week” episodes through most of the first half of the season and keeping the long-arcing storylines drip dropping in the background. While the one-off villains were at times creative, teasing us with a bigger universe only made those episodes frustrating and non-consequential to the bigger plot. Once the long-arcs take center stage, the series begins to find its voice and makes for a pretty exciting back end of season one.

It took me about a month and a half to finish season one, but I flew past season two in about two weeks due to the improvement in quality. The show decides to throw away its bottled episodes and instead focuses on a full season arc, with each episode directly tying in to the one before it in a much grander scale. Although there are still some lulls around the middle of the season, the difference in how confident the show feels about what it is trying to create is evident.

Gotham´s biggest strength is its ability to be adult while still playing for a TV-14 audience. It has taken the blueprint The X Files laid out, when it comes to how far one can push violence on network television, and taken it to its very the limits. This is definitely not your CW-variety DC show. Despite some of its darker and bloodier moments, it still manages to keep things just light enough to be enjoyed by a mass audience and kids.

There are a few lulls within the 22-episode seasons, but it´s only natural to feel that some episodes are “near-filler” in the age of binge-watching 10-to-16-episodes where the story and pacing are as tight as a virgin asshole. Stick with the slow burn and you may be pleased with the end results.

Most of you have probably already seen all five seasons of the show, but if you haven´t, check it out. So far, it has been a worthy entry to the huge Batman-universe, even if the caped crusader is not swinging around Gotham yet.

The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot (2018)

I am a huge fan of the Bigfoot mythology and was looking for a good movie to watch based around the character. My google search landed me on this movie, which I had to watch on the strength of the title alone.

The strange thing is that I was expecting a Troma-like horror-comedy but instead got a movie that was sincere and sad.

The plot involves a man (Sam Elliot) who, when he was a younger, was contracted to kill Hitler. Well, the title sort of tells you what happened there.

He is trying his hardest to reconcile with his bloody past and everything seems to be fine until the day he is contracted again – this time to kill Bigfoot.

There is not much more to the story beyond that, except it is treated with such care and respect that had this starred Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman and centered around an old cowboy-assassin who was contracted for one last job, it would have been called Unforgiven and won a bunch of Oscars.

Now, the movie is certainly not on that level of greatness, but it may surprise you with how deep it is. Check it out if you like wacky but appreciate that wacky can have a real heart. I managed to find a copy of this one YouTube, so have fun with it while it is up.

Killer Condom (1996)

My last entry is a last minute addition only because I mentioned Troma. This movie is about as great of a comedy as I have seen in years.

Killer Condom (original title “Kondom des Grauens” -Condom of Horrors-) is a German film set in NYC starring a Sicilian homosexual police officer, Luigi Mackeroni, who is investigating a case of penises that are being chomped off by a sinister condom.

The film plays it straight and it works magnificently for many laughs. I can´t say much more about this movie as its genius speaks for itself. Lucky for you it´s on YouTube. Just click on the link below.

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