How to See Ireland in Five Days (Part Two)

Most people go on vacation to relax. I go on vacation to explore. And with only five days in Ireland– a country that I’ve wanted to visit for years– I decided to go all-out. The result was a full loop of Ireland covering almost 900 miles and hitting a dozen landmarks… yes, all in a mere five days.

You say crazy, I say awesome!

Part Two, covering Days Three and Four:

On the evening of Day Two, we drove from the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland to the town of Donegal in County Donegal, on the northwest coast of the Republic of Ireland.

Day Three dawned with pouring rain and a lot of cursing at the sky. We had big plans for Day Three, all of which were outdoor, and the weather forecast all down the west coast was nothing but rain, fog, and more rain. Well, there was nothing to it but pulling on raincoats and making sure that towels and spare dry socks were handy in the back seat of the car.

And off we went!

We had two sites to see today: the Cliffs of Moher, and the stunning landscape of The Burren. On our way from Donegal to Moher, we’d also pass through some beautiful countryside and break for food and petrol in the town of Galway.

But before we get that far, I’ll just end the suspense right here and now: we did not get to see the Cliffs of Moher. Because of a steep elevation increase, the top of the Cliffs sat dead center in the middle of a rain cloud, effectively cutting off any stunning views– or, well, views of any kind that weren’t white and wet.

Still, we saw some beautiful sites while driving and skirted the northern edge of The Burren before parking the car at the southern entrance and going for a short hike (rain be damned!).

On our drive to the Cliffs, though, we also found a couple of cool places to stop. Dunguaire Castle, just outside of the small town of Kinvarra, was a site we literally stumbled upon. We were driving down a small, two-lane road (ie, most of the roads in Ireland), and despairing about the rain, when we turned a corner and saw this cool castle in front of us! We both said, “Hey, look, a castle! Let’s stop!” and quickly parked the car.

Kinvarra was also a cute little place. We grabbed some food and walked through the quaint, colorful main street in the drizzle.

(And then it was on to the Cliffs, which was just depressing, so let’s fast-forward to the Burren!)

The Burren is a marvelous landscape, unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s almost other-worldly, with giant slabs of rock forming eerie vistas as far as the eye can see. There are a several tombs and dolmens in the park, although we didn’t get near these (it’s a huge park!). We did see a super cool wall, though!

The rain was picking up, so we wrapped up our hike and hit the road. Our destination this night was a hostel in the town of Limerick. We passed another castle on our way to Limerick, and couldn’t help ourselves… we had to check it out quickly. This was O’dea Castle, built in 1480:

(A note about the hostel in Limerick, because it was actually very enjoyable: Courtbrack Accommodation, which is actually college dorms that have been converted into hostels for the summer months. The gentleman who ran the hostel was incredible, and it was a comfortable and convenient play to rest our heads!)

Day 4 was most definitely my favorite in Ireland overall. We woke up to cloudy skies, but they cleared quickly into a gorgeous, sunny day that was just perfectly warm! And our destinations today were pretty darned cool: the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle (just outside of Cork), and the Drombeg standing stones!

So off we went.

Limerick to Cork was an easy drive, and we listened to the terrible Irish radio and passed some very cool scenery. On our way, we passed the Buttevant Friary, which was built between 1251 and 1279 AD for the Franciscans. It was an interesting place to explore– although a bit creepy as it is now a graveyard.

The sun pushed through the clouds as we neared Blarney Castle (home to the infamous Stone). Blarney Castle dates to the mid-15th century, and is in surprisingly good shape, considering how many tourists trample through it each day.

It’s a winding climb to the top, through several ruined rooms of the castle, and up some narrow curving stairs. We followed the crowd and joined a line to kiss the Stone of Eloquence, which legend holds to be the ancient Lia Fáil, where kings were once crowned.

And yes, I kissed the Stone. There was no way that I was coming all the way to Ireland, and not kissing the Blarney Stone!

Of course, the weather started to deteriorate right as we drove away from Blarney. Go figure! Our next stop was one that few tourists seem to know about: the Drombeg Stone Circle, at the very southern edge of Ireland. Dated to c. 1100-800 BC, they’re completely in the middle of nowhere, but they were absolutely worth the drive. (Note for anyone who may visit these: do your research! The drive is a bit tricky, and your GPS may not be very helpful. There is a sign for the turn-off, though!)

There are seventeen stones total, and unlike at Stonehenge, you can walk right up to these! I believe that human remains were found buried beneath the circle, although I’m not sure of the details.

Right next to the circle are the remains of two stone huts, and also a cooking pit. Dated to the same time as the circle, it’s amazing how much detail has survived. They would heat stones in the fire pit that you can see, and then roll them into water to bring the water to a boil.

Then it was back on the road, and heading north. We made a pitstop in Cashel for two things: to take a quick look at the Rock of Cashel, and to pick up a block of the famous Cashel Blue cheese!

We also saw a couple of cool ruins, and a beautiful painted church in town.

Back on the road, our final destination for Day 4 was a hostel in Kilkenny.

This was a pretty common site… a lovely old ruin just sitting in the middle of a random field on the side of the road. We literally couldn’t go anywhere without seeing a thousand-year-old ruin or castle just perched in a farmer’s field!

We pulled into Kilkenny, got settled in, and went to find some dinner at a local Irish pub. It happened to be a night of music and story-telling, so I had an Irish stew and enjoyed an authentic Irish dinner experience!

And then I went to sleep, dreaming of an amazing day and ready for Day 5 (our last day in Ireland).

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How to See Ireland in Five Days (Part One)

When you only have five days in Ireland (and Northern Ireland), there’s no possible way to see everything. But my friend and I rented a car and put the pedal to the metal, and managed an exhausting, whirlwind tour of the Irish isle, seeing everything on our “must see” list, in under a week. Here’s how:

Part One (Days One and Two), Dublin and Northern Ireland (Belfast and the Giant’s Causeway):

My friend Miranda and I flew into Dublin at 8:00 in the morning. It was a Sunday, we were jetlagged, and the weather was not ideal. While most travelers would have taken a “light day” to relax and acclimate, I was determined to get as much seen and done as possible!

The hostel we were staying at was mere steps from Christ Church Cathedral, so that was our first stop. We were a bit early to go inside the church, because of Sunday morning services, but we did get to walk around and see the gorgeous architecture.

We kept walking through Dublin central, heading towards Must See Stop #1: the Book of Kells at Trinity College. I have a degree in Medieval Literature, so I’ve always dreamed of seeing the famous Book of Kells, with its stunning illuminations. And despite a long line in the chilly, rainy weather, I was most definitely impressed by what I saw!

(No photography of the Book of Kells is allowed, so here’s an example I found online:)

However, photography was allowed in the rest of the Trinity College Library, which is good because it was one of the most beautiful libraries I’ve ever visited! Lined with old books, and with displays of ancient texts running down the middle, it was definitely a Lit major’s dream come true!

The rain really started to come down after our tour of Trinity College, so we grabbed a bite to eat and then headed back to the hostel. Alas, between the rain and the fact that it was Sunday, we weren’t able to see as much in Dublin as I would have liked. Still, the first item was checked off my list!

Day Two dawned with no rain, but low gray clouds hovering above us. We hopped in our car and drove north to Belfast, Northern Ireland.

(A quick fact: despite sharing an island and part of a name, Ireland (aka the Republic of Ireland) and Northern Ireland are two different countries! The latter is actually a part of the United Kingdom.)

We arrived in Belfast early in the morning and tracked down some breakfast at Nero’s (like Starbucks, only tastier) before heading to the Titanic Exhibit. I had no idea that the Titanic was actually built in Belfast, and the exhibit is a fantastic in-depth look at the ship from blue-prints to iceberg. It’s largely interactive, but in a way that’s captivating for both adults and children, and has eye-witness accounts from construction workers, engineers, and passengers alike.

Before we knew it, the entire morning was gone. We walked around Belfast’s Donegall Square (home to the lovely City Hall building) while eating lunch, and then it was back into the car.

Our next stop on Day 2 was my most anticipated for the entire trip: the Giant’s Causeway! Not only is this a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it also has a fascinating myth behind it: the legendary Finn MacCool supposedly built the causeway to battle a giant in Scotland! Maybe the legend is true… after all, the Giant’s Causeway definitely looks like something straight out of a fairy tale!

We spent hours here, climbing the stones and wandering around. There’s honestly something supernatural about the Giant’s Causeway; if you block out the tourists, you can easily imagine yourself in a world of giants battling giants, and of legends come to life.

Finally, though, the weather started to turn chilly, and it was time to leave. Now came the hard part of our whirlwind Five Day Irish Tour: the long drive from the Causeway to our resting point for the night in Donegal, Ireland. After a long day of driving already, another two hours on the road wasn’t thrilling, especially with the rain.

(And oh, how it rained. I know, I know, we were in Ireland, what can you expect? But my goodness, it rained the entire trip!)

And that was Day One and Day Two.

Day One: 0 miles/0 kilometers (Dublin)
Day Two: 257 miles/413 kilometers (Dublin–Belfast–Giant’s Causeway–Donegal)

Coming up, Day 3 and Day 4, featuring The Burren, the Blarney Stone, and more!

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Review: Much Ado About Nothing

I’m trying to think of the last movie I saw that was in black and white. The only thing that comes to mind is “Casablanca”. These days, most movies aren’t just filmed in color, they’re actually computer altered so that the colors are more vivid, more stunning, and, well, less realistic. So to go into a movie with no CGI, filmed in plain ol’ fashioned black and white… it’s quite a relief.

“Much Ado About Nothing” was filmed in twelve days, for the lowest amount of money that a movie can be made for– what director Joss Whedon describes as a “micro-budget”. It was actually filmed at Whedon’s own home, and the cast is made up of some very familiar Whedon alumni: Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof from Angel, Nathan Fillion (Firefly), Clark Gregg (Avengers), Sean Maher (Firefly), and many more.

The first time I read Much Ado was in university. I was required to take a Shakespeare class for my English Degree, even though my concentration was in Medieval Literature. I expected to suffer through a semester of comedies and dramas; I did not expect to fall in love with Beatrice and to cry along with Hero and to laugh at Dogberry. This play is what made me fall in love with Shakespeare.

When I heard that Joss Whedon was doing an adaptation of “Much Ado”, I was thrilled. As a member of the Cult of Joss, I don’t believe he can do any wrong, and look forward to his projects with anticipation bordering on obsessive. The fact that his next project was an adaptation of one of my favorite Shakespeare plays just made it even better.

And he did not disappoint.

Much Ado About Nothing is funny and sexy and gorgeous and brilliant. It’s a modernized telling of the play but with the original dialogue (shades of 1996’s Romeo + Juliet). While most people would have trouble understanding Shakespeare’s old-fashioned language, the actors in this movie make a translation unnecessary; their expressions and body language help us to understand where we would otherwise just be confused.

The play follows two couples: Hero and Claudio, and Beatrice and Benedick. The latter has always been my favorite couple– Beatrice is sassy and witty, and she uses her sharp tongue against Benedick, who she claims to despise. Compared to them, Hero and Claudio are just not as interesting; they fall in love, Claudio is tricked into thinking that Hero is not a virgin and leaves her, Hero faints, and it all ends happily ever after. Bo-ring! I’ll take Benedick and Beatrice and their sass any day.

Amy Acker plays Beatrice, and Alexis Denisof plays Benedick. Both appeared on Whedon’s Angel, and their on-screen chemistry is simply phenomenal. You can practically feel Beatrice’s scorn, and Denisof’s over-the-top characterization (ducking behind bushes and rolling across the lawn as he ‘overhears’ Claudio, Leonato, and Don Pedro; showing off for Beatrice) had the audience rolling with laughter.

But that’s not to say that Hero and Claudio weren’t sublime! Fran Kranz and Jillian Morgese were funny and relatable. And the rest of the cast was phenomenal as well. Nathan Fillion was the perfect casting for the incompetent and comedic Dogberry, Clark Gregg had the perfect balance of father to Hero and trickster to Benedick as Leonato, and Sean Maher was perfectly dastardly as John the Bastard.

This movie is everything you could want from a Joss Whedon film; it’s witty and funny, and even though the words are all Shakespeare’s, the script still has a distinctive Whedon feel to it. My only complaint was all the wine they drank, which made me thirsty!

I’d give it an A review, no hesitation.

[All images belong to Joss Whedon/Bellwether Pictures.]

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Armageddon Expo, Wellington, NZ

Back in April, one of my friends sent me an email: there was a rumor that a little convention in Wellington, New Zealand, was going to somehow get most of the cast of The Hobbit movies, and they already had some other super awesome guests, and did I want to go? Well, I’d just gotten back from Australia and New Zealand in February, but… yeah, I did.

That conversation turned into a two week trip to Auckland and Wellington, NZ, as well as Melbourne, Australia. New Zealand is one of my favorite countries in the world to visit, although I’d only previously been on the South Island. This would be a trip to the North Island for the first time, and also a chance to see one of my best friends who lives in Melbourne.

And the “little convention” that my friend mentioned? That’s Armageddon Expo, and it isn’t such a “little” event! The amazing staff at Armageddon Expo host events in Australia and New Zealand for fans of comics, sci-fi/fantasy, gaming, and anime, and the Wellington show was a pretty big one; thousands and thousands of fans descended on Westpac Stadium for three exciting days.

The event started Friday night with a cocktail party, which I was fortunate enough to get an invitation to. It was an intimate event where fans and guests of the convention could mingle without the chaos and noise of the convention center. I mostly stuck with my friend, but did get to meet a couple of really cool people.

Me with Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones and Stargate: Atlantis)

Saturday was the first day of the Expo, and I spent it wandering and meeting some very cool people. One of my favorites was Janet Varney, the voice of Korra from Avatar: The legend of Korra. She was beyond lovely, and took the time to have a conversation with every single fan who came up. I saw her at a panel at San Diego Comic Con last year, and told her how much I’d enjoyed the panel, and she confirmed that she’d be back at SDCC this year!

I also met Dean Rankine (a Simpsons comic artist), who I actually met at the Cocktail Party on Friday night. Not only did he remember my name for the entire weekend, but he was hilarious and genuinely such a nice person.

And of course, I caught a couple of panels.

The first panel was Sylvestor McCoy, from Doctor Who and The Hobbit. He moved around the room with such energy, going up to anyone who had a question and meeting them face to face, which I’ve never seen done at a convention before. He was so lively that I could barely grab a photo!

The second panel was Jason Momoa, who was Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones and Ronon in Stargate: Atlantis. I’ll admit, I didn’t enjoy this panel very much; Momoa doesn’t have the charisma with an audience that Sylvester McCoy does, that’s for sure!

After the Jason Momoa panel, I wandered around and checked out the exhibitors, and also some of the amazing cosplayers. I wish I’d taken more pictures of the fans… the costumes were unbelievable!

A lovely Thranduil cosplayer. The detail on this costume was beautiful!

 Some Homestuck ladies; I don’t follow the comic, but I was impressed by their costumes!

But it was Sunday that was the Big Day at the Expo. Because that aforementioned rumor of a bunch of Hobbit actors appearing? Yeah, that was true.

Somehow, through some kind of convention magic, Armageddon Expo managed to get (take a deep breath): Sylvester McCoy (Radagast the Brown), Luke Evans (Bard the Bowman), Adam Brown (Ori), Aidan Turner (Kili), Dean O’Gorman (Fili), Graham McTavish (Dwalin), James Nesbitt (Bofur), Jed Brophy (Nori), John Callen (Oin), Mark Hadlow (Dori), Peter Hambleton (Gloin), Stephen Hunter (Bombur) and William Kircher (Bifur).

That’s– count it– eleven dwarves, one wizard, and one human. Yeah. Yeah.

I’m not going to post all of my pictures here. I’ve already stuck ’em up on tumblr, and you can find them in three parts: Part One | Part Two | Part Three

The rest of Sunday was pretty hectic: autograph queues, more autograph queues, and, oh wait, a photo queue! I got a photo with me and my friend with the entire cast, and an autograph as well, which was pretty awesome.

And Sunday ended pretty fabulously: I got to meet Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa Simpson! I grew up watching The Simpsons, but my dad was the big fan, so I was thrilled to be able to meet Yeardley and get an autograph for my dad. And Yeardley was amazing! She wrote a hilarious note to my dad, and took a minute to chat with me, even though the line was pretty long.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend much time at the con on Monday… my flight was early (due to a screw-up with the airline, long story), so I had enough time to dash up and say goodbye to some of the amazing people that I met that weekend, and then head off to the airport.

Voila! That was Armageddon Expo for me! Wellington was lovely, and I can’t wait to go back, but I got to spend three exciting days there, and then it was off for a week in Melbourne!

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Hobbiton (aka Matamata, New Zealand)

Hobbiton is a real place. You can actually visit the Shire, have a drink at the Green Dragon, and run around like a wee Hobbit lass (or lad) under the Party Tree. Just hop a bus to Matamata, New Zealand, a cozy little town on the North Island about three hours south of Auckland.

Backstory: When the Lord of the Rings trilogy began filming, they searched high and low for the perfect place to build Hobbiton, home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. They found it in the middle of a sheep farm, and set out to build an elaborate and realistic set, complete with dozens of round wooden doors set into the hillsides. After the filming ended, they destroyed the set. However, when they began to rebuild Hobbiton for The Hobbit trilogy, an agreement was made to leave the set up, and a tour company was established to bring fans and non-fans alike to the beautiful region. (In case you weren’t aware, I’m one of the former.)

I was lucky enough to visit a Lord of the Rings set on the South Island back in 2011; my friends and I did a tour to Mount Sunday, where the Rohan and Helms Deep scenes were filmed. The Edoras set there was destroyed, but it was still beautiful country, and we had a blast re-enacting some battle scenes:

Me and my friend Pete; October 2011.

Compared to that, Hobbiton is Nerdvana.

First, there’s the iSite in Matamata, where all tours depart from. That’s your first clue that you’re not in your average New Zealand town:

And then you hop a bus, putter your way down backroads, change to another bus (named, of course, Gimli), and into the Shire you go.

The tour takes about an hour and a half, and winds around pathways, up hills and over Hobbit holes. There’s laundry hanging out to dry, gardens full of actual ripe vegetables just waiting to be harvested, and every hole has it’s own unique mailbox, informing you of the profession of the Hobbit residing within. If you ignore the cameras and the blue jeans, you might just believe that you’ve stepped into Middle Earth.

In the distance, you spot a familiar door. A green door, round, at the top of the highest hill, with a large tree perched overhead. You can just make out a bench, sitting in the front garden. Your heart starts to race.

Bag End is fiction come to life.

(It’s also closed to visitors at the moment; with filming still being completed for the third Hobbit movie, there’s a chance that they’ll need to return to this set one last time; therefore, No Admittance!)

The path meanders back down, passing Sam and Rosie’s yellow-doored hole from the end of The Return of the King. There’s the Party Tree, with tents set up, ready for a birthday celebration.

Our tour guide leads us down a path, over a bridge, and past the water mill, where we end our walk with a cold brew from the Green Dragon. They have specialty drinks on tap, made just for this tour. Try the cider, it’s delicious!

Our tour guide poses with a couple of drinks behind the bar.

There’s time to wander around and take in the detail of the pub. It’s amazing to realize how much work went into this building; this Green Dragon is not the same one that appeared in The Lord of the Rings, and won’t (as far as I’m aware) appear in The Hobbit, so it’s existence is solely for tourism use. And yet it’s as detailed as a real pub straight out of Peter Jackson’s imagination.

(Trivia tidbit: the original Green Dragon was actually burned down for a scene in the LotR movies.)

And then the tour had to come to an end. There was reluctance on everyone’s faces; no one wanted to leave this magical place! Our guide told us a funny story about a tourist she had recently: a European gentleman, over six feet tall, arrived dressed as a Hobbit. He was such a diehard fan that he refused to leave the set when the tour had concluded, proclaiming that he had found his home. They were finally able to coax him onto the last departing bus of the day! Funny as the story was, I think we could all relate a bit; none of us would mind spending a few more hours.

We passed a few signs as we headed back to our trusty tour bus, Gimli.

And that was my journey to Hobbiton. A stunning place, and highly recommended for anyone who’s a fan of the books or the movies (or both!). In fact, there was a woman in our group who had never seen the movies (she was with her father, who was a fan), and even she agreed that it was an incredible tour. And because the company is so fantastic, and their guides are so friendly, I have to promote the company that runs these tours: Hobbiton Movie Set Tours. (If you’re on the South Island, check out the Edoras tour through Hassle Free Tours!)

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A Day in Auckland, NZ

I’ve been so busy traveling around that I’ve not had time to get a blog post together over the last week and a half. I’m currently in Melbourne, but I flew in early last week to Auckland, which has quickly become one of my favorite places in the world.

Originally I was scheduled to have two days in Auckland, before heading down to Matamata for a “Hobbit” filming location tour, and then on to Wellington. But those plans were foiled by bad weather and missed connections… so instead of the first day in Auckland, I spent six hours on the runway of Melbourne after being diverted due to very bad fog in Sydney, and then four more hours after missing my connection to Auckland.

But after much drama, I did arrive in Auckland, and got to spend one very lovely day in the city. There were two things on my “must see” list: Mt. Eden, and the Auckland Domain. Both are extinct volcanos, and the former is one of the highest points in the Auckland region.

Not only is Mt. Eden (also known as Maungawhau) a beautiful place, it also offers a stunning view of downtown Auckland.

It was a decent hike up to the top of the mountain, but nothing too difficult. A lot of people drive up to the top, but walking gives you a stunning 360-degree view of Auckland as you circle up the mountainside.

After visiting Mt. Eden, I headed back into the city for lunch, and then out to the Auckland Domain. It was luckily a very nice autumn day, and the sun was shining, so I spent the time walking around and people-watching. I didn’t really feel the need to pull my camera out here, although I did snap a couple of pictures of the changing leaves.

The park is not as elaborate as the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, but there’s a museum on one end, the Auckland Hospital on another, and lots of flowers, rolling hills, and ponds in between.

The sun was starting to set, so I headed back into the city for some wandering and dinner. The Auckland CBD (central business district) has a bit of a European feel to it architecturally, but the city is so diverse that you can find just about any type of food. And the people are incredibly nice; go into a shop and strike up a conversation with one of the employees, or find a bench to eat on and chat with the people next to you.

The Auckland Sky Tower is the tallest structure in Auckland, although I didn’t bother to go up in it.

I also found the Auckland Town Hall, which is right next to Aotea Square… a good spot to sit on the steps with a warm drink and check out some art, and watch teenagers try not to fall off their skateboards.

With an early morning ahead of me (I had an 8am bus to Matamata scheduled), I headed back to my hostel and crashed for the night. I wish I’d had more time in Auckland to explore the waterfront and get out of the CBD more, but that will have to wait for my next trip!Next post: Matamata, NZ, aka Hobbiton!

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Proof of Insanity

In case you needed proof that I’m insane, here’s a map of my flights over the next 50 or so days:

Leg 1 has already occurred (I’m currently in hot-and-muggy Orlando, FL). Leg 2 and 3 will happen about 6 hours apart from each other, this upcoming Sunday.

Flights 3-9 are New Zealand and Australia, which I’ve dubbed “a trip to Middle Earth”. Flights 10-12 are Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Wales, also known as “two Doctor Who fangirls invade Cardiff”, and 13-14 are, of course, San Diego Comic Con.

Miles already traveled: 983
Total miles to be traveled: 33,933

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Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

A review of the new Star Trek film, featuring excellent character interactions, beautiful images, and… not a whole lot else of any worth. Of course, spoilers lie within.

My first reaction is that Into Darkness is basically just a Michael Bay movie with more lens flare. It’s a movie about things exploding, spaceships zooming around, down-and-dirty fist fights, and, yes, more explosions. The plot moved hard and fast, with barely a second to catch your breath and process what had just happened.

But that implies that it wasn’t an enjoyable movie. I did enjoy it, more than I expected to. I’d seen a lot of negative reviews, and a lot of upset fan reactions, before seeing it myself. And I can see why people are upset; the whitewashing of Khan, the sexism.

But despite that, it was fun. I like explosions. I like action movies. But I was hoping for more from Star Trek; after all, the television series gave us the first interracial kiss on TV, showed us men wearing mini-skirts, and generally pushed the boundaries of social and gender norms of the time.

Anyways, I’ll start with the things that I did like:

1. The scenery. This was a visually stunning movie. From the red forests of Nibiru to the gorgeous uniforms, everything about this movie made me believe that a lot of time and effort were put into the details. The elegant blue warp trails, the futuristic London and San Francisco cityscapes, and the uplifting scene with the Enterprise rising above the clouds… I didn’t want to blink for fear of missing another beautiful image!

2. The character interactions. Oh, where to start on this! Kirk and Spock were fantastic together, each one balancing the other. They’re not enemies anymore, but they’re still not friends at the beginning of this movie. It takes the events of Into Darkenss to bring them both together as true friends, instead of just comrades.

And Spock and Uhura were one of my favorite moments of the movie: Uhura, who is so emotional, against Spock, who is so desperate to hold his emotions in. The scene where Uhura is desperate to know if Spock has made it alive from Nibiru, and then her transition from terror to relief to upset seemed so very real to me; Spock must be a very frustrating man to love! The scene in the elevator between Uhura and Kirk was hilarious, though!

I wish there had been more development between Kirk and Carol Marcus. Turning Carol into a weapons specialist was strange (she was originally a biologist, if I recall correctly), but I didn’t get any sense of chemistry between them. Which would be okay, except I honestly believe that the directors were trying to imply that there was relationship potential there… but all I picked up was a creepy leering Kirk and a not-at-all-interested Carol.

Is now a good time to mention the completely unsubtle underwear scene? At least Damon Lindelof recognizes that it wasn’t cool.

But what didn’t I like?

I won’t go into the decision to cast Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan. I like Cumberbatch; I’m a big Sherlock fan, and I think he’s a great actor. I disagree with the decision to cast a white man as an Indian character. But plenty of other people have already discussed this far more eloquently than I can.

I disliked the pacing. The movie moved too fast; too much was going on. It made the movie feel rushed, and I didn’t feel satisfied because I didn’t get time to process and absorb.

And I actually really disliked the scene with Kirk and Spock at the end, a reversal from Wrath of Khan.

I liked the sentiment behind it; I liked that Kirk and Spock had evolved to the point where Spock would genuinely be sad to see Kirk die. But I thought the scene itself was hokey. It was a rip-off. For a series that’s all about rebooting the original into something new, it wasn’t very unique. And I seriously doubt that a single member of the audience thought Kirk was actually going to die, so it was hard to feel sad!

My rating: B-

It was a fun movie. It wasn’t a good movie, but I enjoyed it. Two hours of explosions is rarely a bad way to spend my afternoon, although I think Star Trek should be a little bit more than mindless entertainment.

Last but not least, this Spoiler FAQ from io9 is hilarious. A bit harsh, but completely valid in a lot of their points about the ridiculous plot decisions in the movie.

[all photos belong to Paramount.]

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Dallas Comic Con

I’m currently in between trips (California and Orlando), and have found myself in Dallas, TX for five days. My intention for this layover was to see my family, do a ton of laundry, and maybe catch the new Star Trek movie. Instead, I discovered only a day before my flight that this weekend happened to be Dallas Comic Con at the Irving Convention Center!

Not only was it going to be a great event with some of my favorite actors (Richard Dean Anderson! Nathan Fillion and Adam Baldwin from Firefly! John Noble and Jasika Nicole from Fringe!), but it was only 15 minutes from my parents’ house. And so, this past Sunday, I found myself forking over $30 for a neon yellow wristband, and joining the queue* to go to DCC.

(* the DCC manager came out to apologize for the long line at one point. I could only laugh; I waited a whole hour in line, which any SDCC attendee will tell you is nothing!)

The first thing I learned was that Nathan Fillion had canceled his appearance for health reasons. Huge disappointment! But there was still a lot to see at the convention, including a few panels that caught my eye.

I wandered the floor of the Expo Hall and found some awesome cosplayers:

And then headed into the panel room for my first panel, which was Star Trek: TNG featuring Levar Burton, Brent Spiner, and Gates McFadden.

They told great stories about how they came to audition for the roles (and how Brent Spiner almost walked out of the auditions because he’d prepared to read for Data, but was then asked not to!) and how their feelings about the show changed throughout the series. Some of the fan questions were kind of weird, though; I think I’ve been spoiled by San Diego Comic Con, where they screen all of the questions that are asked in each panel!

After the TNG panel was Adam Baldwin. While Nathan Fillion was at home with a bad eye infection, he did call Adam partway through the panel to describe on speaker phone, in detail, how nasty his eye was. (“Do you remember the time you left gummy worms all over my truck and they melted in the heat?” Nathan asked. Adam laughed at the memory. “Yeah, I remember.” “THAT’S WHAT MY EYE LOOKS LIKE RIGHT NOW!”)

Adam also talked about his new show that comes out next summer, called “The Last Ship” (on TNT), and about other projects that he’d done in the past. Someone asked him about doing stunt work, which got us a great story about his stunt double on Firefly. And at the end of the panel, he led the room in the Ballad of Serenity (when the show was on the air, he and his family used to sing it at the start of each episode together… awww!).

I’m kinda glad that Nathan wasn’t there, because it was great to have a panel with just Adam on it. And as much as I love Nathan Fillion, he does tend to steal the show!

After the Adam Baldwin panel, I found a trio of Browncoats wearing their Jayne hats, and had to snap a picture:

(If the words “Browncoats” and “Jayne hats” mean nothing to you, you are probably reading the wrong blog.)

And then the last panel of the day that I wanted to go to was the Stargate panel with Richard Dean Anderson and Tony Amendola. I hadn’t seen RDA since San Diego CC several years ago, but I remembered him as being a hilarious panelist, and wasn’t disappointed in that.

Unfortunately, the fans in this panel were pretty terrible… some questions were asked in very poor taste, which made the audience uncomfortable and clearly upset the panelists, although they tried to laugh it off. I wish fans would think before they ask inappropriate questions!!

RDA really dominated, which I think is to be expected; he doesn’t usually make con appearances, and he was the star of Stargate: SG-1 for several years, as well as being best-known for MacGyver.

Still, I think the bad fan questions spoiled this panel for me, and I didn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to.

The con was starting to wind down, and I decided to walk around a bit before heading home. I got to meet the very lovely Jasika Nicole (Astrid from Fringe), and also found some great cosplayers:

A brilliant Daenerys Targaryen; this cosplayer put her costume together in only a couple of hours after seeing the previous week’s episode!

A DC heroes-versus-villains cosplay group

So ends my unexpected day of Geekery at the Dallas Comic Con! Apologies for the poor picture quality; I used a camera that I don’t prefer to use, and the result is… bleh. Two more days until the next trip!

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Visiting Google

Yesterday I got to visit the Google campus to have lunch with my good friend Pablo. I’ve spent the last few weeks in Palo Alto, CA (one town over from Mountain View, where Google is headquartered), staying with Pablo and his awesome family. Pablo and I actually met at the South Pole, when we both worked there in the Summer 2010-2011 season, but he’s back in the Bay Area and is kind enough to offer me his guest room whenever I pass through.

A couple of friends asked me what the campus was like after I visited Google for the first time last year, so I figured I’d snap a few pictures during this visit.

It was a gorgeous day, so we ate outside and caught up for a bit. I figured I should snap a photo of Pablo, as payback for all the times he’s caught me on camera for his own blog! (Pst, go check it out, it’s over here!)

Google has dozens of cafes scattered across the campus, and each has its own character (like Yoshka’s, named after an employee’s dog). We ate at the aptly-named Big Table, although there was another cafe just across the lawn.

The decision was made to walk for a bit after lunch, since it was so warm, and I got to wander over to my favorite Google employee… Stan the T-Rex!

When I saw Stan last year, the hoard of angry flamingos had been attempting to attack him… I guess he got hungry since then?

We ducked into a building to check out the surround-view Google Earth machine, which is an insane amount of fun. You can guide yourself around the globe, zoom in and out, and see cities and buildings as though they’re actually right in front of you! It’s easy to lose hours in this thing…

Google gets a rep as a magical place where everyone is super nerdy and super smart— a rep that’s totally well-deserved! I got to meet a couple of Pablo’s co-workers and learn more about some of the cool projects that are being worked on, like (which “develops technologies to help address global challenges”, among other things); I also saw a couple of people explaining the new Google Goggles (which are pretty cool).

After walking for a bit longer and petting some of the cutest dogs ever (Google is extremely dog-friendly!), it was time to head off. I borrowed one of the brightly-colored bikes and rode back to my car in style!

And that was lunchtime at Google!

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