In the meantime, my girlfriend Amy and I have been getting in lots of travel this month — first a long weekend in New Orleans where, among other things, I for the first time took in the French quarter, Frenchman St., and the future final resting place of thespian and scholar Nicolas Cage.
A fortnight later, we were off to Iberia for a stretch, with four and a half days in Barcelona and Lisbon each (with a brief, three-hour layover tour through Brussels — alas, we didn’t have time to visit my old stomping grounds of Waterloo.)
August is probably not the best time to visit Barcelona — it was as crowded as Times Square at times, on much narrower streets. Still, it’s an amazing World City, and Gaudi’s unfinished Sagrada Familia is like nothing you’ll see anywhere else in this system. Very highly recommended (although, again, perhaps not in August.)
By comparison, Lisbon and its dozens of ancient churches was more of a sleepy European capital. But it too had its charms, not the least Sintra and its ninth century Moorish castle, only an hour or so away by train.
In any event, if you want to peruse some photos from the trip (and aren’t already a Facebook friend), I’ve put three dozen or so up in the long-neglected Flickr feed. Suffice to say, a grand time was had!
All in all, a really entertaining World Cup. And perhaps it’s because I reside in DC and spend time on Twitter, two of the most futbol-happy environments around stateside, but this felt like the year soccer might have finally broken through in America for real. Time will tell, I suppose. In the meantime, I should do a better job of supporting the MLS. Valar Futbolis!
I believe that.
I believe that we.
I believe that we will get what turns out to be an entirely acceptable result in our third group-stage game that, combined with the result between the other two teams, puts us through into the knockout round!”
As USA reaches the second round the hard way, MLS Soccer’s Matthew Doyle offers his tactical insights on the US-Germany match. “Whether it was Klinsmann’s own decisions, or his willingness to listen to others, I don’t really care. What matters is that he made the right moves to get us out of the group. I’m tipping my cap as I type this.”
Next up for we Americans, wily, athletic Belgium, who I feel bad rooting against, having lived there back in the day. Still, to mix my fantasy metaphors, there can be only one — on to Round 2.
A new CEPR report finds — once again — that Americans are working inordinately hard. “Workers in the European Union are legally guaranteed at least 20 paid vacation days per year, with 25 and even 30 or more days in some countries. Canada and Japan guarantee at least 10 days of paid vacation per year. U.S. workers have no statutory right to paid vacations.”
An ancient port town in the northwest corner of Belgium, Bruges, we are told early on in the film, is the “best-preserved medieval (pronounced “meddy-evil” by our Hibernian heroes) city in Europe.” It’s also the hideout for two Irish hitmen laying low(-country) after a botched job back in London. Ken (Gleeson), the older and more experienced of the duo, is enthused about the chance to sightsee, even if he senses grim portent in the fact they’re hiding out so far away. On the other hand, his partner Ray (Colin Farrell, a good actor but miscast — the part needs someone younger and dumber. Ewan Bremner, maybe?) is aghast by the place, and completely bored senseless from the moment they arrive…until he makes the company of a beautiful local drug dealer, Chloe (Clemence Poesy, best known as Fleur Delacour. Yep, it’s Fleur and Mad-Eye and…well, you’ll see.)
But even Chloe’s considerable charms — and a few drug-fueled binges with a visiting dwarf actor and his coterie of hookers — can’t take Ray’s mind off recent events. You see, the last job (offing Ciaran Hinds) took a dismal turn, innocent blood was spilled, and now Ray feels trapped in the endless purgatory of unabsolved sin. (Having recently sat through Cassandra’s Dream, where he had exactly the same problem, my advice is get over it already. This is another reason why Farrell seems miscast. He’s played too many memorably world-weary strongmen — The New World, Miami Vice, even Daredevil — to seem the aggrieved innocent here.) At any rate, Ray’s mortal screw-up doesn’t sit well with the boss of Ray and Ken’s outfit either — that would be Harry (Ralph Fiennes, playing an amalgamation of Lord Voldemort and Ben Kingsley’s character in Sexy Beast.) And eventually Harry decides to come to Bruges himself to make a reckoning. Let’s just say he’s not coming for the chocolates…
Fiennes’ wildly over-the-top Cockney crime lord is one of the funnier treats in In Bruges, and it’s almost worth the ticket just to watch him delight in being so gleefully unrestrained. (Other than He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, of course, and occasional roles like Spider and Red Dragon, Fiennes has — since his breakthrough in Schindler’s List — mostly got stuck in clipped-and-distant, dignified understatement mode, a la The Constant Gardener or Maid in Manhattan.) Matching him toe-to-toe is Gleeson as the voice of conscience In Bruges — I still have yet to see him give a bad performance, and even though his final scenes are rather goofy and implausible here, Gleeson sells it. He’s the heart and soul of the film.
But, even with the quality of acting on display here, there’s a quite a bit of filler in-between the better moments. McDonagh’s jokes are, frankly, hit-or-miss. Even notwithstanding some of the more obvious targets (Americans are fat and self-centered, Belgium is a “sh**hole”), McDonagh’s ear is curiously tone-deaf at times, and his attempts to be edgy and profane by pushing the un-PC envelope often sound dated and embarrassing (Note, for example, the aforementioned racist midget’s screed, Farrell’s strange seesaw analogy, or Fiennes’ AK-47 rant about South Central drive-bys. Ten points from Slytherin.) I wasn’t inherently offended by the attempts, really, but if you’re going to head down that road, at least be funny or clever. Too often, McDonagh seems to expect the shock level to do all the heavy lifting. (Another case in point, the restaurant beatdown.)
In any case, In Bruges has its moments, but I can’t advocate dropping everything to rush out to see it. If you’re the type of person who enjoys decently-made Tarantino-knockoffs, or actors playing against type a la Sexy Beast, add it to the Netflix queue. Otherwise, I’d hold off. I’m sure somebody will make another film about lovely, historic Bruges, a few more centuries hence.
Nonsensical, self-indulgent, and occasionally even a tad smarmy, Steven Soderbergh’s much-hyped Ocean’s Twelve is also, I’m happy to report, just plain fun. While Eleven was an intricately designed (and quickly forgettable) clockwork caper flick, this sequel turns out to be a rather silly, rambling affair that reeks of inside-baseball, and I mean that in the best way possible. In fact, I’d say Twelve turned out to be what Soderbergh tried and failed to do with Full Frontal…As much a riff on stars and stardom as the heist movie we were all expecting, it’s probably the most sheerly pleasurable film experience you’re going to find this side of The Incredibles.
That’s not to say there aren’t problems here. The film starts slow, reintroducing every character from the first movie as if they were the reuniting Beatles. The plot…well, the plot doesn’t make much sense at all — this isn’t the type of heist movie where you can put the jigsaw pieces together yourself. A lot of the scenes are probably a beat or two too long, and the movie’s got more endings than Return of the King. But, y’know, in the final analysis, none of that really matters. Right about the time Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) goes to check in on imploding (i.e. “going all Frankie Muniz”) TV star Topher Grace (“I just phoned in that Dennis Quaid movie!”), Ocean’s 12 starts to show its true colors: Forget the crime and just have a good time.
And have a good time I did, although admittedly all the Hollywood in-jokes and cameos on display here are my cuppa joe. Sure, the movie could probably have used more Clooney and more Bernie Mac, but there’s a lot of characters to keep in play here, and, besides, it got the cowbell just right. I won’t say Ocean’s Twelve is a great film, but it is a well-made, entertaining film, and it kept a smile on my face for most of its running time. So, if there’s an Ocean’s Thirteen in the works, deal me in.