May 27, 2013

22 Cruising Lessons...

A few weeks ago we had had the amazing opportunity to take a 'bucket list' type of vacation... a luxury cruise including stops in Italy, the Greek islands, and Turkey. Yes it was a WOW of a trip for sure... from a guided walking tour of Pompeii to a Segway tour of Malta to a gondola ride in Venice, we played tourist to the hilt... and loved every minute of it!

Here's what I saw and learned about cruising and travel...

1- It's not the wisest idea to read The Wheat Belly diet book on a plane going to Italy, home of pizza, pasta, and focaccia...

2- It is possible to eat healthy and exercise regularly on a cruise ship, though it is not the norm; as an Australian passenger said to me at the buffet on day one, "You come on as a passenger, you go home as cargo."

3- Being under 50 makes us "young"...

4- While the Amalfi coast is breathtakingly gorgeous, the town itself is not a hub of excitement; it has one big church and a dozen tiny pizza shops. And a place that sells dirty aprons.

5- Italian drivers are proudly crazy, from the taxi driver who speeds and weaves to the limo driver whose brakes didn't exist, to the bus driver who could lead a film called 'mountain terror'...

6- Our first tour bus driver looked amazingly like the Lorax.

7- Italian men smoke lots of cigarettes and wear lots of scarves. At least one of these is bad.

8- A Segway tour is an amazing way to experience a new place... will do again for sure. And I only fell once. And crashed into other people twice. Oops.

9- Yes, reading the fact-free suspense novel Pompeii at 4 AM the morning before touring Pompeii counts as doing your research.

10- The only fully restored building in Pompeii is a brothel.

11- In case visitors to Pompeii do not already know where the brothel is, there are penis signs on the roads to point (yep) you in the right direction...

12- With three long airplane flights in each direction, I got caught up on lots of movies; Streisand's The Guilt Trip is bad, The Hobbit is long, The Bourne Legacy is too obsessed with missing Matt Damon, and Oz The Great and Powerful is more fun than I expected. As for Hope Springs, no one needs to see Meryl Streep go down on Tommy Lee Jones in a movie theatre. Blech.

13- At one point my husband looks over at me and says "Your iPad is your top priority" --- uh, wrong, that top priority would be Alfred.

14- In our eagerness to see and experience everything, we booked too many excursion to churches and excavation sites. At some point eyes glaze over, which seems disrespectful to all the people and history that have been there before us.

15- In Turkey we saw impressive looking fake Rolex watches and fake Louis Vuitton handbags. In  stores named Genuine Fake Watches and Genuine Fake Handbags.

16- This is the cruise ship pool at night. The ship was awesome, and with 2800 passengers and 1200 staff it was like a small city at sea. The idea of bigger ships -- and there are way bigger ships out there -- seems like way too much.

17- Much as I am happy to cross seeing the Acropolis off my bucket list, it is such a crowded tourist cash grab at this point that it was not a highlight. In hindsight, disappointing.

18- Surprisingly, there is no Acropolis WiFi.

19- Crocs with socks are ALWAYS a bad look, even on a cheesy looking tourist in a faraway land.

20- "Old town" Chania in Crete has a Sephora and a Curves... so I am thinking not really as traditional old-town as they market to tourists.

21- We have had good tour guides and we have had bad tour guides, and then for 5 very long hours in Crete we had a really bad tour guide... hello and goodbye Irena. Sure you can tell us over and over again we need two weeks to see Crete, but you couldn't make it interesting for five hours. Yawn. And I say this with love...  go right now and choose a new career.

22- In Venice our tour guide told us that the gondoliers in Las Vegas sing, but the real ones in Venice don't. Not so... ours sang, and whistled and acted as tour guide. And was easy on the eyes too. Amazing ride through the back 'streets' and the Grand Canal of Venice. Awesome.

Next year, on to Antarctica....!

May 19, 2013

Best of TV, 2013...

The 2012-2013 TV season is winding down, and while I have not watched some acclaimed hits like Breaking Bad, I have watched my share of good and bad TV, so here are my picks for what entertained me this season:

Best Comedy: Big Bang Theory -- Howard coming back from space, Amy Farrah-Fowler's bigger role, and the usual geeky humour had me laughing out loud.

Best Drama: Sure it's not Shakespeare, but I wouldn't watch Shakespeare every week... and season two of the revamped super-soap Dallas was suspenseful, sexy and sometimes just funny. Beautiful rich people sleeping around and stabbing each other in the back is fun to watch. And the passing of Larry Hagman brought on unexpected stories and an incredible touching farewell to icon JR Ewing.

Call It A Classic Already: The Good Wife is old news by now, but it remains amazingly smart and entertaining. Sure the season started off wonky with the Kalinda's secret husband storyline going nowhere, but once that was over they brought back the core marital political drama and big name guest stars doing unexpected things, from Michael J Fox to Nathan Lane to Mathew Perry. Every episode is worth watching.

Best Reality Show: New judges Usher and Shakira juiced the already addictive The Voice.... amazing singers, big celeb coaches like Sheryl Crow, and touching personal stories. Plus the whole idea of having coaches who help rather than idiot judges who are mean is just appealing to begin with.

Best Daytime Show: While Katie had its moments, it was Anderson Cooper's second season of daytime that was fast and smart and funny. Between Cooper coming out of the closet last summer, and then the show being cancelled early in its second season and still having the season to make new shows, Cooper seemed loose and relaxed and was just entertaining. Pair him with a sassy cohost with Lisa Rinna or Kathy Griffin and the show soars.

Best Late Night: Hands down, Jimmy Fallon.... and that is why he is getting The Tonight Show next year.

Best New Show: The reimagined Sherlock Holmes in Elementary, with Holmes as an antisocial British addict fresh out of rehab in modern New York, and Lucy Liu as Watson, was way better than I expected from CBS... great actors and interesting story lines.

And they can't all be good, so here are some quick ideas on worst of the season: The New Normal which got better as the season went on but too often chose preachy over funny, soapy Nashville which started off strong but lost steam, Revenge which followed up a great first season with a lousy second one, The View which became so dull even Joy Behar is leaving, and the bizarro coming-out speech from Jodie Foster at The Golden Globes.

What were your favourites this year?

May 12, 2013

See This Movie: Safety Not Guaranteed...

"So you think this is normal" says the reporter to the intern... "Just because a guy wants to do something new doesn't mean he's a freak show"... or does it?

One of the great things about video-on-demand is access to movies that we could not otherwise see, that likely never came to our city, such as Safety Not Guaranteed, a 2012 well-reviewed little independent flick that won a screenwriting award at the Sundance Film Festival and that never came here.

This is a smart, funny, sweet and ultimately touching film about love and outcasts.

Safety Not Guaranteed is about a man named Kenneth seeking someone to travel back in time with him. He places an ad in Seattle magazine seeking someone to go along...

As this makes news, self-obsessed reporter Jeff (Jake Johnson from New Girl) gets the assignment and takes two interns along: Arnao, a shy twenty-one year Indian student, and Darius, a bored cynical university student.  
Darius is challenged with getting weird guy Kenneth to trust her. Arnao and Jeff follow along to get the story of the crazy time travel guy. We go along for the quirky characters and the laughs.
The characters in Safety Not Guaranteed are stuck in time, just like Kenneth. Jeff tries to be cool but is having difficulty coming to grips with his job and being a grown-up. Arnao hides behind his plain glasses and is frozen, unable to communicate with the world. Darius confesses she’d rather live in another time because “everything cool has been done.”
Safety Not Guaranteed is a surprise, as is its finale. It’s shot digitally and done on a low budget, which form part of its charm. That, along with the film’s smart writing and sharp editing add to the film’s allure. Quirky charm and some laughs along the way don’t hurt either. See it.

May 5, 2013

See This Movie: Seeking A Friend...

One of my favourite things about all our movie channels and video-on-demand TV options is discovering little seen movies, or catching the big flicks I missed the first time around.

I just discovered last year's little-seen Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World, with Steve Carell and Keira Knightley. While promoted as a comedy, this is more of a wistful drama... and I found it enchanting.

In Seeking..., An asteroid named "Matilda" is on a collision course towards Earth and in three weeks the world will come to an end...  so what would you do?

The film's primary characters, Carell's Dodge and Knightley's Penny, are neighbours who didn't know of each other until all hell breaks loose, and through chance, discover that they click. 

Dodge's wife runs away and leaves him sad and confused, not knowing why his marriage vows didn't last, and reminiscing about his high school sweetheart. Penny just broke up with her loser boyfriend, and while escaping from the mob they make a pact that she will help him muster up some courage while seeking out his lost love and he will help her find an airplane good enough to send her back to her family.

It's a road trip of sorts, set to an apocalyptic background. There's good music, wacky situations the duo find themselves in, and some time to perform that world-ending soul search, while inevitably falling in love. 

There's lots of truths put on the table for discussion, and with no fancy special effects this is a character-driven apocalypse tale... so it's no Armageddon, which is a good thing. 

The first half of Seeking... is a comedy and satire, and then it shifts into an emotional drama and really works. It is touching, tender and thought provoking... see it.

May 2, 2013

Harrison Ford On Gay Marriage...

Harrison Ford, the actor also known as Han Solo, Indiana Jones, and Mr Calista Flockhart, is out making the rounds promoting his new baseball movie 42, and was asked about marriage quality. Here's what he said:

We’re getting there, we’re getting there, he says in an interview with Metro. You know, you would hope that it would have happened with less resistance. You would have hoped that everyone would get the point at the same time, but life’s not like that.
Things do change quickly at a tipping point, as it builds and it builds and it builds until there’s a moment where the balance of opinion, the weight of experience and the understanding comes to a point where the scales tip in the other direction, he adds.
42 is the story of Jackie Robinson and the struggle for racial acceptance, and Ford was asked if he saw a parallel between that struggle and the current battle for marriage equality:
I think there’s a metaphor you can reach for, according to your own interests and your own understanding and your own issues. But trying to create the best expression of the ideals — the most equal society, the best-regulated society, the best-behaving society — depend on attending to equality and inequity whenever it rears its ugly head. Certainly the marriage issue conveniently falls into that category.

Well said, Mr Ford! Now how about signing up for that new Star Wars sequel already?