A.D.M. Was Here: Athens, Greece

The bus from Sofia brought me into Greece and, after a pit stop in Thessaloniki, I went straight down to Athens where I stayed for two nights (i.e., more than I’d stayed in the previous three countries combined). I spent these nights in the Apollo Hotel which was reasonably priced and only a short subway ride to the city’s main attraction: the hills and temples of (and around) the Acropolis.

Now that I think about it, I may actually have gone from Bulgaria into Greece on Christmas Eve as opposed to Christmas day. Anyway—

After finally getting some rest in a proper bed (and not the Train from Hell as described in my last post), I took the subway in the A.M. to Acropoli station and began to explore. The first place I tried to get into was the Acropolis to see the Parthenon, but the place was closed for Christmas.

It wasn’t a big deal, though, I just had to come back the next day; there was still a lot of Athens to see. Somewhat aimlessly, I wandered southeast to the Arch of Hadrian and followed the road up to Zappio Megaro where there were a bunch of people doing holiday stuff, and tiny horses which now reminds me of Parks and Recreation:

Athens 00

Arch of Hadrian. Not to be confused with the other ones in Italy or Jordan, or Hadrian’s Wall in Northern England (aka The Wall keeping out the Wildlings).

Athens 01

The view of Temple of Olympian Zeus… from over a fence.

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A.D.M. Was Here: Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Bucharest, Sofia

To reflect the way I rushed through these cities, I’m squeezing them all into a single post (secondary motive: to finish writing about my prior travels a bit faster; there are still a number of countries to get through).

Prague, Czech Republic

A friend from law school, let’s call him Mr. Sarcastic, let me stay at his family’s place in a quiet part of the city. He picked me up at the train station and we took some sort of public transit to their family’s apartment where we kicked his younger sister out of her bedroom. I took my Mr. Sarcastic’s crappy bed, he took his sister’s considerably fluffier bed, and she was banished to the couch in the living room. Not my idea.

Longest escalator I've ever seen.

Prague Station’s escalator is probably the longest I’ve ever seen.

After leaving my bags at the apartment and before going out for the night, I ate some random food Mr. Sarcastic’s mom set out for me (ham cold cuts, I think). My friend’s mom, through my friend as a translator, gave me advice not to drink any liquor due to recent incidents of counterfeit stuff in the region causing people to go blind.

So, Mr. Sarcastic gave me on a night tour of some areas of the city. It was getting close to Christmas so there wasn’t much partying going on; but there were holiday decorations and a Christmas market. We finished the night by drinking a bit at some club called Karlovy Lazne.

Prague at Night 01

Prague at Night 02

The next morning, Mr. Sarcastic brought me to see Prague Castle and its hodgepodge of architectural forms. If I recall correctly, the variations are due to the fact that Prague was a major seat of power for a long period of time, which brought a broad range of intellectuals there, including architects.

Prague 01

St. Vitus Cathedral

St. Vitus Cathedral

St. Vitus Cathedral's interior.

St. Vitus Cathedral’s interior.

While I did some touristy stuff at St. Vitus Cathedral, Mr. Sarcastic ran off to the post office (I think). It began snowing while I waited for the dingus to comeback (actually, it was nice).

Prague St Vitus Cathedral 03

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Sense8 – Season 1 – Diverse & Fun Despite Iffy Pacing

Sense8

The first season of Sense8, for the most part, is action and emotion-fueled entertainment. The biggest problem is the pacing of individual episodes and, perhaps, of the entire season.

For those who don’t know, it’s about people who live in entirely different parts of the world but whose minds are linked so they can get essentially experience each other’s lives, and then some. The primary theme seems to be diversity, similarity and inter-connectivity; that despite our differences, we are the same where it matters, in our capacity to feel. Well, that’s what I surmised knowing the premise and watching the first episode (haven’t changed my mind after finishing the season).

Warning: There are some *SPOILERS* below.

Action aka Deus Ex Machina

Hands-down, some of the most satisfying scenes are the action sequences wherein the sensates, the mind-linked folks, hand over control of their bodies to one another to beat up the bad guys. Though this is sort of a repeatedly used deus ex machina in the show, used so the characters who can’t fight can get out of difficult situations, it’s still satisfying to watch due to the superb tension building.

sense8action

“I’ll chop you good” (not actual dialogue from the show, in case you were wondering).

Super Diversity

It’s obvious that the Wachowski Siblings (I didn’t know they’d stopped going by the “Wachowski Brothers” until I started watching this show) and Straczynski intended to fill the cast with characters of varying gender, sex, race and nationality. This is also reflected in the settings which, going from the most western countries first, includes: the United States, Mexico, Iceland, England, Kenya, India and South Korea (I’ve been to five of these seven; sorry, couldn’t avoid mentioning it).

Despite the great range of representation, the Wachowskis play it somewhat safe by having the season’s finale center around a straight, white cisgender couple (with the male being American to boot). While there are other sex/gender/race romances prominently featured, given the heavy doses of diversity throughout Sense8, I was surprised that the finale focused on the old school pairing. Sadly, this particular couple felt like the least developed of all the romances.

sense8maincharacters

Yep. That’s pretty diverse.

Iffy Pacing

Let’s just get this out of the way. The pacing, at times, isn’t perfect. Having so many characters to juggle makes pacing very difficult. Given the number of main characters, the show does a decent job but is far from perfect.

Feels odd to say, but the pacing might have worked better if there were commercial breaks so the abrupt transitions between the mini-climaxes and slow build-up scenes wouldn’t be so pronounced.

The first episode dragged on with a lot of exposition, jumping from one sensate character to another. This made it difficult to develop sympathy. It took me three or four episodes to start caring.

The series benefits greatly from having what is essentially a captive audience. As a Netflix Original by the Wachowski Siblings, it was almost a guarantee that a large number of people would watch the show beyond the first few episodes even if they dislike the beginning; Netflix viewers are binge watchers and Wachowski fans are Wachowski fans. Had the show been on another medium with an unknown team at the helm, many viewers might have stopped with the first episode.

Overall, though, the first season is good. So, let’s continue to stuff I like—

Best Sensate/Main Character

Van Damme!

Van Damme!

Winner: Capheus aka Van Damme (Aml Ameen). Something about a goodhearted guy working to get medicine for his mother and being super nice to everyone appeals to me. He’s the guy who teaches the other sensates (who are all considerably well off in their first world countries and telenova star house) to stop being depressed.

Runner-up: Wolfgang. Mostly because he delivers my favorite line in the show (see “Best Lines” below). Random side note (with a spoiler): Watching the scene when young Wolfgang murders his abusive father reminded me of the anime Fatal Fury 2: The New Battle in which the character of Wolfgang Krauser does the same.

Best Couple (This review/recap is devolving into a yearbook thing—but, it works given the number of primary characters.)

So serious looking.

So serious looking.

Winner: Though there are a number of romantic pairings in Sense8, I thought the chemistry was strongest between Lito Rodriguez (Miguel Angel Silvestre) and his boyfriend, Hernando (Alfonso Herrera). Most likely, it’s because Lito’s entire story arc was focused on his relationship with Hernando (and the problems which arose from his unwillingness to come out of the closet). Perhaps their relationship was made more entertaining to watch due to the near-constant presence of Daniela Velasquez (Erendira Ibarra).

Runner-up: Kala Dandekar (Tina Desai) and Wolfgang Bogdanow (Max Riemelt). This relationship seems to have more passion than most of the others; sort of a we want to, but we shouldn’t kind of deal. That’s always fun.

On a somewhat related note, the character of Sun Bak (Doona Bae) is a giant East Asian stereotype: no romance, emotionless, martial arts expert. To top it off, her male relatives are chauvinist/misogynist assholes—another stereotype reminiscent of the initial portrayal for Daniel Dae Kim’s character on Lost not too long ago.

Best Sidekick(s)

Winner: As a team, Hernando and Daniela Velasquez. Lito’s story arc was one of the more interesting ones because of these two. Attractiveness aside, Hernando is smart and insightful-ish while Daniela is bubbly and kind of a pervert. What’s not to love?

The best sidekicks workout to look good; not to fight.

All good sidekicks lounge around in exercise gear.

Runner-up: Amanita. In the early episodes, her sass seemed a bit forced but after a while it started to work; I’m a fan of sass.

Best Non-Combat Scene

Winner: The birth sequence with cute self-referential jokes is pretty nice (e.g., Lito’s family watching television as he’s born; Wolfgang’s water birth to match his nude swimming scene). I thought it was a nice touch if a bit cheesy. I’m not including an image for the birth scenes; those images were burned into my mind. I feel like Chandler Bing in “The One With the Birthing Video.”

Runner-up: The “accidental orgy” (as a writer I know calls it), particularly for Will Gorski’s (Brian J. Smith) comedic response. Gorski making out with the air was also pretty funny.

Best Lines:

Winner: “He’s my brother. And not by something as accidental as blood; something much stronger—by choice.” -Wolfgang (emphasis added).

wolfganghospital

Yep. More serious moments.

Runner-up: “Van Damme always comes back.” – Several characters.

In Conclusion—

Like every other Netflix Original series I’ve seen, Sense8 is definitely worth a watch (assuming you’re okay with nudity and violence). Just be prepared for a slow start.

Annie Hall – Movie Review

Annie Hall

I don’t think she ever wears this outfit in the film.

I finally got around to seeing Annie Hall (1977) and I was not disappointed.

The film follows Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) through several romantic relationships, from what seems to be his mid-twenties to his forties, focusing on his relationship with the titular character, Annie Hall (Diane Keaton).

It reminded me a bit of Seinfeld; not just because the male leads are Jewish comedians in NYC, but because much of the humor draws on the protagonist’s mild dislike of other people and certain occurrences in everyday life. The dialogue and rants in Annie Hall are entertaining to watch, nicely bolstered by the neurotic mannerisms of the lead characters.

Having seen numerous references to this movie growing up, I was unable to detach myself from said references while watching the film. My mind kept going back to How I Met Your Mother (there’s an episode in which Ted determines how cool his dates are based on whether they like Annie Hall; the HIMYM writers, inadvertently or not, also draw a parallel between Ted and Alvy who both spend years upon years figuring out and finding love) and That 70’s Show (which sort of “parodies” a particular scene). Continue reading

1st Anniversary Post: Top Posts and the State of the Novel

1stanniversaryimage

I set up camp on Wordpress a year ago to connect with other readers and writers, and establish some internet presence while I tried to get my novel published. As far as publishing goes, I totally failed, but I’ll get to that later. First, some fun blogging anniversary stuff—

The Best of A.D. Martin Posts:

Sex definitely sells—well, according to my post statistics, anyway.

Without looking too closely at all the facts, the posts which garnered the most clicks over the life of my blog—by quite a large margin—has been:

1. Two Seasons of Arrow, Seven Women for Oliver Queen; and

2. Cool-ish Actors, Annoying Characters

Pointlessly Shirtless Men of Arrow: Slade Wilson, Oliver Queen, John Diggle, and Roy Harper

Yeah, people click on these guys.

For the post about Arrow, the post seemed to have built considerable SEO which helped it to show up in Google results somewhat prominently (as I write this, if you search for “Oliver Queen” and “Women,” the post will be in the first page or two). I also noticed that not long after I made the post, someone awesome linked to it on the IMDb discussion board for the show. Thanks, anonymous person!

Aimee Teegarden

I should probably watch Teegarden’s newer stuff.

The SEO of the Arrow post aside, there is one thing these two posts have in common: attractive people. By coincidence (not by design; I wish I were that clever), the images displayed on my “Top Post & Pages” are of shirtless vigilantes and Aimee Teegarden, for the Arrow and “Cool-ish Actors” posts, respectively. I think it’s fairly safe to say that most people find Oliver Queen, Mr. Diggle and Ms. Teegarden pleasant to look upon and this seems to have played a part in giving these posts a higher view-count than my other posts.

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A.D.M. Was Here: Berlin

Coming back into the Eurozone after Scandinavia, the price of food and lodging seemed super-reasonable. My train out of Copenhagen brought me to Hamburg where I had some time before the next leg of my journey to Berlin; I spent that time at a Christmas market eating Christmas-y snacks (assuming you count deep-fried dough covered in Nutella as a Christmas snack).

Hamburg Christmas Market

Christmas Market in Hamburg

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GoT Season 5 – Diversions, Deaths, Rebirths

I’d read somewhere that the showrunners for Game of Thrones were planning to diverge from George R.R. Martin’s books—getting away from the source material and GRRM’s plans for the novel series. Knowing this, I went into the fifth season of HBO’s Game of Thrones both dreading and anticipating David Benioff and D. B. Weiss’ changes.

The following will contain massive *SPOILERS* for the show and the novels if you’re not up to date.

Some Characters are Better Off Missing

jeynepooleThe show wrote off a number of characters, making the plot less convoluted and saving themselves the trouble of so many named characters with lines. For the most part, a lot of these characters should be glad they went missing.

In both versions, Jeyne Poole is Sansa Stark’s best bud who goes with Sansa from Winterfell to King’s Landing where both their fathers are murdered. Good times. In the show, however, that’s where Jeyne’s journey ends; she vanishes after the first season, which is probably for the best. Continue reading