Shades Of Words



I have only ever seen Amanda Seyfried play stereotyped blonde role of either the bitchy or the damsel-in-distress types. So it was refreshing to see her play a strong female lead in a movie, which frankly, rests entirely on her acting prowess.

“Gone” is a psychological thriller with never a dull moment. Jill ( Seyfried) has suffered mental trauma because of her parents’ death and her kidnapping and has been institutionalized in the past. One day when her sister disappears she believes that the man who had kidnapped her now has her sister. The problem is no one else believes her. The police believe that  never was such a man and that it’s all in her head. Are they right? Is Jill’s sister really missing? Is Jill crazy?

The story moves fast as we follow Jill around Portland, Oregon, on a sleuthing mission as she tries to locate the man who might have taken the sister . The tone of the frame is always sombre , forever blue or gray,  sign of impending doom. But why Portland, Oregon – I often wonder  how do story writers decide to base a story in a particular city.

Seyfried delivers a convincing performance and it’s really her acting that carries the movie through as there’s literally no other character that has more than 5 minutes of screen time. No other performer has a role of any consequence.

This  being a thriller  was low on depth and character development but was high in intrigue,  suspense and entertainment. I enjoyed it.



Florida – The Keys

Some of the most beautiful beaches in US are found in a group of islands off the coast of South Florida known as “The Keys”. Connected to the mainland by the 100 mile National highway 1, these islands offer the whole gamut of conventional and unconventional tourist activities.

The Keys are logically and geographically divided into 3 segments – the Upperkeys which form the northern most group of islands famous for their reefs, the Middle Keys most famous for the Seven Mile Long Bridge and the Lower keys synonymous with hip town of  “Key West” .

JP State Park

The only way to travel is by the scenic route 1 or by taking a boat. Kapil and I are not really water people, so by road it was. Now 100 mile does not seem to be a really long distance, but with a 45 MPH speed limit ( which is strictly enforced) and the glorious view of the Atlantic which tempts various impromptu stops at view points across the way will, this drive may easily take up to 6 hours.

There is literally lots to do in the Keys. One can stay in one of the hundred beach side resorts which range from affordable to ridiculously luxurious, snorkel, canoe from island to island, bird watch, swim in the ocean, enjoy beer at tiki bars and generally enjoy the sand and the sun. Our itinerary, unfortunately allowed for only one day. We started late from Miami and it was already noon by the time we reached our first stop “John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park” . Now the Keys have quite a few state parks, each with an entrance fee of around 4-10 USD per car. . Unless you are into snorkeling or have tonnes of time on your hand, I would recommend skipping this. The view of the water is lovely and it’s not really crowded, but there really is not much of “beach space”. We only walked around and took a few snapshots of the  water and were soon on the road again.

Bahia Honda State Park

There are several view points on the road and smaller parks off route 1 where you can park your car and step into the water. There are quite a few dining options around the road that offer excellent seafood, but I would highly recommend packing a picnic basket and enjoying a meal by the water.

One of the most anticipated sights on US highway 1 is the Seven Mile Bridge. This man made wonder can be truly appreciated from an ariel view. From the ground, it looks like, well, a really long road! There is a place to get off the road before the start of the bridge,  which we  missed, as there was no big sign with an arrow stating “Seven Mile Bridge Here!”. We got off at the end of the bridge at what I believe is the “Veteran’s Memorial Park” and took some photos.

Seagulls at Seven Mile Bridge

Old bridge that runs parallel to 7 mile bridge

It was already quite late in the day, and we really wanted to make it to the Key West before sunset. We made a quick stop at Bahia Honda State Park. If there is one place that you must stop for a long time, it’s this. Declared as the best beach in Florida, it boasts almost a 3 mile long coastline of baby soft sand and shallow water. I would love to go back to the Keys just to lounge around in this place.

Our much awaited destination was the town of Key West.  There is a lot to do here and its a very popular tourist destination, but I am afraid I don’t have a lot of details to share. Kapil and I spent barely a couple of hours. I really wanted to see Earnest Hemingway’s residence but could not because it was closed by the time I reached there. We really wanted to catch the glorious sunset, but it was cloudy so it was not as amazing as the guide books promised. However, I was really fascinated by the shops and one-man acts at Mallory Square and Sunset Pier. I loved the whole carnival-esque atmosphere of Duval Street and the very European pace of the place in general. There is a long list of things that I would have liked to have seen and done here , including a cemetery so again this is one place where I would love to go back again. I would recommend riding a two-wheeler to get around if you staying for a couple of days – it looked like such tremendous fun


Leave a comment

Florida – South Beach, Miami

As the plane circled Orlando, I had a feeling that I was flying over a gigantic golf course. Orlando is not just the city of theme parks, it is a theme park. Well manicured gardens, little ponds, white roads and clearly outlined neighborhoods, it appears very pretty from the top. I obviously am not sure of what the ground realities are! This however, appeared to be a very promising beginning to our  seven day trip to Florida

Stepping out of the airport, it was nice to feel the sun on the face, a refreshing change from the chilliness of the mid west. The plan was to drive straight to South Beach, Miami via West Palm Beach, and it being Thanksgiving the highways were not as crowded. We covered the distance to West Palm in around 3 hrs.

West Palm Beach is home to some of the wealthiest people in the world. Its Ocean Boulevard is as famous for its sprawling bungalows as for the views of the Atlantic. When we reached West Palm, it was well after sunset and most of the stores and restaurants in the main town area were closed. Even as we drove along the road, it was hard to not be awed by the Mediterranean styled villas that spotted Ocean Boulevard. We were trying to locate Lennon’s residence, but 3-feet thick and 20 feet high hedges that typically surrounded each villa made it impossible for us to figure out where it was exactly. The ocean front side of all houses is visible from the street and in spite of  the risk of looking like gawky tourists, one cannot help but stare!

The primary landmark of West Palm Beach is Bethesda by the Sea – one of the oldest churches in Florida. Closed for visitors in the evening, its open grounds and courtyard gave us a chance to walk around. There is something surreal about walking in an empty silent churchyard lit up by soft yellow lamps. Architecturally,  this is not the most stunning place that I have been to, but it’s one of the most memorable.

It was clear as we left West Palm, that all roads lead to Miami. The traffic was bad and the toll roads kept us quite confused. Very soon, we were comforted by the sight of the shimmering sky scrapers of Downtown Miami. Our destination was however, not Miami itself, but South Beach. It was already 9 PM and most of the shops were closed, but the restaurants were abuzz with people and special thanksgivings meal was on the menu.

We struggled to find our hotel and parking space on the narrow and congested roads. Most hotels offer overnight valet parking which can be as high as $30/day. If you are willing to walk a little or are not planning to use your car, then there are public parking lots that let you park for $13-14/day.

We stayed at Penguin Hotel which is one the many smaller art-deco buildings converted into hotels on the Ocean Drive. We paid a lot of money and were quite disappointed by the rooms and the general condition of the place. The best thing about the hotel was the porch that allowed for people watching. They also lent you beach chairs and towels of very questionable history.

My first night in Miami was spent eating blackened Tilapia and getting drunk over half a glass of Mojito. As a result I was dead asleep by 11 P.M!  Kapil banned me from alcohol for the rest of the trip!

The next morning was lovely, just warm enough to be pleasant. We had a nice leisurely breakfast and then we walked out to the beach. As November is just start of the tourist season, the beaches were not crowded and we settled down a few feet away from the water. It was nice to just sit back and relax and watch the waves. It did get very windy after sometime with sand blowing into every pore of my body. Lunch was at extremely popular News Cafe. News Café serves American fare and with some Cuban cuisine, but is more famous for people watching. We were seated in the courtyard and it was just nice to enjoy the weather and the crowds. I also had my first cup of the Cuban coffee – “Cortadito” which was just delicious. That is probably the closest thing I have had to a south Indian filter coffee in the USA! News Cafe is a good and reasonable dining option on the otherwise expensive stretch of South Beach and its open for 24 hrs.

After lunch, we loitered around in the Art-Deco district, taking pictures. As we aimlessly stored through South Beach,  I couldn’t help noticing that the architecture of the residences was very similar to houses back home. Flat roofed two to three story buildings with large balconies – it almost felt like being back in India. We strolled into the Spanish neighborhood on Espanola way and were quite enchanted with quaint little pick buildings with beautiful balconies. This place had the most beautiful restaurants and if we had more time we would have definitely tried some.

If you are in Florida, it’s almost a must to experience the Cuban culture, and where better to find it than in Little Havana. This Cuban neighborhood is famous for its restaurants, shops and its monthly Viernes Cultarels (Cultural Fridays). We were just plain lucky to be there on the last Friday of the month, and walked right into a local beauty pageant and an art fair! It was really nice to mingle with local Cuban crowd.  The sight of wizened men playing dominoes in the very aptly Dominos Park was just plain endearing. We topped off the evening with authentic cuisine at “Versailles”, one of the most famous Cuban restaurants in Miami.


Witness for the Prosecution

Winters force one indoors and the best way to avoid the piling housework is to curl up in front of the television and watch old movies. Thought Netflix is currently crumbling on new streaming content, it does have a good variety of older movies. When I say old, I mean of the black and white variety and nothing more sophisticated than that!

The 1957 version of the Agatha Christie short story “Witness for the Prosecution” ends with the following message before the credits role in

“The management of this theatre suggests that for the greater entertainment of your friends who have not yet seen the picture, you will not divulge, to anyone, the secret of the ending of Witness for the Prosecution.”

Even though over 50 years have passed since the release of the movie, I will try to adhere to the request so as to not ruin the movie for people who haven’t seen it yet.

The story is based in London, where for some weird reason almost everyone speaks with an American accent. Sir Wilfred Robarts (Charles Laughton), barrister in His Majesty’s court, is just recovering from a heart attack when he is requested to prove the innocence of Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power). Vole is accused of murdering a rich widow Mrs. Emily French and the circumstantial evidence against him is heavy. His wife, a German woman, also abandons him on his arrest and the man is completely at despair.  Surrounded by a fretting nurse, Robarts dives into the investigation because he sincerely believes in his client’s innocence. What follows is an hour long. riveting court room drama that keeps you hooked with it’s unending twists and turns.

Directed by the Academy Award winning Billy Wilder, the movie has his stamp all over it. It’s shot primarily indoors and heavily driven by character performances. The dialog is sharp and exceedingly witty.  As I researched for this review, I learnt that Wilder has also directed Sunset Boulevard and Some Like it Hot, two of my all time favorite movies and I am now going to watch all of his movies. I love the work of directors whose movies are less gimmicky and heavily reliant on individual performances.  Sometimes, these days, when I watch a newly released movie, I find myself exhausted as my eyes adjust to the 3D and the fast changing landscapes. I fear that movies are not made to tell good stories anymore, but to create maximum visual impact.

Laughton is immensely likable as the worldly-wise but slightly petulant barrister. Though this was Power’s last film before he died of a heart attack at the age of 44, his performance though convincing, is not entirely memorable.  I think after Laughton, the star of the movie is Marlene Dietrich , who plays the role of the cold and calculating wife of the accused. Oh how she makes you hate her! And what wonderful screen presence! And how can one forget the hilarious performance by Elsa Lanchester, who plays the barrister’s strict –to-the-point-of-annoying nurse. Their banter brings all the laughs in the movie.  She was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in this movie.

Witness for the Prosecution is a classic courtroom drama, shot expertly and intelligently. Definitely worth watching !