Ray’s 2015 Movie Awards!

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Best Films of the Year

1. Anomalisa. Such a clever movie, so moving. It made us look at the mundane realities of life with fresh eyes.
2. The Revenant. Stunning film craftsmanship.
3. Bridge of Spies. Best traditional movie of the year. A great history lesson for adults.
4. The Martian. Science wins!
5. The Hateful Eight. Lots of really really good talk by great actors.
6. Mad Max: Fury Road. More spectacular craftsmanship.
7. Brooklyn. It’s just sort of perfect.
8. Carol. Haunting and oh so beautiful.
9. Inside Out. Even Sadness can be the hero!
10. Room. Beautiful and horrifying adaptation of a beautiful and horrifying novel.
11. 99 Homes. Beautifully written and acted Faustian fable set during the housing market crisis.
Honorable Mention: Welcome to Me, The Big Short, Chi-Raq, Spotlight, The Truth, What We Do in the Shadows, Shaun the Sheep Movie, The Gift, Meet the Patels, Love and Mercy, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, While We’re Young, Far From the Madding Crowd, Predestination, Maps to the Stars, Love and Mercy, Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine, 45 Years, White God, Straight Outta Compton, Creed
Won’t hurt you to watch if you’re interested in the movie: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Five Flights Up, Spy, Trainwreck, Ricki and the Flash, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, The Walk, Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead, The Final Girls, Labyrinth of Lies, Very Semi-Serious, Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict, People Places Things, Joy, Hitchcock/Truffaut

Actress

Julianne Moore, Maps to the Stars
Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road
*Brie Larson, Room
Kristin Wiig, Welcome to Me
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Honorable Mention: Teyona Parris in Chi-Raq, Maggie Smith in The Lady in the Van, Jennifer Lawrence in Joy, Cate Blanchett in The Truth, Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years, Jennifer Jason Leigh in Anomalisa, Bel Powley in The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Carey Mulligan in Far From the Madding Crowd, Lily Tomlin in Grandma

Actor

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Matt Damon, The Martian
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Tom Hanks, Bridge of Spies
*Ian McKellan, Mr. Holmes
Honorable Mention: Jason Segel in The End of the Tour, Taika Waititi in What We Do in the Shadows, Andrew Garfield in 99 Homes, Michael B. Jordan in Creed

Supporting Actress

*Sarah Snook, Predestination
Rooney Mara, Carol
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Honorable Mention: Elizabeth Banks in Love and Mercy

Supporting Actor

Michael Shannon, 99 Homes
*Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Jacob Tremblay, Room
Samuel L. Jackson, The Hateful Eight
Walton Goggins, The Hateful Eight
Benicio Del Toro, Sicario

Director

Ridley Scott, The Martian
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Lenny Abrahamson, Room
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, The Revenant
Todd Haynes, Carol
*Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, Anomalisa

Documentary Feature

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
The Wrecking Crew
An Honest Liar
The Best of Enemies
Being Evel
We Come as Friends
*Meet the Patels
Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine
Honorable Mention: Very Semi-Serious, Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict,

Screenplay

While We’re Young by Noah Baumbach. Really smart, wistful, and surprising.
Inside Out by Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley. One of the smartest kid movies I’ve ever seen.
The Gift by Joel Edgerton. A brilliant thriller for grownups.
Steve Jobs by Aaron Sorkin
Room by Emma Donoghue
Bridge of Spies by Matt Charman and the Coen Brothers
*Anomalisa by Charlie Kaufman
99 Homes by Ramin Bahrani, Amir Naderi and Bahareh Azimi

Cinematography

Charlotte Bruus Christensen, Far From the Madding Crowd
John Seale, Mad Max: Fury Road
Roger Deakins, Sicario
Janusz Kaminski, Bridge of Spies
*Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant
Edward Lachman, Carol
Joe Passarelli, Anomalisa

Editing

*Margaret Sixel, Mad Max: Fury Road

Production Design

The Martian
*Mad Max: Fury Road
Carol
The Hateful Eight
Anomalisa

Foreign Language Feature

Theeb
*Mustang
White God
Son of Saul

Best Adaptation of a Property I Love and Assumed Hollywood Didn’t Know About

Predestination: A stunning film version of Robert A. Heinlein’s classic time travel short story “All You Zombies.”

Creative Match Made in Heaven

Creepmeister director David Cronenberg and Hollywood Babylon scribe Bruce Webber teamed up for the acidic and irresistible Maps to the Stars.

A Year of Bio-Documentaries! So Many to Enjoy!

The Wrecking Crew. The story of the amazing studio musicians behind, as Joni Mitchell’s David Geffen would put it, “the popular song.”
An Honest Liar. The indispensable debunker James Randi.
The Best of Enemies. Gore Vidal vs. William F. Buckley, Jr.
Being Evel. Easy to forget how influential Evel Knievel was.

Best Movie Ever About a Pack of Dogs Taking Over The City of Budapest

White God

Underrated

Unfriended. Clever little horror film that takes place entirely on one computer screen.
Truth. Why did people hate this movie so much? I really liked it and I thought Cate Blanchett was sensational.

Busy Actors: I saw the following actors in THREE films this year

John Cusack: Love and Mercy, Chi-Raq, Maps to the Stars
David Thewlis: Macbeth, Legend, and Anomalisa (okay, you don’t actually SEE him in that one, but still)

Busier Actors: FOUR Movies in 2015!

Tom Hardy: Mad Max Fury Road, Legend, The Revenant, Child 44
Kristen Wiig: The Martian, Nasty Baby, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Welcome to Me
Domhnall Gleeson: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Ex Machina, The Revenant, Brooklyn

WOW: Five Releases in 2015!

Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl, Ex Machina, Burnt, Testament of Youth, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

A Word about Star Wars: The Force Awakens

It’s fun. It didn’t change my life. It’s a fun remake of the first movie. It was nice to sit through a Star Wars movie without wanting to jab knitting needles deep into both of my eyes. That said, it IS merely a redo. And it didn’t treat Leia very well. Or her relationship with Han. And Kylo Ren is a huge bore. And that Super Weapon was the stupidest weapon ever, and that’s saying something.

Great Set Pieces

Sneaking around the opera in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
The first Indian attack and the bear attack in The Revenant
That part in Mad Max: Fury Road right between the beginning and the end
Though the movie disappointed me, the dinner table confrontation at the end of Sicario was genuinely surprising and shocking.
Stop-action cunnilingus in Anomalisa.
The escape attempt in Room.
The final Canine/Human confrontation in White God.
The first eviction in 99 Homes.
What happens when you have an insane sheep dog in Far From the Madding Crowd.
Julianne Moore has a close encounter with an acting award in Maps to the Stars.
Judy and Matthew Shepard intervene in the sentencing process of one of the men who murdered their son Matthew in Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine.

Proof That Ed Harris MUST GET A NEW AGENT

Run All Night. We love Ed Harris. Why does he appear in stuff like this?

Best Lines

“Werewolves, not Swearwolves.” Lycanthropic self-control in What We Do in the Shadows.
“Petyr’s 600 years old. He’s not coming to the breakfast meeting.” Apartment politics in What We Do in the Shadows.
“He wants more than he has. I want precisely what he already has.” The grass is always greener in The End of the Tour.
“Now, Daisy, I want us to work out a signal system of communication. When I elbow you real hard in the face, that means: shut up.” Kurt Russell gets physical in The Hateful Eight.
“Mars will come to fear my botany powers.” Matt Damon gets his agriculture on in The Martian.
“Let’s castrate.” Kristin Wiig takes her role as a source of enlightenment seriously in Welcome to Me.

Year’s Best Catch Phrase

“Would it help?” in Bridge of Spies.

The Year’s Single Greatest Cinematic Moment

Jennifer Lopez is given “a first edition” of THE ILIAD in the spectacular The Boy Next Door. This is also the film that features Kristin Chenoweth’s final transformation into E.T.

Biggest Turnarounds

Lenny Abrahamson directed one of the most obnoxious movies of 2014 (Frank) and then lo and behold made one of this year’s best: Room.
After years in Ray’s Doghouse, scrappy Jennifer Jason Leigh has finally re-arrived, valiantly doing heavy lifting in TWO of the year’s best films.

2015 MVP Goes To…

The versatile and daring Kristen Wiig, who appeared in no fewer than four 2015 releases. She gave tremendous performances in Welcome to Me and Diary of A Teenage Girl, appeared in the edgy indie Nasty Baby, and was a pillar of sense in the big budget hit The Martian. This on top of a ton of television work. Do you ever sleep, Miss Wiig?

E For Effort

Chi-Raq isn’t completely successful, but I give props to Spike Lee for attempting something challenging, literary, and timely. We need more film adaptations of the comic Greek plays.

Best Movie Villains

Mitchell Winehouse, Amy
Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), Maps to the Stars

Please Let’s See More Of…

Teyona Parris. She commanded the screen in the brash Chi-Raq.
Hamish Linklater. I keep noticing him shoring up the supporting casts of films like 42 and The Big Short. Give him more lines, already.
Donald Glover. Stopped the show with his demo of a rescue plan in The Martian.
John Magaro. Charmed in both Carol and The Big Short. Keep hiring this dude.
Finn Wittrock. Has the looks and the muscles of Taylor Kitsch but, unlike Kitsch, has charisma and talent.
Sarah Snook. Her gender-bending turn in Predestination knocked out both of us who saw it.
Emory Cohen. Utter charm and authenticity in Brooklyn.

The Year’s Worst

Most Inconsistent Polish Accent

Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Most Inaccurate Title

Mad Max: Fury Road. It wasn’t about Mad Max. Mad Max is barely in it. The movie should have been called Imperator Furiosa: Fury Road.

Disappointing Documentary

Wolf Pack: Great setup, ultimately lame storytelling.

Most Disappointing Production of Macbeth Since That Tedious One I Walked Out of at A Noise Within in Glendale

Macbeth: GOD this movie was boring and terrible. You know, if you don’t want to film the “Double double, toil and trouble” scene… then you really don’t want to do Macbeth, do you?

Annoyingly Overrated

It Follows. It was just plain bad.
Ex Machina. It was good, but it wasn’t the second coming of Jesus, which you’d have thought it was from the reaction it got.
Sicario. The movie’s main character (Emily Blunt) had no agency. The main character clearly should have been Benicio Del Toro.

Jodie Foster Award For Worst Performance by an Actress in a Lead Role

Maika Monroe, It Follows

Worst Motion Pictures of 2015 by a Mile

Tomorrowland. Such promise, such a great director, such a crushing disappointment. The most incoherent major release since Prometheus.

In Memoriam

Leonard Nimoy, actor
B.B. King, musician, demigod
Maureen O’Hara, actress
Jackie Collins, author
Fred Thompson, actor
Omar Sharif, actor
Marty Ingalls, actor
Cory Wells, founding member of Three Dog Night
Joan Leslie, actress (High Sierra)
Jack Larson, played Jimmy Olsen in “The Adventures of Superman”
Wes Craven, director
Alex Rocco, actor
Gary Owens, radio announcer
James Horner, composer
Haskell Wexler, two-time Oscar winning cinematographer
John Guillermin, director (The Towering Inferno)
Bud Yorkin, producer
Jerry Weintraub, producer
Melissa Mathison (wrote E.T.)
E.L. Doctorow, author

Please feel free to comment!

And yes, the asterisks indicate the winners.
You can read my weekly column on the movies at www.theeagle.com and read my other musings at www.starkravingray.com.
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Surprise ScandiRAYvia Epilogue!

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I’ve been shockingly tardy in wrapping up my ScandiRayvia pieces. As 2016 starts, it’s time to finally bring my reportage on my trip to a close. You know, as I completed the trip six months ago.

I have one final surprise for you, Dear Readers, if you’ll indulge me on this tired topic just one more time.

Let’s roll back the videotape to Friday, June 26, 2015. Perhaps you remember the day as intensely as I do.

I’ve already talked about hearing about the SCOTUS decision while on a boat tour on the Stockholm Archipelago way back in ScandiRayvia #13. But what you may not know is that I left out a big part of the story of my day. Unless I’ve spoken to you about it on the phone or in person, you haven’t heard this part until now.

So. I’m having a great time at the Mälarpaviljongen bar that evening with Joakim Zetterberg’s friend Neil. As you may recall, Jay very graciously hooked me up with Neil and his very nice friends so I would have someone to celebrate the just-announced and life-changing Obergefell vs. Hodges SCOTUS decision.

Here's the cool bar where we met (shot from the bluffs of the island of Soldermalm).

Here’s the cool bar where we met (shot from the bluffs of the island of Soldermalm).

 

Here’s the part I left out of that evening:

At one point, Neil turned to me and said, “You know, I’m not Swedish. I was born in Texas.”

“No you WEREN’T,” I said.

“Yup. I grew up in Plano.”

“Well, I grew up in Bryan. I went to college with a raft of kids from Plano.”

Har, har, har, isn’t that funny, small world, etc. And that would have been that. Except, for some reason I still don’t really understand, Neil went on:

“I wasn’t born in Plano, I was born in Dallas. And my mother is from a little town called Blooming Grove.”

I paused.

After a minute, I slowly said, “Well, that’s… odd. That’s where my family is from. That’s where my Iveys are from.”

Then Neil paused. For a long time. Finally he said:

“Uh… my grandmother was Thelma Ivy from Blooming Grove.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I found my newest Ivey cousin. In Stockholm. Neil and I share a great-great grandfather. He was a veteran of Gettysburg (and many other Civil War battles) with the colorful handle Hinton Clinton Gaither Ivey/Ivy (1844-1921). Which makes Neil and I third cousins. Neil has lived in Stockholm for many years, where he has a super cool job that I can’t really even tell you about.

Of all the things I expected to find on my ScandiRayvia trip, a Texas cousin was definitely not among them. It was one of the oddest coincidences of my life and one I’m extremely grateful for.

So if any of you see Neil on Facebook, be nice to him, or I’ll start singing show tunes.

And there’s not much else to tell. The trip home was very long but happily uneventful. And after three weeks away from my beloved LA, here’s how I felt when I got off the plane at LAX:

kiss the ground

I have no idea when I’ll get to take another trip that compares with ScandiRayvia, but I do know I’m extraordinarily fortunate to have been able to take this trip and see so many places I’ve dreamed about seeing.

NOTE: There is a certain fluidity to the spelling of the Ivey/Ivy surname.

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revenant

Film Review: The Revenant

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Alejandro González Iñárritu is determined to beat me into submission. After really liking his first film, Amores Perros, I REALLY disliked his next two big features, 21 Grams and Babel.

But then came last year’s Birdman, Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance. Even though I walked into the movie expecting to hate it, and was annoyed by certain aspects of it (drumming so loud it drowned out 30% of the dialog), I was stunned by the craftsmanship. I was fully on board with it winning the Oscar for Best Picture.

Last night I watched, or rather endured, Iñárritu’s new picture, The Revenant. I say “endured” because it’s a grueling 156 minutes. But it’s also fascinating, horrifying, thrilling, and irresistible.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as the guide for a group of fur traders on Montana in the 1820s. I don’t want to give much away plot-wise, so I’ll just say the boys have some Indian trouble, and then Leo has some VERY nasty bear trouble. The bulk of the film deals with Leo’s attempts to survive in the wilderness long enough to get revenge on them that done him wrong.

The excellent cast also features one of my favorites, Domnhall Gleeson as the leader of their expedition and Tom Hardy as the Leo’s Machiavellian nemesis. (In a refreshing change, I could understand most of Tom Hardy’s lines this time around.)

Once again Iñárritu is working with heroic genius cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who is only the second DP in Oscar history to win two years in a row (for Gravity and Birdman). After seeing his jaw-dropping work in The Revenant, I think he’s got a good chance of going three for three. In addition to Gravity, let’s remember that this is the man who shot The New World, Tree of Life, Y Tu Mamá También , Sleepy Hollow and Children of Men.

The first fifteen minutes of the movie are absolutely flabbergasting. The majesty and menacing mystery of the north woods country is almost overwhelming in the hands of Iñárritu and Lubezki. The Indian attack that opens the movie is a masterpiece of staging that reminded me of the opening of Saving Private Ryan, which is about as high praise as I can summon up regarding an action scene.

revenant vistaThe rest of the movie can’t maintain that astronomical standard, but then neither did the rest of Saving Private Ryan. It’s merely brilliant. It features shot after shot that’s either so beautiful or so crafty it literally pushed me back into my seat.

Iñárritu has revealed himself to be an absolutely take-no-prisoners filmmaker. He has that in common with his friend and fellow director from Mexico, my hero Alfonso Cuarón. Every single scene in the movie looks like it must have been brutal to shoot. Remote woods, cold weather and lots and lots of water — all elements that challenge any film team. The movie was shot in sequence for 80 days over nine months. At one point while filming in Canada, the weather warmed up a little too early and they lost the snow. Undeterred, Iñárritu packed up the entire team and relocated to southern Argentina to finish the scene. He’s a beast. But he’s OUR beast. He needs to stay healthy and make many more movies.

Special mention must be made of the remarkable bear attack scene. I assume it was accomplished with a combination of CGI and puppetry, but trust me, you’re ready for the emergency room yourself before it’s over.

There’s been a lot of talk about The Revenant being the film that could finally net veteran favorite Leonardo DiCaprio his Oscar. I think it will. Though he only speaks 15 lines of dialog in English in the entire movie, his performance is the stuff Academy Award voters love. I’m not a fan of his; the last movie I liked him in was What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? But I do think he’s a terrific actor and he certainly deserves a win for this beautiful, bleak, unforgettable movie.

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legend 1

Film Review: Legend

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Why am I supposed to care about The Krays? Why do they keep making boring movies about them? Maybe I’d care about the twin gangster brothers if I was British, but good grief, Brian Helgeland’s new film “Legend” isn’t going to stir up any new passion about them.

First of all, the title. Legend. That’s so lazy. Did he ask his eight-year old to name the movie. And speaking of eight-year olds, I’m convinced the director also had a child do the song placement in the movie. On-the-nose song placement is one of my biggest pet peeves in movies. It shows extreme laziness and lack of imagination. A song, particularly a well-known song, in a movie, should ADD to the narrative, not just simple-mindedly underscore it. Here’s how bad it is in “Legend”:

When Reggie Kray (Tom Hardy, and we’ll get to him in a minute) is getting married to the film’s narrator and his wife Frances (Emily Browning), guess what song is playing? “Goin’ to the Chapel.” Yeah, it’s that bad. Earlier in the film, when the brothers are first really climbing the ladder of London’s organized crime scene, we are treated to “The In Crowd.” Good grief. My friend and I would just roll our eyes as each blindingly obvious famous pop song began underscoring an already obvious event on the screen. Sheesh.

Next, the narration. Narration is almost always a bad idea in movies, because, again, it’s lazy. You’re telling instead of showing. There are exceptions, of course, when the narration adds immeasurably to a film (All About Eve, Little Children, Network, etc.) But usually it’s a bad idea. And in Legend, Frances’s voiceover provides FAR more plot than the actual film does.

Now to current It-Boy Tom Hardy. I’ve really liked him in other things, particularly in Locke and The Drop, but he just sucks in Legend. He tries so hard in helping us distinguish between the two identical twins he’s playing that he forgets to actually act. Reggie, the “nicer” criminal maniac, is simply boring, but Ron, the batshit crazy one, is a disaster. The combination of ridiculously thick Cockney accent and slang plus a mouth full of, well, something, means you can only understand about a third of what he says. I don’t think he utters more than three consonants in the entire film. He’s not acting, he’s just showing off. There is a difference.

After his non-performance in Mad Max: Fury Road earlier this year (why was that movie even called Mad Max instead of Imperator Furiosa? He had like three lines in the movie. The movie was about Charlize Theron’s character.), and remembering how awful he was in the third “Batman” movie (his entire performance was a stupid lazy Sean Connery imitation), I’m afraid I may have to re-evaluate him as a major talent.

Legend is full of violence, which shouldn’t surprise me, considering the subject matter. But it’s depressing and upsetting violence. I spent a good portion of the film with my eyes covered.

If I’m not coming through clearly here, I hated, hated, HATED this movie.

I’m bewildered by writer/director Brian Helgeland’s misstep on this one. This is the guy who wrote “LA Confidential,” and wrote and directed one of my favorite films of recent years, 42, not to mention a movie a lot of people really like, A Knight’s Tale. Let’s hope Legend is a soon-to-be forgotten blip in an otherwise excellent body of work.

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This is from my Facebook page, but I wanted to share it here as well.

Disliking Nickleback does not mean you dislike your friends who like Nickleback.

Disagreement is not dislike. Questions are not attacks. If you prefer only compliance on your Facebook page, never discussion or disagreement, you should probably save us both time and aggravation and unfriend me. That’s fine. It’s your FB page; I wholeheartedly support your right to control the content on it. But if you consent to me being your FB friend, please do not be shocked or act all attacked if I don’t like Nickleback. The minute I attack you, you’ll have a legitimate complaint. But Nickleback does not need protection.

And no, of course, I’m not talking about Nickleback.*

*I’m talking about Adele.

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ScandiRAYvia #29: Me and Greig!

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I spent my final full day abroad in the beautiful town of Bergen.  The day was mostly devoted to Bergen’s most famous son, the composer Edvard Grieg.

Though his heritage was Scottish (“Grieg” was originally MacGregor a few steps back up the famlily tree), by the time young Edvard came along, the family was resolutely Norwegian.  I have always loved Grieg’s work, particularly his collaboration with Norway’s most famous playwright, Henrik Ibsen:  Peer Gynt.  I fell in love with the music as a kid and I love it to this day.

Even if you had no clue that Grieg was associated with Bergen, you could hardly miss it when come here, as you seem to trip over statues to the great man everywhere you go.  Here’s just two of them:

Grieg and Me

Grieg and Me

By the way, the statue is pretty much life sized.  He was a hobbit.  This statue is just outside the Grieg Hall, which is the premiere classical music venue in the city.  Seen from above, you can see that it’s shaped like a piano!

And then there’s this one:

Again with Grieg.

He’s not that tall.

The nice Swedish couple that took the first photo for me told me about a terrific tour they had just taken to the old Grieg summer house.  I signed up for it at the nifty visitor’s center down on the wharf.

Groovy Bergen Tourist Center (1 of 1)

The Bergen Visitors Center looks like a floating gay boxcar.

The tour started with a lovely bus drive out of the city, during which we learned about Grieg and his life with his wife Nina.  The only thing marring the trip was the clueless American mom who thought it was a good idea to bring an infant on a tour of Edvard Grieg’s home.  Was her precocious little tyke inordinately interested in Norwegian composers?  If so, then why was it so unhappy?  I tried to rise above the wretched noises emanating from its cryhole and concentrated on the tourguide’s words.

The Grieg Center, located on a small bluff over the fjord just a few miles outside of town, consists of three buildings:  A museum, a concert hall, and the old summer house.

The house is not a mansion, but a pleasant and rustic retreat from the city:

summer villa

 

Of course, the grounds have yet another statue of Mr. Grieg:

Second Grieg Statue (1 of 1)

The highlight of the day — indeed, one of the highlights of the trip — was a mini lunchtime piano recital of Grieg’s music in this lovely, turf-covered concert hall:

Turf Covered Concert Hall (1 of 1)

 

The performer was the very handsome and talented Håvard Gimse.  It was a “teaching” recital, so we also learned a lot about Grieg’s music between pieces.  I did not get a photo of him, but here’s one for your reference:

Havard Gimse

Håvard Gimse. (Not my photo; no copyright infringement is intended.)

At first I was worried, because Ms. Entitled American Parent Person fulfilled my darkest fears and brought her INFANT INTO THE CONCERT.  Who does that?  Luckily, my heroic tourguide nipped that shit in the bud within two minutes, and we adults were left free to enjoy the music.

Once the horrible baby was banished, I had a few minutes of near perfect happiness.  Enjoying a live concert of beautiful music, in this lovely hall, presented by such a dashing performer, with the gorgeous sun-dappled fjord in the background, felt like a perfect way to end my Scandinavian journey.

Troldsalen:  My new favorite miniature concert hall anywhere.

Troldsalen: My new favorite miniature concert hall anywhere.

Even more perfect:  The concert hall’s name is Troldsalen, which means, of course Troll Hall.  The summer villa is named Troldhaugen, or Troll Mound.  (LOVE.)

Edvard and Nina even have a troll grave, buried into the side of a hill:

No mere tombstone for Norway's greatest composer!!  The troll graves of Edvard and Nina Grieg.

No mere tombstone for Norway’s greatest composer!! The troll graves of Edvard and Nina Grieg.

 

After the concert, which I didn’t want to end, I personally thanked our tourguide.  “Much better for you to handle it than for me to…. which I would have,” I told him.  Then it was back to town and packing for home!  I was tired, chilly and ready to return to loud and sunny Los Angeles.

Next:  Obligatory Deep Thoughts on the Way Home!

 

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Me and Bergen (1 of 1)

ScandiRAYvia #28: Beautiful Bergen

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The final stop on my ScandiRAYvia was Bergen, Norway’s second city.  It’s on the southwest coast of the country, and it’s a gorgeous city with a rich history.  And one of the prettiest MacDonald’s you’ll ever see.

I stayed in the local Scandic hotel, and it was my least favorite of all of the hotels on my trip.  It wasn’t offensive or terrible, or anything, just very business-like.  It was also quite large, run with Nordic efficiency and consequently felt a bit like staying in a very comfortable bee hive.

The room I was in also had the single most obnoxious piece of decor I’ve ever experienced in a hotel room.   Check out this American bald eagle image.

Ghastly.  Just GHASTLY.

Ghastly. Just GHASTLY.

The best part:  IT WAS BACKLIT.  It was like having a Coors ad over my bed.  Eeeeek.

But on to Bergen.  This was the coldest I’d been on the trip while at sea level.  It was about 40 degrees there.  In July.  Imagine February.

By this time, I was getting a bit homesick.  But I was still glad I included Bergen on my itinerary.  I think it’s a very underrated tourist destination, and I wished I had had more time to explore it.

There’s a funicular that takes you high above the city for some great views.  I never met a funicular that didn’t like; I’ve taken them in Naples, Paris, Switzerland, LA (Angel’s Flight!)  and any other place I can find them.  My only regret was that I didn’t have a sunny day with blue skies for my vista photo:

Bergen Vista (1 of 1)

But it’s gorgeous!  Here’s some snaps I got while wandering around the city:

Bergen Emo (1 of 1)

 

Bergen Deco (1 of 1)

I’m always a sucker for Deco.

University

University

 

Okay, so I'm a bit addicted to using my wide angle lens on corners.

Okay, so I’m a bit addicted to using my wide angle lens on corners.

 

Ridiculously attractive McDonald's.

Ridiculously attractive McDonald’s.

Bergen is famous for its Fish Market.

Colorful Bergen Houses (1 of 1)

 

Bergen Fishmarket (1 of 1)

 

Next:  In the Hall of Edvard Grieg!

 

 

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Fjordgull (1 of 1)

ScandiRAYvia #27: Cruising the Sognefjord

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The day after my arrival in Flam, I boarded a small cruise ship which took us on a three hour journey through two branches of the massive Sognefjord.  We were never in the widest portion of the fjord (fjooey!) but the scenery was spectacular nonetheless!

Fjord Promontory (1 of 1)

Fjord Village (1 of 1)

Another Fjord Village (1 of 1)

Heavier and later than usual snowfall in the mountains created dozens of falls like this:

Little Green Fall (1 of 1)

Smoke over the hotel (1 of 1)

 

Does this valley remind you of another place?  It sure does me!

Does this valley remind you of another place? It sure does me!

 

My Ansel Adams shot.

My Ansel Adams shot.

 

Fjordfarm (1 of 1)

Lots of these little farms along the fjord. Imagine February.

 

Reflection-o-Rama!

Reflection-o-Rama!

 

Back on dry land, I went into a little Esso station in the village and saw this ad.  This guy works out at my gym!  I had fun telling him about seeing his print ad the next time I saw him at Crunch.

Sorry for the crappy quality of this phone picture.  But this handsome guy works out at my gym!

Sorry for the crappy quality of this phone picture. But this handsome guy works out at my gym!

Up next:  Bergen, the final port of call for ScandiRAYvia!

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Lopsided_Dock_Kid

ScandiRAYvia #26: At the Foot of the Sognefjord

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At the end of my long rail journey on July 5, I ended up in the beautiful little village of Flåm.  It sits at the foot of a branch of the Songefjord.

Now, technically, I’d been on a fjord for days.  The Norwegian capital of Oslo is at the foot of a large, wide fjord:

oslo fjord map

And while it’s beautiful, it’s not really what you think of when you think fjord.

But THIS IS:

No more pining necessary.

No more pining necessary.

This is the view looking north from Flåm.

As I stood there, I reflected on my ScandiRAYvia adventure, and how I’d been seeing places I’d dreamed of seeing for most of my life.  At that moment, the majesty of this spot and my awareness of my great good fortune to have the opportunity to see it simply overwhelmed me.  I stood there and cried, like…. like someone standing there crying.

Travel is so important to me, and it’s such a privilege.  It’s a privilege of health.  It’s a privilege of money.  It’s a privilege of time.  It’s a privilege of luck.  And I have all four of those in spades.

Health?  Yeah, I have Type-2 Diabetes.  But I’m beating it back!  Yeah, I had a double bypass thirteen years ago.  But it saved my life!  Yeah, I have severe sleep apnea.  But it’s 100% successfully treated with the C-PAP.  Etc.  Despite these realities, I’m healthy enough to traipse around Scandinavia.  I’m 56 and I have carried my own (heavy!) bags the whole trip.  Hiked probably an average of ten miles a day.  Climbed things like this:

Steeple_Distance

And this:

Stupid_Staircase

My health and strength have not abandoned me, damn it.  Who knows how long I’ll have it?   Need to use it while I can!

My financial future is a complete mess:  I have virtually no retirement, no nest egg.  I basically cannot afford to get old.  BUT right now I’m working and was able to pay for this magical journey.

So yeah, I’m lucky.  Lucky to have been able to make this dream of mine come true.

And so yeah, I cried.

Here's my hotel in Flam.

Here’s my hotel in Flam.

 

Flamcottages

These sweet cottages are vacation rentals.

 

Next:  Cruising the Sognefjord!

 

 

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ScandiRAYvia #25: Weird No Photos Edition, Sort Of

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On July 7, I took the train ride I’d been so looking forward to.  The train ride that was one of the main reasons I created my ScandiRAYvia adventure.

The first the segment of the journey took me out of the urban bustle of Oslo and into the Norwegian countryside.  The scenery was gorgeous northern farm with endless postcard-ready red barns.

Then we began climbing.

And climbing!

Eventually we made our way to the town of Myrdal, where we changed trains and began our steep descent on the legendary Flamsbana.

The Flamsbana is one of the steepest train journeys in the world that runs on normal tracks.  It was gorgeous and a bit hair-raising.

Unfortunately, it was a terrible day for taking photos.  Try taking good pictures from a moving train.  Every now and then they’d stop at a particularly nice view to let us take photos, but the crush of the crowd really kept that from being a viable option.

So what was arguably the most beautiful day of my trip is the one I have no good visual recording of.  Sorry about that.

But trust me, it was FABulous.

However, at the end of the day, we arrived in beautiful Flåm, the tiny village at the bottom of the mountains and at the foot of a large branch of the Sognefjord, the largest fjord in Norway.

To compensate for the lack of photos for this beautiful rail journey, here’s two more shots from Oslo:

Groovy condo on the waterfront in Oslo.

Groovy condo on the waterfront in Oslo.

Where they decide who gets the Nobel Peace Prize. I think I'm nominated this year.

Where they decide who gets the Nobel Peace Prize. I think I’m nominated this year.

 

Next:  The Fjords, for realz!!

 

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