We took a walk in Dogpatch yesterday. It's a neighborhood on the east side of the city, facing the bay. Recently it was an industrial area with a neighborhood of little houses and some dive bars. Now, the factory buildings are lofts for small shops and apartments.
There are also new apartment buildings, and, as in the rest of San Francisco, there are no bargains. Let's just say incomes of less than six figures need not apply. This is one of those newish apartment buildings. As you can see, it cozies up to a ramp.
As my co-pilot pointed out, it's not a freeway ramp, but rather a connector of a surface street in Dogpatch to a surface street on Potrero Hill. So the traffic and noise may not be too intense. Still, the rule applies: no bargains.
I'll admit I didn't call the rental/sales office to check. At a certain point, one stops checking. I suppose the units whose windows look directly at the edge of the ramp may cost less than those facing the street but not by much, I'll bet.
Season One of Search Party surveys the silliness of creative twenty-somethings in Manhattan and deftly turns the corner from social satire to noir suspense. Season Two turns that development into full-blown noir with our now-not-so-funny (but still entertaining) group of friends living with the horror of what they've done and struggling to keep it secret.
In Season Three, the secret is out and we turn from observing our anti-heroes under a microscope to looking at the world they live in with a wide-angle lens. That world of people who do not have secrets to keep is no less freakish than our heroes. And yet, like our heroes, those people are hilariously unaware of their own monstrous qualities.
This series has a lot in common with Dead to Me with a world view like something imagined by David Lynch.
If you want suspense, this movie delivers it like few I've seen lately. It's not a murder mystery, nor a thriller, nor a crime film. It's not a "disaster" movie or an "action" film. It's about the loneliness of a man who sees things no one else sees.
Michael Shannon plays an average guy whose nightmares and waking hallucinations tell him a storm is coming, a storm unlike anything anyone has seen. That simple premise plays out in his marriage, his work, his health, and his life in a rural Ohio community.
The suspense comes from watching the effect of this premise on him and the people around him. They are people whose lives are about paying the mortgage and keeping their health insurance, and caring for their children. The stakes could not be any higher.
Take Shelter is worth watching if only for the towering performance by Michael Shannon as an everyman as complex and self-aware as Hamlet. His chemistry with Jessica Chastain as his wife is volatile.
The ending may momentarily disappoint you. There is no high-speed chase, no special effects, no heroic triumph over adversity. But, if you pause a moment, you will see that it answers every question the movie raises.
Alfred Hitchcock never won an Oscar for Best Director. The closest he came was a Best Picture Oscar for Rebecca in 1940. Though his films made between 1954 and 1964 are now considered his greatest, at that time he was considered a popular entertainer but not a serious artist.
Fortunately for us, some young film-makers in France recognized his genius at the time. One of them, Francois Truffaut, befriended him, and in 1962 they spent a week discussing each of Hitchcock's films with the help of Helen G. Scott as translator. Transcriptions were published in 1966; Truffaut published an updated version in 1983 when Hitchcock died.
This book is a course in film history and in film-making. It is also an artist's memoir. But for me it's a book about story-telling. As Hitchcock discusses all those famous sequences---the crop-duster scene in North by Northwest; the shower scene in Psycho; the glass floor in The Lodger; and so many more---he explains they were all invented to convey the right information to the audience at the right moment. And he has a lot to say about the writing of each film: the story, the treatment, and the dialogue.
In 2015, director Kent Jones followed in Truffaut's footsteps by making a documentary which pairs audio clips from the Hitchcock-Truffaut conversations with commentary by contemporary directors including Wes Anderson, Martin Scorcese, Paul Shrader, Richard Linklater and others. All of them acknowledge Hitchcock as a role model and this book as a textbook for directors film-makers.
He sneaks out of a diner without paying for his lunch. She follows him out and takes him on a thrill ride. He's a corporate executive ready for a walk on the wild side, and she's his tour guide. It feels a bit noirish because along the way they are victimizing working people, and we know it's going to get darker because Ray Liotta is in the cast list.
We've seen wilder walks than this since 1986, but still this one ain't bad. The scene in the motel room, the car chases, the petty larceny---Melanie Griffith and Jeff Daniels make it all believable.
But the real thrill is keeping up with who's conning whom as the action unfolds. In the end it comes down to a battle between Daniels and Liotta. They outsmart and overpower one another. But along the way there are those delicious moments when we sense that all is not as it seems.
The inscription reads: "Mary Ellen Pleasant Memorial Park, 1814 1904. Mother of Civil Rights in California. She supported the Western Terminus of the Underground Railway for fugitive Slaves, 1850---1865. This legendary pioneer once lived on this street and planted these six trees. Placed by the San Francisco African American Historical and Cultural Society."
The circumstances of her birth are unclear, but while still a girl she became a bonded servant to a Quaker family in Nantucket, Massachusetts. Through them she became involved in the abolitionist movement. Able to pass as white, she worked for the Underground Railway in the South, and came to San Francisco in 1850 to extend its reach.
She made her living managing restaurants in men's clubs and used information she overheard to invest and become a multi-millionaire. She built a house on this location. It no longer stands, but the six trees referred to in the inscription are still alive on Octavia Street. They are eucalyptus, now as tall as the four-story apartment building across the street.
This memorial is the smallest park in San Francisco, consisting of this marker and the six trees.
,It would have been so easy to make a comic crime caper based on this true story. Four students at a small, private university in Kentucky are bored and decide to steal books from the the library's rare book collection, including a first edition of Audubon's The Birds of America. None has any experience in crime. Planning the heist includes watching Hollywood movies.
But writer and director Bart Layton does much more. He dramatizes the robbery using actors in their twenties and inserts clips from interviews with the actual criminals, who are in their late thirties at the time of filming. Their reflections on their younger selves are sobering.
There's plenty of time to laugh at the cluelessness of the would-be crooks, especially since no one gets killed or seriously injured, and the books are returned intact. But there is lasting damage to their families, the community, and to four men who spend years of their young lives in prison. It's worth watching as an unusually truthful true-crime film.
o-Season Two of Search Party gets darker. One could say, it goes full Jim Thompson. Or full Patricia Highsmith. Or one could compare it to the second half of Hitchcock's Psycho, when we find ourselves hoping Norman Bates doesn't get caught.
I'm trying to give you an idea of what kind of story this is without giving away any important plot twists. Let's just say at the conclusion of Season One, our kooky band of friends concludes their search for Chantal by doing something they would rather not have to answer questions about. And in Season Two, to keep that secret, they do things that could get them in a lot of trouble. And we wind up rooting for the villain.
But they're such lovable villains. Drew is so predictably clueless. Elliott never fails to exaggerate his own importance. Portia feels everything so deeply, even when she gets it wrong. And Dory, at the center of it all, is quiet, intuitive and decisive. We wonder why she puts up with them. These are the character types of comedy, and they are playing out some deadly business.
Update: see also Search Party (2016) and Search Party (2020).
I don't often read memoirs, but this one hooked me right from the start. Greene was not allowed to apply for employment as a state trooper because "it's not a job for a woman" (this was in the 1960s). She follows the path of wife and mother, but becomes an investigator by volunteering for search-and-rescue teams.
Her struggle to have a personal life runs through the book and adds a moving dimension to her effort to achieve expertise in her chosen specialty, finding missing persons. As she progresses from volunteer to assistant to licensed private investigator, we learn along with her about this surprisingly quirky field.
For instance, there appears not to be a legal definition of "missing." Therefore law officers will not spring into action just because you say your spouse/child/friend is missing. Whether it's a wilderness rescue, a custody dispute, or an unexplained disappearance, there are patterns in these kinds of cases. Missing children are usually found downhill from where they were last seen. Suicides are usually found uphill.
Read it for the introduction to a peculiar profession. Read it for the story of a strong woman who insisted on having a career spanning the 1970s and 1980s. For either or both, it's a good read, much thanks to co-author Gary Provost,
Back in June, as boarded-up windows became normal in San Francisco, I posted about artists using the new blank plywood to create casual works of art, including these mousey characters who say peculiar things.
This pair has been in place for weeks, and now local folks have pulled out their markers and engaged in conversation with them, mostly taking exception to the original sentiments. As arguments go in this contentious era, this one isn't especially nasty. In fact, it's practically civil, though not always correctly spelled.
From what I read, we're probably at least six months away from a vaccine that will begin to let us all go back to living normal lives. That should give the local artists and art-appreciators plenty of time to generate further modes of discourse. Since we're stuck here, we may as well enjoy watching it play out.
What is going on here? In the center of this jolly scene of people enjoying a day at the beach, a woman plays a guitar. Facing her is a man holding sheet music for her to read. Everyone else in the scene wears swimsuits or other light clothing, but he wears a dark business suit. Everyone else has a ruddy complexion, but his face is chalky white.
A closer look shows the man's eyes are closed. The guitarist isn't reading the music. She is looking at us from the corner of her eye, as is the harmonica-playing man behind her. No one else in the group looks out at us.
Who is the mystery man? Why has he joined these people on the beach? Why are the two musicians looking away from the sheet-music he's holding?
This picture is part of a set of frescoes in the Beach Chalet on Ocean Beach in San Francisco. The frescoes were painted by Lucien Adolphe Labaudt as part of a Works Progress Administration project in 1936.
If I remember correctly from the displays in this room, the faces of the people in this scene are taken from members of the artist's family. Also I think I recall the song on the sheet-music is "Red River Valley." Judging by the view of the Marin Headlands in the background, the scene must be on Baker Beach.
Please let me know if you have any ideas about what the artist meant by including this ghastly figure.
The Crocker Galleria is a privately owned public open space (POPOS). Built in 1982, it is an example of San Francisco requiring builders of tall buildings to provide places for relaxation open to the public. The bigger the building, the bigger the POPOS. For lots of info, including a map of their locations, visit the city's planning website
This one is in the form of a mall with casual food service on the first and third floors and retail on the second. It also features two roof terraces reached by stairways from the top level. The glass roof, inspired by Bernini, lets the place feel like it's outdoors.
In years past it was a bustling spot for strolling, lunch, coffee, and resting downtown. A few years ago the take-out food vendors started closing. The pandemic has accelerated that trend. But it's still a magnificent spot for recreation.
Psychologist Maria Konnikova spent a year learning to play poker, specifically Texas Hold 'em. Why? Because, it is the game that most closely models real life. Some games depend entirely on skill---chess, for instance. Some games depend entirely on chance---matching coin flips, for instance. Texas Hold 'em balances skill and chance.
In her research as a psychologist Konnikova studies decision-making. She wanted to know how professional players decide when to bet, call, check, hold 'em and fold 'em. She met the guys with degrees in math and charts full of statistics. They're not the ones who win. She met the guys who psych out the other players. They win sometimes. The big winners focus on how they make decisions and how they perceive chance.
Her interest was not purely academic. She read the fundamental books for players and apprenticed with a top professional player. She staked herself, started with online poker, played some small tournaments in off-the-strip clubs in Las Vegas and worked her way up to international tournaments with the best of the best.
This book may seem a little off my subject---Dark Stories. But, like Konnikova's previous book, it is research for my dark stories. When I read The Confidence Game, I didn't know I was going to write a book with the title, The Con Man's Son. Similarly, I don't know that I'll write a book about professional poker players. Probably not, in fact. But I will be writing about characters who make decisions.