Ridding one's self of a troublesome year of personal struggles, economic hard times, and worries about the future is not an easy task.
But, the promise of a New Year breaking at Midnight has inspired the hopeful to shrug off the blues (wash that grey right out of their hair!) and face 2012 with optimism.
With that in mind, revellers will be tossing on a festive hat and streaming into the streets in droves tonight to kick up their heels, rattle quite a few noise-makers, and toast their best buds (and anyone who staggers their way!) with a glass or two of chilled bubbly.
In San Francisco, thousands are expected to turn up full of glee - and at-the-ready to party-hearty at the harbour, where a spectacular fireworks display will be waiting to dazzle 'em when the big "ball" falls and the clock strikes midnight at the "bewitching" hour!
In fact, over the past twenty-four hours, city workers have been preparing for the onslaught of tipsy guests!
There will be many road-blocks, and a lot of restricted parking areas, so the worldly-wise may want to take advantage of free transportation being offered up by both Muni and Bart into the wee hours of the early morn!
Around town, the tony elite will be swarming in to trendy nightclubs to toast the town, too.
For those with an exotic flair for the dramatic, the annual Masquerade Ball at the San Francisco Symphony, is a sure bet!
Meanwhile, a posse of nature lovers are expected to take the trek out on the "N" train to catch the celebrations at Ocean Beach.
The truly hearty may pitch a tent, and spend the night, so they can jump up at the crack-of-dawn and participate in the Polar Bear swim!
In that event, a few hot toddies may be in tall order so they don't catch their death of cold!
Yesterday afternoon, ING - the bank with the ubiquitous presence on the Internet - splashed downtown San Francisco with a dollop of brilliant "orange" at their spanking-new ING Direct Cafe launch - which got underway at about 2 p.m. in the middle of the afternoon just off Union Square.
While solemn bankers waited on bored customers shifting their feet back-and-forth at Chase and Citibank branches just a hop-and-a-skip away down the street - account-holders and potential new clients at ING lounged about high-tech environs (the orange and silver color scheme complemented the slate-black straight-back chairs, eclectic hardwood tables, and pricey bleached floors underfoot) as they tossed back imported ales, devoured delectable pastries (courtesy of "Wholesome Bakery" and "Sweet Constructions") and chatted up a stream of well-wishers there to tout the banking innovator's expansion in the Bay area.
At the sparkling new 17,000-square-foot facility (housed in the former Diesel apparel store) staff members have been skillfully trained to whip up lattes, answer questions about checking accounts and mortgages, and work the call center on the top floor.
Teller windows have gone by the way of the dinosaur, too.
Although there is an ATM on site, employees are barred from dispensing cash for banking purposes, go figure.
The "suits" behind the visionary attempt to transform the banking system are counting on account-holders (and potentially-new clients) to pop in and take advantage of their informal social hub for personal and professional reasons.
To facilitate that end, meeting spaces have been set up, which are equipped with iPad-controlled audiovisual equipment so that small businesses and nonprofits can hold gatherings for up to 40 or 50 people (at no charge).
San Francisco is the eighth city to be given the nod by ING Direct.
Due to poor planning (and a bad location) an ING Direct Cafe (near the 405 Freeway) hasn't fared too well, but ING's top honchos in San Francisco are optimistic about the prospects.
As I sipped my wine, and glanced around at the guests, it was evident to me that ING just may be able to pull off the coup of the year here!
Somehow I got the distinct impression that the cozy banking outlet may appeal to the almighty 99%, too! "Even though 90 percent of our business is on the phone and Internet, people still want to connect and hang out," he explains.
"People want to know you are real and part of their community. People want to have conversations about money," one Exec piped up at press time.
"The cafe raises awareness of the ING brand - best known for its bright orange signage - and helps reassure people "who kind of trust the Internet but don't," a gentleman who identified himself as Mr. Kuhlmann says.
He underscored that opening a cafe usually leads to a 10 percent increase in interest locally in the opening of accounts.
According to ING Direct's enthusiastic reps - gushing with pride over the venture - the foreign-based banking institution boasts 7.5 million customers and $83 billion in deposits.
ING has developed a loyal following among customers who like its simple customer-friendly approach to banking apparently.
Kuhlmann says the backlash against traditional banks is working in its favor.
"We're a bit like Southwest Airlines. We don't take this banking thing too serious," he says. ING Direct is the U.S. subsidiary of ING Group, a Dutch banking and insurance giant, that received a bailout in 2009.
As part of the bailout, the European Union required the parent company to sell its U.S. bank holdings and other subsidiaries.
This summer, Capital One Financial agreed to pay $9 billion in cash and stock for ING Direct USA.
The deal is awaiting regulatory approval.
ING Direct signed a 10-year lease on the Union Square property, so if you read between the lines - well - it looks like the deal may be a sure-thing.
The nifty eye-catching cafe was designed by Pompei A.D., which also has done work for retailers such as Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters.
Half-asleep, I sauntered into the local Starbucks outlet in the financial district in downtown San Francisco bright-and-early the other morning, as I geared up to face a busy day ahead in the bustling metropolis.
As usual, I snatched up the morning Chronicle, paid for an "order" of Oatmeal with all the toppings, then slipped down at a table with a window on-the-world and proceeded to chow down on my breakfast and peruse the daily news.
Suddenly, without warning, I felt a jolt of pain in my jaw as a foreign object of some sorts got lodged inside my gum shortly after I embarked on my first bite of food.
What was the cracking sound?
Something was terribly amiss.
Shortly after I thrust my thumb and forefinger inside my cheek - and poked around for a second-or-two - I located the culprit alright (and quickly ejected it from the inner confines of my mouth).
A twig (or was it a stubby little stick?) was staring back at me in the face.
At this juncture - my stomach went heave-ho (I felt sick, after all) - as the image of the fair Maiden in the Starbucks logo began to spin before my very eyes.
Hold on, Julian, I found myself muttering to myself as a handful of startled guests stared in my direction clueless.
Of course, the unexpected turn of events begged a question.
Was the nasty little intruder laying-in-wait in the container of oatmeal all along, or was it a stray offering that came part 'n parcel inside the topping's packaging?
Until I receive word back from the execs at Starbucks in Seattle (after all, they've got some 'splainin' to do) I highly recommend that the lovers of Quaker-oaks be breakie cautious in the future at Starbucks.
Though the plot for "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is pretty implausible - wildly far-fetched, in fact - once the obvious is dismissed there is a lot to be entertained by (though you wouldn't know it by the ill-conceived promos being broadcast on TV in recent days).
In fact, the off-beat intriguing potboiler - set in a picturesque European backdrop (where a demented serial killer lays in wait for the unsuspecting) - succeeds in stirring up quite a few spine-tingling chills and thrills for audiences packing the theatres in recent days.
For starters, it's in large part due to the lead actress - Rooney Mara (and her formidable acting talents) - who mesmerizes with every nuanced move on screen as she tracks down a vicious killer in the frozen north.
Rooney's high-profile role to date was that of Mark Zuckerberg’s ex-girlfriend in last year’s hit feature “The Social Network" by the way.
Understandably, Daniel Craig (Bond. James Bond!) - though believable in his role as a journalist out to salvage his name and reputation after being slammed in the media - is upstaged here.
In fact, Ms. Mara seamlessly conjures up some of the most memorable onscreen celluloid moments - though ghastly squeamish and not for the faint-of-heart - in recent years.
In a nutshell?
"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (a remake of a flick by Swedish director Niels Arden Oplev based on the Larsson bestseller) is a tall yarn about a father (Christopher Plummer) who hires on a crack investigator (Craig) to solve the decades-old disappearance (murder?) of his young daughter (in spite of the fact the clues are few and the trail stone cold).
It is not until Craig's character enlists the services of an unconventional tattooed researcher (Mara) - with a lot of baggage of her own (which threatens to topple the drama along the way in a sub-plot that is highly preposterous) that there is some headway.
At this juncture, filmgoers are swept up into a fast-paced suspense thriller - a real adrenalin rush - that is certainly worth the price of admission (from a visual and sexual standpoint at least).
The door is left wide-open for a sequel, of course, though Craig's studly star appearance won't be necessary to make sense of it all if the project is ever green lighted.
On occasion, Steven Spielberg takes the helm behind the camera - at which point - it becomes evident that the project is close to his heart.
When it comes to "War Horse" (a blah title for a film, by the way) the studio maverick has revealed his underlying passion for old-style traditional filmmaking replete with capable ensemble cast, exquisite period sets and costumes (with attention to lush precise details), and majestic panoramas bolstered up by flawless cinematography.
So, right out-of-the-gate, filmgoers can't help but be emotionally overwhelmed as they're nurtured along the "magic" storytelling trail - and eventually swept up - into the welcoming arms of the film's final climatic moments before the curtain rings down.
Unfortunately, for film buffs - and fans of the celebrated auteur - the Oscar-winning director chose to take a predictable route (formula filmmaking in true Hollywood style) to his detriment in this instant scenario.
Though, visually stunning and vastly entertaining - well crafted, too - "War Horse" ends up missing its cinematic mark in spite of Spielberg's deliberate attempt to seduce the audience into a romantic bygone era where unsung heroes populate a well-travelled terrain.
The tale starts off well, but quickly, gets bogged down in tired old film cliches and a heap load of sentimentality.
There's a thin line between being schmaltzy and heartwarming - and few are capable - of walking that tightrope with ease.
Sadly, this is the case with Mr. Spielberg this time out.
Though, the uncanny ability of God's creatures to survive long-suffering ordeals against all odds may be worthy of note - even ripe on occasion for the subject matter of a top-notch film - the script in this instant case fell short.
"Sea Biscuit" is a far better example of what may be accomplished when the the director (and filmmakers) are properly focused and the intentions are pure.
Like Barry Manilow before him, Michael Buble can't leave well enough alone, when it comes to orchestrating a roster of musical compositions to perform live on stage.
Though a fan of the "Copacabana" kid, tattler readers may recall that I have complained in the past about Mr. Manilow's tendency to rearrange toe-tapping hits with disastrous results.
In that respect, well, Neil Sedaka - a fave pop star of yesteryear - appears to be one of the few olden golden oldies (Johnny Mathis, too) who have managed to exercise a little musical restraint (if not plain old common sense!).
Last night, I literally cringed in my comfy critic's armchair - for instance - when Buble mangled a couple of Christmas "classics" on an NBC special in what amounted to a shamefaced attempt to "jazz" 'em up (and implant his own signature style?).
My knee-jerk reaction?
"Just warble the tunes the way they were intended, Buble, then no harm done!"
The cheeky young upstart had the audacity to try to best Bing Crosby's best-selling version of "White Christmas" with a hokey one - that not only fell flat - but way off-key, too.
Fortunately, the entertainment hour - Buble's first for the network - was not a total stinker.
In fact, Buble not only proved he could be quick on-his-feet with snappy patter - but, also - a charismatic stage presence worth reckoning with once he gets over his initial awkwardness in front of the camera (and live! audiences).
His voice is appealing and distinctive, too, though limited in range.
With a little more experience under his belt - and after working alongside a handful of seasoned professionals in the biz - just betcha he'll be able to dazzle the mainstream and pack a wallop in the process.
Well, he's no Sinatra!
Buble's a mediocre talent stumbling in the dark just waiting to bust out into the dazzling spotlight!
"Ghost Protocol" (Mission: Impossible installment) is a loud, brash - a dozen-or-so thrills-a-minute (adrenalin pumping) - flick.
But, when it gets down to the nitty-gritty (and the savvy film buff manages to separate the slick special effects layers from the stardust), it's just the same-old same-old.
The once-wildly successful "Mission: Impossible" franchise has settled into a predictable old rut!
In fact, at times, I felt like I was hunkered down in a comfy armchair in front of the old boob tube - screening a ho-hum weekly episode - which had somehow been uncannily exploded onto the wide screen elsewhere at the movie-house by capable studio wizards seeking out pay dirt.
Ironically, when I strolled out of the AMC theatre yesterday afternoon, I spied (no pun intended) a handful of captions on a series of lacklustre in-your-face promotional billboards that the producers had rustled up for public consumption in the subterranean tunnels of Bart which said it all.
No entertainment value, either, folks!
In recent weeks, there was a lot of "ta do" about Tom Cruise - and his death-defying spectacular stunts, in particular; but, in the final analysis, it was just a lot of heavy-handed smoke-and-mirrors hype orchestrated to maneuver ticket-holders into the vacant seats.
Pedestrian, at best!
And, what a pat ending.
If one of the "suits" at the studio had taken at least one creative writing course in College, he (or she) may have been able to fathom up an end scenario with a little more ingenuity than that!
Even Jeremy Renner - capable of turning in an Oscar-calibre performance now-and-then - sleep-walked through this turkey (while the rest of the bored cast gobbled up the overcooked stuffing nonetheless).
Obviously, Mr. Renner chose the vehicle in a bold-faced (egotistical) effort to catapult himself into the realms of mainstream fluff, with sugar-plums and big-budget offerings at the forefront of his devious mind.
No, he's still not top dawg on the wide screen (starring) but he sure is chomping-at-the-bit to sign on the dotted line!
Even the formula filmmaking doesn't work for Tom Cruise anymore, who comes off too long in the tooth, to play a believable spy-action hero.
Justin Bieber, Denise Richards - and a few starry-eyed up-and-coming performers - appeared on "A Home for the Holidays" last night to toss the spotlight on the plight of children in dire need of foster care.
The issue - which was handled thoughtfully (and with a great deal of sensitivity) - struck a chord in me in particular; after all, I was a foster child in my youth when I was being raised in the suburbs of Toronto (Canada).
The special - which also showcased the musical talents of the gifted guests - hammered "home" one very important point worth reflecting on.
Many children around this country are without shelter or nurturing loving parents during this festive season.
At a time when this country is faced with so many troubling issues - economic hard times, homelessness among the adult population, and unemployment - foster care for the needy (and subsequent adoption efforts) should be a top priority in one of the richest Nations in the world.
Don't 'ya think?
So, with that thought in mind, I utter up this urgent thought.
If you can give the "gift" of a "home" - especially during the holiday season when the young ones should be experiencing love and joy in their sweet innocent lives - I pray that you will pick up the slack!
A few sat up and took notice yesterday around the blogosphere when it was reported that a Saudi Prince just invested in the "little bird that could".
Saudi Royal Alwaleed Bin Talal put his big bucks where his "tweets" were and allegedly secured a 3% stake in Twitter.
Insiders says that the influx of cash amounts to a $300 million-dollar investment for the Saudi Kingdom Holding Company which Alwakeed controls.
Alwaleed is the largest individual investor in Citigroup and has a major investment in News Corp (while monies in Apple, Inc. & General Motors trail behind).
Twitter execs - who confirmed the purchase at the beginning of the week via e-mail communication - hopes the influx of cash will help develop the social hub in leaps-and-bounds to compete with rival Facebook.
The "tweeters" have come a long way, baby!
It seems like just yesterday folks were scratching their heads and pondering how to best use twitter in their daily lives.
Now that the big-time investors have come to recognize the power of social networking the world-over, the sky is the limit for Twitter, Facebook, and others?
Last evening Jews and people of all cultures gathered at Union Square to light the sacred Menorah - Mayor Lee - included.
The celebration marks the 1st day of Chanuka.
The tradition held in downtown San Francisco was first started up in 1975 by Rabbi Chaim Drizin (the Director of the Chabad in Berkeley), Zev Putterman (Program Director of KQED), and Rabbi Yosef Langer.
Shortly thereafter, rock impresario - Billy Graham (who died in a tragic airplane accident in 1991) constructed a 22-foot high mahogany Menorah which has been erected each at the annual event at the commencement of the Jewish holiday.
Memorah is a Hebrew word for Lamp and is one of the symbols of Judaism.
Jews believe that the Memorah brings light into their homes and radiates out into the streets.
By spreading goodness and kindness each holiday season, the Jewish people believe it is possible to transform the outside world and diminish (snuff out) darkness (ignorance, intolerance, and hate).
A candle will be lit each night over the next week in Union Square.
Locals and tourists alike are invited to attend what is commonly known as the Festival of Lights.
Though you (and yours) may be on-the-go during the holiday season, it is not necessary to ignore adorning the environs, just because you're resting your weary head on a fluffy pillow at the local Inn!
For example, today I splurged on a "miniature" Christmas tree - and scooped up a handful of festive decorations (including a string of twinkling lights) - to add a touch of the Yuletide Season to my Hotel suite!
When I settled into my comfy bed last night, I felt like old Saint Nick was going to pop down the chimney any minute, and share a glass of milk and cookies with!
Now, if only I could only find a warm - um! - sexy bod to snuggle up to come Christmas eve!
Well, the week is still young in San Francisco, eh?
As Christmas approaches - and Carols are sung out by Merry Choristers on street corners around the country - I am reminded by a Pastor at St. Mary's Church (the 1st Cathedral in California) that the "Twelve Days of Christmas" was used to Catechize young Catholics in England from the middle of the 16th Century to the middle of the 18th Century.
Christians may recall that during that period of history, Catholics were not permitted to openly profess (or practice) their faith.
So, the Carol was written to help preserve the Catholic faith.
For example, each gift (or element) mentioned in the beautiful Carol was a "code" word that was used to help children remember the Christian story as follows:
*The partridge in the pear tree was Jesus Christ *Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments *Three French hens stood for faith, hope, and charity *Four calling birds were four gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke & John *Five golden rings were the Torah or Law (5 books of old testament) *The Six geese-a-laying stood for the six days of creation *Seven swans-a-swimming represented sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit which were Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy *The Eight maids-a-milking were the eight beatitudes *The Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit such as Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control *The Ten lords-a-leaping were the ten commandments *The Eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples *The Twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in Apostle's Creed
Praise the Almighty that this holiday Season all may practice the faith of their choice with their loved ones and that there will be Peace on Earth and Goodwill towards mankind!
Unless a celeb I'm really keen on is hosting "Saturday Night Live" that week, I usually pass on the off-the-wall antics of the gang of merry-makers, for greener late-night TV pastures elsewhere on the old boob tube.
Fortunately, I was tipped off to the fact that Jimmy Fallon - a relative newcomer to the late-night talk-show circuit - would be doing the honors.
In a nutshell?
I'm glad I popped an upper and guzzled down a swig of ale - and tuned in - because the likable stand-up comic - because Fallon turned out to be a laugh riot.
SNL never came off sounding-and-looking so good since in recent months - well, not since Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake graced the stage at least - with their loopy off-the-wall antics a few moons ago which also garnered rave reviews from hard-line crusty old critics.
Although Fallon tends to downplay his "talent" as an "impersonator", his characterizations of well-known political and show-biz figures - for the most part - bang on.
The attractive host is quick on his feet, too.
In spite of the fact, SNL writers are notorious for delivering up hasty rewrites at curtain - unlike so many other high-profile performers - Fallon is capable of pulling the gag off without relying on cue cards off-camera to help him limp through material that is often a little ragged around the edges.
Saturday night's installment (December 17th) was tight, solid, and pretty darn satisfying.
Funny ha-ha, as seasoned professionals used to say, too.
At this juncture, I have to wonder if the rising star of the in-your-face slapstick comedy, contributed gags of his own; after all, the humor was of a higher calibre than usual - Mr. Michaels.
Will Fallon be snapping up comedy roles in big-budget comedies (in a starring capacity) in the near future?
Let's hope so, he's ripe for the golden opportunity, and so deserving!