DVD Review: Chernobyl Diaries

 

'Chernobyl Diaries' Is Like the Real Chernobyl, in That There's Nothing There

The characters, thin and stock to begin with, keep finding ways to be disappointing. Over and over, they find themselves in situations where they know they should run and find help from outside of Pripyat, but they keep getting distracted from this life-saving mission to rescue friends that have gone missing, to scream and cry about friends they find worse for the wear, or to investigate strange and scary noises coming from somewhere in the distance. Repeatedly, they muster up heroic courage to go charging—unarmed and unprepared—after a strange sound or vision, only to run away again when they discover that, yes, something unsavory was the cause.

Sure, they’re under fire from multiple threats. Before they realize that Pripyat might not be entirely abandoned, they find themselves on guard against hungry wild animals (mostly ravenous dogs but once, hilariously, a wayward bear) and the contamination that still exists in pockets in the site. (The characters carry a Geiger counter to warn them against high levels of radiation.) However, these forces pop in and out of the story at will, and they’re never used to build a feeling of mounting suspense or dread.

By the time the real boogeymen of the movie are introduced, even the location has lost its luster. The characters are lured into underground tunnels, abandoned hallways, and darkened rooms—they really could be anywhere. This is one of the few horror movies where the atmosphere is spookier and more interesting during the daytime, before any of the haunts have come into play.

Click through to read the rest of the review at PopMatters.

The Daily Traveler: Floating Hotels/Boatels

The World's Coolest Boat Hotels—And They're Not All on Water

From small and scrappy vessels to big barges, boats of all stripes have inspired unique accommodations—and I did a round-up of some of the most interesting ones for the Condé Nast Traveler.

A Room for London

London, England

Who says that boats have to float on the water? A Room for London's boat is docked on top of London's Queen Elizabeth hall at the Southbank Centre, looking out onto the London Eye, the Thames, Big Ben, and St. Paul's Cathedral. And though the boat—the design of which was inspired by the Roi des Belges from Heart of Darkness, complete with crow's nest—only has one bedroom, it's big enough to house an octagonal library with a huge selection of books. A Room for London was meant to be a temporary installation, but it sold out its initial offering of bookings. Demand was so high that Living Architecture, which created the room, is looking to see if it has a life beyond 2012, possibly in other destinations.


Click through to see the rest of the slideshow at the website of the Condé Nast Traveler.

Photograph by Charles Hosea / Courtesy of Living Architecture

TV Review: Elementary

'Elementary': Lucy Liu as Holmes' Sober Companion

...Moving the story to the States and changing Watson’s gender seem to be where the creativity ends for Elementary. Through the rest of the premiere, the show is intent on hitting all of the typical Sherlock Holmes beats. There’s a scene where he rattles off a list of personal details about someone he’s just met based on a few quick observations. There’s another where he leaves veteran police detectives flabbergasted by making headway in a case through a small detail they all overlooked. And there are many, many moments where Holmes acts rudely or inappropriately, ignoring social norms. These moments are necessary for Sherlock Holmes stories, but with each Holmes adaptation, they become a little less novel.

That lack of originality spills over into Elementary‘s visual style. Too often, it feels like it’s been run through the network TV cop-procedural grinder. The premiere’s New York City location, shaky-camera aesthetic, and easily digestible one-hour mystery made Holmes less a creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and more like any number of damaged investigators with superb mental powers, from The Mentalist‘s Patrick Jane to Unforgettable‘s Carrie Wells. (It doesn’t help that Aiden Quinn is cast as the show’s NYPD captain, recalling his earlier stint as Lieutenant Kevin Sweeney on another British import, Prime Suspect.)  At least Holmes spares us the seemingly unsolvable mystery from his own past that haunts him in the present, the only touchstone of these formulaic dramas that seems to be missing—so far.
 
But if Elementary is a standard detective procedural, it is at least well done. This is largely based on the strength of Miller, who brings a rejuvenating energy to a genre full of morose investigators. He has an easy rapport with Liu, even if it’s sometimes used in an antagonizing way. He may not be the best Sherlock out there, but he’s perfect proof of why people still feel the need to tell Sherlock Holmes stories 85 years after Arthur Conan Doyle.

Click through to read the full review at PopMatters.

The Daily Traveler: Unique Plane Liveries

 

Airplane Art: Eye-Catching Liveries that Go Beyond the Logo

Planes are not usually the most visually distinct modes of transportation—most of them sport the airline's logo and nothing else. But some airlines put a little more thought into the planes' exteriors or add special liveries to their fleet. I created a slideshow for The Condé Nast Traveler's website. Here's an example:  

KULULA'S FLYING 101

You don't need a flight lesson every time you get into a plane, but Kulula's Boeing 737-800 will give you one anyway. The plane is covered in helpful diagrams, such as an arrow that points to the captain's window and deferentially declares "captain, my captain," or one that points out the plane's black box before parenthetically noting that it's actually orange. (We'll let you figure out what "the mile-high club initiation chamber" refers to.) Get a closer look at kulula.com/flights/fleet/gallery.

Click through to see the rest of the slideshow at the Condé Nast Traveler .

Image Courtesy of Kulula 

TV Review: Boardwalk Empire Season Three

 

 

Seven curse words, at least four racial slurs, and a raft of other insults, ranging from “short pants” and “midget” to “breadstick in a bowtie.” That’s how Gyp Rosetti (Bobby Cannavale) announces his arrival in Atlantic City, directing his invective at Nucky Thompson, (Steve Buscemi). It’s a feat of virtuosic vulgarity, coming after we’ve already seen him gratuitously murder a Good Samaritan for a perceived slight—and then steal the Samaritan’s dog—so we know he bites as hard as he barks. Okay, Boardwalk Empire, you have our attention.


The show needed Gyp Rosetti. At the end of the second season, it was in the strange position of winding down and hitting its stride simultaneously. It had spent the season beginning to reap the benefits of more than a year of narrative build-up, as we felt fully invested in a number of stories, stories that were quickly developing. Then, just when it could’ve coasted off its accumulated good will and anticipation,Boardwalk Empire raised the stakes instead.


Primarily, it killed off major characters, including Jimmy (Michael Pitt). Now we have to think about the show differently. None of our favorite characters has protected status due to their prominence or popularity, and anyone can go at any time if it serves the greater narrative. (Please, let Margaret Schroeder make it through the end unscathed!) These deaths served other, more plainly narrative purposes: they opened up a vacuum of villainy. Nucky had clawed his way to the top and now looked unopposed.


But if Boardwalk Empire preaches one thing, it’s this: just when you think you’ve solved one problem, there’s another waiting in the wings. Gyp Rosetti’s introduction suggests that he’ll be a scoundrel every bit as violent, wily, and ruthless as we’ve seen before in the series, if not more so. By the second episode of the new season, he delivers on that promise.

 

Click through to read the rest of the review at PopMatters. 

I Become the Subject

Kari Ann Marquart of L7 Women's Magazine asked me to weigh in on the upcoming TV season.

Five New and Five Returning Shows to Watch This Fall

"Boardwalk Empire created quite a stir with its season two finale that caused many to be taken completely aback when the writers killed off a main character. 'The events in the last episode make it hard to wait for its return,' LaScala said. 'I have to just put it out of my head or else I get too anxious for the show to start again.' Watch to see how season three of this Prohibition-era television show plays out on Sept. 16th at 9/8c on HBO."

Click through to read the rest (and see many more examples of me stumping for my favorite shows).

Q&A: Ben Schwartz

I interviewed Ben Schwartz about his TV projects: Parks and Recreation, House of Lies, and Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja, but this was my favorite question I got to ask:

Finally, when certain people in this office are in kind of a down mood, it's possible they use this video of you and Zooey Deschanel signing "You Belong to Me" to cheer up. Can you say how that came about?

That’s amazing! That’s so sweet. That came about because my friend Sophia Rossi created a website called HelloGiggles with the talented Zooey Deschanel and Molly McAleer. Sophia asked me to do a video for them around the time when they launched, and I asked Zooey if she wanted to sing an old song that Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters sang from The Jerk. Zooey is a professional singer and amazing at just about everything, so I was so lucky when she said yes. She learned the song on her ukulele in two seconds. We hit record on Sophia’s laptop, sang it a few times, and picked our favorite take. I love that people are watching it. The trick is to get someone who is an amazing singer to sing with you, then hopefully she sings loud enough to make everyone forget that you are singing, too.

 

Click here to read the full interview.

 

Photo: DISNEY XD/RICK ROWELL

TV Review: Go On

'Go On': Matthew Perry's Sarcastic Charm

Ryan joins a group for people “in transition.” While so many new sitcoms in the wake of Modern Family‘s success are offering different permutations of “the family,” this one sets up early to showcase people learning to cope without theirs. But this deviation from the current trend doesn’t mean that Go On is devoid of all sitcom tropes. Ryan is all too familiar in a couple of aspects. First, he’s a diehard sports fan who can’t talk about his “feelings.” As the typical alpha male, he cracks jokes about his own tragedy and denies that he needs to grieve: “If I go see a shrink,” he says, “My dad would roll around in his grave. At last I think he’s dead. We don’t talk about that kind of thing.” He’s also conventional in his need for help.  Like Will in Good Will Hunting and pretty much every reluctant-patient-in-therapy TV show or movie except One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ryan finds the group helpful.

 

Click through to read the rest of the review at PopMatters.

The Daily Traveler: Where to See the Best Fall Foliage

Everything you need to know about Northeast fall foliage: where to find the longest season, the latest start, the most variety, the least crowded destinations, and the most intense color.

Where to See the Best Fall Foliage

The longest season:
New Hampshire's Lakes Region
When to go: Late September through late October
Why go: The secret to finding a lingering foliage season is steering clear of the weather that knocks leaves from their branches. "I would choose those locations away from the wind of the coast and at higher elevations," says Jerry Monkman, co-author of The Colors of Fall Road Trip Guide. This New Hampshire region—which encompasses Lake Winnipesaukee, Squam Lake, Lake Ossipee, Mirror Lake, Newfound Lake and Lake Winnisquam—is protected from the harsh winds of the coast and doesn’t rise more than 600 feet above sea level, giving you the best chance for a long leaf season.
Where to get the best view: Obviously, from the middle of a lake (pick one). Bring a kayak and tone your paddling arms. "You can see red maples along the waterways showing their bright colors on the trees, and then reflected down into the water as well," says Tai Freligh, communications manager for New Hampshire's Division of Travel and Tourism Development.
Insider tip: If boating and hiking feels like too much exertion for a good view, tour the lakes region from a fall foliage train. The Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad (603-279-5253, foliagetrains.com, $11 to $15) runs through October 21, and a two-hour round-trip ticket entitles you to a lakeside tour along tracks that were once a part of the Boston & Maine Railroad. Daytime rides come with the option of adding on a "hobo picnic lunch" ($10).

Click through to read the rest at cntraveler.com.

Photo: NHDTTD/George Murphy