Movie review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson’s new film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is a charming marvel. It’s a masterful combination of great acting, great dialogue with an absurd and humorous plot, and unbelievable attention to detail.

Production designer Adam Stockhausen is a miracle worker. Every moment in the film is so carefully designed, it’s beautiful to watch for that reason alone. Even with the sound off, I think the movie would be so visually arresting the viewing would create its own pleasure. (My favorite “sound” moment in the film is when there are two cable cars that stop on a wire, and the squeaking of the cars on the wire is in time to the soundtrack music in the background. It’s pure genius.)

Every moment we spend in the Grand Budapest, both in the “past” and in the “present” are delights, right down to the cracked plaster, orange curtains, pink-boxed pastries, and purple and red uniforms for the Grand Budapest staff.

In typical Wes Anderson style, there are tons of cameos from his regular buddies, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, and a few small parts played by well known actors that are new to the Anderson pantheon: Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton as an ideosyncratic 80-something dowager, and F. Murray Abraham as the narrator who steals every scene he’s in with Jude Law.

Jeff Goldblum is also amusing as the lawyer overseeing the dowager’s last will. Other star turns are put in by Edward Norton as a police chief, Willem Dafoe as a psychopathic killer, and Adrian Brody as the evil son of the deceased dowager.

The star of the movie, though, is Ralph Fiennes as the divine Monsieur Gustave. He plays this role with just the right touch.

Without giving the film away (this will be a spoiler-free review) I can highly recommend this movie for the sheer pleasure of watching the amazing performances of such a huge and distinguished cast, as they romp all over these incredible gorgeous sets.

I saw the movie in New York City, and much to my dismay, the film is only playing in two theaters in the city right now. I don’t know why this movie is in such limited release. That baffles me.

But if you are a Wes Anderson fan (and who doesn’t love movies like The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Fantastic Mr. Fox?) you should rush out to see this movie before it’s gone.

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Pursuing Greenland – the quest of a global blogger

The first thing I must say is that this post is about hubris, mine of course since it’s my blog.

I’m really proud of the fact that over the past few years that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve attracted readers from all over the world. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’ve had readers from every continent (except Antartica, that I know of…) drop in at some point and read something from this blog.

As you can imagine, the U.S. and Canada represent my most frequent readers, but I have a lot of readers in Northern Europe from countries like the Netherlands, Belgium, UK, Ireland, Denmark, and Sweden … and a few from Iceland and Norway too.

But what about Greenland? Nada!

The nice folks at WordPress light up a map on a report I can pull up with all the lovely reader tallies from each country, and depending on the number of people who have viewed the blog the country color goes from white (no readers) to deep red (lots of readers.)

Greenland looks like a field of pristine snow on my color map … all white.

Country coverage from my blog

But in all fairness, how many times have I written about Greenland on this blog? Until today, zero times. And it’s highly unfair of me to expect the fine people of Greenland to come to this blog and spend their well earned leisure time (you know, after they shovel the sidewalk in front of their house in the dark for the two hundredth time, and feed their sled dogs) reading about me complaining how we’ve gotten “a lot of snow in New York City” this year and “how cold” it is here.

Yeah, boo hoo they must all be saying way up north. We have parts of our place that are above the Arctic Circle, so don’t talk to us about cold, they might sniff at me. I wouldn’t blame them one bit.

And so it was that I started searching around online for news about Greenland, and I found (no, I’m not kidding) GreenlandToday.com.

You want pictures of icebergs and polar bears? They got ’em!

This big boy looks fierce!

This big boy looks fierce!

You want to know which Greenland based designers showed their wares at the Copenhagen Fashion Week and were well received? It’s in there!

Great Greenland designs at Copenhagen Fashion Week

Great Greenland designs at Copenhagen Fashion Week

And what blog post about Greenland would be complete without an image of the Northern Lights? Right!

Northern Lights over Greenland

Northern Lights over Greenland

In short, this post is my shameless appeal to the lovely people of Greenland to come on over and visit this blog … and maybe comment too, if they want to.

Since there are only about 57,000 people living in the country, which is about 20% of the city where I live (Jersey City has at least 250,o00 people) I know I’m appealing to a limited audience.

Still, I believe in the power of the internet and global communications.

Come on folks, let’s make it happen.

The Tate Modern – Rothko’s Seagrams Murals

I went to the Tate Modern over the weekend. From the outside, the building is a hulking concrete former power station on the south bank of the Thames.

Me watching tourists watching the north bank of the Thames from the Tate Modern cafe

Me watching tourists watching the north bank of the Thames from the Tate Modern cafe

Inside, the Tate Modern “reads” like the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City architecturally. Each floor is a series of plain white box galleries each leading to the other with some open communal space in the center of the museum for the escalators.

That’s where the similarity between the two institutions ends.

Inside the Tate Modern galleries, the walls are jumbled with a mix of paintings and works arranged all over the wall and floor (for sculpture). Many pieces are not at eye level, they are well above the heads of the viewers, and the glare from the lighting makes viewing a challenge. Moreover, the pieces are not arranged chronologically, or by artist or even in what seems to be a logical grouping of artists. Instead, each of the gallery areas are arranged by theme on each floor.

I didn’t like this way of viewing works. I found the gallery experience random and while the curators of these themes must have felt the pieces went together well, for many of the floors I didn’t find the pieces inter-related in a way that made me feel cohesion or integration in the viewing experience.

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And then, there’s Rothko.

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Rothko Seagram Mural (1 of 7) - black box on red background

Rothko Seagram Mural (1 of 7) – black box on red background

I’m sure I must be stealing lines from my favorite art series, Simon Schama’s Power of Art, on Rothko (Click Here for the episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEIn1914XSM,) when I say that the experience of seeing these seven Rothko Seagram’s murals was intense.

Rothko’s works are shown together in one gallery, barely large enough to contain these huge canvases. And the effect is overpowering. The lighting in the room is dim, mausoleum-like. It’s a crypt.

Rothko Seagram Murals - purple background and black boxes

Rothko Seagram Murals – purple background and black boxes

There is one large wooden bench in the center of the room, from which you can contemplate the enormity of death crushing down on you from these works. And while I may be prone to exaggeration, I’m not exaggerating here.

Rothko detail

Rothko detail

The hazy transitions within the paint, the way you have to squint your eyes to view the canvases… And the questions – should you get close, or further away for viewing? It’s all a kind of torment to comprehend what’s being shown.

But Rothko wouldn’t have wanted you to process these works with your logical mind anyway. He would have wanted you to stand before these monuments to his genius (I say that full knowing Rothko’s hubris, and anti-hubris) and just feel them.

Rothko Seagrams Mural - Red Box Purple Background

Rothko Seagrams Mural – Red Box Purple Background

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Maybe because I saw Picasso’s Guernica on this trip at the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, which is the logical home of that piece of historically significant Spanish art in a Spanish art institution…

I could not help but think that Seagrams, a company with a landmark building located in New York City, commissioned Mark Rothko, a New York City based artist, to produce works to adorn the walls of the Four Seasons, a landmark New York City restaurant, meant that these iconically important New York City elements of the story of these paintings should mean that they should be on view and permanently exhibited at MoMA. Let’s face it – that’s where they belong.

Before Franco left power as the head of Spain, Guernica found a home for 30 some odd years at MoMA. So the irony of my comments is not lost on me. But I cannot understand how the Tate Modern, a British institution, gets to own these pieces.

Is it simply about who has the money to purchase them and a mad-dash to acquire important pieces, or should important works of art also be about the contextual relevance of their own history and therefore, where it is logical for certain works to be shown?

I’m sure arguments can be made on both sides (see my previous posts about the Cubist works of Picasso scattered to the winds across many different museums globally, and in general the repetition of certain artists works in many museums, securing their place in art history.)

But there is only ONE Guernica by Picasso. There is only ONE set of Seagram’s Murals by Mark Rothko. There is only ONE Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymous Bosch.

And it’s entirely possible I have reached my limit of “art first’s” on this particular journey to Europe.

In fact, the day after I visited the Tate Modern, I tried to go to the Saatchi Gallery – which would have taken me from a view of Modern Art in Britain to a view of what is happening in Contemporary Art.

Outside view of the Saatchi Gallery - King's Road - London

Outside view of the Saatchi Gallery – King’s Road – London

And perhaps this is a larger comment on all of my art experiences and ponderings over the last several posts… the Saatchi Gallery, a private art institution, was closed to the public on the one day I had to see it because they were hosting runway shows for London’s Fashion Week.

Yes, the best known contemporary art space in London was closed to host the fashion elite. So I was a poor pauper left gawking at the entrance, but turned away at the door.

Pondering Museum Visits – and Guernica

In a previous posting, I mentioned how moved I was by the tremendous trove of art at the Prado in Madrid. And indeed, the Prado is a location of global art treasure, just like the Metropolitan in NYC, The National Gallery in the UK, and the Hermitage in Russia, among other seriously notable museums.

However, as a tourist with limited time to see museums it’s important to spend time wisely when choosing which museums to visit when you land in your destination of choice.

And it’s not just about time, either. It’s about the human eye and brain getting overloaded with images. I’ve visited enough museums to recognize there is such a thing as over-stimulation and museum fatigue. After about 2-3 hours, I usually need a break, or possibly need to stop wandering through galleries to “process and absorb” the things I’ve seen.

With this in mind, I want to mention the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, which houses Guernica. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guernica_(painting)

Guernica is housed deep within this relatively small museum of contemporary art, in a bunker-like gallery designed to display only this towering painting. And although the room is reasonably large, it still somehow isn’t large enough to contain the painting. I can’t describe it adequately, and unfortunately in keeping with the museum’s policy, photography is not allowed in this particular gallery.

And once you’ve seen Guernica, for your $8 euro ticket price, you can essentially leave the museum. I know I’m being harsh in my commentary, and it’s not that I don’t like seeing cubist paintings by Picasso and Braque, or seeing the many Miro on display in Spanish museums, but I must call the Museo Reina Sofia out on this – there is NOTHING in that museum that can come close to the experience of seeing Guernica. There is not even one other piece on display that had an impact that could even touch what it’s like to see Guernica in person. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZCTrM3yfug)

Don’t get me wrong – I walked the entire museum. I saw the permanent Richard Serra installation on the first floor. I looked at the giant Calder sculpture in the courtyard. I walked by many Picasso, Braque, DuBuffet, Miro and other works on display. But… I’m sorry to say this because I sound like a total art brat and snob to make such a comment (apologies in advance) but I have seen these works before many times.

This brings me to the core of what I’m getting at with the museums we choose to visit and why.

At the Prado, I can see totally unique works by Bosch, Goya and many others that I cannot see anywhere else in the world. I got a bit of an “art high” walking around the Prado – an experience I remember having when first viewing The Temple of Dendur at the Met so many years ago. It’s just a brain-freezing, arresting, overwhelming moment when you see something that is a towering human achievement.

And Guernica delivers this experience, no doubt. I had seen reproductions of Guernica over the years, but nothing could compare to seeing it in person.

But, I’m sorry to say, if I want to see those brown and black cubist paintings that Picasso and Braques did side-by-side for a few years and that look very similar to one another… there are a lot of them, and I see them everywhere. After a while, I don’t even really bother looking at them because my mind “knows” the image.

And once you have seen two dozen paintings by Miro, which I have in a variety of museums, I’m sorry, but I “get it” and I know the style and I can even enjoy the image but it’s something similar happening over and over.

Perhaps this is one reason Guernica has such impact. It’s a combination of cubist style and figuration – plus the historic content which is essential in understanding that scene of war horror.

But I digress.

Museums often have a “mission” to display art history, and present some chronological view of art through the ages. And in that world tour, Cubism is in there, and so yes, you will be shown those brown and black Picassos because he created that new style and it was an important moment in Art History. Yes, I agree.

Unfortunately, since many/most museums have this same mission, you wind up seeing many of the same painters over and over, and you see paintings of the same style, and in the Museo Reine Sofia I just found that I’d “seen it before” when it came to anything other than Guernica.

Am I saying don’t go to the museum? NO. I am saying if you have the chance to see Guernica, just the experience of seeing that one work is completely worth it – in my opinion. It is like Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights at the Prado, a one of a kind and not replicated in any other painting globally. The painting – unto itself is a piece of Art History.

But consider what I’ve said when it comes to visiting museums. What is it you hope to “experience” at these institutions, and then make your choices accordingly.

Jazz in Madrid and Barcelona

As regular readers of my blog know, when I go traveling, one of the things I enjoy is seeing live jazz. And on my trips to Madrid and Barcelona, I sought out jazz venues in each city. In both cases, I was handsomely rewarded with great performances at famous venues in each city.

Check these out:

The Flamenco Jazz Company - Cafe Central - Madrid, Sept 2013

The Flamenco Jazz Company – Cafe Central – Madrid, Sept 2013

Madrid – Cafe Centralhttp://www.cafecentralmadrid.com/

At Madrid’s Cafe Central the jazz I saw was heavily flavored with Spanish style. The Flamenco Jazz Company was playing the night I went, and their jazz is a fusion of both flamenco style singing, Spanish guitar and drums/percussion melded with jazz. The combination was exciting.

Cafe Central is a unique venue since it’s got lovely Art Deco architectural touches around the small space. The venue is intimate, so make sure you get there before the show starts to be able to see the stage.

Also, as opposed to the well deserved party-all-night reputation Spain has, at Cafe Central the music is on from 9-11pm so if you want to see the show, you must be there for those two hours. The two hour show will cost you about $12 euro per person.

Barcelona – Jamboree – http://www.masimas.com/en/jamboree

If the name of this venue sounds familiar to hard-core jazz fans, it’s because this place has been around for decades. Ella Fitzgerald played Jamboree, along with other jazz notables.

The Jamboree venue is in a vaulted basement, with surprisingly good acoustics. I sat to the side of the stage, as opposed to most of the guests who sit in front of the stage. I had a fantastic view of the band up close and personal. I was literally 10 feet from the drum kit, and I got to sit next to the singer before she went on.

I had the pleasure of seeing Carla Cook, a jazz singer with a great voice and energy. I felt a little bit like I was “cheating” to see her in Barcelona, because she is currently from Brooklyn, but we New Yorkers get around! She did a few original songs, and then paid homage to Duke Ellington several times in her quick set.

Jamboree sets only last one very brief hour, which flies by quickly. The night I was there, shows were 8-9pm and 10-11pm, at a ticket price of $12 euro at the box office ($10 euro if you get advance tix online.)

Art in Gent – Goran Djurovic’s Prime Time

During my last trip to Gent, I happened to be lucky enough to see a public art space called the “Provinciaal Cultuurcentrum – Caermersklooster” on Vrouwebroerstraat 6 in Gent.

They were hosting a solo show for Serbian artist Goran Djurovic called “Prime Time.”

Goran Djurovic - Prime Time solo show in Gent

Goran Djurovic – Prime Time solo show in Gent

Mr. Djurovic now lives in Berlin and it seems his work was only “discovered” in the last few years and had his work hosted in a variety of European museums. The painter is currently in his 60’s.

Djurovic backgrounder

Djurovic backgrounder

The Privincial Culture Center (I assume the English translation) is a magnificent, well lit space and worth the visit. For this particular show, the number of works on display is staggering. The solo show must have more than 40 original oil paintings on display in four small and one very large gallery space.

I will leave you to digest the themes of Djurovic’s work on your own from the sample of photos I took at the show. While the work can be quite dark, I found it inspiring.

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Painting from the Prime Time exhibition

Painting from the Prime Time exhibition

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The work of Goran Djurovic

The work of Goran Djurovic

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This one is called Visitors on Display

This one is called Visitors on Display

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The mouse dance

The mouse dance

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More of the work of Goran Djurovic

More of the work of Goran Djurovic

Gent is Great, Part 2

Since I had the opportunity to go back to Europe for work, I decided to spend my one free Saturday back in Gent, Belgium in order to attend the Gent Jazz Festival.

I had visited Gent in late May/early June (See “Gent is Great” June 8, 2013), and fell in love with this small Belgian city which hosts the largest university in Belgium, along with a stunning medieval town center.

A castle that sits in the historic center of the city of Gent

A castle that sits in the historic center of the city of Gent

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The weather was not too nice the first time I visited, but this time I was lucky to have a warm, sunny day with blue skies and fluffy white clouds.

A view of another part of the historic city center, Gent Belgium

A view of another part of the historic city center, Gent Belgium

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I snapped photos all over the city trying to capture a small piece of what I love about this place.

A charming canal view in Gent

A charming canal view in Gent

Everywhere you turn in the city center, there are beautiful views.

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And I happened to be in Gent on the one day that the Gent Jazz Festival overlapped with the Gent Festival (a city-wide festival where over a million tourists pour into Gent over a 10 day period.)

Here you can see a view of the city transforming itself in preparation for the Gent Festival.

The city prepares to be over-run with tourists during the Gent Festival

The city prepares to be over-run with tourists during the Gent Festival

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But even if you walk outside the city center, you will still find cobblestone streets and more charming architecture.

Street scene - Gent

Street scene – Gent

The charming architecture of Gent

The charming architecture of Gent

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But once the Gent Festival begins, the city center becomes extremely crowded with visitors. I took some photos of people watching the opening parade of the Gent Festival.

Crowds watching the Gent Festival opening parade

Crowds watching the Gent Festival opening parade

Crowds line the canals of Gent city center

Crowds line the canals of Gent city center

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Later that night, I went to the Gent Jazz Festival and saw Elvis Costello as the closing act.

Gent Jazz Festival

Gent Jazz Festival

All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day in Gent, Belgium.

Richmond on Thames – Not Quite London

While the Richmond neighborhood is very posh, upscale, bucolic and scenic … it is also technically part of London. You’d never know it from looking around since all of the typical center-city icons are missing.

And still, tourists flock here in droves.

When I arrived, the weather was “extraordinary” by UK standards – hot and sunny, with blue skies. This is not typical (not even in summer) so the locals took advantage of it too.

Here are a few snaps of Richmond on Thames…

A view of the Thames river, from the Richmond waterfront park

A view of the Thames river, from the Richmond waterfront park

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A view of the bend in the Thames River from the top of Richmond Hill

A view of the bend in the Thames River from the top of Richmond Hill

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The Old Ship - charming British pub in downtown Richmond (I didn't go inside)

The Old Ship – charming British pub in downtown Richmond (I didn’t go inside)

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Interesting European Architecture - view from the top of Richmond Hill

Interesting European Architecture – view from the top of Richmond Hill

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What do the locals do when it's hot and sunny? Lay on the grass, look at the river, and drink lots of beer!

What do the locals do when it’s hot and sunny? Lay on the grass, look at the river, and drink lots of beer!

 

Back to Europe

Up until now I’ve reported on my work travels, bouncing back and forth between the right and left coasts of the United States… and while that’s certainly been fun, I’m now adding Europe to the equation.

It’s coincidental that I took a vacation in Amsterdam and Belgium and now need to go for work, but I admit it’s good that I dipped my toes in the water since I hadn’t been to the continent for a long time. Now I feel slightly more familiar with the experience of roaming around foreign lands, using foreign currency. (But as a New York City girl, I cannot claim that hearing many foreign languages is foreign to me!)

This go-round, however, I will be cramming in a trip to both London and Belgium within a week’s time – not to see the sights – but for nose to the grindstone stuff.

Adding another point to triangulate my already interesting travel schedule should be, well, even more interesting. Truth be told, I’m extremely excited about working on stuff in Europe and getting to meet face to face with the new folks I’ll be interacting with on a regular basis is fantastic.

Still, I know the change in time zones tends to mess with my schedule. I’ll have to see how going from NYC to Europe (6 hours ahead), then coming back, then heading to California (3 hours behind NYC) works when it comes to doing it as a practical matter. (Wish me luck. Haha.)

I had a conversation with someone from work the other day, and we were talking about being road warriors. I said that sometimes when I wake up in a hotel, I don’t remember where I am or what time it is.

She said, yes, and what’s worse, when I am laying there in the dark, sometimes I can’t even remember which way to go to get to the bathroom!

Despite all of that, and the fact that it’s work… I will be bringing my camera along to capture a few shots here and there. We’ll see if I come up with anything worth sharing. 🙂