The return of Fairyland for Grownups

August 3, 2022
Children's Fairyland Children's Fairyland Children's Fairyland Children's Fairyland Children's Fairyland

 

It’s been a while since there was a 21 and over night at Children’s Fairyland in Oakland, but Fairyland for Grownups returned on July 29th, 2022. Obviously I had to go. Aside from a vaccine check on the way in it felt very similar to the last such event three years ago.

The big change this year was that it was a few weeks earlier which was fine, although in retrospect the weather is usually better in August. The upside to holding it in July is there’s a little more time before the sun goes down.

Everything seemed to be in about the same condition as last time which is to say the paint was recently touched up and the gardens were in good shape, but not all of the story boxes were functioning when activated with a Magic Key.

The line to enter the park was very long and took almost 30 minutes to get through. A number of guests showed up in costume, others in light-up outfits to dance until closing time in the old west area with the DJs.

Not everything at Children’s Fairyland is open during these events, mostly the kiddie rides that wouldn’t fit adult-sized people anyway. One thing I wish they did operate during Fairyland for Grownups is the “zoo” section of the park. This is a very small section that apparently has tame animals like guinea pigs and goats during the day — so why can’t it be open for the adult’s only night? You don’t have to be a kid to appreciate seeing some small animals.

That leads me to another unique aspect of these events: one might worry that a bunch adults with alcohol would be staggering around and causing problems, but that doesn’t really happen. First of all most people only stick to the two drinks included with admission, and second it only goes until 10 PM.

On the subject of the early ending time, I’m surprised there aren’t any public afterparties. There’s already a crowd that’s in a partying mood, why not offer to chauffeur them to a nearby bar or dance venue? Seems like a missed opportunity.

To stay up to date on Fairyland for Grownups events, follow the Oaklandish blog or sign up for their newsletter.

Recent movie review round-up (first half of 2022)

July 9, 2022

I’ve never tried to come up with any sort of “theme” for the movies I review in these posts, I just watch whatever interests me and try my best to summarize my thoughts.

But this time around — especially compared to my previous movie review round-up — all of these are relatively small-ish budget films. Best of all, none of them overstayed their welcome with lengthy runtimes.

So let’s get started with my own reviews of the movies I got to see in the first six months (give or take) of 2022.

 

Strawberry Mansion

Tax auditor Mr. Preble has been sent to the home of an elderly woman named Bella to audit her dreams. In this near-future dystopia, all dreams are recorded and taxed.

In reliving Bella’s dreams, Preble slowly falls in love with her younger self. Meanwhile in reality Bella introduces Preble to a homemade device that serves as an ad blocker, removing the product placement in his dreams. 

This might be one of the better depictions of dreams in a movie, though the movie itself has such an ethereal soundtrack and unusual visuals that it’s often difficult to discern what’s supposed to be a dream vs. what’s “real.” This is a narrative choice of course, and it’s fun to think about it, but it’s also distracting when you’re trying to piece together the story threads. Perhaps this is one of those puzzle films that rewards multiple viewings.

Between the film’s short runtime and the sheer oddity of it all, you won’t have time to worry too much about what’s real and what’s happening in Preble’s mind, or even exactly how he’s inserted himself into Bella’s previous dreams in the first place.

Strawberry Mansion doesn’t fall into any normal film genre. There are aspects of horror, romance, and even science fiction but I wouldn’t categorize it as any of those. If I had to put it on a shelf in a video store, I’d put it somewhere near wherever David Lynch films are displayed and call it a day.

Best moment: Two words: “chicken shake.”

Rating: 7/10

 

Benedetta

Director Paul Verhoeven (RoboCop, Starship Troopers, Showgirls) brings his over-the-top style to a story about a young nun in 17th century Italy named Benedetta. (Despite the setting, the dialog is entirely in French.) Benedetta seems to have mysterious powers and visions… or does she?

Fast forward until Benedetta is an adult, a troubled young woman named Bartolomea joins the convent and the two immediately begin a complicated, guilt-filled lesbian affair.

This movie made some Catholics angry, which I think says a lot more about them than this movie — have they never looked into the history of their own church? This movie isn’t even attempting to make a statement about the modern day Catholic church.

The problem is there’s not much to the story; the main takeaway seems to be that religious fervor and blasphemy are two sides of the same coin. But that’s far too obvious to be a revelation.

Best moment: Watching the bishop’s plans come tumbling down.

Rating: 4/10

 

Jackass Forever

Opening with a lengthy dick joke, Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Wee Man, and the gang return for another round of pranks and self torture.

There’s a clear passing of the torch as it’s acknowledged that it’s been twenty years after the Jackass TV show, introducing both new cast members with many of the original, now gray-haired ones.

I’m not sure there’s any point reviewing this movie, either you think it’s funny to watch a guy get bee stings on his testicles or you don’t. But I will say that there’s not much new ground to cover here; if you’ve seen one Jackass movie, you’ve kind of seen them all. At the very least you know what to expect by now.

Best moment: The rattlesnake fake out prank.

Rating: 6/10

 

Everything Everywhere All At Once

Evelyn Wong (Michelle Yeoh) is the owner of a failing laundromat that’s in trouble with the IRS. Her domestic life is arguably in worse condition: she takes her husband for granted, is overbearing towards her daughter, and is hiding the fact that her daughter is a lesbian from her very traditional father (James Hong.)

To make matters significantly more complicated, this isn’t the only Evelyn Wong. There’s an entire multiverse of different universes out there for all of us where we made different decisions and ended up very differently. The Evelyn we meet has to tap into and travel across the multiverse in order to stop the chaos of “Jobu Tupaki” (you’ll have to watch it yourself to see who this villain turns out to be.)

As a comedy/action/drama there’s a lot of ground to cover, but the movie easily gets the most laughs and the most action from jumping to different universes, many of which are entirely ridiculous like a universe where humans evolved to have useless floppy hot dog fingers.

Unfortunately while the multiverse concept ties the entire movie together, it’s not explained very well. At first to borrow the powers of other versions of herself Evelyn needs to wear two of those old fashioned Bluetooth earpieces (one in each ear) and then do weird things to activate them. After a while that no longer seems to apply; and for the characters who are recruited from other multiverses to become villains, where are they getting their special Bluetooth earpieces? 

All of which is to say, this is a movie where you’re better off sitting back and enjoying the ride without thinking about it too much. I have heard the original cut was much longer and this is one of those rare cases where I wonder if maybe they cut it down a little too much. 

What does work is Yeoh’s performance. There are very few actors able to convincingly switch between drama, comedy, and action — in one scene. She’s the glue that holds this entire messy movie together.

Best moment: The universe where Pixar’s Ratatouille is real. Sort of.

Rating: 8/10

 

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Part of the reason Nicholas Cage became such an iconic actor over the years are his seemingly wild acting choices. Some have criticized him for this, though I’d counter that if you look at his filmography his most ridiculous acting only happens in ridiculous movies. He’s perfectly capable of playing it straight when the role calls for it.

In this oddball comedy Cage plays it both ways… as versions of himself. Those who wrote him off before ought to reevaluate Cage after watching this one: are you laughing at him, or are you laughing with him?

Nick Cage (Nicholas Cage, but abbreviated Nick instead of Nic) is an actor who’s failing as an actor, a father, and also failing to pay the bills. Fortunately for the latter his agent has found him a quick fix: a Nick Cage superfan in Spain named Javi (Pedro Pascal) wants to fly him there for a party, with an appearance fee of one million dollars.

Cage and Javi end up having a bromance of sorts before the party even begins, though Cage is quickly kidnapped by CIA agents who tell him that Javi is an extremely dangerous international arms dealer. The only person who can save the CIA operation at this point is Cage, who turns out to have little in common with the brave heroes and villains he plays in movies.

Throughout the movie Cage hallucinates a younger and more successful version of himself that he calls “Nicky.” Nicky has his young manic energy and wears the exact same clothes from this real Nicholas Cage TV interview. The deaging visual effects are impressive for a low budget movie.

This movie is absolutely littered with references to real Cage movies like Con Air, The Rock, Face/Off, Wicker Man, etc. and there may be a joke here or there that will go over your head. But that’s fine, the in-jokes aren’t the primary focus.

Although hilarious, the sheer number of plot twists can make it a little hard to follow toward the end unless you’re paying close attention.

Best moment: Nicky looking at his older self and screaming “You’re Nick! FUCKIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIING! Ah! Whew! Cage!” 

Rating: 9/10

 

Jerry & Marge Go Large

Recently retired cereal production manager Jerry (Bryan Cranston) discovers a loophole in a state lottery that allows him to tilt the odds in his favor — if he gambles enough money on it. When his wife Marge (Annette Bening) finds out about the lottery winnings she surprises him by encouraging to continue.

Soon the other neighborhood retirees are contributing and they’re all sharing in the wealth… only for some university students to notice the same loophole, pitting the two groups against each other.

What works about this movie is the all-star cast which also includes Michael McKean, Larry Wilmore, and Rainn Wilson. What doesn’t work is taking a (mostly) true story and trying to shoehorn it into a dramedy format. I suspect this would have been more interesting if it stayed truer to the story and focused more on the central characters.

The weakest part is when the drama hinges on a “generation war” between retirees and young university students competing over the same prize pot. The movie seems like it wants us to root for the retirees, but honestly the whole conflict is too contrived to make me care.

Best moment: Larry Wilmore’s character always seems to say exactly what I’m thinking.

Rating: 3/10

 

CatVideoFest 2022

After a two year pandemic hiatus, everyone’s favorite cat film festival is back in theaters with a new collection of short cat videos. These short videos go from videos people recorded of their cats behavior, to heartwarming videos about taking care of cats, to animated shorts. A little something for everyone.

As always, the proceeds from this film are donated to local cat rescue charities.

In case this isn’t the kind of thing for you, maybe you’d be more interested in the first ever DogVideoFest which will supposedly come out later this year.

Best moment: After a cat tries and fails repeatedly to jump over a gate, it simply walks through the bars as though the gate wasn’t even there.

Rating: Once again I’m unsure how to rate a collection of cat videos. I will say I’ve seen a couple of these before, but it’s always more fun to watch funny videos with an audience.

Six most outrageous moments in the 2022 On Cinema Oscar Special

April 2, 2022

Airing live in its second year on HEI Network, the 9th Annual On Cinema Oscar Special was pared down in a number of ways… most notably they had to film it outside, according to Tim, because Joe Estevez had mismanaged Tim’s HEI Ranch development and no sound stage had been built.

Things only go downhill from this rough introduction with Mark Proksch dressed as Spider-Man, accidentally tripping and falling down a hill.

No longer wearing a fancy suit, Tim is now sunburned and wearing sunglasses, a vest, and blue jeans — your typical uniform for a conservative who’s trying to dress like a man of the people.

This will include spoilers.

If you haven’t caught up on season 12, the main things that happened since the last Oscar Special are that Mark Proksch reluctantly returned, LaRoux is in a wheelchair now, Wendy Kerby left after Tim made creepy remarks to her, and Toni filed for divorce from Tim after becoming sober.

So here we go: the top six most outrageous moments in the 9th Annual On Cinema Oscar Special.

 

 

6. Tribute to Alfred Hitchcock

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Hitchcock’s first film (which was never finished) they interview actress Lee Garlington from the 2nd and 3rd Psycho movies — which Hitchcock had nothing to do with.

Mark was set to appear as Hitchcock but he has to do it via a video call from the hospital due to his previous injury falling down the hill. Another person dressed as Hitchcock held an iPad in front of their face to share the video call.

 

 

5. Toni’s therapy tape

Tim had LaRoux “up his dose” of painkillers so he could enter therapy to spy on Tim’s wife as she went through her recovery from alcoholism.

Footage from Toni’s therapy session makes Tim look really bad. Most damningly, Toni reveals that everyone talks shit about Tim behind his back — including his loyal band mates. This doesn’t appear to be a surprise to anyone but Tim who refuses to believe it.

 

 

4. Willy Wonka tribute

Gregg’s Willy Wonka tributes are all over the place, from dressing up as Johnny Depp’s version of the character to staging his own version of the grandparent’s scene in the original movie.

The latter segment is a huge disappointment for Tim, who doesn’t understand what any of this had to do with the upcoming prequel and just wants to see “chocolate and Oompa Loompas.”

 

 

3. Oscar Doctor

Years ago Gregg advocated for a fan favorite “popular film” category for the Oscars.

Feeling irrationally vindicated now that this has actually happened, Gregg has an “Oscar Doctor” segment in which he offers solutions to bring audiences back to watch the Oscars. All of his ideas are simplistic new awards like “Best Ending” or “Best Robot.”

 

 

2. Dekkar reunion

Following up from the Wendy Kerby Valentine’s Day Special, Tim’s band Dekkar has reunited as a rock band with long term members Axiom and Manuel.

This reunion happens through several segments throughout the special. In one segment it’s revealed that former member Nick passed away. In the hastily made homage video Tim repeatedly mixes up Vinny with Nick. In pre-taped segments we also learn that Tim only sees his band mates as hired hands for his solo project.

The Dekkar reunion culminates in a show, which includes an new “Oscar Medley” jam-style song about movies nominated for Oscars this year. They finally finish on their one and only “hit” song, Empty Bottle, only for the power to go out. (For some reason the mics and cameras keep working.)

 

 

1. The wild ending

Throughout the special, troublemakers show up and drive an ATV behind the set and point laser pointers at Tim and others. It’s eventually revealed this same group is likely behind the power outage.

After hearing some gunshots, everyone takes cover. Gregg heroically evacuates everyone he can on his VFA tour bus. Meanwhile Tim has a meltdown in front of the aggressors, begging them to kill him before the screen goes black and the credits roll.

 

Honorable mentions

  • Axiom’s national anthem-style rendition of Tim’s “Oscar Fever.”
  • Longtime chili-based caterer Hank is back! Once again he’s getting a poor deal from Tim, despite being the proprietor of the upcoming HEI Noon Chili Saloon at HEI Ranch.
  • Tim hired contractor Joe Crane to drill a water well in HEI Ranch. Unfortunately, the liquid that comes out is brown and stinks, and Joe Crane admits he may have simply drilled into a septic tank.
  • Tim flubbing yet another actor’s name: “Benedict Pumpkinpatch.”
  • LaRoux getting his wheelchair stuck in the dirt while everyone watches and the theme song from his TV show “Xposed” plays in the background.
  • During “On Cinema’s Tribute To Director Cameos” we end on a segment from the movie Jack & Jill where Adam Sandler’s character has a conversation with sex offender and former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle.

I got to see this Oscar Special on the big screen again, this time at the New Parkway Theater in Uptown Oakland. Unfortunately the video stream was super unstable again this year, so I had to go back and watch it again (especially the first 20 minutes or so) after they put up the final cut online.

It’s sad that the stream had so many technical issues this year, because to be honest On Cinema’s absurd “coverage” of the Oscars is always going to be funnier and somehow more relevant than the real thing, no matter which actor slaps which comedian.

Recent movie review round-up (second half of 2021)

February 13, 2022

It seems like it had been been ages since I set foot inside any type of live venue, but since my last movie review roundup I have started seeing movies in theaters again. Specifically at my local Alamo Drafthouse, which follows San Francisco’s strict vaccination requirements. I saw about half of these at that theater and the other half at home.

So let’s get into it: my reviews of the movies I watched in the second half of 2021.

 

Dune: Part One

Just like Burning Man, almost everyone forgets that the novel Dune came out of San Francisco’s late 1960’s hippie ideology. And with both there’s politics, drugs, and some unusual ideas about religion/witchcraft all filtered through a psychedelic lens. Also, both involve a lot of sand.

How do you take a long, almost impenetrably complex story and distill it into one movie? It turns out you quietly add “part one” to the title and end it abruptly. Sort of a bait and switch, though I’m not sure how anyone could squeeze an extremely dense 600 page novel into a two and a half hour film.

I don’t feel the need to comment on the story because you’ve had what, like 50 years to read it? In that time it’s also already been adapted for film, television, video games, and comics.

The short version of this part of the story is that House Atreides is selected to be the new operator of the most valuable planet in the universe, a harsh desert planet called Arrakis. Paul Atreides, son of the Duke, has been trained in various skills… including one he technically shouldn’t have been.

What I will say is this is a film that captures the scope of the novel both in the story and in its physical universe. At the same time though between the real footage and the stunningly realistic visual effects, the most distracting thing to me is that the actors’ faces are never covered in sweat when they’re on a hot desert planet.

The cliffhanger (or perhaps just “hanger”?) ending is a double edged sword here. On the one hand it more or less completes the journey of Paul Atreides to the midpoint of the story, but I have no idea if this will make audiences want to see the sequel or leave the theater scratching their heads.

Best moment: The way The Voice is portrayed when the Reverend Mother uses it on Paul.

Rating: 8/10 (Caveat: I’ve read the novel.)

 

CODA

As a Child Of Deaf Adults (or CODA) Ruby is the only hearing person in her family. They don’t understand her love of music and they’re not well adapted into the hearing society around them. The father works on a fishing boat barely making ends meet with the help of his family.

When Ruby joins her school choir it exacerbates the rifts between her and her family. In an unexpected twist on your typical coming of age drama, Ruby’s deaf family has to learn how to adapt to her.

While I understand Ruby’s core struggle, I don’t really buy her family’s reluctance toward her interest in music. The drama feels like too much of a manufactured conflict to me. Yes, the family “translator” is growing up and leaving the nest with a talent her family will never be able to appreciate, but first of all it’s totally normal to appreciate a loved one’s interests even if you’re not a fan, and second they were clearly getting by before Ruby was born.

The one thing this movie absolutely nails is the casting. Ruby’s older brother and parents are portrayed by deaf actors. Ruby is portrayed by Emilia Jones, a teenage actor. Every member of the cast is pretty much perfect for their role. 

Best moment: Learning the heartbreaking reason Ruby was scared to audition.

Rating: 5/10

 

No Time to Die

I guess the James Bond I technically “grew up with” was Pierce Brosnan. Thing is, after GoldenEye all those movies were such a letdown. 

So when Daniel Craig showed up in Casino Royale with a new spin on Bond as a vulnerable character whose job was slowly taking its toll on him, I was ready to give the Bond movies another chance. For the most part I’ve enjoyed what I’ll call the “Craig-Bond” movies.

No Time To Die opens with what’s arguably a prequel to the Craig-Bond movies before jumping to the modern day where Bond has finally retired and settled down with his new lover. If that sounds ominous, congratulations: you remember the end of Casino Royale.

This movie tries to pack in a lot in order to conclude the Craig-Bond era. It has to do three things to succeed:

  1. Follow directly from the previous movie, Spectre.
  2. Tell a new Bond story with at least one new antagonist.
  3. Get the last word in on all the Craig-Bond characters and stories and go out with a bang.

Normally if I had to categorize these I’d argue the first one is the biggest problem: the events of Spectre were too large to ignore, even though it was a critically panned movie (personally I loved Spectre despite its idiotic plot twist.) The third item is also a challenge since wrapping things up naturally while nodding back to the past can take on a clip show vibe too easily.

Alas, I was wrong: the part that doesn’t work here is the typical Bond saves the day story. The villain’s goal is sort of a challenge to pinpoint and worse yet it involves something the writers obviously didn’t see coming: the plan involves a large scale bio weapon attack. Suddenly it’s obvious why this was one of the first movies delayed by COVID-19.

The other problem is its length. At nearly three hours it feels like a long goodbye at times. If I were to edit it down I think I’d cut down several of the action sequences, especially the long gun fight sequence near the end.

As an overall fan of the Craig-Bond era I appreciated the thoughtful approaches to concluding the main character arcs. While I won’t defend every narrative choice in these films, the overall themes of betrayal and death that have permeated the era get a satisfying end.

Best moment: M reading a classic Jack London quote at the end. Weird choice but it totally fits, particularly given their seemingly shared views on eugenics.

Rating: 8/10

 

The French Dispatch

It’s impossible to describe a Wes Anderson movie without acknowledging that it’s a Wes Anderson movie. You kind of know what you’re going to expect: lots of scenes that spring to life like an automaton, a distinct color palette, and a cast of quirky actors like Owen Wilson, Frances McDormand, and Bill Murray. But this movie has a specific visual trick up its sleeve: with its setting in France, it leans heavily into the look of French New Wave cinema — and French animation.

The movie covers three stories, each from a writer at a New Yorker-style magazine written by Americans living in France. Briefly, the first concerns an incarcerated painter, the second about a student revolution, and the third covers an extremely unlikely kidnapping. Each story is presented by the fictional writer behind the piece, and bookended by the events in the editor’s room at the offices of The French Dispatch. 

Though it’s kind of challenging to review an anthology movie like this, I’d say anyone who enjoyed The Grand Budapest Hotel or Anderson’s other recent films should check this one out. Personally I thought this was much funnier than Grand Budapest.

For some reason this movie only opened at 55 theaters nationwide, and the one I went to was sold out four nights in a row, if not more.

Best moment: The whole kidnapping sequence.

Rating: 8/10

 

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Estranged daughter and grandchildren of deceased Ghostbuster Egon Spengler (RIP Harold Ramis) are forced to move out of their NYC apartment and into Egon’s old farm in the middle of nowhere. Soon, they find themselves restoring his crazy technology and capturing ghosts.

Although Egon’s granddaughter Phoebe is the heart of the movie, her smart but ridiculous summer school teacher Mr. Grooberson (Paul Rudd, perfectly cast in this role) somehow serves as both the only living person who remembers the events from the original two movies and serves as the main source of comedy. 

How do you make a sequel to a movie like 1984’s Ghostbusters? It’s a question that doesn’t have an easy answer. Ghostbusters II was largely panned when it came out, partly for being too similar to the original. The 2016 reboot, well… not great. Afterlife takes a unique approach, although it does bank too heavily on nostalgia at times. 

I think there’s basically one problem with making a sequel to Ghostbusters, and it’s a big one: nobody knows why the first movie works as well as it does, it’s a classic “lightning in a bottle” situation.

Oh and to add to the confusion, a whole generation of us grew up with a cartoon show called The Real Ghostbusters. That show was made for a significantly younger audience in mind, muddying the waters about the target audience for a movie with sex jokes and tobacco use.

All of which is to say, I think it was wise for Afterlife to take a sharp turn and focus on a new set of characters in a very different environment to start with a clean-ish slate. This seems to be the general template for new follow ups to old movies, aka the “legacy sequel.”

The big problem with this movie is it just isn’t as funny as it thinks it is. Most of the attempts at humor land with a thud. I’m not sure if it’s the script’s fault or if some of the parts are simply miscast. Certainly none of the main characters here match Bill Murray or Dan Akroyd at the height of their comedy careers.

Best moment: Anytime Paul Rudd is on screen. 

Rating: 6/10

 

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

I’m not a big fan of comic book movies, and I’ll admit I watched this one entirely because it’s partially set in San Francisco.

Shaun/Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) and his friend Katy (comedian Awkwafina) are perfectly cast as coworkers at the valet stand at the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill.

The “set in San Francisco” side of the movie is a mixed bag. On the one hand the establishing shots are pretty generic, but on the other the Chinese characters in the movie live in the Richmond District instead of the obvious choice of Chinatown. And that’s totally accurate — there are cultural enclaves all over the city and in the Richmond in particular where you might walk across the street from a Russian neighborhood and find yourself in a Chinese neighborhood. So thumbs up to the location scouting there.

On the other hand, what sort of kills the local theme is a fight on a “San Francisco Transit” bus (I guess Muni is a trademark?) which takes an unexpectedly fast route from Noe Valley to the Stockton Tunnel to Ghirardelli Square. This would be unforgivable if it weren’t such a memorable and well choreographed fight sequence.

That’s the main problem with Shang-Chi: it’s pretty fun when it’s a Kung Fu movie, but by the end it’s yet another big, poorly done CGI battle where you can’t really tell what the stakes are, let alone what’s happening on the screen. I get the distinct feeling they ran over budget on this one and just had to throw an ending together quickly.

Best moment: All the hand-to-hand combat scenes are incredibly well done. Too bad there aren’t more of them.

Rating: 3/10

 

Last Night In Soho

Fashion design student Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie) moves from rural England to London to continue her education. She clearly doesn’t fit in with the big city crowd, and her supernatural visions are beginning to interfere in her new friendships.

Everything seems (relatively) normal until Ellie moves out of the dorms and into her own apartment. That’s when her visions really become troubling.

Suddenly, everything skips back to the 1960’s (or does it?) and Ellie meets a woman named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) who’s nearly her doppelganger, albeit a much more confident one. Sandie is somehow involved with a creepy man named Jack (Doctor Who’s Matt Smith.) These “time jumps” become increasingly blurred, terrifying, and chaotic.

Pretty much everything here works, especially the music and visuals — the psychedelic visuals against the streets of London look like something from a Hitchcock-meets-Argento thriller. Without spoiling anything the big reveals at the end were shocking and absolutely not what I expected.

Unlike most of today’s movies where the pacing lulls in the middle, Last Night In Soho is more of a slow burn. Personally I like that better, but I can also see how some people might check out after the first 30 minutes if they don’t feel invested right away.

I have to praise Matt Smith for this one. Despite being a friendly familiar face, he’s absolutely terrifying here. Really got under my skin.

Best moment: When Ellie breaks through to Sandie.

Rating: 8/10

 

The Matrix Resurrections

Of all the “legacy sequel” films (see also: Ghostbusters: Afterlife) not many interrogate what that legacy even means… except for this one. 

Our hero Thomas Anderson/Neo is back, and is now under the belief that his previous memories came from a video game series he created called “The Matrix Trilogy.” Suddenly their parent company is going to make a new Matrix game, with or without them. Hey, meta commentary on why this movie was made! And if that wasn’t enough, a returning character even threatens to make a spinoff.

The problem with this movie is basically everything else.

First, there are so many scenes from the original Matrix movie that it seems like a rehash. It’s arguably worse than Star Wars: The Force Awakens because at times it straight up splices footage from the first film in instead of coming up with an excuse to recreate those scenes.

Second, the original Matrix trilogy started exploring pitfalls with the concept of simulation theory but that all seems to have been swept aside here in favor of further exploring the side characters. It’s just not compelling storytelling when the core of the story is largely ignored.

My biggest issue though are some of the fight sequences. Even at its worst the original trilogy had absolutely immaculate fight sequences. In this movie they’re very hit or miss, with the massive miss of the train fight. That entire sequence looks like something from a straight-to-video movie staring Steven Seagal. Yes, it’s that bad.

The strangest thing about this movie is that it was released at all when it’s clearly a middle finger to the studio and intended to slam the door shut on the franchise. But oddly that’s the most satisfying thing about the movie — it’s completely confident in its lack of ambition in extending a story that’s already been done to death.

Best moment: “Are memories turned into fiction any less real? Is reality based in memory nothing but fiction?”

Rating: 4/10

NO cross-country skiing on BART

January 4, 2022
Unofficial BART rule

 

Last week I got on BART, turned around, and noticed an unfamiliar new rule: “NO cross-country skiing” according to a sticker on the door.

Now at first glance this seems pretty reasonable, but of course it’s one of those rules that should go without saying. For example nobody needs to be told that on BART they shouldn’t practice golfing, perform dentistry, or experiment with nuclear power. Common sense, right?

So then I turned around and noticed the same sticker with its original caption:

 

Official BART rule

 

Oh. Well that makes a little more sense.

Christmas decorations in and around downtown

December 24, 2021
Christmas at the SF Centre

 

With things slowly (maybe?) opening/reopening this Christmas, I went around downtown San Francisco and the surrounding area to check out the “big name” decorations. Mostly I was curious to see if this year seemed at all normal again.

Obviously normal is relative at this point; I’m well aware of the many downtown retail closures like H&M, Uniqlo, The Gap, etc. But I went in fully expecting those changes.

As usual the new half of the Westfield SF Centre mall has an upside-down Christmas tree shaped decoration hanging under the historic dome.

Sadly, the so-called “Restaurant Collection Under the Dome” on this level is now entirely vacant. Even before the pandemic this concept never seemed successful. The last high profile restaurant to pull out was Martin Yan’s M.Y. China.

 

Christmas at the SF Centre

 

Meanwhile at the 1980’s half of the mall with its twisty escalators, a set of bright white snowflakes dangle down from the top of the Nordstrom level.

Or maybe you don’t think it looks like snow? I grew up with this 1980’s mall aesthetic and that’s my interpretation, make of that what you will.

 

Christmas at Neiman Marcus

 

It wouldn’t be fair to discuss historic glass domes with Christmas decorations without a visit to Neiman Marcus. The hula hoop style tree shaped decor hangs over the cosmetics counter just inside the entrance.

This glass dome dates back to the City of Paris department store which once stood here. Much like the Westfield SF Center, the glass dome is the only element of the original building that remains today.

 

Christmas at Union Square

 

While the City of Paris used to sponsor downtown’s “official” Christmas tree, that burden has now fallen on Macy’s. In addition to the tree on Union Square, the temporary ice skating rink is back as well this year.

One part of Union Square is slowly being unwrapped as though it were a late and very overdue Christmas present: the new entrance to Union Square Station is now visible through the fencing. The latest timeline says this station will open next fall, but this entire subway was originally slated to open in *checks notes* the year 2008 so adjust your expectations accordingly.

 

Christmas at the Fairmont Hotel

 

I was too cheap to pay for a cable car ride so I hiked all the way up Nob Hill to see the decorations at the original Fairmont Hotel. The lobby was crowded with people taking photos of the tree and the gingerbread house overlay of the restaurant. It was tough to get any clear photos.

It’s never mentioned by name but the Fairmont Hotel appears prominently in Disney/Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. I have to wonder if that’s brought any additional visitors this year, or if I’m the only one who noticed.

 

Christmas at Hyatt Regency Embarcadero

 

On the opposite end of both downtown and the California St. cable car line is the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero.

This lobby has a Christmas tree — one lonely, small Christmas tree. But I think you’d need to chop down a small forest to fill even 10% of the massive atrium.

Honestly I think they’d be better off skipping the tree and filling this enormous indoor cavern with some lights or other effects. Otherwise the mismatch of scale between the tree and the atrium will always look out of balance.

In the end I think it’s safe to say that even if COVID-19 has disrupted another holiday season, at least it’s starting to look normal. I’m not sure that’s all we need right now, but realistically it’s the most we can hope for.

Dusk to Dark: San Francisco as the night falls

December 10, 2021
Downtown skyline at sunset

 

There’s something about the San Francisco skyline that feels like home whenever it comes into view. It’s tricky to pinpoint why. I’ve spent so much time working near all those big office towers yet the skyline from Dolores Park at sunset (pictured above) actually feels a little new to me. The first time I took a photo from that location was over a decade ago, and many of those towers didn’t exist back then. I guess you could say in the past 18 years I’ve grown up with all those new buildings.

It certainly can’t be the skyline alone that gives San Francisco its allure, but it can’t hurt.

 

Sunset at the Embarcadero waterfront

 

As the sun sets, Coit Tower (above) is lit from below. This changes its appearance from a gray building one’s eyes can easily skip over to a somewhat imposing presence on Telegraph Hill.

It almost looks like someone stuck a giant pin at the top of North Beach to guide people over. North Beach is always worth visiting at night, even if it’s just to check out City Lights Bookstore. You can never go wrong with a visit to City Lights… unless of course you visit the other City Lights — the one that sells lights.

 

Sunset at the Embarcadero waterfront

 

As daylight savings time ends and we go back to standard time, the edge lights on the four Embarcadero Center towers turn on a little too early.

Unfortunately one thing that doesn’t completely turn on are the ye olde fashioned lights at Pier 7. It wasn’t that long ago that these lights all worked. Hopefully they’ll get fixed before the masses start showing up for their wedding photos here once again.

Either way, the silhouette of the Transamerica Pyramid is prominent in the background. It hasn’t been the tallest building in San Francisco for a long time, but it’s still the tallest pyramid in North America. Suck it, Aztecs!

 

Ferry ride back from Alameda

 

The red neon “Port of San Francisco” sign on the Ferry Building feels like a homing beacon of sorts. I don’t ride the ferries often — let alone after dark — but there’s something about this vantage point that feels welcoming in a way arriving any other way can’t even compare.

Don’t get me wrong, most of the time when I return to San Francisco it’s on BART. Nothing against BART, but it’s pretty boring compared to arriving at the Ferry Building. The funny thing is that even though it’s an iconic view, it’s not one you tend to see in movies or on postcards. It’s almost like a secret hidden in plain sight.

There is now official BART merchandise, for some reason

November 28, 2021

 

Although BART ridership decreased significantly due to the pandemic, at some point in 2020 official BART merchandise became available.

Online store Rail Goods launched sometime last year with a wide selection of official BART merchandise as well as a somewhat smaller selection of official Capitol Corridor merch. 

Now don’t get me wrong. The BART “Brio-style” trains look fun enough, and some of the more stylized t-shirt designs wouldn’t look out of place at Oaklandish.

The problem is this: I wouldn’t want to wear a shirt, hat, etc. with a BART logo on it, because it would be a terrible idea to wear that while riding BART. Or even around a BART station. Why would I want anyone to mistake me for a BART employee?

This goes beyond the annoyance of people coming up to you and asking for directions. People will obviously assume you work for BART, and some of them will get indignant when you say you don’t. There’s an entire subreddit called I Don’t Work Here Lady where this type of interaction happens on a very regular basis.

If you think about it, wearing a BART shirt or hat on BART without being an employee would be a slightly worse social faux pas than accidentally wearing a blue polo shirt to Best Buy. It’s just asking for trouble.

Personally I think it’s fine for BART to offer merchandise, my only quibble is with the available selection. More toys and stylized t-shirts, ditch the official looking clothes and hats. It’s best for everyone.

USS Hornet Museum

November 14, 2021
USS Hornet Museum USS Hornet Museum USS Hornet Museum

 

On Friday I not only had the chance to visit the USS Hornet Museum in Alameda, but also to take the engineering tour which descends deep into the ship’s underbelly with one of the tour guides.

Oh and the best part? This was all for a work event so I was technically getting paid to be there.

What is it?

For those unfamiliar, the USS Hornet (CV-12) is a World War 2 era aircraft carrier that was mothballed in the 1970’s and was opened as a museum in 1998. In a lot of ways it’s similar to the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, another mothballed WWII aircraft carrier.

If you’ve been to the Midway, the Hornet is a little underwhelming — particularly the flight deck which currently only has two aircraft. That said it is worth climbing up to the flight deck for the great view of the San Francisco skyline and the Bay Bridge, weather permitting.

The main exhibits in the Hornet are largely based around various airplanes, helicopters, and NASA projects the ship was tasked with, from fighting Japan in WWII all the way up to picking up Neil Armstrong and his fellow astronauts.

What was the Hornet crew tasked with for the astronauts? They have that in their collection — the first moon astronauts were placed in quarantine in a modified Airstream trailer parked inside the Hornet. At the time there was a concern they might have picked up “moon germs” and started a pandemic. As ridiculous as moon germs may sound today, when it comes to pandemics I’m totally on board with a better safe than sorry approach.

 

USS Hornet Museum USS Hornet Museum USS Hornet Museum

 

The Engineering Tour

As a heads up all of the ship tours require an able body. I was a little apprehensive about some of the extremely steep stairs (they’re almost ladders) and low ceilings. The thing is the tour guides all served on either the Hornet or one of its sister ships and most are old enough to be my grandfather, and they’re all still nimble enough to go up and down the steep steps. So I had to figure if they can do it, so can I — even though I had to admit they’re faster at it than I am.

The engineering tour takes you down below water level to explore the ship’s massive steam engines. Some of the tour highlights include:

  • Daily life on the ship, from the mess hall to the Marines running security to the limited fresh water available.
  • The hydraulic mechanism that yanked the giant cables to “slingshot” airplanes off the flight deck.
  • The absolutely massive steam engines and the primary control interface deep in the belly of the ship.

Our guide was great, happy to answer questions and even extended the tour a little when asked about the section where he worked.

Getting there

The ferry is by far the easiest way to get to the USS Hornet Museum from San Francisco. SF Bay Ferry takes you from The Ferry Building to within a ten minute walk of the museum.

After exiting the ferry, turn right as soon as you hit the sidewalk and follow the signs. Not that you’ll need them, it’s pretty hard to miss a giant aircraft carrier.

There are plenty of dining and drinking options nearby. Although Alameda isn’t very pedestrian friendly it’s also almost entirely flat and the car traffic is light.

My recommendation: Anyone interested in US military history and NASA history will be interested in the main exhibits. You must be able to climb stairs to visit at all. Tours and the flight deck both require climbing extremely steep stairs.

Review: Nocturne X

November 2, 2021
Nocturne X Nocturne X Nocturne X

 

Okay so before I review this one, let me just say this isn’t worth checking out. This is bad, I’d even go so far to say it’s an embarrassment.

The story, such as there is one, starts out when you check in and they hand you a pamphlet. Strike one. A second barrage of text strikes as you enter the main stage. Strike two.

Strike three is uncovering the main story in the “hidden” backstage area where a series of letters are inexplicably glued to poorly lit walls. 

For better or worse San Francisco is forever linked to immersive storytelling but that doesn’t mean everything that comes along is interesting. This is nothing more than a homework assignment with tacky decor.

My recommendation: Hard pass.