Something About Floating

Note: I promise I still have so many entries about my time in Europe last year (I think me writing about it might espouse the time actually spent there). But this week there's traveling for work and other things that keep me preoccupied with real life. Still, could not resist throwing in my two cents on this guy. Travel Tuesdays resume next week!

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I saw It this weekend. Initially, my plan was to tack on my thoughts during the weekly roundup: Hey, here are some interesting articles on It. Also I saw it last week and liked it. But then that alone started to get too long. So, screw it, here are my thoughts on the latest Stephen King adaptation.

First, a warning - I love Stephen King. I love the worlds he creates, the familiar characters and King-isms that imbue not only his works but a generation he's inspired. I cannot be objective about this film. I wrote a whole thing about it. Also, I was first introduced to Pennywise, long before picking up a King novel, via that TV miniseries from the '90's. I rented it with a friend when we were probably 10 or so, right before I started reading the books. The show itself was as daunting as the book - two cassettes! The only other movie I remember doing that was Titanic. And that's Titanic! The series terrified me. And somehow, in the thirty years since, the character of Pennywise has become ubiquitous. And while I think this latest iteration of the clown might even be better, as far as evil creatures go, I can't imagine anything replacing the iconography of Tim Curry all dressed up from the miniseries. I mean, do we have Bill Skarsgard smoking a cigarette under an umbrella? No, no we do not.

But onward! First, I enjoyed the film. It was a fun, and scary, 2 hours and 15 minutes. As an adaptation, it seemed to capture the spirit and themes of the novel without getting dragged down with the specifics. And look, we're beginning prime scary movie season. I just want to be scared. And that certainly happened. In a way, the film has two parts - the typical coming of age stuff that is more Stand By Me than The Stand. And then there's the scary stuff, big spectacle after big spectacle as the clown inhabits the things the children fear most. And I know I wanted to be scared, but I vastly preferred the former. The scenes between the kids, just being kids, are so excellent. There are some complaints going around the internet that this is a piggyback, cash grab off the success of Stranger Things. Honestly, okay, fine. Netflix, give me ten episodes of these kids running around Derry, getting in rock fights with bullies and jumping into the quarry. So many scenes were just perfect, like the boys' total awe at Bev in her underwear after the swim, the quick rally around Ben once they discover him. I wanted so much more of that, just them embracing that magical time in the lives of children that inhabits so many pieces of culture, especially from Stephen King himself. And while the scenes and interactions between them were excellent, the kids themselves shined. Sure, there were tropes and the movie didn't have time to get much beyond single traits (there's the black homeschooled kid, the one who stutters and has a dead brother, the Jewish kid not really into it, the hypochondriac, etc.). But even with that, this may be the best acting and chemistry I've seen among a group of child actors in a long time. Even Stranger Things didn't have it this good. For actors, I really appreciated the kid who played Richie, the one holdover from Stranger Things. It will be interesting to see where his career goes from this. But my favorites were Eddie and Bev. Eddie's humor and earnestness, his need for affection and acceptance from his friends, plus occasionally going toe to toe with Richie for bawdy humor, he was continually a welcome surprise. Bev had this cool exterior, all winks and New Kids on the Block references. And yet she was so vulnerable and so ready to help anyone else who might need her. In general, compared to the child actors from the TV miniseries, the teens were a dramatic improvement, but maybe none more so than the actress who played Bev. Again, can't wait to see what she, or her cast-mates, do next.

And then there's the other half, the scary part. And sure, it was really scary. The clown was excellent. While I have nothing but affection for Tim Curry, this version, in part due to technology and budget, was much more magical, much scarier. It was difficult to tell what was Bill Skarsgard and what was CGI. But Pennywise should be this magical, larger than life thing. I mean, he can turn into a spider whenever he wants! As for the scares themselves, there were some impressive ones. The painting coming to life, the awesome scene in the garage where Pennywise comes out of the screen. All terrifying. I jumped, I gave sharp intakes of breath. But still, when this movie comes out and I watch it again on HBO Go or Amazon in a few months, I won't be looking forward to the screams but just the kids being kids, throwing rocks and reading about Derry.

And now all the stuff that really bothered me. But I mostly liked it, promise.

First up, my heart for a gray character. Everyone in this show is either really bad or really good. That's it. There's one scene where the gang is riding the bike and they hear the bully beating someone up behind some trees. Without hesitation, they drop their bikes and run to help. Could we at least have a moment's doubt? Or have Eddie take off his fanny pack so it's protected? Something to show these guys are anything but good. I know, I know, later they have doubts about the mission, but no one guys so far as to actually not participate. But there's all the other characters. Eddie's Mom, Bev's Dad, and Henry's Dad, all just complete and total assholes whose kids would probably be better off raised by the direwolves from Game of Thrones. The pharmacist can't be a complex guy who wants the best for Eddie but also has to follow HIPAA. Nope, just your run of the mill pervert. The most galling, though, might be the bullies. There are two sets of bullies - the girl bullies and the boy bullies, the latter much more prevalent. And they beat up, to extremely disturbing degrees, our heroes. Why? I don't know. The one guy's dad is mean to him and that's really all we get. The Stand, a literal battle between good and evil, had more moral ambiguity.

And now I have the nittiest of nits to pick - the score. I feel like great movie scores are usually unseen. They assist the director in what he's trying to achieve without getting in the way. The score here bangs you over the head - you're supposed to be charmed by Derry, now you're supposed to be emotional over the dead kids. And now you need to be scared! BE SCARED! INCEPTION NOISES, INCEPTION NOISES. That was the score, basically. Watching it on mute with subtitles might have been more successful.

Finally, I saw this as someone who has read the book, seen the miniseries, and read most of the other books that take place in the same world. I know the history of Derry better than I know the history of my own hometown. So I can't answer this honestly, but did they explain everything well enough? With horror, I think you can go one of two ways - put out some horrible evil and just leave it. It's evil, who knows. Or you can try to explain it away. In The Descent, for example, there are creatures. They want to eat you. The end. Even looking at Stephen King, the salesman who shows up in Needful Things is clearly very evil and very old, but the book doesn't give you his backstory. Or there's something like Nightmare on Elm Street that gets plenty of backstory. It, in the novel, gets plenty of backstory. There isn't a definitive description of where the creature came from but you get an idea of how long it's been around and what it's done, how the creature influences the town and impacts everyone living there. This seems glossed over in the film. I kind of wish they had either gone all in or not at all, with Mike and Ben's attempts at explanations seeming half-hearted. Maybe this is something that will be explored more in the next film.

Which brings me to my final concern - did they make a huge mistake in splitting the film apart like they did? The book and original TV series constantly go back and forth, from present day to childhood (though I do appreciate moving the action up twenty years; a little bit of Amblin for everyone), as the adults rediscover the memories they repressed as kids. And there was something really effective in that. One concern I had while watching the movie was a certain sense of 'and then this happened.' Each child gets their run in with It, seemingly at random and without connection to the larger plot. This isn't an issue in the book, as each character is introduced as an adult and remembers their encounters with Pennywise. So much of the greatness of Stephen King books comes from what he gets right about people, not the horror. And in It, he effortlessly demonstrates the power and strength in childhood, how kids can do things grownups could never imagine. And I worry that the second part of the film is going to miss that, as it's just a bunch of adults, as we struggle to remember the characters from a film that came out two years ago, that got us there. Or will the second part of the film be a mess of new material and recaps of the first film?

And here is the one thing I think the TV mini series may have gotten right - splitting it (because you do have to split It into two movies - thanks every YA franchise of the past seven years preparing us for that) when the adults return to Derry. Or does that make it too incomplete a story on its own, too much a setup for the next film? Outside of that "Chapter One" business, this latest movie could probably stand on its own, in case the studio decides not to proceed with another film (though given the box office, there's probably gonna be an other film, maybe even more than one). And the TV mini series definitely is a two-parter. But everything else is terrible. First, the actors. Neither the adults or the kids are particularly great. There is one seen between child Eddie and child Bill that was particularly cringe-worthy. I could almost imagine some PA off camera, mouthing the words, or a director instructing the kids how to move their faces to convey an emotion. There was no charm to the TV series. It felt like a chore, watching it. Where the most recent movie had its own wings, feeling like a true adaptation, the TV series feels like a copy of a copy. It reminded me a lot of the first two entries into the Harry Potter series, where the child actors aren't that confident or good yet and the director feels obligated to hit all the points from the novel, but forgets the heart and spirit that makes the books so enjoyable and important in the first place. Recommendation - don't watch the TV series. If you really can't wait for the next movie, check out the Wikipedia to see what happens to everyone or just read the goddamn book. Personally, I'm grateful to have a very busy week ahead of me and two book clubs already or I would be reading the thing for the second time right now.

And I am looking forward to the next film, my above-mentioned reservations notwithstanding. Until then, Vulture takes a look at who might play who. There seems to be a general consensus that Amy Adams or Jessica Chastain should play Bev. Personally, I'm fine with either, though I am concerned about the very different age ranges of the actors being considered. I can only suspend my belief so far and it's totally taken up by an evil clown for this series.

But maybe don't listen to me because It made shit ton of money this weekend, especially impressive given its R-rating, an overall crappy box office summer, and hurricanes pretty much everywhere. Side note - Reese's new movie didn't do that well. I'm disappointed - it looks cute, reviews were good, I like Reese, and we don't have many movies like that. But also I only had time and money for one movie this weekend and of the two, there was no question which one I was going to see. As for It, my personal perspective is just, it's been awhile since there's been an adult movie to really see in the theaters. Outside of comic book movies, what was there to be excited about this summer? And of course, it's a known property with a lot of affection. But really, at a time when this country seems more divided than it has been since the Civil War, when hurricanes are destroying lives and islands and reigniting the climate change debate in ugly ways, we really just needed to come together over a clown murdering kids.

But it's only getting better from here. The film mother! had a trailer before my screening of It (as did Disaster Artist, which looks amazing and may finally make me watch The Room) and I don't know if I've ever seen a trailer as aggressive. It promised me I would never forget where I was when I saw the film for the first time and suggested I pick up my tickets after watching It at the box office. I could see it in the same theater! It seemed a little desperate but guys, I'm already going to see it, chill. And then it's Oscar season and also Halloween season, as I try to stuff in as many scary films as I can. Gotta make up for all those times I didn't go to the theater this summer.

Finally, as long as my list of complaints were, I really had fun with this movie. It was the right amount of nostalgia and pulpy terror and just kids hanging out during the summer. But mostly, it removed that bad taste from The Dark Tower. Thanks for giving the King fans a movie we can celebrate.

September 8th, Weekly Roundup

It's Friday. There have been two, almost three, once in a lifetime hurricanes, and fire across the West coast, since my last weekly roundup. Good thing none of this is man-made. Donate and volunteer where you can! Please do something more than 'pray' and send 'good thoughts.'

Good wine, great bottle. Let me go read Moby Dick.

Good wine, great bottle. Let me go read Moby Dick.

Here we go.

Look, the Trump administration is a total shit show. And yet the person I find myself focusing on is Ivanka. Her faux feminism bullshit, her pretend liberal optimism. She is peak bitch eating crackers for me, emblematic with everything wrong with our brand-based culture. And then this NYT Op-Ed fell out of the heavens and beautifully summed up it all.

Let's talk about a real feminist and an honestly-intelligent woman for a second, Reese motherfucking Witherspoon. I've liked her since I saw Fear a really long time ago but I appreciate her hard work, her commitment to her woman-led films, and the work she puts into her brand. I think I'm being semi-hypocritical here - Reese wears Draper James as often as Ivanka wears those sheath dresses from China. But one is using the word 'Daddy' and turning an eye to the end of DACA and exit of the Paris Accord while the other is staring in a movie written and directed by a woman. And on the cover of Glamour talking about how woman should embrace ambition. I know which brand of feminism I prefer.

In other 'the world is terrible' news, a college professor is wearing a bulletproof vest to class as his students may be carrying guns. If we all start doing this, maybe we can make the NRA chill? No, they'll probably just start selling bulletproof vests. It looks like the Bill of Rights is missing the 'right to go to public spaces without being shot' amendment.

That rant came out of nowhere. For some good news, NYC is offering free public lunch to all students, the largest organization in this country to do so. Because feeding kids, who can't agree to that? 

End of politics, if you want to skip past all that. But before you go, Fiona warned us twenty years ago that the world was bullshit. She continues to be my emotional mouthpiece. And continues to be not wrong.

In a totally unrelated note, when I moved to the East Coast from the Midwest, my commute went from about ten minutes to about forty-five minutes (this week I had my max ever - 1.25 hours!). And in general it hasn't been the worst - time to plan my day in the morning, time to decompress from the day in the afternoon. Time for podcasts and audio books. But also time for road rage. And the worst might be those jerks in the left lane, going an absurdly low speed. And here's why that is really, really bad!

I'm flying in a few weeks, my first time home since moving. And since I have done so much wine tasting here, I want to bring home wine for friends and family. Here are some tips on that! I'll let you know how it goes.

I haven't posted here since the GoT finale (to sum up - I can't believe we're going to have to wait two years for the rest of the story). Here are some links. First, Pajiba points out all the really pretty scenes. And not totally unreleated, Vulture asks the really important question - were they supposed to be hot? And then, the fashion of Westeros. Dany's fut coat alone...

Finally, It premiers this weekend and my recent entry unearthed Stephen King feelings, so here's his films, ranked. And sorry Uncle Stevie, but I gotta agree with the brilliance of Kubrick's The Shining. Forget top King adaptations or horror films, it's on my top film list, period.

In Brugge

The title is a half truth - we're covering my trip to Bruges in spring of 2016 and my trip to Brussels in the spring of 2015. Seeing as it's the end of the summer of 2017, we'll see how this goes.

First up, Brussels. Brussels was my third weekend in Europe (after Amsterdam and Versailles). I was saving a few places for long weekends and visitors but I still have no idea why Brussels was so high on my to-see list. The EU? I mention this because I was still mostly a travel novice when I went to Brussels. Basically, I didn't know what the hell I was doing or what I would really enjoy yet.

I think I might have stayed in the European-est of hotels, still too scared to try a hostel at this point in my expat life. I arrived on a Friday night, quickly giving up on finding the hotel on my own and taking a cab. And good thing because even the cab driver struggled to find the place. The hotel was a very narrow building, the front desk something jammed in the corner of a crowded entryway, every still surface covered in traveler's brochures. The hotel clerk gave me my key - an ancient brass contraption that was not allowed to leave the building - and pointed me towards my room. I then crawled up a very steep and very narrow twisting staircase. At one point I went through a door and I believe changed buildings. Everything was dark carpet and faded wallpaper. Finally I made my way to my room, a twin bed shoved against a radiator in the corner and a very confusing bathroom against the door. The thing was in the attic, so the ceiling sloped and I had to be careful not to bang my head. 

And this was my view! Taken Saturday morning, the angled window in the roof looked out over a square that had some type of flea market starting very early on Saturday.

And here is the Peter Pan statue in Egmont Park. I didn't realize this at the time but this is actually a replica of the original in Kensington Gardens in London. Unfortunately, I just discovered this while putting together this entry. I'll add it to my list of things to check out next time I'm in London. Until then!

This statue was donated in 1924 to recognize the two countries' friendship during WWI. It became a Belgian historical monument in 1975

Palais Royal. Today, it is the office of the king - the royals no longer live there. The palace is beautiful but I was more taken with the park across the street, Brussels Park, a lovely, green open space festooned with scultpures.

More pretty green spaces - Parc du Cinquantenaire. The place is expansive, overtaken by a massive U-shaped complex. It was built in 1880 by King Leopold II to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Belgian Independence. Today, in addition to eye balling some interesting architecture and gardens, the complex also offers an art museum and a military museums. I didn't have time to check out either but I did enjoy walking through the park itself.

EU parliament building. The EU buildings were not physically far from the two parks listed above but I don't know that they could be any further apartment artistically. Brussels is the capital of the EU. Walking around the cold, glassy buildings, I was surprised to see lots of guys with big guns. After traveling around Europe, it's not so surprising any more. To be honest, guys with big guns were all over Europe. When I visited anything related to the EU or United Nations (Geneva, Strasbourg, Brussels), there were guns. When I visited anything remotely touristy after a terrorist attack, there were guns. Basically a Wal-Mart in Alabama.

And now maybe the prettiest view in the city - Jardin du moat des arts. After gutting the neighborhood, one of the Leopolds ordered the landscape architect Pierre Vacherot to design a garden to class up the place during the Universal Exposition in 1910. Intended to be temporary, the green area was popular and was recreated in its current form between 1956 and 1958 by Rene Pechere.

When visiting the area, I saw this place marked in my guidebooks but didn't think much of it. Coming from the concrete and sculpture square just behind the gardens to this view was dramatic. It's a lovely space and I took a stupid number of pictures from various angles.

And for some reason, Brussels most famous naked kid - Manneken Pis. The statue is in a corner of a crowded area, between restaurants and shops. I was worried I wasn't going to be able to find the thing. It turned out to be not a problem at all - just look for the crowd. My initial reaction - wow, that's a really tiny statue. And so many people!

Though officially naked, the little guy is usually clothed in some fun outfit to commemorate an event or occasion. There is a museum nearby to let you check out his extensive closet.

And now my favorite part of Brussels - the Grand Place. The city's central square is incomparable, with elaborate visages and beautiful guildhalls. I was there on a Saturday. In the pictured building, a bridge and groom came out onto a balcony and waved and everyone cheered. I thought it was a royal wedding or at least a celebrity. That is, until another couple came out twenty minutes later. Apparently this is a wedding option in Brussels - go wave on the balcony in Grand Place. All you need is a flexible time table and a lot of cash.

But really, the Grand Place is a great place for people watching and taking in some beautiful architecture.

In Brussels, I had my best fellow tourist story and my worst. First, my best. I sat and ordered Belgian Waffles for breakfast/lunch in the beautiful square. I sat there for a long time, looking at beautiful buildings and people watching. There were two women next to me, maybe ten years older than me, American. They were both living somewhere in Europe (I think the Amsterdam area) and chatting about work and shared colleagues. I wanted to be them. They helped me order a mimosa (some occasions just require a mimosa) and were everything I thought I wanted to be. Two single ladies, having a casual weekend in some European capital, like they do all the time.

Waffles! Okay, I had to. I was in Belgium! And they were delicious.

Galeries Saint Hubert. First mall and birthplace of consumerism. The place was built in 1847 and is still selling tourists cheaply made, over-priced goods. 

If there's not an elaborate cathedral, is it really a European city? I actually didn't get a chance to go into this one, just grabbed a pic on my way through with a tour.

And now for my worst tourist experience. I wasn't sure what to see in Brussels and was overwhelmed with chocolate options, so I booked my very first European viator tour.  On the tour were a group of American college students. There were maybe six of them. And find a foreigner and ask them their worst opinion of Americans and I'm pretty sure these kids are what they would describe. Loud, obnoxious, complaining about everything. They yelled at each other from one end of the bus to the other and bragged about how late they were out the night before and how drunk they got and all the other cool places in Europe they were going to go that summer. They bitched about everything. It was exhausting. I tried to hide from them and prevent them realizing I was also an American while making sure everyone else on the tour knew I wasn't with them.

But the tour, annoying Americans aside, was worth it for two reasons - chocolate and Atonium. Atonium is the most out of the way spot in Brussels and I wouldn't have been able to get there on my own, I just didn't have time. If you want to check out the site, plan ahead. The structure is a leftover from the 1958 World Fair. It represents an iron crystal lattice, enlarged 165 billion times. You can go into the structure and, according to my tour guide, it offers great views and excellent exhibits.

Chocolate Manneken Pis! As I said, I also did the tour for the chocolate. I had Belgian waffles, now Belgian chocolate. Our tour took us to Zaabar, where we watched them make a batch of chocolate and tasted as many flavors as we could manage. I spent an obscene amount of money on various flavors under the guise of 'souvenirs.'

After a long day around Brussels, I went back to my hotel, thinking I would just grab dinner somewhere near the hotel.

There were no restaurants. The two places recommended to me by the guy behind the crowded hotel desk were closed. After an increasingly-desperate search, I ended up at this bar a few blocks away. There was food advertised but they had stopped serving. So after a lovely brunch earlier in the day, I ended my trip with a beer and a bag of potato chips. But this guy was my dinner companion so it certainly wasn't the worst.

The Brussels train station. You'll know you're here when you see this piece of work just outside the station.

And now, Brugge! When I visited here in 2016, it was one of my first weekend-long trips after returning to Germany. It had been a city on my 'almost' list in 2015, a city everyone talked about as beautiful and picturesque, like you stepped into a different time period. So sure, let's check it out. I left early Saturday morning. In 2016, unlike 2015, I had a tablet. And guess what movie I had bought and downloaded via Amazon Prime? In Bruges! I'm nothing if not thematic.

And quick aside here - that was a lovely film. It reminded me of something like Pulp Fiction, but with more heart and Collin Farrell. Very violent and heartbreaking. I recommend the film in general but absolutely see it before you go to Bruges.

And my next aside. Bruges was honestly a really lovely town. It wasn't crowded when I went but I also went in February. I've heard from other people, and my own guide, that it can be quite touristy at times (blame the movie), so be prepared in case that happens.

Pictured above is the Markt, city center. I had lunch at the restaurant with the Italian flags! The food was just okay but the people watching was A+. The square was busy with people, street performers, and horse-drawn carriages. Near the square were several shops, selling whatever a good tourist might need.

I have no idea why people want to come here. Like Amsterdam, I have hundreds of these. Every turn, another beautiful canal with interesting buildings.

Ah! My eyes!

This canal and beautiful stone bridge could be anywhere in Amsterdam, Hamburg, or Bruges. Luckily, the architecture is unique in each city. This is definitely Bruges.

This building near my hostel was my favorite. The purple let me know I was almost to my home for the evening.

Hostel break! I stayed at a hostel somewhat removed from the touristy spots (but still walkable). It was a great hostel. Somewhat confusing, another building within a building type of a thing, but the vibe was homey and I skipped dinner in Bruges to go back to my hostel and hang out and eavesdrop on fellow travelers. Everyone was friendly and helpful.

Windmill near my hostel.

This hotel is close to the touristy center of the city. I took a boat tour and the tour guide happily pointed this place out as the location of Collin Farrell's big jump scene from In Bruges. I appreciate cities that have a sense of humor about their place in pop culture.

Swans. Here is where I note that swans were everywhere. No, really, they were everywhere. And they were assholes. Watch out for the swans.

I took a boat tour and I recommend giving it a try. It's a great way to see the city. Also, there were some canals that don't have any pedestrian vantage point and the only way to see them is from a boat. This horrible shot is the lowest bridge in the city. And it's no joke - everyone had to duck, including our driver/tour guide.

Beer and chocolate, because why not. This is near the Markt center, at a bar that had hundreds of beers available. A nice place to sit and enjoy the canal while doing the most touristy thing you can in the city.

A lace map of Bruges. A friend visited Bruges a few months after me. In preparation, she looked through my pictures with me. When we stumbled upon this map, she become obsessed. I showed here where it was on a map and she added it to her list of things to see. And then, after three days in Bruges, never found it.

Honestly, I have no idea how this is possible. The map is something I practically tripped over when walking from the train station to the main tourist square. And then I passed it at least three more times during my two days in Bruges. So, it's there. And should be easy to fine. It is exactly as described - a map of the city and it's major spots, made of lace. Go check it out, why not.

I went to two museums while I was in Bruges, an art museum and a chocolate museum. The art museum was interesting and had a special exhibit on witch art. This terrifying black and white piece was at the entrance to the exhibit. Not pictured is the chocolate museum. Because it was terrible. The place seemed hastily thrown together, an obvious cash grab to lure in tourists. But hey, it was cheap and gave me something to do while I waited for my boat tour.

Finally, more beer. One of the local breweries offers a tour. The tour itself was fun, getting a behind the scenes peak at the process. Even better was the view from the top of the brewery, an excellent vantage point for all of Bruges, and the free beer afterwards.