2012 Year In Review

Here we are on the last day of 2012. A year that went by fast, and looking back, it was a mix of good and bad. Now is the time I am looking through my notes to see what happened in the year expiring soon. Here’s a summary of what fun things I did, what I liked and didn’t like, and the notable things that happened in my life in 2012:

Movies: I counted them all, in 2012 I watched 83 movies, that is an average of 1.6 movies per week. During the Independent Film Festival of Boston I would see up to three movies a day, but generally I go to the movies at least once a week. It turns out this year I saw plenty of classic and old movies at the Brattle, and finally did the wise thing and acquired a Brattle membership, which saves me some money. The movies I liked best this year were ‘The Kid With A Bike’, the Belgian movie by the Dardenne brothers; ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ a documentary about the Japanese sushi master Jiro Ono; Wes Anderson’s ‘Moonrise Kingdom’; the offbeat, different ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’; the heart breaking ‘Take This Waltz’; the tough and incredibly moving ‘Oslo, August 31st’; the touching ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’; and the fascinating documentary ‘The Imposter’. A quick note to mention ‘Lincoln’ for the superb acting by Daniel Day-Lewis, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘The Master’ for the visual beauty. I also liked a lot Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’. The movie that creeped me out the most, made me feel extremely uncomfortable and wish I had not seen was Pedro Almodóvar’s ‘The Skin I Live In”. Oh, and I am not seeing ‘Les Miserables’ because I absolutely hate musicals.

Music: I went to 18 live shows this year. Some shows stood out, like the Radiohead show, the Mogwai show, which finally happened after two prior cancellations, and the Saint Etienne show at the Paradise, where everyone was dancing happily away. I saw the most interesting lighting and staging at the Grizzly Bear show at the Orpheum. The worst show? The Jesus and Mary Chain, no contest. The Paradise still remains the best venue in the area to see live music. I just wish it was located somewhere in Camberville. I can’t say there was a band or album this year I adored, but I did listen to some music I liked a lot, like Tanlines, Alt-J, Beach House, Lower Dens and Beach Fossils. After seeing Frank Ocean and the Dirty Projectors making everyone’s best music of the year list, I tried to listened to them, but I find them unbearable. Frank Ocean’s music is plainly boring, and the Dirty Projectors singer sounds like your friend who keeps singing along to every song he hears, and he is always off-key.

UPDATE: I can’t believe I forgot to mention this but my favorite song this year was Japandroid’s ‘The House That Heaven Built’. Yeah.

 

Theater: Not too much theater in my life this year. I mostly went to plays my friend TMB was in, like ‘Measure For Measure’, ‘Waiting For Lefty’ and ‘Anne of the Green Gables’. I also saw an interesting production of ‘Uncle Vanya’ at the Apollinaire Theatre in Chelsea, and David Adjmi’s ‘Marie Antoinette’ at the ART, a play I found was trying too hard to be witty.

Art: I visited the ICA and the MFA a couple of times each. I liked the exhibition Degas and the Nude the best, because I really, really like drawings. Really. Also at the ICA I saw Sam Green’s live documentary ‘The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller’ with live music by Yo La Tengo. And I love Yo La Tengo.

Food, Drink: I liked Casa B in Union Square in Somerville, a space with unique and pretty cool interior design and delicious tapas. I finally made it to Santarpio’s where I discovered the best pizza in town. I also liked Strip T’s in Watertown, West Bridge, and Belly Wine Bar in Kendall Square. I was impressed by the food at the Garden at the Cellar, which might be Cambridge’s best kept secret. The food is amazing, how come I didn’t know? I also paid many visits to iYo the new frozen yogurt place in Davis Square. The square will soon be fro-yo central, as a second fro-yo place opened, and there are plans for a third. I had some very good cocktails at Stoddard’s downtown, and at Brick & Mortar in Central Square.

Travel: Nothing extraordinary travel-wise. I spent three lovely days in Provincetown, I love this happy and laid back place, and the amazing beaches. Speaking of beaches, I discovered Duxbury beach this year (the best beach area is south of the bridge), pretty much one of the best beaches around Boston (sorry, North Shore beaches, no comparison, really). I went to Greece for a couple of weeks to see family and friends, eat well and swim in the Mediterranean, and that’s always pretty neat and relaxing. I also visited my brother and his family in Germany. I finally got to meet my nephew, who is a very cute baby, and got to see my niece again, who is a very cute toddler.

Exercise: In the beginning of 2012 I found myself ten pounds overweight, and ten pounds is a lot for a person of my size. I had a hard time shedding off the extra pounds just by eating less. So, I started eating less and exercising more,  the magic combination that always works. After hating running for as long as I remember, this year I followed a 5k training program, and after eight weeks I was pleasantly surprised to see I could comfortably run 3 miles. I participated in my first 5k race in December, and completed the race in 28 minutes. I also started taking tennis classes, and I loved it. I can’t wait to start new classes again. I biked a lot, as usual, and I took a bicycle repair class at the Broadway Bicycle School.

A couple of other notable things from 2012: I refinanced my mortgage and once again discovered how inept the people who work in this business are. After twelve years of living here I finally decided to apply for citizenship, and became citizen on September 11. I voted for the first time, and was happy with the results. I got to meet Elizabeth Warren, the new senator from Massachusetts, so now I have met both Senators from MA in person. Oh, and being a citizen means I can now run for office, but don’t worry, I don’t plan to.

In 2012 I experienced some disappointments, but no reason to talk about that now. I do not have any major new year’s resolutions, but I will definitely try to do certain things different: I will try to visit places I haven’t been to before. I would love to have someone willing and able to travel with me, but I am also willing to travel by myself. I will try to read more, and after many years I have cancelled my New Yorker subscription in order to free up time to read the untouched books in my bookcase. I will try to get back to creative things I used to like, like drawing.

Above all, in 2013 I will do my best to find time for all the small and big things that make happy. Happy New Year.

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Bye bye Instagram

Instagram published their new terms of use yesterday going in effect on January 16, 2013, wherein they pretty much stated they can use the content you post on Instagram however they please, including selling it to advertisers. But don’t worry user, you still own the content. Brilliant, isn’t it?

Instagram started as a fun way to post-process photos with standard filters and share photos. I followed a bunch of people, and had fun looking through their photos, “liking” photos I, well, liked, or rolling my eyes when it was yet another photo of someone’s boring & bored cat, doing nothing exceptional or cute. (Cue the internet’s collective gasp in horror.)

But there came a point when things changed. Facebook bought Instagram for a cool billion dollars, but you knew the fun would end once facebook was involved. Starting last week Instagram photos were not being displayed on twitter streams, requiring clicking on the Instagram link to see the photo. And now the updated terms of use, which copy those of facebook, will make me stop using the service.

Yes, sure it is a free service, and they can have whatever terms of use they want. It is up to me, the user, to decide whether I accept them or not. And, sure owner facebook has to make money somehow. It is just that the way they are trying to make money is rubbing users the wrong way. It is a sneaky, indirect way. I suppose it would be OK if they just showed ads on my stream like FB does, but deciding they can sell my images because I am using their service is pretty disagreeable. Under the new terms of use, I am not using Instagram anymore. That simple.

I am now back to using flickr only. I’ve been using flickr much longer than I’ve been using Instagram, and I always posted my instagram photos on flickr too. flickr has certainly a different feel from Instagram. On flickr I am not that much into “faving” photos, or having too many contacts.  When I first started using flickr I didn’t use it as a social media tool, but rather as a central storing place. I see it more as a place to have all my photos I want to share with other people. I choose to pay for a pro flickr account. I pay $25 a year, I have unlimited photo and video uploads, unlimited number of photos in photostream, no ads. Plus the flickr app was recently updated with post-processing tools such as filters and basic edits, and there is an obvious turn to make it more of a social media and sharing site.

As I set my Instagram account to private and will never use again, I remember another service I liked a lot, but is not anymore, upcoming.org. That was a pretty cool free site where users were posting upcoming events and shows, and you could check what you were attending, as well as see what other users were attending. But then it was sold to yahoo!, and it got ugly and full of ads, and I don’t think anyone is using it anymore. On to the next thing.

Cursed to be a weirdo magnet

Eight out of ten times when I take the bus by myself, something weird will happen. Most likely a chatty strange person will start talking to me. I am not really a big fan of strangers (normal or not-so-normal) talking to me, which  ironically enough enforces the magnetic field of my being a weirdo magnet.

The other day I get out of my building to catch the bus, which is three minutes away according to NextBus. There is another person at the stop, and ten seconds later he asks “Excuse me, do the buses run on a 20-minute schedule?” “I don’t know about their schedule,” I reply “but the next bus is coming in a couple of minutes.” That was easy, I think to myself. Oh, boy, am I wrong. “Oh, thank you, you look like you know what is going on, people these days have their smartphones and they can tell when the bus is coming, I bet you have a smartphone too,” he says. “Yes, I do,” I reply and turn my head to the other direction from where he is standing. “I don’t take this bus often, I just got here from the other bus stop, I waited for 15 minutes,” he says. Who the hell asked you what you did, I think, yet the only response I manage is “Oh.” One would think a one-word response would get across the message that the other person does not wish to engage in conversation, but this guys is impervious to the message.

I don’t exactly remember what was the next thing he says, but somehow within a couple of minutes he has told me that his nephew who was in jail for years and was a heroin addict is now married to an attorney, that his father is 84 years old, he has three sisters and three brothers, one of his sisters lives in Arlington across the street from this restaurant, as in directly across the street, when you get out of the restaurant and look across the street his sister’s house door is the first thing you see (the guy was pretty talented in making boring things sounding even more boring). At this point I wonder what happened to those bloody three minutes the bus was supposed to come in, did they magically turn into three hours? Because this is how it feels like.

I start noticing what he looks like: mid to late forties, dark brown hair, skinny, around five-ten, wearing a turtleneck and a clip with his keys like a pendant, hung from his turtleneck. Dude, that’s not where the clip goes, but whatever makes you happy, I thought. He keeps talking non-stop: his mother died from cancer fifteen years ago, she was in and out of hospitals and chemotherapy for a long time, but he knows she’s happy now because she’s in heaven with the angels. At this point I am kind of jealous of the mother, because she doesn’t have to listen to this guy.  The angels reference triggers the next theme of his unending monologue: religion. “I believe in God you see, I read the bible, I have a study bible and a King James bible, and the study bible has an index, you can look up a word and it tells you what page it is on. The bible is a very useful book, and I read it when I don’t know how to handle situations, because when I get angry I am scared of what I might do, ’cause I might kick someone hard and my legs are very strong.” What. The. Fuck. I take a couple of steps back, and I’m glad there is another person at the stop. It is not that I feel threatened he might kick me, he doesn’t look angry or anything, but now I feel uneasy on top of annoyed.

Thankfully (relatively) he goes back to talking about the bible and he tells me he’s a Catholic, while adding, “I bet you are a Catholic too.” Funny, you just lost the bet. He then proceeds to get even more annoying: “Oh, man, and all this gay marriage bullshit, it’s in the bible, it’s a sin, I cannot stand those queers, just get out of my face you queers. ” I bet the queers would like you to get out of their faces, buddy. What a bigoted piece of shit. Up to this point I restricted myself to politely smiling and nodding, but this last point wipes the smile off my face. Suddenly I feel like I am acting in a farce, and I get the urge to start laughing in his face, but I stop short when I remember his anger reference. So, I turn serious, I put much effort so that my face looks as serious at it can. The dude notices that and stops yapping. “Do you know what the most dangerous sin of all is?” I ask. “Do you?” I add for effect. I have the guy’s attention, he blinks and nods. “GREED, greed is the greatest sin of all,” I tell him, dead serious.

He tries to process this for a couple of seconds, and it gets him going about the sins listed in the bible, and I just want to scream shut the fuck up, enough already, and the bus finally appears, and I am pretty sure these have been the longest three minutes of my life. I get on the bus and he’s right behind me. He asks the driver “Do I know you?”, while the bus driver gives him a wtf look. The bus is jammed, he yells for the people to move to the back of the bus to make some room for the people getting on. I need to escape, I just need an available single seat, but every seat seems occupied. Then I spot a third of a seat, it is a middle seat between two gigantic people wearing gigantic puffy jackets. Fuck that, I think to myself, and I jam myself in that one-third of a seat between these two huge guys, but at least I am away from the weirdo, who walks back towards the front of the bus to annoy some other unlucky person, I’m sure. I start feeling that the huge guys are crushing my bones, but I have escaped the weirdo, I have escaped!

Movie Review: Killing Them Softly

Another useless, redundant, half-baked, pretentious movie filled with clichés. Do you want to know more? Alright then.

I went to see this movie, because the time slot was convenient, and because judging from the previews it looked like a good old Tarantino-like film. Well, it wasn’t. It was an exercise in the absolute pedestrian.

What is the movie supposed to be about? From the movie’s website: “Three dumb guys who think they’re smart rob a Mob protected card game, causing the local criminal economy to collapse. Brad Pitt plays the enforcer hired to track them down and restore order.” (By the way, the Brad Pitt sentence was highlighted, so you know you have got to see the film ’cause Brad Pitt is in it!) You get the idea what kind of film it is. Throughout the movie it is not clear where the movie is taking place, the accents are a mix of Boston and New Jersey. They talk about “Somerville” at some point and how hard it is to get there without a car, which probably means nothing and could be in any state. The film is based on a book which is set in the Boston area, but the movie was not filmed in Boston, and no Boston landmarks are seen. In the movie’s website it says it is set in New Orleans. Go figure. There is also era confusion. Although it is set in 2008 (all TV sets show Obama-McCain election coverage), the characters drive 70s cars and are dressed like it’s the 70s. Do you get it? Look at their cars, look at their clothes, look at their hairstyles, look at their sunglasses and their golden jewelry, these are mobsters, for real!

We are expecting some gore and violence from a movie like this. And it was gory, but not too gory, it was violent, but not too violent. You would expect twists and turns in the plot, but actually you could see everything coming up from a mile away. One would think that the character and mood of the film would make it a good candidate for cool shots, but the cinematography is just bland. And towards the end of the movie the color is washed out, nothing from the sharpness and color contrast of the earlier scenes remains. Its trailer seems to be the best done “part” of the movie, tightly edited, beautifully shot.

The movie never hits the right rhythm. I can hardly remember a scene supposedly involving two characters that  actually showed two characters: it seemed like they filmed each actor separately doing their lines, and then edited them to look like there were talking to each other. Sure, they do that all the time, but the editing needs to be seamless, not so exasperatedly obvious. Plus, whenever there was a character with the majority of dialogue, the other character was limited to one word responses. Which is why the film felt like it was an exercise in cutting and paste pieces together with no continuity, no flow.

As mentioned, the editing was choppy. Oh, and did I mention continuity? As in continuity errors? Early on one dude eating ice cream goes to meet another dude. Only once do we see them together in one shot, the other scenes involve one character at a time, although these two characters are supposedly meeting each other. In one scene we see him with half of his ice cream left. Next scene is the other dude speaking one line, next scene back to the other dude, and the freaking ice cream is gone! I mean, why having the dude eating an ice cream in the first place, if you cannot incorporate the ice cream in the scene sequence in a way that makes sense? And then comes the drinks scene with Gandolfini and Pitt, where the former has drunk the two beers on the table, bitches about the weakness of the martini he got, orders another martini, the waiter delivers the new martini, and in the next scene Gandolfini is drinking a… beer. Where did that beer come from? Why isn’t he drinking the martini he bitched about?

The dialogue is also problematic, it feels disrupted. Whenever there is supposed to be a dialogue between actors, it usually is just a monologue. Like the scene between Pitt and Gandolfini in the hotel room, which is painful to watch. Gandolfini’s character going on and on about how much he likes ass, Pitt does not respond much, and then Gandolfini is gone from the movie without doing anything.  Was there any point in this “plot” feature? If there was, I totally missed it.

This movie is trying hard to be smart. We have the underlying election coverage going on, by way of every TV in a bar showing that, with endless talk about the economy, and, wow, did you catch that, the hit men are being affected by the bad economy too! Oh, please. Also, Obama talking about one country and unity, and here comes the punch line, just another way to say to the audience “oh, you didn’t get all those subtle messages we showed throughout the movie, so let’s make it clear now.” So, here it is from the mouth of Pitt’s character: “America’s not a country, it’s a business. Now fucking pay me.” Thanks for the over-the-top clarification, but we got it. Repeatedly.

The selling point of the movie is obviously Brad Pitt, the star who so many will go see regardless what movie he’s in. But he’s also one of the producers, and has the Weinstein machine backing him up. One would expect a much better product, but it is just not there.

Just another movie added to the pile of mediocrity. Do you remember the last time you saw a good movie? I am struggling to.

My first 5k race

Last Sunday December 2, 2012 I ran the Yulefest 2012, my first 5k race. It was fun, the weather was not too bad, and I managed to finish it at 28:36, my best 5k time so far. As someone who only started running in April, it felt pretty good to be able to run it comfortably. My overall ranking was 787th out of 1,363 runners. The race course was around Harvard Square, and was mainly flat, apart from an uphill section a little before the finish.

There was a cool after-race party on Bratlle Street with music, snacks, and free-flowing beer. And good beer, mind you, from Pretty Things, Notch and Slumbrew. So much beer on a virtually empty stomach made me very happy for the rest of the day.

The thing is, it is a nice surprise to see my body liking this new running thing. Every time I go running I feel strong and powerful afterwards. I might be a little obsessed with it too, as I now plan to concentrate on improving my running form and my running time. And the plan is to run many more 5k races. On one condition: there has to be (good) beer at the after party.

Just ran my first 5k race! #c5kyule @cambridge5k by Acidgalore

Just ran my first 5k race! #c5kyule @cambridge5k, a photo by Acidgalore on Flickr.