The Daily Traveler: Botanical Garden Holiday Displays

From synchronized light displays to intricate botanical sculptures, these gardens are decked for the holidays

ATLANTA BOTANICAL GARDEN
Garden Lights
November 16 to January 4
The Atlanta Botanical Garden brings in 1.5 million energy-efficient LEDs to create its illuminated holiday display. Many of the lights are used to transform the Garden's most famous landmarks into holiday-appropriate characters; Earth Goddess, a giant topiary sculpture in the shape of a woman, is given strands of wintry blue hair, turning her into Ice Goddess, and a pair of 15-foot-tall snakes are don red and white stripes to make them the Candy Cane Cobras. Powering the 52 miles of light strings is Georgia Power, which uses green energy produced from renewable resources like solar power and biomass.

Photograph by Chris Kozarich

The Daily Traveler: Life-Saving Travel Tech

These Travel Gadgets Will Save Your Life

Travel can be filled with danger. From shark attacks to heart attacks, these devices can keep your journey safe.

Danger: Collisions
Why should skiiers and mountain-climbers have all the fun? Bikers can get their own protective airbags, courtesy of Sweden's Hövding. The bag is worn deflated around the neck, like a big collar. Sensors can tell when the biker's involved in a collision, inflating the airbag around the head in a tenth of a second. And, because it zips around the neck, bikers don't have to worry about helmet hair, either.

Click through to see the full slideshow at The Condé Nast Traveler.

The Daily Traveler: The World's Smallest Attractions



Tiny Tourism: 10 of the World's Smallest Attractions

Bigger isn't always better. These record-holding tiny tourist attractions prove that small things shouldn't be overlooked.

Mill Ends Park, Portland, Oregon

Size: 2 feet in diameter

If there were a park smaller than Portland's Mill Ends Park, it'd have to be a single blade of grass. The park is the creation of Oregon Journal reporter Dick Fagan, who decided to plant flowers in a hole that was originally intended for a light pole that never arrived. He dedicated the park on St. Patrick's Day in 1948, and claimed it was home to "only leprechaun colony west of Ireland."

Not everyone is in agreement about Mill Ends' title, though. Earlier this year, event organizers of "the shortest fun run" in the UK called it a "glorified flower pot" and said the site of their event—Prince's Park in Burntwood—should claim the record instead. At 34 square meters, it's at least big enough for three trees (named Faith, Hope, and Charity) and a bench, making it a little more park-like. Portlanders needn't worry too much: According to John Smith, Greens & Open Spaces Strategic Manager of the Lichfield District Council, "The council has no ambition to challenge the title of the World’s Smallest Park and is pleased to be the record holder of Britain’s Smallest Park."

Click through to see the full slideshow on the website of the Condé Nast Traveler.

Photo of Mill Ends Park courtesy of Portland Parks & Recreation, Portland, OR






DVD Review: Byzantium

Just in time for Halloween, a review of a movie about female vampires.

'Byzantium' Has New Vampires That Play by New Rules

...[Neil] Jordan also moves beyond the stage’s confines by putting together some strikingly composed images: a black beetle crawling across Eleanor’s pale face, a line of rich red blood dripping across white fingers, neon carnival rides glowing against a dark night. If there’s one good thing about a vampires that aren’t sensitive to the sun, it’s that they can walk around in the light, so you can actually see all of the art direction—from painstaking period details of the past to the dingy nuances of the run-down hotel where the characters hole up in the present...

Click through to read the full review at PopMatters.


TV Review: Dracula


This American 'Dracula' Proves to Be Simply Irresistible to the English

...But apart from these familiar names, this Dracula has as much in common with The Count of Monte Cristo as it does to its own source material. In this iteration of the story, Dracula awakens in Victorian England. He adopts a false persona—that of Alexander Grayson, super-rich industrialist from the United States, “as American as God, guns, and bourbon”—and sets out to get revenge on the old order that imprisoned him in a coffin for centuries and murdered his wife.

Grayson decides that the best way to exact his vengeance is through emptying his foes’ wallets. The adversaries inhabit the entrenched upper echelon of society, fully at ease with their “overtly grotesque sense of entitlement,” with their money tied up, of course, in the oil industry. Naturally, Grayson takes them on by starting a green energy company, harnessing the power of wireless electricity. His attack sets up the most insistent, and strangest, theme that carries throughout the series. It’s a sort of class warfare, with Grayson positioning himself as an outsider determined on destroying the established societal order.

He seems an unlikely class warrior, considering his vast fortune, but his opponents consider his wealth “new,” and so, beneath their own. This gives him some odd moral authority, at least in this show’s version of such things. Plus, Grayson has a fondness for outsiders and misfits. The most obvious embodiment would be his second-hand man, R.M. Renfield (Nonso Anozie), a lawyer who’s often misjudged by the old money folks because he’s African American. It happens that Mina is also a nonconformist of sorts, as too many male doctors underestimate her.

Wealthy and well situated as he may be, with friends like these, Grayson takes on some underdog sheen, applied mostly to his business dealings, along with Grayson’s acquisition of patents, testing of alloys, and uncovering of bribes. The couple of high-energy action scenes and bouts of bloody violence might be said to punctuate these more mundane bits of corporate espionage. While these scenes can be unsavory, they’re hardly frightening and rarely suspenseful...

Click through to read the full review at PopMatters,




DVD Review: The Bling Ring


...While Coppola doesn’t dwell on the situations that made the Bling Ring what they were, she does give you an overwhelming feeling of who they are: young, attractive, savvy, plugged in, and celebrity-obsessed. She scrolls through images of the Ring’s targets—Paris Hilton on a runway onDlisted, Lindsay Lohan at a court date on TMZ—then follows up with the Facebook photos of the Bling Ring members, often making the same poses. Even the celebrities’ bad behavior is mimicked; Lindsay Lohan gets a DUI, then so does Chloe. You can sense the characters’ attitudes towards these celebrities shift from admiration to a darker kind of “Why can’t that be me?” envy.

And if you’re looking for envy—or, depending on your attitude towards consumerism, revulsion—more than anything Coppola emphasizes the material aspect of Los Angeles’ celebrity culture. There are shots upon shots of enormous closets, with racks stuffed with designer dresses, drawers overflowing with jewelry, and rows upon rows of shoes in a spectrum of colors. Paris Hilton allowed Coppola to film inside her house—at the real scene of the crime—and it’s a good thing, because a fictitious version of the Hilton closet probably would not have been over-the-top enough. (A DVD featurette with Hilton gives a tour of her closet and house, complete with her backyard doghouse, modeled after her own, for her seven dogs.)

When Coppola shows these lavish closets or the celebratory club-going after a heist, it looks like a fashion photo shoot. Other times, she switches to a reality-show-style handheld, reflecting how the Bling Ring participants saw themselves—as the stars of their own series. Other times, she shows them as shadowy figures on green, night-vision security cameras, or how they looked to the outside world. In the most interesting scene in the movie, the characters barely register at all: the camera stays outside a celebrity home, and all you see is the lights flick on and off in different rooms as they burglarize the house.

The range of shooting styles gives the movie interest, but like her protagonists, Coppola has a problem with excess. The cycle of Googling celebrity houses, breaking in, luxuriating in other people’s property, and heading out to party repeats itself too many times in the middle of the movie, with nothing extra added except another celebrity name to the list of victims...


Click through to read the full review at PopMatters.

The Daily Traveler: Meet 10 Dream Travel Job Contest Winners

Some people have all the luck. I get to interview those people.

Meet Ten People Who've Won Those Dream Travel Job Competitions

Jauntaroo's yet-to-be-named Chief World Explorer is going to have some pretty big shoes to fill. Meet ten intrepid souls who have already entered contests, then campaigned, competed for, and won their dream travel jobs—filming, swimming, skiing, diving, and eating their ways around the world. Yeah, we’re jealous, too.

ASHA MEVLANA
From: Los Angeles
 
Winner: Viator's Dream Travel Job: Team Europe,July 2012–August 2012

Job duties: "Our job was to film these top-rated tours so that when someone goes to the Viator site, they can click on a tour video from our trip and get an idea of what the tour would be like."

What's one thing you learned on your travels? "Because we were only in each city for three days, we were constantly on the move and living out of our suitcases. I had a very large, heavy suitcase with a bunch of different outfits, shoes, etc. By the end, I had thrown out most of my clothes just to make it easier to run to the train, plane, or taxi because we were always running from place to place trying to not to miss our transportation to the next city. I learned to pack much lighter!"

What was the most memorable thing that on your trip? "On one of the bike tours in Amsterdam, I was filming while biking and trying to get all the shots I needed. And as I was rushing ahead of the tour one time, looking into the camera viewfinder, I crashed into a tree. I was scraped and hurting, but there wasn't time to be hurt, so I just had to keep going."

What happened after you completed the job? Did you want to stay in a related field? "I am a professional musician (electric violin), and, between tours, I have also been doing a lot of hosting work. I recently appeared on a pilot for the Travel Channel called Destination Showdown. I was hired again by Viator to film for two months in Asia and Australia this past year, which was also incredible. I even started a travel blog to start recording my journeys."

TV Review: Hello Ladies


The show gets at this theme by making smart use of its Los Angeles setting. Telegraphing Stuart’s loneliness through takeout dinners and microwave meals only goes so far. Hello Ladiespushes that mood even further, showing the isolation he feels in crowds. As he heads out into the wilds of the city, rubbing up against velvet ropes and bottle service, his not quite earnest awkwardness also serves as an indictment of Hollywood superficiality and club culture. But as Stuart tries to become a part of this scene, throwing over a girl he was chatting up for someone hotter, then heading back to the first one, as she seems, on second thought, more of a “sure thing,” it’s obvious he’s unable to navigate any social nuances, such as they are. 

He’s not the only one stymied by LA. In the second episode, Jessica tries to push her social circle by hosting an at-home salon, with plans for the group to listen to jazz music, discuss politics, and watch foreign films (her choice: Battleship Potemkin). Here she shows herself susceptible to another kind of artifice. When Stuart asks her to name her favorite jazz musicians, she responds with “The Loneliest Monk.” Still, her friends resist, preferring to discuss celebrity recipes they haven’t tried yet, but really want to.

Click through to read the full review at PopMatters.

TV Review: Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.


One thing the show doesn’t take from the Marvel movies, though, is their knowing tone. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is serious business. No one tries to imitate Tony Stark’s smooth-talking charm or Captain America’s goofy datedness. Sure, there’s a sprinkling Joss Whedon’s trademark quips. (“I don’t think Thor is technically a God.”/“You haven’t been near his arms.”) But mostly, the characters talk to each other like everything they’re saying is of paramount importance. “The battle of New York was the end of the world,” Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) tells fellow agent Grant Ward (Brett Dalton). “This, now, is the new world.” Such overly earnest dialogue casts a dour feeling over the entire premiere.

For now, we settle for Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), the leader of the pack, who’s an oasis amid all this peevishness. He delivers some of the same portentous lines as the rest of the cast, but Gregg is so affable and odd, he’s better able to ground them. He’s also most likely to follow up a government-agent cliché with a joke. “You’re asking me to drive the bus?” May asks him, unwilling to leave her desk. “I’m not asking,” Coulson responds. “But it’s a really nice bus.”

DVD Review: "Gimme the Loot" and "The We and the I"



Take Another Look at the Bronx with 'Gimme the Loot' and 'The We and the I'

It’s clear that Leon considers [Gimme the Loot] a personal movie. In his commentary, which his co-filmmakers drop in and out of at varying points, he discusses how certain elements of the story are rooted in his Bronx upbringing. Many of the actors in bit parts are people he’s known since high school. A great many others are regular Bronx residents he persuaded to be in the movie—for example, the man playing the owner of a pizza shop really is the owner of that pizza shop, doing what he does on a normal day.

Authenticity is also paramount for The We and the I, though it doesn’t feel as personal for [director Michel] Gondry. His film, on the other hand, is more of a vehicle for other people’s stories. He’s mentioned in interviews that the film was written in collaboration with students from The Point, an after-school program in the Bronx.

He had an outline for a script, then conducted long interviews with the kids to hear about their lives and experiences in their own words. Many of the conversations found their way back into the script, and the students found themselves playing characters with the same first names, based on themselves and their friends.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for any of Gondry’s typical magic. Outside the bus is a heightened version of the Bronx. The bus line, the BX66, is fictional, and wends its way through an unreal landscape. As the bus travels, the sun sets, going from mid-afternoon to twilight to mood-setting evening.

As daylight wanes, the mood in the bus becomes heavier. One by one, students reach their destinations and exit the bus. The real story of the movie takes shape and emerges as the remaining riders pare down. The antics and hijinx that mark the beginning of the film give way to something more serious, and it’s fascinating to watch how the movie develops as it goes on. 

Click through to read the full review at PopMatters.