Monthly Archives: October 2011


Since I’ve been absorbing much of my movie news via the internet, being so far removed from the action and not really having people to talk with, DRIVE has been on the top of my lists of movies I’ve been dying to see this year.  A great preview, great reviews, and most of my friends raving over it via Facebook.  It’s gonna be great.

And, well, it is I guess.  But I wasn’t particularly floored by it.

When Albert Brooks’ character talks about the movies he used to produce he laughs and says something to the effect of “they say they felt European.”  Fitting, of course.  Director Nicolas Winding Refn know exactly what he’s doing, and how every single moment should be captured, and just how self-aware to make the film.  Because despite it’s American pedigree (Danish director aside), American cast (well, except Carey Mulligan), and patently American subject matter (we love cars!) it’s very European in style.  Slow, sparse, stylish, and….techno music.  It’s all present very European…-ey.  But it tweaks and plays with the style here and there.

Sometimes I found it took these notes a bit too extreme.  Ryan Gosling’s character is quiet, stoic, and contained.  But almost too much at times.  He’s almost robotic.  Of course, this is on purpose and is the point.  By putting up this wall between himself and others (and the audience) it makes us hang on every single thing he says and does.  And how he says it.  Carey Mulligan clearly disarms him, but he shows it as subtly as humanly possible.  Still, there are times where he’s frustratingly robotic and it stifles the mood.

The music will push the everything too far in the opposite direction.  The music is what most people seem to be talking about (but I think a lot of people will take the chance to “like” pre-approved obscure indie/hipster Euro techno), and one song in particular was just on the verge of cloying.  The song is “A Real Hero” by (person? group?) College and it works perfectly.  Too perfectly.  The words are so on the nose and obvious to the narrative that it’s simultaneously wonderful and distracting.  I’m still not sure how to really feel about it.

There’s little action in the film (but it’s nothing to sue over!), but it effective, gripping, and exciting stuff.  Not a car chase for the ages, but certainly a very good one.  The violence, which there’s also not a lot of, is especially graphic.  I would say out of place, but that would be a lie.  It’s also a tool Refn uses to play with the genre and expectations and whatnot.  We expect some action movie fightin’ and stuff, but we don’t expect it to be so rough.  It works here (unlike James Gunn’s SUPER, where it failed).

Albert Brooks is worth talking about too.  Apart from the music, Brooks is probably the second most talked about thing in DRIVE.  And with good reason, because his performance is chilling and crazy good.  I wish he would do more movies.  His own or in others.

Part of me is worried that my method of watching movies right now is starting to effect how I enjoy and process them.  I watch movies on my laptop in bed, which is not an ideal setup.  I could watch them on my computer monitor in the living room, but chair is too uncomfortable and I find the surroundings more distracting than the bedroom.  Regardless, I do wonder if I had seen this properly in a theatre, or even just on a TV while sitting on a couch, I would feel more enthused about DRIVE.

I also worry I’m using too many parentheticals (I realize there’s no plural of that word but…shit, I did it again).




The opening scenes of CONTAGION are terrifying.  And, as much fun as it is to see Gwenyth Paltrow writhe on the floor in a seizure, you can’t fully fathom what Matt Damon’s character must be going through.  It’s flat-out disturbing and heart-wrenching.

Not to say the movie suffers from then on, but it certainly slows the tension.  The film never grows to a proper boil again, but stays properly warm throughout.  What’s most enjoyable about the film, for me at least, is it’s more of a scenario movie than anything else.  Though there are hints of the emotional pablum you might expect from a Hollywood blockbuster on the subject, it’s more about simply following a wide swath of characters and how they handle such a situation.  The horror comes from how feasible and realistic the situation is, and how even though we’re so organized at attacking the problem, we’re still so utterly screwed if and when it happens again.  More like when it happens again.

With so many characters strewn about (just check the cast list, there are an overwhelming number of fine actors here), things do get a bit tangled from time to time.  Not necessarily confusing, just tangled and tiresome.  Marillon Cotrillard’s character, for example, could be removed from the film entirely without detriment.  She disappears for most of it anyways.

EDIT – And, oddly enough, even with all these great actors they sort of phone it in.  They’re fine, but not at their best.  But, with the exception of Damon and Jude Law, they didn’t have a whole lot to work with.

I almost completely forgot Jude Law’s character.  Not because it was bad or anything, my memory just lapsed.  But I felt like that whole storyline, while very important for the film’s plot as a whole, was a nice but thinly-veiled attack on the Jenny McCarthy’s and Andrew Wakefield’s of the world.  When the character was facing the Attorney General I halfway expected him to just turn to the camera and shout “and vaccines DON’T cause autism!  Idiots!”  Though, I wouldn’t have minded if he had.

While watching the film I was completely and utterly wrapped up in it.  It was tense and fascinating and smart and thoughtful and just emotional enough.  But, the further I get from the film, the more dull it becomes.  It just doesn’t stick with you that much, and maybe that’s the unfortunate flip side of all the characters being so simple.  So I guess that makes it worth watching once, but I don’t think it’s a movie people will be remembering much down the road.

It did make me think this is exactly how the film version of WORLD WAR Z should play out.  A matter of fact, scenario type narrative with less emphasis on one grand story and instead visiting many.  Just like the book.  So I hope Brad Pitt and those involved take note and do it right.  Because that book was some scary shit.


The Trip

I’ve always admired and enjoyed Michael Winterbottom’s films.  I admire any director with such versatility, range, and prolific output.  Have you seen TRISTRAM SHANDY: A COCK & BULL STORY?  It’s great.  And the “versions” Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon played in that movie are actually continued here.

Granted, THE TRIP is not for everyone.  Hell, I’d venture to say it’s not for most people.  Because, even though I did enjoy it, it is boring.  It’s just Coogan and Brydon driving around the northern English countryside trying fancy restaurants, swapping celebrity impersonations, and bemoaning how much they miss their girlfriend/wife.  Nothing really happens, and a lot of it is repetitive.  But it is a fascinating character study, and a great performance from Coogan (as himself, no less).  I just can’t recommend it really as, unless you’re in the right kind of mood, it’s going to be insanely boring.  Chris didn’t even watch it with me and he detested it.

One reason it may have been so boring/repetitive is it was actually a 6 episode TV series edited into feature form for North American audiences.  That…actually explains a lot.

It’s on Netflix.


Seems so peaceful out there

Here’s one the time lapse’s Hal did while staying here in Göttingen.  This was from the top floor of our building.

And here’s one he did while we were in Hamburg.


What Smells?

Reasons I need new glasses:

#1: They’re 4+ years old (I got them around March 2007), so the prescription is woefully out of date.  I utilized my vision insurance last year to get prescription sunglasses, which I had wanted for years, and quickly learned it was a mistake as my prescription had changed a lot.  It’s gotten to the point now where I need to squint pretty severely  in order to read some things, or try and see into the distance (I’m near-sighted).

#2: They’re 4+ years old, so they’re dirty.  No matter how often I try to clean them, or how thoroughly, there are crevices that have accumulated lots of gunk and filth.  It’s invisible to anyone looking at me (I hope), but it’s there.  They’re also fairly beat up at this point.

#3: They just fell in the toilet.


Went to Hamburg and had a hamburger served by a Hamburger.  Of all the modern wonders.

Hal arrived in to town a week ago.  He flew in to Frankfurt from Spain and had initially planned to spend a day or two there.  Turns out it’s more expensive to sleep there than fly there, so he took an overnight train here and spent a lot of time at the Burger King in the train station.

Since Hamburg is the last major German city we hadn’t been to, and it’s pretty cheap and easy to get there, we decided to go there for a few days.  It’s only 4 hours by slow train (half that on the fast train, but 12x the cost) and we found a reasonable Airbnb place.  There was a brief scare at our layover station in Uelzen when Chris forgot his backpack on the train (which had his laptop and iPad in it), but since it was the last stop and the train simply turned back around 10 minutes later, we were able to get it without issue.  Just added an hour delay to the trip as we waited for the next train.  No big deal.

Our apartment was on a street called Schlump, which still makes me laugh, and was just outside downtown with a subway/bus stop literally just outside the door.  After unloading our stuff we headed back downtown to just wander around for a bit, see what it was like.  The area by the main train station was like a lot of other German city centers.  Lots of stores and people milling about.  But, unlike the cramped quarters of Cologne, the streets here were plenty roomy and the buildings quite large.  We initially started around the Gänselmarkt, which seemed to be the upscale store area.  Chris had taken us there in search of Pizza Hut, which turned out to be a bust (turns out it had been permanently closed, thanks a lot Google Maps).  We wound up at a little Italian place called Ponti which was very good and a decent substitute for the Pizza Hut Chris was searching for.

There was a huge C&A store downtown (C&A is sort of the JC Penny of Germany) that was 6 or 7 floors (that makes for one massive department store).  Hal needed some stuff and I perused the jackets.  Having lost so much weight my winter coat from last year is too big.  I found a long wool coat that I immediately fell in love with and had to have.  It’s probably not quite warm enough for snow, but I just had to have it.  I’ve always wanted to have a long coat, and it looks so good.  Makes me feel like an adult and stuff.

We took some time back at the apartment so Hal could monitor his time lapse camera and stuff.  While sitting and minding my own business on the computer, in the living room, felt a sudden pinch on my shin.  It only took a moment to recognize the sensation and realize I had been stung by a wasp (AKA a yellow jacket) that had crawled up my pant leg.  Probably from when I was on the balcony.  Still, very random and very crappy.  Luckily, I’m not allergic, but there’s a reason I think all bees and their kind are pure evil.  The wasp was promptly squished once I fished it out of my pant leg.  Luckily its stinger had come off as they’re capable of stinging repeatedly.

Shortly after that I forced Hal and Chris to join me in a quick jaunt down to the Reeperbahn, which is Hamburg’s famous red light district (and where the Beatles got their start).  It’s one of those places you go, walk around, and then never return to again.  It was only starting to get crowded, being somewhat early on a Friday night, but I’m still surprised so many strip clubs and sex shops can stay in business right next to each other.  It seemed like every other business on one side of the street was a strip club with people outside trying to convince everyone to come in.  One side street was clearly the gay annex of sorts, but otherwise just lots of clubs and sex shops.  Lots of prostitutes just standing around on corners as well, which took a second to register.  First I thought it was just some women standing around, then remembered where I was.

Hal wanted to get a drink, but it was hard to find a bar that was just a bar in the area.  We finally found a place with a British flag on it and went it.  It was a cramped dive bar that was OK at first, but intolerable once the incredibly loud music started.  We downed our Strongbow Ales and left.  So yeah, that was an experience I guess.

The next morning we headed for a place called Monkey Donuts that was just around the corner as Chris and I were disappointed there were no Dunkin’ Donuts in town.  It seemed like a clone of DD, so it would do.  Unfortunately, it seems to have gone out of business recently and was closed.  We headed downtown and fond a Balzac Coffee instead.  Luckily, they had what was the closest we’ve found to cinnamon buns since we got here, so that was a big plus.

We split ways with Hal so he could get some photo work done without us bogging him down, or vice versa.  We sent to the Rathaus, which is massive (more rooms than Buckingham Palace) and beautiful (it’s the first picture), to meet the free guided tour group.  We had done the Berlin version with the same company earlier this year, and it’s worth the money (i.e. tips only).  The tour took about 3 hours or so and wandered around the usual parts.

Turns out, Hamburg just isn’t that interesting a city.  Don’t get me wrong, it is a gorgeous town and it’s now tied with Munich for my favorite town here.  Would love to go back and spend more time there.  Would love to live there too.  It’s big, but not massive.  Walkable, but with a great transportation system.  Beautiful architecture, both modern and old, and the people seem generally friendly.  Didn’t really come across a bad neighborhood, like we did in Berlin and Cologne, but I’m sure they’re there.  But as far as things to see goes, there’s just not a whole lot.  The town’s history is pretty basic and mildly interesting.  Long story short, after trying to convert Vikings to Christianity (which didn’t go well, duh) they settled on shipping.  There are more bridges there than several major cities combined (over 2,200 apparently).  Most of the city burned down once, cholera killed a bunch of people, was bombed to rubble, blah blah blah, and so on.

That’s the warehouse district, which was plenty interesting.  I’m sure there’s good shopping there, but we didn’t really find it.  Next to that is the new harbor city (HafenCity) they’re building.  Europe’s largest construction project, scheduled to be done by around 2030 most likely.  Building an entirely new city within a city.  It’s impressive.

The harbor is also quite massive.  But you can’t see much of it and we didn’t have time for a boat tour of any kind.

We hunted around for food after that (we did find a Pizza Hut Express, but it didn’t seem worth it) which took quite a while as everything was absolutely packed.  Every city we’ve been in has had a Block House steakhouse restaurant, and Chris and I have perpetually thought about trying them, but they’re not the cheapest of places.  So we broke down and went after nothing else was readily available.  We both got the “New York Cheeseburger,” which isn’t exactly like anything I had seen back home.  An open faced burger?  Well, more like a big patty on top of garlic bread.  There was bruschetta under the melted cheese, which was wonderful.  We were glad we went as it was easily the best German burger we’ve had since we got here.  Germans suck at burgers.

That pretty building with the wavy glass is the new Elbe Philharmonic Hall.  Like all German construction, it’s over schedule and over budget.  It had an original budget of 28 million Euro, but the architects misunderstood that as their personal budget and spent it all.  But the city loved the design so much they went ahead with the it anyways.  So it was budgeted at 240 million Euro or so, and supposed to open in 2009.  It has a really unique bowl design where the orchestra sits in the middle and the audience rises up around them.  Seems cool.  After some delays it was going to open next year.  Then, just recently, building inspectors gave word that the current design doesn’t seem stable enough and they have to start over.  Or modify it.  Or something.  So now it’ll maybe be 2015 and they’re pushing upwards of 500 million Euro.  Yikes.  It looks nice and all, but as our tour guide noted, she’s yet to see a tourist really blown away by it.

We met up with Hal by the lake in the evening, grabbed some desserts, and went back home for the night.  I wanted to get up really early the next morning to visit the famous fish market that happens every Sunday morning from 5 to 10.  It’s supposed to be a massive, massive market.  Not just fish, of course, but more like a massive fish/farmer’s/flea market.  I’m sure there would’ve been great food and stuff.  But we had to catch the 9am train to get back to Göttingen in time for an appointment, and getting up at 6 or so seemed so daunting at that point.  So I didn’t go.  I regret it, but I was also exhausted by the end of Sunday anyways, so it was probably for the best.  Oh well.

So that was Hamburg.  I’d go back again in a heartbeat if possible.  Just a lovely city with a great vibe.  Clean, pretty, personable.  I loved it.

Heute ist sehr nebig

Sorry for the lack of posting.  Nothing sprang to mind, and we’ve sort of been busy.  Hal Bergman arrived here the other day to stay for a while, so I’ve been distracted.

We’re leaving for Hamburg in a few minutes.  Pretty much the last major German city we haven’t been too.  Looking forward to it.  Back in a few days with photos and thoughts and stuff.

Bis später.


It was just announced that Werner Herzog will be playing the villain in a new action movie.  This is awesome news.  Anything Herzog touches is automatically worth watching, and I’m sure he’ll make the film worthwhile.  Even if it does star Tom Cruise.

Downton Abbey

After it swept the Emmys, and was the all around highest reviewed thing in a long time, I started watching Downton Abbey.  I’m loving it so far.

It’s just SO BRITISH!  Oh my, how British it is.  The scandals!  The quick, dry wit!  In the last episode I watched, a woman dared to wear pants.  Pants!  Incredulous!

It’s on Netflix (which I only discovered after downloading the first few episodes) and, as with most British TV, it’s short (only 7 episodes in the first series).  Maggie Smith dominates in every scene she’s in.

Check it out, if that’s your cup of tea.  Get it?  TEA!?!?!  British!