Tag Archives: Manhattan

West Side Story Movie Review

Regardless of whether or not one is a fan of Broadway musicals, they are likely to at least know of West Side Story. To make a long story short, it is Romeo and Juliet taken from Italy in the 16th century and put down in New York City in the late 1950s.

The reimagining opens as San Juan Hill, a neighborhood in Manhattan, is being torn down to become what we know today as Lincoln Center. Not surprisingly, the residents of this neighborhood are people of color, immigrants, and low-income Caucasians.

The Montagues and Capulets have been replaced by two warring gangs of young men, fighting to retain unofficial control of what is left of their neck of the woods. Riff (Mike Faist) is the leader of the Jets, who are all White. Bernardo (David Alvarez) is the leader of the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks. Though he has a career as a boxer, he is equally concerned with protecting his family and his fellow Puerto Ricans.

Their fates are changed when Maria (newcomer Rachel Zegler) and Tony (Ansel Elgort) meet at a dance. Maria is Bernardo’s younger sister. Newly arrived in NYC, she is both idealistic and stubborn. Without their parents, the only maternal influence she has is Anita (Ariana DeBose), Bernardo’s girlfriend. Anita is spicy, whip-smart, and is eager to take advantage of the opportunities that lay before her. Tony is Riff’s best friend and his former second in command. After spending a year in prison, he wants more from life than being a hoodlum.

As the two fall in love and envision a life together, their relationship is tested by the violence around them. If they could get those closest to them to find a way to get along, Maria and Tony could have a chance at a future. But as lovely as that idea is, it will take a miracle to make it happen.

Kudos go to director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner. They took a chance on remaking a classic and succeeded. What makes it stand out from its 1961 predecessor is both the casting of Latinx actors and the understanding that socio-economic issues, politics, and racial strife is the backbone of this narrative.

The deliberate decision of seeking out and hiring performers who are from Latin America or of Latin American descent adds a feeling of authenticity that is missing from the original film. Even Rita Moreno, who is also Puerto Rican (Anita in the 1961 movie and Valentina, the co-owner of the pharmacy and widow of the late pharmacist in this adaptation) had her skin darkened.

If there is one performer who stands out, it is Rachel Zegler. In her first on-screen role ever, she shines as Maria. Her voice is absolutely stunning. Most young actors start out as background players or in small roles, slowly building up their resume. To come out of the gate in the lead role in a major movie and blow everyone away shows that she has nothing but a bright future ahead of her.

This narrative is as timely and powerful as it was sixty years ago. The problems have not changed, they just have different names and different faces. If nothing else, it reminds the audience that we have two choices. We can continue to figuratively shoot ourselves in the literal foot, or find a way to work tother.

Though it clocks in at a little over two hours, it is worth sitting through.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

West Side Story is presently in theaters.

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Filed under History, Movie Review, Movies, New York City, Politics, William Shakespeare

How to Find an Apartment in New York City

Looking for a new home is not easy. In New York City, it is made infinitely harder by the fact that not only is everything more expensive, but compared to other parts of the country, your paying more money for less space.

After living in my last apartment for over a decade, it was time to find a new place to live. Along the way, I learned a few things and I would like to share the lessons I learned.

  1. Know your budget: Before you start any apartment search, it is imperative to know what you can and cannot afford in terms of rent. There is nothing worse than finding your dream home and realizing that it is out of financial reach. On the surface, the budget is the rent. However, there is also the security deposit, the realtor fee( see #3), the cost of moving (see #10), and other miscellaneous expenses that crop up along the way.
  2. Check your credit score: One of the things that a potential realtor and landlord will ask is your credit score. Even if everything else on your application is perfect, there is a chance that you may be rejected because of your past credit history.
  3. Working with a realtor: The upshot of working with a realtor is that they have access to multiple properties. Bear in mind, however, that if you make this decision and find an apartment that you love, there is likely to be a realtor free. Depending on the agency, the fee could be anywhere from 15% of one month’s rent to one to two months of rent. If you choose this path, I highly recommend that you do research and/or ask for recommendations. If they are legit, you will not pay anything until you say yes to the apartment.
  4. Use multiple sources: The more search options you use, the more apartments you will find. When I was looking, I used the advertised sites (Zillow, Streeteasy, etc), Facebook (both the market and groups), Nextdoor.com, and Craigslist. Just be aware that some ads on Craigslist can be a little on the shady side.
  5. Location: While you may want to live in Manhattan, be aware that the cost of rent is higher than other parts of the city. An example is of the Cash Jordan video below. I’ve seen similar units in Brooklyn that cost around $1500 instead of $2500.

6. Get to know your potential neighborhood (if you don’t know it already): Once you have narrowed down the neighborhood(s), it is time to get to know where you might be living. I recommend first using rentcity.co to learn more about the building. Then I used Google and Yelp to figure out where the stores are and how close the public transportation is. After you have seen the unit, take some time to walk around. Not just during the day, but also at night. The last thing you want is to be afraid to leave home after dark or come home after a late night out.

7. Amenities: They can be as simple as an elevator and/or laundry in the building. Or, they can be as fancy as high end finishes, in house gyms, doormen, roof decks, etc. What you have to remember that the more amenities a building offers, it is very likely that the rent will be higher.

8. Be firm, but flexible: I know this sounds like a contradiction, but hear me out. Whether or not you go through an agent or work with the building owners directly, there may be a fair amount of pressure to say yes. I can recall a number of times that I was told that the apartment would go fast and I had to make a decision ASAP. Know what you want, but be realistic. There will always be something to compromise on. The question is, what are you willing to let go of and what stays on your must have list?

9. Be patient: This is a learning process. You may find what you are looking for right away. It can happen. But, be aware that it takes time to put together an image of your next. It took me about six months to find my new apartment. Trust me when I say it was difficult and time consuming. You don’t want to sign a twelve month lease and realize two months in that your miserable.

10. Moving Company: Once you have signed the lease, the next step is figure out how you are going to transfer your belongings. There are two ways to go about this. The first is, if you don’t have a lot of stuff, rent a van and ask friends or family to help. A few years ago, I and a few others helped a couple of friends move. Our reward was free dinner. The second is to hire a moving company. The vetting process is similar to finding a realtor. What I found very helpful is that if you use Yelp, it is setup so that multiple moving companies are contacted in one sitting.

11. Organization is key: This is a messy, complicated process with a lot of details that if missed, could result in a major screwup. The only way to remain calm and in control is to be organized. I used Excel and added a new folder in my email just for this process. Someone else may have another way of going about it, but the point is not to panic and let everything that has to be done overwhelm you.

12. Be prepared to throw-out, sell, or donate: When your settled, you don’t think about how much stuff you have. That realization only comes when you have to start packing. Over the course of those six months, I did a deep dive and really had to think about what I wanted to take with me and what I no longer needed. There are multiple ways to go about doing this. I made several trips to Housing Works. Craigslist, Facebook, and Nextdoor.com also have features in which you can post listings for stuff you want to sell and/or donate.

To anyone going through this, I wish you luck. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, even if it is farther away than you would like it to be.

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Filed under New York City

Coogans Restaurant Is Saved!

Every neighborhood, every town, has that restaurant or bar. Local families have been coming for generations.  Walking into this bar or restaurant is akin to walking into the home of a close friend or family member. It’s more than the food or the staff, it’s an extension of home and family.

Coogan’s Restaurant has been a staple of Washington Heights, a neighborhood in the Northern portion of Manhattan for over 30 years. It was on the brink of closing due to an extreme rent increase by the landlord. Thankfully, a deal was made between the restaurants owners and the landlord and restaurant will remain open.

I don’t know about other cities, but this is a problem for New York City. While I understand that landlords have bill to pay, raising rents beyond what is reasonable hurts both the city and the residents who call the city home. New York City should not just be the city where only thing earning a six figure income and above call home. It should be a city (like all cities) where residents of all income levels can call the city home. Unfortunately, with rents (and prices in general) going up, I fear that one day that middle class in New York City will be a thing of the past and those who call the city home will either be very rich or very poor.

 

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