Watching "The Grand Budapest Hotel"
Published on March 26, 2014 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new Wes Anderson movie "The Grand Budapest Hotel."

Here's an excerpt:

"I had some time to kill before the Saturday evening showing of 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' that I attended, and so I swung by the coffee shop next door to the Spectrum.

'It’s been busy,'" the barista told me. 'And it’s Wes Anderson’s fault.'

Anderson is the whimsical auteur responsible for 'The Grand Budapest Hotel,' and his movies are highly anticipated among a certain subset of moviegoers. The screening I attended was packed with people who had clearly seen his previous films, and were delighted to see Anderson regulars such as Bill Murray and Owen Wilson pop up in small roles. Because Anderson has such a devoted following, the stakes seem to get higher with each new release. Fans excitedly discuss whether the film is great or merely good; his detractors complain that his work is cartoonish, mannered and has no heart.

Meanwhile, I keep wondering whether Anderson will ever make a film as good as his animated adaptation of 'Fantastic Mr. Fox.' 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' is a very good movie ... but it doesn’t surpass 'Fantastic Mr. Fox.'"

Click here to read the whole thing.


A New Cat
Published on March 25, 2014 by Sara Foss

I got a new cat!

And I wrote about it.

Here's an excerpt:

"After my cat Paul died last November, my surviving cat, Clem, began to seem increasingly neurotic. He would stand by the door and meow until I let him into the hallway. When I left for work, he was despondent. And when I came home he seemed especially needy. As time wore on, it occurred to me that Clem might be lonely.

Some time ago, my father suggested that my mother’s cat Sammy might benefit from having a kitten “to mentor.” Of course, I laughed uproariously when I heard this idea. 'Cats don’t mentor,' I said, as if only a fool would believe such a thing.

Meanwhile, my mother informed my father that she didn’t want another cat. 'I want the cats to dwindle,' she explained. Which I thought was an interesting euphemism for die — one that I now employ with some frequency. In any case, when Paul dwindled I found myself becoming less contemptuous of the idea of feline mentorship. 'Maybe Clem needs a little mentee,' I said. 'Maybe he needs a companion.'

A few weeks ago, I learned about a 6-month-old cat living in a colleague’s basement. I was told the cat had initially lived in the rafters, avoiding human contact. But she had become friendly over time, and my colleague’s children adored the cat. But they were also allergic, and the time had come to find the cat a new home."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Watching "Tim's Vermeer"
Published on March 24, 2014 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new Penn & Teller art documentary "Tim's Vermeer."

Here's an excerpt:

"I like magic, and I like Penn & Teller, the famed illusionists known for their prankish sense of humor and scientific skepticism. I still remember seeing the duo perform live as a child, and watching Teller swallow sewing needles and thread, then pull the thread from his mouth with all the needles threaded on it. As magic tricks go, that’s pretty unforgettable.

Penn & Teller always keep things interesting, which is why I was excited to see 'Tim’s Vermeer,' a documentary directed by Teller and produced by Penn Jillette and Farley Ziegler. The subject isn’t magic, but art — more specifically, an art mystery. The film focuses on inventor Tim Jenison (a friend of Penn’s) and his effort to prove that 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer used a system of lenses and mirrors — something similar to a camera obscura — to create his stunningly realistic domestic scenes.

Jenison wasn’t the first to suggest that Vermeer was aided by the technology of his time, and acknowledges his debt to British painter David Hockney, who explored the idea in his 2001 book 'Secret Knowledge.' But for those who believe Vermeer was a genius with an uncommon gift for painting light, textures and other tiny details, the theory is radical and unwelcome, because it suggests the great painter might have been a bit of a cheat, tracing images reflected on a mirror. Or, if not a cheat, a tinkerer and inventor, rather than a true artist."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Jonathan Richman, Live
Published on March 19, 2014 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about Jonathan Richman's recent concert in Albany, which was fantastic.

Click here to read all about it.

Getting Back Into Running Shape
Published on March 18, 2014 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about the 4 mile race I competed in last weekend, despite not really being in very good shape for it.

Here's an excerpt:

"I started running last spring, and I swore up and down that I would never run in a race.

But then my sister Lesley convinced me to run in a turkey trot in York, Maine, in November. And my landlord got me to run in Albany’s Last Run, a nighttime 5K, in December. These races taught me several things: 1. Running a 5K is something I can do 2. Road races are kind of fun and 3. If I can run three miles, I can probably run four or five miles, too.

In any case, I was feeling pretty good after the Last Run, and found it fairly easy to commit to competing in the Runnin’ of the Green in March. When my landlord suggested I sign up, I didn’t hesitate.

'Sounds fun,' I said.

Committing to a March road race is the sort of thing that’s easy to do when you’re coming off two 5Ks, have been jogging fairly regularly, and it doesn’t seem all that cold. But my jogging fell by the wayside in January and February, due to cold and snow and general malaise, and on March 1 it suddenly dawned on me that the Runnin’ of the Green was just two weeks away. 'Ugh,' I thought."

Click here to read the whole thing.


Watching "The Wind Rises"
Published on March 13, 2014 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new Hayao Miyazaki movie "The Wind Rises."

Here's an excerpt:

"The final film from legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, 'The Wind Rises' is strikingly beautiful but also unsettling, a dreamy, ambiguous biopic about the engineer who developed fighter planes used by the Japanese Empire in World War II. Days after seeing 'The Wind Rises,' I can’t decide if the film confronts a dark chapter in Japanese history, or whitewashes that history. Maybe it does a little bit of both.

Animation-wise, 'The Wind Rises' is as captivating as anything in the Miyazaki canon, with flying scenes that are intricate, kinetic and colorful. It’s also Miyazaki’s most adult film, and lacks the fantastical creatures and wise children who typically populate his films. At times, the film feels like a cross between an old-fashioned romantic melodrama and a quirky fable about a plucky artist determined to bring his vision to fruition. In other words, this is not a film for kids, who might be bored by movie’s more languorous passages, which often involve watching the engineer, named Jiro Horikoshi, study airplane designs and offer his thoughts on rivets and fuselage. At its most basic level, 'The Wind Rises' is an especially elegant and visual stunning ode to science and math.

But it’s a lot more than that, and I sometimes wondered whether Miyazaki had bitten off more than he could chew. The film opens when Horikoshi (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a boy in rural Japan, eagerly reading aviation magazines, stargazing and dreaming of the day he can build airplanes of his own. At his first job, where he’s assigned to build a fleet new airplane for the military, he’s regarded as a genius, so consumed by his work that he neglects his personal life. When he later announces that he’s engaged, his boss roars with laughter, saying, 'We thought you would marry an airplane!'"

Click here to read the whole thing.

Watching "The Great Beauty"
Published on March 5, 2014 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review 2013's Oscar winning best foreign film, "The Great Beauty."

Here's an excerpt:

"For the first hour of 'The Great Beauty,' this year’s Oscar winner for best foreign film, I was convinced it was one of the best films of 2013. But the film runs for about 140 minutes, and by the time it ended, I was far less certain. 'The Great Beauty' is a feast for the senses and an unforgettable sensory experience — but what does all the flash, pageantry and debauched exuberance really add up to? I’m not sure.

Helmed by the talented Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, 'The Great Beauty' is the latest in a long line of films about soul-sick Europeans who have grown weary of living lives devoid of meaning and purpose. The film’s obvious spiritual forbear is 'La Dolce Vita,' the legendary Federico Fellini film about a gossip writer awakening to the shallowness of his decadent, party-filled existence. 'The Great Beauty' also owes a debt to the works of fellow Italian Michelangelo Antonioni, who spent his career exploring the lives of people who are highly educated, wealthy and completely bored with themselves, their friends and life in general.

'The Great Beauty’s' protagonist is Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo), who is celebrating his 65th birthday at the utterly intoxicating rooftop party that opens the film. (Sorrentino is second-to-none when it comes to filming party scenes.) Jep is a writer who penned a highly acclaimed novel 40 years earlier, but never followed it up; today he writes fluffy, entertaining articles for a magazine. His real vocation, it seems, is hob-nobbing with Rome’s high society and hosting all-night shindigs. 'I’m a writer. I’m not a pimp,' he tells someone. Given the lavishness of his lifestyle, it’s easy to see why he feels the need to draw a distinction."

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A Feast of Rabbit
Published on March 4, 2014 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about eating rabbit on Oscar night.

Here's an excerpt:

"Last Tuesday a friend of mine arrived at my apartment around 10 a.m., his car loaded down with pork. My friend, an upstart farmer who lives in Schoharie, was delivering the half pig I ordered last year, along with two co-investors. He deposited three boxes of pork on my living room floor, which I then transferred into my refrigerator and freezer: locally raised, locally butchered hams, pork chops, roasts, sausages and pork belly. It was truly a sight to behold.

I have yet to eat any of the pork, so I can’t attest to how good it is. It certainly looks good, and I’m eager to thaw some of it out and sample it. But I can tell you how much I enjoyed eating rabbit, because the farmer also included (per my request) a rabbit with my order. The rabbit, which came packed tightly in a plastic bag, was a gift for a friend who likes to cook unusual things (we ate frog not too long ago, which I wrote about here), and I gave him the rabbit with the understanding that we would eat it together."

Click here to read the whole thing.