Archive for June, 2008

Life is a Carnival

I’m itching at the heels to go back to Mexico.  That got me thinking about my one and only previous cruise vacation.  This is technically a repost, but it’ll be new to most people.

Carnival Time

To say I wasn’t excited was an understatement. I was glad to be off work and to be getting the hell out of Louisiana, but the truth is, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy being on a cruise to Mexico. I had heard plenty of good things about Carnival Cruise Line, but there were just other things I wanted to do first. When my Mother, who had paid for my experience, asked if I was excited, I responded with an underwhelming “yeah…” hoping she wouldn’t notice my lack of enthusiasm. My brother Aaron and his friends Blake and Whitney were meeting me on the ship. Mom dropped me off, reminiscing about her cruise experiences all the while. I’d expected the three of them to arrive late, so I was surprised to see Aaron already in line when I got there. I’d heard the check- in process was a pain in the ass, but it went very quickly, and before I knew it we were on the ship.

It’s funny how I don’t realize how overly critical I am. I’ve spent so much time at Walt Disney World in the last five years that I have taken to comparing all other vacation experiences to them. Looking back now, I have to say it’s a drawback. There are so many things that Disney does better than Carnival, but the cruise is a different animal; a different experience. As I walked into the main lobby for the first time, I should have appreciated it for what it was instead of comparing it to a Holiday Inn. But that’s what it seemed like to me, as I looked at the rooms, pools and general facilities, a three star hotel, when I had been used to a five star vacation.

I walked around a lot on that first day. As I sat out at the pool, listening to Dierks Bentley on my MP3 and staring at girls in bikinis, I couldn’t help but think “Is this all there is?” Later on I watched two home-grown game shows they put on with the guests as their contestants; their versions of Jeopardy and Deal or No Deal. It was entertaining, and the hosts were funny, but I still wasn’t impressed. Still, I had intended to make the most of my time, so I wandered around the ship looking for things to do. We had the latest seating for dinner, 8pm. When we arrived, the line was around the block, but it was disorganized, so we accident ended up cutting almost everyone in line. They sat us at an 8 top table, which was confusing because there were four of us. I just assumed they had given us each a seat to put our feet up. Just then a family of four came over, and our head waiter informed us that we would all be sitting together. It was a little uncomfortable at first, but I introduced myself, and they turned out to be great people. The father, Jason, sold pharmaceuticals out of Tex-Arkana. The mother, who’s name escapes me (but she was hot) was interested in photography and had the same camera as me. They had two children. The eldest was around ten and was clearly the responsible one, minding his father and doting upon his mother. The youngest was four and seemed to be the adventuresome one, the one who would get into things as he got older. They were a really nice family, exactly what I want some day.

The food is my one real complaint about Carnival. It was by far the biggest disappointment. I had heard that each meal was spectacular and endless. Endless it was; you could get as much as you want and there was always something available 24 hours a day. The quality however, was another matter entirely. It was edible, but bland. They clearly spent more time worrying about the presentation than the flavor. Some have pointed out that my taste buds are used to New Orleans cooking. Be that as it may, the head chef was clearly trained at a high class restaurant and culinary arts school; no one ever told him about spices? Still, I never went hungry.

Dinner took about an hour and a half. Later, I decided to go for a late night hot tub dip. Normally the hot tubs were always full, but very few people were up on the deck at night. There were only two guys there. I had hoped for bikini-clad women, but I was just happy to have access to the hot tub. Of course, as soon as I sat down they started talking to me, which always aggravates me. They turned out to be really nice guys, but of course they have to ask about New Orleans. I told them the truth that no one ever hears about on CNN. To my surprise, they listened and understood, and told me about Missouri where they were from. After that I went to bed.

Tuesday was a full day at sea. I awoke at 7 am to find the ship rocking back and forth. To tell the truth, I was unprepared for that. It never occurred to me that the currents were so strong that they could make a ship that size rock so much. With Whitney still asleep, Aaron, Blake and I went to the buffet for breakfast. It wasn’t bad. Most of Tuesday was more of the same. I went out to the deck for some hot tub time, then laid out with my MP3 (one of my favorite personal items ever) to take in the scenery. Then I explored some more in order to familiarize myself with the ship. I got Aaron and I a pair of watches to keep us on schedule since our cell phones didn’t work. When I went back to the room, I found the daily newspaper which Carnival used to inform their guests of the daily events and schedule. I noticed that the first of two Captain’s Receptions (one before each dinner seating) was about to begin. I had no idea what it was, but I figured it was better than sitting in my room. When I got upstairs to the Universe Lounge (the main stage and meeting room) I noticed everyone was dressed up. I was aware that Tuesday night was formal night, but had assumed that was primarily for dinner. I asked what was going on, and was informed that this was a cocktail party hosted by the Captain. I immediately went down stairs to shower, shave and put on formal attire. I arrived during the last half of the party.

I’m not vain. I’m well aware of my physical appearance, but I love dressing up. I know a lot about style, and I’m a great dresser. More to the point, I look sharp in a suit. Sure, everything I put on was from Target, but I looked better than almost every guy there. Yeah, I get the irony. It sounds vain. But it isn’t clothes that make the man; it’s the way he feels in his clothes. When I put on a coat and tie, I feel like I could take on the world. Most guys turn into ten year old boys when they put on a tie. They hate it and it shows. But I digress.

When I got there, the band was playing and a young woman was singing a Sinatra song while several couple danced on stage. I stood there, watching them dance and taking in the music; you couldn’t help but feel the magic and romance of the moment. When the song ended, they began the Captain and crew introductions. I only half listened, because I really didn’t care who my Purser was or who yelled at my cabin steward. I sat there by myself, feeling lonely and thinking about those couples, thinking about how I had no one. “Not tonight” I thought, “tonight I’m going to dance.” I surveyed the audience and chose my target, a pretty brunette, sitting with her friend. Shortly thereafter, the Captain finished his introductions and the band started the final dance, playing Fools Rush In. I gathered my wits about me and walked over to her. I leaned over from behind her, tapped her on the shoulder and looked her in the eyes. “Excuse me, Miss,” I said, “I’m a horrible dancer, but I’m all dressed up. Would you do me the honor?” And she looked at me and smiled. “Sure.” And just like that I was up on stage with a girl from Michigan. When it was over I thanked her for the dance, and went back down stairs. I got the other three dressed and showered, then we all went and found a booth for the next reception. It wasn’t really the kind of thing they enjoyed. I suppose I should have figured that. The thing is, I was born and raised white trash, and typically, I love it, but I’ve always had a taste for the finer things in life. I think it’s good to be raised in the dirt, it gives you strong roots; but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fly from time to time. I enjoyed the whole party this time. And when the Captain got up, I looked again for another girl. I handed my brother the camera and told him if it worked, that I wanted pictures. I used the same line and approach. Amy, the girl, informed me that she had a fiancé’, but she would be happy to dance with me. And there I was again.

Afterwards we all went to dinner. Aaron had been developing a headache all day from the ship’s constant rocking. Jason, our table mate, gave him some Dramamine, but it didn’t work fast enough, so I took him back to our room where he fell asleep. I felt guilty for leaving him, but there was nothing I could do but let him sleep it off. I had noticed in the paper that karaoke started at 9 pm. Anyone who knows me can tell you, I love singing. I know I suck, but nothing makes me happier, except maybe for a fast car. I was excited to find out it was a country crowd. I got up twice, singing Midnight Rider and a Dierks Bentley song. After an hour or so I went to check out the Disco down the hall. It was fairly hopping and there were plenty of hot girls, but they were playing rap, so I left. About midnight, a comedian from Tennessee (Tim something or other) was doing an R-rated show. I went and met Whitney and Blake on the balcony of the Universe lounge. The show was pretty good, but I was as aggravated as could be, because a 6 foot something frat guy (I call him Yeti) kept walking in front of us and talking loud. By the end of the show, I was ready to throw him off the boat. “If this motherfucker gets in front of us one more time,” I said to myself, “I swear to God, I’m’a whoop his ass.” (I get real southern when I’m pissed.) It didn’t come to that, though. I was tired, so I called it a night. We were due to arrive in Costa Maya around noon the next day, and I wanted to be well rested for my first time in another country.

Wednesday started off the same: breakfast, pool side, exploration. We were at port at by 11, and I went to get a lay of the land form the top deck. I’ve been in both oceans. I’ve seen the beaches of Clearwater and Santa Monica. I know what beauty is. So when I tell you that the water in Costa Maya was the most amazingly beautiful, bluest water I have ever seen in my life, I hope you understand the weight of that statement. Being from Louisiana, I’m so used to nasty water, but there I was in the Gulf of Mexico and I thought I was looking down into a pool. At 11:30 I went and ate lunch by myself. The three of them were due to go snorkeling, and I had no interest, so I booked a sightseeing tour of the beach and town. I was supposed to be at the dock for 12:30. I just barely made it. After signing a few “its okay if we kill you” forms, we were off in a military-style transport. The first stop was the beach. We were supposed to have access to kayaks, which I really wanted to try, but the water was too choppy, and they wouldn’t let us take them. Instead, I put down my gear and got in some splash time. Then I found myself a hammock, turned on some Kenny Chesney and enjoyed one of the most peaceful hours I’ve had in a long time. Next we took a tour of the area. It was interesting, but after a while, if you’ve seen one poor hut, you’ve seen them all. Curiously, some of these people had houses with straw roofs, but drove Chevy Trailblazers. I didn’t really get that. Our last stop was the Costa Mayan village. It was pretty much a giant flee market. When I got back to port, I looked around at the port shops, which were much cleaner. I got some quesadillas at one of the bars. The really cool thing was that I was right across from one of those Mexican pool bars, where the girls stand around half naked and drinking in the pool. When I was done eating, I got myself another cowboy hat and went back to the ship. I took another nap by the pool, and then went to my room to change.

The bad thing about having a late seating dinner is that there’s usually something going on at 8 o’clock. I noticed that there was a ballroom dance class going on that night. Now, I know what most guys will think when they read this, but I don’t care. I’ve always wanted to learn to be a good dancer. Someday I hope to be married, and I would actually like to dance with my bride on that day. I don’t think there’s anything effeminate about that. So I skipped dinner. It turned out to be a class on how to Cha- Cha. Not exactly what I had in mind, but I stuck it out. A very nice girl named Rene agreed to be my partner. After half an hour, I knew how to cha-cha, not very well mind you, but I have the basics down. When it was over I went back down to my room to rest. As I lay there, a girl of about nineteen walked into my room holding a disposable camera. “Ready for a picture?” she asked. I thought it was a little weird, but I agreed. As I tried to take the camera from her, she said “no.” Then she pulled me close to her and held the camera in front of us and snapped it. Then she ran down the hall giggling with her friend. “If I had known she was going to do that”, I thought “I would have kissed her as she took the picture.” And that’s when it occurred to me. I was proud of the fact that I had asked those girls to dance. It wasn’t something I would normally do; I’m just not wired that way. But I did it. I didn’t back down. That was the important part to me. Success and failure are irrelevant; all that matters is that I don’t give up. And as I went over what just happened, I realized I couldn’t stop with those successes, I couldn’t give up there. I had to top myself. Despite the condoms I had bought just in case, I didn’t expect to actually have sex. That would have been expecting a lot of me to try and sleep with someone. So instead I determined to get a kiss. Two kissed actually, from two of the prettiest girls I could find. Thursday would be spent all day in Cozumel, but Friday was another full day at sea, and that would be my chance.

The next morning Aaron and I got breakfast together. I had booked us on an off road kart excursion; basically it was a big two-seater dune buggy. Cozumel’s pier had been destroyed by hurricane Wilma, so we had to take a ferry to the port. Our tour representative put us in a Suburban cab to their business, which was several miles down on the island. Unfortunately she didn’t happen to mention two important facts. One: Mexicans drive like they learned phonetically by watching Nascar races. Two: there are no speed limits, stop signs or traffic lights in Cozumel. I have never been so scared in a vehicle in my life. We nearly hit 8 people and 12 cars. We were introduced to our tour guide, Adrian when we go there. After a short speech, we got in the karts. Aaron took the wheel first. It was… a bumpy ride… and he nearly rammed one of the tour guides. It was really fun though. Later we switched sides. It turns out the wheels on our kart were severely misaligned. When I tried to drive it, I hit it a slick patch of dirt and we went flying off to the left. The kart nearly flipped over, but I managed to stop the tires with my foot just in time. The tour guide switched karts with us, which greatly improved the steering. I let Aaron drive for the last third of the trip. When we got back to our port, we went shopping, which is pretty much all there is to do at the port. We met up with Blake and Whitney, and Aaron went off with them, while I went back to the ship to lay out by the pool. That night at dinner, Whitney surprised Aaron with a birthday cake. He was embarrassed, but he was a good sport about it.

Aaron went to bed again, while the three of us went to see Phat Kat, the comedian perform. It was actually pretty funny. Thursday night was also the night of the big party on the pool deck. I figured that was as good a time as any to start on my promise. Whitney went to sleep while Blake walked around with me. I was nervous, so I held off for a while before talking to any girls. I really didn’t want to be there, because all they were playing was c-rap, but I made a promise, and I was going to stick with it. Eventually I said screw it and walked over to one of the cuter ones. Unfortunately, when I tried to get her attention, she gave me a really dirty look and walked off. Bitch. But then I ran across a really hot girl with black hair. I gathered my nerve and walked over to her. “Excuse me,” I stuttered, “I made a promise to myself that I would kiss two of the prettiest girls on the ship; could you help me out?” “I’ll kiss you on the cheek.”, she said. Then she grabbed her friend who was dancing and they each took a cheek. Unfortunately Blake screwed up the picture. So I fulfilled my goal, but I had no evidence, which in my mind meant that I needed to start over. It had to wait until Friday though, because I was tired.

Friday I woke early, because I had a 9 am massage and I wanted breakfast first. I let Aaron sleep and went by myself. The massage was kind of rough to be honest. I’m glad I went and did it, but I prefer soft touches in a massage. I want to relax. This chick was out to inflict pain. I feel sorry for the guy that left her. I went out for a little more pool time, hoping to run across a girl I could talk to. No such luck. I met up with the three of them later for lunch at the buffet. Afterwards I went on a scavenger hunt with three strangers. We lost… badly. I went to a couple more shows in the Universe Lounge. Later I got hungry again and the four of us went to eat by the pool. While we were waiting in line for our food, Aaron disappeared. When he turned up again, he was doing the limbo with a margarita in his hand. Then he started dancing with a girl on stage. It was the most life I’d seen in him since the trip had begun. I was sort of shocked.

After that, time seemed to run out very quickly. We had one final dinner with our friends. Aaron and I dressed up again for our final night. We took pictures and talked. At 9 I went to sing for the fourth night in a row, but this time the 3 of them came with me. Whitney even sang. I looked around for a girl to ask, but I couldn’t find anyone that wasn’t with a boyfriend or a big group. There was one final R-rated show with Phat Kat at midnight, which Aaron also went to. Afterwards I walked around the ship into the wee hours of the morning. I stopped in on the Disco and ran into “Yeti”. He saw me standing there and flicked my collar for some reason. I didn’t exactly have a sense of humor about the situation. I looked him in the eyes and told him “You need to get the fuck away from me right now.” He did it, but I was already pissed and left. After a while, I decided that I just wasn’t going to meet my goal. I was disappointed, but I have to learn that it’s okay not to meet every expectation.

I had a pretty great time. To tell the truth, I could have used a few more days. As I talked to a friend about it earlier, I realized just how great it actually was. For five days I stopped worrying about all my problems, I stopped cursing, I slept well, I did things I’ve never done before and I had a good time. I can’t remember the last time that happened. I think I’ll sleep well tonight, dreaming about a beach in Mexico.

George Carlin is dead? MotherFUCKER…

There are rockstars in the world of comedy as well. Men and women “beyond the pale” if you get me. Amongst stand-ups their names are whispered in myth and legend.

Dangerfield
Pryor
Rickles
Cosby
Murphy
Bruce (Lenny)
Kaufman
Williams (of course, when they speak of Robin now, they pretend that he died in the 80s and the guy walking around is… like Gallagher 2 or something)

And of course, there’s Carlin. George Carlin. It’s funny, but he was one of my favorite stand-ups… one of my influences I would imagine… yet I would never mention him in a list. He sort of existed in the public consciousness. Like he didn’t belong on some list. Carlin is his own category and standard. I’ve always dug Carlin, since I first saw the commercial for his HBO special as a little boy. I was told I couldn’t watch that. And considering I had already seen Stripes and DC Cab, I knew that either my parents had no sense of consistency in parenting… or this was something reeeeeeaaalllly bad. As it turns, out it was both. I loved it. I have literally bonded with new friends by trading Carlin bits. “You know Carlin?” “Fuck yeah, I know Carlin!” “Dude, you’re awesome!” I imagine he would have called me a dipshit had he known that; and told us to “Get a fuckin’ life.” And I actually saw Carlin once at the Beau Rivage hotel with my best friend Steve. Hysterical. We spent the whole way home quoting him and laughing our asses off, like we had something to do with it. Assholes. The last thing I saw him in was one of my favorite movies, Jersey Girl. Oddly, it wasn’t a comedic role. He played a kindly old grandfather. And it’s funny, but as much as he was a legendary potty mouth, he was in many ways a kind old man as well.

When I found out this morning… LITERALLY the minute I woke up… all my fumbling, dazed mind could assemble was: “That fuckin’ sucks.” Which is about as appropriate a eulogy as a man like him would want. From what I’ve read and heard, Carlin wouldn’t want a bunch of assholes telling weepy stories and offering condolences to his family. He’d want a line of chainsmokers walking up to his open grave as the rain comes down in torrents, to look down, take a drag and say “This is BULLSHIT!”

And it is. This is fucking bullshit.

So as you’re going about your day, take a moment here and there to recognize that someone is full of shit and call them a cocksucker to their face. It’s what Carlin would have wanted.

In fact, I’m gonna go find some Obama supporters right now…

Why It Truly Was the Incredible Hulk

Yes, it’s time for another one of my movie reviews, because I’m just obnoxious enough to think that people really give a shit. If you’ve read my reviews before, then you should be familiar with the format; I do a general over-view and then break down specific elements. If I post any spoilers, I’ll label it under a specific paragraph and then make it so it’s only visible if you highlight it. Also, my reviews are sort of R rated. So anyway, here’s to it…

In the course of Marvel Comics brief film history, I think there will be two eras: everything before Iron Man, and everything after. For those of you not in the know, Iron Man was the first film to reap the benefits of Marvel Enterprises’ purchase of their own film studio, allowing them to produce their own films (which will include everything not previously licensed out). In the past, film studios have done what they wished with the properties. Some film-makers showed respect to them (Sam Raimi, David Goyer, Bryan Singer {I’m not counting Superman Returns}). Others have strip mined the source material, and made comic book films which featured the characters in name only (Tim Burton, Ang Lee). Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But I think Iron Man, and now the Incredible Hulk, have proved that basing the film on the comics over-all provides a more satisfying movie, regardless of whether or not you’ve read the comics.

I loved the Incredible Hulk. It may not be as funny as Iron Man (what with Banner being a much more morose, tortured character than Tony Stark ever was), but I’d say I enjoyed it at least as much, if not more.

I never saw the Ang Lee film. I was turned off by Jennifer Conelly’s description of Lee’s vision for the film as a Greek tragedy, not to mention the trailers which showed off a hairless, green King Kong. It’s not surprising that Marvel chose to pull a “Batman Begins” and ignore the first film altogether. Their commitment to making this film as continuity-free from the first is spelled out in the opening sequence. Everything you need to know to enjoy this film are spelled out in the opening credits, and the details are filled in as the we go along. The film is a perfect mix of the sad, tortured world of Bruce Banner, and the primal, fantastic world of the Hulk. Neither is neglected.

Banner

I would never make this comparison in the comics, but I found a lot of resemblances between Bruce Banner and Jason Bourne while watching. The scenes in which Banner is evading his military pursuers evoke the kinetic action of the Bourne Identity. Not to mention the similarities in their life styles and some of their motivations. Both are military experiments gone wrong. Both are being hunted because of their values as weapons. And Bourne and Banner are both trying to understand who they are now and what has happened to them. I would never have thought to make those comparisons, but it works.

Between the espionage-inspired elements, we’re given a lot of human moments. It is made very clear from start to finish how alone he is, how much he needs Betty, and how desperate he is to get his life back.

Edward Norton absolutely awesome as Banner. He’s one of my favorite actors, and it’s easy to see why here. There is a moment early on where he adjusts his glasses, which directly mirrors a panel from Bryan Hitch’s illustration of Banner in the Ultimates.

Just in the way he adjusted his glasses as Banner would, I knew he was perfect for this.

The Hulk


I’m not sure how much Ang Lee focused on humanizing the monster in his film, but Louis Letrrier and Norton went a long way toward showing that the line between the man and the monster is far finer than one might think. Sure, for the most part the Hulk is still unrestrained fury, a force of nature… but there are asides throughout that show recognizeable connections to his humanity.

But don’t worry, there’s plenty of HULK SMASH, and a hell of a smashing it is. There are about four action sequences featuring the Hulk. Each one gets better than the one before it. And the best part is that it isn’t just the Hulk smashing things. There are plenty of trademark moves from the comics, and one from the video game, Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, in which he tears a car in half and uses it as boxing gloves. My inner fanboy barely resisted cheering out as he took on Thunderbolt Ross’ assault teams.

CGI

It looked about a lot more realistic than I would have expected. Not real, mind you, but close enough so that it wasn’t a distraction. He’s not neon green in this one, and he doesn’t look like a retard. The facial features in particular were very impressive. And the Abomination looked really fucking crazy. I would probably crap my pants if I saw that coming at me.

The Actors

Unlike Iron Man, I was very satisfied with who they cast.

Live Tyler is one of those actors, who kind of plays herself in every role she’s in. She wasn’t nearly as spunky as Betty is typically portrayed. Betty Ross is supposed to be the only person on Earth who would actually yell at the Hulk. Plus, since they fuck, she should presumably have a humongous vagina. Or maybe Hulk is over compensating. That being said, I like Liv Tyler, and I thought she had a lot of chemistry with both Norton and Hurt.

And William Hurt is always good. There were moments here and there where he seemed detached, but when it counted, when facing either Banner or Betty or showing his Ahab- like obsession, he came through.

The only other major player was Emil Blonskly, played by Tim Roth. In the comcis, Blonsky was cold-war spy who gets gamma irradiated by accident and turns into the Abomination. Well, the Cold War is over, so they made him a special ops guy on loan from… I don’t know, some country or another. I thought Roth was effective as a career military type who will do anything to achieve his mission. Roth makes it clear though, that it’s more about ego than honor for him. This is a guy who doesn’t like to lose. And he’s crazy enough to do anything to make it happen.

What they took from the comics

A lot. Actually, the attempt was made to make it more like the TV Show from the 80s, even going so far as to bring in Lou Ferrigno for a cameo (and just to warn you, Ferrigno is mentally handi-capped, and while his speach ability is much better than when he was on the show, you will likely have no idea what the fuck he is saying, just appreciate the geek moment of him being there). As mentioned previously, there’s a moment Norton takes directly from the Ultimates. I’d bet there was a lot more that I didn’t spot. Fans should be on the lookout for a familiar name from the Hulk universe. And even Banner’s contact protocol was taken directly from Bruce Jones’ run on the title. Like Iron Man, you don’t need to be familiar with all of this, but the fans will get an added geek bonus from the experience.

Overall

The conept of the Hulk has always been a combination of big budget monster movie and psychological human drama. This film delivers both, in spades. I can’t think of a single second where I was distracted by an inaccuracy, shitty dialogue or any of the usual problems I have with this sort of film. I’d see it again. In fact, I probably will, just to enjoy without the sceaming children from yesterday’s showing.

The Devil Went Down to Florida: Disney/ MGM

This is how sick I am. I found this internet radio station dedicated to the Disney parks. It literally plays all the background music at the parks. I cannot explain to you in words how fucking in love with this station I am! I cried tears of joy — no shit– when they played the monorail spiel. “Por favor, yo tangence alejandro de las puertas.” TEARS. OF. JOY.

It’s been many posts since I did the first in my series exploring the magic of Walt Disney World. (You can read it HERE.) But I felt like it was time to do Part 2. I’ve just been feeling the longing for the Mouse’s shores lately.

Normally I do Animal Kingdom (AK) first. The park has grown bigger in recent years, with more things to do. Usually though, I combine that park day with Disney/ MGM Studios, since those are the two I would likely spend the least amount of time visiting. That doesn’t mean I don’t love them. I LOVE THEM. But I just don’t dig every inch of those two parks. I just hit the big points and keep running.

But they’re still magic to me.

I have a special place in my heart for Disney/MGM (MGM, for short). Actually, I’m told it’s called Disney’s Hollywood Studios now. Forget that. I’m a purist! It’ll always be Disney/ MGM to me. Most people don’t know that it actually is a movie studio, not just a park. It’s an animation studio. In fact, while I was living there, they were producing Lilo and Stitch. Which is kinda cool if you ask me. The rest of the park is a reflection of both the studio theme and the new Hollywood name. Half of the park is covered in film sets and stunt shows. There’s even a reduced scale model of an At-AK Walker and a relica of a section of the Forest Moon of Endor in the Star Wars area. The other half represents a glamorous image of the Hollywood of old, the one that supposedly existed in the 1920’s. The theme works very well, and in fact it’s the only park of the four which presents a united theme.

The first thing you’ll notice when you get in is The Sorcerer’s Hat. A giant model of the magic hat Mickey wore in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Unlike the other Parks’ central draws, the hat doesn’t serve any function. No shows or restaurants. Just a pin trading store. It’s still kind of cool to look at though.

As you walk down the main street, you’re met with dozens of gift stores, similar to the Magic Kingdom’s (MK) Main Street. Taking that first left, you will find two of Disney’s biggest attractions. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is one of the biggies for most people. It’s really only people like me who are afraid of heights who avoid it. That being said, I would recommend going on it with your friends, even if you’re scared. The set design alone is worth the wait. The haunted hotel theme comes off like a more mature version of the Haunted Mansion in the MK. It’s nowhere near as ostentatious, and there isn’t an inch of the attraction that doesn’t feel authentic. At the end of the line, there is an exit for anyone who can’t, or doesn’t want to get on. Should you choose to go through with it, you will be asked to board an “elevator”. Once strapped into your seats, the elevator starts moving… but not in the direction you might expect. The doors close and the elevator reverses horizontally, then links onto a track and goes on a short, somewhat hallucinogenic trip through the upper level of the hotel. At the end, the elevator locks back into place and the outer window opens, displaying the entire park for a scant second before dropping you. At some point in the drop, the elevator stops, rises, and drops again. And again. And again. There are multiple drop sequences, almost ensuring a different experience every time you ride.

When you get out of the Tower of Terror, start running. Right on the other side of the street is my favorite ride in all the parks, Aerosmith’s Rockin Roller Coaster. It also has the longest wait in the Studios. But it’s worth it. Like many of Disney’s attractions, the Coaster is not content to be just another ride with an unrelated theme. Rather, you’re an Aerosmith fan granted the chance to see the band do some recording. They then invite you to meet them at the concert backstage. The coaster itself is a “super-stretch limo” which will take you to the concert across town, while blaring Aerosmith full blast, of course. Try to breathe normally as the magnetic propulsion system fires you down the line. At 60 miles an hour, it’s one of the fastest rides in the park, and since it’s a dark ride (re: lights out), the loop de loops don’t bother me. I try to ride the Aerosmith coaster at least twice before I leave, so I usually grab a fast pass for later as soon as I get to the parks. Knowing how to properly schedule fast passes is a big plus in the parks.

There’s a few more worth-while sights to see, but if I went to AK first, I’m long since ready for lunch about that time. Which is cool, because the Studios has some of the coolest themed restaurants in WDW. There’s the 50’s Prime TIme Cafe, which is designed like a house from the Donna Reed Show, pure 1950’s Americana. The waitress will be dressed as a 50s housewife, and she will insist that you call her Mom. Sure, it’s a little goofy… and even psychotic at times, but it’s a lot of fun. Except when Mom makes you eat your veggies before you can get dessert. I’m not kidding.

My favorite lunchtimes restaurant is The Scifi Dine-In Theater, which is set up like a (again) 1950’s drive thru movie theater. The tables are shaped like old 59 Chevy Belairs, so you can put your arm around your Honey while you groove… sorry, caught up in the moment. The waitresses will roller skate up to your “window” to take your orders. And while you wait, you can watch old cartoons, cartoons and trailers to a lot of really bad black and white scifi movies with names like The Day the Giant Martian Ants Reigned Terror on Mugambo. Or something. I usually get a bacon burger and the cheesecake, which comes drizzled with caramel, popcorn and M&Ms. I know how sounds, but it’s awesome.

Two seconds walk from the SciFi is both the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular and Star Tours. The Stunt Spectacular is exactly what it sounds like: a stunt show. But for first timers, it’s kind of cool, because you get to see some classic Indy scenes recreated. And if you’re really lucky, you may get called up to participate. So far I haven’t.

I always do Star Tours, but there’s really only two reasons to go on it.

  1. You’ve never done it before, in which case the dated ride (it’s over twenty years old and you feel it) will seem new and exciting. An actual licensed Star Wars ride!
  2. You’re a big Star Wars fan. And as a result, you can’t pass up the opportunity to see the very detailed replicas of Star Wars sets or to ride shotgun with R2D2 in Space.

Other than that, you might want to check out the Tatooine Cantina gift shop and the land-speeder that you can take pictures on,  then skip it. Star Tours is the only holdover from Disneyland stationed in the Studios.

Next, I close out with The Muppet 3-D Show, which is another of the staple 3-D shows I mentioned that each park has. However unlike the other 3-D shows, like It’s Tough to be a Bug, the Muppet show adds an actor in addition to the blend of anima-tronics, props and 3-D effects. Not only is it one of the funniest of the shows, but as someone who grew up in the 80s, seeing the Muppets invokes a lot of nostalgia. And at the very least, after a long summer day, you’ll appreciate getting to sit down in an air conditioned theater for a few minutes.

By that time, I usually hit the Aerosmith ride one last time and head in for the night. But for a newbie, there’s plenty more to do. I haven’t even covered to the Stunt car show. Or the Chronicles of Narnia walking tour. Or the Beauty and the Beast and the Little Mermaid musical shows. And the Animation Studio tour. Yeah, there’s a lot. Skip the Great Movie Ride, though. It sucks.

Oh… and I just about forgot. At the end of the night, 3 of the 4 parks have fireworks shows (AK is the only one without), each with a very different flavor and appeal. And while my favorite is Illuminations, many people would argue that Fantazmic is the most… fantastic. Fantazmic isn’t just fireworks. It employs dozens of actors and characters, as Mickey Mouse takes a tour through Disney’s film history. Everyone from the Lion King’s Scar to Pocahontas appears as Mickey fights to regain control of his dreams from Cinderella’s Maleficent. Yeah, it sounds cheesy, but like most of Disney’s attractions, if you’re willing to see with open eyes, you’ll feel the same magic your children do. And you won’t want to leave when it’s over.

That’s it for this installment. I hope I haven’t bored you. Sooner or later I’ll get around to my review of the next park, my favorite, EPCOT.

My Ten Favorite Fictional Characters

Yeah, just call me List Guy. That’s me.

There is nothing more influential or important in my life than fiction. Fiction is a powerful concept. Done properly, it has the power to give a person hope, and even belief. It’s given me a lot throughout my life. And in many ways, some of the fictional worlds I’ve visited are as real to me as this one. And the men and women who inhabit those worlds are as real to me as you are. (Which is somewhat ironic considering you’re reading this in cyberspace.)

Here are my top ten favorite male characters. The girls deserve their own category.

10. The Rock

Dwayne Johnson was a third generation Professional Wrestler, but his first love was football. Sadly he was cut from his team. But that worked out well for wrestling fans across the world. If Hulk Hogan made wrestling famous, and Stone Cold made it bad ass, then the Rock made it cool to watch. He may not be the best technical wrestler in the WWE locker room, but over four years after his retirement, The Rock is still the most entertaining. Whether as a Face (Babyface- good guy) or as a Heel (Villain) the audience loved him, and tuned in just as mush to watch him make fun of people as they did to watch him whip their candy asses! And if you think I’m a dork, “Get ready… your candy ass is next!”

9. Mal Reynolds

Joss Whedon’s epic story of a band of thieves on the edge of the frontier of space was part Western and part Buddhist philosophy. Each character was brilliant, beautiful and worthy of their own praise, but really, who doesn’t love Mal? Captain Mal Reynolds predates Jack Sparrow by a year as the greatest pirate who ever lived. Not the most successful, mind you. But like Sparrow, Mal was the last of a dying breed. His sense of honor and loyalty was constantly in conflict with his acceptance of his narrowing reality. Despite himself, Mal was determined to be a hero even when there was no room for heroes left in the ‘Verse.

8. Jack Knight

There was never a more curious hero in comics history than James Robinson’s Starman. Jack Knight was the son of the original Starman, Ted Knight. When his Brother David takes up the mantle and is murdered on his first night, Ted asks Jack to take over as Starman. And he says no. Jack is a pop culture antiquities dealer, more in love with the past than the world around him. He has no interest in costumes and silly superheroics. But reluctantly, he takes up his father’s legacy to protect the few things he does love in this world. What follows is more than just another superhero monthly. It’s an exploration and appreciation of history. And a story of the love between a father and his estranged son. Starman may just be the moment that mainstream comics truly entered the world of literature.

7. Indiana Jones

What I love about Indiana Jones is that he isn’t simply another action hero. He’s a brilliant man whose interests is more about exploring the rich depths of history than finding adventure. Indy is an example for the boys of my generation, a man of brains and brawn. The man with the fedora is still my idol.

6. Jesse Custer

I’ve never ridden a horse. Never liked guns or cigarettes. Hate beer. Yet there is special part of me that is pure cowboy, even if the rest of me clearly isn’t. Jesse Custer, raised to be a Preacher, is in a similar predicament. His garb and profession may say spiritual, but the truth is he is wild and wicked. In Garth Ennis’ Preacher, Custer goes off in search of God. He cuts a bloody swath across America in the process, righting wrongs and schoolin’ assholes. He’s a modern day cowboy.

5. Lucas Scott

One Tree Hill’s main character appears on the surface to be just another pretty face on The WB/ CW. But if you pause long enough, you’ll find that Lucas Scott is the exception that proves the rule. The show is often narrated by Lucas, who quotes some of history’s finest pieces of literature. Unlike many of the other archetypes that inhabit the teen shows OTH is compared to, Lucas’ brooding nature is due less to the fact that he looks cool doing it, than to the fact that he’s a writer at heart.

4. Michael Garibaldi

Babaylon 5’s former chief of security was the show’s most relateable character. Garibaldi brought a sense of nostalgia to the futuristic show. He was a Bruce Willis character with more depth and the detective skills of Sherlock Holmes. His role in the show shifted from grunt, to soldier, to villain, to confidant, to alcoholic and in the end all were truly human. What makes him truly compelling is the way Garibaldi constantly gains ground only to lose everything. His demons were never more than a hairsbreadth away from killing him.

3. John Wayne

Yes, I know John Wayne was a real person. But in many ways he is archetype, arguably one which inspired the creation of half the characters on this list. Hell, one of Custer’s companions in the book is the ghost of John Wayne. John Wayne is the spirit of all that was once good about America. Smart, hard-working, loyal, honest and tough. He’s what men like me aspire to be. Somewhere along the way, we lost that part of us. And when I watch his movies, I am reminded of that noble absence.

2. Cyclops

Everyone’s favorite X-Man is Wolverine. But not mine. Scott Summers is often over-looked but argued by many creators as the greatest X-Man, and possibly even more important to Charles Xavier’s dream of equality than Xavier himself. He spent most of his life at a distance from those around him because his powers had grown out of control and posed a danger. Cyclops eyes emit an energy blast which can only be contained by his eyelids or special ruby quartz glasses. Xavier pulled him from an orphanage and trained him to lead the X-Men, and out of those ashes grew a leader who has guided mutant history. Oh, and he also found love in a beautiful red-haired telepath named Jean Grey. He’s Captain America with a hot girlfriend and a handicap.

1. Peter Parker

Peter Parker is popular for one reason. He’s the character identified with most by every geek in the world. Spider-man is who I would be if I gained powers. Smart, thoughtful and well meaning, with a biting sense of wit that keeps the World from crushing him. I am Peter Parker.

Buffy: My Favorite Episodes

If we lived in Joss Whedon’s world, you might call me List Guy.  I love lists.  Don’t know why.

Joss Whedon is one of my heroes, and though I mourn the end of his run on Astonishing X-Men, I’m excited that he has a new show coming soon.   Welcome to the Dollhouse, starring Eliza Dushku (who I’ve been in love with since Bye Bye Love), will once again provide my Whedon fix.   In light of that, I was thinking about Joss’ first show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.   I was a HUGE fan of the first few seasons of the show.   And I currently read the “Season 8” comic.   For a long time, Buffy was the best thing on television.  So I made a list of my favorite shows from it’s 7 year run.

10. Graduation Day, Season 3

There’s nothing altogether special about this episode, besides the moment when Buffy tells the Watcher’s Council that she quits.   It is note-worthy that this episode is in fact Buffy’s true moment of Graduation into the world of adulthood, if not her actually becoming an adult.   It also features  the final confrontation between Buffy and her former friend, the rogue vampire slayer, Faith (Eliza Dushku).  In a way this episode kind of sucks because it marks Dushku’s exit from the show.  But it’s a fun episode featuring the entire student population of Sunnydale High vs a giant Snake.   Fuck Sam Jackson.

9.  The Wish, Season 3

The concept of a dark alternate reality isn’t anything new in the world of Science Fiction, but it’s always fun. In the Buffy version, Cordelia accidentally makes a deal with a demon to make it so that the Slayer never came to Sunnydale.  Nightmare realities ensue.  Buffy is a hardened warrior in Cleveland.  Angel is held captive by The Master.  Giles and Oz are vampire hunters fighting a losing battle.  And Willow and Xander are sadistic vamps.  When she realizes what happened, it’s up to Cordelia to set things right… except she gets killed.

8. Becoming pt 2, Season 2

There’s so much good here.  What really makes it one of my favorites is the final moments.  Angel’s soul has been taken from him and he’s summoned a demon who will destroy the world unless Buffy kills Angel. Buffy battles him for the sake of the planet.  Willow manages to restore Angel’s soul at the last second.  And just as Buffy is about to send Angel to hell, she realizes that his soul is back.  He looks into her eyes with love, and she kills him anyway, having no choice.  She is left broken and alone, and leaves Sunnydale.  Destroying his favorite character is what Whedon does best, and this was classic Joss. The whole thing is heart-wrenching.

7. Hush, Season 4

The famous silent episode.  Demons steal the voices of the entire town so that no one can cry for help while they kill.  The vast majority of the episode is completely silent except for the soundtrack.  The effect is haunting, and for the first time Buffy felt like a true horror show.

6. Primeval, Season 4

Season 4 was about the Scoobies post high school.  The course of the season sent all of them in different directions and drove a… stake between them.   The penultimate episode of Season 4 brought them back together in a meaningful way, and showed that they were stronger together than apart.  The season finale was a more interesting episode, but I went with this one because it’s so reflective of what happens to friends after college.  It’s real.

5. The Zeppo, Season 3

Three words: Xander gets laid.  And by mega-hot slayer, Faith, no less.  My favorite character has always been Xander, simply because he’s the me of the Whedon-verse.   He constantly gets dumped on and never seems to fit in.   He finally got a girlfriend, and lost her because he was an idiot.   This ep shows how useless he is, and then proceeds to disprove it as he manages to save the town.  All of which is wrapped up in one of the best jokes the show ever had, as the Scoobies face down the Hellmouth demon… without ever showing it to us.

4. The Body, Season 5

Buffy finds her dead mother in this episode, and is forced to deal with life without her, not to mention the concept of caring for her younger sister.   What will really stick with you about this episode are the moments where Buffy and Dawn are left alone with their Mother’s body.   It’ll leave you with a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, and burning desire to hug your Mother.

3. Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, Season 2

It’s hard to top this episode.   Many of my favorites are Xander-centric shows, and this is the best of them.  Xander is in love with Cordelia, but she dumps him because her friends think he’s a loser.  So he casts a love spell on her, which backfires and makes everyone BUT Cordelia fall madly in love with him.   In some ways you would imagine that to be every man’s fantasy.   You’d be wrong.  The women go mad with “love” and try to kill Xander and Cordelia both.  It’s worth the price of admission just for the scene when Buffy tries, in the most sultry, seductive way I can imagine, to fuck Xander.   But I think what I love about this is that in the end, the underdog finally gets the girl.

2. Once More With Feeling, Season 6

It seems Joss loves musicals as much as I do.   So he wrote an entire episode as a musical.  The result is awesome.  The music was so good I bought the soundtrack.  And it also includes some of the most important moments of the entire season.  This was the lone bright spot in the otherwise depressing sixth season.

1.  Chosen, Season 7

I remember most of the series finale, but what really sticks out for me is the moment where the four original Scoobies stand in the middle of Sunnydale High preparing for battle.  Joss wrote this brilliant scene where the four converse in their patented Scooby-speak, going out as they came in, as the best of friends.  It was the perfect end to was of the best shows in TV history.

How to Tell if Your Man is a Dipshit

That’s right ladies. This is your all purpose guide to the Incredible World of Assholes.

There’s a lot of male dipshits and man whores out there. And yet you ladies continue to date them, seemingly unaware that he’s an unbelievable cocksucker. Well wonder no longer…

Your Man or Someone You Know Might Be a Dipshit If…

~He takes longer than forty minutes to shower and get dressed.

~He calls other men his “Dogs”, and especially if he pronounces it with a “Z” at the end.

~If he’s all ‘roided up and goes to the gym five or more times a week. Usually this means he’s hitting on every girl there. Dipshit.

~If you can’t tell a story about something you’ve done without him telling you he’s an expert on the subject.

~He seems to be playing “hard to get”.

~He has nipple rings… or ear rings… a tongue ring… really any piercing on a dude makes you a dipshit.

~Tattoos. Now, a tattoo in theory is very cool. But there is a lot of bad ink out there that pretty much is like a Dipshit merit badge. Relatively recent “tribal” tats or barbed wire tats are definitely entering dipshit territory.

~You can actually be kind of lenient on the last two entries, since some guys just don’t know any better. HOWEVER the combination of piercings, bad tattoos and and steroids qualifies him for the title of Grand Shithead.

~If he tends to talk about his religious superiority, and also…

~If he has ever tried to get you to join his creepy religion.

~He brags about the size of his genitalia or his number of conquests.

~He doesn’t tip at least 15%.

~He has a secret myspace account.

~If it turns out that he lied and those bad ass scars of his were not from fighting, riding motorcycles or jumping off something while drunk.

~He rides a Crotch Rocket.

~If he thinks only losers read the books because the movies are so much better.

~He writes nothing but erotic poetry (although making up dirty limericks is kind of cool).

~He takes Fantasy Football  waaaaaaaaaaay too seriously.  (Although in this case he may just need to get laid.)

~If he’s over the age of 22 and still gets drunk almost every night.

~He’s cheated on most every girls he’s ever been with.

~If he’s a grown man who owns a stuffed animal.  (My Eeyore doesn’t count.  It’s cute.)

~If he gets aggravated when his girlfriend has her kid around.  (Qualifies him for Grand Shithead status.)

~He calls his Mom by her first name.

~He’s a vegan.

~He still considers himself goth, and especially if he’s EMO.

~If he’s too busy playing World of Warcraft to fuck you.  (I know guys like this.)

~If he goes to Lamaze classes because “you know THEY put out”.  (Yeah, I know someone who did this as well.)

~He’ll tell anyone who’ll listen that “Bitches ain’t nothing but pussy.”  and he proves it at least once a week.

~He watches MMA fights and insists “I could do that.”

That’s all for now.  Unless one of you has something you can add to the list.  Please, let me know.   And again, one or two of these doesn’t necessarily make him a dipshit.  Anymore than two though, and you should probably dump him.