500 Years of Da Vinci

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Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: 500 Years of Da Vinci Exhibit; São Paulo, Brazil

Movie Recommendations – Volume IV

Movie Recommendations – December 2019

The Report (2019)

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With an excellent cast, brilliant cinematography and direction, ‘The Report’ (2019) is one of the most underrated films of this year. Casting a wide net from the early days after 9/11 to the 2nd term of the Obama Administration, the film covers the work of Senate Intelligence Committee staffer Daniel Jones and his team’s tireless efforts to bring the scope of the CIA’s ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ program into the public light. Focusing on not just the legality of the program but its effectiveness as well as its handlers, the film does a great job in bringing that story to a wider audience who may not have read the report or even heard about it. Part of the appeal of the film is that it creates a real sense of drama and real-world significance that often lacks in other Hollywood films about Washington. You really do sympathize with the characters and understand the weight that is on their shoulders handling a report of both national and international significance.

The fact that the report or at least a summary of it was made public is a great victory for transparency, the truth, and for holding those in power accountable for their actions. In terms of actual justice for those who may have perpetuated crimes and/or human rights violations, the film makes it clear that justice was not served but hopefully because those crimes were laid out to bare through this report, we will be finally able to learn that torture does not in fact work and that by refraining from these ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ in the future, we do not become a monster in order to defeat a monster.

Ford v. Ferrari (2019)

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Ford v. Ferrari is an excellent film that is sure not to bore you when you see it on the big screen. It’s got that classic kind of Hollywood racing film and it does a good job of keeping you excited throughout the movie especially if you have never heard of the story before. It can be hard to make a racing film carry emotional weight, but the stakes are kept high throughout and there’s never a dull moment. Each major character has something on the line whether it’s their pride, their future success, their family, or their car brand’s ability to be the best in the world. A stellar cast of Matt Damon, Christian Bale, and Jon Bernthal deserve a stellar script and a stellar story and luckily, Ford v. Ferrari is ready to provide that and then some.

Even if you are not a fan of racing, you’ll enjoy the story behind this film especially when it comes to the time-old theme of proving yourself against the odds. An unlikely American auto company focused on station wagons and comfort is able to stand up to the challenge thrown down by the legendary Ferrari auto company who had dominated stock-car racing for decades. An unlikely hotheaded driver is able to overcome his doubts and his hotheaded instincts to become the key to a potential victory of Ford v. Ferrari. An American racing legend, Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) is able to put his racing days behind him due to his heart condition to focus on the new mission of building an amazing Ford racing car that could put them over the top against Ferrari and establish his company’s success as a budding entrepreneur. This film shows you that you don’t just need talent and the will to win but you also need heart and a belief in your team to get the job done. An excellent film that I really recommend while it’s in theaters.

The Irishman (2019)

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I know you may be asking yourself: Another mafia movie? Hasn’t this particular genre been exhausted already? The answer is both yes and no. It is a ‘yes’ because it’s the same old story of a rise and an eventual fall of mobsters who thought that they could get away with their crimes and most eventually ended up dead or in prison. It is a good film overall about hubris, vanity, pride, and how a man can justify his sins when both family and society is against you by saying that he was just ‘following orders.’ I say ‘No’ as well because any Scorsese mafia movie is going to be a classic in some way and this one in particular does an excellent job of highlighting the connections of the legendary and controversial Teamsters union leader Jimmy Hoffa to the Pennsylvania mafia. The unique story of Jimmy Hoffa has never really been explored that well in American cinema and I have to admire Al Pacino a lot for his performance of the emphatic and conniving union leader.

Not to be outdone, Joe Pesci who is a legend in film makes his first film in what seems like a decade and does an excellent job playing the mafia crime boss Russell Bufalino. Robert DeNiro plays the role of Frank Sheeran, a World War II, mafia accomplice, and Jimmy Hoffa bodyguard who is a tragic character in a way. Like any good Scorsese movie, the film asks the audience about how far a person can go to betray their ‘friends’ as they ‘follow orders’ and at what cost is it to do morally heinous acts and still act for forgiveness from family and from God.

The film’s almost 3 and a ½ hour runtime is my biggest gripe as it does drag at times and some scenes could have been cut out without detracting from the overall story. Still though, it’s a great Scorsese film that will add to the legendary acting careers of De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci. I would not be surprised if this film walks away with the ‘Best Picture’ Academy Award even if another film may end up deserving it more.

Knives Out (2019)

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A murder mystery film that you actually care about? Daniel Craig talking in a Southern drawl while figuring out the case in a tweed suit? An all-star cast that actually acts in this film like an all-star cast? What movie could this be? This movie is ‘Knives Out’, a film about a mystery that Agatha Christie would endorse regarding the suspect suicide of Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) who is a wealthy crime novelist found dead after a family party and foul play might have been involved. Each of the family members is a suspect and the top-notch private detective recently published in The New Yorker, Benoit Blanc believes one of the family members may be responsible for having murdered him. Besides the family itself, one non-family member is also a suspect, Harlan’s nurse, Ana Cabrera (played by the excellent Ana de Armas, an actress on the rise) who was with Harlan the last time he was seen alive.

If this is not an intriguing premise for a murder mystery, you may want to skip this one, but you shouldn’t because it is that good. This film is more than a modern murder mystery brought to the big screen, but it also intelligently discusses the issue of immigration in the United States and also lampoons extremist views on both sides during the film’s more lighthearted moments. The film also covers family relations through the generations, what someone is or isn’t entitled to, how social class can divide people rather than unite them, and how somebody can stand up for themselves when the crowd (or family in this case) is out to get them for their own benefit. Don’t sleep on ‘Knives Out’, which is a definite crowd pleaser and a satisfying ending that could result in future films. I, for one, hope Daniel Craig will be in more films where he can use a Southern drawl from Kentucky as it was surprisingly convincing and must have took a lot for him to emulate. Highly recommend this one which is in theaters now.

Independence Park at Ipiranga

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Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Independence Park; Ipiranga, São Paulo, São Paulo State, Brazil

Cultural Spotlight – Acai

Acai is my favorite thing about Brazil. It is difficult to choose a favorite thing here, but it is the first item on the list that comes to mind. Something so tasty and so nutritious is definitely worthy of my #1 spot. Difficult to find outside of the country and definitely not of the same flavor, taste or variety, Acai is a unique treat that Brazil is rightly known for. Whether it’s made into ice cream, a shake, a juice, or even yogurt, Acai is healthy for you and full of antioxidants. In addition, it really is a kind of superfood that boost your energy levels once you taste it and finish your fill.

If you are having an off day which happens sometimes, you may want to drop the coffee and put down the red bull and make a nice acai juice instead. You are likely to be glad you did. That extra energy boost can give you hours of extra productivity and even added focus allowing you to do your work better and faster. Be careful not to each too much acai as it is full of calories but if you want to substitute a meal like breakfast or lunch, having acai instead may not be the worst option to consider.

The acai berries come from the acai palm tree. The berries are small, round, and have a black-purple color. The acai palm tree is mainly found in the Amazonian region of both Brazil and Peru and has been a staple food in those areas since the 18th century. I would say that the fruit has gained popularity not only in urban cities within Brazil recently but even internationally as demand for the delicious superfood has skyrocketed due to the variety of health benefits.

The acai palm is usually harvested twice a year between January and June and then August and December making it more readily available than other Amazonian fruits. Acai has been part of the Amazon River for centuries and wasn’t only just used for food. Its other uses include a type of cooking oil or for salad dressing as well as being used for certain cosmetics or for grain alcohol or dietary supplements. The palm tree that acai comes from has been also used for hats, baskets, brooms, roof thatch for homes from the leaves of the tree and the wood trunk.

While its health benefits are not clearly known, it has a higher level of antioxidants than other fruits such as oranges, apples or cranberries. One bowl of acai with granola or a fruit like a banana is more than just a snack but rather a full meal that can pack up to 550 calories. What is definitely known about acai is that it has a high amount of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins as well as Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Iron, and Calcium content. Part of the reason why Acai can give you a boost of energy is that it is full of nutrients that we need to have each and every day.

Acai may not have the best taste even if it does contain sugar, but it tastes like something that really is of the Earth and can be drank or consumed naturally without any harmful additives. You can tell from the first time you taste it how unique a flavor it has and to feel the energy it gives you just a few minutes after you have the first bite or the first sip. I would not have acai every day but compared to coffee, tea, or other energy boosting products, this one may be the healthiest for you.

Acai does not have a lot of sugar when it is eaten naturally and is high in fats which is good for the body especially after you’ve been hitting the gym or playing a sport for an hour or two. If you need to replenish your calorie intake and to do so in a healthy way, acai may be one of the best options out there. If you can mash up acai fruit into a pulp, you may be able to get the most antioxidants out of consumption compared to a watered-down juice. The antioxidant content of acai can help someone by neutralizing the negative effects of ‘free radicals’, which to those who don’t know are uneven or unstable atoms that damage cells and cause illnesses and/or premature aging.

Having acai and other superfoods in terms of daily or weekly intake may help in preventing cancer, heart disease, and other serious ailments. Acai can also lower a person’s blood cholesterol level although more research is needed from what I have been reading. The plant compounds that are active in Acai can also assist in improving memory and boosting brain function partially because the antioxidant content can counter inflammation of these parts of the body and provide further clean-up of toxic cells that no longer function well.

While not a perfect snack, the high level of fats, proteins, and vitamins as well as active antioxidants can make acai a good choice especially when you are in Brazil for a visit or a longer stay. I would just be aware of the sugar content and to be aware if there are any other ingredients which could diminish the nutritious content. Acai berries do not last very long so many people have to eat acai after it’s been watered-down or sugared-up as opposed to its natural form. If you can have an acai puree or pulp instead of a smoothie or an ice cream bowl, that may be the best option if you can’t get it directly from the Amazon.

Acai is a flexible kind of food so you can always add more nuts and berries to it or even other ice cream, but you have to watch carefully to make sure you are making the food more nutritious and not full of sugar. Due to its healthy content of fats, fiber, protein, and vitamins, you would not go wrong if you find yourself in Brazil and want to try one of its greatest natural resources, the acai berry. You will be glad you gave it a try and may want your friends to try it too.

Avenida Paulista

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Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Avenida Paulista; São Paulo, São Paulo State, Brazil

English Corner – Colons

The colon is very useful in the English language, but it is also considered to be a bit underused as a means of punctuation within the world of grammar. You have to understand the circumstances for which a ‘colon’ can be used as well as a few examples of when it can show up in a regular sentence. If you can master colons, you can definitely count yourself as being advanced as an English learner. It will take time, but I hope that this tip will help you get a little bit better in making the colon work to your advantage as a writer.

What is a colon? Well, a colon indicates the meaning of what you want to say as well as to list what is necessary for the reader or the listener to understand. Colons and semicolons are very different in terms of meaning and use. They should never be used in the same sentence and are very rarely used together.

There are a number of uses for colons, but the three top ones would be the following:

Use #1: To introduce two or more items and to list them together separated by a comma(s).

Examples:

  1. You should do the following tonight: Practice your instrument, study for the test, and help clean the dishes.
  2. He got what he wanted today: A big promotion and an increase in his salary.
  3. Remember what we talked about: work hard, tell the truth, and always give it your best effort.

Use #2: To start a letter or an e-mail to somebody.

  1. Dear Mrs. Jones:
  2. To Whom It May Concern:
  3. To My Beloved ________:

Use #3: To introduce a quote or a short summary of a few sentences:

  1. John F. Kennedy once spoke: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
  2. The author of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain, wrote in the second chapter:

“Tom Sawyer went back to his bed and stared at the fence where Jim was painting for Tom’s father. Tom wondered whether his father and Jim were friends or even if they spoke to each other.” (Not a real quote from the book, just an example)

  1. The Presidential candidate was quoted as saying: “I agree that we must move forward on fighting climate change in order to create a better future for our people.”

As you can see now, there are three main uses for colons as well as some rules that have to be observed. Let us now look at some of the important rules for using colons and how to make sure that we abide by them.

Rules of Colon Usage

  1. Colons are used in the middle of most sentences and are usually followed by a list of items or words belonging to the same or similar categories.
  2. Colons can also be used between two sentences especially if the second sentence relates to the meaning of the first sentence.
  3. A colon should always be used to introduce a numbered or a bulleted list, such as for grocery items or different types of grammar concepts.
  4. As mentioned earlier, colons can be used to introduce a quote from a speaker who was reported to have said the following words and sentences. This kind of long quotation does not need quotation marks if you have already introduced who the speaker is and what they are talking about followed by the comma (:).
  5. Colons can also be used at the beginning of a letter or an e-mail in both formal and informal settings for co-workers, bosses, friends, and family members. From seeing the examples above, you can note that instead of a comma (,), a colon (:) is being used instead to introduce the salutation or the greeting for the reader of the letter or e-mail.

These are the main rules for how to use colons and it’s important to keep in mind that a colon can:

  1. Never start a formal sentence.
  2. Never end a formal sentence.
  3. It is rare to have more than one colon used in a single sentence.
  4. Colons can be used between two sentences provided there is no period (.) separating them.
  5. While not very prominently used like a comma or a period, this form of punctuation has its uses which you should know how to utilize.

Colons are a tricky subject but once you understand both the main uses and the main rules, you will be well on your way to creating better sentences and more detailed quotes from the use of this punctuation. Similar to semicolons, colons are an advanced topic that separate an advanced English grammar learner from an intermediate learner. Once you can list items, introduce quotes, and start an e-mail off right, you will know that you are using colons correctly and for the right reasons.

Ubatuba

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Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Ubatuba, São Paulo, Brazil