Monday, April 30, 2012

Movie Reviews: Battleship, The Hunger Games, The Iron Lady

Battleship:So far, this is the only Hasbro property originally licensed to Universal that has seen the light of day. It cost $250 million to make. Was it worth it?

Battleship is like a bowl full of vanilla ice cream when you're wanting dinner. I can only imagine the director giving his instructions: "Walk here!" "Swim here" "Jump here!" "Say this line!" It doesn't much matter who the actors are or what they do, so long as they do it passably, which they do. Not one of them has a personality of any consequence.

All that seems to matter is the Armageddon love setup and the mcguffin plot around which to hang lots of CGI transformer space ships, cybermen, guns, missiles, explosions, hokey technical jargon shouting, and beams of light. It's all put together ok, I suppose. In fact, the movie depicts the aliens as never firing until they are fired upon; they are always assessing threats and not instigating violence unless a threat is detected and immanent. Despite the opportunity to give the movie a moral edge based on this (like in District 9 or Super8), no such edge is given. Instead we get to blow up the aliens, yay us.

The little elements of the board game - the grid firing and the peg shaped artillery - are kind of funny, but not as funny as the constant and forumlaic deux ex machina.

So it's not a colossal disaster, but neither is it a shining success. It is what it is. E5.

The Hunger Games:In contrast, this is a shining success of a movie, undoubtedly the best adaptation of the books that could have been hoped for. It's the story of a girl who volunteers in place of her sister to fight in a game to the death with other children as spectator sport for the ruling Capitol oppressors.

The book series is an odd one: the first book The Hunger Games is an oddly set up thrilling adventure: the games are depicted as horrible enslavement, yet the great majority of the book revels in the adventure of the games. True, it also covers senselessness, starvation, hopelessness, sacrifice, and so on. But it doesn't give any sense of rebellion or real world change until the very end. Only in the second and third book does the rebellion start, and even a lot of the second book spends an awful lot of time in the thrall of a game. By the third book, the rebellion, casualties, cruelty, and loss pile up so high I was in shock. I couldn't believe anyone would write a story like it for entertainment; I think that's part of its brilliance.

Meanwhile, the movie stays fairly close to the book, but also includes very briefly a little bit of the world reactions, politics, and rebellion that is beginning outside of the game that forms the center story (these elements are taken from the second book). Interestingly, Roger Ebert complained about the lack of rebellion and politics in the movie, which is ironic since the movie actually has slightly more than the book does.

The movie is fantastically acted and directed, beautifully sequenced and shot, and thrilling entertainment. The little bits of rebellion and politics are very important additions and expand the scope of the movie just enough to bait you for the sequels.

The Iron Lady: This is a Meryl Streep set piece, and she is brilliant, as usual. The movie, however, is rather odd. It focuses on  Margaret Thatcher looking back at parts of her life, which is all well and good, but it spends nearly half of the screen time in the present for no apparent reason other than to watch Meryl act old. The historical parts are much more worth the screen time and they suffer for being the lack of focus. Instead we get only bits and pieces of the historical story, which feels like only part of a movie.

Friday, April 27, 2012


It's tempting to leave the "lesbian" post up as the last post a little while longer, but I have to keep my hand in, after all.

My country is 64. I went to a bar mitzvah at the hall in Mitzpeh Yericho, a yishuv on the edge of a cliff overlooking the steep rolling hills and valleys that lead down to the Dead Sea. The view is bare but beautiful. With friends around, good food, health, a beautiful land, and the freedom to be Jewish, I felt lucky with the time I live in. It's not always perfect, but it's better more often than it's worse when I think about it.

I did a lot of dancing at the bar mitzvah, which reminded me how much I love to dance and how much I miss it. I need to crank up my music at home and dance more.
I am spending shabbat with my old community in Talpiot (Jerusalem), after spending Independence Day (yesterday) with them hiking, bbqing, and at the bat mitzvah. I do love them, and I feel so much at home with them; I don't have that feeling in Raanana yet.
Obgames: I played 1.5 games of Scrabble on the hike/BBQ. I played both Troyes and El Capitain last shabbat when Nadine was around. I've also learned to play Vikings, Hanging Garden, Thunderstone, and Luca online at . Vikings is a good mid-weight filler when played with the basic tiles. The expansion tiles might make it better. Hanging Gardens is pretty flat for me without much in the way of strategy. Luna is fiercely difficult to understand from the rulebook; we're in round 5 out of 6 and I'm starting to understand some of it. Thunderstone took me a few games but I feel like I have the hang of it now. It's a fun game, as good as Dominion. The monster queue is problematic in some respects; otherwise no complaints.

Maybe I'll give them longer reviews in the future.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Call Me a Hippie Lesbian Collegiate

I can't recall the series of events that led me to rediscover Cris Williamson's seminal [1] The Changer and the Changed yesterday. I rediscovered my great love for it: strong, feminine, inspiring, sentimental. Like I like my women.

College music, hippie music, middle-aged lesbian music. I discovered her and artists like her (I had an awesome Woody Simmons album) in my early twenties in the early 90s, and even then I was a generation removed from when they were made in the 70s. I haven't listened to them for fifteen years. Now I'm a generation removed from who I was in my early twenties. Something in me thinks there's something wrong with liking it; shut up, something. I'm blissfully ignoring you.

[1] I'm aware that this word has ironic overtones here.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


I'm not closing this blog, but it has been, and will probably continue to be, a slow period for a while. A post every week or two.

I didn't report on Games Day in Jerusalem or any of the other recent session reports in Jerusalem or Raanana. You can go to the Jerusalem site maintained by Nadine or the Raanana site maintained by Ellis. They have more of a head for this sort of thing right now.

My life is focused entirely on writing a book, which is funny because I'm not actually doing any writing; I'm avoiding writing by watching movies, a few TV shows, or reading material irrelevant to my book. I lack discipline or purpose or a wife or something. On the one hand I feel that I am driven to do something worthwhile with my life; simply existing isn't enough. A book will not only contribute to the world in a permanent way, it will also make my life better: through the discipline of having done it and for the (minimal) prestige of having done it.

On the other hand, something there is inside me that fights against it. Maybe because my ex-wife told me I'm stuck and doing this would be something like what she would want me to do. Or maybe I'm depressed, or need a lot of wind down from my long but useful job. Or maybe it's too big a project for me until I break it down into steps. Blog posts a couple of pages long, even when they require research, telephone calls, and database organization, are so much easier.

Which is the point. I don't want it easy; I know I don't. Whenever I hit an amusement park, I go on a roller coaster not because I think they're fun but because they terrify me. We need to face things that terrify us once in a while. We need to break routines, follow a vision, make the world better. Make ourselves better.

If you have suggestions that can help me get started (I've actually culled together a few of my older blog posts and written a few pages of random material), please comment.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Flowers of Haifa

Tal, Saarya, and I took a mini-vacation to Haifa last weekend. We vacation before Pesach, rather than on Pesach, because a) places are more crowded on Pesach, and b) it's harder to get kosher l'Pesach food (not hard, but harder).

Why Haifa? Because neither of my kids had ever been there and the price was ok.We've already vacationed in the Golan and Galil, Tiberias, Tzfat, Tel Aviv, the center, the Dead Sea, the Negev, and Eilat.

Saarya and I started out on Thursday afternoon with a few divrei torah at an annual Pesach yom iyun in Raanana. My Hebrew isn't that good, but the speakers were good and you can't beat the price (free).

The Hotel

We picked up Tal from work and make it to the Theodore Hotel without much difficulty. I made the booking using The Hotel is named after Theodore Herzl and is located on Herzl St. It's smack in the middle of a lowbrow consumer area and right next to a haredi area. The road is under construction and the only parking was in a parking garage located in the bottom of the hotel but run by some other company (20 NIS a pop to park for any length of time). It's nowhere near the coast, but it's a 5 minute walk to the science museum and a fifteen minute walk to the German colony and the bottom of the Baha'i Gardens - you can't do much at the bottom of the Baha'i Gardens. You have to walk up about 600 steps and around the outside of the Baha'i Gardens to get to the inner gardens and the shrine.

The hotel towers over the neighborhood and the view from the top is expansive. It's pretty at night with the lights of the city around, but in the day you get to see Haifa, which is a port for container ships and not that pretty.

The room was clean and small, with basic amenities: a TV with 21 channels, a safe, free WiFi, one tea bag, instant coffee bag, and sugar packet per person. Tal had a less-comfortable looking fold out bed, while Saarya and I took the double. Each floor has a small bookshelf in the corridor outside the elevators. I looked in all of them and found one book that seemed like it might be readable and a copy of Angela's Ashes, which I read all but 100 pages of over shabbat (it's depressing).

Breakfast came with the reservation and it was neither lavish nor pitiful, but ok. Cheeses, vegetables, an egg/vegetable thingie, burekas, cereals, fruit fresh and canned, instant coffee and plain tea (like in our room). Dinner and lunch on shabbat were actually very good and we paid very little for them because they slipped us into the group rate for the group that was staying in the hotel over shabbat. Unfortunately, the hotel was ill-prepared for the group. There were not enough tables for dinner so we had to stand around waiting, and it was incredibly loud the whole time. The hotel lobby and dining area rapidly turned into a disaster area by the middle of Friday evening and stayed that way the rest of shabbat.

The service for the room was quick and helpful: once to bring more towels and once to help with the room safe. The desk service was also helpful. The management service was not. The manager was suspicious of us when we came for meals on shabbat, couldn't find out names on the list (even though we had their coupons which they had given us before shabbat) and looked like he was going to try to charge us twice for the meals. This was eventually straightened out.

The Tea Incident

Worse was the tea incident. They served tea during dinner and I had three teabags in my room. I skipped tea during dinner because I wanted to clear out quickly to give other people a chance to eat. After dinner, the dining room still had a shabbat water urn running, and my room didn't. I was on floor 15 and didn't really want to go get a teabag from my room, so I asked them for tea and they wanted to charge me for the teabag. It took ten minutes of arguing with them that I could simply get the plain teabag from my room but I would rather not have to take the shabbat elevator up 15 flights to do it and it's just a stupid plain teabag. They eventually relented and gave me hot water and a teabag, but when I asked for a packet of sugar they said they would have to charge me for the sugar, at which point I gave up and drank it without sugar.

German Colony

Thursday night we walked to and then down the German Colony, eventually reaching the port. The German Colony is a pretty row of restaurants right below the Baha'i Gardens. None of them are kosher, but it was nice to look. We were there late on Thursday night and there were very few people around, which seemed to me to be very odd; a similar stretch of restaurants on Emek Refaim in Jerusalem is generally packed with people on a Thursday night. maybe there were better places in Haifa to hang. We walked back a different direction, reading some of the ubiquitous historical plaques about the War of Independence on the way.


We watched two movies: My West is a silly Western with Harvey Keitel and David Bowie. Bowie is the leader of a gang that looked like the Harry Potter villains. It was cute. Raise Your Voice is a Hillary Duff puff piece, very predictable cross between Fame and Dirty Dancing, but nowhere near as rich as either of those (more like a TV episode). It had its moment.


Friday morning we walked to the National Museum of Science, Technology, and Space (aka Madatech). Other than the hotel it was the most expensive part of the trip, and that was even after the 50% soldier discounts Tal and Saarya received. It was a fairly interesting hands on museum with things to push, pull, and wave. But the descriptions of each exhibit required some revisions; they often forgot to relate exactly to what the exhibit was doing, which sometimes made it difficult to understand. We saw a nifty basic 3D movie about the universe. We skipped out on the sports science exhibit because Saarya was getting restless.


After some false starts we found a beautiful place to hike just past Haifa University. It is the right season to hike, with flowers blooming all around and lovely views of the valleys. I got the kids to sing me some Hebrew songs during the hike, which was cut short because Tal was getting restless.

Baha'i Gardens

Shabbat morning we hiked ths many stairs to see the inner gardens of the Baha'i Gardens of Haifa and the shrine of the Báb. The Báb is the messenger who came before the Bahá’u’lláh, and you can read all about it on their site. It was all very Reb Nachman. Pretty gardens and trees. It's supposed to be peaceful, but there are way too many tourists (like us) marching through it to achieve any peace. No wonder they kick everyone out by noon every day.

Sorry no pictures, since we visited on shabbat.

Nof Hotel Chinese Restaurant

Saturday night we stopped for only bowls of soup at this restaurant before heading back home. Judging from the soups, the restaurant is worth a visit next time we're in the area.