Of Architecture, Hancock Views, Wrigley and Celebrating the 4th of July in Chicago

Chicago View from Plane Landing

It’s been 16 years since I last went to Chicago.  I’ve changed a lot since then (and so has the Chicago skyline, most notably with the can’t-miss-it Trump Tower), and it’s certainly interesting to return to a city of good memories to create new ones in an entirely different milieu.  Last time there was a boat tour, a comedy show and tons of laughs.  This time there was a boat tour, a comedy show and tons of laughs.  Good people having good times in good places marked both visits.  But this time there were also drinks at the top of the Hancock, a 4th of July Cubs game, fireworks galore (apparently Chicago is intent on trying to recreate the Great Chicago Fire every 4th – never have I seen so many fireworks and we were lucky enough to not only enjoy them at the ballpark but also afterwards when we were treated to a panoramic view from a residential balcony that gave amazing views of the dark city horizon and burbs bursting with bombs), the Art Institute of Chicago, Millenium Park, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Robie House at the University of Chicago.  Apparently my 35 year-old self can run circles around my 19 year-old self in terms of sight-seeing (and many many other things – I’m one of those few who loves being an adult and getting older and wiser).

Here are the requisite shots that hallmarked this trip:

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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

A Review of Tom Tykwer’s “The International”

Clive Owen is here to tell us this Istanbul-sh*t is about to hit the fan in THE INTERNATIONAL.

Clive Owen is here to tell us this Istanbul-sh*t is about to hit the fan in THE INTERNATIONAL.

Classy Globe Hopping Thriller Pays its Dues, 16 February 2009
8/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

A world-weary but determined INTERPOL agent (Clive Owen) teams with a District Attorney from New York City (Naomi Watts) to bring down a corrupt bank funding arms deals in Tom Tykwer’s accidentally timely globe trotting conspiracy flick, The International.

My drab one-line plot synopsis in no way prepares you for this film’s smartly executed centerpiece, an outlandish and wildly entertaining shoot-out at the Guggenheim Museum that is both a bullet-riddled blood-soaked multi-media homage to Hitchcock and an artistic F-you to all of the mindless “shattered glass” suspense thrillers that have come down the pike in the last twenty years.

Tom Tykwer saw this and envisioned a chase scene with bullets and blood.  Now thats art!

Tom Tykwer saw this and envisioned a chase scene with bullets and blood. Now that’s art!

Those who have been keeping tabs on director Tom Tykwer’s career, from the frenetic originality of Run Lola Run to the ungodly weird epic sumptuousness of Perfume, might mistakenly think he was doing this one just for a paycheck. However, The International is far more ambitious than its genre conventions imply. Tykwer and his crew create an engaging and twisty film that combines the thematic elements of our modern CSI-style detective shows with the visual elements of Hitchcock’s 1950’s vista-vision thrillers. Here Tykwer’s vistas are architectural landmarks from around the world that serve as picture-perfect set-pieces and back-drops for the carefully stacked plot and action.

In a modern movie world where thrillers are currently regulated to the pulse-pounding non-stop movement of the Jason Bourne films or the dumbly torturous sentimentality of something like Taken, it’s refreshing to see a film of this ilk built in such a classical way.  The International begins “in medias res” with one of those clichéd secret meetings gone wrong, then delves into a series of expository scenes that lead to a masterfully staged assassination attempt in Milan that leads to rising action (during which I overheard a viewer behind me proclaim so succinctly that the suspense was killing her) culminating in the aforementioned Guggenheim shoot-em-up that leads to falling action that ends with a roof-top chase over the lively markets of Istanbul.

Naomi Watts does her best Veronica Lake INTERNATIONAL style.

Naomi Watts does her best Veronica Lake INTERNATIONAL style.

In its attempt to keep the plot one step ahead of the viewers, and the viewers one step ahead of the characters, the sometimes convoluted screenplay loses its footing and sense of pace. The cast, however, is game to play against this jaw-dropping architectural scenery. No further proof is needed beyond this film to show Clive Owen would’ve been a superior James Bond. Naomi Watts, whose natural charms and beauty are felonies of their own, is a bit miscast, but she does her best with the role. The revolving door of supporting players is top notch as it goes through the requisite motions. All transmitted through the keen eyes of Tykwer, The International crackles with tension and arrives on the world scene as a refreshingly old-fashioned suspense thriller in a post-modern milieu.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database.