Merry Christmas!

Dear readers and friends,

I wish all of you a merry Christmas! May the Holidays find you in good health and spirits.

Back on Friday with Chapter 29 of “An Elusive Hero“.

Sincerely yours,
Albert

Vlog #1: The Beginning of Everything

This week I don’t have the usual post about Switzerland. Sorry about that! Instead, I’ve finished working on my first ever Vlog entry. The title has two meanings, after all it is my first video ever and also, my favorite book of the year.

As this the first time I’ve made a video, I’m very grateful for any kind of feedback, so I can improve my video logs in the near future. It was a lot of fun to plan, film and edit the vlog. I hope you enjoy it!

Have a great start to the week and a merry Christmas to you all!

Sincerely yours,

Albert

Chapter 28: Hope

You can find all posts about “An Elusive Hero” under “Story” or “An Elusive Hero”.

The only source of light in my cell was one of the spheres of light I had seen in the council room. It floated close to the ceiling, slowly and steady, providing the space with a dim, cold light. The sphere could have shined so much brighter and instead mocked my presence by deliberately not reaching its potential. I rested my head against the heavy, stone wall and closed my eyes. But sleep didn’t come to me.

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My Favorite Video Games of 2013

My previous Best-of lists for 2013:

Before focusing on the new games I enjoyed most this year, I have a few additions to make to my list about movies from last week.

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug is a spectacular film, definitely worthy of being included on the list. Of course, in order to make a slim children’s book into three movies, Mr. Jackson and his crew took a few liberties that might not sit too well with Tolkien purists. All in all however, the movie is a great ride and puts the newest technological improvements in filmmaking on display.

One movie I forgot to mention is This is the End, featuring a celebrity-filled cast desperately trying to survive the apocalypse. I found it to be one the funniest movies of the year, especially because it has actors poking fun at themselves. Emma Watson, Michael Cera and Mindy Kaling shine as guest stars, while the main cast surrounding James Franco, Seth Rogen and Danny McBride are as hilarious, over-the-top and charming as we’ve seen them many times before.

Okay, that was it for movies, so it is time to look at the three games that captured my attention long enough to get me to stop playing MMOs for a moment.

BioShock Infinite

I loved the imaginative world of BioShock Infinite. The atmosphere is breathtaking and I felt transported into this extremely creepy, but still fascinating city in the clouds. Booker DeWitt is the reluctant hero of the story. The mystery surrounding not only his back story, but the whole world shown in the game, was a driving force for me. And of course, Elizabeth, who needs to be saved by DeWitt, is a fantastic character definitely worth saving. I don’t play many FPS games, but BioShock Infinite is an extremely well-told and well-presented tale that shows what storytelling in video games is capable of nowadays.
BioShock Infinite is available for PC, PS3, Xbox360 and Mac OSX.

The Last of Us

I’m nowhere near through with this thrilling game, but the Last of Us is simply stunning. It feels like a movie I’m playing through. I’m just at the beginning of the Joel and Ellie’s journey to safety, but so far I’ve loved every second I didn’t spend terrified by the zombies. The voice acting and writing is terrific. The Last of Us allows players to immerse themselve in this very realistic and scary apocalyptic future. As with BioShock Infinite, I don’t normally play games with this genre background, but I’m drawn to great stories.
The Last of Us is available for Playstation 3.

GTA V

Of course a list of this sort would not be complete without the biggest game of the year: GTA V. Rockstar Games did it again. It took everything people loved about the series – the freedom, the pop culture references, the cars – and catapulted it to another level. Everything in GTA V is bigger, flashier and more spectacular than in the previous instalments. Having played a few of the older versions I did feel like I’ve seen it all before, but the opportunities in Los Santos, the virtual Los Angeles are seemingly endless. The game includes countless mini-games like golf or tennis and dozens of weird, quirky and interesting characters to interact with. I wasn’t very comfortable with the constant switching between the main characters Michael, Franklin and Trevor, but it did allow Rockstar to showcase different personalities and abilities. GTA V is not a story-driven game. It offers great opportunities to discover a beautifully crafted, human-designed world full of hidden gems.
GTA V is available on PS3 and Xbox360.

Of course, I spent the rest of my gaming hours this year on MMOs (as detailed in my series on them), on FIFA or on the 2010 release Civilization 5, a round-based strategy game. What games did you enjoy most in 2013? And what are you looking forward to in 2014?

I’m looking forward to the new WoW Add-on Warlords of Draenor and I’m very excited for Elder Scrolls Online. Otherwise I’d love to try out the new generation of consoles, but I don’t see me getting one of the machines until the latter part of the year. Also, I’m very intrigued by the Nintendo 3DS and I’m thinking of giving handheld devices another chance.

Sincerely yours,

Albert

Cinemas in Zurich

Winter time is movie time. I mentioned my favorite movies of the year in last Wednesday’s post, so today it is time to give a bit of love to the cinemas in Zurich.

The city has a large and diverse population of cinemas. Moviegoers can find everything from the old-school arthouse theatre to the sprawling multiplex with the newest technology. So, let’s have a look at some of my preferred cinemas and movie theaters.

My preferred cinema because of its location is the Corso between the Bahnhof Stadelhofen and Bellevue. It is operated by Kitag, the leading cinema chain in Switzerland. The Corso mostly shows the newest blockbusters and studio movies in original language with subtitles. It has four screens. One criticism of the cinema has been the distance of the balcony to the screen. Sitting in the last row of the balcony can make it difficult to see the happenings in the front.

Another cinema I frequent often is the Metropol near Stauffacher. Also operated by Kitag, the Metropol has one cinema hall with a screen capable for screening movies in 4K and HFR. The Metropol also has comfort seats (which I’ve never used) in the front and back rows. It’s a large cinema made for the biggest blockbusters. The second theatre is much smaller and doesn’t offer the same technological benefits, but the seats are comfortable with a lot of legroom.

Independent and non-US films are mostly shown at the Arthouse cinemas scattered throughout the city. The biggest one is the Arthouse Le Paris close to Bahnhof Stadelhofen. With its red seats, this cinema brings up memories of the Golden Age of movies. Like the Corso 1, this theatre also has a balcony. It mostly shows the bigger independent movies such as the French sleeper hit “Les Intouchables” or the latest Woody Allen movie “Blue Jasmine”.

A gem with a small screen, but a very cozy and old fashioned feel is the Arthouse Alba next to Central. It is perfect for these small, understated films that don’t need a huge room to work.

Another big cinema chain is Pathe, which operates the multiplexes at Sihl City and outside the city in Dietlikon. They have just received the clearance to extend their cinema at the Sihl City. However, they dub most of their movies in German, so I’ve only been to a Pathé cinema once.

Kitag has one large multiplex cinema, the Abaton, which also has access to the newest technology. The Abaton has very comfortable seats and large screens. I don’t frequent it as much as others becasue it also shows a large number of movies in German. Located between Bahnhof Hardbrücke and Escher-Wyss Platz, it does have a great location in one of the premier party districts of the town.

So, if you’re going to catch one of the many great movies coming out in Zurich, be sure to check one of these cinemas out. Prices range between 13 Francs (Mondays) and 21, depending on cinema and movie.

Have a great week and please like, share and subscribe!

Sincerely yours,
Albert

Chapter 27: Lights

The first 26 chapters of “An Elusive Hero” can be found here.

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I closed my eyes instinctively and kept them shut for a few moments. Silence spread through the room once more. I tried to pry my eyes open, now that the space had finally been illuminated. But the lights, which were radiating from the sides of the room, were too bright.  It was as if concentrated sunlight had filled the chamber. In the glance I was able to take, I noticed about a dozen shapes standing close to the lights. I really hoped they were human. With my eyes closed, the familiar darkness had once again place its shroud around me. I expected to stand in silence for a while longer, when a booming laugh echoed through the room.

“I offer you light and yet you choose darkness by closing your eyes.”

I heard footsteps. The person talking to me was now pacing the room. From the sounds of it, he seemed to be about ten meters away from me. My eyes were still closed.

“Well then, as you seem to believe you are a guest at my court, I would like to welcome you to the Fort.”

A snort followed the sentence.

“You have the privilege of staying my guest as long as you please.”

Another laugh filled the room.

“Of course, that does not mean you can go whenever you’d like. It just means you can stay as long as you want.”

“Where am I?” I asked weakly.

“I’ve already told you.” The tone of the Chosen One was sharp and condescending. He did not tolerate stupid questions. “You are at my court at the Fort. From here I will conquer all of Illusio.”

The sound of footsteps drew closer.

“You should open your eyes and see the light. You shouldn’t choose darkness. Open your eyes.”

My curiosity got a hold of me. I desperately wanted to know with whom I was dealing and more importantly, how many of them I had to deal with. Only one voice had boomed through the room.

“Why don’t you introduce me to yourself and your court first?” I said. I didn’t have the courage to open my eyes just yet. Maybe I was scared it would still be too bright. Maybe I was just scared of what awaited me.

“Well, I think you know who I am. And you also know names are powerful. But well, if you open your eyes, I think we can all be properly introduced.”

The tone had now changed. It was more cheerful and inviting. I drew a deep breath and tried to open my eyes. The initial brightness had subsided and I was able to look around comfortably. The room was illuminated by dozens of spheres of lights, all floating through the air slowly and deliberately. I was stunned by the display. I had never seen anything like it before.  The spheres were of many different sizes. Some resembled footballs, while others were as tiny as golf balls. The brightness of them all also differed. A few radiated with a warm light, others filled the room with a haunting white. Together however, they filled the room with the light and warmth of the particularly beautiful summer day. My eyes followed one particularly luminous sphere of light for a second before my thoughts were grounded by the voice.

“Didn’t I tell you the light was a better choice?”

I moved my look to the person standing in front of me. The man was a head taller than me with a full head of blond, curly hair and clean-shaven face. His figure was slender, but muscular. He had taken the time to sit down again. An impressive one-handed sword with a richly decorated hilt lay across his lap, but he was not wearing any armor. Instead, he was wearing dark pants and a characteristic grey shirt. His shirt had ebony buttons and I noticed it almost shimmering in the bright lights. I assumed he had put some sort of magical protection on the shirt in case I would have picked up some magic on my journey so far.

Unfortunately, I was weapon- and useless. A smile appeared on the man’s face. He seemed to be thinking of what to do next, making the unconscious gesture of brushing his button nose with his thumb. Then he made a sweeping movement with his arms to both of his sides.

Standing at the walls of the room were more shapes than I expected, about twenty. A minority of them were wearing heavy armor and the others were clothed in dark grey clothing with other colors worked into their outfit. The woman to the right of him was wearing a long, grey robe with dark green linings, while the woman to his left was wearing the exact same robe with brown linings. A few men standing motionless at the sides wore ascots in red, blue or black. They didn’t seem to have chosen their color due to the fashion of the Fort. Each color either had to signify a rank or skill valued at his court.

But while I took a close look around, no words were spoken. Not by the man sitting in his large, throne-like chair and not by the very disciplined men and women at his court. For a second I wondered if he had rendered them mute.

“Well. Have you seen enough?” He ended his question with a theatrical sigh.

I looked at him confused. Before I could answer, I heard another word being whispered sharply.

Again, we were surrounded by darkness. I felt my arms being jerked back and only heard the man speak again, his voice quiet and stern: “We will speak again tomorrow.”

Then, I was dragged away, again through the maze of the fort, through dark corridors and down countless steps until I sat there, alone and despaired, in a little, dark cell.

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Thank you very much for reading! I hope you enjoyed and please like, share and subscribe.

Have a great weekend!

Sincerely yours,

Albert

My Favorite Movies of 2013

As promised last week, the month of Best-of lists has dawned on us. After starting out with my favorite books of 2013 last week, I’m looking at my preferred movies of the year today.

In the movie industry, the trend of releasing comic book and YA adaptations as well as sequels continued with original movies taking a back seat. I mostly watch American movies, so my list will focus heavily on films produced in the US. Unlike with my booklist, this list will only feature movies released in 2013. So, let’s get to it!

I’ve written about my favorite movie of the year, The Spectacular Now, at great length before, mostly in my recap of the Zurich Film Festival. It is a real, charming and well-made coming-of-age movie. The Spectacular Now is being released on DVD and iTunes on January 14, 2014 in the US. The European release date remains unknown. I’m definitely looking forward to rewatching the story of Sutter and Aimee.

At the beginning of year, Don Jon and The Way, Way Back were two of the movies I really wanted to see. They did not disappoint. The directional debut of Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a wonderful and unconventional romantic comedy with great actors. “The Way, Way Back” shows the awkwardness of being young and how to deal with adversity, insecurity and change.

One of the biggest surprises of the year was Now You See Me, a highly entertaining heist movie featuring magicians and illusionists. It’s fast-paced, stylish and occasionally a bit far-fetched. But unlike other movies released this year, it is also very innovative and refreshing. The cast includes Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco as illusionists, Mark Ruffalo and Melanie Laurent as detectives as well as Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine. They do a fantastic job. Of course one can balk at some of the unrealistic ideas, but all in all, Now You See Me embodies everything a movie should be.

Gravity, the most successful original movie of the year, is a visual masterpiece. Alfonso Cuarón manages to create a haunting sense of dread and despair with his sweeping shots of the vast universe. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney do a good job in this drama, but the star of the movie is the presentation of outer space. Paired with an extremely effective soundtrack including the use of silence, the visual brilliance of the piece shines through at all times. If this movie is still out in cinemas near you, you should try and catch it on the big screen!

As far as the aforementioned adaptations and sequels go, I thoroughly enjoyed the second instalment of the Hunger Games series, Catching Fire. My in-depth review can be found in this post. I also enjoyed Star Trek: Into Darkness due to the chemistry between its leads Chris Pine and Zachary as well as the performance of Benedict Cumberbatch as their enemy.

Honorable mentions go to two movies I haven’t been able to catch yet, but which I’m looking forward to watching.. The new Coen brothers movie, Inside Llewyn Davis, has earned great reviews. The story of the young folk singer played by Oscar Isaac, who is desperately trying to make in New York, sounds intriguing and early reviews have been positive.

And last but not least is The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug. I’ll only be able to see the movie this Sunday, but my friends at the Uncanny Bookclub have released a whole bunch of posts about the second part of Peter Jackson’s trilogy. Check them out here! Trusting their judgement, I’m pretty sure I’m going enjoy the second part even more than the first one, which I loved.

I’m excited about the movies 2014 will bring. Studios have lined up another batch of YA adaptations (Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars) and sequels (The Avengers 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Amazing Spider-Man 2). But there’s also going to be a new Martin Scorsese (Wolf of Wall Street), David O. Russell (American Hustle) and Wes Anderson (Grand Budapest Hotel) movie coming out. Hopefully, we’ll also see new and exciting filmmakers enter the scene with original screenplays.

So, what were your favorite movies of the year? Which ones are you looking forward to on DVD? And which movies were among your disappointments?

Let me know in the comments or on Twitter. Please also like, share and subscribe!

Sincerely yours,
Albert