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

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

Weekly Reviews: “Catching Fire” and “Special Topics in Calamity Physics”

This week I’m taking a look at one of the hottest blockbusters of the winter and the debut novel of Marisha Pessl. Both of them captured much of my imagination and attention over the last week.

Catching Fire

I touched upon Catching Fire a bit in last week’s news post and was able to see the movie twice, first on Thursday and then in 4K on Sunday. And I didn’t mind seeing it twice at all, as the second time around I was able to focus on tiny details such as the height difference between leads Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson and the attempts of the director to hide it.

The movie itself did not disappoint (otherwise I wouldn’t have watched it twice). It stays very true to the book with some understandable omissions. The cast, headlined by Ms. Lawrence, is fantastic and extremely well cast. Woody Harrelson, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Donald Sutherland have remarkable screen presence, while Elizabeth Banks and Lenny Kravitz shine in their roles as members of “Team Katniss”. The other tributes, especially Sam Claflin and Jena Malone, portray two of the most beloved characters, Finnick Odair and Johanna Mason, very much in line with the novel.

A big reason for the faithful adaptation is the inclusion of author Suzanne Collins as an executive producer. Director Francis Lawrence does a great job in the pacing of the movie. He gives important scenes in the build-up to the 75th Hunger Games enough time to develop and breathe. However, when the actions picks up in the second part of the film, it is gripping, frightening and dangerous.

The third novel, “Mockingjay”, will be split in two motion pictures (as seems to be normal now) with the first part arriving next November. If it reaches the quality of “Catching Fire”, the wait will be well worth it. Definitely catch the movie in cinemas if you’re able to.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics

First off, Marisha Pessl is extremely talented. I adored her second book “Night Film” (mentioned in this post). We will be discussing it with the Uncanny Bookclub this Sunday at 5pm, so if you’ve read the book and are in the region of Zurich, feel free to stop by the Cabarat Voltaire!

The protagonist of “Special Topics in Calamity Physics” is Harvard undergrad Blue Van Meer, who starts to recount the events of her senior year in High School. After moving around a lot with her intellectual, Swiss-born father Gareth Van Meer, they settle in Stockton, North Carolina. In the little town, Blue, who lost her mother as a young child, catches the eye of the extravagant teacher Hannah Schneider. Blue is invited into a group of students, who meet with Hannah once a week and seem to adore her. But not everything with Ms. Schneider is as it seems. When she dies, inexplicably hanged, Blue tries to find out how and why it happened.

The book is not as accessible as it would seem and it takes a while to get used to the millions of references and footnotes Ms. Pessl includes in the novel. Readers and Movie buffs will find obscure references to movies and books long forgotten. Some of them are real and some are fictional.

Blue is a likeable, but ultimately very self-centered character with an interesting and annoying father. However, I found the intellectualism of her father to be tiring at times.Ms. Schneider and her group of students (Jade, Leulah, Milton, Nigel and Charles) are far more intriguing. Finding out their story drives the book forward until the death of mysterious Ms. Schneider. From there, the book focuses more on Blue and picks up its pace considerably, which I enjoyed a lot.

I had troubles getting into the book, due to the constant references and the difficulty to grasp the ideas of Blue’s strange father. But with every page I read, the more I got entranced with the story. The book is very gripping and very well put together. The highlight for me was how well it all unfolds in the end, which I’m not going to spoil here.

I believe her second book is more polished, but I can only recommend “Special Topics in Calamity Physics”, because it’s combines thriller and coming-of-age elements into a gripping story that manages to be both funny and sad.

These are my two reviews for the week. With December coming up next week, it’s time for my best of lists, starting with my favorite books of 2013 next Wednesday! My story “An Elusive Hero” returns on Friday with chapter 25. So if you’ve liked my writing so far, please like, share and subscribe!

Sincerely yours,
Albert

Miscellaneous News about Gaming, TV and Movies

Today’s post will touch upon some of the news in the entertainment industry that have excited me in the last few days and weeks.

We’ll start off with the important gaming news:

Warlords of Draenor announced

My favorite MMORPG, World of Warcraft, just announced its next expansion: Warlords of Draenor. Without wanting to spoil too much, the story will feature an element of time travel and bring back some of the most interesting characters of the Warcraft Universe, with arcs going back to Warcraft 2 being revisited and maybe altered forever. Added to the new story and the new continent to be discovered, there will be modernized character models and a raised level cap. I’m looking forward to the new expansion, because Blizzard has an excellent track record of adapting its games and it has breathed new life into the almost 10-year old MMO.

Next Gen is here… well almost

The Next Generation consoles have launched in North America and will soon be spreading to Europe and also Switzerland. I have no plans on getting a new console for the moment because they’re still extremely expensive and bound to be plagued by bugs at the start. Also, the set of games are not yet that appealing to me. It will be interesting to see how many of the multimedia function the XBox One offers in the US will make it over the Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately, I’m doubtful that any of it will make its way into European living rooms until late 2014. The Playstation 4 is cheaper and as an owner of its predecessor, I might give a shot as soon as the first PS4-only hits have come out.

Doctor Who Anniversary

This Saturday, BBC is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its cult show “Doctor Who” with the day of the doctor, a special episode featuring some very interesting special guests. While I have only seen one season of the Doctor, the series is an integral part of today’s pop culture and has influenced so many shows and books out there. Being on air for 50 years (with one or the other break) is a major accomplishment and will be rightfully celebrated. It runs on BBC One and BBC One HD at 20:50 CET

Catching Fire

Also happening this week is the Switzerland release of the second Hunger Games movie: Catching Fire. I missed the hype the first time around, but after reading the book over the summer (my review), I’m excited this time around. The stunning Jennifer Lawrence will reprise her role as Katniss Everdeen and is joined by an all-star cast including (but not limited to) one of my teenage favorites in Jena Malone (Donnie Darko), Academy Award Winner Philip Seymour Hoffman and Woody Harrelson. I hope the movies lives up to its role models.

There are other interesting movies set to be released in the next week, with the new Woody Allen movie “Blue Jasmine” opening in Switzerland tomorrow as well. “The Hobbit – Desolation of Smaug” is only three weeks away as well. Winter is a great time for the movies, even though the summer blockbuster season is more important for the studios.

Don Jon

And to end the post, a short recap of Joseph Gordon-Levitts wonderfully funny movie, Don Jon. I saw the movie a week ago after waiting for it for much of the calendar year and it didn’t disappoint. Being a big fan of its writer, director and star, I walked in with high expectations. Don Jon is a movie about a New Jersey playboy with a porn addiction, who falls for a perfect 10 (played by Scarlett Johannson). Of course, his problem doesn’t sit well with the dream girl. Mr. Gordon-Levitt delivers an unpredictable story with wonderful shots, interesting characters and funny dialogue. Scarlett Johannson looks amazing and plays an amazingly superficial character, while Tony Danza and Brie Larson shine as members of Don Jon’s family. The appearance of Julianne Moore leads the movie on the right track to its fitting ending. All in all, the movie is definitely among my favorites this year.

Okay, that’s it from me for the week. Back this Friday with the overdue 24th chapter of “An Elusive Hero”. Have a great Wednesday and please like, share and subscribe!

Sincerely yours,
Albert

Why Coming-of-Age Movies are the Best

On Monday, I saw “The Way, Way Back” at the Zurich Film Festival. The well-made and entertaining movie reminded me once again of why the genre of “Coming-of-Age” movies is my favorite.

According to the ever reliable Wikipedia, the term “Coming of Age” can refer to a young person’s transition from childhood to adulthood. This places the main protagonists of these movies in the age bracket between 15 and 25. In today’s post I’d like to highlight some of my favorite movies in the genre and show why I love this particular group of films.

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A Trip down Memory Lane

Two weeks ago I asked my friends on Facebook about their favorite teenage characters or from their teenage years looking for inspiration for a new story I’m working on. I received over 20 responses including, but not limited to, the innocent teenage superstar (Hannah Montana), one of the most annoying love stories in history (Edward Cullen and Bella Swan), the most despicable young king played by a really cool guy (Geoffrey Baratheon) and a whole bunch of Harry Potter characters (Albus Dumbledore, Cedric Diggory, Hermione Granger). Some of the answers really resonated with me and instead inspired to take a trip down Memory Lane to revisit some of the defining shows and books of my childhood.

Captain Tsubasa, Kickers and other Anime Superstars

Tsubasa Ozara was the first answer I received to my question and rightfully so. He is the titular character of an anime series showing his rise from childhood football prodigy to Japanese National Team Captain and Barcelona player. This Saturday, I met up at friend’s place to rewatch the first episodes of the series and all the memories came flowing back. It has aged well.

One of the signature scenes of the TV show was a shot of a player (mostly Captain Tsubasa) running over a curved football pitch for ages, unstoppable by all the ordinary defenders. These displays of skill took up most of the time in an episode and ended by a fantastic shot on goal either resulting in a destroyed net or great save by his rival Genzo Wakabayashi. I remember trying to replicate iconic scenes like the “Tiger Shot” or the “Save off the goal posts”.

Similar to Captain Tsubasa was the football anime series “Kickers” starring the talented Gregor and Mario with their bunch of misfit teammates. I exactly remember the episode of the team captain and number 10 Gregor training hard at the beach before an important game, trying to hit a ball through the onrushing waves, finally succeeding after countless hours of practice. Every time I play football at the beach, I still follow his lead.

Of course these were not the only anime series. I remember “Mila Superstar” having the best opening theme of them all, “Detective Conan” being the perfect replica to satisfy my urge on following a Sherlock-type detective and “Dragonball” showing me how to never give up. But the franchise to rule them all still is…

Pokemon

Ash Ketchum, the star of the Pokemon anime series, was also mentioned in my little poll and it’s hard to disagree with the sentiment. The series and this journey with Misty and Rocko (these are the German names) however were only a minor part of the universe. The highlight were definitely the first Pokémon games for the Nintendo Gameboy. I remember saving my sparse pocket money for weeks to finally get hold of Pokémon Red. The games, which offer a high degree of replayability, feature a young hero sent on a journey to catch and train all 151 pokemon, animal-inspired pocket monsters. Most of my friends played the games.  We connected our handheld consoles by cable to battle and trade with each other. Every schoolyard pokémon was centered around which team was the best, how to beat the top four or which starting pokémon to choose (Charmander). Nowadays, I still keep my Gameboy Color around and still train my Pokémon during a boring commute or a lengthy flight. Some of the looks I’ve received by younger and older generations have been priceless.

I also played some of the newer versions of Pokémon, but none of them ever matched the charm and atmosphere of those wonderful first editions.

But now, let me move on to some shows, where none of the characters made it into the answers, but which had a great impact on me nonetheless.

From the Fresh Prince over the Simpsons to the O.C

In the days before highspeed internet and cellphones, connecting to the World Wide Web meant my parents were cut off from the outer worlds by having a busy telephone line. I got a flatrate when I moved to Germany in 2002, but our place in Switzerland still remained devoid from ISDN technology until we moved back in 2005. This meant I spent my time indoors watching TV (yes, and of course reading and studying *cough*).

One of the first shows I remember watching on a regular basis was the show that molded Will Smith into a star: “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air“. I followed his good-natured antics over the years until the final episode. The finale episode with Will punching out the lights as the Banks family leaves their mansion, only for Carlton to hilariously come running down the stairs, still is my favorite series finale ever.

While Fresh Prince was a sitcom often aired together with competitors such as “Tool Time”, “Full House” or “Married with Kids”, for the adolescent me it also fulfilled a function as a coming-of-age in the vein of “Wonder Years” or “Boy meets World”.

And then the Simpsons came onto my screen and I was immediately hooked. I saw many of the episodes as a kid, laughing at the stupidity of Homer and the brashness of Bart, while admiring the cleverness of Lisa. But when I got older and finally noticed the often cynical jabs at society hidden among the more obvious jokes, my admiration for the incredibly smart show only grew. The wit of Simpsons is unmatched, even though there are some fantastic South Park episodes which come close to achieving that sweet balance between hiding criticism and going all-out just for laughs.

And then, exactly ten years ago, I clearly remember seeing the first episode of the O.C while on holiday in Switzerland. The show got me hooked at “Welcome to the O.C…“.
The relationship between Ryan and Seth stood out from the beginning and it portrayed a nerdy character in a positive light. And in that magical first season (the latter seasons range from terrible to okay) even the adult characters had interesting and believable storylines. Seeing Seth struggle choosing between his best friend and his manic pixie dream girl, Ryan saving Marissa in Tijuana and the all-around fantastic soundtrack are memories from the show that stand-out.

But who was my favorite fictional character when growing up? The Count of Monte Cristo.

So, how would you answer my initial question? Who are your favorite teenage characters? Which shows or games do you look back with a fulfilling sense of nostalgia? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

See you on Friday with chapter 19 of “An Elusive Hero”.

Sincerely yours,
Albert

Zurich Film Festival Preview

This Monday is a big day for two reasons. Firstly, the new university semester has started and that means I’m back in school until around Christmas. The campus is full of wide-eyed first-year students clutching their cellphones nervously looking for the right rooms and trying to get a grip of our widespread university. Also, the beginning of the new semester is always similar to New Year’s Day as the gym was much fuller than during the holidays with many students trying to follow their resolutions for the school year. But my adventures at my university (I only had one class today) are not what I want to talk about today.

Instead I want to focus on the next event bringing glamour to the city I live in: The ninth Zurich International Film Festival running from September 26 to October 6. If you’re planning on catching a glimpse of Hollywood and other world-class filmmaking in Switzerland, you should definitely head over to the official website to find out which movies are playing and how to get tickets for them. What can you expect?

Photo source: Official Zurich Film Festival Press photos.

Photo: Official ZFF Festival Press Photos

Unfortunately, I’m not an expert on foreign and independent films, so I can only talk about the films I’ve either heard about or I’m going to try to catch during the two-week festival. But first, the logistics: The movies will be screened in various cinemas throughout the city, with the Corso at the Bellevue and the cinemas at the Sihl City taking prominent roles. Movies are split into various sections: International Feature Film, International Documentary Film, German Language Feature Film as well as Documentary Film Germany/Austria/Switzerland, Gala Premieres and Special Screenings. Finishing off the line-up are Brazilian movies, movies for kids and screenings of past classics.

Among the ten competitors for the International Feature Film category, the only film I’m familiar with is the drama “Fruitvale Station” whose main actor Michael B. Jordan received brilliant reviews in the American Press. The movies follows a fateful day in the life of 22-year old Oscar, whose resolutions to make himself a better man coincide with a homicide in Oakland’s Fruitvale Station. But reading through the descriptions, there are other films that seem interesting to me. “Parkland” follows the aftermath of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy exactly 50 years ago and features an impressive cast including Jacki Weaver, Paul Giamatti, Billy Bob Thornton and former Disney superstar Zac Efron. “Puppy Love” is a French movie about a shy teenage girl who finds an unlikely friend and might make my already extensive list of great coming-of-age movies even longer. “Traumland” on the other hand is a multicultural drama set in Zurich itself surrounding the 18-year old Mia, a Bulgarian prostitute trying to make ends meet in one of the most expensive cities on the planet. This year’s competition will be very intriguing and with some of the stars and directors making an appearance at the festival, you should have a look now.

The Gala Premieres feature all almost all of the movies I’ve been desperately waiting for. If you’ve followed my Twitter feed (which you should!), you would have seen how I’ve been longing for these movies to come to Switzerland all summer long. The most prominent movie is probably “Don Jon”, the first movie written and directed by Hollywood A-Lister Joseph Gordon-Levitt and starring him with Scarlett Johansson as the female lead. The comedy about a young man finding the one while battling this porn addiction is intriguing to say the least. “The Way, Way back” has some high profile actors such as Steve Carell billed, but it is a sweet coming-of-age story similar to the vein of “Adventureland” starring Jesse Eisenberg and pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart. Instead of the theme park, the location is the local swimming pool.

The Spectacular Now movie poster Photo: IMDB

The Spectacular Now movie poster
Photo: IMDB

But the movie I’m most excited about is “The Spectacular Now”. The movie is (what else?) a coming-of-age story about high school golden boy Sutter trying to get his life on track after being dumped by his girlfriend and with graduation looming. It is written by the immensely talented Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter, the creative minds behind the wonderful romantic comedy”500 days of summer” (starring the aforementioned Joseph Gordon-Levitt) Both of them are also responsible for the screenplay of one of my favorite books “The Fault in Our Stars“, so naturally I’m eager to follow all of their work. Reviews for “The Spectacular Now” have been, well, spectacular with the movie having a 91% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

But maybe I’m the only one really excited about those movies. For everyone else, there are some higher profile movies showing for the first time in Switzerland. “Diana” attempts to portray the life of the iconic British princess (and according to reviews fails). “Gravity”, the new Alfonso Cuaron picture, impressed with some breathtaking trailers from outer space and features George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. Other movies featuring prominent Academy Award Winners include “The Immigrant” (Marion Cotillard), “Liberace” (Michael Douglas, Matt Damon) and “The Railway Man” (Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman).

Hugh Jackman Photo: Official ZFF Press Photos

Hugh Jackman
Photo: Official ZFF Press Photos

A special mention also goes out to “Prisoners” starring Hugh Jackman. The actor best known for his portrayal of Wolverine is the biggest name at the festival and will be in Zurich on September 28 to receive the Golden Icon Award for this year. He is sure to draw a big crowd, but if you’re lucky and show up early enough, you might catch a glimpse of one of Hollywood’s most charismatic stars. The Career Achievement Award goes to producers from the British Working Title Films, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, responsible for films such as Notting Hill, The Big Lebowski, Les Miserables or Rush (premiering at the ZFF).

I hope I was able to give you a short preview of the festival. If you want to know more about the films in general, head over to their website and check it out for a more comprehensive overview! Let me know if you have any other recommendations for me!

As always, please like, share and subscribe!

Sincerely yours,
Albert