Dave’s Excellent Eurotrip 2013 Part 2: Bruges

Bruges Map

Well, what is there to say about Bruges, Belgium (Brugge) that hasn’t already been said in one of my favorite films in recent memory, In Bruges?

While visiting a friend and vacationing in Amsterdam, the siren songs of Bruges were impossible to resist.  Depending on how many transfers you have, Bruges is just a three to four hour train ride from Amsterdam, and what better way to see more of Northern Europe than by train?  It was interesting to see the flat farmlands of The Netherlands, reclaimed from the water through their ingenious designs of dikes, dams and canals.  Off in the distance windmills both ancient and modern could be seen and quaint small towns were passed by until we reached Belgium.  On the way back to Amsterdam we even got to see a little bit of Antwerp during an hour layover at possibly the world’s most beautiful train station.  Who knew, however, that Belgium is apparently considered the armpit of Northern Europe, as my friend (who has lived in both Belgium and New Jersey – another famous armpit we share in heritage) confirmed the theory I was developing while the train rattled through more small towns and rundown graffiti-strewn cities.  But…who cares when Belgium is also home to the world’s best waffles, chocolate and beer?  And…well…Bruges.

Martin McDonagh’s endearing black comedy captured Bruges perfectly.  When Ken (Brendan Gleeson) fumbles over the phone with Harry (Ralph Fiennes) when trying to describe how Ray (Colin Farrell) felt about Bruges…he was spot on.  Getting off at the train station, your first thought might be what the hell…maybe Bruges is a shit hole?  But as soon as your feet hit those cobblestone streets and your eyes take in all the architecture, churches and canals, Belgium’s best preserved medieval city really is like a fuckin’ fairytale, innit?  I mean, honest to god, Bruges is probably the most unabashedly beautiful city I have ever seen.  Bruges knows exactly what it is, why people come, and it luxuriates you in its very essence. Continue reading

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Dave’s Excellent Eurotrip 2013 Part 1: Amsterdam

Amsterdam Map

Ah, Amsterdam – a city of infinite inspiration.  A city of romantic canals and crepuscular red-lit streets, of curious contradictions, of people confident and tolerant and fit, of old and new.  I mean where else in the world could you see within a matter of minutes from each other the original building that housed the Dutch West India Company (yes, that Dutch West India Company, you know, that explored and exploited much of the New World and founded New Amsterdam which became New York City) and the current world headquarters of Booking.com?

Amsterdam – a multi-cultural liberal stronghold atop ground that had it been left to its own devices would’ve been swallowed up by the sea.  Kindergartens and churches sit comfortably adjacent to the Red Light District, and there is a vibe of very little worry or concern about it.  It’s a city where if you are looking for something, you will find it.  But there doesn’t seem to be any cultural neurosis or obsessing over it.  People just are.  They hustle and bustle, but in a laid-back manner.  The inhabitants seem to share in a sense of solving problems in practical, efficient, scalable ways – whether it’s reclaiming land for growth and controlling the tides, creating bicycle paths to corral the traffic, or dealing with the darker sides of human nature.  And while all of that is there if you look for it, it’s also a city of incomparable history, architecture, art and beauty.

It’s a city I envision myself returning to again and again as no single trip could ever do it justice. Continue reading

People, Property, Propriety and Evil in 12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave 2

Steve McQueen’s searing cinematic treatise on slavery will never be accused of holding back.  Classically the film opens in medias res showing small moments in the life of a man enslaved that lead him to flashing back to an idyllic moment with his wife when he had been a free man.  McQueen’s confident direction and John Ridley’s assured screenplay move cleanly back and forth in time to tell the harrowing story of Solomon Northup (an amazing Chiwetel Ejiofor), an accomplished violinist from Saratoga, NY with a loving wife and children who is lured to the nation’s capital on the promise of work only to get kidnapped into slavery.  The horrors, violence and depravity slowly escalate during the film’s runtime, with McQueen transmitting the details through clever points-of-view and camera angles, focusing on the screams and faces of the victims until by the end of the film all blood and flesh are left pooling on the dusty ground of the plantation hellscape run with diabolical vigor by Master Epps (a blisteringly despicable Michael Fassbender, stretching his acting muscle yet again to its darkest reaches under McQueen’s insightful and uncompromising eye).

12 Years a Slave is simultaneously a harrowing one-man-survival-tale and a bitter pill of a history lesson that reminds us it wasn’t so long ago that an entire culture in the Southern United States believed with all their rotten hearts that it was their right to hold other human beings as property.  Continue reading

Boardwalk Empire: The Old Ship of Zion

Dunn dunn dunn....

Dunn dunn dunn….

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – The Old Ship of Zion

Season Four: Episode Eight

Directed by: Tim Van Patten

Written by: Christine Chambers, Howard Korder and Terence Winter

The Spin:  Sally (Patricia Arquette) surprises Nucky by arriving in AC along with the first shipment of booze from Tampa, but Nucky is still too busy trying patch things up between Eli (Shea Whigham) and his son Willie (Ben Rosenfield).  What he doesn’t realize, though, is that Agent Fox (Brian Geraghty) has been clued into the mysterious nature of Willie’s schoolmate’s death and how his roommate got charged with the murder.  Thus he visits the poor kid in the slammer and gets the real scoop.  This allows Fox to brazenly approach Eli with an ultimatum.

But the really interesting action this evening was the Chalky vs. Narcisse plotline, which got even hotter and heavier.  Continue reading

The Truth Has No Temperature but The Counselor is Tepid

The Counselor - Cameron Diaz

I’ve come to the conclusion that Cormac McCarthy is incapable or writing interesting women, but he thinks he knows a lot about them.  The men in his screenplay for Ridley Scott’s slick, pulpy and sweaty “massive drug deal gone awry” flick The Counselor spend most of the film’s runtime spouting off quasi-philosophical macho riffs on life and greed and chicks, man…chicks, they’re like crazy.  The men toggle between misogyny and bafflement.  The character played by Javier Bardem (who, god bless him, tells the story to Michael Fassbender’s protagonist with comically black glee) knows his chick is crazy because of the way she made love to his Ferrari.  No, I’m not kidding…the woman literally humps the car.

That woman, the inexplicably named Malkina, is inexplicably played by Cameron Diaz, who looks great and gives it her all, but just isn’t up to par for this type of role.  She’s borderline camp, and a better actress (an Angelina Jolie perhaps?) would’ve either gone whole-hog with the camp or truly smoldered.   – POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD –   Continue reading

Boardwalk Empire: William Wilson

Boardwalk Empire - Season 4 Teaser Poster Nucky

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – William Wilson

Season Four: Episode Seven

Directed by: Jeremy Podeswa

Written by: David Matthews and Terence Winter

The Spin:  Is it just me or are there some stories just being drug out for too long this season?

Case 1 – Eli’s son Willie (the first doppelgänger/Poe connection of the night) continues to be riddled with guilt (we get it) and starts a bit of a family row at pop’s house.

Case 2 – Don’t get me wrong, I love Gretchen Mol’s Gillian, but her detox scenes in this episode seemed trite as did her blossoming love affair with Office Space guy (Ron Livingston) while under his watchful care.

However, there was still plenty of intrigue.  Margaret (the regular-again-it-seems Kelly Macdonald), it turns out, is working for a shady stock broker and helping him swindle customers into shaky deals.  Into the office, under his own disguise, walks…you guessed it, Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg). Continue reading

The Top Ten Will Ferrell Movies

This December, the most anticipated “long-awaited” sequel in film history since The Godfather Part III, will finally be here.

Anchorman 2 - Joke Poster

In honor of Anchorman 2’s upcoming release, I invite my idiot and learned readers alike to name their favorite films from uber-funny and 21st-century absurdist satirical mastermind, Will Ferrell.

Here are The Spin’s Top Ten picks –

  1. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006) – Shake & Bake, Dear Lord Baby Jesus and Rickeeee Bobeee.  This was Ferrell, John C. Reilly and Sacha Baron Cohen at the height of their powers.
  2. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) – Stay Classy.  Not much else to say here.
  3. The Other Guys (2010) – The scene where the Rock and Samuel L. Jackson leap from a building is still one of the funniest things I have ever seen.
  4. Step Brothers (2008) – Ferrell and Reilly again in all their monumentally moronic man-child glory.
  5. The Campaign (2012) – Political farce just got Farrelled. Continue reading

Boardwalk Empire: The North Star

Boarwalk Empire - Patricia Arquette

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – The North Star

Season Four: Episode Six

Directed by: Allen Coulter

Written by: Howard Korder and Eric Overmyer

The Spin:  Symbolically characters in tonight’s episode were searching for their “north star” which often came in the form of women and families.   Eli (Shea Whigham) wondered how Eddie could take his life like that, leaving children behind, while that crafty double agent Fed insinuated his way into the lesser Thompson’s confidence.  Harrow (Jack Huston) made his way back to Atlantic City to find the elder Sargorsky diagnosed with cirossis and Julia (Wrenn Schmidt) making a sincere plea that she can’t raise little Tommy (now obsessed with star-gazing and mapping his way home) alone.  Then there’s Chalky (Michael K. Williams) falling under the spell of Narcisse’s songstress, who gives a mesmerizing performance of “St. Louis Blues” at the Onyx Club.

Before venturing off down south, Nucky, seemingly directionless without Eddie, stopped in New York to deliver a belated birthday present and the personal news of Eddie’s demise to Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) in a sad attempt to weasel his way back into her life.

Meanwhile, down in Tampa, things are getting soupier than a hopped-up alligator wrestling match. Continue reading

The Perfect Pull of Gravity

GRAVITY's stunning opening sucks you in.

GRAVITY’s stunning opening sucks you in.

In our era of instant interconnectedness, ADD and immediate gratification, Alfonso Cuaron’s bold new film, Gravity, demands viewers to Watch…and Listen.

The film opens with a spectacular continuous long shot of planet Earth from outer space.  Slowly we begin to hear the static-laden chatter of astronauts and mission control grow louder and clearer while the camera leisurely pans in closer and closer to those working outside of a shuttle docked at the Hubble Space telescope.  First-time space traveler, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is installing a new scanning device to give NASA a better way to watch the skies in deep space.  Longtime astral cowboy Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) is out for a “Sunday drive” around the shuttle and telescope overseeing things while telling tales and keeping things light with mission control.  But then a frantic warning comes from Houston.  Stay calm.  Get back inside.  The Russians have taken out one of their own satellites.  The debris is traveling high above the globe at breakneck speed slamming into other satellites and anything in its way causing an avalanche of deadly metal to come hurtling right towards our dear crew.  Suddenly, in the vast distance of blackness above a blue and white sphere, the debris is coming into view.

The next ninety minutes become an epic cosmic ballet of white-knuckle suspense, eye-popping visuals and ensorcell acting.  Shot in 3D, the photography of Emmaneul Lubezki (who previously luxuriated in the magic of the cosmos in Malick’s The Tree of Life) is wholly immersive under Cuaron’s self-assured direction.  Cuaron spins his Oscar-winning mega stars through the calamities like a choreographer or puppeteer without strings.  There’s not a single moment in the film’s airtight run time where the director isn’t in complete control.  Continue reading

Boardwalk Empire: Erlkonig

One week you're having a blast with "Bottles" Capone...next week you're....

One week you’re having a blast with “Bottles” Capone…next week you’re….

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – Erlkonig

Season Four: Episode Five

Directed by: Tim Van Patten

Written by: Howard Korder

The Spin:  Betrayal, dishonor, broken families and broken hearts were the themes of tonight’s richly composed Korder penned episode.  As one of the empire’s dearest characters sang his swan song, Van Patten directed with a heavy Coen-esque pall in one of the most hauntingly photographed hours in the series history.

Eli’s dumb son plotline finely blossomed into something of substance, as Willie is brought in for questioning regarding his schoolmate’s gruesome poisoning and reaches out to Uncle Nucky in his time of need.  The Nuckster, always calm under stress, crafts a deal with the DA that involves Willie selling his innocent roommate down the river.  He ends up with a sweet crying gal in his arms, but he couldn’t be more torn up on the inside as he realizes the life he wanted is full of heartache, lies, death and an Uncle who will always be calling the shots.

Meanwhile, Gillian (Gretchen Mol – once again signing a letter to the Emmy voters – I mean, seriously, how has she not been nominated yet?) reaches rock bottom with her dope addiction as the Tommy custody case seems to be coming to a close and is not going her way.  Mol imbues so much nuance and nerve into her performance, you actually find yourself feeling sorry for Gillian, as if the poor girl after all she has been through can’t help herself…could never help herself…and Piggly Wiggly Roy (Ron Livingston) asks her a dangerous question in his sincere play to take care of her and help her find redemption.  But oh boy, Roy, I don’t know what you’re going to do if she ever tells you all the horrible things she’s done. Continue reading