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DVD Review: Your Highness (2011) August 11, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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Amazingly, when I searched for this movie poster with the search term 'Your Highness', most of the results featured pictures of Natalie Portman's infamous butt scene.

Your Highness is the ultimate ‘stoner’ movie.  The writers were likely stoned when they wrote the ‘script’.  The director and actors were probably stoned when they shot the film.  And as the title of the film suggests, you most definitely have to be stoned (or 8 years old, probably both) to find it funny.  Sadly for me, I wasn’t.  My single feeble attempt in Amsterdam several years ago (with a space cake and lollipop) did nothing except put me to sleep.  A great sleep, mind you, but nevertheless…

I actually had relatively high expectations for Your Highness.  I’m a big fan of Pineapple Express, which featured the two lead stars of this film, Danny McBride and James Franco, as two polar-opposite princes.  Throw in two of my favourite actresses, Natalie Portman and Zooey Deschanel, and put them all in a farcical high fantasy setting — the potential for belly-ripping laughs was enormous.

But as it turned out, Your Highness was 102 minutes of adolescent, poorly conceived sex, penis and gay jokes and gags, laced with copious amounts of mostly ill-timed profanity (well-timed profanity can be funny).  If you were as high as the people who made the film, maybe you would have found it as funny as they did, but I simply found it, for the most part, incredibly lame.  A few mild cackles here and there, but nothing approaching a genuine laugh.

I really don’t understand what they were trying to achieve with this.  As a comedy, it wasn’t funny, or at least nowhere near funny enough.  As a fantasy, it was cliched, unimaginative and lacking in wonder (and the special effects were atrocious, though perhaps intentionally so).  As an action film, the fight scenes were tame and lethargic.  Calling it ‘mediocre’ would be a huge compliment.

After doing some research, I discovered that the dialogue for Your Highness was ‘entirely improvised’, save for a basic written outline by scriptwriters Ben Best and Danny McBride.  That explains a lot.

1.5 stars out of 5

Book Review: ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank March 8, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Book Reviews, Reviews.
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I had been eager to read The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank ever since I visited 263 Prinsengracht in Amsterdam, the site of the ‘Secret Annex’ where the Franks and their Jewish friends hid from Nazis for two years (between 1942 and 1944).

While I was there, I got to see samples of some of Anne Frank’s original writings (with translations), and was astounded by amazing writing ability of this 13-15 year old girl.  It was so raw, but at the same time managed to capture her deepest thoughts and emotions so eloquently.

I was in awe and proceeded to purchase the ‘Definitive Edition’ of her diary, which contains materials previously unpublished (because of the discussions of sexuality and Anne’s criticisms of her mother) and materials later found.

Anyway, I finally got around to reading it and finished the book last week.  All I can say is that I am not surprised that even after 60 years, Anne’s writings have remained in people’s hearts.  While it is a diary, and as such, features the occasional mundane passage, the writing is exquisite and insightful (especially when it came to relationships and the negative side of human nature), and often touching and heartbreaking.  There were plenty of passages, and especially the last few, that gave me goosebumps as I read them.

Before I read it in full, I wondered what could be so good about a young girl’s diary, even if the circumstances under which it was written were very unusual.  To Anne’s credit, she actually managed to keep it interesting for the most part because she poured her heart into it and didn’t just write for the sake of writing — she knew at some stage that the diary might one day be published, and made sure that each of her entries told the reader something different.

It was also fascinating to watch her grow up on the page, hitting puberty, becoming more mature, falling in and out of love.  To have all the angst, needs and desires of an ordinary teenager — longing for love and freedom (not just physically but also separation from her parents), dreaming of her future and who and what she wanted to become.  And as you read it, you knew in the back of your mind that she’ll never get to realise those dreams.

Actually, having said all that, Anne did realise one of her dreams.  As she wrote on Wednesday, the 5th of April, 1944:

Unless you write yourself, you can’t know how wonderful it is; I always used to bemoan the fact that I couldn’t draw, but now I am overjoyed that at least I can write.  And if I don’t have the talent to write books or newspaper articles, I can always write for myself.  But I want to achieve more than that…I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people.  I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met.  I want to go on living even after my death!

5 out of 5

PS: Definitely check out the Anne Frank website.  It’s awesome.

Ultimate European Adventure Round-Up! July 10, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Travel.
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Sensational Palatine Hill in Rome

Sensational Palatine Hill in Rome

One of the main reasons I decided to come to the UK to study (rather than say the US) was so I could get to visit and travel around Europe (something I had not done before but had been a life-long dream).

I have done a couple of round-up posts before after long trips (see ‘My European Adventure Round-Up’ and ‘My Big Fat Greek Adventure Round-Up’), but since I have left Europe now, I thought it would be good to consolidate all the places I’ve visited over the last 9 months and deliver my final judgment.

Here are the places I visited:

(a) England – London, Cambridge, Oxford, Bath, Salisbury, Avebury
(b) Italy – Rome, Venice, Florence, Pisa
(c) Vatican City (technically a country and a city)
(d) Greece – Athens, Santorini, Delphi, Arachova, Hydra, Poros, Aegina, Milos, Corinth, Mycenae, Nafplio
(e) Ireland – Dublin
(f) France – Paris
(g) Belgium – Brussels, Bruges
(h) Netherlands – Amsterdam
(i) Spain – Barcelona
(j) Germany – Munich, Berlin, Fussen (Neuschwanstein), Freiburg (Black Forest)
(k) Switzerland – Basel, Lucerne
(l) Sweden – Stockholm
(m) Denmark – Copenhagen
(n) Austria – Vienna
(o) Czech Republic – Prague

[Note: I didn’t count Frankfurt in Germany as I only stopped there for transit (twice) but did exit the airport]

108

In Bruges

Favourite places:

In terms of countries I would vote: (1) Greece; (2) Italy; (3) Germany.

Greece is simply incredible with its plethora of well-preserved archaeological sites and mythology, but is also one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited with its marvelous islands and beaches. Italy is similar in some respects, and gets extra marks for the number of attractions it has on offer (and its proximity to the Vatican). Germany, on the other hand, is very underrated, with wonderful, historically rich cities such as Munich and Berlin as well as terrific attractions such as the Black Forest, Neuschwanstein Castle and Dachau Concentration Camp.

Individual places are too hard to vote on as each location has its own flavour and strengths. Further, some places are big while others are small, and the differing lengths of time I stayed in each place may play a decisive role. It’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges sometimes.

However, if someone held a gun to my head I would probably pick: (1) Santorini; (2) Rome; (3) Athens; (4) Paris; (5) Amsterdam; (6) Venice; (7) Munich; (8) Stockholm – though the order might not always be the same.

Santorini

Santorini was my favourite

Least favourite places

No prizes for guessing that Prague was my least favourite city (see my rant here) but at least I can say that I may have just had some bad luck with my experiences and that I didn’t spend enough time there. Now London, on the other hand, has no excuses.

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with London because I visited the place at least a dozen times during my 9 month stay. There are lots of things to do and see there, and the British Museum is a must-visit, but the exorbitant prices, poor service (they just don’t care) and the absolute filth and over-crowdedness just about everywhere (and especially in the Tube) would drive me insane if I lived there!

Prague Castle From Afar

Prague Castle from afar


Most/Least Expensive

Just about all of Europe is expensive compared to where I come from. It got to a point where if I tried to convert the currency I would probably just start sobbing uncontrollably.

But in any case, the ones that stood out for me were obviously London, Switzerland (as a whole), and in particular the Scandinavian cities of Stockholm and Copenhagen.

Cheapest was definitely Prague, but I think Italy was not too unreasonable. In Greece it depended on where you went (the islands, for example, were relatively more expensive compared to Athens).
Best/Worst Food

Another tough one because I probably didn’t get to sample the best/worst food each place had to offer. Hence I’ll just try to recall the best foods I can remember.

Number 1 has to be the calzones we had in Barcelona. Damn they were bloody good (Can Conesa at Jaume I). Number 2, the hotdogs (from portable street vendors) and ice cream we had in Copenhagen (see more at this post). Number 3, the some of the pizzas we had in Italy.

Copenhagen Marble Church

Copenhagen's Marble Church

As for the worst, this is probably a little unfair because I ate there quite a bit, but London has some extraordinarily bad food (though to be fair, as well as good food), but you just don’t expect something so bad for the prices that you pay.

Most Romantic

Easy top 3: (1) Venice; (2) Santorini; (3) Paris. Three very different places with different charms, but all great for a romantic weekend or getaway.

Venice

Most Romantic: Venice

Top 15 Attractions

This is probably the toughest of them all. My list started with 5, then 10, then 15, then got to 20 (and could have gone to 25) before I cut it back to 15.

In the end, I decided just to go with gut instinct on this one. Note that while Santorini is, as a whole, one of the best places I visited, it’s not really an ‘attraction’ per se. Also important to note is that I love archaeological sites, museums and memorials, so keep that in mind when you read on.

Counting down:

15. Dachau Concentration Camp (in Dachau, near Munich) – a highly depressing place to visit but also one of the most important and informative. It wasn’t exactly enjoyable but it’s one of those places you’d be glad to have experienced.

Dachau

Depressing but worthwhile: Dachau

14. Rosenborg Castle (in Copenhagen) – one of those unexpected gems with a neat little castle, beautiful gardens and a well-managed sea of flowers. A great place to have a picnic or just to chill out for a couple of hours.

13. La Sagrada Familia (Barcelona) – this freakish, still-under-construction piece of art created by Gaudi is either loved or hated. But either way, it’s hard to keep your eyes off it.

12. Roman Baths Museum (Bath, UK) – the site of the ancient Roman Baths, where much of it is still wonderfully preserved. I went there twice and I can tell you that it has been newly renovated and has improved on its already exceptional audio guide.

11. Nea Kameni (Santorini, Greece) – Fira and Oia are beautiful, and the Red and Black beaches are spectacular, but if I had to pick an ‘attraction’ from Santorini, the volcanic island of Nea Kameni is it! Take a 90 minute walk up to the top and back – even in the heat it is well worth the experience of seeing the destructive power of the volcano up close.

Santorini Volcano 2

Nea Kameni in Santorini

10. Tivoli (Copenhagen) – the famous theme park has a splendid carnival atmosphere. The entrance fee does not cover the rides, but you don’t need to go on a single one to enjoy the place, especially when it gets dark and the coloured lights illuminate the fairground. Magical!

9. The British Museum (London) – if nothing, London has tremendous free attractions, and they don’t get much better than the enormous British Museum. If you race through it you can probably see it all in half a day, but to truly appreciate how much priceless stuff the Brits stole from just about every other culture in the world, you’ll need at least a full day, if not 2 or 3.

8. Anne Frank House (Amsterdam) – Amsterdam may be best known for its weed and girls, but the highlight for me was the Anne Frank House, in which you can get to see where the legendary Anne Frank and her family once hid from the Nazis. Yes it can be depressing at times, but it is also quite uplifting too to read Anne’s touching words and see just what a magnificent and insightful writer she was. One can only imagine how many great writers must have perished in the Holocaust.

7. Vasa Museum (Stockholm) – the Vasa sank on its maiden voyage and was not salvaged until 333 years later. Today it forms the centerpiece of the exquisite Vasa Museum, one of the most unusual museums I’ve ever been too. I loved how you could get a different view of the Vasa at each level of the museum, from the bottom all the way to the top.

6. Neuschwanstein Castle(Fussen, Germany) – no wonder this is the number 1 attraction in Germany and has been for so long. It’s the type of place you can go a couple of times during different seasons, because I hear it’s a different feel with and without the snow (I went with a bit of snow during early Spring). The walk up to the castle itself is just magical, and the inside is worth a look too.

Neuschwanstein 009

Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany

5. The Acropolis (Athens) – I would have never thought that I’d rank a single monument so high, but the Acropolis has captivated my imagination ever since I was a child, and seeing it up close in person at last fulfilled a life-long dream. Even with the scaffolding along the sides and back it still takes the breath away. Now with the Acropolis Museum opened it will be even better.

4. The Louvre (Paris) – the best art museum, one of those humongous places that can take days to full appreciate. With limited time, I only got to see the main masterpieces (the most high-profile ones, at least – and there were many), so I look forward to going back there someday and seeing the rest.

3. Vatican City (Vatican City) – (I’m calling it an ‘attraction’ because it is small enough) regardless of your religion, Vatican City is one of those places that you just need to see, even if it’s just for the amazing artworks painted on almost every empty space on the inside. St Peter’s Square and St Peter’s Basilica are also some of the amazing places within the world’s smallest country that left my jaw ajar many times.

2. Palatine Hill (Rome) – the archaeological site next to the Colosseum is one of the most fantastic I’ve ever seen. Just use a bit of imagination and thousands of years of history will unfold before your eyes! Make sure you head up to the top around the outside wall to get a full view of the site.

1. Archaeological Site of Delphi (Delphi, Greece) – the centre of the world, up in the mountains, where the oracle once sat – the enormous, well-preserved archaeological site of Delphi is a remarkable place that is well worth the journey from Athens (if that is where you’re staying). There’s a lot to see and absorb and enjoy, so take your time and really use your mind to envisage what it was like 3,500 years ago in Ancient Greece.

Delphi 1

Delphi Archaeological Site is No. 1

Well, that’s it. I’ll probably disagree with a lot of what I just wrote the next time I look at it, but right now, these are my thoughts.

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