Thursday, July 10, 2003

Matrix Reloaded

Saw Matrix Reloaded last night. What a disappointment.

First, the theater screwed up the projection, so the top 20% of the movie was projecting off the screen and so was invisible. Then they stopped the film 8 or 9 times trying to get it right, each time losing two or three minutes of plot, so the confused writing became even harder to follow. They finally got it down to 5% off screen before they gave up, so we watched the rest of the movie with everyone missing top inch of their hair. Everyone could have been bald, I would never know.

Second, the movie itself was badly directed and cut. The pacing was all wrong -- some of the fight scenes were intolerably and pointless long, for example. Why have a fight scene drag on for 20 minutes when the hero can, apparently, simply choose to fly off at any moment? It is illogical! And the writing made no sense. One speech by M, and the entire populace goes from frantic worry to sex orgy. Yeah, that could happen. And how come there were no old people or children at that meeting/party? It was just very dumb.

And there were a number of logical flaws in the basic writing. I admit that the premise of the first movie was weak, an old SF cliche from way back, but on the whole I really enjoyed the original. The writing made sense within its own logic, it was consistent and the mayhem was original. The sequel, by contrast, was confused and derivitive, repetitive.

The two things that annoyed me the most, however, were (1) references to things that hadn't happened in the original, but in the video games, so non-gamers like myself were left hanging, and (2) the explicit "to be continued..." ending. If it says "to be continued next episode", it television, not movies. Even Star Wars draws to some kind of self-contained conclusion at the end of each episode, but this was just lame -- tune in next $30 to find out what is happening? And even then, not really know unless you've seen the intervening video games?

Bite me.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Shubenacadie Photos

Following our trip to Disneyland, we went out to Halifax for a conference. While there, we went out to Shubenacadie Wildlife Park, and I snapped a few wildlife pictures. I also got a couple of good shots of squirrels in Point Pleasant Park. Nothing exceptional, but I was impressed that my little pocket digital (a Minolta Dimage X) was able to get even half way decent shots (the originals are much crisper than seen here, since I obviously had to compress the images fairly severely for posting on the web) and am quite pleased we we doled out the money for it. Since the camera slides easily into my shirt pocket or Mary's clutch purse (it is 3.25" x 2.75" x .75"), it is always with us. The convenience, combined with the instant feedback and the elimination of film costs, means that we are takiing way more (and generally better) pictures than a year ago.

Friday, July 04, 2003

Disneyland Part I

Disneyland Adventure

We went to Disneyland this year for a number of reasons: At five, my daughter Tigana was old enough to fully enjoy it, young enough to still believe in the magic (though on the flight down, she turned to us and asked, "So the princesses that live in Disney, are they the real ones or only pretend ones?" Quick-thinking Mom forestalled the crisis by shouting, "Hey, what's that over there!" thus allowing us to dodge that bullet for the nonce); with another baby on the way, this was Tigana's last chance for a vacation as a single child; Mary needed something concrete to celebrate passing her Ph.D. comprehensive examinations. The actual timing of the trip kept changing in response to Mary's Ph.D. program constantly shifting the timing of her comprehensives; advice we were getting from informants on weather and crowd conditions at Disneyland; and the necessities of our day jobs. In the end, Mary booked our Disneyland trip immediately after her comps, and immediately before a conference in Halifax.

When I say, "immediately after comps" I mean that literally: After two 8 hour days of examinations, she got in a car and drove with us the seven hours to Edmonton (we booked our flights out of Edmonton so Mary's parents could look after our dogs while we were away), and having thus arrived in Edmonton after midnight, went immediately to bed so we could get up the next morning for a 7AM flight to Vancouver, and hence to California. Considering that Mary was exhausted from months of holding down a full time teaching position, writing papers for her Ph.D. courses, prepping for the comprehensive exams, and then actually writing the exams, all while suffering the myriad symptoms of first-trimester pregnancy, well, this may not have been the most auspicious beginning for our trip.

Indeed, a couple of weeks before we were scheduled to leave for California, Mary's leg gave out. Mary has chronic back pain, but the pregnancy began pushing on the sciatic nerve, crippling her left leg completely. Mary was in tears to think her trip ruined, but it must be said that this complication turned out to provide an unexpected benefit for Tigana and I. Turns out, if one is in a wheelchair, one's family uses a separate wheel chair entrance to the rides, which completely bypass the regular line-ups. We had planned our trip before school lets out in the States, so we arrived during low season when lineups were still only 45 minutes to an hour per ride, but I don't think we ever waited more than five minutes. (Some rides have special easy-to-board wheelchair cars, so we would have to wait for the ride to cycle through to that car, or wait while another wheelchair party ahead of us took their turn, but compared to the regular lineups, this was as nothing.) Thus, it was not uncommon for us to do five or six rides in an hour, compared to others completing only a single ride in the same period.

This was not entirely appreciated by Mary, who was, of course, still stuck in a stupid wheel chair for much of the trip and in considerable discomfort. Whenever Tigana and I would go into one of the kid's performances, for example, Mary would have to sit in the back of the theater while Tigana moved as close to the performers as possible. Mary became quite frustrated being parked in front of blank walls while Tigana and I went off to climb a jungle gym or poke around some exhibit. And we discovered that well meaning staff and tour guides would sometimes relocate Mary three or four times before pronouncing themselves satisfied she was not in the way, which sometimes left Mary feeling more like luggage than a person. Being pregnant, in pain and nauseous no doubt contributed to feelings of abandonment, so the wheel chair was definitely a mixed blessing from Mary's perspective.

But Tigana and I reveled in the absence of lineups, our ability to pile up our souvenirs and packages on Mary's lap, and even short cuts through customs and various airport lineups. Thus, Tigana's first experience of Disneyland was very different than most kids facing the typical four-hour line-ups.

And I must say that Mary and I enjoyed the trip much more than we had expected. Not only did we have the satisfaction of observing Tigana caught up in the magic of meeting her various princess idols, but many of the older rides turned out to be extremely nostalgic for us, and we even enjoyed the new rides. We were particularly impressed by Aladdin, a full-scale Broadway-style, live musical spectacular , complete with the Caves of Doom elephant, the city of Akkaba, an elephant processional, and a flying carpet that zooms out over the audience. I thought it one of the best theater productions I've seen in years, though only 43 minutes long, the perfect length to keep the attention of kids like Tigana. We had great front row seats, so one of the camels actually came close enough for Tigana to pet during the procession scene. Pretty cool!

Disneyland Trip Part II

(Apparently, the trip report was too long to put into one post, so I have split it into two parts here.)

The other aspect of the trip Mary and I particularly enjoyed was meeting up with Adrian Fischer, former buddy of mine and currently Director of Entertainment Operations at Disneyland. I remember 20 years ago asking Adrian what he wanted to be when he graduated, and he talked at length about his interest in being a theater producer, perhaps on Broadway, and then pausing and saying, "either that, or maybe running Disneyland." Well, 20 years later darned if he isn't indeed running all the theater at Disneyland. He oversees approximately 1500 productions a week, including the aforementioned Alladin.

Posing with Adrian Fischer, Director of Entertainment Operations, Disneyland, in his Long Beach, California home.

Talking to Adrian was amazing because within five minutes it was like old times again; and Mary and Tigana took an instant liking to him. Adrian was full of amazing anecdotes about his experiences as a producer and executive, which Mary (being a management professor) found as fascinating as I did; and since we introduced Adrian as "The Boss of Disneyland" to Tigana, he was pretty much guaranteed a place on her list of favorite people! I got to spend three evenings with Adrian, which I felt a bit guilty about because he was of course working during the week and had house guests on the weekend, but it was the first time we'd seen each other in person in nearly 15 years, so what the heck. I was surprised at how easily we found picking up the conversation from where we last left off, and how comfortable it felt; or to put it another way, just how much I had missed Adrian.

It was also great seeing Adrian's home. He has an astounding place, with the kind of furniture and décor one usually only sees in magazines. I was particularly impressed by some of the pieces that Adrian had designed himself. (I asked, "Where do you find a carpenter to do this kind of craftsmanship for you?" To which he made the obvious reply, "One of the guys from Dinsey in his off hours." Well, duh!) I often wonder what happened to that old gang of mine, and Adrian is certainly one of the success stories.

On the Cheap

We did the flights down on airline points, so airfare was essentially free. We had originally intended to stay for free with Adrian in Long Beach (his home includes a guest suite complete with separate entrance), but in the event, Mary's first trimester condition required frequent naps, so we needed to be within walking (wheelchair) distance of Disneyland, so we opted to stay in one of the three Disneyland hotels instead. We decided to splurge and go for concierge service which gives you free breakfast, videos, and so on, and had a great 14th floor view of California Adventure (the Disney theme park adjoining Disneyland.)

The view from our Paradise Pier Hotel Room

Fortunately Adrian was able to give us one of his employee vouchers so we paid about half what the room normally goes for. And Adrian was able to sign us in to Disneyland for free each day, so that was another huge savings! But we still managed to spend a bundle. I don't know how most families manage it, but I must say I thought Disneyland provided value for the money, and was a much better experience than I had expected.

Trip Photo Gallery