Happy First Day of 2010!
But first … December 2009!
Between December 6 (my last post) and December 22nd, I…
*… spent my second day at the Filmmuseum Potsdam, and feel the urge to continue to plumb the wonderful archives there again and again.
*… had an intensive two-day (Fri.-Sat.) Genre Analysis session run by Frau Claudia Töpper in which we media studies students pored over 500+ German reality TV shows to determine their shared characteristics. (I’ve been assigned the “living history” genre for next time)
*… saw a burlesque show called “Black Flamingo” at the infamous Wintergarten stage on Potsdamer Str. (Ask me about it in confidence.)
*… attended the media studies department Christmas Party at the HFF, which didn’t resemble American X-mas parties at all.
*… celebrated Christmas by giving gifts to each other in our apartment. Yay!
*… came down with a bad cold (from which I have yet to recover).
As many of you know, from December 22nd to December 26th, Kat and I were in Prague. Beforehand, we had heard that the city was one of the most beautiful in Europe, and one of the most affordable to boot. These rumors bespoke the truth: Prague is incredible-looking and quite cheap compared with most of the metropolises of Europe, not to mention relatively small and filled with friendly people. The gem of the Czech Republic certainly lives up to its reputation!
On the 22nd, we arrived on the train from Berlin and stowed our things in the hostel, Prague’s Heaven (near Vyshehrad). Ann, the woman working the desk that day, gave us some thorough directions in broken English and heaped good tea and good cheer upon us. We were starving after the long train journey, so we made a point of getting an awesome vegetarian meal at the Lehka Hlava restaurant just inside the Old Town and then wandered amidst the crowded Christmas markets on Old Town Square and Wenceslaus Square. Day 2 saw us visiting the Alphonse Mucha Museum (a short artistic feast) and the Museum of Communism (a one-sided, bitter depiction of the Cold War that goes so far as to blame Karl Marx for 100 million deaths…), taking a lunch break at the awesome and cheap Dhaba Beas Indian buffet near Tyn’s Church. A significant portion of the day was spent listening to the surprisingly awesome neo-medieval band Krless, whose album I’m inclined to purchase. The rest of our evening was spent in Lehka Hlava’s twin restaurant Maitrea with UMass sociology student Irene, who regularly celebrates Christmas in Prague, and her cousin Katharina. Day 3 (Christmas Eve) offered fewer such good restaurants for our sampling, so we snacked at the still-open Christmas markets, went on a boat ride on the Moldau (Vlatava) River (complete with a cacophonic tour recording accompanying us in six different languages), attended a Christmas concert held on the stairs of the National Museum, saw the Jewish quarter and drank coffee in the gorgeous Municipal House café. Christmas Eve dinner was at the Zahrada v Opere restaurant, where we had a “traditional” Czech dinner (we thought it was good, anyway). Day 4 (Christmas Day!) had us return to the Municipal House for breakfast and for a tour of its magnificent turn-of-the-century modern interior decoration (we got a free beer at the American bar in the basement, too). Then we undertook the intrepid task of visiting Prague Castle (Prasky Hrad), which turned out to be even more touristy than Old Town Square and all the rest could ever be. We managed to fight the hordes enough to see the inside of St. Vitus Cathedral (which was, we admit, pretty spectacular), but we found ourselves too overwhelmed to enter the castle itself and were content with eating greasy food at an ex-pat establishment. Thereafter, our journey brought us to the quiet splendor of the Bethlehem Church and to the electrical problems of the organ concert in Old Town Square. After watching the music stage compete with the giant Christmas tree for energy for an hour, we finally heard the concert and then warmed up in the elegant Slavia Café afterwards. Day 5 (Boxing Day) brought our trip to a close with breakfast at the Grand Café Orient, the cubist/futurist café near the train station, where we ran into Irene and Katharina again by chance!
December 29th was, as many people know, Kat’s and my second wedding anniversary. We definitely gave the day all the special attention it deserved: we spent the afternoon chatting with one of Emily Care Boss’ gamer friends in town – the ineffable Olle – went to the cinema, and then ate at a great Chinese restaurant across the street from the Chinese Embassy.
New Year’s Eve (last night?) proved as explosive as the other time (2003-2004) I celebrated the event in Germany. Let’s start with the crowds: we had neglected to go grocery shopping before Thursday, so we steeled ourselves against the throngs of people clearing the shelves into their carts. No different from the U.S. before a holiday, I’d say, except that many of the shoppers were cramming an additional item into their carts… fireworks! Snow fell on my head from a 5 story building, so I spent the rest of the afternoon bewildered. The evening found us in Another Country, where we read some sci-fi/fantasy books in preparation for the coming New Year’s fireworks storm. Alan compared his bookstore with a “bunker,” which was an apt description given the amount of explosives dodging we had to perform. At about 10:45 p.m., we ascended the hill and monument at the top of Viktoriapark, looking for prime real estate to watch the fireworks “blast” in the new year. By 11:30, we found ourselves overlooking a densely packed crowd and a continuous barrage of explosions. The numbers of both reached their zenith at midnight, when the whole city transformed into a skyline of smoky explosions. At 12:15, when the festivities had ebbed and I could feel my toes numbing, we decided to descend the snow-covered steps of Viktoriapark and discovered that one could only safely depart by sliding down the stairs. Well, you can imagine the denizens’ surprise below us as we careened into them from above, part of a shuffling, intoxicated international swarm. Walking through Viktoriapark was like a snowy war zone, with pitched battles of green and blue leaving behind scars and debris across the disturbed white blanket. In fact, all of Berlin became said war zone as people from all walks of life satiated their anarchic impulses through fiery implements.
And now it’s January 2010, and my dissertation needs writing. Any other resolutions necessary?
Ashes of Time Redux (dir. Wong Kar-Wai, Hong Kong/UK 1994/2008)
A broker of swords-for-hire living at the edge of a desert stands at the crossroads of many stories of painful, human loss. An elliptically told wuxia film, completely captivating in its uniqueness as Wong Kar-Wai’s only attempt in the genre. Find the 35mm version of the film and be amazed.
Avatar (dir. James Cameron, US/UK/New Zealand 2009)
A disabled veteran becomes a blue cat-person and saves the same. Read my longer, contentious review.
The Big Mess (dir. Alexander Kluge, FRG 1971)
Some working-class people try to survive amidst corporate bureaucracy-dominated space politics in 2034. Kluge’s materialist politics fail to coherently gel with his humorous, abstract tale and thus produces a film exactly like its title suggests. This is one direction German sci-fi need not go again.
Bright Star (dir. Jane Campion, UK/Australia/New Zealand 2009)
A quiet love story between John Keats and Fanny, the daughter of his landlady. An excellent example of how one frames three characters within shots to produce dramatic tension, as well as of how a soundtrack supports understated actors. This one should win an Oscar, but it probably won’t.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (dir. Kenji Kamiyama, TV series, Japan 2002/2004)
A high-tech, cyberpunk cop show about the investigations of Section 9 into philosophically complicated cyber-scandals of the 21st Century. The series is primarily enjoyable because of its extremity: if it decides to spend an entire episode in what amounts to one dialogue scene, then by golly it’ll do it. Such boldness to break with TV formulas is only encountered within the rarest of shows.
Goodbye Uncle Tom (dir. Gualtiero Jacopetti, Italy 1971)
The story of American slavery, told tastelessly. Told as a shockumentary of reenacted historical events, the film nevertheless exploits countless cheap African actors to tell a story not necessarily worth telling: the filth and gore of the United States’ sordid slave trade is perhaps best read, and not voyeuristically re-created…
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (dir. David Yates, UK 2009)
Number 6 in the Harry Potter cycle. Thanks to Michael Chabon and Jim Broadbent, Yates had a movie here. Everything else from the Potter series (Quidditch, encounters with the fantastic, meaningful flirtation among the kids, etc.) appears somewhat subdued. I think Prisoner of Azkaban remains the best film of the series thus far.
Pope Joan (dir. Sönke Wortmann, Germany/UK/Italy/Spain 2009)
The fictional biopic of the female Pope. Surprisingly good as a candid description of medieval life, though a weak love story threatens to muck the whole thing up. John Goodman’s performance was so excessive that it may have permanently warped the second half of the film…
The Scar (book by China Miéville)
A linguist-in-exile, a mutilated convict, a plucky young sailor and crafty government agent are kidnapped by pirates on the Swollen Ocean and integrated into the floating city of Armada, which is in the midst of a vast, secret project. Miéville’s lush pirate epic proves perhaps his best work to date (though I still need to read Iron Council and The City and the City for final judgment) in terms of pacing and action. A more suspenseful-yet-richly-detailed sci-fi/fantasy book I’ve yet to encounter in the last several years. Read it.
Winnetou and His Friend Old Firehand (dir. Alfred Vohrer, FRG/Yugoslavia 1966)
Apache hero Winnetou and the “mountain man” Old Firehand team up to fight evil bandits and Mexicans trying to burn down a village. Oh, and it turns out that Old Firehand’s old French lover and bastard son are in the village too. Though this film was expensive and difficult to shoot, it turned out to be the dying gasp of the West German Winnetou film phenomenon. Watch this piece of trite garbage to find out why.
Winnetou and the Half-Blood Apanatschi (dir. Harald Philipp, Yugoslavia/FRG/Italy 1966)
An evil group of bandits relentlessly pursue Apanatschi and her friends (Winnetou and Old Shatterhand) to find a hidden gold seam. Contains more of Götz George’s patented “leaping attack,” and a fiery gun battle at the end.