Ranking the Best Picture Oscar Movies – 2018 Edition

The Oscars are upon us again and as I usually do every year, I try to watch all the movies nominated for Best Picture. I must say, this year´s batch of contenders was worse than 2017´s (you can read that list here). Although, those movies mostly didn’t feel like “Oscar” material they at least gave me some entertainment value.

This year, I was only truly engaged with my top three picks. I appreciated the artistry in my number four and five picks and nearly fell asleep or wanted to throw something at the screen as a reaction to the others.

My list, as always, doesn´t comprise of what movies I think will win (or even in some cases, “should” win) but instead, of movies which I enjoyed watching.

Last year I came close to predicting the Oscars, though, with La La Land being my favourite movie which I also thought deserved the top prizes. I think my favourite movie from this year will also take home the top prize. So here is the list, from worst to best.


9. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

This was the last of the Oscar contenders that I saw and it was a tight race for the last place on my list. Certainly, the acting was solid, but even great actors can’t make a bad script good.

The main issue I had with this movie is that it didn’t know what it wanted to be: a hard-hitting drama or a dark comedy. Scenes that had dramatic intensity were followed by scenes that felt like they had been written for The Room (it’s a shame The Disaster Artist got no Oscar-love, BTW).

One particularly embarrassing example of this is a scene where a Francis McDormand´s character faces off with her ex-husband in a most violent fashion. The scene is gripping and digs deep into Francis’ character who still feels guilt over the loss of her daughter. However, it is broken up by the husband’s very young girlfriend who barges in through the front door asking to use the bathroom but talking like an extra from Legally Blonde. The jarring tonal shift makes no sense, as does the daftness of the character (she appears again later and seems to know how to read but not know exactly what she is reading).

This mix of dark comedy and dark drama is not executed as well as imagine it would have been in the hands of Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch or even past McDormand collaborators, The Cohen Brothers.

Besides the uncalibrated tonal shifts, this movie also works in a vacuum where actions have zero consequences. In Ebbing, you can be a total asshole, a racist, and even near murderer one minute and be absolved for it when the script calls for a change. I am not sure what the point of this movie was (other than the obvious cliché “how one event can affect so many people’s lives”), so for its lack of good editing, pacing, and believable writing, I put it in the last place.

8. Lady Bird

I am not sure how this movie made it onto a Best Film Oscar list, but here it is. I have more fun watching cattle auctions than I did sitting through this drag of a film. Yet, it manages to have a consistent tone and characters who earn their development unlike Three Billboards, which is why it eeked into second-to-last place on my list.

There is a case to be made about how Lady Bird explores the relationships between mothers and daughters, and some mother and daughter duos out there may certainly appreciate it for that. I didn’t get much out of the film aside from a headache. The main character was unlikeable, the parents too aloof, and the storyline bland and uninspired.

If you dug Lady Bird then please tell me in the comments what exactly it was that I missed.

7. Dunkirk

I will put on my absolute objective lenses and say that Nolan’s Dunkirk is an impressive piece of filmmaking from a purely technical angle. The shots are spectacular, the sound is incredible, the acting is spot on. If he wins Best Director or if the film wins Best Picture, I would not complain.

That said, this is my second time watching this movie (I saw it when it first came out) and it wasn’t much better of an experience for me than my initial viewing. To illustrate this dislike clearly, I think I may have stopped the movie to check my Facebook, use the bathroom, and see my WhatsApp messages about 6 to 8 times. There are simply no significant character or plot development to hold my attention through the running length of this film. I made it to about 30 minutes of watching ships sail, soldiers swim, and planes flying before my brain started wandering.

To end, I can completely understand why someone would love this movie (the events on that beach and the brave men and women who participated in it is truly extraordinary and should be honoured), but this is a list of my favourites from the Oscar selection and Dunkirk simply does not make the grade. This is sad because I am a fan of Nolan and what he has brought to the film medium. So, good luck to all the Christopher Nolan fans, this may be the year he finally gets the recognition that he deserves.

6. Call Me By Your Name

“When you least expect it, nature has cunning ways of finding our weakest spots.”

That line from the end of director Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name sums up this coming of age story set around a romantic relationship between an older man, Oliver, and a younger boy, Elio.

The story is quite simple and doesn’t have much in the way of conflict, either internal or external. Yet, somehow, the characters were enchanting enough to maintain my interest.

The film also doesn’t really add anything fresh or interesting to the gay-themed coming of age stories. There are plenty of classic French and Italian films from the 50s and 60s that have explored the theme extensively – including intergenerational love.

More recently, the 1996 British film Beautiful Thing and the lovely 2001 film Y tu Mamá También from director Alfonso Cuarón touched on the subject of same-sex love while adding many more layers to the awkward years one spends discovering one’s self.

Despite not being anything new, Call Me By Your Name is beautiful to look at and tells a story that many can relate to about the pangs of first love – whether it be gay or straight. The main character, Elio, (played by best actor nominee for the role, Timothée Chalamet) is subdued throughout – not knowing how to express something that he feels so intensely. When he does finally get his moments to truly be how he wishes, the joy shines through the screen – as does his sadness in moments of grief.

I don’t think this movie deserves to win Best Picture, but I am happy The Academy is recognizing the small movies that don’t scream “OSCAR!!!” for being “incredible” stories or having “once in a lifetime” performances, but that are, rather, films which simply wish to express a feeling, a thought, a narrative without many frills. I have seen many variations of Call Me By Your Name (some better some worse) in the past. However, none of those films takes away from the subtle beauty of this one.   

5. Phantom Thread

Given all the rave reviews, which strangely kept any plot details hidden, I was truly looking forward to seeing what this film had to offer. Add to that the drama of Daniel Day-Lewis saying that this film made him go to places so dark that it had helped him in his decision to retire from acting that it made me even more anxious to take a look at what all the fuss was about. However, upon viewing, I didn’t see anything too intense or dark.  Instead, this film felt like loose threads which were sewed together just neatly enough to offer 2 hours worth of visual and acting prowess to disguise its lack of actual depth.

Phantom Thread is a story about the power struggle between its two main protagonists. It plays out in a very subtle passive aggressive manner until the big reveal at the end. It’s also a love story about a man who doesn’t know how to let his guard down long enough to love and a woman wily enough to figure out a way to teach him how to do so.

While there are plenty of elements there to make this film extraordinary, it comes off as a bit stilted as it doesn’t really dig into the psyche of why these two people need to have this amount of power and this proof of love in their lives. Most frustrating is that just as it seems that the film is going to turn the corner into darker places of its character’s minds, it settles for your basic “strange boy meets strong-willed girl” motifs.

After watching it, it did make me wonder (perhaps because of the similarity of style, pacing, and composition in direction and drama) what Woody Allen or the late Louis Malle would have done with the same premise. These constant aborted resolutions took me out of the film more than a few times, despite how neatly arranged everything looks on the screen.

I am not sure Phantom Thread will take much away at the Oscars, but it is certainly a well-crafted piece of cinema – sadly, it’s more bark than bite.

4. Darkest Hour 

Joe Wright directs this straight-forward historical drama depicting the weeks during which British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was appointed to power and his decision to not only stand up the oncoming Nazi invasion but persuade a nation to stand with him. Although the movie is well paced and well written, it is essentially the Gary Oldman show (who is nominated and may very well win his first Oscar for the role of Churchill).

The fire, nuance, and pause that Oldman is able to bring to the role, unfortunately, create an imbalance in the film as it overshadows a directorial style that doesn’t allow for everyone else to feel the same weight of the world that Mr Churchill experiences within and without. Compared to other films with tour de force portrayals of historical characters, namely Oscar-winning Gandhi and Lincoln, the rest of Mr Wright’s movie can’t match the same epicness and scope of its lead actor in the same fashion as the aforementioned films.

Darkest Hour is a solid outing, though. It just doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Its true spark lies in Gary Oldman who deserves to be recognized for a performance so rich, that one forgets the actor completely from the first second he is introduced as Mr Churchill. Because of him, I enjoyed Darkest Hour greatly, but I very much doubt it will win Best Picture.

3. Get Out

I saw Get Out way back in February of last year. In fact, you can read my first review here. I was completely blown away by the film, thinking it very original, cynical, and smart and hoping the Academy would recognize it for that.

After watching it again nearly a year later, my thoughts have not changed much. In fact, I found it to be even stronger than on first viewing. I noticed small details that I hadn’t before and was actually more comfortable with the brutal ending, which on first viewing felt rushed and too slasher-horror after such a slow psychological build up.

I will admit that I was surprised that it got nominated for Best Picture. I had only thought that it had a good chance at getting a nod for either Best Original Screenplay or Best Director (with its best chance of winning being in the Original Screenplay category). Yet, here it is in the running.

I believe that are enough subtle touches and strokes of genius that Jordan Peele put into, this, his first major film that it has just a good a chance as any of the other films to take home the gold. Some detractors will say that The Oscars have never been too kind to the horror or comedy genres but Get Out is neither – it is a satire and social commentary, which the Oscars are much kinder to. Birdman, American Beauty, Forrest Gump, Shakespear in Love are just a few past winners with a bit of a cynical view.

And what a great satire it is! Get Out is a commentary on race relations at a level I haven’t seen, as a movie-goer, for a very long time. And Peele has demonstrated a freshness and vibrancy in his film which is reminiscent of early Spike Lee. No wonder the two are slated to work together on a project – maybe he can put some swing back in Lee’s step.

Unfortunately, given the backlash from the #OscarsSoWhite debacle of a few years back, Get Out has gotten some unfair criticism for being nominated only because a “black quote” needed to be filled. I don’t buy into that. It’s a fine film for our time and brings a lot to the table as far as discussion, debate, and conversation. I hope it takes home some prizes, but for now, I am simply glad it got the recognition that it deserves.

2. The Post

Steven Spielberg, between making blockbusters, has dedicated himself to making smaller budget films with just as much power and allure as any of his Aliens and Dinosaurs. The Post is yet another masterstroke from this American treasure.

The films centres around The Washington Times’ decision to publish “The Pentagon” papers, a series of documents which proved that Americans were lied to for years about the country’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

Spielberg manages to keep a tight grip on the story, much in the fashion of other stand out movies about journalists like All The President’s Men (that almost feels like a sequel considering the little nod at the end of this film) and Spotlight, the Best Picture winner of 2016.

What Spielberg manages to do better than those films (as is his usual forte) is bring out the humanity of the players involved. His characters are not simply journalists following leads against insurmountable odds, but real people, who are flawed, scared, and unsure if what they are doing (or have done) is truly worth all that is at stake if they fail. And there is a lot at stake. The President Nixon White House was not a friend to the press and threats of treason for publishing top secret classified documents were being flung about effortlessly.

Meryl Streep’s character, Washington Post owner, Kay Graham, is a particularly interesting character study. She is the only woman in a world which was still very much controlled by the men in suits. Her decision to publish the Pentagon Papers was met with derision from every side, and mostly due to their lack of belief in her capacities as a publisher. She has a great moment (which is an extension of an earlier scene with Tom Hanks’, Ben Bradlee) where she realizes that the times have changed. As a woman, she feels more empowered, but with that power comes greater responsibilities. The days of newspaper publishers and editors sitting with cigars at dinner with politicians and other sources was over. Darker times had arrived and The Washington Post, along with the rest of the country, had to awaken from its slumber.

Although The Post does not have the tight wire tension of either of the two other films on journalism that I mentioned above, this film carries itself well in tone and message. Spielberg is not concerned about the ins and outs of how The Pentagon papers made it on to the front page of The Washington Post, but the emotional, psychological, and practical impact that this had on everyone involved, including the readers. The film doesn’t beat us over the head with this, deciding, rather, to allow it to seep through each frame in slow bits. Spielberg shines in this movie as do his actors and story. Unfortunately, this film is not mentioned a lot in the Oscar talks, so I hope it comes out as a dark horse winner against the lesser films in this Oscar race.

The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water is set in a segregated Cold War America, but it pushes the boundaries of what prejudice and suspicion looks like as its lead, Elisa, a mute, (played to perfection by Sally Hawkins) falls in love with a creature from the Amazon who is brought into the heavily guarded  government facility where she works. Guillermo manages to make this unique love story feel natural as it inhabits a world that feels so grey outside.

The set up is simple but the execution is masterful.

While there is a particular scene in this movie, which involves a dance number, that takes the viewer on a magical voyage inside Elisa’s mind, its main strength is remaining grounded. At every turn, I cared about the characters in a very real sense and never felt like I had been transported to dreamland or a modern version of Beauty and the Beast (shame that movie got zero love from the Academy this year). This was simply a movie about love transcending all, and what we as people are willing to do to protect love.

This film will likely win the top awards of the evening, and it deserves it. Even in a stronger Oscar year, it would have stood out as a gem. Guillermo del Torro is a young child inside of a grown man’s body. His imagination has proven to be one of the greatest gifts to film on numerous occasions, and The Shape of Water is no exception.

Continue reading

Posted in TV and Movies, What I Am Watching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Black Panther Review: a great feat for blacks on screen but a pretty by-the-numbers comic book film

although there are no direct spoilers, I do discuss some main plot themes at length in this review, which could be considered spoiler-ish


Black Panther has become more than just a film, for blacks, much in the same way that Wonder Woman was, for women, in 2017. And while both of these films were very solid and brought something different to the screen (even if it was just a different demographic than we are used to) they were also flawed in their own way.

Black Panther´s main issue is that it didn’t quite know how to handle its central theme about what role black people with power should play in uplifting their brothers and sisters in society.

While Killmonger (the film’s main antagonist played by Michael B. Jordan) had a very clear view of what that role should be, Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther/T’Challa’s didn’t. And despite not agreeing with Killmonger’s method’s, T’Challa’s lack of reasonable response made me side with Killmonger for the entirety of the film.

And when there were hints that King T’Challa and Killmonger were going to have a battle of philosophical wits rooted in these questions, it was all buried under unimpressive CGI, crazy family drama, and entertaining fight scenes. This made these two characters feel flat, as Killmonger came off as an adult child (despite being a very woke brother) and T’Challa unrealistically naive. In fact, the only believable and intelligent person out of the main cast seemed to be Lupita Nyong’o´s character, Nakia, who demonstrated that she had the sensibility to work outside of Wakanda towards the betterment of her own people. Too bad she was buried in the plot – but we will get to that later.

The main reason for this lack of philosophical friction is because Wakanda came off as completely disconnected from reality for no good reason. Unlike the Amazonians from Themyscira, the Wakandas are not all gifted with superpowers or living in some pseudo-Ancient Greek fantasy. They are modern, plugged in, and have free access to knowledge of the outside world. And while I completely understand that there are plenty of black people in the real world who gain fame and fortune and do not give back to their own communities, it was still just too much suspension of belief for me to accept that a black society which was so advanced could not look outside their kingdom of privilege to help those outside – do they not get Oprah in Wakanda? While the film did try to address this on a few occasions, it came off more like plot-contrivance-explanatory-dialogue than anything heartfelt.

The social questions aside, the film took a bit long to get going. There was so much exposition that three entire sequences were repeated: a battle for kingship, a crowning of a king, and a father-son afterlife meeting! When I saw the second father-son afterlife meeting coming up I actually shouted, “No!” at the screen. I had had enough of that in Man of Steel.

If 25% of what had come before the midway point of the film was cut, I don’t think I would have felt that I had missed anything – especially since a lot of it was extremely anti-climatic. Do I really need to see a scene where someone challenges that newly crowned T’Challa for the title if I know the challenger is going to lose? Of course, I don’t … unless, of course, I am not really working this scene for the drama but for a setup that I need later …

Which leads me to my next point.

Although Black Panther is certainly a triumph for blacks on the big screen (and behind the scenes), it played out like a by-the-numbers comic book/action film: There was a bad guy who was clearly not everything he said he was. There was a big win by this bad guy. There was a hero who was down who then came back up (literally) but without any learned experience along the way (!!!) bad writing there! There was a “climatic” fight scene in the very spot where an earlier character spent considerable time explaining the spot’s function. There was a character who seemed to be against helping T’Challa (for no explicable reason) who then decided to help T’Challa (for no explicable reason) in a last-minute save. There was even a car chase just when a car chase was called for. Nothing came off as extremely surprising and there were about as many interesting twists in this plot as there were interesting white people.

The standouts in this film for me were actually the women.

My favourite character was played by Danai Gurira. She absolutely shined in every scene she was in as the ferocious Okoye, one the King’s personal security guards. Every time she showed up on the screen I perked up. She added strength and comic value to the film.

Second is Letitia Wrights, Shuri. She started off a bit annoying, but I eventually came to like her character a lot. Her love for her country was truly outstanding and as the Alfred/Q of Wakanda, she shone. She also one-upped both of those characters by being able to take the fight to the street using her tech gadgets.

Last but not least I have to mention Lupita Nyong´o’s, Nakia, who sadly had very little to do in the film aside from fight. I felt as though she was extremely smart and resourceful but was hamstrung by having to play second fiddle to T’Challa, who honestly didn’t seem to know anything he was doing – and not in the amusing “Peter Parker learning how to be spiderman sort of way” – Black Panther just seemed like a bit of a dolt. I wish we could have seen more of Nakia and what she was about in the world outside Wakanda.

I will give Angela Basset an honourable mention as she also managed to hold her own in the comic book universe as Queen Ramonda, although she didn´t add much weight to the plot. That was less her fault than the writer’s inability to give her more to do than just be happy or sad for her son, T’Challa.

The male characters, unfortunately, were pretty one-dimensional and predictable in their actions and reactions (unless you have never seen a comic book movie in your life). Killmonger had the most potential, but although his motivation was clear, the reasoning for his methods wasn´t.

It´s true that he wanted to liberate blacks around the world, but why do it with so much violence, especially against other Wakandans? Killmonger is trying for Joker-level anarchy but he is much too rational for that – there is a disconnect between his mission to liberate his people and his dictatorial-psycho methods.

While the hatred for his father’s murder was an obvious burden on his psyche, I only know that because the filmmakers told me so. Where is the bridge that turns Erik into Killmonger on an internal level? As it stood, anyone could have taken Killmonger’s role of believing Wakanda could have been doing more for the rest of the world and executed his plan to do whatever was needed to change that.

There was so much going on underneath this man that the story dared not touch, though. He had multi-dimensional potential and could have provided so many backstories about setting up his black liberation army even before he had made it to Wakanda. He could have easily been like Magneto to Professor X. Instead, he was only a “potentially great” villain who managed to turn into a “procedural” villain by the climax. His final fight with Black Panther should have been his great ideological stand, but it actually blurred his motivations and methods even more in a muddle of CGI.

To finish, for those who think I am just pouring on the haterade for the hell of it, I did actually enjoy the movie despite the length. But I also yawned in a few parts and expected a bit more from others.

I am happy that the film is successful, though. I can only hope Hollywood understands that black people on the big screen do pull in money and that this opens the doors to other black writers, directors, producers etc. to create their own stories in their own ways. Black Panther is not the first big screen superhero, but he may be the biggest right now, and hopefully not the last.


Do you like to talk about movies, television, music and entertainment in general? Join The Entertainment Point on Facebook by clicking on the hyperlink or here.

Follow me on Facebook by clicking here.

Follow me on Instagram by clicking here.

Follow me on Twitter by clicking here.

Read my review of Justice League by clicking here.

Read my review of The Last Jedi by clicking here.





Posted in TV and Movies, Uncategorized, What I Am Watching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – The Super Non-Spoiler Review

star-wars-the-last-jedi.jpgI thought I had had my fill of these fantasy universes and superhero films – even Star Wars disappointed me with Rogue One. But then I sat down to watch the latest instalment in the Star Wars and canon, The Last Jedi, and came out smiling.

This movie is quite different than any Star Wars movie that has come before it as the story doesn’t take its usual epic route of exploring various worlds and having one plan followed by another plan which is then substituted by another plan. In fact, the movie doesn’t move very far (even geographically speaking) from where it starts to where it eventually ends. Certainly, there are very important plot beats and character changes, but in all, the story is surprisingly compact and easy to follow. Now, I can definitely see how this may upset some fans who like the world-building and exploration side of Star Wars, but I thought it was executed well enough that the lack of sprawling “epicness” didn’t feel like a missing element.

The Last Jedi does feel it needs this epic thrust because it trusts its characters and the bond we have solidified with them from the last film. There are more than a few actions by our main group of heroes that seem half-baked and don’t even pan out as planned, but the movie manages to make you care for them in their desperation and forgive them when they make a mistake.

In fact, a line from the movie about mistakes being the greatest teacher is a theme which runs throughout. Nothing seems to go as planned on either side of the war but it doesn’t mean that ground hasn’t been broken and that personal victories aren’t won.

JJ Abrams’ The Force Awakens did everything in its power to make a call back to A New Hope while trying to open the gates to the future – even in visual style. The Last Jedi takes an opposite approach.

Director Rian Johnson goes for darker palettes and muted colours. And although this movie is not dark at all (in fact it is damn funny in numerous parts), these changes make it feel heavier than its predecessor. The space battles are intense and brooding instead of fun and rollicking. The deaths feel more impactful and the consequences of the actions leave a more immediate bad taste in the character’s mouths – especially General Leah.

This style provided a pseudo-realism to the franchise that I had not seen before, although one can sort of make an argument for this in Rogue One; however, I felt the execution in that movie was weak mainly due to the boring characters and convoluted plot.

The Last Jedi focuses in on the batch of characters that will take this franchise into the future and they make it work. Everyone from Kylo Ren to BB-8 is engaging and have something worth investing in as an audience member. I found myself clapping and cheering on more than one occasion because I truly felt I was there with them when met with a challenge or foe.

The Last Jedi had a hard task in front of it, surpassing the buzz and success of The Force Awakens. I believe it not only did this, it also acted as a sort of pilot episode for what Disney may want to do with the franchise in the future – tell smaller stories. I believe that hardcore fans of the series may walk out of theatre happy but then going back and saying, “Hey, not a lot happened.” And indeed, the movie’s runtime almost feels in sync with the amount of time that goes by in the story. However, in the space of those 152 minutes, there was space for various emotional highs and lows and plenty of entertainment and well-choreographed space battles. Speaking of space battles, this movie really took the Star Wars name and ran with it – it was heavy on the war taking place in the stars with a lot less hand to hand fighting and light saber action. I appreciated this as a fan of battle scenes.

Now we await the last (or will it really be the last) episode in this new trilogy. It was quite open-ended, to be honest, so I have very little to comment on what I think the series needs to do moving forward or exactly where it wants to go. So, with that I say, “Go watch Star Wars!!” It was my favourite fantasy/action movie of the year and may the force continue to remain with the franchise.

Phil Ray

Follow me on Twitter by clicking here.

Follow me on Facebook by clicking here.

Follow me on Instagram by clicking here.

Read my review of Justice League by clicking here.

Read my review of Stranger Things by clicking here.

Read my review of Star Trek: Discovery by clicking here.




Posted in TV and Movies, Uncategorized, What I Am Watching | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Pico do Jaraguá: One of São Paulo´s Green Wonders Hidden in Plain Sight

The Pico do Jaraguá lies within the capital city of São Paulo

São Paulo´s immensity never ceases to amaze me and the thing I like best about the city is how much greener it is than most people imagine. One of the largest green spaces in São Paulo is Pico do Jaraguá (Jaraguá Peak or “The Lord of the Valley” in Tupi). It is the largest mountain in the metropolitan São Paulo area, standing 1135 meters (3723.75 feet) above sea level. It and its towering television antennas are clearly visible from many parts of the city when looking out west.


When I first arrived in São Paulo I was drawn to this huge mountain in the distance and promised myself I would get there someday, so that is exactly what I did. I have climbed to the top, where one can take in a panoramic view of the sprawling Brazilian capital, at least three times, and each time I find something new to marvel at.

Jaraguá State Park


Access to the Pico, which is located at the Parque Estadual do Jaraguá (Jaraguá State Park) on Rua Antônio Cardoso Nogueira 539 – Vila Chica Luiza, is rather uncomplicated. There are plenty of bus lines that drop one off right in front of the entrance to the park. Some of the buses leave from Lapa and some from downtown São Paulo. There is a bus that leaves from the Vila Clarice station on the 7 Rubi line – I have actually gone on foot to the Pico from there once, although I would not recommend it to just anyone. If one chooses to go by car or other personal transport, there is access through Km 18 of Via Anhanguera.




The Jaraguá Park is quiet and relaxed.

As I stated, the Pico is actually part of the Jaraguá State Park. Once inside the park one is met with sprawling green landscapes, bike trails, small ponds and leisure areas for barbecues and picnics. It´s pretty common to see people gathered enjoying the park without taking the trail that will lead up to the top of the mountain.


For those that do venture up, the most popular route is the “Trilha do Pai Zé” (The Father Zé Trail). This 3,600 meter (about 2.2 milles) trail winds its way up the mountain through thick Atlantic Forest. The walking path is very wide and only very steep at some junctures. It shouldn´t be too difficult to climb for even the least experienced hiker and depending on your pace you can finish the trip in about an hour. But moving at a fast clip will make you miss out on the surprises on the way.

Pico do Jaraguá is the habitat for many fauna and wildlife. I got lucky my last time up and ran into some extroverted monkeys and a few South American coati (from the racoon family) who were extremely curious and friendly.

At the end of the wooded trail, the ground gets a bit harder and there are fewer trees. We are nearing the end of the first part of the journey and already one can look to one´s right and see the city from up above. This is the view facing the suburbs of São Paulo and so there are only a few houses sprinkled across the vista with more and more rolling mountains as a backdrop.

This part of the trial is thankfully short and ends at a wooden staircase which lends access to the second part of the park – the top of the Pico do Jaraguá!



The top of Jaraguá Peak

At the top of Pico of Jaraguá, one can stop for some refreshments or simply rest one´s legs. I have even seen events tents set up there for the kids in the summer.


You’ll also discover a dirty little secret at this juncture. There is a paved roadway which goes from the bottom of the mountain all the way to the top which is usually lined with the cars of those who chose to skip the trail. I don´t recommend taking this route unless you physically must. Word is that there is a lot of traffic on the way up and nearly nowhere to park your vehicle. This means you will probably be walking up hot concrete to reach the peak. Your feet will thank you out later.

The top of the Pico do Jaraguá is where you can begin seeing the metropolis side of the city. The endless sea of buildings is astonishing as it given visual testimony to the manic urban sprawl which is the city of São Paulo. The trip is not over yet, though.



This last staircase is the real challenge

Atop the mountain, there are huge television transmission masts. One must brave the long staircase to reach the platform where they stand, but once there, the 360º view is even more spectacular. São Paulo from afar is a sea of green mountains on one side and white and grey buildings on the other.


Standing above the city of São Paulo is not like the feeling when atop the Christ Statue or Sugarloaf Mountain, where the beauty of Rio de Janeiro sits like a perfect postcard below. Standing above São Paulo is more like allowing the feeling of one’s smallness to overtake them. Down below millions of lives partake in their separate dramas, the buildings and avenues seem mammoth and overwhelming, and the noise of the city drowns out our thoughts and plans. But above, on the Pico, those same lives, buildings, and noises are all just tiny specks on an expansive canvas. We can attribute as much meaning to them as we can to a star in the sky.

Going to the Pico do Jaraguá is a worthwhile venture for the adventurous person who wants to escape the city and be in nature but doesn´t have the time or stamina to take on larger green adventures.

My tips for visiting the area is to pack light but bring a lunch. There is food up top but it can get pricey. Also, bring a lot of water and try to arrive around 9 or 10 am so that you are not getting the brunt of the sun on your way up to the top. The area outside the Jaraguá Park can be a bit sketchy, so I don´t recommend taking any excursions around the surrounding neighbourhoods. The park itself has plenty of security guards, is clean, and feels very safe with plenty of carefree children, couples, and families enjoying themselves.



Until Next Time


If the concrete jungle starts to get you down, take some time off and visit the Pico do Jaraguá, one of my favourite spots in the city of São Paulo.

P. Ray

Follow me on Twitter by clicking here.

Follow me on Facebook by clicking here.

Follow me on Instagram by clicking here.

Read about my long hike through the São Paulo mountainside by clicking here.

Read about my walk through SESC Pompeia by clicking here. 

Read about my favourite park in São Paulo, Agua Branca by clicking here.

Read my review of Justice League by clicking here.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How to Be an Entitled Expat in Brazil in 5 Easy Steps

Nothing irks me more than entitled expats in Brazil. These are the expats that live in their lovely little bubble of love and joy while wasting little time demeaning any other expat that does not see Brazil exactly as they do. To be clear, there are many expats in Brazil who have managed to make a good run at it, but at the very least they can recognize that life isn’t all roses for the majority here – this message is not directed towards them. I can actually respect their position. I have little love or sympathy for the entitled expat, though.

What does it take to become a part of this elite group, you ask?

Generally speaking, to be an entitled expat requires a dose of lack of empathy, mixed with a strong sprinkling of self-righteousness and perhaps just a dash of mental imbalance and asshole-ness. Below I have detailed how one puts these basic ingredients into action. Be sure to add your tips in the comments sections.

1. Pretend Brazil Is Not As Dangerous As It Is 

Brazil is the country in red.

To achieve this you must ignore that Brazil has homicide rates akin to war-torn countries. Ignore that tourists actually die when visiting one of the country’s landmarks cities, Rio de Janeiro. Ignore that nearly everyone you meet has either been a victim of crime or knows someone who has been a victim of crime.

After ignoring all these things and more, you must then have the mental fortitude to say Brazil is really not that bad and that it is just as dangerous in (pick a first-world nation from the bunch).

There is a catch, though. You can only make these bold statements under certain conditions.

One is if you live in a  compound with bars surrounding your house, apartment building, or front yard. You can also only take Übers and taxis to go everywhere at night.

Two would be that you have to live in a reasonably middle class or impoverished area and not mind dressing down so that people think you are just another favela resident, therefore somewhat avoiding being a target for crime.

Last is simply being lucky. It took a British friend of mine nearly 5 or 6 years of the nightlife in São Paulo before a gun was pointed at his face.

Whatever the case may be, your security bubble will bathe you in the light of righteous indignation when you hear another expat say that this country is an extremely unsafe and violent place to be in the majority of the cities where expats are able to find house and work. When your light shines bright you can then tell them they are wrong and stupid and should look at how dangerous it is in Chicago right now. Don’t forget to mention Brexit or Trump.

2. It’s All About The Benjamins, Baby


I can’t live without my dollars.


Come to Brazil with enough money to leave Brazil at any time – either because you are on a business contract or you simply rock that Master Card Gold.

While here, eat at the best restaurants, go to the best parks, live in the best housing, travel a lot, and have the option to go back to your home country at any time when the going gets rough.

Once that step is complete then please complain about other expats who complain about Brazil and who don’t have the same conditions as you do to simply pick up and go.

Also, make sure that you have a cosy home and job waiting for you when you get back to your home shores just to make your repatriation process all the much easier.

3. Keep it Solo and the Baggage Light


The fewer people you get to know the better life is.


Stay single, don’t fall in love, and make few friends and strong bonds that really matter. Once you have accomplished this feat you can yell at stupid expats who don’t leave Brazil by saying, “If you don’t like it that much then just leave!!!”

Make sure you enjoy the hell out of your stay in Brazil as basically a long-term tourist by also not paying taxes, not finding registered work, not trying to put a child through school, and certainly not dealing with in-laws. This way you can have a clear conscience when you decide to leave the country behind once it gets to be a little too rough for you.

4. Get on the Free Money Train


Nothing like getting paid for doing nothing.


Receive a sufficient allowance, whether from retirement, pension or other funds, in a currency other than Reais to keep you afloat.

Feel the power of your currency in your hand as the Real sinks into oblivion.

Then chastise expats who are barely scraping by with their salaries paid in Reais.

You can take this opportunity to rub in how things are actually cheaper in Brazil due to the exchange rate and that they should see the price of milk “back home.”

But most definitely use those foreign currencies to get yourself back into your own country when the government policies that you supported here, “to help the poor” start making even you feel the pinch. Please wave at us while leaving on your fast jet.

5. Be All Expat Be All Pride

Families that travel together leave the country for home together.


Come to Brazil with your foreign-born spouse and kids (make sure those kiddos are in the best private schools, by the way).

Once you make that sacrifice, you can feel free to get angry at stupid expats who won’t leave the country because their spouses can’t get a permanency visa back in their country of origin. Better yet, chastise the expats who are either separated and divorced whose ex-spouse won’t let them travel with the child or worse.

Live life in Brazil to its fullest while firmly holding on to you and your family’s “Get Out of Brazil” card. I am sure the rest of your family will be glad to see you when you get back.

Continue reading

Posted in Brazilian Life, Society, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

What I Am Watching: Justice League – a super non-spoiler review

The movie that seemed like it would never happen finally happened. And there I was, the DC fan that I am, on opening night to see if Justice League would be the improvement that the DC Movie Universe needed to keep itself afloat.

The answer to that question is a tricky one.

It’s been a long time since I have come out of a movie – especially a superhero movie – without a clear feeling about it. These movies aren’t that difficult to decipher – and either I love, like, dislike or hate them. Justice League sort of left me scratching my head – for all the elements of an entertaining movie were there, but it lacked weight and a driving force to make me care much about what was going on on screen.

The only thing that seems to make sense to me at the moment is that perhaps the producers tried too hard to move away from the über-weightiness of both Man of Steel and the even darker and more brooding Batman V Superman and in the process forgot about the core of these characters.

Let’s break it down

Batman is Batman – he never smiles.

Wonder Woman lost the love of her life.

The Flash has serious family issues and no friends.

Aquaman – has been in self-imposed isolation because, well, he lives in the ocean.

Cyborg is not exactly happy that he became a Post-Morten scientific experiment.

And Superman – died!!!


None of these characters has reason to be chirpy and slinging unfunny one-liners at one another, which is what they do more than I felt comfortable with considering their backstories. In fact, the movie works best when it acknowledges their darker side and lets the audience understand that saving the world can be just as exciting as it is a burden. Unfortunately, those emotions were not explored at all.

What was most frustrating was that the movie left wide open spaces for this deeper interaction to take place. Take for example one of the best lines of the movie (shown in the trailer) when Alfred says, “One misses the days when one’s biggest concerns were exploding, wind-up penguins.”

This line could have been a great segue into understanding the state of the modern world and the hero’s role in them. Yet, as quickly as a scene got serious and looked as if it were going to dig into these themes, it gave up on itself in order to feed us yet another one-liner about Aquaman talking to fish … because the movie has to be “more fun.”

This leads me to believe that the DC Movie Universe seems to be truly uncertain of what it wants to be. The pressure (although they would never admit it) is to be more like Marvel, whose last offering, Thor: Ragnarok, proved superior to even the last few movies in Marvel’s own catalogue by being light on its feet. If this is the path that DC wants to take, I believe it will fail miserably.

What makes Marvel unique is that at its core most of its popular heroes are truly fantastical. These are characters who mostly all acknowledge and embrace their super abilities and strive to accept their differential nature from humans.

The DC universe mostly takes the opposite approach. Their heroes also have immense power, but they try their hardest to be one of us – human, grounded, and most importantly flawed.

To illustrate this, compare how the two respective genius billionaires from each universe carry themselves. Tony Stark is pompous and even giddy about all that he knows and can do. Bruce Wayne, however, almost sees his power, knowledge, and influence as a curse. Iron Man is a product of “I do this because I am that cool” while Batman is a product of “I do this because I am that self-loathing.”

Even, Superman, who is often mistakenly described as a grown-up boy scout, spends a lot of his time trying to be the best Clark Kent he can be because he already has the Superman bit down pretty well.  Compare this to Marvel’s most popular blue and red donned hero, Spider-man, who is a very rounded Peter Parker that spends most of his time trying to be the best web-slinger he can be.

Marvel’s characters either want to be super or have fewer issues being super – this automatically lends itself to a lighter atmosphere and laughs when it comes to a film. Flying around saving people and punching bad guys is something they enjoy and can laugh about with their other super friends.

DC does not and should not work like that. DC characters mostly seem like they want to retire into their alter-egos and oftentimes question how and when they should use the full extent of their powers – and when they don’t, they usually have to deal with the consequences as in The Flashpoint Paradox.

And while I agree with most critics and fans that both MOS and BvS took the heaviness factor too far, bypassing the gravitas of each of the Justice League members misses an essential ingredient in their team dynamic – friction. Without friction, there was no drama. Without drama, there was no character growth or revelation. Each member of the Justice League started the movie essentially the same way they ended it.

So, does this mean Justice League was the train-wreck some people are hoping it would be? Far from it. Like I said, it will keep you entertained. But for a movie that had so much riding on it and that fans have waited so long for, it plays at about the level of a decent DC Animated Feature.

I will probably sit and watch it again – and I won’t have a difficult time doing it like I would for Suicide Squad, for example. But though, it managed to brighten up the gloom of its first two entries of the DC franchise, it fell short of the heart and emotion that Wonder Woman brought to the screen earlier this year.

Put this one down as another DC movie that had a lot of good parts, and which I can give a bit more leniency towards as a DC fan, but didn’t quite get it all down right. I believe that once the reviews and box-office come in, the DCMU think tank will be back to the drawing board again.

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized, What I Am Watching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Stranger Things 2 – Universe Building While Still Maintain Its Allure – a daunting task.

I caught wind of last year’s runaway hit, the Duffer Brother’s Stranger Things, through word of mouth. It took me just one rainy day to get through the eight chapters. I was anxious to hear word on season two but at the same time, I had my trepidations.

What made season one so unique was the call back to the 80s. It’s also what made it a bit gimmicky in parts. The middle of season one had quite a few sections that dragged on a bit longer when the focus went away from the main storyline and the 80s touches. Still, the Duffer Brother’s managed to keep a decent pace which made even the less interesting episodes entertaining. I wondered how they would manage to keep the second season exciting while not repeating themselves. The show would have to grow beyond “That 80s Show” gimmick and universe-build to top what they did the first time around. So, did they manage it?

Well, I  watched all nine chapters of Stranger Things 2  on its premiere date and my verdict is – yes!!!

Now, this is not to say season two definitely felt like it was on wobbly legs on more than a few occasions, but like season one, it felt very certain about the story it wanted to tell and drove it forward enough in each episode to keep me clicking “next episode”.

Season two starts with a bang. It doubles down on trying to build a universe outside of Hawkins, Pennsylvania with a car chase in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and whole new cast of actors who look like they stepped straight of a Charles Bronson Death Wish movie.

Kali’s gang.

This is a cool little opener which left me wondering how these characters would come into play in the story – it would take until episode seven for that. After the opening credits, we are instead quickly taken back to familiar turf – Hawkins.

Back in little town U.S.A., life is more or less back to normal after the incidents of the year before. Our four kids are still the coolest nerds in town, while Will visits a doctor to help him come to terms with the events of the year before.

I liked that the show wasted little time in letting us know how everyone was – including Eleven (although I must admit that the result of her trip to The Upside Down was a bit anti-climatic – more on her character soon). And although everyone’s state is firmly established within the first episode, this season takes a little more time to get the central storyline going than last year. It wasn’t until about episode four (after Dustin’s little pet, which he conveniently finds in his trashcan, begins to grow) that I felt I was starting to really get a grasp of where they were going with the story – and the pace picks up.

It was clear from the Twin Peaks-esque season one cliffhanger (and what the Duffer Brother’s themselves have said) that The Upside Down would play a larger part in season two, but it wasn’t as plainly drawn out as Mike’s disappearance in the first episode of season one – which essentially put the plot of the show into motion.

Related image

The kids are back from top left clockwise: Lucas, Eleven, Mike, Dustin and Will

And that is where Stranger Things felt wobbly. The showrunners demonstrated last year and again this year that they really struggle when they have to flesh out believable scenarios outside of the main plot.

Max and Billy

An example of this is the introduction of the new character, Max. While she certainly held her own among the original four boys playing the role of the “new mysterious girl” much in the vein of Eleven, the payoff to her mysterious background was not nearly as satisfying as the former’s. She was most interesting when there was less focus on her backstory and she actively participated in the adventure at hand. The older kid, Billy, that she shows up in Hawkins with, also felt like he was being built up to be a tragic hero in the vein of The Lost Boys – but the resolution to his arch and the revelation of his and Max’s past felt like wasted screen time.

The worst victim of universe-building was, unfortunately, Eleven. She went from being the strongest link in the series last year to the weakest link this year. First, as I mentioned, Eleven’s trip into The Upside Down from last season’s finale felt like a wasted sacrifice given how anti-climatic (and quickly) that arch was resolved. She then goes on a season-long journey of self-discovery which leads her very far from Hawkins but adds very little to her character – other than the very cliche realization of knowing where home really is.

More frustrating (without giving too much away) is that a segment of this journey, which takes up all of Chapter Seven, felt more like a propaganda for a spin-off series than anything that she seriously needed to do in order to come back to her senses. Although I understood the necessity for this arch on an emotional level for Eleven (after all she has many demons to deal with), I felt the execution was poor and she didn’t have enough chemistry to hold her own without the help of the main cast.

Yet, despite these narrative shortcomings, which are basically the same narrative shortcomings of season one, Stranger Things (again, like in season one) seems to understand itself better than anyone else. Even while these seemingly loose threads were being introduced into the story, they never felt completely out of place – and most importantly, while they flirt with feeling longer than necessary, they usually don’t overstay their welcome before we are back to the main storyline.

And the main storyline is what keeps Strange Things 2 afloat. Despite taking a more roundabout approach, we eventually start to understand the implications of Mike’s visit to The Upside Down and what terror that dimension brings with it to our own world. Soon, everyone is on board in their attempt to stop The Upside Down from implanting itself firmly on our plane of existence.

Another thing I loved is how, (unlike season one), season two is actually a bit more adult and even scarier. The Duffer Brother’s did well in laying off as many cute 80s references and letting the story develop for itself, especially since this year we already had IT give us a dose of 80s nostalgia. There were scenes in The Upside Down and a very intense Exorcist-like bit at the end that had my heart racing.

So, although it takes season two a bit longer to get going and a few of the side-ventures felt unnecessary, Stranger Things 2 delivers on its promise to be bigger and better. This felt much more like its own show than last year’s gimmicky “lighting in a bottle” hit, which had one-hit wonder written all over itself.

Grab the popcorn and sit back because Stranger Things 2 is probably better than most that Hollywood has been able to offer this year in the shocks and thrills territory on nearly every front.

Thanks for reading. Leave your comments and opinions below.

Follow me on Twitter by clicking here.

Follow me on Facebook by clicking here.

Follow me on Instagram by clicking here.

Read my review of IT  by clicking here.

Read my countdown of the best A Nightmare on Elm Street movies by clicking here.

Read my review of Star Trek: Discovery by clicking here.




Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments