Sunday, December 28, 2014







Run Time: 95 min.


Not your average teenage rom-com.

Sometimes a film is rises above by not being something: not being pretentious, not being manipulative and not being dishonest or stereotypical.  The Spectacular Now treats its lead characters, who happen to be teenagers, exactly as what they are: young adults.  Sutter Keely, played superbly by Miles Teller, is an 18-year old high school senior.  He is young, confident, intelligent and above all, charming.  He is effortlessly the life of any party.  Oh by the way, he is also an alcoholic. 

We meet Sutter as he is filling out his college application form and reflecting on his life.  His girlfriend has recently broken up wiith him and he is out drinking.  He ends up passed out on a front lawn and is found by Amy Finecky who is out on a paper route.  Amy is his classmate but Sutter has not been aware of her existence so far.  As he accompanies Aimee on the rest of her route, an interesting relationship begins. 

Aimee is a bright and ambitious wallflower who is beyond happy to be noticed by someone like Sutter.  Sutter sees Aimee as a platonic “project” at first but cannot help himself being romantically drawn to her.  There is a spontaneous and unexpected compatibility in their relationship.  They challenge each other to achieve greater heights not because they are blinded by love but because each sees the spark and potential in the other.  They both come from broken incomplete homes but approach life differently.  Aimee is hopeful about the future and is willing to work hard to get to a better place.  Sutter lives in the moment, the now, not willing to let a good time pass him by.

Sutter’s relationship with his mother is tense and he looks up to his perception of his father who has been absent for most of his life.  After meeting Aimee, Sutter happens to find out his father’s whereabouts and they set out on a road trip to visit him.  The encounter marks a significant turn not only in Sutter’s coming of age but also in his relationship with Aimee.  The script does a terrific job of depicting the growth of both characters in a real, believable manner.  It allows for their flaws without affecting the likeability of the two leads.  Neustader and Weber prove that (500) Days of Summer was not a fluke.

The two leads are perfectly cast.  Miles Teller shines as Sutter, making a character with serious flaws extremely likeable.  This is crucial to the success of the film as it is narrated from Sutter’s perspective.  Teller reminds me a little bit of John Cusack from Say Anything.  Shailene Woodley is very credible as the girl-next-door who blossoms into a beautiful and assertive young lady.  This is not the case of your typical rom-com makeovers where the ugly duckling turns into a beautiful swan.  The physical changes are subtle but transformation is more in her demeanor as she discovers her confidence and strength.

Director James Ponsoldt does a fine job of keeping the focus on his two leads and not letting the film meander.  The secondary characters in the script are portrayed with enough care to make them believable as well as add color to the lead character's personality.  Sutter’s ex-girlfriend, her new beau, Sutter’s family (sister and parents) as well as his boss who owns the shop where he works: all these characters are well, if not fully, drawn and don’t fit the stereotypical mold of this genre.  His ex-girfriend's character would be made into a caricature in most other rom-coms but here she provides another perspective on Sutter which is reasonable.  The following example of an exchange between Sutter and his boss, Dan, reveals a lot about both in a just couple of lines:

Dan:   If I was your father, this is where i might give you a lecture or something, you know, about what you're doing to yourself.
Sutter:   You know what Dan, if you were my Dad, you wouldn't have to.

The final half hour or so of the film clearly moves away from a lighter mood to a definitely darker tone.  But that is remaining honest to the evolution of the lead characters' lives rather than sugar coating it.  Some might say that the ending is perhaps a little "Hollywood" but it provides hope for the characters that we have become fond of.  Also it might be the end of a chapter rather than the whole story so I don't consider it a cop-out.  This is clearly one of the better young-adult films out there and well worth your time. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


a person who insists on a certain quality or type of behavior.  "a stickler for accuracy"

I suppose I belong to a thinning, if not dying, breed.  For some reason, I have always been drawn to grammatical inaccuracies and can't shake off this urge to reach out and fix these errors.  Be it a small yet misplaced apostrophe in a supermarket sign (viz. Potato's) or a glaring mistake on a huge billboard (viz. Got milk?), it tends to pop out of the background and stare at me.  I have even found a misuse in a printed book with over a million copies sold.  As a means of catharsis, I have decided to list some of the major ones that have scarred my inner self and continue to lash out in this digital age as grammar loses even more ground with the next generation.

Lay vs. Lie

A few years ago, a friend of mine had made the following announcement on a social media site which, as a stickler, made me chuckle.
"Enjoying Easter Sunday laying on the beach in Avalon. This is a perfect moment!"

The improper use of lay was even more pronounced in the context of Easter as it makes one think of eggs.   I am sure that my friend had a great time "lying" on the beach but laying (which implies working) would perhaps not be that deserving of a proclamation.

This misuse of lay is widely prevalent and to some extent is understandable.  The trouble lies (pun intended) with the two meanings of lie, one being repose or resting flat while the other meaning of not telling the truth.  The second meaning has obvious negative connotations and causes people to avoid using it in a context where they are not being untruthful.  This is further complicated because "lying" as an adjective implies not telling the truth e.g. "that lying criminal", but as a verb it can mean resting flat as well as not telling the truth.  This double meaning has confused people and as a result, driven the misuse of "lay" in its place.  I cannot tell you how many times I have cringed as my mother in law repeatedly instructed her dog to "lay down".  (A helpful rule of thumb to remember is that "lay" is the past tense of "lie".  This helps with the correct usage.)

It hasn't helped that some of the misuses have crept into popular culture via songs such as Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" (a personal favorite; damn you, Dylan!) and Eric Clapton's "Lay Down Sally".  I wonder how they would have worked with "Lie Lady Lie" and "Lie Down Sally".

Couldn't care less

This is one of the more common misused phrases out there.  You will hear the following quite often: "I could care less if ... ".  I have heard this from colleagues, friends, people in cafes, radio hosts, etc.  The intent here is to express a total lack of interest in someone or something.  But when one says "I could care less", it raises the obvious question: why don't you care less?  By saying "I couldn't care less" one is implying that the topic is at the bottom of one's priority list and then the phrase carries some weight.

Unfortunately in today's fast-paced world, people do not pause to think through the words they have uttered and this misuse continues to be thrown around loosely.  In the digital age of texting, the correct usage is made even more difficult because you have to use the dreaded apostrophe (which is not always on the virtual keyboard screen).  Hopefully there will always be some sticklers out there who will preserve the correct usage.


Here is an example of a misused word being accepted as an alternative in the dictionary.  Almost every flight I have taken has had an announcement stating, "...we will be landing momentarily..." to let us know that we will be landing in a few minutes.  The original meaning of the word is "for a moment or brief period" but over the years, the wide use of the same word to imply "in a moment" has led to the inclusion of this second meaning in the dictionary.  In American English, the word is used more often to imply "in a moment".  However, in British English, it is predominantly used to imply "for a moment".  Obviously, this has led to many Brits panicking when they hear the landing announcement on a US flight!

I prefer to use the dual meaning to my advantage and often respond to requests with a sly response, "I will address it momentarily."

Your vs. you're

A while back, I received from someone I reported to an email which read as follows:
"Your going to love this!"
This predates email availability on mobile devices so I knew that it was typed on a conventional keyboard with no auto-correction feature included.  It was also not the first time I had seen such usage from that person.  Unfortunately I had to choose between laziness and ignorance on the person's part, neither of which was encouraging.

In this day and age, this misuse is so rampant that it is at risk of being accepted as the norm.  I understand that there is extra effort required in finding the apostrophe key on the virtual keyboard but one can always skip the contraction and just use "you are".  Are we really getting so lazy that we cannot be bothered with typing in an extra keystroke?  In my mind it is pretty simple: if one is trying to say "you are" then it can be contracted to "you're" but otherwise there is no need to use it elsewhere.

Its vs. it's

This is another one that causes confusion for some people but is very similar to the logic applied above.  If one is trying to say "it is" or "it has" then this can be contracted to "it's" but otherwise leave "its" be.
"It's been a very rough winter in Philadelphia, most snowy in its history."

The dreaded apostrophe s

How often have you come across something similar to the examples below?

Signs for sale such as "Potato's 80 cents/lb" or "DVD's for sale"
Memos addressed as "To: VP's and GM's"
Signs in public spaces such as "Taxi's & Buses"

The use of an apostrophe to denote a plural sense has been so widespread that it is generally accepted as appropriate.  Partly this is more prevalent due to some older style books that recommended using an apostrophe to pluralize abbreviations.  However this is no longer the case and style books over the past 50 years or so have clarified this.  The use of an apostrophe is to indicate possession (e.g. John's car) or a contraction (e.g. You're correct.) but not to indicate a plural sense.  There is a link to some funny but useful grammar posters at the end of this post which has a pretty concise one for apostrophes.

And if you are feeling a little protective about the much abused apostrophe, here is a forum for you: Apostrophe Protection Society.

Between you and I 

This is perhaps one of the most common infractions in today's communication.  Somehow it has become a sign of sophistication to include "I" instead of "me" in one's sentences, regardless of the usage being incorrect.  I am sure that it stems from a recognition of the early misuse of "me" in place of "I" such as the response to "Who is it?" generally being "It's me."  Once grammar teachers started chiding students for the misuse and correcting them with the proper response of "It is I," people have started to consider all usages of "me" as incorrect and have adopted the usage of "I" as a permanent replacement.  What's unique about this violation is that it is more prevalent amongst the upper ranks of today's workforce.  You will find this misuse more in the management level and amongst the C-suite (CEO, CFO, etc.) inhabitants. 

It is helpful to remember that "I" is a subject while "me" is an object. This means that  when one uses a preposition (like with or from or between) it must be followed by an object pronoun like me or him. 

Another way to check is by taking a sentence and deconstructing it (meaning breaking it into multiple simple sentences) to see if it makes sense.  Consider these two examples:

Sentence: "He and I went to the park."
Deconstruction: "He went to the park." and "I went to the park."
Sentence: "John went to the market with Jane and me."
Deconstruction: "John went to the market with Jane." and "John went to the market with me."

Try the second sentence with "Jane and I" and you will see how it doesn't make sense.  At the end of the day, just let go of the fear of using "me" and include it in your language as you see fit.

Why pay attention to these?  

One is quite aware of the old adage about substance over style in one's message.  However, it is important to keep in mind that form enhances function and sometimes improper form can lead to misinterpretation of the message.  The focus of style is to keep the sentence elegant and free of ambiguity.

Much as I accept that the spoken language is a constantly evolving element, I would like to preserve the original intent behind some of the language.  It is said that 15 to 20 years of an incorrect usage can lead to inclusion in common parlance and dictionaries.  While it is our responsibility to enhance and develop the tools of communication, I believe we also carry some obligation to maintain and preserve the original language.

[While we are on this topic, there are several other misuses that come to mind but I am not aiming at creating an exhaustive list.  I have also noticed confusion on the following ones:

Further vs. farther (farther is used to indicate physical distance)
affect vs. effect (verb vs. noun)
advice vs. advise (verb vs. noun)
principle vs principal (principal is main, think school principal)
bad vs. badly (especially when used with "feel")

You will have your own pet peeves that may or may not include the ones that bug me.]

Some Resources:
Grammar Girl
Grammar pack posters -

Friday, February 21, 2014







Run Time: 109 min.


Boy met girl.  (Eighteen years ago)

What started out as an experimental stand-alone film has now turned into a trilogy (and hopefully more).  We first met Celine and Jesse on their promising first date in Vienna (Before Sunrise) and then revisited the duo nine years later in Paris (Before Sunset).  It has since been another nine years.  But this time, unlike the past interval, they have spent the last nine years together instead of apart.  The couple now lives in Paris,  has twin daughters and is on a Greek island vacationing at a friend's place.  Jesse is an established writer who has been invited by an older author to visit the southern Peloponnese island.  Celine continues to work as an activist but is considering a new position.

The film begins with Jesse and Celine taking Jesse’s 14 –year old son, Hank, to the airport as he returns to the US where he lives with his mother.  Jesse is worried about not being an active presence in Hank’s life and might regret missing out on moments that can never be recreated.  Hank comes across as a smart and well-balanced teenage who is well-adjusted to his circumstances.  They function as a single, unified family unit which is manifested by Celine’s comment about Hank’s departure: “It’s like we are sending him across enemy lines.”  Jesse begins to question whether he should try to be closer to Chicago to spend more time with Hank. 

The second act offers a first for the series: Jesse and Celine interacting with other characters in a meaningful manner.  There are other interesting personalities that have been invited to the island and we are privy to a dinner setting with this endearing group.  The dinner sequence and conversation is a rich piece of cinema.  It isn't that the conversation is profound but it is so lively, engaging and warm that one wants to be a part of it. This segment offers a delightful confluence of some very interesting ideas as the authors discuss story premises and their experiences.  In all honesty, this segment does little to further the narrative but provides the lead characters a broader canvas to express themselves.

The third and final chapter is more reminiscent of the previous two films albeit much darker and heavier in tone.  Jesse and Celine have been gifted a night's stay in one of the hotels on the island.  They take a walk to the hotel through the town and begin a conversation about their relationship.  This is not a newly-wed couple or early-in-the-relationship lovers being flirtatious or tender with each other.  This is a seasoned couple comfortable with pulling no punches and being emotionally honest.  The discussion continues once they check in and get to their room.  The scene in the room is the cornerstone of the film as their conversation takes a turn for the worse and turns into a fight. The beauty of this scene is that the way the argument begins and turns into a fight (and ends) is so natural and realistic that we can identify with it completely.  Most married (or long-term) partners have lived through this fight and will admit that it is very difficult to pinpoint when the fight started.

The two leads have established their chemistry in the previous films and have grown into their roles, with clear input on the script which was developed in a workshop style.  Delpy has aged a little since the last outing but retains her radiance.  Hawke on the other hand appears to be showing the passage of time on his face a little bit more obviously.  However Hawke's Jesse seems have a better grasp on his convictions and perspective after 18 years.  Linklater provides insights into the characters via casual introspection.  For example, Jesse muses about the time when he called his dad upon his grandmother’s death and blurted out: “Hey Dad, you’re an orphan now!”.  He admits that it was not what he meant to say at the time but it reveals a bit about his personality and mindset.

The third installment does not mark the beginning of the end but is more of a testament to the maturity of the relationship.  This comes with a tinge of bitterness along with all the good that accompanies it.  The first film was about romantic beginnings and the sequel was about second chances.  This one is about reality, both good and not-so-good.  We happen to catch Jesse and Celine on a night when they have a fight but that does not define their relationship just as their previous encounters did not guarantee a fairytale lifetime.  One of Jesse's comments sums it up nicely: "But if you want true love, then this is it. This is real life. It's not perfect, but it's real."

It would have been easy to create a romanticized coda and tie the trilogy in a nice bow.  But Linklater is not one to cheat either himself, the characters or the audience.  He is bold enough to present "happily ever after" for what it is in life: a fantasy.  Which is why we hope that he and his collaborators will endeavor to provide at least one more glimpse into Jesse and Celine's life a few years down the road.

Monday, January 6, 2014






Run Time: 80 min.


Boy meets girl, again.  Nine years later.

It is not often that one gets a chance to revisit likeable characters from a film which is not an obvious candidate for a sequel.  Before Sunrise presented us with Celine and Jesse, a pair of smart twenty-somethings that made an impression on the audiences.  The movie was a moderate success on the big screen but not enough to motivate a sequel for monetary gains.  The former was almost an experiment trying to break from the conventional mold of romantic films.  It follows an American boy and a French girl through the streets of Vienna on the night they first meet.  They part ways at the end with a promise to meet after 6 months in the same place.

Before Sunset places us about nine years into the future from that point; this time in Paris.  On a summer afternoon, Jesse is promoting a book he has written about the fateful night in Vienna.  As he is discussing the book and taking questions at a famous literary landmark (Shakespeare and Company) in Paris, he notices a familiar face in the back.  It is Celine who read about his appearance and came by to meet him.  He has a flight to catch in a couple of hours and the movie slips into real time as the two try to catch up on the past decade of their lives. 

Jesse is in a failing marriage and has a young son to whom he wants to provide a role model.  Celine is an idealistic activist working for a cause she believes in but appears to be a bit jaded.  The conversation begins with a bit of expected awkwardness but they quickly settle into a smooth flow, quietly reiterating the compatibility they share.  There are the obvious questions that need to be answered: what happened in Vienna 6 months after they parted?  Did one of them not show up?  And why?  All of these are addressed rather promptly so that the narrative can move forward rather than pursue a conventional climax.

It is evident that the meeting in Vienna never took place but that night certainly left a mark on both of them.  In his case, Jesse has written a novel about it which makes it obvious.  In her case, the impact is revealed in a song she has written and chooses to play for him later.  The conversation, while engaging, is not the key focus as in the earlier film.  Here, Linklater achieves something more refined.  He captures the way they converse more intimately than before.  It is a delight to observe the two characters (and actors) playing with what they choose to reveal to (and conceal from) each other.  The audience gets to notice gestures by one character when the other is looking away.  Being in one of the best cities in the world to walk about and have a coffee, certainly adds to the atmosphere of the film on a lovely summer afternoon.

The script flows quite smoothly and Linklater has involved Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in writing the script.  It is a nod to the ownership that these actors have shown towards these characters.  Some of the lines must have been ad libbed and the conversations certainly reflect their personal experiences as they emote on screen.  In fact, the concept is laid out in the opening scene as Jesse explains his writing process.  Clearly the film succeeds on the strength of its two leads.  Jesse offers one of my favorite lines as he describes his failing marriage: “I feel like I'm running a small nursery with someone I used to date.”  It is quite a telling line.  Not to be left behind, Celine offers a gem at a later point: “Memory is a wonderful thing if you don't have to deal with the past.”

Linklater builds up the meeting to a fitting cliffhanger of a climax which leaves one wanting to hang out with these two for just a little bit longer.  Linklater’s experiment certainly pays off.

Download this: “Just in Time” by Nina Simone