Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Eyjafjallajokull Volcano

Tom Hanks made a move twenty years ago that quickly flopped and has become one of those jokes he charmingly chuckles about now. It was called Joe Versus the Volcano, and I loved it.

A quote from the movie quickly sums up the plot:

Joe Banks: I have less than six months to live. The Waponis believe they need a human sacrifice or their island is going to sink into the ocean. They have this mineral your father wants so he hired me to leap into their volcano.

Patricia: What?

Joe Banks: You’re not going to make me say that again, are you?

As the skies above Europe begin to fill with the familiar drone of airplane engines, it seems someone has volunteered for the job. “Take me to the volcano!”

And there ends my five-day run of “blame it on the volcano,” regardless of the nature of the problem. Slam my head into the corner of the stove vent hood again — blame it on the volcano. That email message went missing — blame it on the volcano. Google maps will not cooperate — blame it on the volcano.

Of course, there are more logical reasons to be pissed at this geological force of invisible dust. We have a friend stuck here who is unlikely to find a way home earlier than a week after his scheduled flight. There are friends coming from the other direction with a similar problem. And I have been all in a tizzy as The Great Tulip Caper has melted, day-by-day into the Tulip Caper, the Caper, and now, really just a day trip with a bike.

But the good news — for which I am grateful — is that The Great Tulip Caper, Abbreviated is on. Somewhere amidst a dissipated cloud of volcanic glass particles, my friend flies toward Holland. This means no blog posts for a few days — but plenty of fresh material next week.

But I remain a little nervous about our next set of travel plans. So far disaster has struck the transportation network on which we were dependent right before both of our extended excursions, whether it was one of the worst train crash disasters in Belgium’s history or a Icelandic volcano spitefully spewing its gripe over economic meltdown over the European continent. What next? Stay tuned.

In the meantime, a final note about Joe Versus the Volcano. Although — despite my every effort — I generally end up with the shambled look of a bag lady when I travel, I do have a fantasy love of fine luggage. I do not think it is likely to ever happen, but I smile at the picture in my mind of sauntering into an airport with a set of perfectly matching bags, preferably including a trunk. Joe, in preparing for his final voyage, found some pretty awesome suitcases, and I think that is really what I loved about the movie — its homage to fine luggage.

Joe Banks: And then I’ll be staying on a tiny island and I don’t know if I’ll be living in a hut, or what.

Luggage Salesman: Very exciting… as a luggage problem!

. . .

Luggage Salesman: This is our premier steamer trunk, it’s all handmade, only the finest materials. It’s even watertight, tight as a drum. If I had the need, and the wherewithal, Mr. Banks, this would be my trunk of choice.

Joe Banks: I’ll take four of them.

Luggage Salesman: May you live to be a thousand years old, sir.


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With much thanks to InBruges.info, we took advantage of the January weekend train deal — a “shopping ticket” that delivers us anywhere in Belgium for only 9 euros — to explore the parts of Bruges put to cinematic light in blog title-inspiring movie “In Bruges.” With a map in one mittened hand and a movie-bearing ipod in the other, we set off into the now nearly deserted streets of this picturesque city.

Laugh as you may, the tiny ipod screen view came in handy. At the hotel we were unsure as to whether they could have shot the scene there, or had to use movie magic in cutting to a different location. Pull out the  movie, and there it is: Colin Farrel (or his stunt double) jumping out the lead-glass window of the actual hotel into the actual canal, and Ralph Fiennes leaning over the rail beside the place to shoot at him.

Burg in Bruges

It also provided for pure amusement, as we used it to view the final scene, which takes place in the Gruuthuis courtyard and depicts the point-of-view of Ray gazing up from his stretcher at the sky, snow and lovely architectural details all around him. (Only later did it occur to us that we should have reenacted the scene, laying on the ground, perhaps squirting about a bit of ketchup, for the added delight of the photo-snapping group of Japanese tourists that followed us into the courtyard.)

Yuri's House, "In Bruges"

Finally, in search of Yuri’s house — mislabeled as “Koningstraat” on the map we’d been following — it was simple enough to fast forward to the scene of Ken approaching the place along a canal on a day remarkably as gray as our own, and then turning the corner to a good detail of the door frame. (It is on Verversdijk, by the way.)

As a reason to wander, a treasure hunt of places, so to speak, it was a great way to walk the city. We hit all the major sites as well as a few less visited ones. In Yuri’s neighborhood of wide canals lined with stately tall homes, we commented amongst ourselves: If I were a gun smuggler, I’d live here too. We strolled through Koningin Astridpark, where I had played myself many years before. And I had to giggle thinking Ray (the disgruntled main character, who is constantly bemoaning that “Bruges is a shithole.”) may have been more amused by his situation had his fictionalized hotel actually been next door to an upscale S&M sex shop, as is the actual location where they filmed.

At least he would have been contented with how we concluded our tour: a few beers at a dark and cozy bar on a cobblestone Bruges street.

Frozen Bruges Canal

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Day 35: Suske en Wiske

As an English-speaking 8-year-old in Belgium, I was introduced to a Dutch comic book that entranced me: Suske en Wiske. Although I could not read the text, I would pore over each frame to follow the adventures of the two friends as they journeyed through time around the world, encountering a variety of mishaps, danger and humor but inevitably returning unscathed by the back cover. The bright orange spines of the books bring back a warm rush of nostalgia.

With a history that dates back to 1945, and more than 300 books between then and now, this summer Suske and Wiske star in their first major motion picture, brought to life in an animated flick that takes place in the American Mid-west (of all places): “Suske en Wiske & de Texas Rakkers. ” The hullabaloo has inspired a new exhibit of creator Willy Wandersteens’  work at the Comic Book Museum in Brussels . And movie posters and television ads offer a glimpse of the characters’ transition from page to screen. (As one of those die-hard nostalgists, I have to admit I feel their three-dimensional plumping is somewhat off-putting.) On the other hand, it is wonderful to see that characters that are more than half a century old continue to find a place in the hearts of Belgian children today. With vivid characters — and a girl who is just as tough and clever as any boy — and a creative world that spins stories that captivated my childhood attention for hours on end, Suske en Wiske (sadly named Wanda and Willie in a U.S. translation, worse still Spike and Suzie in the U.K., and Bob and Bobette in French) are a rare breed amongst the many distractions for the minds’ of youth.

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The name “Harry Potter” is part of international vernacular at this point. I’m fairly certain that in countries even where the sounds that comprise the name make no sense at all, he is still known by them.  But beyond that point, translators step in — whether for the books or the movies — and do their magic to decide how to transform both the meaning and the languages into something that people of their native tongue undersntad. Given that the (original) intended audience for the books were children, this can go a bit deeper, including the translation of names in order for younguns to catch an underlying reference or just feel familiar with the characters.

So, when we went to see “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” this week, we also got to see how his Belgian world would have sounded. For certain viewings, the movie is dubbed — owing to the fact that it is a kids movie, in essence, and not all kids can read quickly enough to follow subtitles. We, obviously, opted for subtitles, which run simultaneously in both French and Dutch. The trick to watching a film with subtitles is that even if you’re fluent (or monolingual) in the spoken language, if there’s something to be read on the screen, it’s hard not to read it. So try as I might to stop, and I avoided it well about half the time, I also got to pick up a few of the Dutch interpretations.

To start off with, Hogwarts, is called Zweinstein,  a play on “hog.” Harry’s cohorts and enemies are called by slightly different names, which struck me as a tad confusing if you’re both listening and reading: Nevil is Marcel, Weasley is a Wemel, Hermione is Hermelien and, in French, Severus Snape is Rogue, which, although a direct translation of “snape” is one even some French-speaking Potter enthusiasts have challenged. Dumbledore, on the other hand, becomes “Perkamentus,” which, as best as I can figure, means “Parchment Man.” The additional challenge of translating made-up words is likewise revealed. Whereas some are kept the same (Dementors), others are translated either in-like or with a sense of sound. Muggles are “dreuzel,” which appears to make as much sense as as word as “muggle” might.  The O.W.L. (Ordinary Wizardling Levels exams) pose the most trouble for translators– and pretty much around the world. In Dutch, they came up with the “S.L.IJ.M.B.A.L. examens” which means what it sounds like but is derived from a much more complex root to the acronym.

But language is not the only unique feature of a Harry Potter film in Belgium. The movie-going experience, although similar in many ways to the United States (ticket booths, tiered seating, popcorn and giggling teenagers in front of you), there are some significant differences. Should I find a movie I actually am willing to fork out the money to see during the typically weak summer months, I arrive prepared with nothing short of a down parka to face the arctic frost of air conditioning that greets the U.S. movie goer. Here, air conditioning being fairly uncommon, the problem might be avoiding a movie on a particularly hot day for fear of the stuffy lack of ventilation, and the “essence” of those teenagers (as well as others) emitted under such conditions. But better warm than cold for me.

What I cannot forgive is the half-time break. About 60 minutes into the film Hermoine’s face is trapped in a contortion of discomfort and surprise over her butterbeer. And…the screen goes blank. “See You After the Break,” a message reads, in English. Evidently adopted from Dutch tradition, any movie (from this major theatre chain, at any rate) more than 2 hours and 20 minutes long gets a ten-minute bathroom and snack break. Upon further inquiry by my trusty translator, I was informed that when bad publicity began to spread about these breaks, the theatre chain did a study. We were with the 30 percent of people completely ticked off by it. But the majority — especially parents — love the idea. And at every break 45 percent of the movie goers get up from their seats.

Of course getting back to your original seat is easier here, since at this theatre they have also instituted assigned seat numbers. When the technology advances to the point where I can select my seat based on an assessment of those who will be in the environs around me (for height, loud-eaters, small children or the “Wad-He-Say?” folk) then I might be able to swallow the annoying break.

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