Thursday, February 28, 2008

Continuing On

Time for another Antarctica trip installment...

After the terrifying Explorer rescue the morning of November 23, 2007, our Captain and Expedition Leader held a meeting with everyone to share information about what they knew and to answer questions. At that early point in time, not much was understood about what actually caused the Explorer to sink, though the obvious guess was that it had struck an iceberg near its engine room. When asked, "How could something like this happen, in this day and age, with all this technology?" our Captain simply said, "I've known the Captain of the Explorer for several years and I know that he was distraught, and so I didn't think it was an appropriate time to ask him what happened this morning." (The Explorer's Captain and Expedition Leader were the last two people to leave the ship.)

Once the rescue was over and everyone was safe, our ship turned back to its original route. Later that afternoon, we made a landing at Half Moon Island in the middle of a snowstorm. It was the only day of crappy weather during our entire voyage. Quite honestly, I think everyone would've been a little disappointed if we hadn't gotten the chance to brave the elements, so it was fun (in a twisted way).

Plus, once you get close to all of the goofy penguins, it makes getting pelted by blowing snow in every direction totally worth it.

You may have to click the picture above to enlarge it, but there are a bunch of penguins burrowed into the snow with just their heads peeking out. That's what happens when they go to sleep on their bellies and then the snow keeps piling up around them. They seem to like it.

The little guy below was, no lie, "tobogganing" down a hill on his belly. Since there's so much snow it's kind of hard to tell that he's propelling downward (you can see people climbing up, though), but trust me, he was. It was hilarious.

Below you can barely make out our ship in the distance... that's how crappy the weather was.

After we left Half Moon, we made our way into a caldera. We ended up coming back to this spot later on our trip, so I'll talk more about it then, but needless to say, it was ridiculously windy.

After that, I headed back to my cabin to attempt to unsnarl my hair and rest after what was one of the most eventful days I've ever had.

- e

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Comfort of Familiarity

Even though I didn't see the majority of movies nominated for Oscars this year, I still tuned in to the ceremony Sunday night. Why? Because there's something oddly comforting about it. But I didn't realize that this was the reason for my yearly camp-out in front of the TV until I was in the dentist's office the next day.


That's right, on Monday I was at the dentist, and while I was getting my cleaning, I stared up at the television they have so conveniently positioned for patients. I was absolutely amazed to see that Days of Our Lives was on... and that all of the same characters (played by the same people) were still gracing the screen from when my mom watched the show literally twenty-five years ago.

Are you kidding me--that's Bo!?!? Holy @#*%, that's PATCH!!! I was freaking out.

My old roommate used to watch DOOL religiously, and I never understood why. I never understood why anyone would suffer through the awful dialogue and cheesy story lines day in and day out on any soap opera. But now it has hit me. There is something very comforting about the reliability of these shows, and the familiarity of these characters and actors. Who cares that they've been recycling the same ridiculous plots since the seventies?!?! The world needs Bo Brady, dammit. When there's so much craziness all around, to have a constant, stable "TV friend" who can help you escape to another world for an hour is no small luxury.

The Oscar ceremony is the same way... year after year you KNOW that Jack Nicholson is going to be in the front row. You know he's going to have on sunglasses, and you know the host is going to make some comment about him being a pervert. You know that Barbara Walters is going to host her annual special before the show, you know that there will be awkward interview moments on the red carpet, and you know that there will be cheesy musical numbers and banter from the presenters. You know that the poor host will never be funny enough for his can-dish-it-but-can't-take-it audience, you know that the orchestra will cut some deserving winner off during their acceptance speech, and you know that there will always be plenty of contenders for the "Worst Dressed" list. For all these reasons, I tune in to The Oscars. I honestly couldn't have cared less about any of the winners this year (except "Best Song"... do I need to keep telling you all to not only see Once but to also buy the soundtrack??)

I'll watch it next year, too. And the year after, and the year after. Because like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of my life.

- e

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Music-Filled Weekend: U2 3D and the Ballet

This past weekend I enjoyed two drastically different activities which shared a common theme: music.

First up was seeing the U2 3D movie that's been in theaters for a few months. I have never been fortunate enough to go to a U2 concert (even though I've tried), so I'm happy to report that seeing this film was the next best thing. I was with someone who I believe has gotten tickets to almost every U2 tour there's been, and even he was blown away by the experience. The concerts that were filmed for the movie were performed in South America in what appeared to be gigantic stadiums. After the movie was over, one of the main things everyone was commenting on was how we would all be afraid to see a show with that many other people--it was insane how packed in the crowd was.

If you're wanting to see some cool 3D effects, however, this probably isn't the movie for you. The trailer for "Journey to the Center of the Earth: 3D" had more "Ooooh Aaaahhh!" moments than did the actual feature film. But while there weren't that many instances of, say, Bono reaching out to touch your head, the 3D technology did allow you to see the depth of the crowd and an interesting perspective of the stage, without being cheesy. I honestly did feel like I was in the crowd, minus sweaty, scantily-clad twenty-somethings crushing up against me.

Here is the 2D version of the trailer, which unfortunately doesn't do a great job of capturing the high energy of the movie.

The highlight was "Where the Streets Have No Name." When that well-known guitar part at the beginning of the song kicked off, I got totally distracted by some of the people in my theater who were literally bouncing up and down in their seats--it was hilarious. 90% of the songs they played in the film, which is 90 minutes long, were some of U2's most well-known hits, so if you like the band at all, you would probably enjoy the movie.

A slightly more subdued experience followed on Sunday, when I went to the Joffrey Ballet. I'm not going to pretend to be cultured enough to know the details about who performed or the history of the acts, but it also wasn't the first time I have seen a Joffrey production, and I did really enjoy it. This time around there were three productions that made up the show--we got to see a little taste (one or two acts) of each. Lilac Garden was about a bunch of people cheating on each other. Dark Elegies featured a lot of moping around. Offenbach in the Underworld showed us a night at a crazy after-hours saloon where tons of people went to blow off steam (which included the entire group performing a high-energy Can-can)--very Moulin Rouge-ish. I liked the first and third performances, but could've done without getting all depressed by Dark Elegies.

Since I usually do something clumsy about once a day, I have great respect for ballerinas and dancers--they are so graceful. I have no idea how anyone can walk on their toes in those thin shoes like that, seriously. My feet hurt just thinking about it again! I need to go find my comfy slippers.

- e

Monday, February 25, 2008

Dance Like There's No Tomorrow

Back in the day, one of my favorite pastimes was recording videos on Yo! MTV Raps and then playing them back in slow motion so as to memorize the dance steps. I even convinced DY to learn "the Kid 'n Play Kick Step" with me, which we triumphantly performed in front of amazed crowds of fellow teenagers more than once. I also would make Nerdy P and our respective younger brothers learn choreographed moves during family get-togethers.  Next came dance routines as a cheerleader and then performances for variety shows in my sorority while in college.  

But now it's been a long time since I've even thought about busting out some moves. However, that may all change soon, as I've been re-inspired by Randy Jackson Presents America's Best Dance Crew.  I knew I would love this show when I saw a commercial for it, and after finally catching an episode, I can say that I was right. It's basically a bunch of "dance crews" competing against each other, and from what I've seen so far, they are all amazing. Most of the clips I found online were really long, but here are a few short ones to give you a taste of what the series is all about (though they really don't do it justice). The second group is on roller skates!

The show airs Thursday nights at 10 PM EST, but they are playing a ton of reruns all of the time, so check the web site I linked to above if you are interested in catching up. I would probably break a bone or throw out my back if I taped the show and then tried to learn the dance moves at this point in my life, but it is highly entertaining nonetheless.

The lame thing is that Randy Jackson was nowhere to be found on the episode I watched. Why do they have to have his name in the series' title, then? Egotistical much? The irony is that now that we've seen Randy attempt to groove with his guitar for about 2 seconds in Paula Abdul's new video, we know that he's not much of a dancer. Sorry, but I gotta keep it real, dawg!

- e

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Time Traveling (with Restrictions)

I'm cleaning furiously in preparation for my Lost party tonight, so today's entry will be short. But it's about something that's been on my mind for a while and kind of ties in to yesterday's post about superpowers. One commenter asked if I considered the ability to time travel a superpower, which I do not (simply because characters always seem to need a device to time travel, rather than having the innate ability to do so, and because I've never seen that be the power of any comic book hero--let me know if I'm wrong).

Since I love science fiction, and since one of my favorite books is The Time Traveler's Wife, and since one of my favorite movies is Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, I have thought about time travel probably more than the average person has. I have decided that if a time machine were ever created, it would be a really bad thing. Look at all the problems it caused for poor Marty McFly! I don't think I would want to time travel if I were given the chance, but if I could perhaps just watch certain events in my life over again, I would jump at the opportunity. At the top of my list of events that I would want to witness again are the first times I met all of my close friends, and of course, my husband. Once you've been close to someone for years, or decades in some cases, it's really hard to imagine your life without that person. Similarly, once you've gotten to be good friends with someone, it's hard to believe that at one point you both acted all awkward around each other--or that maybe you didn't even like each other in the beginning of your relationship.

So I think it would be extremely cool to refresh one's memory about how all those first encounters went down. I've known Nerdy P since I've been a baby, and I think it would be awesome to see our parents in their groovy 70s clothes introducing us. I met DY on what I think was the first day of band class in junior high when I was all scarred up from a freak pedal car accident and totally self-conscious, but she was able to look past my grotesque oozing scabs. It would be hilarious to watch that initial conversation again. I don't even know how I originally met some of my other lifelong friends ... with one of my bridesmaids, SG, I know it was probably in third grade, but I have no memory of our first chat. So those are the type of moments I would like the ability to live over as a silent witness.

Then I would be able to prove to my husband once and for all that I asked him out, and not the other way around!

- e

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

e's Favorite Things: Teleportation

The omnipresent advertising and promotion for the new movie Jumper got me thinking about the best superpower of all time: teleportation. Wouldn't you love to be able to just think of a location and then instantly be there? Imagine the possibilities: a nice oceanside breakfast in Hawaii, lunch along the Champs Elysees in Paris, dinner in Venice followed by a gondola ride around the canals... and then back in your own bed at night. According to the trailer below, you can even take someone along with you, so you won't be lonely. And then you could start the cycle all over again with three new places the next day. No other superpower even comes close.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of teleportation can be summed up in five words: no more airport security lines. Sure, you may not be able to take much stuff with you when you teleport, but the money you will save on cabs, cars and flights outweighs the amount you may need to spend on a new outfit or two in your final destination. Obviously, I have thought this through.

Lest you still be thinking that another superpower would be better, let me prove you wrong:

- Why risk smacking into a bird (or worse, a plane) and getting all windburned if you could just teleport, which is faster, safer, and achieves the same results?

- People who want to be invisible only want this power because they think other people are talking badly about them and they want to overhear it. Which means they have bigger problems than needing to decide on a superpower. But even so, they could just teleport to a nearby vent and listen in on haters that way.

X-ray vision - Let's be honest - this superpower is solely for perverts. Who in their right mind would choose this power over all others? NEXT!

Super-speed - Unnecessary if you can teleport.

Unbreakability/Stretchiness - This power is not going to be that useful in the vast majority of situations--unless you are extremely clumsy, in which case, perhaps you do need it. But if you saw that you were about to be hit by a car or crushed by a falling object, you also could just teleport away. Problem solved.

Firepower - This power is so Super Mario/Fantastic Four. Lame!

Water-breathing - I don't know about you, but I'm hardly ever underwater. This is a waste of a superpower unless you really, really, really love to swim.

Regeneration - Should not be necessary if you keep yourself out of harm's way by teleporting.

Transfiguration - I'm not going to lie, this is a pretty sweet power. Who wouldn't want to see what it feels like to be a bird, horse, dog, or even someone else? But let's be rational, how is this power that helpful? It's not. Because you aren't really turning into a dog (which might be awesome, especially if it was my dog, who is totally spoiled), you are still just yourself inside of a dog's body. If you suddenly needed to disguise yourself, you could just teleport out of sight and not go through what seems like it a painful and possibly time-consuming morphing process.

And for the record, I do not think "magic" is a superpower. Wizards know magic, magic can be learned, so it is not in the same category as the other powers above.

I hereby challenge anyone who thinks there is a better superpower than teleportation to plead their case!

Now I'm all depressed because I have hyped up teleporting, but I still can't do it.
- e

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sports Movie Weekend

Did you all have a nice long President's Day weekend? Heartfelt condolences to those of you who still had to work for The Man yesterday.

I watched three movies this weekend, and they all had to do with sports. I am not into sports at all, normally... but if the story holds my attention, then I can deal with a movie about any given game. Two of the movies were awesome, but one was just silly. I bet you can guess which one of these three was fairly ridiculous: We Are Marshall, Bend it Like Beckham, and Nacho Libre.

We Are Marshall

This movie had been recommended to me by several people, so I moved it to the top of our Netflix queue in order to watch it with my visiting relatives this weekend. My cousin had already seen it, but said that it was good enough for him to want to watch again. It's the true story of the football program at Marshall University, which suffered a devastating loss of nearly its entire team in a plane crash back in 1970. The bulk of the movie is about how a new coach rebuilt the team, and the effects that effort had on the town and the people who lived there who had lost loved ones in the crash. I thought it was great and would highly recommend it--plus, it has two of the best-looking Matthews in the world: Matthew Fox (Jack on Lost) and Matthew McConaughey. Not to mention an awesome soundtrack. There's just enough football action for people who enjoy that sort of thing, but not too much for those of us who aren't that into it. Mostly it was just an incredible story. Here's a 30-second trailer for ya:

Bend it Like Beckham

I had seen this movie when it came out, but enjoyed it enough to watch it again (about five years later) with my husband, who missed it the first time around. While this one isn't a true story, it feels like it could be. It's about Jess, a Indian teenager, during her summer before college when she starts playing for a local girl's soccer team. Her parents freak out when they discover what she's doing, and essentially ban her from playing. It's a hilarious take on Indian culture and there's a great moral to the overall story. The woman who played Jess is now a regular on ER, and the movie also put Keira Knightley and Jonathan Rhys Meyers on the map. I seriously can't think of anyone I know who wouldn't enjoy this movie, so if you haven't seen it, you should! When the movie premiered in 2002, most Americans probably didn't even know who David Beckham was, but now I bet they do. Or at least they know his wife, Posh Spice!

Nacho Libre

I remember seeing the trailer for Nacho Libre and thinking, "That is going to be awesome!" Jack Black + masked wrestling = rockin' movie, right? Well, not really. Everyone pretty much hated Nacho Libre, so my expectations were really low going into it. I knew that it wasn't as much of a comedy as it had been marketed to be, and that the general consensus was that the director (who also made Napoleon Dynamite) was "trying too hard to make it into a cult classic." I agree with that last assessment... there were many shades of Napoleon Dynamite in the movie, and I sensed that that was on purpose. Overall, it wasn't awful, but I didn't laugh that much, either. If you really, really like Jack Black, then you can probably tolerate this movie. The story made sense and had a little bit more depth than I was expecting. But it was silly, and if you have no tolerance for silliness, then stay away!

I am, however, looking forward to Jack's next movie, Be Kind, Rewind:

- e

Saturday, February 16, 2008

More Shia, Please

There's way too little Shia in the Indiana Jones trailer, but I'll take what I can get.

Shout-out to DY for reminding me that this was now online:

Only three more months...

- e

Thursday, February 14, 2008

That's What He Said?

Shout-out to MW, who just sent me this link. It goes to a flash presentation (after taking a few minutes to load) that pairs up pictures with all of the lyrics to "We Didn't Start the Fire" by Billy Joel. For all these years I couldn't figure out what he was saying at certain points, so there were a few "a ha!" moments in it for me. Plus, I like the song (don't you agree that it's time for a sequel?), so if nothing else, it was a fun way to kick off the morning.

If you want to watch the original video (which doesn't show pictures of every event mentioned, like the movie I linked to above does), here you go:

- e

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Somebody Needs to Put Jesse James on the 3:10 to Yuma

Do you remember that Brady Bunch episode where Bobby becomes obsessed with Jesse James, and then his parents yell at him for idolizing a criminal, and then Bobby has this crazy nightmare where the entire Brady family gets murdered by Jesse on a train? First off, that episode haunts me to this day. Secondly, they just don't make kids' shows like they used to.

Anyway, that Brady Bunch episode was all I could think about as I started watching The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford this past weekend. I realized that pretty much all I knew about Jesse James came from that cheesy TV show. TAOJJBTCRF is a true story, so at least I learned something--but good God, was it a painful process...a two hour and forty minute-long painful process! Unless a movie is called Gone with the Wind or is one of the Lord of the Rings films, it has no business being that long. There were some scenes (a lot of them, now that I think about it) that were absolutely pointless. I kept thinking that perhaps these seemingly meaningless scenes would come back into play later in the story... but no, they didn't. The saddest thing is that the tale of Jesse's life and death is actually extremely interesting, so this could've and should've been an awesome movie. But it needed to be about one hour and thirty minutes instead. And it wasn't. Plus, it had this narrator whose voice didn't fit with the movie, and who seemed unnecessary in the whole scheme of things.

The cast, however, was great... Brad Pitt made a surprisingly good outlaw, Casey Affleck was mega-creepy, etc., etc. But they couldn't save the movie from being a snoozer. A commenter on summed up my feelings best: "This was the most boring movie ever." Save yourself three hours and read the gist of the story here instead. If I still haven't convinced you not to ever see this movie, here is its 2.5 minute trailer... the pacing of the actual film is about 200 times slower than this preview:

Perhaps I was especially disappointed by TAOJJBTCRF because I had recently enjoyed another Western, 3:10 to Yuma (which is a remake of a 1957 film of the same name). I've never been a fan of any TV show or movie having to do with cowboys, outlaws, the Wild West, gunslinging, robberies, or that period in our nation's history. So I went into 3:10 to Yuma with very low expectations. But I must say, it held my interest and I thought it was really good--mostly because Christian Bale and Russell Crowe rocked. Russell Crowe played a Jesse James-like character, Ben Wade, who was supposed to be put on the 3:10 train to Yuma (to get him to prison). Christian Bale, Peter Fonda and some other peeps were supposed to get him to the train. The Australian One did an excellent job of making you want to root for the bad guy. Even though the climactic ending of the film was fairly ridiculous (though some people loved it), I would still recommend the movie overall. There was a lot of violence in the sense that there was a lot of shooting, but they didn't show much blood or gore, which was a relief. While I think TAOJJBTCRF trailer makes that movie look better than it actually is, I don't think the 3:10 trailer below does its film justice. AND it's 40 minutes shorter!

I'm all Westerned out now for a while.

- e

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Made to Stick Stuck With Me

Although I have a huge backlog of "movie review" posts to share with you as a result of my recent Netflix binge, I thought I would mix it up today and write about a book I read not too long ago. I buy lots of nerdy business books that I would not dare tell you about for fear that you would finally comprehend what I huge dork I really am, but this latest one was different. Actually, you've probably already read it or have at least heard about it, since it's been on just about every best-seller list there is for the past year. The book is Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, and I personally don't consider it a business book--its topic should concern everyone: communication.

The book sucks you in immediately, with a creepy story about a business traveler who wakes up one morning to find himself submerged in a bathtub of ice... with one less kidney. What? You've heard that one before? That's exactly the point of the book. Why do some stories, some urban legends, some slogans, and some advertisements stand the test of time, whereas others drift out of your memory before nary an hour has passed?

The brothers Heath chalk SUCCESsful communication up to six factors; memorable messages are usually always Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, and can be told as Stories. The authors also explain why it's so easy to fall into the trap of making boring PowerPoint presentations or speeches. And why sometimes sticky ideas have a hard time making it past the unimaginative minds in corporate America. You know the famous and highly successful "Jared" commercials for Subway? They almost got the kibosh from The Man.

Below is an interesting clip from The Today Show on the subject of sticky ideas... the Made to Stick authors are interviewed a few minutes into it:

Full disclosure is warranted here: Dan Heath was in the graduate class behind me in business school. I only met him once, but for ninety-one minutes in 2003, we shared a life-changing experience. We (and some mutual friends) saw one of the best movies of all time, Old School, on its opening night. If that is not a lifetime bond, I don't know what is.

Anyway, the book is great, and you should read it. Whether you are trying to communicate ideas at work, to your children, in your community, or to your spouse, you will benefit from the witty wisdom in Made to Stick. Some of the stories it includes are simply fascinating, and the advice it doles out is actionable. I have about ten bazillion sticky (pun intended) notes attached to several pages, a sure sign of an excellent and useful read.

If you want to get a small taste of the book before buying the whole thing, it was announced just yesterday that Random House is offering the first-ever chapter download of one of its titles... and the lucky test subject is Made to Stick. If you want to check out one of its chapters for $2.99, you can do so here.

And finally, if you are intrigued by the ideas in the book, be sure to check out the Made to Stick web site, which includes a link to the authors' blog, to which they post frequently about very interesting (and related) topics. You know your inner nerd wants to.

- e

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Air Time

Air Guitar Nation: I don't even know where to begin in describing this documentary I watched over the weekend. It proved once again that truth is always stranger than fiction, and that there are some hilarious, freaky people out there in the world.

The movie follows a few contestants as they each attempt to become the World Air Guitar Champion. Yes, there really is such a title (the finals are held annually in Finland), and yes, the people in this competition take it very seriously. One of the main air guitarists in the movie, Björn Türoque (get it? Born to rock!), even got a book deal out of the whole thing. The film rights to that book (To Air is Human) were sold very recently, meaning that there may eventually be another movie made out of this whole phenomenon (I can already picture Jack Black in the starring role).

Before that feature-length film comes out, I highly recommend renting Air Guitar Nation. You will be entertained, I guarantee it. There were a few parts where my husband and I burst out laughing so hard, I'm sure the neighbors upstairs heard us. On top of the pure hilarity of the subject matter, there was a refreshing innocence that persisted throughout the movie. These people honestly think they can bring peace to the world through air guitar. "If everyone had an air guitar in their hands, they wouldn't be able to hold a gun." Point taken.

Below is a three-minute trailer for the movie, which should give you an accurate taste of what the other 77 minutes are like.

This movie has inspired me to practice my own rock star moves, which involve singing into a hair brush and choreographing dance steps and jumps. I better get going... I honestly think I could win the title, especially after all that practice I got playing Guitar Hero III.

- e

Friday, February 08, 2008

There's Frugal, and Then There's FRUGAL

On today, there was a link to a very interesting clip about a 78-year-old man who has recently donated millions of dollars to schools in his community. The twist is that he never made more than $11 an hour (though he did get $22 an hour when he worked overtime). I personally think the video on is much better; I got a real kick out of this guy, especially at the very end of the video (it's only a few minutes). But if you are lazy and don't want to click on the link above, here is another short clip I found on the same guy, when he was interviewed by Katie Couric.

Mr. Navone never married nor had kids, and seems to have an almost unnatural ability to never want anything or to go anywhere (he has only been outside of his region of the country twice in his life). I think there's probably a happy medium between this gentleman and people who spend like there's no tomorrow, but I found his story intriguing nonetheless. And I do think it's very cool that he is giving all of his saved millions back to his community. Regardless of whether or not you agree with his high level of frugality, you have to admit that for him, it worked--he is happy with his life, loved his job, has a cute dog and is proud of his enormous financial accomplishment--which is a lot more than most people can say. Plus, he has some sort of wicked accent that I dig! I nominate Paul Navone for Cool Person of the Week!

- e

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Reality Roundup - AI Finally Moves On, TG Needs More CT, and Survivor Starts Up

My Tivo playlist is looking really sad these days. Yes, Lost is finally back on and I've been spending a lot of time on my write-ups for that, but otherwise I continue to turn to reality shows for some escapism to wind down each night. But they're just not the same as The Office or 24.

American Idol

I have not been happy with the audition rounds at all. I actually thought they were going to move on to the Hollywood shows this week because I was faked out by an ad that ran during the Super Bowl. So when we had to suffer through two more nights of audition episodes this week, I was highly perturbed. Nothing remotely interesting has happened in the past few weeks, except that I really do think Paula was drunk at one point (the day her "plane was late," she was hiccuping loudly, and then they had Ryan replace her for a bit... suspect!). Most contestants' back-stories are just creeping me out now, too. The kid who lives in his car? The girl whose dad died TWO DAYS prior but she still chose to come to the audition? The airhead blonde who appeared to have twin boyfriends, who were also both remarkably dumb? The only good part about the last 4 shows was Panda, the dog.

But finally, we're done with the first round. I think I like the Hollywood episodes the best of the entire season, because they're past the extreme cheesiness that come with the initial try-outs, but before the show's pace turns a lot slower (IMHO) during the actual on-stage competition. In Hollywood, we will undoubtedly see a lot of the contenders realize that they are not all that (like they thought they were) when they hear the few people who really are great singers. And I always love the drama that inevitably unfolds when they make them pair off into groups. AND it looks from the previews that Simon is back to being a little bit meaner--yay!

The Gauntlet III: Real World/Road Rules Challenge

(If you haven't watched this week's episode, there is a spoiler in here, so skip this section!)

This show has been disappointing ever since its premiere, too. Where is CT? They're barely showing him! At least the lame people are being plucked off when they lose the Gauntlet challenges, though I was sad to see Johnny Bananas go. If for no other reason than I liked wondering what in the hell had happened to his face when we got to see his close-ups in the confessional. Seriously, it looked like he had been beaten up pretty badly--his forehead had a huge red bruise and the bridge of his nose looked all cut... was that from running into a pole in the maze challenge? I also liked him a lot more than almost all of the other guys on the Veterans team (except CT)--take Evan, for example. I can't STAND him.

At least one person showed some sort of sense--Tyrie, who left because his girlfriend was undergoing heart surgery. I think that's the first time anybody on one of these shows has made an unselfish choice to go be with their family in a time of need, rather than get more air-time (except Danny on RW Austin when his father died).

I couldn't be happier that Brooke is gone--her "relationship" with Ev seemed very fake, and, as Ev called herself, totally for the cameras. The thing I wished we'd seen more of, however, was the birthday party. I cannot believe they shaved Zack's head! And I can't believe he wasn't more upset? That was a LOT of hair he had before they accosted him. That party looked fun and I was mad that we only saw a few seconds of it. Don't they know that we need to live vicariously?!?! I'm buried by snow here in Chicago and don't leave my condo except to walk my dog--show me more of the party in Mexico, dammit!

Survivor: Micronesia - Fans vs. Favorites

The next Survivor installment premieres tonight at 8 PM EST on CBS. While last season (China) was the first season I watched in the past few years, so I don't know the vast majority of "favorites," I'm still pretty excited for it. The China season really sucked me in, and it got me back on the Survivor bandwagon. Plus, Johnny Fairplay's involved, so you know something crazy is bound to happen...

- e

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Atonement: Worse Than Juno

I don't think I've ever cared less about the Oscars than I do this year. Let's take a look at the Best Picture nominees:

Michael Clayton: I didn't see it, and won't after hearing from numerous sources that it wasn't that good and had an awful ending. My take is that Hollywood just loves George Clooney because of all of the political stuff he's getting into, so they always nominate him and his movies if they are even remotely good. I do like George Clooney, but from what I've heard this movie is by far the worst of the nominees.

No Country For Old Men: Too violent for me to see.

There Will Be Blood: Too violent for me to see.

: I liked it, but there is no way this movie would be Oscar caliber in any other year. Even those of you who loved it must admit this.

Atonement: It is definitely an "Oscar-y" type of movie, but I liked it less than Juno.

For the record, my husband has seen all of the movies above except Michael Clayton, and his favorite is There Will Be Blood. He said it's the one that has stuck with him the most, and he said he thought Daniel Day-Lewis should win Best Actor. Which he probably will, since he won Best Actor in the SAG awards, often considered to be a predictor of the Oscars.

We saw Atonement yesterday, and I liked it less than I thought I would. I left the movie thinking, "I bet I would've really liked this book." But it was way too long and dragging for me as a movie. Here is my assessment of its positives and negatives... and please know that since I never include spoilers, it's going to be tough for me to say anything of substance, since the best parts of this movie were the twists I wasn't expecting.

Things That Were Bad:

- As we all know, I don't like evil little kids. I also don't like war movies. Atonement had both an evil little kid (though the kid wasn't really little, which helped me be less afraid) and a focus on World War II. There were way more war scenes than I would've ever imagined there would be. While they weren't necessarily combat sequences, they were depressing nonetheless.
- Keira Knightley's bones. I do think she is beautiful and I do think she is a great actress, but girlfriend needs to either cover up her top half more or wear a scarf or something, because I was feeling ill staring at her protruding neck and collarbones.
- The length. This movie would've been absolutely awesome if it were 30 to 40 minutes shorter. Too many of the scenes were drawn out to the point where I was wondering when in the hell it was going to end. You should not be conscious of how long a movie is when you're watching it.
- The mushy love story theme. Sorry, that's just not how I roll! All the "I love you, I love you!" crap I could not deal with. Maybe I was just jealous of Keira Knightley, because...

Things That Were Good:

- The main actor, James McAvoy, was like Ryan from The OC mixed with Ed Norton, with a little dash of Russell Crowe thrown in for good measure. Me likey.
- The time-jumping. It's not ruining anything to say that the movie fills in the details of its characters' lives by jumping around in time a bit, slowly revealing the full scope of "what happened." I am always a sucker for this story-telling device.
- The parts that were good were really, really good. It was only when certain scenes overstayed their welcome that I got anxious.
- There are twists that I did not see coming.

Those who have read the book, along with reviews I have read, say that the movie is almost completely faithful to the novel. I remember with the first Harry Potter movie, that's what people said, too. Those who had read HP1 were relieved that the movie didn't stray, whereas those who hadn't read it thought the movie was too plodding and long. I have a feeling that the same thing is going on with Atonement. The movie most likely would've benefited from cutting out or shortening some scenes.

Overall, I did like it, but I liked Juno better. I never wondered what time it was during Juno, at least. I was too busy crying!

- e

Monday, February 04, 2008

e's Take on the Super Bowl

I don't know anything about football, let's just get that out of the way upfront. Football is my brother's forte. But I am somewhat of an expert when it comes to celebrity gossip.

So as I settled in at a friend's house to watch the Super Bowl, I was aware that the Patriots' quarterback, Tom Brady (an ex-U of M football player), had left his pregnant actress girlfriend (Bridget Moynahan) for supermodel Gisele Bündchen at the end of 2006. And I knew that this particular game was a big one for him and his team; it was their chance to have a perfect record. And all I have to say is... karma's a bitch, isn't it?

You can be sure that I was rooting for the Giants. I thought, Hey, that Eli guy seems nice, and it's cute how his brother is all alone up in that viewing room freaking out by himself. I will cheer for them.

It worked!

But of course, the best part of the Super Bowl is never the game (even though I admit this one was awesome in its final minutes). I live for the ads. And the half-time shows have been decent in the recent past, too. Prince rocked it out in the pouring rain last year, and Tom Petty was no slouch for the 2008 show, either. He has so many songs--it's easy to forget that you know a ton of them. He was a good choice to play (especially since he didn't sing that creepy "Don't Come Around Here No More" song, the video for which will haunt me forever).

The commercials were decent. Here are some of my favorites. First up, the Dalmatian training the wannabe Budweiser horse, set to the Rocky theme. LOVED IT.

Next up was the hilarious "talking stain" ad for Tide. Because you KNOW it's true! It's like when someone has fuzz in their hair or something in their teeth--you can't stop looking at it. You want to will it to go away. Tide captured that feeling perfectly with this ad:

I was a little bit late to my friend's house, so I was walking in the door to the sound of laughter when this Pepsi Max ad aired. I checked it out online afterward. Ah, the memories it brings back of SNL seasons gone by.

I had seen the Justin Timberlake/Pepsi ad already, and didn't think it was all that. The worst ads involved other celebrities... Carmen Electra promoting some sort of gum... Naomi Campbell dancing with lizards to Thriller (???), and the totally random hair commercial that used images of Madonna, Shakira and Marilyn Monroe. Hello, strange trio to choose.

I thought the Bridgestone ad with the screaming animals and then the second one with the unexpected appearances of Alice Cooper and Richard Simmons were good. And the Charles Barkley spot for some cell phone provider, where he kept calling that other basketball player (like I said, I'm not into sports) every five minutes, grew on me by the end.

Coke represented itself well this year with its "fighting Macy's parade balloons" and the "Carville and Frist bonding" commercials.

And lastly, Doritos had a few funny ones. One stood out to me, simply because it was SO bizarre that you just had to laugh.

The WORST ads were for E*Trade. I cannot stand "talking babies." I also get very scared by clowns. So what does E*Trade do but combine both of these to win my award for Worst Ad of the Night:

At least the clown never showed its face! Then I would've had nightmares.

- e

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Explorer Rescue

The usually chipper voice of our Expedition Leader, Tim, no longer sounded upbeat--that was the first thing I noticed as his voice came over the PA system the morning of our third day in Antarctica aboard the National Geographic Endeavour.

The PA system in each cabin cannot be turned off--it is used for a wake-up call each morning, to make people aware of lectures going on during the day, and to announce the order passengers disembark the ship during landings, among other things. The wake-up call would normally come between 7 and 8 AM, but as I squinted my eyes and peered over to my digital alarm clock on November 23rd, I knew something was wrong when the time read 5:30 AM.

Tim proceeded to announce that at 1:45 that morning, our Captain had received a distress call from the Explorer, which had been about 5 hours away at that point. He had immediately turned our ship around, and we were now about an hour away from the accident site. While typically the ship had an "open bridge" policy, meaning that any passenger could hang out in the Captain's navigation room at any time, because of this emergency, Tim asked that we please stay out of the bridge until further notice.

"This doesn't sound good," I mumbled to my husband and proceeded to shut my eyes again. When you've been dead asleep for hours in a Bonine stupor, it's hard to snap back into reality, trust me!

But an hour later, Tim's voice came over the PA once more, and said that we were nearing the Explorer and were coordinating with another ship, the Nordnorge, to rescue all of the Explorer's passengers, who at this point had been drifting at sea in life boats for about FIVE HOURS. He repeated the request that no one enter the bridge.

"You better go check it out," I grumbled to my husband, who promptly got up, grabbed all of his weather gear and his camera, and left. This was the first scene he saw... the Nordnorge a bit ahead of our ship, and black and orange Zodiacs in the water starting the rescue.

(All of the pictures in this post can be enlarged by clicking on them, but this is as big as Blogger lets me paste things in...)

About ten minutes later, it finally hit me. Good God, a ship is sinking! I hopped out of bed, bundled up, and headed outside.

I stepped into the fresh air from a door on the port (left) side of the boat. The first thing I saw was the Nordnorge, which we had pulled up closer to by the time I got on deck.

But I didn't realize it was the Nordnorge at that point. It was much bigger than our ship, and I thought, "Well that doesn't seem to be sinking..." Then I turned to my right and saw the Explorer and gasped. No pictures will ever do justice to what it was like to actually see this ship sinking in the middle of the Antarctic. Tears started rolling down my cheeks, and my heart went out to all of the people who had to abandon ship. I cannot even imagine what it must have been like to bob up and down on the waves in the cold with nothing around for so many hours. One passenger from the Explorer actually videotaped the evacuation from the ship, and was interviewed on The Today Show after she arrived home. The video can be found in the upper-right hand corner of this page... you have to wait for a short commercial to run, but then it should automatically play.

The first picture below is of the crew from our boat in the black Zodiacs coming out to get one group of Explorer passengers, who were in white life boats (which did not have motors). It should give you a good sense of how there was just literally nothing around for miles, except floating chunks of ice in the distance. The second picture is a close-up of one of the life boats.

We later heard that the Explorer's passengers had been told that rescue was coming in an hour. Rescue (our ship and the Nordnorge) actually arrived in five hours--and we were by far the closest ships around. If the passengers were actually told that their ordeal would end in an hour, I think the time they spent waiting in the life boats would've been exponentially worse--it seems like you would lose hope once three hours had gone by and there was no sign of anyone coming.

While the rescue operation was in process, Jon Bowermaster, the National Geographic representative on our ship, filmed a video that was featured on ABC shortly after. Here is a picture of Jon starting to film his video. The video can be found here (you have to sit through a short commercial first).

There were 154 passengers and crew members on the Explorer, and all were saved. The Nordnorge could hold up to 1,000 people, and had 700 open spots at that point. This is because Antarctic laws dictate that only 100 passengers can go on land at any one time... so if a ship has more than 100 passengers, it can only take them out in shifts. If you get more than three shifts-worth of passengers, you're not going to make much progress sailing around the area. So larger ships that are used in other parts of the world during Antarctica's off-season have a lot of empty space when they are cruising around the White Continent. As our ship was pretty much at capacity (combined with the fact that they wanted everyone from the Explorer to stay together), the 154 people from the Explorer went on to the Nordnorge after the rescue procedure was completed. Our ship took some of the Explorer's Zodiacs onboard. And with that, we went our separate ways. Our Captain steered around the Explorer one last time to pay our respects.

This next picture was taken from the window/porthole in my cabin.

Um, yes, you could say that it was a bit freaky to see a sinking ship outside of your window, right at eye-level. But by far, the eeriest sight of that morning took place after the rescue was over. All of the abandoned life boats turned in the water and started drifting back to the Explorer. It was like they knew they belonged with her. Utterly amazing.

Needless to say, after the horrific events that day, everyone on our ship was on edge. But the Captain and crew from the Explorer, Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic could not have handled the situation more professionally. I never felt scared that we were in danger or that they were hiding something from us. Lindblad immediately called all of our emergency contacts back at home to let them know that we were OK and were NOT on the ship that sank (there was a lot of confusion in the media early on because Lindblad actually used to own the Explorer, and our ship, the Endeavour, was similarly named... on top of the fact that Lindblad now owns another boat named the Explorer...). The Captain and Expedition Leader also held a question and answer session that afternoon and discussed everything they knew about the situation with all of us. For the rest of the trip, they kept us updated on any news they were hearing. In a word, they were awesome.

It was an extremely emotional time for all of them, as nearly every team member from our ship, including our Captain, had previously served on the Explorer. I will save a summary of their comments, my additional thoughts on the incident, as well as what it meant for the environment (the good news: very little) and Antarctic tourism for a final post after I've talked about the rest of our voyage. But the one question that remains is, how could this have happened? Especially after seeing all of the high-tech equipment in the bridge, one has to wonder what went so terribly wrong.

And like I said in an earlier entry about this trip, suddenly the clipping I saw posted on the bulletin board in the bridge took on a whole new meaning.

- e

Friday, February 01, 2008

Update on Yesterday's Post...

Remember when I thought something seemed fishy about Entertainment Tonight and The Insider deciding to NOT play the "Heath Ledger drug video" at the last second? I was right. They didn't do it out of the goodness of their hearts or because they love Australians, they did it because the publicists of almost every major star out there said that their clients would never interview with the shows again if the video aired.

In addition, the video also had clips of Heath saying that he had stopped doing drugs after his daughter was born, and his "M" (for Matilda) tattoo was there to remind him of his pledge.

Now, the video was taken two years ago, and so it is possible that Heath relapsed between now and then, but it just goes to show that everything can be edited to fit a certain purpose.

And on another subject I mentioned yesterday, Britney has actually stayed in the hospital (so far). That is a good sign. Hope springs eternal...

- e

The Next Best Thing

Since it's no longer possible to see The Beatles perform, the next best thing might be seeing "the best Beatles tribute band on the planet" (according to The Beatles' past promoter) play at a private party, right?

That's what my husband and I got to do a few weekends ago when "American English" performed at a colleague's residence. I did a crappy job taking pictures, but hopefully you'll get the idea...

That's right, my friends, they changed outfits three times to represent the "early years," the psychedelic Sgt. Pepper's era, and the Abbey Road phase.

While the band obviously didn't have the same set-up as "The Fab Four" show I saw in Vegas (as in, a huge stage and concert-like seating for the audience, movie screens, special lighting effects, etc.) since they were playing in someone's home, all of the other details were there, down to the instruments. They even busted out the kazoo for "Lovely Rita"--YES!

And if you closed your eyes while they were playing, it was freaky. You really couldn't tell that it wasn't just a Beatles CD blasting.

If you ever get a chance to see them (they tour around every once in a while), you should definitely check them out. There is a calendar of their performances on their site--it looks like they are based here in Illinois, but they do travel around often.

- e