Gotha

While walking to and from the gym I noticed a billboard advertising free train tickets (kostenlos probefahren) to a town called Gotha. I knew nothing of the town, but since it was free to go to it could make a nice day trip maybe. We haven’t taken a day trip in a long time, since Christmas at least when we went to Goslar. Mainly because train tickets can be so expensive and we just haven’t had the urge. It would’ve cost 40 euros each for round trip tickets to Gotha, which is highway robbery, frankly.

Anyways, after looking up Gotha online it looked like a nice enough town, so I signed up for the free tickets and we went yesterday. The train ride was only about 70-75 minutes long and took us into the state of Thüringen, south east of here in the former Eastern Germany.

It was pretty clear from the get go this was a dead place. On our walk from the train station into town we saw maybe three people and a few cars. Sure, it was a Sunday and the weather wasn’t amazing (but it wasn’t terrible either, by German standards), but it was still unusually quiet out.

The town basically has a big park, a castle, and the old downtown. That was it.  We were essentially ready to leave within an hour, but had to wait a long time for the next train.

The castle, Schloss Friedenstein, is a early Baroque palace built in the mid-1600s and I really hesitate to call it a castle. I’ve seen office buildings that looked more regal in stature. It was essentially a large, rectangular white building on top of a hill. There was a big inner courtyard, two little towers, and it had some art and history museums inside. It looked fairly rundown even, and some of the exterior paint was stained. I didn’t even want to take pictures of it it was so depressing. Since neither of us are big on museums, we skipped going inside and went downtown.

The town center is pretty and nice and all, but it’s nothing special. It was also completely devoid of people.

I have no idea why there’s a horse head in this little alleyway.

The town hall is nice to look at. Bright red and ornately painted on the north side. You can pay 50 cents to go to the top of the little tower. But who pays money to climb stairs? And the view couldn’t have been that great, the castle hill was taller and within view of there.

And call me jaded, but by now there’s only so many cute little town centres with old European looking buildings before they just start to look the same. It’s all just normal to me now. Kind of sad.

So we did what any German does when they have time to spare and the weather isn’t terrible. We had ice cream. Ridiculous ice cream sundae concoctions. Even then we had over an hour to kill, so we wandered around the park for a while and then just waited at the train station.

But the train ride home was the worst. Every seat was already full by the time we got on. Sure, there were some seats that were just taken up by someone’s bag, or had a sleeping person laying over, but I’ve never seen a German willingly hand over these seats. They’re already doing everything they can to signal they don’t want to sit next to you. So we stood in the area between cars with a bunch of other people. When the train first left some water (at least we hope it was just water) leaked out of the ceiling and fell all over Chris. So we moved and basically sat in the wheel-well for the entire ride.

I guess everyone was going to Göttingen like us (where the train ended) as I only saw 3 people get off the entire ride. Plenty more got on, of course. The worst was, when a couple got up to leave I hurried over to grab their seats only to find the two people who were sitting opposite them rushing to fill the empty seats with their bags. Assholes. German assholes.

And, of course, when we got back to town it was raining. Hadn’t rained all day, but once the train got into town it was raining. Go figure.

So that was a bust. Don’t know if we’ll be doing any other day trips before we leave. I’ll probably go to Kassel one more time to see the big art exhibition. And who knows, maybe Chris will crave Pizza Hut enough for us to go to Hannover. But we’re certainly never taking the Regiobahn again. Those trains are the worst.

Can’t Be Trusted

I’ve long said I don’t ride bicycles because I don’t trust things with only two wheels. They seem so inherently unstable to me. Almost illogically so. With that said, I haven’t ridden a bike in something like 18-20 years. I liked it fine when I was a kid, but not beyond just riding in circles on the jogging track behind our house. I was never the kind to just ride around the neighborhood or anything. Even that would have been limited as we were surrounded by some pretty busy LA streets that my mom probably would have never let me venture onto. There’s still no bike lanes in that area I think.

There was a brief period when I would enjoy a motorized scooter my dad had. That was fun. Mainly because it was the only remotely entertaining thing to do during the long, endless days we had to spend at the race track in Palmdale or wherever. And that was fun and all until, facing a standoff with a semi, I crashed into a bunch of gravel and took a really nasty spill.  Considering how hard I vividly remember hitting my head on the asphalt, while not wearing a helmet, I’m still surprised I didn’t pass out or anything. But that spoiled the whole concept for me. That coupled with the one time I tried to ride a moped and fell over immediately.

But it’s not just fear or mistrust. There was also the weight thing. Fat people look ridiculous doing most every physical activity, but especially on a bike. That’s the big reason that, even though I’ve had no interest anyway, I wouldn’t consider even trying it again.

So now that I’ve lost 135 pounds or so, riding a bike seems like a good exercise alternative. Of course, here in Göttingen, we have no bike to ride. Go figure. Göttingen actually has more bikes than any other city in Germany, or so I’ve been told. The area outside the train station is a veritable sea of parked bikes in every direction. There’s even a bike parking garage. So there’s no shortage of bikes, or bike stores, or bike lanes, or places to ride.

I briefly considered buying a cheap bike around September or so, but I decided against it thinking that once the snow came that I wouldn’t be able to ride for a few months. And this was when we were still thinking we would be leaving here by July or so at the latest (how frustratingly naive of us). Naturally there was no long-term snow this year. Unlike last year where it was around for three or four months, this year it lasted just a few days tops. Disappointing in that some snow is nice sometimes, and frustrating in that I could have been riding a bike the entire time.

Yesterday I walked to Real, which is the German equivalent of Wal-Mart or Target, and they had plenty of bikes for under 200 Euro. But I’m still resistant to it as, the current thinking dictates, we’ll supposedly be out of here by November or so. Give or take. Hopefully take. So that’s not a long time to ride a bike, spending money I don’t necessarily have and would rather spend elsewhere (*cough* Paris *cough*). But with my gym membership almost done I feel I should do something physically stimulating that isn’t just long walks. I don’t have any friends with bikes I can borrow, and I haven’t the faintest idea of where to buy a used one (the concept of Craigslist-like services seems foreign here). Considering how many of the parked bikes at the train station must surely be abandoned, I’ve even thought of just swiping one. There’s a roped off area there now that will be cleared for construction on Tuesday, and any remaining bikes will be…disposed of somehow.

There are bike rental places, which I may try. Deutsche Bahn, the train company, even has text-a-bike, a service found in many major cities worldwide now, but navigating that system in German seems difficult.

Then there’s testing the old saying of “it’s just like riding a bike!” Is riding a bike just like riding a bike? Will it take me just moments for it all to come back to me? Or will I be a wobbly, freaked out hazard for a while before I get the hang of things. I’ve also never ridden a bike with gears. I haven’t the faintest idea how that whole process works. You shift? When? How? Someone tell me!

Chris has two bikes at home, and we may be moving somewhere bike friendly. So it’ll definitely be something I try once we’re back. But I can’t stop thinking about doing it while we’re here. But, knowing me, I probably just won’t get around to it.

Ich haße Schwitzen!

I’ve been going to the gym roughly 3 times a week (never less than 3) since July. Certainly the longest physical exercise routine I’ve ever maintained. Though, when I say gym I really just mean weight training. Because, as I’ve ranted about before, I find the idea of regular gym activities insulting and awful.

I chose the gym I go to now because 1) It’s close. Just around the corner. So only truly inclement weather would stop me. 2) They only offer weight training and have a strictly outlined plan and 3) My mom paid. Lord knows I don’t have the money for something like that. In theory, weight training should be beneficial as building any muscle at all is a benefit, should help raise the ‘ol metabolism and increase how many calories I can consume in a day, and is the most bang for your buck as you burn more calories with weights in the same amount of time as, say, anything else. I also appreciated how simple and short it seemed. Try to do 90 seconds, then move to the next machine. 10 machines in all. No dipshits yelling at you to “just do one more” or anything like that. And no bad music blaring.

And I’ve been doing it pretty much nonstop since I signed up in July. There was a slight gap when I went to Hamburg, and I missed once or twice when I got sick around Christmas. But otherwise, 3 or 4 times a week like clockwork. Totally didn’t bother me. Got up, went to the gym sometime in the late morning, did my thing, and it was over.

Then I went to Prague and, as a result, took about a week off from it. Now I loathe the idea of it all of a sudden. I still go every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, and it’s over before I know it. But, ugh, I don’t wanna!

Maybe it’s because I’ve sort of reached my limit? The amount I lift isn’t going to increase much anymore unless I were to change something. And I’m not. The goal was never to become ripped or anything. I can feel muscles now that I’ve never felt before, and that’s nice. But there’s still a layer of fat (and, to be disgusting, extra skin) over it all that negates any real visual progress. I even have the slightest semblance of pecs, but they’re betrayed by the remaining man-boob fat that still hangs there.

My membership expires in July, and I haven’t talked to my mom about renewing. I’m not 100% sure if I want to. Maybe find other things to do? Stick to the same schedule but spend the time walking or something instead? It’s the structure of the gym that makes the habit possible. A structure that someone else put in place. I worry I’m not as likely to keep that on my own. And what would happen if I stopped? Would the muscle immediately disappear? Would I lose a few pounds of muscle, but only replace it immediately with fat? I’m going to have stop doing it for a time anyway whenever we move to wherever we move to.

I hate exercise. I hate it so much. I really don’t understand why some people willingly do it all the time. I’ve never finished a workout or any stenuous physical activity (recreational or otherwise) and felt amazing. Renewed. Refreshed. I know that’s what they say it’s supposed to be like. But I just feel tired, annoyed, and sweaty. And who wants to feel sweaty?

I still maintain that I’ve never seen someone look happy while jogging. Look at them sometime. They look miserable. Because they are.

Kutna Hora

That picture is just inside the entrance to the Sedlec Ossuary in Kutna Hora, a small town about 90 minutes northeast of Prague. I had read about the Ossuary on one of those internet timewaster sites with a million lists of things. Top ten creepiest places or something like that, so I stored it in my small file of interesting places to visit if given the chance. And, since I was in Prague and had the time, I went for it.

The tour company I chose to get me there was pretty sketchy. But I had to book it pretty blindly as I’m not a last minute kind of person and I didn’t want to navigate the Czech train system alone. And the town is large enough that walking it all seemed tiring. So a small, cramped coach picked me up at my hotel and a Czech guy gave us a tour both broken English and Spanish.  I’d hesitate to call him a tour guide though, as he would just say the names of things, but not give any background information on them. So, instead, I found myself eavesdropping on other tour groups.

The Sedlec Ossuary…well, I don’t remember the full history of it. But it’s decorated with human bones. That’s the main point, isn’t it? Something like the remains of 40,000 to 70,000 people lines the walls, ceiling, and corners of the church basement. Most of them having died of the plague, or in the Hussite wars.

Since an Ossuary is meant to store remains, I guess someone thought they’d spruce the place up a bit by using them as decoration. Sure, most of them are in giant bell-shaped piles in the corners, but there are little flourishes. The town seal, crosses, on the confessional booth (long since removed), and the centerpiece of the place, the chandelier. It contains every bone in the human body, and it sure is interesting to stare at.

You’d think it feel morbid and ghoulish to be in there. But it’s not. Sure, there’s that realization that every skull once contained a person. Someone who couldn’t possibly conceive some schlub like me would wander in 400 years later and gawk at his bones. But there are just so many, and there’s something playful about it that makes it interesting. It was done with the intent of respecting the dead, after all.

Kutna Hora, the town, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is extremely beautiful. It was once a prosperous silver mine and home to one of the first mints to make currency for all of Europe. When the silver ran out nothing much happened there until a big Philip Morris plant opened up. That’s the heart of the town now.

At the top of the hill is Saint Barbara’s Cathedral, a massive gothic thing that, while beautiful, isn’t too different from any other big cathedral I’ve seen.

Next to the cathedral was a pathway lined with familiar looking statues. Seems they like the Charles Bridge in Prague enough to make their own knockoff version. It’s nice, but not the same.

The part of town I really enjoyed was the Italian Court, which was where they minted the coins. There we got a local guide who, though she still spoke broken English, actually knew what she was talking about.

I thought the building itself was just gorgeous. Almost to the point where, if I ever made myself a mansion (something I don’t really aspire to do, actually), I’d think about modelling it after here.

My pictures don’t really do it justice (the lighting was against me), but it was really something. The interior had some exhibits on the minting process, some very old coins, the king’s meeting hall, the king’s bedroom, and the king’s chapel.

We had free time after that, so I just roamed the streets for a while. A nice, small, quiet, and tourist focused town, yet it didn’t feel as tacky as big parts of Prague with the constant souvenir stores. I stopped in a little cafe for a slice of cake as I was starving and watched people. It was great. Should you be in Prague, it’s worth a day trip.

Karlovy Vary, and some other local castles seem like good side trips as well. Perhaps another time.

 

Prague

I do apologize for the delay in posting. I get easily distracted nowadays.

Prague! So pretty.

When we first knew we were moving to Germany, and the idea of trying to explore some of Europe came up, I would constantly joke that we should go to Prague. Not only because it’s close, but because I heard it was cheap. And, for the most part, it is both close and somewhat cheap.

Chris had a work conference to attend, so I tagged along as it meant his transportation, hotel, and food would all be covered. So we really only had to pay for my food and transport, and it was only 40 Euro each way. Which is a bargain around here. So we took the train to Nuremberg (another town I’ve wanted to visit) and quickly rushed to find the bus that would take us to Prague. And, after a 3 and a half hour drive, we were there.

For the first time…well…I think ever, I didn’t really have any plans for this trip. I knew we would take a walking tour on Tuesday, and I was taking a trip to Kutna Hora on Wednesday, but otherwise it was all a question mark. Hal, who coincidentally was in London at the same time, agreed to meet us there, so I would have a wandering companion while Chris was at the conference during the day.

Our hotel was…a bit out of the way. Four or five stops out of downtown, on the other side of the river, up on a hill. As soon as we got out of the Metro station we were immediately turned around and no idea which way the hotel was. Even one of the drunk locals who offered to help us had no idea which way we should go.

This was going to be a pattern.

I have a pretty decent sense of direction, I like to think. I don’t really get lost much at all. I can’t really even remember too many times where I’ve actually been lost. Unless it’s dark and raining and I don’t know the roads, I can usually find what I’m looking for.

But, man, Prague is confusing. When you’re downtown, there’s no real landmarks to fix on to get your bearings. All the streets curve. They clearly grew organically, and they are a twisted mess. Zig-zagging, ending abruptly, turning suddenly, no clear street signs (as if you could even read them). The tourist landmark signs are no help either as they’re all in Czech and they don’t seem to point to the two biggest places (the Charles Bridge and the town center). The river runs north/south parallel to the city center, then abruptly turns east and makes a U turn.

I got lost every day. Multiple times. It was great, really. That was half the point. I would know the general direction I needed to go and head that way, then invariably get lost and wind up going a different direction. I had the time, and I wasn’t going to end up in a bad neighborhood or anything, so it always worked out. Hal managed better as he’s learned to orient himself based on the sun. Chris, who has no sense of direction, got hopelessly lost the one day he was going to meet me downtown, but found me just in time. It’s a confusing town.

But, wow, is it a beautiful town. A photographer’s dream. Gorgeous cobblestone streets, countless alleys, stairways, churches, towers, and sculptures. You can’t turn around without seeing something beautiful. It’s a great town to wander and just take it all in. That being said, there ain’t much to do besides that. Not a lot of attractions begging to be visited.

The first night Chris and I just wandered Wenceslas Square, which seemed like the most touristy and crummy street. We chose a Czech restaurant with a big picture menu (so Chris could clearly identify everything). Everyone speaks English, of course, and the host had the strangest accent. It almost sounded made up, and even mimicking it is difficult. I had goulash for the first time, which was pretty good. You could get it everywhere, and I quickly learned the next day I grossly overpaid. But whatever. Chunks of beef in a nice sauce with bread and dumplings. Nice hearty food, very similar to German fare.

The next day Hal and I just wandered around, exploring the Castle district. A lot of winding streets going up to the top of the hill where the castle is located, along with a bunch of embassies. We passed a tiny little bakery and got some of these delicious pastries. The sign said TRDLO, but I don’t now if that’s the actual name (Czech words do seem to lack vowels). They were cooked on these spinning cylinders right on the street, brushed with sugar and some other spice. Still warm and fluffy. Delicious.

It seemed every other storefront was a restaurant there, the others being souvenir stores. Unfortunately, since it’s such a huge tourist destination, most of the stores are all the same. The same Prague trinkets and such. Garnet, amber, and crystal shops. Sure, some of them are a little unique, but the more central you get, the more homogeneous it is. It’s a shame. The castle district had some unique stores, and I almost bought a thing or two. There was an awesome three-headed dragon marionette that I loved, but it was pricey and what would I do with it anyways?

The castle itself is large and beautiful (the largest functioning castle in Europe), but mostly just a collection of buildings. It’s impressive, but not awe inspiring or anything. We happened to pass by it  during the changing of the guards, which was cool.

We wound up at a little cafe on the bank of the river by the Kafka museum for lunch. We had an amazing view of the Charles bridge and downtown. It was very nice.

Speaking of the Kafka museum they had an…interesting statue/fountain of two guys peeing. It was automated as well, and the two would, apparently, trace out the borders of the Czech Republic with their streams. Hmmmm.

Dinner was at TGI Friday’s, because we tend to end up at American chain places when we travel (Chris hit up KFC at least 3 times). Usually it’s Pizza Hut, but they didn’t have that. Hal was not enthused, but it’s not a kind of food we can get easily in Göttingen. A ridiculous American style burger was good though.

The following day Hal and I did some more wandering, this time in the Jewish quarter. Unlike most of the Jewish areas in European cities, Hitler didn’t have this one walled up. Seems Hitler loved Prague and wanted the Jewish quarter to remain as is so it could serve as an open air museum to an extinct race. Luckily he didn’t get his way and the area wound up well preserved.

I had most wanted to see the old Jewish Cemetery, but they were charging a ridiculous amount to get in (it included a museum and some synagogues as well, but that didn’t interest me). The small little cemetery has something like 100,000 bodies buried there in about a dozen layers. Since space was at a premium, and they had no other place to bury their dead, they kept adding layers to it. And since Jewish law forbids the moving of a headstone, the place is crammed with them. It’s creepy. We could see the smallest bit from the street though, it would have to do.

I also bought my mom a birthday gift and was my first time ever haggling for something. I, of course, probably grossly overpaid for what I got and immediately felt buyer’s remorse. ‘Cause even after talking him down some, it still wasn’t cheap. Oh well, it’ll make a nice gift.

Hal and I found a small cafe far enough outside the tourist area that it was less than half the price of the first restaurant we went to. It was a gorgeous little place, across the street from an opera house. Art deco/30’s decor, lots of marble, and an old world feeling. It was awesome. I had baked duck on red cabbage with potato dumplings. I wish I had a picture (Hal took one), but it was as tasty as it looked. And dirt cheap, comparatively.

The walking tour was nice. The same company for the Berlin and Hamburg tours we took. Our guide was super friendly and knowledgeable and fun to talk to. Seems Czech is a pain in the ass to learn. Seven cases and sounds found in no other language. Even after living there 7 years she’s considered intermediate at best. Glad I only have to deal with German.

Also found a burrito place, thanks to the tour, and it was the best Mexican food I’ve had yet here. Which is a big deal for me, as I miss it so much. Who would’ve thought?

And, wow, their public transportation system is amazing. One of the few benefits from decades of communist rule. A large subway, tram, and bus system that can take you anywhere you want to go. During rush hour the subways were coming every minute. Crazy! And cheap. Only 24 Crowns for a 30 minute ticket (roughly 15 Crowns per US dollar).

So I’m glad we went. Prague is a gorgeous place to visit. But, man, plan it carefully. We were still technically in the off-season, though there were a lot of US college kids on spring break trips (as well as Italian high-school classes), and it was still pretty crowded. Not overwhelming, but you could sense how unbearably crowded it could get once summer hits. Stick to early spring/fall when the big crowds are there. It must be awful with the heat and the crushing throngs in the small, confusing streets.

Also, frankly, it won’t take more then two days to see absolutely everything. The city center is small and compact and all the landmarks are within walking distance. Not a whole lot of museums to peruse. The big one is closed for 5 years for renovations, and Chris didn’t want to go to the Sex Machine Museum for some reason. Weirdo.

Would I come back? Sure. I hope I do someday.

Next up: Kutna Hora and its many skulls.

 

John Carter

My first thought while watching JOHN CARTER was, wow, where did all the money go? I mean, it looks like it cost a lot, but what on earth pushed the budget into the stratosphere the way it did?

But still, as I watched it, it was fine and all but completely flat, uninteresting, and just problematic. Technical limitations aside, there’s probably a reason it took 100 years for John Carter to appear on film. Because, while most people can enjoy a good sci-fi or fantasy story, there’s a certain threshold before it crosses into a territory for die-hards (and kids) only. John Carter is one of those things. At a certain point the made up stuff, the silly names, the reality tweaking, it all just becomes eye-rollingly dumb to a lot of people. Myself included.

So when it’s handled by someone who wants to keep it as true to the source material as possible, as Andrew Stanton did, there’s a sort of tunnel vision problem that comes up. All this stuff is so cool to fans of the book, but it has to be made inviting to, you know, everyone else. Tone down some of the ridiculous costumes, smooth out and explain some of the outlandish plot elements. At least slather on a sense of wonder to it, instead of just treating it matter of factly as the film does. Aside from some initial surprise at his new jumping powers, Carter doesn’t seem all that interested in the new world he’s on. If there’s no curiosity from him, why should I care?

So what other problems were there?

Casting

If you’re going to cast relative unknowns as your lead actors, they better have the potential to be movie stars. They have to have that pesky “it” factor to carry a film like this and make the characters the icons they deserve to be. Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins are not those people. They’re not bad actors by any stretch, and they’re not a drag to watch. But they’re not very compelling either. I may not be the best judge on female looks, but Collins doesn’t look like a princess, she doesn’t have any real allure, and she didn’t seem passionate for her cause either. Concerned, sure, but she didn’t exactly convey a sense of desperate urgency.

Kitsch, on the other hand, is dull. He’s not especially good looking, his body isn’t that great (which is important is you spend 80% of the film shirtless), his voice is flat, and his performance is just as flat and passionless as his costar. He looks apathetic to his plight 90% of the time. His voice, for me, was distracting. Overly grizzled, like a guy in a high school play trying to sound like a senior citizen. It also sounded vaguely like James Franco’s voice, which just made me think they should have cast him. At least he’s convincing even when bored.

Just What’s Going on Here?

I’m not a big fan of nitpicking plot holes, but when there’s a list of legitimate questions that arises when you think back on the movie, that’s a problem. Some of this comes down to the tunnel vision problem when the story is made by a die-hard fan of the property. The kind of “Gandalf can fly them safely out of Mordor, but not in?” kind of thing.

What’s John Carter’s deal anyways? Why is he so upset? OK, something happened to his family. But what and why? It’s not entirely clear, nor why he seems to blame his country for it. There’s no sensical link between where he directs his anger and the source of his pain. But now that he’s an angry loner, what is he searching for? And why? Why is he suddenly an amateur archaeologist looking for riches? What’s he doing there?

Ok, now we’re on Mars. The goal is to get home. OK. He’s made it clear he doesn’t care about the struggles of the natives, even when there’s clearly a good and bad side, he remains all Swiss about it. Fine. They’ll have to change his mind about it. But do they? Not really. Since the audience will be empathizing with the other characters we’ll just expect our protagonist to fall into line. And he does. He enters not caring, and then starts caring, with little reason given for him to do so. At first he doesn’t trust the princess because she clearly only wants his help for her cause. He explicitly distrusts her. She lies to him, and he gives her a chance to redeem herself, and then we found out she lied again. When Carter learns of this, theres on reaction. So, burned by lies once, that’s bad. Lie again, ignore initial goals and help the liar. Really?

Tharks are at least the most interesting group on the planet, but their struggles aren’t too interesting either. Carter empathizes with Tars because they both share daughter troubles, but Carter gave no indication he cared about the Tharks, just Tars and his daughter. Now he wants to be their leader? Really? Why?

Carter spends all his time on Mars wanting to go home, looking for a way to leave and not caring about their problems. Sure, he falls for a girl, but in the end he’s suddenly all “Mars is the only place that felt like home?” Really? You spent all your time there looking for every reason to leave and ignore the goings-on. When did this change happen, and why didn’t I see it?

The Therns, the villains of the thing, are also unclear in their intentions. What are they trying to accomplish anyways? They’re clearly a godlike race of some kind, which always has connotations of benevolence to an audience. But it’s not clear if they’re benevolent or malevolent here. What is their goal? To destroy Mars? OK, why? They just destroy places? Why? Why do they take their sweet time doing it in secrecy? It’s conflicting to have a godlike people with murky goals, who are praised by the natives, but only Carter can see their true intent? Why doesn’t he tell them?

It’s doubly confusing when you color code these characters, and label the Therns the same as the good guys. Bad guys are red, good guys are blue, Tharks are green (and they’re also good), and the Therns are also blue. When you color code it like that, the audience will come to associate blue forces as something for good and the red as bad. The Sith always had red light sabers for a reason you know. It’s a subtle problem, but it’s a problem. They couldn’t be any other color? They had to be the same shade of light blue as the good guys?

Yet, as I said, it wasn’t a bad movie. Most of the action is interesting enough. The dog thing is adorable and fun to watch. It moves along at a nice pace. The 3D was so subtle I often forgot I was watching a 3D movie. But that’s probably more of a problem than a blessing. Because why am I paying double the price for it then if it adds nothing fun?

It seems like something that could have been a great new franchise. But instead it was poorly handled and made it dull while being simultaneously ridiculous in all its style and sci-fi-ness. Disappointing.

C+

Odd, I was the only one out today wearing green. It’s as if the Germans don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s day. Then again, they have enough special occasions marked with copious amounts of alcohol consumption.

Passed the 130 pounds lost mark. Just in time for vacation, where I’m sure to gain a few back. But so be it. It’s getting pretty crazy though, I now fit in a pair of Chris’ old pants. Strange.

Off to Prague tomorrow. We’ll be there until Thursday. I’m sure I’ll post a trip report post or two next weekend.

Other then that, nothing of note going on.

Das Schaltjahr

I realize I’m a few days late with these thoughts.

But, honestly, why isn’t the Leap Year something special? It’s an extra bonus day that comes once but every four years, you’d think cultures would’ve started doing something to mark the occasion. But no, nothing. Just an extra day. A work day even. Unacceptable.

I propose a truly extra day where we celebrate by doing nothing. And I mean nothing. No commercialization of exchanging gifts or pressure to spend time with family or make extravagant meals. Just nothing. As in, with the exception of people who work in public safety (fire, police, hospitals, etc.), going to work should be expressly forbidden. Illegal even. You can’t even go out to eat, because that would force those people to be working. And those who are forced to work for legitimate reasons should be given a token day off within seven days of the actual day to compensate.

Would it really be so bad to just have a day where we celebrate recharging? Taking some time to ourselves to oversleep, veg out, read a book, or stare into space. It’s only once every 4 years. Of course, as Americans, I’m sure many would stress over what is the best way to make use of the extra time. To duck into work to finish that project or what have you. When instead, the pressure should be just how best will we maximize our time to do nothing at all.

If only.

Then again, if the 29th fell on a weekend, that would totally suck.

Review Catch-Up

I feel bad I’ve finally gotten around to seeing some stuff lately and haven’t commented on them yet. Sure, I’m already way behind the curve because things are usually released a bit later here, but whatever. With the Oscars coming up this weekend, seems like a good time to do it.

The Artist

The current front runner for best picture, since it’s sweeping nearly every award show, I had very high hopes. Aside from the occasional curmudgeon here and there I had only heard raves about THE ARTIST.

But, wow, I was incredibly disappointed. And, unlike in many cases, I don’t think I was a victim of hype this time. I really don’t understand what all the fuss is about.

I mean, really, THE ARTIST? This? This is what everyone is going nuts for? This?

Sure, there’s a slight caveat in that I saw it in German. Since the movie is silent that meant I mostly had to fend for myself when it came to the dialogue cards. I understood enough of them, and their message is made clear by the context and what’s happening, but that may have had an effect. I saw it with Shinyee, who was able to translate for the two or three times I had no idea what it was saying. That and the title cards were so fast I sometimes couldn’t even finish reading them.

Still? What the hell is so special about this. The story? It’s very simple. And not in a cute or interesting way, but a stupid way. And it’s sort of a rehash of other movies that have dabbled in this subject matter before (albeit with dialogue). Why can’t he start making sound movies? It’s not really explained. Is his voice terrible? Can he not really act? Does he just not want to? If so, why not? He just doesn’t, because he likes silent movies. So? He doesn’t show passion for it, just arrogance that it’s the better art form.

And, really, she’s a stalker. It’s creepy.

Not that the movie is terrible. It’s enjoyable enough. It has some fun moments. The two leads are absolutely wonderful to watch, Dujardin in particular. They do a great job.

But best picture? Really?

C

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Chris thought this was the dullest movie he’d ever watch. I wouldn’t go that far, but considering it’s a spy movie about intrigue and backstabbing and espionage and all that, it’s certainly not very tense. At all. It plods along at a pace that’s just shy of boring. And the story isn’t even terribly interesting. We don’t get to know the characters very well, and the big reveal at the end isn’t that big a reveal.

The dialogue was also somewhat frustrating. A lot of obtuse lines and sentences that cut off halfway be-

And why was Gary Oldman nominated for this? You’d be hard pressed to call it bad, but you’d be equally hard pressed to call it Oscar worthy.

C

The Descendants

Of the best picture nominees I’ve seen (7 out of 9 so far, seems War Horse or Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close won’t show in English anytime soon), THE DESCENDANTS has been my favorite.

Sure, it’s bleak and potentially depressing and heavy. But, for a film about death and loss and betrayal, it certainly has some vitality to it. Alexander Payne is so great a giving us flawed yet still likable characters that just have shit dumped on them but pull through it with tenacity and good humor and humanity. A great performance by Clooney as well.

A

Hugo

I think HUGO is the first film I’ve seen where I can safely say the 3D actually enhanced it. Where it’s a downright necessity to see it in 3D. Scorsese plays with the format in such fun and subtle ways. Here it’s actually a tool instead of a gimmick.

Unfortunately, I found a lot of the film to be a bit of a jumble. Themes jump all over the place, scenes and subplots mash together in weird ways and transitions, and the characters all seem a bit shallow and never have enough room to really breath. What drives Hugo more anyways? Is it fixing the automaton and finding closure with his father? Bonding with the girl? Movies? Where did movies come from? They’re never mentioned until halfway through the movie, then they’re suddenly the most important thing and the focus for the rest of it. It’s weird and distracting.

But this doesn’t detract from the fact that it’s still great. The story is jun, no matter how jumbled, and when it starts preaching on the magic of movies you can’t but help be swept away by the magic of it. You spend the last 30 minutes or so on the edge of tears in a way. And the boy who plays Hugo has crazy eyes. I don’t know if they were CGI enhanced or what, but they sure are huge, blue, and emotive. An anime character brought to life.

It didn’t take long for me to think turning HUGO into a Broadway musical was inevitable. Because it would make for a fantastic one. You can practically slot the songs in now.

A-

Moneyball

Sports bore me. So a movie about baseball statistics should in theory be just as boring. Turns out it’s pretty interesting.

Not amazing, mind you, but certainly better than I thought it would be. Brad Pitt actually delivers and Oscar-worthy performance, and the direction is fantastic.

How Jonah Hill got a nomination I will never understand. Because he just sits there, mouth agape, barely saying anything. He adds nothing to the movie as a whole and he could have been replaced with anybody and had the same effect.

B+

I e-mailed someone with an important question a week ago. A professional matter, mind you. Not someone I’m friends with. I followed up with them yesterday as I hadn’t heard back. They then took the time to e-mail me saying they’ll probably have time to answer my question in at least 2 weeks.

2 weeks. To answer a question. Because they’re so busy. Never mind that they probably could have handled it in the time it took to write me the passive aggressive e-mail telling me to wait.

Half the time I hear a professional tell me something will take a while because they’re busy I instead get the strong suspicion that they’re really just bad at managing their time. The older they are, the more this is true I’ve found.

I remember having a co-worker at the film festival, an older guy, who was always busy. Just swamped. But if you watched him you would realize he was just really, really slow at accomplishing anything. Not because of interruptions, or phone calls, or meetings. Just because they naturally plod along. We once watched him fiddle with something in MS Word for over an hour while writing a letter. In what universe is that acceptable?

I’m tempted to write this person back in just as snarky a fashion as they wrote me. Won’t accomplish anything and would probably hurt the outcome considering the question I need answered. But come on, what kind of person can’t find the time to answer a question in a timely fashion? In this day and age if you don’t answer a business/professional e-mail within 48 hours, you’re an asshole. Period. Even if it’s just to say “busy/investigating, will respond soon.” To not respond, and to say it will take another 2 weeks or so before you can even think of doing it, when it’s your job to, makes you an asshole. And probably inept.