Friday, February 26, 2016

Thoughts on The Oscars 2016 : Charlieism's Oscar Predictions

With an exception of “Room” and “Brooklyn”, all nominated movies this year are either big-budgeted blockbusters or star-studded spectacles with themes, tried & true. We have the Hollywood epics such as the futuristic “Mad Max; Fury Road” and the Cold War spy drama, “Bridges of Spies”. The quintessentially American, “The Big Short” and “The Spotlight”. Of course, the tales of survival under extreme circumstances;  “Revenant” and “The Martian”

Wait! Something is missing. What is it? A Black movie. Yes, a movie about Black people. Because it has become a norm, a tradition in the last ten years to nominate, if not award, at least one movie about Black people in America. Movies like “Precious”, “The Help”, “Beast of the Southern Wild”, “12 Years a Slave” and “Selma” have made the prestigious list of being one of the best.

What happened this year then?  When the nominations were announced in January, there was an outcry over the lack of diversity in the main categories. Some said, “This is by far the Whitest Oscars in recent memory”. Some claimed, “It’s racist to not nominate Black actors”. Some simply called for the boycott.  In the United States, I believe, when people say ‘diversity’, it immediately almost always means ‘Black people’. “Diversity” stands for many different types of people and things – I don’t see Asians and Arabs in the nominations too. What about the Latinos apart from the Mexican who made “Revenant”? At least many Black people have been nominated and won the Oscars in the past. Sidney Poitier won Best Actor in 1964, so did Halle Berry in 2002. Denzel Washington has two Oscars. Jamie Foxx, Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding Jr., Octavia Spencer…the list goes on

By the look of it, it is indeed Caucasian-heavy in the main categories. However, I don’t think it has anything to do with the race issue. It just might be the year where no particular movie with black people is particularly Oscar-worthy. That is all.

Amongst the movies vying for for Best Picture, I thoroughly enjoyed “Mad Max: Fury Road”. Usually not my kind of movie yet it won me with its quirky storyline and bad-ass cast. The CGI-driven flick may find better luck in the technical Oscar categories. The Wall Street and The Newsroom type of movies are also not my kind and not everyone’s cup of tea. Considering their niche audience, I doubt that either “The Spotlight” or “The Big Short” has the power to draw the unanimous vote to win the gold. If it were up to me, I choose “Brooklyn” as this year’s best. It’s got a touch of history, romance and wardrobe from the past, in between carefully paced laughs and sobs. This tale of an Irish Immigrant, set in New York in the 50’s, may be a tad too melancholy at first glance but it’s bouncy script and snappy performances, including that of Saoirse Ronan in the leading role, make it a well-deserved Best Picture nominee. 

That being said, this might just be the year where back-to-back wins for Best Picture as well as Best Director are a possibility. Last year’s triple winner, Alejandro Iñárritu is back with a bang, louder than ever, with the much-bellyhooed “Revenant”. Movie goers are treated to a journey into the wild beyond their wildest imaginations, a jouney that they will not likely repeat (I was emotionally drained once the film was over) but a journey that will be remembered. “Revenant” is one of those Hollywood epics that will go down in history, like “Ben Hur”, “Titanic” or “Avator” for its revolutionary movie making. Iñárritu’s ambition and execution should be rewarded.

Let’s look at the actor race next. A well-respected actor in his prime, on his sixth nomination, Di Caprio will finally win his Oscar this year, not because it’s his career best but it’s long overdue. Call it a mini premature lifetime achievement even. In “Revenant”, he’s cold, he’s angry, he’s scared and he wants revenge but the role doesn’t provide enough material or moments to exercise his acting muscles. Let’s get real. We have seen him act better. On the other hand, Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of a historic transgender woman in “The Danish Girl” further proves that last year’s Best Actor winner, is remarkably versatile, capable of undertaking challenging roles. If Redmayne in “The Danish Girl” were a vocal performance, it would be that of Mariah Carey- complex, emotive and certainly robust. But him winning over Leo would have been too big of an Oscar upset. Plus, Redmayne won’t be Tom Hanks enough to pull a back to back. 

Brie Larson in "Room"
In the actress category, we have Charlotte Rampling and her very little known movie “45 Years”. Honestly, she doesn’t stand a chance. Who are we fooling here? Cate Blanchett, in her showboat-acting best, is more theatrical than cinematic in “Carol” – not her best but always a thrill. Next, Saoirse Ronan, her second nomination for “Brooklyn” but this time in leading category, is one of the most promising young actresses of today. She’s got the look, the charm and the chops. Hence, she can wait. She will certainly be here again in the very near future. Voters will pass her over without mercy. Now, Jennifer Lawrence, overly awarded maybe, is captivating, bringing the usual A game as Joy Mangno, a real-life American dream, in David O’Russell’s overlooked gem, “Joy”. Lawrence wins Best Actress in my book. But comes this Sunday, the front-runner and breakout star, Brie Larson will go home with a gold for her gritty turn in “Room”. Larson is this year’s Hilary Swank. She’s just added a BAFTA to her ever-expanding awards cupboard. The Oscar is inevitable. For me, her performance is raw but a bit short. Her co-star, an 8-year old, Jacob Tremblay should have been nominated for the Best Supporting Actor.

Vikander and Redmayne in "The Danish Girl"
Supporting categories are also known as a-star-is-born category and now-or-never category. Let me explain. It’s a lot less rigid in the supporting categories. Many surprise wins have been pulled over the years. In some years, it doesn’t even matter who the most deserving nominee really is. Who is the breakout star that Hollywood wants to see more of? Now that’s important. For example, Lupita Nyong’o won this award two years ago (Over Jennifer Lawrence in “American Hustle”, a role that showcases more depth and range in terms of acting) – there you go. A-star-is-born moment for Lupita. Not to discredit her but c’mon! Meryl Streep, Jennifer Hudson, Anne Hathaway, Anna Paquin, Penelope Cruz , Marisa Tomei, to name a few, also won this award in their youth and became bigger stars later on. 

So this year’s IT girl is Alicia Vikander. Although she plays the lead role, and what a weighty role that is, alongside Redmayne in “The Danish Girl”, the studio put her in the supporting category, possibly for a better chance of winning. Her only competition comes from Kate Winslet in “Steve Jobs”. Always incredible Winslet has just picked up the BAFTA but have no fear, Alicia, it’s the Brits doing the Brit thing to a Brit, Americans will adore you here. The Oscar is yours.

So… what is now-or-never? Remember, Alan Arkin won Best Supporting Actor for “Little Miss Sunshine” over a heavy favorite that year, Eddie Murphy for “Dreamgirls”, Murphy’s career best acting work? Arkin is a brilliant actor with solid body of work throughout his long career. And he was controversially awarded that year. It was his time to win or never. Who have we got this year for Best Supporting Actor? Academy voters and fans alike, including me would love to see Mark Ruffalo win for his astonishing work in  “Spotlight” but the award is reserved for Sylvester Stallone in “Creed”. And Stallone’s performance in the latest Rocky franchise is sparkly enough to match the Oscar gold. Everyone loves a comeback, a happily ever after, a beloved aging star getting his due, that standing-ovation moment that lasts forever. It’s Hollywood after all.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Unfriended: Thoughts on Facebook Friendship

This morning at breakfast, I thought of a friend for some reason. I hadn’t heard from him for quite sometime (well, ‘heard’ as in ‘Facebook interaction” such as LIKE, COMMENT or STATUS UPDATE.”) So I looked him up and learned that we were no longer connected. Boom! I was actually shocked that he unfriended me while he’s still friends with Michael, Jenna, Pauline and even Lisa. Yes, that bitchy Lisa that he never even liked.

Ouch! And why, I began to wonder. Of all people that could potentially unfriend me. Him?? I didn’t see that coming. Nope. I have been dropped from people’s Facebook before and I have done the same a number of times. Usually annoying acquaintances or people I met once but I won’t ever meet again. Now this is someone I have known for over a decade. We were not the best of friends but we got on really well. We partied together for years, had lots of mutual friends, he stayed at my house and I stayed at his during my visit a few years ago. We are both into photography and would compliment each other’s work with the generous clicking of LIKE button, you know, lots of fun and fond memories.

I immediately thought, one of my FB posts must have offended him, which is feasible. These days, ya know. Don’t people get mad on social media all the time and start fighting viciously in the comment section all? Let me explain though. My Facebook posts usually are upbeat, humorous and pop-culture-oriented but every now and then, I’d get real and share my honest innermost thoughts, lightly laced with rant, sarcasm and wrath… perhaps. I’m only human. I’m no angel but far from being an evil. Like many, I can be cynical and sensitive but mostly I keep it light and fun on Facebook.  And I’m proud that I’m able to laugh at my silly-self and poke fun of my ridiculous lifestyle that I often share with friends and followers on social media. And I have always believed that those who know me get me well. I thought he was one of those.  

I have had run-ins in the past with some Facebook friends who are, in reality, Facebook police in disguise looking for political correctness (or their version of truth.) You know the type of people I’m talking about, right? They are not afraid to call out people publicly if and when offenses come. They feel entitled to fix the world and most importantly fix you and all things that are wrong with you via Facebook. Personally I would never feel comfortable to “openly” criticize/shame/persecute people, let alone my friends, on social media, for what, a wonky status update, over a Youtube link? It’s not my place. Hey, different folks, different strokes. I may disagree or express my alternative view in the most civilized way possible for we are all grown-ups. But that’s it.

I have had my fair share of direct confrontations by this type of Facebookers for my reckless random ramblings; be it a joke deemed tasteless or a comment that hit too close to home…well, allegedly and according to them. I’m thinking of that one time I upset a friend with a joke about ‘beating my maid’ (which obviously wasn’t the truth! I’d not hurt a fly… unless of course it’s buzzing me around in circles) or when I went to the bullfight in Madrid and one of my girlfriends who had never even been to Spain freaked out. She lectured me on animal cruelty at length accusing me of feeding the industry with my tourist money (in reality, 95% attendance comes from the locals and the rest, curious tourists like me but never mind) I also once lost a friend who is Iraqi Muslim when I expressed my opinion about the Rohingya situation back home in my country. He wrote me a scathing personal message calling me names and concluding that he no longer wanted to be my friend. Yes, one opinion could cost earned friendship of many years. Believe it or not! Some are classy. They may throw in a subtle shade showing their displeasure in the comment box every now and then and are able to move on. Or some just simply ignore and instead give the silent treatment, also known as the unfollow button). That’s okay. That’s the way to do it. I do the same.

Anyway, so…I dug up my memory desperately seeking what might have possibly offended him, yes, to the man that got away, in the last few months.  If you take away my frequent travel photography, which, let’s be real now, everyone adores, my well-known admiration of Mariah Carey and my expert predictions for Miss Universe (both sort of niche but my friends & followers bear with these posts and I’m thankful) and in between animal videos and shared food recipes, I don’t even have time to be controversial or offensive enough…you know,to lose an old friend. 

Wait, maybe… just maybe, I might have lost him during that time when Paris was attacked, the whole world mourned and Facebook was overwhelmed with tributes to Paris. We, the Paris grievers, were subsequently prayer-shamed by certain few who started this Why-not-also-pray-for-Beirut campaign. Oh yes, I updated my status and gave them a piece of my mind. In my usual benevolent, non-violent, charming manner of course. (Meow!)

Well, it could have been that but the truth is... I don’t and will never know what made this friend unfriend me. I will probably never get the closure. Unless of course I fly on the airplane, go to his house, ask him point black “Why the fuck did you unfriend me from Facebook?” But is it worth it? Probably not. Or say we meet again at some party at some point and have a group selfie and I go, "Wait, I can't tag you because you unfriended me. And now explain!" Nah...I’ll just shake it off and let it slide.

So... Are we being judged based on our Facebook posts? And is it fair? Do our Facebook profiles define who we really are? How honest and accurate are we with what we put out for the world to see? Isn’t Facebook really our poker face? How well do our friends know us via Facebook? And finally, Is it all worth it to drop a good friend over a post that you happen to disagree?

Does this incident bother me? Yes, I admit that it does to an extent. If this happened in real life and not on social media, say, the assumed disagreement took place at a dinner table, we would talk it out, likely get mad but our friendship would have been still intact. We at least would have a chance to explain ourselves. Now all I have are whys and what ifs.

In our lifetime, we all experience the twists and turns of life. People come and go. Some stay, some drop out and some may reappear. Misunderstanding, disagreement, unfortunate circumstances, jealousy and other humanly emotions can also cause friendship to wither. I have a handful of really close friends and 600 something Facebook friends. The number of the latter fluctuates, evidently, and it really should not matter. The more I talk to folks who are older, wiser and more experienced; aka "those who have no fucks left to give for they have seen it all", the clearer it is, because they tell me, that such matters are nothing but a part of life.We may not get all the answers that we are searching for. But life goes on. At some point in life, you start caring less about what others think of you, they say. I can't wait to get there. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Writer's Block

I have writer’s block. In fact I’ve had it for quite sometime. Almost a year if not more. Wikipedia, one of my go-to sites, defines it as a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work or experiences a creative slowdown. The condition ranges in difficulty from coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years. Throughout history, writer's block has been a documented problem.

The Wiki page also mentions that even the prominent writers, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Joseph Mitchell had writer’s block at some point in their career. 

Well, unlike the aforementioned literary greats, writing is not my career. It’s rather a hobby, not even a job. (although I have been paid for my writing works I can’t quite call myself a professional just yet)

I started this blog to practice writing. I love the creative process. Crafting an attractive sentence takes a certain amount of work and concentration. It’s fun coming up with my own metaphors, compound adjectives and phrasal verbs that make sounds or rhyming pattern. I enjoy working on the pace and flow of the piece till they are smooth and fluid while making sure that the reader catches a glimpse of my personality as well. Most of all, I like being able to reflect on my feelings and share my experiences through the art of writing.

In the first year, I made 58 posts but the number of blog posts have dwindled in the years that followed. Lately it seems my inspiration has run dry and I find myself writing nothing at all.

When I do try to write or force myself to do so, I usually don’t like the result and often I give up midway. I can no longer finish a piece at one sitting. I’d postpone and procrastinate. (It took five weeks to finish my last travel piece. It was less than 2000 words and I disliked it greatly) Currently, I have at least four or five travel articles unfinished. Wait, I lied. “Unfinished” means there’s a possibility that I would continue at some point and eventually complete it. Nope, not interested! I might as well file them under the chuck-it pile.

In order to write, I need to have something to say. And I should have a lot to say, considering that I am an avid traveler, I meet interesting people and have exciting experiences. But it seems I have lost my voice. Part of the reason, I believe is that I may have begun to take myself a little too seriously. Reading back some of my early posts, although I was experimenting with different styles and was writing about anything that gave me a jolt really, I can’t say I am proud of them. As I see more of my works published in magazines and on websites, I feel a sense of responsibility. But really, whom do I owe this to? And what am I responsible for? I am not quite sure. Could it be that I want to focus more on quality than quantity? Clearly I have become my own harsh critic.  But I do know that I want to be honest and I should be writing what I would read. 

Concentration is my other struggle. My mind travels. The planets and beyond. With a speed faster than light. I can’t quite stay long on one thing. What’s next is what I’m after, it seems. Even when I do research online for, let’s say, a travel article that I’m writing, instead of reading the web page till completion, I would click on hyperlinks I find in the text that interest me. I just keep on clicking and clicking that, in the end, I’d end up with 25 ongoing tabs on my Google Chrome. And I haven’t read any of them thoroughly either. Going back and forth in between these tabs, I’m reminded how shambolic I have been. That’s when I stop writing altogether. 

In addition to the windows and tabs I have opened, notifications from Facebook would distract me to no end. And I let it. I’m the one to blame. If it’s not from my Mac, it’s the ping from my phone coaxing me to spend more time on Facebook. To see what? Yet another cat video that a friend posted? A funny comment that I feel obliged to type “LOL” to? If it’s not the social media, it is Whatsapp or one of those apps that gets me tangled up in the World Wide Web, assuring an absolute unproductivity.  

Ideas come to me. They do when I’m least expecting them. The desire to write too stops by every now and then. I’d read an article that makes me go, “I could have written that” while sitting on the toilet bowl. Or in the morning when I wake up, still trying to gather up myself, or during a sleepless night, tossing and turning in bed. Or in gym when I’m working out in between sets. However, when I do sit at my desk and open up my Word document, the first thing that arrives - “wait, do I need more coffee?” Or if it’s at night, I’d have to go and pour some more wine. But the ideas have long fled by the time I’m back with a mug. An empty page is all I have left. 

Writing about not being able to write is whacky. Almost an oxymoron. But it’s certainly therapeutic. And I’m close to 1000 words. I’d feel so much better by the time I publish this on my blog. Yes, I still climb up and down between paragraphs. I have scratched some ideas and deleted a few paragraphs even for this piece. Still being a perfectionist but that’s ok, I guess. At least I’m writing.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Summerly things to do in Cape Town

Get outta town!

Wait, what? The must-do list in Cape Town begins with a tip to go out of town? Well, yes, the go-to attractions of this naturally blessed city are scattered, but luckily not so far from one another. From its sensational coastline, enchanting wineries, cute colonial towns to panoramic lookouts, take advantage of fine weather and cruise down the Cape peninsular.

Starting with the obvious tourist temptations, The Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, the two over-the-top rocky capes, both are part of “Table Mountain National Park”. Contrary to the popular belief, neither one is actually the southernmost point of Africa, where the cold Atlantic Ocean and the warm Indian Ocean collide. In fact, the two oceans’ meeting point fluctuates along the southern and southwestern Cape coast, usually occurring between Cape point and Cape Agulhas, which is about 150 km from the Cape of Good Hope. 


Put on your comfy sneakers, wear your sunscreen and carry no more than a bottle of water and your camera, as there is a lot of climbing and hiking involved. You may want a jumper too if you are going to catch sunset there as the winds are strong. Andkeep your eyes peeled for the cape citizens, especially those awkward ostriches. (I saw one that sashayed down towards the beach without a care in the world)

On the way to the capes, have a stopover at Chapman’s peak. A dramatic mountain on the western side of the peninsula and only 15 km away from Cape Town, is known not just for its breathtaking viewpoint that overlooks the magnificent Hout Bay, also for the unique road, hacked out of the face of the mountain in the 1920s, a major engineering triumph back then. The surreal backdrop of nature attracts bikers, hikers and runners to enjoy their sport activities here.

Simon’s Town is an ideal pause for lunch. Enjoy fish and chips at Bertha’s, a waterfront restaurant with spectacular views of False Bay, yacht club and the South African Naval Base. Stroll around the historical center after an espresso or two to catch a glimpse of all things nostalgic. Head towards Boulders beach for calm shallow water and white sandy beaches to further digest your lunch. If you are lucky, you might get acquainted with the famous locals, the colony of African Penguins

A glass or two ... or ten!
South African wines are some of the best in the world and Cape Town has more than a handful of wineries to visit once you are done pursuing panoramas. Consider a day of driving around wine towns to keep you busy and boozy, well, as long as you are not the one driving. 

Franschhoek is considered one of the most beautiful wine valleys in the world, with award-winning restaurants, galleries, auberges, boutiques and of course vineyards founded by the Huguenots from France, hence the names of the farms, streets and shops bear their original French names to this day. Stellenbosch, on the other hand is a much larger commune, also a student town, as the Stellenbosch University is one of the leading ones in the country. Typical Dutch style houses, world-class wine estates such as Stellenbosch Hills and Bottelary Hills, trendy caf
és, eye-catching craft shops and countless numbers of oak trees and green spaces in the town make Stellenbosch a must-visit spot in Cape Town.

I had a lovely meal by accident at Laborie wine estate in Paarl, the third oldest town and European settlement in South Africa. After driving around the wine region, I realized it was way past lunchtime. Simply ignoring the winery recommendations from friends and instead following the order of my growling tummy, I dropped in at Laborie, the nearest and the most convenient choice. Their elegant terrace restaurant offers both South African and international cuisines with impeccable service. Plus I fell in love with their interesting blend of Chardonnay/Pinot Noir, which was aromatic, rich and refreshing that I bought 5 bottles to take home.

On the waterfront

Even if you are not into retail therapy and maddening crowds annoy you, you must at least save a day to experience the V&A Waterfront. It reminded me of the harbor scene in Sydney, Australia. But this is way much wilder! The chaos, madness, street performers, merchandises, bargains and activities, this is a total tourist turf. 


It is also perfect for inexpensive seafood restaurants (Check out “Balducci’s” and “Ocean Basket”, two of my personal favorites), people watching, souvenir picking and shopping both local crafts and international brands. Not to mention, the cinema complexes, a world-class aquarium and two museums that could keep you entertained. If you happen to be a romantic kind, take your lover and hop on to the giant observation wheel, which offers 360-degree vista of the vibrant harbor scene, the spectacular views of Table Mountain, Robben Island and the Cape Town Stadium. Boats of many kinds; whale watchers, city explorers, nature discoverers and sunset cruisers, oh, you name it; take off from the jetty here to experience the city from the water. Of course if you can spare a few hundred bucks, what’s better way to see the city than from a helicopter. 

This particular place, named after Prince Alfred, the second son of Queen Victoria, attracts 23 million visitors a year. Definitely more in the future as the R500-million redevelopment project which will feature a state of the art contemporary African art museum is expected to complete in 2016. 

Up to the mountain

Hikers will be thrilled to tackle the icon, Table Mountain that stands majestically at 3,558 feet. But don’t worry, if you are not a Bear-Grylls type, there are two cable cars that can make your journey to the top as comfortable as possible, although the queue, especially during summer time, is extra (extra!) long and the wait seems forever. (Well, this is when your smart phone comes in handy; read news, watch YouTube, Facebook, edit photos to kill time but make sure it’s fully charged

However, the view from the top is worth boredom and agitation that you suffer while waiting in line. Really, it is an understatement to say it takes your breath away. In fact, you need some time to stand still and compose yourself. I, for instance was caught off guard by the sheer beauty of this natural being, I couldn’t decide which direction to take; I wanted to run amok all over the mountaintop so flat that it was more like a theatre stage, taking in the impressive views of the city under from every possible angle and corner.


The lion’s head, the neighboring mountain peak at 2195 feet, sits formidably like a sphinx guarding the city, which lies flat at its foot and before the sweeping waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Table Mountain is seen, oftentimes covered by orographic clouds, locally known as, “table cloth”, from every corner of the city and vice versa, you can see just about anything from the top; a sprawling city that houses nearly 4 million habitants.  

Flora and fauna enthusiasts will have an opportunity to view unique plants and flower species here, many of them, endangered and rare. As for me, a family of Dassie, the rock-climbing hyrax, was quite amusing to watch. The rat-like herbivores were nimble, jumping from one edge of the cliff to another at the height of over 3,000 feet. High-flyers indeed.

The warning though is that it took me nearly two hours waiting for the cable car in line to come down. So if you have anything planned afterwards, such as dinner in the city, you might want to be flexible.

Be the Beach bum

People flock to Camps Bay for its insanely white sandy beaches even though the water is freezing cold. With trendy bars, hotels, restaurants and activities, this well-known place is busy with locals and tourists alike. Clifton on the other hand is Cape Town’s affluent neighborhood. You will see million dollar homes on the hills overlooking the sea. There are four beaches, named simply from 1st to 4th, and the 3rd is quite popular with gays. Play beach volley ball, laze in the sun, a day of family picnic, stroll on the beach dotted with granite boulders or just simply catch sunset with your loved one, Clifton can’t be missed.  

I was told that the water was not as cold in False Bay but hey, the warmer water usually means sharks!!! And there have been a few attacks recently. As I walked along the Clifton 3 at sunset, I put my feet into the water. It was definitely not swimmable unless you put on a wetsuit. Although it’s one of the world’s top 10 beach destinations and it is SUMMER, you don’t have to swim, really. There are just way too many things here that you can appreciate. For example, I truly enjoyed my leisurely beach walk admiring the12 apostles, a small group of mountain peaks that run along the coast, change colors as the sun went down. The unique postcard-like spectacle is going to be forever tattooed in my memory.