“The Grand Budapest Hotel” Delivers

Even if you don’t know the names of actors, you will certainly recognize many faces in The Grand Budapest Hotel, which premiered February 6th at the Berlin International Film Festival and made its way to the US in March. In Wes Anderson’s latest film, the director/writer loads up on familiar faces once again, including big names like Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, and Edward Norton, just to name a few. Having big-name casts in Wes’s previous films did not always translate into a successful movie, though. This time, however, the quirky Wes Anderson pulls it all together. Check out the picture of the cast and see how many actors you recognize.

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 The ‘Budapest’, filmed in Germany, mainly takes place in 1930s Europe on the brink of World War II. Anderson based his film on the works of Jewish novelist Stefan Zweig, who fled Austria when Hitler came to power in 1934. Anderson never portrays soldiers as Nazis with the “SS” emblem; rather, he cleverly replaces it with “ZZ”. The film does not focus explicitly on the brutal effects of war. Instead, Anderson seems to focus on the civility that remained within the Grand Budapest Hotel before the war. Here’s a profound quote from the movie: “You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant… oh, f*** it.”

In some dream within a dream, within a dream Inception fashion, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a story, within a story, within another story, but don’t worry, it’s not nearly as mind-bending as Inception. In short, the story follows M. Gustave H., the hotel concierge, and his quest for the rightful ownership of a painting bequeathed to him by a frequent visitor at the Grand Budapest Hotel. Along the way, Gustave is wrongly accused of murder, escapes from prison, flees from the police, and more in Anderson’s love-story, detective comedy.

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Visually, The Grand Budapest Hotel is gorgeous. The attention to detail and colorful sets capture a distinctly nostalgic feel. The movie’s soundtrack, composed by Alexandre Desplat, lends itself perfectly to the classical, charming environment. Structurally, I have to say that this is Wes Anderson’s best work. Unlike some of his previous works, ‘Budapest’ moves along seamlessly and lacks the sluggishness of some of his other works (I’m looking at you, The Life Aquatic). The cast has so many famous actors that Anderson has to limit certain actors to meager roles. I wished some actors, especially Owen Wilson and Bill Murray, received more than cameo roles, but every actor’s appearance brought a smile to my face and garnered an audible, “Ah, I can’t believe he/she is in it this, too!” from the audience. Anderson’s witty dialogue reads like a well-written novel and provides hilarious one-liners.

The Grand Budapest Hotel won’t have you pondering the meaning of life or anything like that; the movie doesn’t intend to delve too far beneath its surface. ‘Budapest’ does what it set out to do: entertain with memorable characters and spectacular visuals. I give it an 8.5 out of 10.

Bullfights are Bullpoop

When I heard that we were going to a bullfight at the Las Ventas Plaza de Toros in Madrid, I had no idea what we were getting into. I’d heard of bullfighting, but I didn’t know much about it.

 

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Looks pretty cool

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Is that Michael Jordan? Nah, just some hunky matador.

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Cooler than most concert posters

Bullfighting’s history traces back thousands of years, but bullfighting generated increased popularity by the Spanish in the 18th century. In the 19th century, the Spanish government began promoting bullfighting as a national symbol. Since then, bullfighting spread to Portugal, Latin America, and Asia.

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Coliseum Jr.

Inside and outside, the arena resembles the Coliseum in Rome.

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The procession begins

Okay, now, I started to get confused. What’s up with the dudes on padded horses? Turns out these guys wield spears and rile up the bulls by stabbing them. Plus, poor horses are blindfolded and face the wrath of the bull’s horns.

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Who says men can’t wear tights and sequins?

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In comes Hugo

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Not quite a fair fight.

Matadors scattered around the arena stab and provoke the bull until the main matador slays the bull with a stab to the heart. However, matadors do not always succeed on the first try. It’s a bloody, gruesome “sport”. Luckily for them, they have a barrier to hide behind.

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Olé

As you can see, the bull has barbs stuck in its back.

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Way to go, Hugo!

The matadors at the beginning of the event are the opening acts. In this case, the bull “won” against this matador. Unfortunately (or fortunately for the battered bull), the next matador finished him off.

After seeing one act, I couldn’t stand to watch another. Bullfighting popularity has declined in recent years and certain cities have outlawed it. I only hope that soon it will be banned everywhere.

 

Spanish Cheesecake? I’ll Give It a Chance


Every birthday, my mom asks me what kind of cake I want. I think for a minute, and every year, I respond, “cheesecake.” As a cheesecake lover, I was excited to find a recipe with the Spaniards’ take on it. Quesada pasiega, or Spanish cheesecake, is a dish from Cantabria, a region in northern Spain.

Because of the Cantabria’s wet climate, cattle have plenty of grass to enjoy. The region relies on cattle byproducts and utilizes them in this dessert.

You probably have most of the ingredients necessary to make quesada pasiega; I had to make a quick trip to the store and purchase ricotta cheese and a lemon. The recipe I followed used ricotta cheese, but other variations of the recipe use yogurt instead of ricotta)

ingredients

I’m no expert baker, but this recipe is pretty darn easy to make. I had to make-do with the janky mixer we have, so the mixture didn’t turn out as smooth as I had anticipated.

photoAs you can see, there are lumps, but don’t worry, they’re benign.

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Look closely for the cannonball dive

The recipe said to cook it for 35-45 minutes, but mine took about 55. It could just be the inaccuracy of our oven’s thermometer, so keep an eye on the quesada. It should be browned on the top and a toothpick should come out cleanly when inserted into the center.

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The United State claims this plate

The final product! Mine looks a bit like cornbread compared to the recipe I followed. It tasted like a lemon square. I didn’t mind, but it was not what I epxected

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photo (1)I left this plate out for roommates, and it disappeared!

I won’t be asking for quesada pasiega this birthday, but if you’re feeling adventurous, this simple dessert is worth a try.

(Sorta) Free Spanish Villages

Ever want to go away to your own countryside village? Well, if you have the money, you can do just that.

In Spain, hundreds of abandoned villages cover rural areas of the country. With the dawn of industrialization, people migrated to urban centers to seek out work. Oftentimes, the ownership records of the villages were lost.

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A Barca ruins parallel Spain’s economy

The Spanish government is giving away A Barca–an abandoned village in northeast Spain comprised of a dozen stone buildings–for free, provided that you agree to restore the buildings. These restorations can cost about a million Euros (approx. 1.3 million USD). The government hopes the restoration projects will stimulate the country’s struggling economy.  

In addition to the employment that restorations require, the government sees these villages as a chance for cultural tourism.

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workers restoring Armejún, a project of pueblosocial.es

One blogger believes that the restoration of rural towns could offer a look at a way of life throughout regions of Spain that marks an attempt to return to a sustainable lifestyle away from the urban centers. Another blog allows you to track the progress of the restorations of these dilapidated villages.

 

If you’re not in the mood to commit a million bucks, specialty real estate companies sell smaller villages (usually 3-5 buildings) for under $100,000. These getaways don’t require any restorations.

I think this attempt to help the economy is an interesting and exciting way to get people’s attention. The history behind these villages needs new life, as well as Spain’s economy.

McDonald’s Breakfast until Noon: Are You Lovin’ It?

Ever go to McDonald’s expecting breakfast only for this to happen? *watches video*

Well, if you’re in Spain, you don’t have to worry about missing out on hotcakes and sausage until 1 pm. That’s right: 1 in the afternoon.

When I visited Spain, I had to adjust to their schedule. Stores close down from 2-5 for siesta, and dinner doesn’t start until 10 pm. With Spain’s economic struggles, a New York Times article addressed a Spanish campaign to change the country’s time schedule in order to increase worker efficiency.

Despite these attempts, McDonald’s extended its breakfast hours. Now, you can sleep-in even later and still get your sausage McMuffin until 1 pm on the weekends (noon on weekdays) at most locations in Spain, one hour later than other locations in Europe. Compare that to the United States, where breakfast stops at 10:30 am.

Toast with tomatoes: slightly less terrible for you

Toast with tomatoes and olive oil: slightly less terrible for you

In addition to McDonald’s new hours, the company launched a 4 million Euro  (approximately 5.5 million USD) campaign promoting its new breakfast menu. It’s not uncommon for McDonald’s to alter the menu to account for regional differences across the globe.To compete with local cafés, McDonald’s new breakfast menu in Spain now includes toast with tomatoes and olive oil and a wider range of coffees.

The McDonald’s España facebook page has over 500,000 likes. When McDonald’s announced the new breakfast campaign, it received about 1,000 likes. I’ve found a few different reactions on twitter. One person said that McDonald’s breakfast, regardless of the menu, scares her. Other people reacted more positively, saying they enjoy the new menu.

Translation: “Finally a breakfast that I like!”

McDonald’s new slogan for the breakfast campaign is “Despierta Tu Sonrisa” or “Wake Up with a Smile”

The video says, “if you start the day well, we all start well.” I don’t know how you feel about starting your day with McDonald’s for breakfast, but for me, I start my days with McDonald’s when I’m hungover and willing to shell out two bucks for two sausage McMuffins.

I understand the cultural differences concerning eating times, but this seems like just another ploy for McDonald’s to exploit consumers.

Wes Anderson film debuts in Berlin [UPDATE]

Cast of The Grand Budapest Hotel

 

The Berlin International Film Festival, also known as Berlinale, kicked off on February 6th.

 

Hold up, let me give you the gist of the festival: a bunch of filmmakers from across the world get together in Berlin and show off over 400 films–documentaries, shorts, feature lengths­–typical movie festival stuff. Eight international members of the “jury” award the Golden Bear

The Golden Bear

to the best film (from a field of twenty) and Silver Bears to best director, best actor, best actress, and other categories a la Academy Awards.  Other independent juries select different category winners, like best short film, documentary, etc.

 

What better way to begin the world’s largest (debatably second to Cannes in France) film festival than with a Wes Anderson movie? Writer and director, Anderson’s newest flick The Grand Budapest Hotel  premiered and kicked off the eleven-day festival that ends on the 16th of February.

 

Fun Fact: this is Anderson’s third movie to open the festival. His previous two are The Royal Tenenbaums (2002) and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2005)

 

The Grand Budapest Hotel boasts a cast of stars about as diverse as the films that make it to Berlinale. The Grand Budapest Hotel is another star-studded Wes Anderson lineup, featuring Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Ralph Fiennes, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton; the list goes on. Bill Murray said of Anderson’s recruiting techniques, “We are promised very long hours and low wages and stale bread.”

 

Despite putting together A-List casts, Wes Anderson rides a thin line between love and hate. I love his work and believe The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is gold, while friends of mine can’t sit through twenty minutes of it. It will be interesting to see what jury thinks of his latest endeavor. Will the hometown-filmed movie finally get Wes the Golden Bear?

 

Check out “Berlinale in Numbers

 

[Update] The International Jury awarded Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize, the award for runner-up best film. The Golden Bear went to Diao Yinan’s Bai Ri Yan Huo (Black Coal, Thin Ice)