Four Days in São Paulo (A Travel Guide)

“While it may not have the beaches of Rio de Janeiro or the musical and rhythmic vibes of Salvador, Sao Paulo is well worth at least a couple of days of your time when you visit Brazil.”

The largest city in Brazil by population and by size has a tendency to be overlooked by tourists around the world. While it may not have the beaches of Rio de Janeiro or the musical and rhythmic vibes of Salvador, Sao Paulo is well worth at least a couple of days of your time when you visit Brazil. Not only does it have a storied history of immigration from other parts of the world such as Italy and Japan in the 18th and 19th centuries, which does continue to this day, There are also a number of museums and cultural exhibits to check out to learn more about the city’s history and its locals.

However, if you only have four days in Sao Paulo, longer than a layover but shorter than an actual vacation, it is a great place to get away if you want to experience a big and cosmopolitan city on a reasonable budget. It is easy to get around the metropolis due to its affordable metro system ($1) or its bus system, which covers every major neighborhood. As I mentioned, Sao Paulo is probably the most diverse food city in Brazil with cuisines from all over the world being represented. While I am originally from New York, I would rank the Pizza in Sao Paulo up there with my home state and even up there with the pizza I had in Italy. If you have a long weekend, Sao Paulo is the place to go for both cuisine and culture.

Day #1

If you’re flying there from North or Central America to Sao Paulo / Guarulhos International Airport, you’ll likely have the whole morning and afternoon to head to your hotel in the city, drop your bags off, and check-in to your room if possible. You’ll likely be quite hungry but not so jetlagged that you can’t enjoy your first day in Sao Paulo. For a good bite to eat and to check out some of the exotic fruit offerings that Brazil has to offer, let’s start by checking out the Municipal Market (Mercado Municipal) in the center of the city.

The Mercado Municipal is particularly known for its huge mortadella and cheese sandwiches, which can be as big as someone’s face. Along with the ‘bolinho de bacalhau’ (salt cod croquettes), you’ll be in heaven after the long flight. Wash it all down with a nice cold beer in a small glass (chopp) or a nice freshly made juice and you will be feeling ready to go for the rest of your first day. Personally, I recommend going to the Bar do Mane, which is on the bottom floor of the huge market. It might take you some time to find it, but it has the best sandwiches, according to the local gossip and the service was quite quick.

Depending on where you’re staying, it shouldn’t be too long of an Uber or taxi ride over to the famous Museum of Football (Museo do Futebol), open from Tuesdays to Sundays with visiting hours open until 6 PM each day. Tickets are about $4 USD and it is perhaps the coolest museum in the city. Located in the upscale Pacaembu neighborhood inside of the Estadio Municipal Paulo Machado de Carvalho, this unique museum will tell you all you need to know about the history of the beautiful game in Brazil. From the origins of football in Brazil to historical spotlights on Brazilian legends like Pele and Ronaldinho to displaying signed jerseys of Marta, Brazil’s best female football player, the museum is a wealth of football knowledge and information. You will also learn some Portuguese sayings for football rules and regulations as if that wasn’t enough.

The museum is easy to walk through and you only need about two to three hours there to cap off a great afternoon. Most of the museum exhibit is in English, but you may need to rely on your audio guide to hear in English or another language to describe what you are seeing. Capping off a great tour is being able to check out the views from the stands of the actual football stadium that the museum is based in. On a clear day, you can see some of the Sao Paulo skyline and also see some preparations being made if there is a match going on later that night since the stadium is still being used for club-level games now and then.

Now, your mouth may have been watering from my writing about the Pizza in Sao Paulo, so I am going to give you some good advice on where to go for some of the best pizza in the city. It’s not too far away from the football museum so you can head straight there or maybe relax in your hotel in Pinheiros, Jardins, or Villa Olimpia for an hour or so to take a nap, shower, and get ready for the evening.

Now, there are a number of different locations, but Braz Pizzaria is not a typical chain at all. I recommend the location in Higienopolis since it is within walking distance from Pacaembu where the museum is or close to the metro if you don’t need to go back to your hotel first. With a nice ambience, friendly service, and the feeling that you only get when you’re in legitimate pizza joint, Braz is a great place for good portions and delicious pizza.

Beyond just Pizza, I recommend the pepperoni bread to start off with, a bottle of wine (even if you’re dining alone), and the Caprese pizza is a good choice for the main dish. The pizzas are served in a small or large size and if you’re used to eating with your hands in your country, in Brazil, that’s rather a bit of a taboo! Pizza slices are served to the customer by the server and you are encouraged politely to use a fork and a knife to cut and eat the pizza. As a New Yorker who takes pride in my folding and hand-using skills for pizza slices, this was a bit of a shock but as they say ad-libbing, “When in Sao Paulo, do as the Paulistanos do!”

Your 1st day in Sao Paulo was a massive success and maybe you want to head out for the night. I would recommend saving up your energy for tomorrow instead. Pay your pizza bill, head back to the hotel, and rest up. Your next few days will be both busy yet enjoyable and don’t worry, you will have a caipirinha soon, I promise you.

Day #2

You wake up after resting well and having had a full night’s sleep. You’re ready to enjoy your 2nd day in Sao Paulo. Let’s get a good breakfast first at my favorite bakery in Sao Paulo: The Padaria Boulevard (Bakery Boulevard), which is close to the Higienopolis metro station and has a great selection of cakes, pastries, eggs, sausage as well as a great assortment of juices to choose from including acai, my personal favorite of them all. I highly recommend getting a nice sandwich or a hamburger too if it’s later on in the morning or early afternoon.

If you want to instead stay close to Avenida Paulista (Paulista Avenue), which is closer to downtown, a great backup choice for breakfast is the Padaria Bella Paulista, which is a lot bigger place, has a huge selection, and has an unlimited breakfast / brunch option for about 45-50 Brazilian Reais. Also, it’s close to the metro and is great if you have a big group of friends or family with you on your trip. If you’re traveling solo, I think Padaria Boulevard is a good option to choose instead.

Now that you have a full belly, walk it off by going onto the famous Avenida Paulista to walk off some of those calories. This famous avenue is known around the world and is the financial center of Brazil. Most comparable to Times Square in New York City or Istikal Caddesi in Istanbul, Avenida Paulista has numerous shops, restaurants, and museums to tide you over for a few hours. I recommend stopping by a juice bar if you get thirsty, but the 2.5 kilometer walk from end to end is a great way to get accustomed to the hustle and bustle of the Paulista capital.

Some of the best views of Sao Paulo are from the Mirante (Lookout point) at the top of the SESC Paulista building not too far from the Brigadeiro metro station. Going earlier in the afternoon means it’s going to be less crowded at the lookout point but the view of the entire megalopolis at sunset is breathtaking and well worth a try. If you can swing it, you can also have a coffee and a snack there after you’re done taking pictures and checking out the amazing view.

Continuing on with this day’s theme of Paulistano must-sees, there are some great museums on the avenue such as Japan House:A cool cultural center with different exhibits on Japanese architecture, culture, and history; this attraction is a great way to spend some time. You can also browse the bookstore with books on Japanese cooking and culture. I would not forget to drink some Matcha tea at the café and have some Matcha cake too which is delicious. Just a few blocks down the avenue is the Sao Paulo Museum of Art or MASP, which has a renowned collection of portraits, paintings, and impressionist art from around the world.

While this museum is not in the same league as the French Louvre or the British Museum, the collection is formidable, the ambience is quite nice, and you can definitely spend at least two hours here enjoying the art. Another hidden gem of a museum which you can substitute for MASP is the Pinacoteca museum, very close to the heart of the city, and near to Luz metro station. If you are looking to learn more about Brazilian art and culture, the Pinacoteca has the best collection for it in the whole city. You can also spend a few hours there without any issue.

With the sun starting to go down, it’s time to unwind a bit while still enjoying the early evening. It’s time for you, dear traveler, to have a nice caipirinha and enjoy some of Sao Paulo’s famous street murals. The Beco do Batman (Batman’s Alley) is a really cool area in the neighborhood of Vila Madalena where local street artists create amazing building-sized urban art murals reflecting on current events, politics, sports and even comic books. Strolling down these streets with a caipirinha in hand or even at an outdoors bar with deck chairs is a nice way to wind down your day after a lot of sightseeing.

Before you head back to your accommodation, it’s dinner time. Let’s keep it light after a big breakfast but I am going to suggest the Z Delicatessen just a few blocks away from the street murals. Owing its existence to both eclectic hipster tastes in Jewish food and the city’s immigration history with the Jewish community in Sao Paulo being among the largest in all of Brazil and South America, this deli’s pastrami fries are exquisite, and the deli sandwiches are well worth the menu price. I would recommend taking an Uber or a taxi back to end the night because you’ve earned after walking a number of kilometers throughout your 2nd day.

Day #3

Hopefully, you were able to get a good night’s rest after a long Day 2 in Sampa. I am going to take it easy on you in Day 3 and you’re also going to eat well. Let’s start the day off by heading to the Japanese district of Liberdade, my favorite neighborhood in all of Sao Paulo. There is an excellent outdoor food market as well as crafts fair going on each Saturday so if you can make it here on Day 3 and it’s a Saturday, please go to Liberdade. You can enjoy different foods like Yakisoba (stir fry noodles), Nikuman (steamed pork buns), or some fried pastels from one of the many food stands.

This neighborhood buzzes on the weekend and it’s a lot of fun to walk around, perhaps buy a souvenir, or even snap a few photos. The vendors are friendly and not too pushy. You’ll enjoy going to some of the Japanese or Asian grocery stores as well to check out some of the imported products and food stuffs for sale. Liberdade has its own metro stop on the blue line and is not too far from the center of the city.

Having gotten your breakfast on the go and maybe having bought a gift for your loved one, it’s time to spend a few hours at the biggest park in Sao Paulo: Parque Ibirapuera. With stunning sightlines, nice picnic areas, and quite a few museums, Ibirapuera is an oasis of calm in a hectic city. While not very accessible by metro, a quick uber or taxi ride from Liberdade makes it a pretty reasonable trip pricewise.

I would walk around, snap some photos, maybe check out the Museum Afro Brazil or the Planetario do Ibirapuera. You can’t go wrong with buying a coconut water from a nice vendor and getting some exercise in by walking through the huge park. If you have a soccer ball with you, kick it around. I also recommend bringing a towel or a blanket if you have one and catching some sun as well while you think about your next stop. Personally, I like to go at an easy pace when I travel for four days so it’s good to have a day in the park where you’re not rushing around. A park is also a great place to maybe meet some locals, join a soccer game, or even do some reading.

Now, you’ve definitely worked up an appetite for dinner and it’s Saturday night, do you know how lucky you are? I hope you are ready because it’s time for Feijoada. The Brazilian national food dish is mouth-watering, scrumptious, and so delightful. I miss it a lot now that I am away from Brazil. It is prepared around the Portuguese-speaking world, but the Brazilians go all out in preparing it. Primarily, it is a stew of black beans with beef and pork, but you are also adding rice, fried kale (couve), along with some sweet plantains (bananas).

To cleanse your palate, the restaurant will also offer you some orange slices to help with the digestion. It is an amazing dish and I personally like the Star City Restaurant in Santa Cecilia, which has been serving feijoada and other dishes from the region of Minas Gerais since 1953. There are dozens of options to choose from for having Feijoada on a weekend in Sao Paulo, so it depends on how far or close you want to go. I do recommend having it before you leave Sao Paulo or even Brazil in general. I can definitely say you have not experienced Brazil until you have eaten feijoada once or even twice if you’re a big eater like I am.

Before we close out Day 3, I want to mention a wild card option before you head back to the hotel. If you’re visiting in-season, please do consider checking out a Brazilian football match as Sao Paulo is host to three teams competing in the national league. Whether it is Corinthians, Sao Paulo FC, or Palmeiras, you cannot go wrong with buying a ticket for yourself to check out an amazing atmosphere and seeing some amazing football players show off their skills. If you have had too much Feijoada though, it may be best to watch a game that night at a local bar where you can have another caipirinha or a cold bottle of beer. Saude! (Cheers!)

Day 4

Your trip to Sao Paulo is coming to an end today but you can still make the most of your 12 hours in the city before your flight leaves in the mid-afternoon or in the evening. I highly recommend checking out one of the best coffee shops in the city: Coffee Lab, which sources its coffee from all over Brazil and whose pastries and desserts are also phenomenal. Whether you are a fan of drip coffee or of a nice cold Frappuccino, Coffee Lab has some of the best coffee and you can even take some home with you as they do sell their coffee beans in bags where you can see both the highlighted aroma of the coffee itself, and where in Brazil the coffee beans came from.

If you are still craving a last-minute museum, I would recommend the Museum of Japanese Immigration, which is also in Liberdade and only takes about two hours to get through and is highly educational. Continuing with museum options about immigration, though I never made it there, I have heard good things about the Museum of Immigration of the State of Sao Paulo to get a full overview of the history of immigration in the city and the state. Millions of immigrants have made Sao Paulo their home and the museum does a good job of highlighting all of the different groups who came over and for what reasons.

Now, before you head off to Guarulhos, if you’re still hungry and prefer a full meal than the airport food court or the airplane food later on, I seriously recommend taking a taxi for a late afternoon visit to the churrascaria. Unlimited meats, an open salad and pasta bar, and dessert offerings, what’s there not to like? Similar to feijoada places in Brazil, churrascarias can be found all over Sao Paulo but I am definitely going to recommend Angelica Grill in Higienopolis, which is open not just at night but in afternoon too, which is perfect before you head on your flight. Don’t be afraid of the chicken hearts, go for the picanha piece of beef, and remember to not overdo it at the salad bar and it will be a great send off for an amazing four days in Sao Paulo!

Remember to follow these recommendations as you see fit but a lot of these places are ones that I grew fond of during my time in Sao Paulo. I hope that your visit brings you much enjoyment and joy as a tourist and a traveler. Boa sorte! (Good luck!) and Aproveite! (Enjoy!)

Movie Recommendations – Volume V

“Colder weather and shorter daylight hours mean it’s premium movie watching season again.”

Colder weather and shorter daylight hours mean it’s premium movie watching season again. Whether it is in the movie theater or at your home theater, this time of the year is best not just for Christmas movies but for watching new releases in general. Between the streaming services, new theater movies, or even documentaries, there are a lot of excellent movies coming out to close out 2022. I recently saw four movies that I would recommend to others with three of them being watched at home and one in the theaters. Even if some of these movies are not in theaters, I would recommend checking them out through Apple TV+ in this case for a short-term subscription.

  1. The Fablemans

A semi-biographical film about one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th and perhaps 21st century, ‘The Fablemans’ is an intricate tale of a genius who discovers his calling slowly but surely through his own ingenuity, his family’s encouragement, and with a little bit of luck. Steven Spielberg may not be named as the main character, but this is his life story told through his eyes and what it was like being a Jewish kid growing up in New Jersey, Arizona, and later California in the post-World War II era as his parents struggle to provide for him and his two sisters.

While Spielberg has this innate talent for filmmaking, he wasn’t always set on doing it for a living and struggled with his own doubts. His parents, while supportive, did not always see where his dream could go and were distracted by the issues in their own marriage that caused a divorce to occur. On top of that, having to move for his father’s work in the dawning of the computer age to communities out west not as friendly to American Jews, Spielberg’s ‘The Fabelmans’ covers the ugliness of antisemitism rearing its head and how Spielberg as a teenager was forced to confront it and the bullies who continue these vile tropes.

While not exactly a feel-good story, it is an excellent semi-biographical tale on how The Fablemans as well as The Spielbergs made his dream work and were crucial to the man who would become the most famous director in the world. It is an immensely personal movie with both its tragic and triumphant moments. It is a story that I believe a lot of us can relate to these days on how to overcome setbacks and trials in the pursuit of a life’s goal or dream.

2. Causeway

Not all wounds of war are physical. If I had to sum up the movie, ‘Causeway’ starring Jennifer Lawrence and directed by Lila Neugebauer, it would highlight how post-traumatic stress disorder highlights those wounds that are mental but brought on by physical trauma. Jennifer Lawrence plays the role of Lynsey, an American Army Corps of Engineers specialist who suffers a traumatic brain injury from an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) that causes her not just physical pain but PTSD as well. Her memory suffers, her eye and hand coordination, and even her ability to form complete sentences is affected. It is a long road to recovery but luckily, she meets people along the way including a home health aide who cares for her upon her return to the States doing backbreaking work to give Lynsey the chance to get her mental and physical faculties together.

Even after the physical recovery seems to be going well, Lynsey suffers from the PTSD that the explosion caused and the horrific memories of seeing her fellow soldiers die in front of her eyes. While the home health aide and physical therapy helps, as a returned soldier, all she wants to do is get back to the front to continue the work she was doing in Afghanistan. She sees that people including her own mother, who was neglectful to her as a child, while she cares about Lynsey, has moved on without her and doesn’t understand quite what she’s been through. Lynsey finds a job cleaning rich people’s pools in New Orleans where she’s from but doesn’t see it as worthy of her skills she acquired while on active duty in Afghanistan. Lynsey has an older brother as well who is away and out of her life due to his involvement in drugs, so she does not have him around either as a steadying influence.

The one person she does relate to is a man named James who has been through his own trauma involving a car accident that left him with an amputated leg. They’ve both seen more than they would care to in life and they are able to bond with each other despite the difficulties of their past. In a world where both feel increasingly isolated and distant, the bond they share as friends may sustain them for the future and keep them from turning to despair. ‘Causeway’ is a great film that really shows you the reality of what it can be like to return to home from war and the mental and physical scars a soldier can take with him or her that never fully heal.

3. Emancipation

There have been multiple movies about the Civil War and about Slavery, but ‘Emancipation’ is an excellent recent film starring Will Smith as an escaping slave in Louisiana yearning to be free and reunite with his still enslaved family. Antoine Fuqua’s directing is on point in this one with sweeping views of civil war battlefields, old plantations, and muddy swamps with a unique choice of filming ‘Emancipation’ in black and white with red being the only other color represented usually by a character’s blood being spilt. This film does not sugarcoat anything and is based on true events and the real-life story of an escaped slave of Gordon or ‘Whipped Peter’ who was whipped repeatedly before escaping from a Louisiana plantation after killing two of the slave drivers before running towards where Lincoln’s army was fighting around Baton Rouge.

‘Emancipation’ does not hesitate to show brutality on screen as well as the violence of a Civil War battle where freed slaves would fight to liberate others from their enslavement. Some viewers may be turned off by the sheer violence of the film, but I thought that it was a rather accurate portrayal of the cruelty of slave owners, the terrible conditions that they were forced to do labor in, as well as the dogs, snakes, alligators, and muddy swamps that an escaped slave would have to go through to reach the Union Army. Many slaves like Peter who were able to escape were not treated that much better than the Union Army besides being free although they had no choice usually but to fight for the Union to free others and to hope to see their families again if they were able to liberate other plantations.

I would recommend this film due to Smith’s performance, the excellent cinematography, as well as the historically accurate nature of Peter’s experience in escaping from slavery, preventing himself from being captured again and fighting with other African Americans in the Union Army to end the horrors of slavery once and for all.

4, The Banshees of Inisherin

It is not every day where you’re able to watch a comedy and a tragedy take place in the same movie but ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ succeeds on both accounts. Led by an excellent cast including Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Barry Keoghan, and Kerry Condon, the fictional island of Inisherin off the coast of mainland Ireland is made up of a real bunch of characters who live out a life of repetition, tomfoolery, and drinking, which is a bit of community unifier. Set against the backdrop of the real Irish Civil War of 1922-1923, most of the Inisherin population is ignorant of what happens on the mainland and choose to tend to farm, to shop, and to drink, often excessively, as part of their daily routines.

One of the main characters, Colm Doherty (played by Brendan Gleeson), is fed up with a life in Inisherin that would revolve around just that and as he gets older, wishes to be remembered for his music and his song lyrics rather than getting drunk each day. That is the premise of the falling out he has with drinking buddy and friend, Padraic, (played by Colin Farrell), and while Padraic is nice, he is not someone Colm wishes to hang out with him again even though they are bound to run into each other.

The friendship was so strong and close that one day when it goes away, Padraic refuses to give up on Colm even though he tires of never getting a straight answer out of him. The refusal to lose out on a friend in such a small community, which conflicts with his desire to remain a ‘nice’ guy in the community causes Padraic as well as his sister, Siobhan, a lot of consternation and disappointment leading Padraic to undertake drastic and even ruthless measures to get his friend, Colm, back.

‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ while a fictional movie taking place in a fictional island is one of the best films of 2022 and is well worth a watch. It will make you laugh out loud, hold a tear back or two, and think of a time where you had a hard time letting go whether it was of a former friend or even a family member due to some personal grievance or a difference that came up. The film ponders some philosophical questions and does not belittle the audience with simplistic answers. It is an excellent tragicomedy and one worth seeing especially for Mr. Farrell and Mrs. Condon’s performances.

‘Triple Frontier’ – Film Review and Analysis

“Heist movies in Hollywood are a dime a dozen these days and can be quite predictable as well as not very engaging in terms of the characters and their backstories. ‘Triple Frontier’, a film released in early 2019 by Netflix takes the genre and makes it fresh again.”

Heist movies in Hollywood are a dime a dozen these days and can be quite predictable as well as not very engaging in terms of the characters and their backstories. ‘Triple Frontier’, a film released in early 2019 by Netflix takes the genre and makes it fresh again. The film explains the background of the characters, their individual motivations for conducting the heist, and the twists and turns along with a few surprises that happen along the way that will make the audience feel like it’s worth watching until the very end.

Not only is the film shot well with great cinematography, pacing, and direction so you know what is always going on even with the quick-paced action, it’s an intelligent heist movie, which is well thought out and involves a greater mission that the characters have despite their own personal motivations. The scope of ‘Triple Frontier’ or ‘Tres Fronteiras’ in Spanish is unique in that the film is set in the tri-border region of Colombia, Peru, and Brazil so it is an excellent way for the various sets to highlight this unique region of the world. From tree-covered jungles to rocky highlands to snowy mountain tops, the initial heist phase of the movie is bolstered by the 2nd half’s battle against not just external enemies but also by geographic factors.

The heart of the ‘Triple Frontier’ film is the story of the protagonists themselves. Each of them from different backgrounds but united by their special forces’ experiences, which bind them together as brothers. While the story does not get into their past experiences together, the film does a good job selling how close the bond is between the five of them is and how much they still care for each other. Civilian life has treated each of the five men differently but what they hold in common is their desire to improve their lives and go back to doing what they do best. Each of them is financially struggling to get by whether it is by dealing with a costly divorce, or by beating a misdemeanor drug charge, or by needing to fight in mixed martial arts to make more money, or by making dozens of motivational speeches to current soldiers to make ends meet.

The leader of the group, Santiago ‘Pope’ Garcia, is not so much as motivated by the money but rather to capture a notorious drug lord and leader of a prominent cartel in the ‘Triple Frontier’ who has been able to evade Pope for years as well as his Colombian counterparts. Pope has a hard time trusting the locals he is meant to led and needs a group of soldiers as well as his friends to ‘watch his six’ and help deliver Lorea for him. Pope has a local informant, Yovanna, helping him locate Lorea’s whereabouts and he just needs a solid team behind him to lead the raid as well as the heist but who better than his four ex-special forces colleagues who he knows can get the job done.

As with most things regarding a heist, it takes expert planning, a reconnaissance mission, as well as expert timing to make sure that things don’t go sideways when it comes time to exfiltration. After hearing from Yovanna that ‘the house is the safe’, and Lorea hides his money not in offshore banking accounts but in his fortress in the Amazonian jungle, Pope has the intelligence he needs to move forward with the heist. While each of the men have their own personal motivations to go on the heist with Pope, they are unified at first by their innate need for the large sums of money that can make them set for life and never have to worry about bills, MMA fights, or tedious motivational speeches ever again.

While each of Pope’s men question the ability for the heist to go smoothly, they feel like they owe it to each other to get it done especially each of them have a set of skills including one being a pilot (Francisco ‘Catfish’ Morales), one being a leader of the squad (Tom ‘Redfly’ Davis), a reconnaissance guy (William ‘Ironhead’ Miller), and the last being a stealth expert able to enact unarmed takedowns, (Ben ‘Benny’ Miller). Without each of his compatriots, Pope knows he cannot get the job done. With the help of Lorea’s money, Pope knows he can get Yovanna, his informant, and her brother out of the region safely without compromising their lives in the process.

While viewers would consider each of the men ‘greedy’ and ‘selfish’, the film makes their decision much more complex than that. They each know that his Lorea and his men pose a danger to the region and that they have a responsibility to look out for one another as brothers given the bonds, they formed with each other as previously active servicemembers. However, seeing as each of these five men have never experienced what it is to have $1 million at their disposal let alone tens or hundreds of millions, the film excellently portrays what it’s like when you finally stumble upon a smorgasbord of money never seen before and how that kind of greed can overwhelm someone, even the leader of the entire heist squad.

Money, like anything in life, when it’s too much with you or weighing you down, can cause things to go haywire when its impact is fully felt. Without spoiling the film for those readers who have not seen it, it’s not just the heist that could go wrong but also how to get the money back to themselves or their families after risking everything in the process. You can also carry so much physical money before you have too much where it starts to drag you down or also others with you, which could also put them in harm’s way if you are not careful. Each of the five men are very skilled in what they do, are loyal to each other, yet are fallible like the rest of us, and how they deal with their own greed, jealously, ego(s), and adversity in seeing the heist through carries the money to be one of the best of 2019, and a film to revisit for multiple viewings.

‘Triple Frontier’ is better than your average heist film for multiple reasons but most of all because it’s a very human film on how to overcome your own fears, doubts, shortcomings, to make sure your friend or brothers makes it back alive. The men are not good or bad men per say but are flawed in that they have given a lot to their country and the world, and now look to get what they desire in return, even if it may end up costing them dearly. The movie is not ‘black or white’ in terms of morality like other heist movies but rather shows the ‘grays’ in how people make decisions not just based on ‘self-interest’ but in a desire to be useful to the group and to put their skills to use.  

While it would be easy to say that ‘greed’ is a central theme that the film is based around, I would argue that the central theme is more about confronting our own nature and how to deal with murky aspects of right and wrong, and how that while money makes the world go around, that does not substitute for the guy or girl next to you who will fight with you, and even die for you. There are some things that money cannot buy and the film exemplifies that in its squad of five men, who while money is their motivation, they quickly learn that it is also a weight that will drag you down if you let it, and is no substitute to the man next to you, whose life is worth more than all the money you can carry, who is impossible to replace, and for which is truly worth fighting for and dying for, if necessary.

Cooperstown – National Baseball Hall of Fame

Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Cooperstown, New York; National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

Movie Recommendations – Volume II

  1. The Mule (2018)

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A normal man of the middle class is pushed to his limits and takes serious risks that could backfire on him. This is essentially the premise of legendary actor and director Clint Eastwood’s latest film in which he stars and directs as an octogenarian horticulturist turned drug mule named Earl Stone. Based on true events, this unreliable family man and an even worse husband, Earl has sacrificed his love of flowers for the love of his daughter and wife. More at home on the road with his drinking buddies and colleagues than with his own family members, Earl has spent over thirty years doing what he does best much to the chagrin of those who care about him including his soon to be wed granddaughter.

Earl is faced with the unsettling reality of the crippling economic recession beginning in 2008 and the subsequent rise of eCommerce outlets when his horticulture lifestyle and flower gardens go out of business. All Earl has left is his love of the road, his ability to never get a speeding ticket, and a lot of debt that he’s not sure how to get out of. Earl has the utter misfortune to run into people who are shady yet loaded with cash and Earl, being as desperate as he is to stay afloat economically goes ahead and trusts them anyway despite not knowing about the illicit cargo, he is transporting around the country for them.

You are left feeling bad for Earl because despite putting work first all those years and missing time with his loved ones, he partly did it to feed his family and give them a good life even if he was away most of the time. Eastwood who plays Earl in the film is not an innocent lamb and deserves punishment for what he did, but he is simply a manipulated fall guy and another casualty to the endless ‘war on drugs.’ Pursued by federal agents and cartel criminals, Earl ends up between a rock and a hard place and you have to wonder how we can live in a society where an old man such as himself has to resort to be a drug mule in order to get by financially and create a good life for himself and those close to him.

Overall, this is a good movie that I would recommend for its questions about morality, family, and the consequences economic hard times can have and are still a reality for so many people who choose to take illegal means or are forced to do so in order to survive or get by. It’s clear from the movie that crime doesn’t pay but we are left to reckon with the absurdity of an eighty plus year old man needing to work for the cartels in order to thrive economically.

  1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)

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It may not be Tarantino’s best but it’s certainly not his worst. With a stellar cast of characters including Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, etc., This film does a great job of invoking the nostalgia and uniqueness of Hollywood in its heyday during the late 1960’s. Set in a time when hitchhiking was normal to partake in, hippies were hanging out in ranches, and the Manson family was beginning its reign of terror, Tarantino has an uncanny ability to bring those cultural tenets together to produce a satisfying film.

Between the cars, the outfits, the egos of the actors, you get a real sense of what it must have been like to be in Hollywood during that golden era. Even still, Tarantino as in his other films, likes to put his own spin on history and without revealing too much, the last thirty minutes of this film are among the most satisfying that he has put to the big screen.

It would not be a Tarantino movie without some craziness and shocking moments occurring. One of the best parts of ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ is the chemistry between Brad Pitt’s character, Cliff Booth, a stuntman who does all the dirty work with a smile on his face and Leo DiCaprio’s character, Rick Dalton, an actor who is struggling with the notion that his career may be on the downslope.

While the film gets off to a slow start and certain scenes are drawn out way too long, the writing is well-done, the characters are interesting to see develop, and the payoff of the ending is way too satisfying to not recommend this film. Especially if you are a fan of Hollywood history and the era of the 1960’s, you’ll definitely enjoy this one.

  1. Blinded by The Light (2019)

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Brrrrrruuuuucccceeeeee! Springsteen fans are going to love this film. I know I did and it’s for a couple of reasons. The actors are really likable in this one and the story they’re telling is one as old as time but in a setting and an era that I found pretty compelling. There are some similarities between the coming of age of someone like a Bruce Springsteen and the film’s main character, Javed Khan (played by Viveik Kalra). Even though they are from different countries, different races, and different religious beliefs, there is a universal truth that underlies what Javed and Bruce went through as younger men. Dealing with overprotective or absent fathers, searching for one’s own identity, trying to find true love, and figuring out how to make their dreams come true These are the powerful themes of the film that are timelines across cultures and across borders.

Also timeless is the fight against hatred, bigotry, and intolerance among those who don’t accept others who are different living in their communities. The film is not just about Springsteen’s music and how it relates to a young man’s search for his place in the world but also about a family’s immigrant dream to create a better life for themselves in a community that can be rather cruel and mean at times. Not only is Javed trying to make his dreams come true but his family are also trying to fit in to a town, Luton, where they are minorities, and are discriminated against.

I particularly like how ‘Blinded by The Light’, while it followed the formulaic story of similar films, it has its own identity and its own unique setting and characters that make it a rewarding watch. There are some lessons to be taken from this film beyond just enjoying the music of the Boss. It’s about balancing family responsibilities and your own independence and desires, and also about what your priorities are in life.

Music isn’t everything but it’s the sweet, fulfilling topping that will get you through hard times when things look bleak. That is part of the appeal of Bruce Springsteen’s music and it’s why his music is so powerful and resonant from Asbury Park to Luton and from New York City to London. If you get the chance, see this film even if you don’t like Springsteen. It is more than just a musical and at its core, it’s about the triumph of love over hate and of dreams over despair.

Book Recommendations – Volume X

The Summer reading session is well upon us and there is no better time to dive into another edition of my book recommendations. Whether you are at the beach, at the pool, or lounging on a rooftop deck, you can take some leisure time to read a great fictional or non-fictional offering to indulge your mind or open your imagination. The three books I cover are all non-fiction, which is the category that my favorite books often fall under. I do hope to dive into some fiction books sometime soon, but I’ll save that for other post.

The three books I recommend vary from personal finance to progressive politics to self-help psychology, but they all are educational and thought-provoking in their own way. These books aren’t mindless reads, so you’ll have to pay attention and even re-read certain chapters twice or more to really get the gist of what the author is getting at. However, each of these three books have staying power and they would make an excellent addition to anybody’s personal book collection since the different lessons that these books impart are timeliness in nature. Without further ado, let’s discuss which books I enjoyed in this latest volume of recommendations.

1.) “Everything Is F*cked: A Book About Hope” by Mark Manson

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Following up on the tremendous attention and success gained from his previous New York Times best-selling book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, which dealt with unconventional yet powerful self-help advice, Mark Manson is back with an excellent follow-up book in tackling how to apply similar lessons to humanity as a whole. Whether its today’s turbulent geopolitics, the growing climate crisis, or the negative effects of social media, everything can seem to be f*cked nowadays and hopelessness as a condition of these events seems to be gaining steam.

Manson uses the teachings of Nietzsche, Kant, and other prominent philosophers to denote why humanity is facing these systemic problems and how they came to be based on our collective psychology as a species. He argues that having hope in of itself is a paradox and that it’s best to deal with life’s uncertainties and foibles as they come. Wishing for a better, happier, wealthier, and safer future is unproductive if you do not take actions in the present to create that more hopeful reality. Manson breaks down complex topics such as politics, religion, and even the future of artificial intelligence into digestible concepts on how humanity has gotten to be where it is currently.

One of the aspects I like most about Mark’s writings is that he doesn’t sugarcoat anything, and he allows you to draw your own conclusions based on the evidence he presents and the stories he tells. My favorite parts of Everything is F*cked focus on why treating people as means to an end is a selfish endeavor and how our feeling brain has a lot more influence on our thinking brain than we have been told. Also, in accepting what is ‘The Uncomfortable Truth’, as Mark cites in one of the first chapters is part of recognizing our innate humanity and what drives us collectively. This truth, while uncomfortable to all, is the main reason why we strive to do what we do in life, for better or for worse, and how we tend to live our lives denying that truth when it is staring us right in the face.

Instead of looking to politics or religion to give us hope, which tends to have its own set of consequences, it should rather be our own individual actions of being kinder, gentler, and more respectful of others that carry the day. We should not wait around for other people to change for you or be better to you. This book, like Mark’s first, is well worth a second and third reading to grasp all the lessons he lays out for the reader. Posing deep existential questions and acknowledging hard truths rarely covered elsewhere in the self-help genre, Manson stands out as one of my generation’s best authors and a good example of how to live a better life, not just for ourselves but for others as well.

2.) “Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World” by Rutger Bregman

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I really liked this book by Mr. Bregman for several reasons. Whereas most books today examine problems and investigate how they came to be, Bregman describes the possible solutions there can be to these problems and how life in the 21st century should be different from the past. Given the rise of automation, how interconnected we have become globally, and increasing efficiencies in the workplace, Bregman dares to ask how we can make life better for vast majority of people in our societies based on these factors.

Rutger Bregman does an extensive amount of research for this book and draws upon years and decades of datasets and public policy to make his three main ideas not only relevant but persuasive to his overall argument. Bregman’s ideas are not new and have been discussed before but in ‘Utopia for Realists’, he really examines each of his proposals individually from a public policy perspective and how the time is ripe to make them become a reality. Today, it seems like we have lost to the drive to implement big changes to both our economy and our society. Bregman asks his readers to think of the plausibility of the 15-hour work week, a Universal Basic Income for all, and an ‘open borders’ policy that would benefits people’s lives in numerous ways as he lays out diligently in each chapter of the book.

While some may not agree with these proposals politically, Bregman backs up his arguments with facts and evidence, as a good social scientist would. One of the things I did not know before reading his book was how close President Richard Nixon and the U.S. Congress came to passing a universal basic income in legislative form back in the early 1970’s. Giving people the chance to have basic economic security, the ability to live across borders without bureaucratic roadblocks, and having more free time for family life or to better themselves through personal hobbies, interests, or side businesses are related to his three main proposals. These societal changes, he says, would lead to greater fulfillment and happiness and benefit our collective mental health.

While his ideas may be unrealistic today, the way in which the job market is shifting and has become more efficient in terms of productivity over the past few decades, how automation and advanced Robotics may affect millions of jobs being lost, and how the demographic crunch in the Western world may lead to more liberal immigration policies to spur economic growth, the main proposals that Bregman focuses on could become a reality sooner rather than later. It’s not a question of if these utopian ideas could ever happen, it’s more about when they will happen and how they can be implemented successfully around the world.

3.) “I Will Teach You to Be Rich” (2nd Edition) by Ramit Sethi

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I will be the first to say that I have shied away from reading books on personal finance given that the advice given and the person giving it may not be reliable or trustworthy. However, based on the recommendations of other authors I like and how sensible his recommendations are from watching his videos, Ramit Sethi has delivered and recently updated one of the best personal finance books out there. For someone who is just getting started in thinking about optimal strategies for long-term savings and investments, Mr. Sethi breaks it all down from negotiating lower interest rates on your credit cards to how to find the best investment vehicles to deliver you a secure retirement.

If you are new to personal finance, this book is really meant for you. You don’t have to be an expert in 401ks, Roth IRAs, or index funds to make full use of this book. Ramit is not only an author but also provides an additional website, which offers a free blog, multiple courses to improve your finances, and career opportunities. His common-sense finance solutions garner millions of views per month and very positive media coverage. Ramit’s book does not make his readership feel guilty if they have made financial mistakes in the past. Instead, he offers tips and advice as well as personal stories from people he’s helped to get them out of trouble whether its credit card debt, student loan debt, etc. He wants his readers to figure out what exactly a ‘rich’ life is for them and what steps they can take to make it happen.

You are left reading this book feeling uplifted and ready to use his advice to improve your financial situation. You are also left wondering why Ramit’s book isn’t mandatory reading for high school students, given that we tend to neglect this kind of basic financial education for young people in the United States. Whether you are 18 or 28, it’s never too early to start thinking about your long-term finances. With Ramit’s well-written, digestible, and even humorous personal finance book, you are in good hands. He gives you actionable advice on how to greatly improve your finance in weeks instead of years and discusses in detail how many hours it will take you in setting up your savings, investments, and credit card debt payment options with as little of a hassle as possible. While Ramit can give you all the advice in the world, he leaves it up to you, the reader, to take actions yourself to improve your financial situation. Now that you have the knowledge based off his book, you’ll be ready to create a financially secure future for yourself and perhaps your family too.

Movie Recommendations – Volume I

‘Good Kill’ (2014)

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Good Kill is an excellent drama/thriller film that highlights the ethics and the cost involving drone warfare and how it can affect the servicemen and women who have to pull the trigger and live with the consequences. Starring Ethan Hawke, this film is a deep and probing look at how warfare conducted from thousands of miles away can still leave a lasting imprint on those who have a role in it even when they are not anywhere near the battlefield.

The film highlights correctly how while drone strikes may carry less collateral damage to civilian lives, there will always be the chance for the loss of innocent life and families being destroyed. Whether that’s an errant missile crashing into a wedding party or a group of children running by a targeted building within seconds of a missile being launched and getting caught in the crossfire, death from the skies will not only affect terrorists, but women and children too. Because drone strikes are less costly to governments and militaries, the rules of engagement can sometimes be abused to focus too often on low-level targets, who pose some actionable threat, but who could also be captured for intelligence purposes. A lack of international norms and standards regarding drone warfare leads to serious consequences in terms of possible abuse by governments who overuse it on secondary targets.

Airmen and women such as Ethan Hawke’s character and his colleagues, who conduct drone strikes, are shown to suffer from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder because they get to know their targets, see how they live, and struggle with having the power of death over them. High-resolution surveillance makes the act of killing personal despite the fact that these servicemen are thousands of miles away. When a drone strike goes wrong and innocent civilians are killed, it leaves a long-lasting psychological effect on the military personnel involved.

They may not see their victims when they are flying an F-16, but they are aware of what collateral damage is when they see the dead bodies of women, children being shown on the high definition screen. Military service members do not last long as drone pilots due to the immense mental strain placed on them especially when they did not sign-up for conducting warfare with a joystick. Alcoholism, depression, and family problems have occurred due to pilots being asked to conduct drone strikes in the name of national security. All of these issues are highlighted in Good Kill making it more than just your average film about war, but also about an excellent look on how the human condition is affected from holding life or death decisions over those who never see it coming.

‘Roma’ (2018)

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Roma is more than just your average film about a family. It is excellent in its scope and ambition in covering a tumultuous period in Mexican history and for highlighting the issues of family, race, and class within the larger society. What I enjoyed most about this film was that it felt personal and it is based off of the childhood of the director Alfonso Cuaron. The way the story unfolds feels as if it has been lived out before.

Cuaron’s work and that of his film crew that was done with the cinematography, film editing, and screenplay is extremely impressive and goes to show the audience just how film is another form of human artwork that can display beauty, meaning, and pure emotion.

Amidst the story of this family are real-life events in Mexican history that overlap with the film without overwhelming the intimacy of the story being told. For example, The Corpus Christi Massacre or “El Halconazo” in 1971 are intertwined with Cleo’s search for a crib for his newborn baby to be.

Nobody in this film is perfect and true human error of both behavior and character are laid bare. Amongst the flawed characters in this film are redemptive qualities about them and how they fight and struggle to overcome betrayal, disappointments, and tragedy. The film is gripping in that it is about real life and there is no sugarcoating. In Roma, no one is immune from setbacks and struggles, and that is what makes the audience invests in the story being told even more.

Compared to many other films that I have seen, few have touched me more on an emotional level than Roma. The realistic dialogue, the set pieces, the chain of events, and the character development all lend to its longevity as one of the best films of the decade. If you have a Netflix subscription, do yourself a favor and watch Roma. You won’t regret the chance to view this pure work of art and I would not be surprised if it sweeps the awards at the Oscars. It is that good of a film and a noteworthy achievement by director Alfonso Cuaron.

‘A Private War’ (2018)

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This is a biographical film without feeling overwhelming or too much tied up in the protagonist. This film does a good job in covering the life of the deceased war correspondent, Marie Colvin, who reported from multiple war zones over two decades including Sri Lanka, Iraq, Libya, Syria. Marie was a fearless and bold reporter who did the under-appreciated work of reporting the facts on the ground when it came to what was going on in these war zones.

The film portrays her as someone who battled the terrible things that she witnessed and the horrors that she could not avoid. She struggled with her dependency on alcohol, cigarettes, was divorced twice and also had her bouts with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as many war correspondents deal with when they return home from a war zone. Rosamund Pike, the lead actress in A Private War does an incredible job in accurately portraying who Marie Colvin was in how she mimics both her mannerisms and her speaking style throughout the film’s entirety.

Despite losing an eye, suffering from PTSD, and struggling with maintaining her friendships and relationships away from the battlefield, Mrs. Colvin dedicated her life to reporting the truth and the facts from war zones around the world so that everyone would else would know the costs of war.

While she was afraid and while she was fearful, she had the courage to press on and do her duty in informing the public on what was going on. While she was killed during the siege of Homs, Syria, her memory lives on with this film and the work that she did for two decades in holding the powerful accountable for the wars that they started. In an era where journalists are being denigrated and dismissed with increasing impunity, it’s refreshing to see a film that pays tribute to a war correspondent who gave her life to the cause of reporting the facts so that people would be more informed on what was going on and to also care about why it was happening.  

Book Recommendations – Volume IX

What better way to enjoy the Winter season than by enjoying a few good books by the fireplace or in a coffeeshop. Whether its’ fiction or non-fiction, being able to sit down and read for an hour each day is one of the best activities one can do during those cold, winter months. The three books I have recommended cover very different themes and topics but each of them is worthwhile reads especially if you are into non-fiction. From Candice Millard’s vivid storytelling of President Theodore Roosevelt’s perilous journey to the Amazon, James Clear’s atomic habits to build a better life, and author Chris Hedges’ look into the dark underbelly of American society, each book is one that I thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend to anyone depending upon what kind of non-fiction they are looking to dive into.

1.) The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard

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In our current era where past Presidents settle into retirement by creating foundations, writing memoirs, and going on paid speaking tour circuits, it can be difficult to recall that there was a time when the American president would not stay still but rather seek out new adventures. President Theodore Roosevelt was just such a former President when he embarked on a perilous and physically strenuous journey down the Rio Duvida (River of Doubt) in the heart of the Amazon. In the aftermath of his election defeat in 1912, the former President did not stand idly by and settle into a quiet retirement from politics. Instead, he did what he did best and ended up taking upon himself an adventure that no other modern President would think of doing nowadays.

Still in the early days of the 20th century, it was still the age of exploration as explorers from the Western world would go to the lesser known parts of the world to make their mark on mapping areas and landmarks that had not been discovered yet. From Antarctica to the Himalayas to the Amazon, men like President Roosevelt were drawn to both the adventure and the notoriety but also to discover the flora, fauna, and newly discovered animal species, which had never encountered humanity before. This expedition’s success relied upon the men whom Roosevelt and his Brazilian counterpart, Colonel Candido Rondon, would bring on to make sure it was successful in its mission of mapping the extent of the mysterious Rio Duvida. Because of the courage, hard work, and perseverance that men including the former President’s son, Kermit, displayed, they were able to get through a series of trials and tribulations that would have broken lesser men.

Over the six-month period of 1913-1914 when the 19 Brazilian and American men descended the River of Doubt, they were faced with multiple challenges including diseases like malaria, perilous weather conditions, intense rapids, and murder among their ranks. President Roosevelt dealt with near misses to his life including a close encounter with a venomous snake as well as a ghastly injury suffered when trying to retrieve a loose canoe that caused a serious gash injury to his leg. The President flirted with thoughts of suicide after his injury and infection leading his son and counterparts to decide whether they should honor his wishes or to carry him the rest of the way’s journey. Because of their pledge to not leave any man behind including the President of the United States, Kermit and others pushed through the physical obstacles ahead of them to arrive at the successful end to their journey through perseverance and the belief in their mission to map the entire river.

Brilliantly told and remarkably intense in its description as a fast-paced tale of adventure, Millard’s ‘River of Doubt’ is an excellent book that details a harrowing journey of the 26th President, his son, the Brazilian colonel Rondon, and his courageous men. It is hard to believe that there was a time when an American president would go on a journey like this one well into his 50’s but that was the kind of man Theodore Roosevelt was. Because of his courage and his perseverance, the Rio Duvida was renamed Rio Roosevelt in his honor. This story reminds us of what it takes to push past our mental and physical limits and why we remember these tales to understand what true bravery looks like and how Presidents should act in the face of a great challenge.

2.) Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

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‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear is an excellent book on how to re-think our habits and our reliance on them based on our awareness of how they come to be, how they are implemented, and how to change or remove them based on their overall utility. As Mr. Clear explains, “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.” We can only develop ourselves based on the habits we have on a daily basis. In order to change them effectively, small changes that lead to incremental improvements are what we should be aiming for. It’s not advantageous to change our systems of living overnight but rather to slightly shift our habits each day and start to see progress over a longer period of time.

One example is going to the gym for the first time. You may not stay for very long but if you are there for five to ten minutes and get through the initial hurdle of showing up, you can feel better about the progress you have made. Over time, you should start to feel more comfortable and attuned to going to the gym as well as staying longer once you get used to the new routine. I found James’s four-step process to breaking a bad habit or creating a good habit to be very persuasive in its argument. The ‘cue, craving, response, reward’ system is laid out in greater detail in his book but I believe that it’s an effective tool for developing better habits and eliminating bad ones.

Also, keeping track of both your bad habits and good habits will help you measure if you are making progress with either by understanding what habits you have on a daily or weekly basis. In order to better change our habits, we firstly have to be aware of them and classify them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ based on their utility to our lives. For example, if you don’t floss your teeth, perhaps you have to make it attractive by highlighting the benefits associated with the action, putting the floss in a visible place on your bathroom counter so it’s visible, and then make it easy by not using mouth wash without flossing first to develop the system.

Mr. Clear’s book is easy to read, the system he advocates for is immensely appealing, and the four-step process is clear in its methodology. You cannot change your habits without doing it yourself but ‘Atomic Habits’ successfully gives its readers a vision of how you can do so while not making it overly complicated. The system is easy to follow and he incorporates outside materials like the ‘habit tracker’ to make it easy to start changing them while reading his book.

3.) America: The Farewell Tour by Chris Hedges

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Beyond the stock market, the unemployment rate, and even the gross domestic product, notable author and journalist Chris Hedges writes eloquently and profoundly about the state of America in 2019. He does this through excellent on-the-ground reporting from Anderson, Indiana to Atlantic City, New Jersey in an effort to understand how while Americans at the top of wealth and power are doing well, the rest of us are struggling to get by in this new gilded age of income inequality. Hedges pulls no punches regarding the societal ills that have been wrought due to political dysfunction and record income inequality in America by describing in great detail the effects of the opioid crisis, the recent rise of hate groups, increased reliance on gambling, pornography, and sadism to escape reality.

Our ability to combat these negative societal trends is nullified when communities are weak and the bonds that religion, union membership, and rotary groups provided have been cast to the side. In an age of increased atomization and loneliness, Hedges argues that the average person will not be able to build a better future for themselves or their families if they have no ways of accessing economic opportunities or through having deeper social connections.

This book is a true warning sign that time is running out and that we must start paying attention to the swirling negative political and economic trends going on because it is likely that the next generation in America will be worse off if serious changes are not made. By failing to combat income inequality, climate change, gun violence, the opioid crisis, and failing infrastructure, faith in both the economic and political system will continue to decline. When power is concentrated in the hands of the few, that prosperity is not going to spread around or ‘trickle down.’

While it may be a dark and disturbing book to some, Mr. Hedges is a student of history and is eloquent in describing what are the warning signs or symptoms when a society is on the verge of decline or overall collapse. From the Roman Empire to the Soviet Union, the warning signs were there in the forms of inept political leadership and an unholy concentration of wealth. Mr. Hedges warns that we are on the same path to potential ruin and that the societal hollowing out relating to increased suicides, the fall in overall life expectancy, and the epidemic of gun violence are the sad consequences of how we are failing the average American citizen in 2019.

What I enjoyed most about this book is the sheer effort that went into meeting with people across the country to get a sense of how difficult things are and what challenges they are facing. Mr. Hedges should be commended with focusing on the real issues that confront us as Americans and being a truth-teller when it is not always popular to do so. My hope after reading this dire book is that we are able to make the necessary changes and confront these systemic challenges before it’s too late.

Book Recommendations – Volume VIII

As always, the summer season is an excellent time to be catching up on personal reading. One of my favorite activities during the summer is to lie out in the park or at the beach and dive into some books that have piqued my interest. Whether you are a fiction fan or a non-fiction fan, there are a lot of excellent books out there to keep you occupied. My three choices for reading this summer deal with non-fiction topics yet I hope they peak your interest as well even if you are a fiction fan.

1.) “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow” by Yuval Noah Harari

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The follow-up to Harari’s first book, ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ dives into the promise, the challenges, and the problems facing humanity as we go through the 21st century and beyond. ‘Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow’ looks at how human beings got to this point in our collective history and how we will need to come up with new solutions whether political, economic, or social to adapt to this current age of rapid technological and climatic change. Clearly, this book deals with more speculation on the part of Harari as he lays out a number of possibilities that could come about in this century and beyond, rather than solely focusing on past human history as ‘Sapiens’ did.

Harari devotes a large part of the book to the fact at how much progress has been made across humankind in terms of eradicating disease, famine, and also how war has been limited in a time of relative peace and prosperity. The question that Harari poses is what will humanity focus its efforts on now that we have been able to get past in large part major sources of human suffering in the form of disease, famine, and war. Mr. Harari makes the argument that humanity will focus a lot of its collective effort on artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, machine learning, etc.

The goal particularly of the rich and wealthy will be to conquer death and achieve immortality through various means that the author goes more into detail about. However, how will social harmony be insured as artificial intelligence, robotics, and machine learning wipe out a large percentage of human jobs over the next few decades? Will the rights of the individual be maintained when a large part of the population no longer are able to find work or where they can receive adequate educational training for the jobs of tomorrow?

Harari is a sociologist so the details of the actual engineering and technology that would need to occur to make this shift happen is lacking in the book. However, he poses urgent questions for policymakers, economists, and other leaders as to what will happen when ‘big data’ algorithms know us and our desires better than they ever have. How will the meaning of ‘work, leisure, and relationships’ change as artificial intelligence continues to advance? Increasingly, Mr. Harari concludes that humans and machines will complement each other in various ways whether its in education, technology, the workplace, etc. and there can be nothing done to avoid this shift from happening in our lifetimes. What remains to be seen is how human societies react to a future where people must adapt to these technological changes to survive, prosper and how man and machine will act as they merge together beyond what was considered possible just a century ago.

2.) “Us v. Them: The Failure of Globalism” by Ian Bremmer

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Ian Bremmer, a notable political scientist has written a new book on the populist resurgence in the United States and around the world. He tackles the failure of ‘globalism’ as an ideology and how unfortunately it doesn’t look like we will all be able to live and thrive in a truly borderless world without political, economic, and social differences getting in the way. The fear of the ‘other’ and the tendency for human beings to organize themselves in separate tribes whether it’s the form of nations, races, and religions takes precedence even today as the reaction to globalism.

Mr. Bremmer makes the argument that ‘globalism’ and ‘globalization’ are separate in their meanings as ‘globalism’ as a term is primarily political in nature while ‘globalization’ is primarily economic. Globalization will continue to expand and thrive because its’ practical for nations to engage in trade and finance at the international level to boost and grow their national economies. As long as it is economically advantageous for nations to trade and do business with each other, globalization will continue to be a mainstay in economic relations.

‘Globalism’ however has received a backlash from the rise of political populism primarily in the Western world (the U.S., the U.K.) but also in Eastern Europe (Hungary, Poland), and also in developing nations like India, Mexico, Turkey, etc. Issues of mass migration, cultural shifts in nations, growing income inequality have led populations to look towards protectionism and ‘strongmen-lite’ politicians to address these systemic issues. In my opinion, Bremmer correctly argues that while the world is collectively doing well in terms of economic growth and the subsequent rise in living standards, there is still a serious political recession going on with far left and far right politicians gaining stream in terms of popularity.

‘Us v. Them’ reflect the growing unease and anxiety that a lot of people have regarding ‘globalism.’ Besides the cosmopolitan populations that live in the major cities of the world and who have benefited from the cross-cultural exchange of peoples, trade, finance, etc., there are many others who feel threatened by the ‘other’ and how their country and culture may be changing as a result. Mr. Bremmer sees the happening of Brexit, the election of Trump, and the rise of strongmen around the world as a reaction to ‘globalism’, and how there are drawbacks in that many people feel left behind by their political and economic elites who enacted these policies without their support. ‘Us v. Them’ is something that has occurred throughout human history and to myself, it goes back to our fundamental nature of our willingness to divide ourselves into separate tribes and to look upon the ‘other’ with suspicion and fear.

According to Mr. Bremmer, political populism is not likely to go away anytime soon and the rise of automation, an increase in artificial intelligence, the weakening of the middle class in both the developed and developing world are likely to put continued pressure on weakening political institutions who may or may not be agile and forward-thinking enough to come up with satisfactory solutions to these 21st century issues.

3.) “Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World” by Suzy Hansen

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‘Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World’ by Suzy Hansen is a refreshing take on the way American foreign policy decisions have affected the U.S.’s relationships with certain countries such as Iran, Greece, Afghanistan, Turkey, Egypt, and specifically the people who feel that they have been negatively affected by those decisions. The average American is likely to be unaware of how large of a role the country has played beyond its borders and how some of those decisions have left deep, festering wounds in the people of those countries who were directly affected and still haven’t forgotten.

Ms. Hansen who came from a personal background similar to mine has lived in Turkey for over ten years and has traveled to the Middle Eastern countries such as Iran and Egypt looking for the perspectives of those citizens in regards to how America changed their countries, mainly for the worse. Her personal background growing up was very insular and she went to travel and live overseas in order to see her country differently.

From reading this book, it was refreshing to see Ms. Hansen do her research about the countries she was living in and visiting as well as interviewing many people in those countries to hear their stories and their perspectives. I believe that her book does a great job of enlightening Americans about negative foreign policy decisions made in the past that our country may not like to remember but is still forefront in many other countries’ perspective of the United States.

As Hansen left home and lived overseas, her innocence and that of America is stripped away because it’s a harsh truth to face yet it is one that we must all face is that America has not always done good in the world and there have been negative effects of past U.S. foreign policy decisions that heavily resonate with those peoples to this day. The key aspect of this mix of journalism and personal memoir makes this book stand out as a referendum on America’s role in the world, and how its likely to decline in the future. While our impact may lessen on our nations in the future, Hansen sees that as a possible good occurrence do the damage that has already been done.

My main critiques of this book is that while Ms. Hansen diagnoses that issues with U.S. foreign policy, I do wish there was an addition to the book where the author discusses how America can better its foreign relations in the future and to move forward positively with the countries she has become familiar with. However, to be fair, that would take a whole another book to diagnose how U.S. foreign policy should move forward. Also, I believe that this book was a bit too negative in its perspective on America and it could have been more balanced in its overall viewpoint. Ms. Hansen’s book pulls no punches and is a clear-eyed look on the blindspots of American exceptionalism and how our values have not always been well received beyond our borders.

‘Sideways’ – Film Review and Analysis

notdrinkingmerlot
“Miles is not drinking any Merlot!”

Sideways (2004) is an excellent film about the topsy-turvy nature of middle-age life and how to cope with the curveballs that life throws at us to challenge us. Critically acclaimed at the time and nominated for many awards, Sideways, directed by Alexander Payne is a good tale about male friendship, how to deal with mid-life problems, and finding love and purpose during difficult times.

The very title of the film ‘Sideways’ is symbolic of the best way in which wine bottles should be preserved by being laid on its’ side in order to age properly. Also, men and women who are going through their mid-life ‘sideways’ must embrace the challenges that lie ahead and the changes that come to them with this part of life in order to grow and mature as a person.

The basic premise of the film ‘Sideways’ involves two middle-aged men who are close friends, Miles Raymond (played by Paul Giamatti) and Jack Cole (starring Thomas Haden Church) that decide to take a week long Bachelor’s trip up to the wine country of Napa Valley in California to celebrate Jack’s upcoming wedding and the end of his singledom. Both of these men are in their forties and have a sinking feeling that the best of life is behind them.

Miles is in a depressive state due to the fact that he feels like a failed writer due to the uncertain future success of his yet-to-be published book. While he has a steady job as a high school English teacher, he feels unfulfilled by his life and wants to achieve greater success as a novelist but has yet to break through. On top of that, he has gone through a recent divorce that he has yet to recover from fully and is newly single.

Luckily or unluckily for Miles, he has a friend, Jack, who is hoping to have a good time for his last few days as a single man. Jack Cole, Miles’ friend is an actor who may be past his prime. While he used to be a TV soap opera star years ago, now, he is mostly relegated to doing voiceovers for silly commercials and seems to be getting tired of the acting business. Jack loves his fiancé but has the problem of not being able to control him when it comes to women.

Unlike Miles, Jack is not a big wine connoisseur and is more into playing golf and hooking up with a local woman before he takes those fateful steps down the aisle. Jack is hoping to not screw up his marriage but he obviously misses the single life while his friend, Miles dreads being single again. Jack may love his fiancée but he is also hoping to get involved with the real estate business that his soon-to-be father-in-law is running in Los Angeles, which Jack wants to be apart of in order to get away from acting once and for all.

Beyond just writing novels and teaching his students, Miles’s true passion in life is wine, which is why he proposes Jack that they go to Napa Valley to drink some great wine, play some golf, and eat some good food together. While Jack enjoys all of those activities, he has other plans in mind for his last days as a single guy leading to hilarious and disturbing results for the both of them. Before Jack wants to get married, he wants one last fling as a ‘single’ guy before he becomes the husband to his wife. In the meantime, Miles encounters a woman he never expected to meet.

Maya, (played by Virginia Madsen), is a kind and intelligent waitress at a local restaurant in Napa Valley known as ‘The Hitching Post II.’ She is someone who Miles has encountered before during his previous solo trips to Napa Valley. While they were friendly to each other, it’s only on this Bachelor’s trip to the wine country where Miles with the help of Jack’s support gets to know Maya better. Maya and Miles really hit it off with each other especially over their shared love of good wine and they start to develop a relationship.

Luckily for Jack, Maya knows a local wine keeper, Stephanie, (played by Sharon Oh), who has a lot of the characteristics that Jack likes in a woman. The two men end up dating and hooking up with both women but with unforeseen and negative consequences. Jack’s adulterous philandering almost catches up with him and causes Miles a lot of unneeded stress. Miles also suffers during this trip from the lack of hope for his novel in finding a publisher to sell and advertise it.

He also struggles to give up on his ex-wife, Vicki, who he did cheat on leading to their divorce and breakup. The almost breaking point for Miles comes when he finds out that his ex-wife, Vicki, got re-married and has a newborn daughter causing him to regret his divorce from her. While his wife has moved on from him, he still struggles with the fact that his book is going nowhere, he is single in his 40’s, and has no legacy or children at the moment.

Despite all of mid-life struggles that both Miles and Jack go through during the film, they remain loyal and true friends despite the pain and suffering they cause each other. Miles and Jack are almost complete opposites of each other in terms of their personality and character. Miles is serious yet forlorn and an intelligent, well-spoken man while Jack is a cocky womanizer who never really grew out of his teenage years.

However, despite their differences from each other, they do help lift each other out from their problems. Jack gives Miles encouragement to keep working on his novel and to self-publish it if he has to. He wants Miles to succeed at starting a relationship with Maya and really gets him to start going out with her. Miles saves Jack from himself multiple times throughout the film and even though Jack’s integrity is compromised, Miles is there to clean up the damage and makes sure that his friend follows through on his marriage commitment to his fiancée, Stephanie.

Every character in this film is flawed in some way and even though each of them, both men and women, are in their forties, they still have some growing up to do and don’t have everything figured out when it comes to life. Each of these characters has their own personal demons with Miles having depression and a lack of success in his passion and Jack being an adulterer and a compulsive liar.

While they are not perfect men and the women they are involved with make that clear to them, they are still good guys at heart and want to do the right thing. Life has thrown them ‘Sideways’ and they are trying to keep up with all of the curveballs that they must dodge and move forward against. It is really no surprise to me that similar to ‘Lost In Translation’, this film has become a cult classic that can warrant multiple viewings.

While it may not be your typical feel good movie, it’s a ‘real’ film about ‘real’ people who are trying to succeed both personally and professionally against the odds. If you decide to watch ‘Sideways’ for the first time, you’re going to be rooting for each of these characters to find happiness. They are endearing to us as the audience because they make mistakes and have setbacks just like those of us watching the film. In addition to the brilliant acting especially by Virginia Madsen, Paul Giamatti, and Thomas Haden Church, the adapted screenplay is brilliantly written and thought out.

Even though most viewers would consider it a dark, morose film, it also has a lot of comedy in it and some great lines about wine. There are a lot of moments in ‘Sideways’ that will make you sad, happy, angry, and even make you relate to the characters themselves. A great film overall directed by Alexander Payne, Sideways was released way back in 2004 but still remains a popular and heart-warming film that will leave you satisfied. I highly recommend checking ‘Sideways’ out when you get the chance and to remember after watching the whole film to never order a tall glass of Merlot again.

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