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Battleship (Film Review)

Film

I view myself as being a fairly intelligent person. I am well-read, I understand artsier films when I see them, I have traveled the world and seen a great many things. So why, oh why, did I like Battleship so much?

The premise for this action blockbuster is complete insane. It is a film based off of a board game, after all. Anyone expecting more than that is more nuts than the idea to make Battleship. If you decide to suspend your disbelief for the entire 2 hours plus running time, then you may enjoy yourself as you watch this movie on Netflix. 

Humans have decided to beam a signal to a distant planet that they feel meets the Goldilocks standards of Earth, where it may be able to sustain life and water. Okay, fair enough. We’ll ignore the fact that they are able to send this signal light years away in a matter of moments. Surprisingly though, they get a response some time later, in the form of an alien invasion. Oh no, that is not good.

battleship2The human side of the story focuses on Taylor Kitsch, who plays Alex Hopper, a down on his luck guy with infinite potential who continually wastes it away. At the urging of his brother, he joins the Navy, and before you know it, he is a Lieutenant on an impressive Destroyer ship, and on the verge of marrying the girl of his dreams (Brooklyn Decker). I’ve always liked Kitsch, because he was just so good on Friday Night Lights. Since then, he has done nothing particularly memorable, and has never been able to trade his small screen success for big screen hits. Aside from essentially being not great, and pretty cheesy, in Battleship, he is pretty fun. He has some humorous moments, even managing to elicit a giggle now and then, with his goofy antics and being smart, but not really that smart. He sort of has a Maverick-style attitude, and his character growth is based on him being able to think before he acts. Pretty simple, really, but this film is not based on characterization.

It is based on the idea that one remaining ship must fight off this alien invasion before they are able to summon their home planet and, presumably, bring all of their alien friends down to earth. One thing that I found curious about this film, and it is never really mentioned, is that the aliens never attack first. They scan their targets, and when a human does not pose a threat (such as having a weapon on them, or actively attacking an alien), they leave them alone. The same goes for the ships. They never fire until fired upon. Is director Peter Berg trying to sneak in a message into Battleship about the overt aggression of our nation’s military? I don’t know. But I noticed something there. 

There are some other name actors in here, who have minimal roles, and try their best with a pretty wooden script. This is especially noticeable with Alexander Skarsgard, who tends to monopolize most of the lame lines in the film. He is definitely not as cool as he is in True Blood. Liam Neeson makes an appearance, because it seems like Liam Neeson now shows up in every action movie that is released. Which is fine by me. He is bad ass. He doesn’t get a major role, but gets to give a couple of speeches as a high ranking Navy officer, and Brooklyn Decker’s father. 

Brooklyn Decker might be one of the bigger surprises in the film. Despite her plot line being pretty preposterous (she and a Navy vet are on a hike, and end up trying to take down all of the alien communications on their own), she doesn’t ruin the scenes she’s in. Let’s be honest, she has been getting film roles because the majority of her talent rests in her bra, but she is respectable in Battleship. Don’t get respectable confused with good, but she’s getting there. She may be developing as an actress, and I could see her continuing to get smaller roles in action films or romantic comedies, as she has done so far. 

Decker: Is she becoming more than just able to really fill out a tank top?

Decker: Is she becoming more than just able to really fill out a tank top?

I won’t say much about Rihanna and her acting skills, because there really are none. She may be the worst actor in the entire film. 

There are some cool scenes, and some pretty decent battles in the movie. There are big explosions, and lots of cool missiles and guns fired. There is plenty of alien destruction, and they beat up on parts of Earth pretty well, too. 

And I’ll admit, that the lamest/most awesome part of this film is when Kitsch and gang are running out of options, they turn to the museum that is the USS Missouri, the greatest warship in American history, to try and defeat the enemies. Who is going to help him run this ship? Why, they veterans of the Second World War, of course. It is completely ridiculous plot-wise, but it was fun. Seeing the ship magically get ready in one quick montage set to “Thunderstruck,” and an out-of-commission ship that hasn’t sailed in decades is ready to take on the greatest threat to humanity. Of course it is. But I loved it. I’ll also give credit to the part of the film where it is like playing the board game. Well played, Peter Berg, well played.

I thought that Battleship was going to be a complete waste of time, and I would simply have it on in the background while I did other things with my life. But this was not the case, as I was taken in by the cheese, and really kind of loved it. Don’t go into this film expecting to see an intelligent action blockbuster like Terminator 2. Because you won’t get it. But if you’re putting Battleship in a similar range as the Transformers movies, then you are on the right track. Except unlike Transformers, this movie is pretty fun to watch, and you can actually tell what is happening on the screen.

If you are in the mood for a fun dose of cheese, you can do worse than Battleship.

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Octopus Dive Centre, Roatan (Attraction Review)

Central America, Sports, Travel

Getting back to scuba diving after nearly 20 years caused me a little bit of paranoia. I remembered how much I loved diving, and always wanted to do it again, but it just never worked out properly for me. 

Getting to Roatan, Honduras, I was excited to get at least one dive in over the 10 days I would be spending there. 

Without being too detailed, here are facts about the incredible Octopus Dive Centre, in Sandy Bay, a minute’s walk from where I was staying in Roatan. 

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  • all divers will pay a $10 fee for the Roatan Marine Park, which goes towards the preservation of the reef. Many hotels or resorts include this in their price. Make sure you get your white bracelet. 
  • Costs are about $35/dive with your PADI, $80/dive without
  • all of the courses are offered, so you can certified while you are there. The whole course to get your certification, including the “classroom” component, is about $300
  • all of the dive masters there are absolutely incredible. They are super friendly, and after diving with them even just once, they will remember you, and wave or make small talk every time they come across you. 
  • Danny made me and my friends feel very comfortable and confident in our skills. He gave us the Discover Scuba run down, and patiently waited in the water while we mastered all of our basic skills. In the water, he was a great leader, always taking the time to ensure we were all good, and pointing out some of the incredible reef wildlife we may have missed. He always had a sense of humour, and was a tremendous guide.
  • On our second dive, even though most people were going to the site we had been to on our first dive, they made a special stop so that we could do a drift dive, and not have to dive the same place twice
  • they will sumbit information to the PADI website, if you are interested in getting certified later, so that it knocks off a couple of your dives needed for certification later.
  • there is a 19% charge to pay with a credit card. 
  • the dive shop is right next to a very good restaurant/bar on the beach. Great lobster there.
  • the rental gear is all very good, and they make sure everything fits properly and that you are comfortable
  • all dive groups are very small, with 1-3 people going with their own guide. You don’t have to worry about being in a massive group, just trailing after one another in the water.
  • they were so great, I wish I had done more than 2 dives with them
  • the reef waters in Roatan are incredibly clear, and they are extremely active with sea life. We saw a ton of different creatures, and a lot of them. Never saw an eagle ray, but I guess that will be for next time. 

 

I would recommend Octopus with my highest approval rating. They really did make diving a comfortable, and crazy fun experience. They love their jobs, and they want you to have a great a time as possible. There are definitely lots of options in Roatan for diving, with the endless number of dive sites around the island, and there is no shortage of dive shops in West End, to be sure. But I was incredibly happy that I went with Octopus, and not just because they were right down the beach for me. They made a great experience incredible. 

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The Beginning of Everything (Book Review)

Books

There were several things in this book that reminded me of Eleanor and Park. Considering I am one of the few people that mostly disliked that book, that is not necessarily a good comparison, because I really did like The Beginning of Everything, and felt that despite similarities to Eleanor and Park, this is the better Young Adult novel.

The story is based around how our lives truly begin after a tragedy occurs in our lives. How after that point, we begin living the way that we will, for the rest of our lives. Our narrator, Ezra, describes how his best friend caught the severed head of a Japanese tourist on a roller coaster ride at Disneyland when he was 12 years old. This was the tragedy that chose to befall him, and his life was never the same afterwards. 

The tragedy for Ezra is when he catches his beautiful girlfriend cheating on him at a party. After he plays the incident with a coolness unusual for a teenager in this position, he proceeds to get hit in a violent car accident, and it cripples his leg.

beginEzra had been the most popular guy in school, the star of the highly respected tennis team, and a generally decent person. His leg injury was his tragedy, and it changed how he was going to have to live his life. 

Feeling abandoned after the accident, upon his return to school, Ezra takes up with a different clique, including his old best friend Toby, who had been the one to catch the severed head years ago. Ezra eventually fits in with the new group, even joining the debate team, something his former self would have never dreamed of. Here, he meets the new girl to the school, and noted ace at debate, Cassidy. Their relationship forms the centrepiece of the novel, once Ezra has settled back into life and stopped always wallowing over the loss of his popular status. 

And it provides some of the most tender, fun, and surprising moments of the novel. The relationship between Ezra and Cassidy felt far more real to me than the one between Eleanor and Park, even if it was based on some of the same things, nerdier things. There is still talk of music, and comics, and Doctor Who, but I felt that it was more genuine in this novel, and I could buy their relationship as being more honest and believable than in the other novel. 

Being intended for Young Adult audiences, this novel is a coming of age story, about how we need to choose to start living our lives, and about how our memories persist with us, regardless of how hard we try to forget about them, or move past them. We remember, just as other people do too. 

What makes this novel strong is the frequent literary references, especially those related to The Great Gatsby. Ezra is reading the famous Fitzgerald novel, and for the first time, is finding himself connect with a book. There are many similarities between the musings of Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby that relate to Ezra and what he goes through inhis life, especially when his relationship with Cassidy inevitably becomes more tumultuous than he would have liked. Even when looking at his dog, Cooper, Ezra feels that he is talking to him in a Gatsby-esque voice, ending all of what he imagines Cooper to be saying with “Old Sport.”

The references don’t end with Gatsby, and I feel this is clever, as hopefully if the reference is not recognized by the reader, it will open them up to looking it up, and having them learn something along the way. An example of this is the frequent references to Michel Foucault’s panopticon, and the basics of the theory behind it. There are many other literary references, and puns, which will happen when the main group of characters, and Ezra’s closest friends, are almost too smart for their own good. There is plenty of hipsterness to go around.

The Beginning of Everything has a little bit of everything. There is humour, which is a must-have in a YA novel. There is a plausible love story, with some sex, but not so much that it should only be for much older teen readers. And the coming of age is something that could probably be easy to relate to for many readers. If they don’t get what they are reading, or can’t understand what the characters are going through, then the message will be lost. But, we have all faced some kind of tragedy, as this is something that can connect with everyone, and I found that it really worked well in this novel. Author Robyn Schneider did a really good job of incorporating all of the elements into a page-turning YA book. She even manages to provide us with a surprising ending that wraps up the novel beautifully.

Recommended. 

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The Book Thief (Film Review)

Books, Film

With The Book Thief, Markus Zusak created an incredible novel that was able to appeal to audiences of all ages, and he made something that was enlightening, haunting, hopeful, and sad, all mixed into one great novel. He told us the story of Liesel, a young German girl who is adopted into a family, and learns how to read, primarily by stealing books, during the early days of the rise of the Nazi party and the outbreak of war. Her family, with their rough exteriors, secretly hide a Jewish man named Max in their basement, with whom Liesel forms an incredible bond. The most interesting part of the novel comes from the narration of Death, as he comes to take the souls of the people in the German town, and he discusses his views on humanity.

I was excited when the film version was coming out, because the trailer looked very impressive. It seemed to capture the spirit of the novel. The actual film itself, however, did not live up to expectations. This is not to say that this is a poor film, because it definitely is not, but it felt that there was something missing. A little bit of the soul of the novel was gone. Granted, this is incredibly difficult to do when transitioning from the page to the screen, and there was a little bit of it missing in the adaptation of The Book Thief

I don’t want to just sound super pretentious in saying that the book was so much better than the film, but really, it was. 

DF-05687.JPGAs for the movie, it is wonderfully shot, and the scenes of the village are great, and all of the cinematography is superb. The major highlights of the film for me were the central performances of Geoffrey Rush as Hans, and the young Sophie Nelisse as LIesel. 

The young actress is completely adorable, with her bright eyes and ringletted hair. She was able to do quite well with the German accent, and would sprinkle in the occasional German word here and there, to provide the film with some authenticity, I suppose. She was fantastic, and played the role of Liesel with the kind of child-like wonderment we would have expected from the novel. 

The narration by Death is often clumsy, and doesn’t always seem to fit as well as it could, until the end of the film, where it really falls into step, and makes a lot more sense for the viewers who perhaps did not read the novel. The Book Thief is tragic in many ways, and Death takes his place among this tragedy. It is tragic, but it is also hopeful, and I found that the montage at the end of the film captured the soul of Liesel for the first time in the film. Unfortunately, this was the end of the film, and the rest just sort of drives forward.

Nelisse does a great job of convincing us of the importance of the people in her life. Her relationships are what make this novel and film great, and she sells it to us as best she can. The relationship between her and her adoptive father (Rush), gives the movie its main passion, and many of its enduring heartfelt moments.

I would recommend watching The Book Thief, whether you have read the novel or not. It is a very solid movie. It is not spectacular, but it is above average. 

 

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The Five-Year Engagement (Film Review)

Film

With a pretty all-star cast, given its nature as a romantic comedy, I was pretty disappointed in The Five-Year Engagement, which really failed to deliver on either the comedy, or the romance, of which romantic comedies are typically made.

Normall, Jason Segel is funny, in a goofy kind of way, and there are only rare glimpses of that in this film, after he moves to Michigan with his fiancee (Emily Blunt) and he becomes a bit of a mountain man, making his own mean, and goblets from deer hooves. This is the Segel that we are more used to, and the one that we like. Aside from those few minutes in the film, he is pretty tame, and to be honest, pretty dull. 

five2The story focuses on Tom and Violet, who get engaged a year after meeting. They start to plan the wedding, but life gets in the way, and they end up putting it off several times, until it is basically forgotten about, and they eventually break up, as people do in romantic comedies.During the delays in their wedding, they have to stand by and watch as Tom’s best friend gets Violet’s sister pregnant, and they marry and have a happy life. The secondary characters, Alex and Suzie, are played (and under-used) by Chris Pratt and Alison Brie. Both are very strong comedic actors, but they both fall pretty flat in this film, and there was something about Brie’s (who I love) British accent that really threw me off. I don’t know if the accent was bad or not, but it just didn’t sit right with me for some reason.

As it goes with romantic comedies, the couple ends their relationship, and we know that they are going to get things back together, because that is the way it goes. Really, there isn’t a grand romantic gesture until the end of the film, and it seems like Tom and Violet are going to give things another try, because, hey, why not? There isn’t much connection between the characters, and we always sort of wonder why they are together in the first place, since their time together seems to be pretty blah. 

I will give The Five-Year Engagement this: it has a pretty awesome wedding at the end (don’t worry, it’s not really a spoiler, it is pretty predictable), that for the briefest of moments, made this overlong film worthwhile. 

But in the end, this movie wasn’t that great. Even if a romantic comedy isn’t that funny, at least there is sometimes a genuine romance to fall back on, and it makes us feel better. But this film falls flat in both departments, make it one to skip over when scanning through Netflix. There are a ton of better romantic comedies out there. 

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Casa Cowee: Roatan, Honduras (Vacation Rental Review)

Central America, Food, Travel

Choosing a great vacation rental is always touch and go. You are relying heavily on the pictures that you can find online, and the reviews of the people who have stayed there before. It is tough to choose, especially since most of them seem so great, and you end up weighing your priority list against other things, make up your mind, change it, and do it all over again. Until you make up your mind. Scanning through all the properties on VRBO can become an obsessive journey.

On my first journey to Honduras, we would be staying on the incredible Roatan island, the most popular spot for travelers to the Central American country. We had our list of things we wanted in our vacation rental, and spent a couple of weeks pouring over the options, eventually whittling it down to a few. From there, we finally decided on a place called Casa Cowee, located in the Sandy Bay area of Roatan, near to Anthony’s Key Resort and their dolphin enclosure.

Casa Cowee seemed to hit all the right boxes when we chose it. It looked to be quiet and private, it was far enough away from the town of West End that it wouldn’t be a busy place, and we could enjoy some relaxation, but it was also close enough that we could easily get to the restaurants and bars on the main drag. It looked modern and pretty luxurious, but with a bit of a rustic feel, not making it like a regular condo or house one would find in their home town, but something with a little bit of charm. It had A/C in every room (more on that), and was five steps from the ocean. Sounds perfect.

Overall, Casa Cowee was an awesome place to rent. After spending 10 days there, it felt like home, and it was somewhere that I truly loved being. The location, despite its issues, was kind of perfect.

In the end, I would go back to Casa Cowee. Now that I know everything about it. But there were several things that we didn’t really know about, or find out about, until we got there. Things that didn’t at all affect the overall enjoyment of our vacation, but would have been good to know about beforehand. I’ll go through some of the perks of the place, and the down sides, along with hints for people who may be renting this awesome property in the future. I want to be fair in my assessment, because there is so much for people who are interested in renting to pour through. I want to be comprehensive, and mention some of the things that we loved, and some of the things that we found to be a nuissance (regardless of how small or arbitrary it may seem), because I hope that this can help someone else choose their place for a vacation. It is tough to be picky on a place that I really loved staying, but it’s needed.

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  1. The location. Casa Cowee is in Sandy Bay, within view of the dolphin enclosure belonging to Anthony’s Key Resort. It is awesome to be able to see the dolphin shows from your porch. Down the beach the other way are a couple of bar/restaurants, and the excellent Octopus Dive Center, which we used for our scuba excursions, and absolutely loved it. The location is off the beaten path a little bit, as you will notice on your drive in to the place. It would be kind of tough to find on your own, so it was nice that we were picked up at the airport to get there (it actually costs $50 extra to be picked up from, and driven back to, the airport). Being out of the way, you definitely get to avoid the tons of tourists that come to the island, and get to feel like you have your own little piece of it.
  2. The bad part about the location. You are at least 3 miles from West End. Which means you won’t be walking there, especially at night. The cab ride is not terribly expensive to get there (if you can find a cab, which isn’t terribly difficult, if you walk to Anthony’s Key or behind the dive shop), but is not something that you would want to be forking over for every day. If you are looking for more nightlife, I would recommend staying in town, instead of down here. There are bars that are close enough walks along the beach (like, a couple of minutes away only), but if you are looking for a big party scene, Sandy Bay is not where it is at. Also, for things like groceries, you are limited to a couple of hidden stores in the area, where you can wander through the flea-infested dogs to get into them, and take your chances with the food inside. We had good luck with them, as we ran out of basics like bread and beer a couple of times, and used these local joints to stock up once again. I liked these places, because they definitely feel like Honduras. Dilapidated houses, strange selection of products, random way of calculating prices. Felt like travel.

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    The sun deck, next to the main porch area. The chairs now are plastic, not these wooden ones.

  3. The house has its own private dock, from which you can enjoy swimming in the ocean at any time of day. Except there is nothing private about the dock, aside from a sign that says “Privado” over it. The dock is used extensively by the locals, and is by far the most popular gathering space along the whole beach, probably because there is a significant amount of water that has a sandy bottom. The locals are mostly all friendly, and it is fine sharing with them. The dock is basically there as a place to soak up some sun and leave a couple of things while you swim in the bathwater warm ocean. But the noise gets annoying. Screaming children lasts most of the day. And some of the night. There were times when there were close to 40 people using the dock, making it less fun to be a part of, and definitely not making it private, as it is advertised. There are times when you can have it to yourself, usually in the day before 2PM, after which it is invaded by school-aged kids, and occasionally their parents as well. The owner told us that it was usually busy on Sundays, but really, it was busy every day we were there.
  4. If you are a beach person, there really isn’t a great option in from of Casa Cowee, as the beach serves as a road. We spent most of our time on the balcony, however, so I was fine with this.
  5. The snorkeling in front of Casa Cowee is exceptional. There are tons of dive and snorkel spots around the island, but you can save yourself lots of money by staying here. It is really easy to swim out to the reef, where you get great views of the sea life. It is always clear views in the water, and it is shallow enough that it is always safe. You don’t even need fins to enjoy it out there, or need to be a particularly strong swimmer, since you float easily in the salt water. We snorkeled nearly every day, to rave reviews every day.

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    The living area. The couches that are there now are not the same, the current ones are slightly more battered.

  6. It is advertised as having air conditioning in every room. In the main house, there is AC in the bedroom. But not for the loft area. If you want to use it, you will be charged $75 extra. There are ceiling fans, but the one in the main room does nothing for the person sleeping in the loft. We went 10 days without AC, during the hottest part of the year. This lead to a couple of terrible sleeps, but we got pretty used to it. There is generally decent breezes that come through the house, which has windows literally everywhere, but you need to rely on these breezes to cool you off. If it is a windless night, prepare to sweat, and not sleep a lot. I think there is AC in the room in the nearby tree house, however. I was extremely disappointed upon first inspection of the rooms, as I would be sleeping in the loft, and was expecting some nice, cool nights, at a time of year when the temperature only drops to about 28 Celcius during the night. I am not a warm weather sleeper, but I was forced to get used to it. The breezes feel great, and there were nights that I slept incredibly well. But it would have been nice to have the AC that we thought we were getting from the ad on VRBO. It would also be great if the owner bought a couple of standing fans, as having a constant breeze would have gone a long way in helping with the heat and humidity. I can see this not being a problem during the colder months, but August is hot, plain and simple.
  7. The noise. I was hoping for a quiet getaway, where I could lounge and read books. But Casa Cowee has its share of noise, not all that can be controlled. During the day, there is a pretty constant noise from the dock, of kids swimming and screaming (why do kids always need to scream? I don’t get it). That’s fine, as it is kind of the sounds of summer, and it wasn’t obnoxious enough to ruin our lazy days that we would spend in lounge chairs and hammocks. At night, you can sometimes hear the soothing waves (they are never big, and the water is always calm as the waves are broken by the reef), which help to lull you into sleep. Or you can hear the incessant barking of dogs. At all hours of the night. For hours at a time. I don’t know where these specific dogs were, but they were loud, and they could easily wake you up from whatever slumber you were managing to get in the heat. At times you could ignore the barking, but other times it was close to driving us insane. There are also a decent amount of cars that drive in front of the house on the beach, at all hours, and noisy locals wandering around, sometimes with impressive volume. Casa Cowee, for as great as it is, is not really quiet.
  8. The guys who work on the property, Johnny and James, are great. They are willing to help out with whatever you need. They will drive you into town, or take you to an excursion, and all you need to do is call them. James was particularly helpful, even helping us procure some fresh fish (note: getting a massive barracuda was perhaps our best purchase. For $25, we got a beast of a fish, that fed us for many massive meals, and it was absolutely delicious. Plus, saying you are eating barracuda is pretty cool).
  9. The house itself. In the pictures, it looks like a semi-rustic, semi-modern place. It is more rustic than anything, and really, it is like a summer cabin. It sort of surprised us at first, but we definitely loved it. Nothing is really as new as it looks in the pictures, as the couches are worn down, there are some holes or missing planks on one of the decks, and it is not nearly as big as it looks in pictures. But we really liked this place, as we did not want a modern condo, but instead something that was at least a little bit Honduran. Casa Cowee gives an impressive look from the beach, as its strange pyramids stand out among the trees. It looks awesome. The decks here are fantastic. There is a sun deck along one side of the house, which gets sun for the majority of the day. The best part, and the place where most of our time was spend, was the covered main deck, overlooking the ocean and dolphins. It was perfect, with table and chairs, and a couple of comfy hammocks in which to nap and spend lazy days. Really, Casa Cowee is worth it for this deck. The bathroom here is pretty good, quite spacious, and with a decent shower that always had some warm water (not terribly hot, but we didn’t care for hot water). The kitchen is pretty well equipped with dishes, cutlery and cooking pots and pans. We didn’t find wanting for any appliances. The gas stove works well, and there is a microwave that gets the job done for most of your cooking needs.
    The stairs to the loft.

    The stairs to the loft.


  10. Things you need to buy on your trip in. Whoever picks you up at the airport will stop at a grocery store for you, where you can load up with supplies for your stay in Sandy Bay. I would recommend taking advantage of this, as there is not much selection from the mini places near the house, and eating out for every meal would prove to get incredibly expensive. There were several things we would have liked to know about, but we kind of lucked out in the end, and it all worked out. It would be great to have a list of basics that you need to pick up, to make your stay more enjoyable. Here are a few off the top of my head: matches to light the BBQ and the stove, briquettes for the BBQ (don’t expect there to be any leftovers when you get there), lighter fluid for the BBQ (a must-have, getting briquettes going without it is impossible, we lucked out and there was still some there), coffee filters if you want to make pots of coffee instead of using the French press, spices (there are some spices there, but they are pretty old and stuck together from the humid air, this includes the salt and pepper), cooking oilbug spray (the sand fleas, or noseeums, are pretty incessant, and the mosquitos will sneak attack you in your sleep!), dish soap, hand soap (there was some of both there, but not much, and I don’t know if the supply is updated that often…better safe than sorry to bring your own), dish scrubber, ice (if you are making your own drinks, it would be nice to have clean ice), any condiments you like. These things, plus your regular groceries, will help ensure that you have the things you need for your trip.
  11. Water. Clean water is provided, but we got 2 small jugs for our 10 days. We ran out. It costs $5 extra if you want more. It seems a tad ridiculous that you need to pay for fresh water in a place. Maybe that is being picky, but I think you should get all the fresh water you need, within reason.
  12. Money. Bring cash! US or Honduran money! Make sure you do your exchanging before entering Honduras, as there is no place (even in the airport) that will exchange Canadian money. This left us cash poor for the entire trip, which was a massive struggle. The only bank machines are in West End, so be prepared. Credit cards don’t work everywhere, and for the small stuff, cash is a must. Also, paying with credit cards often incurs a massive 19% fee.
  13. The ocean. Incredible. Steps from the house. Incredibly warm (30 degrees Celcius when we dove), and peaceful. There are no waves to speak of, and you can simply float around to your heart’s content.
  14. The amenities. There are two kayaks to use on the property, which is awesome. They are fun, and easy to use. There is also access to all the snorkel gear you may need, such as fins. We brought our own masks and snorkels, but the fins came in handy.
  15. The tree house. It is possible to rent the whole property, but we couldn’t afford that, so there were other people staying in the small tree house. It is very close to the main house, but is still private, as you don’t have to listen to their conversations all the time. It was quite nice, and there were very nice people staying there the whole time. The great and useful outdoor shower is in front of the tree house.

My first trip to Honduras was amazing, and it is absolutely a place I would go back to. Casa Cowee, despite having some issues, was also a great place to stay. I would recommend it to anybody, as long as they know what some of the problems are, and are able to be prepared for their trip. I loved the feeling of it being a summer cabin, and in the end, despite the noise, I loved the location. Sandy Bay was the perfect choice for us, and what we were looking for in our vacation. There is still some work to be done on this house to make it the perfect vacation house. For us, by the end of the trip, it had become home, and none of us wanted to leave.

I would recommend Casa Cowee for anyone who is looking for a more secluded place to stay on Roatan, away from it all, but still within proximity to certain amenities (like dolphin excursions and scuba diving) that make a trip to Honduras memorable.

fire

Catching Fire (Film Review)

Books, Film

Out of the three books in The Hunger Games trilogy, my favorite one was Catching Fire. Usually, the second book or film in a trilogy is nothing special, since it really has no beginning, and definitely has no end, but I thought that the book was the more action-packed of the three, and had the most exciting version of the Games. 

The film version of Catching Fire, however, left a lot to be desired in my mind. 

The majority of this film serves as a build up to the 75th version of The Hunger Games, or the third Quarter Quell, which is a special event to mark every 25th anniversary since the Capital put down the revolution many years ago. With President Snow aware that what Katniss and Peeta did at the end of the first movie/book was an act of defiance towards the Capital, and aware that the people of the 12 districts are becoming restless and craving a revolution, he knows that Katniss must die. But she cannot simply be killed, as she has already become a symbol of hope for the people. 

So they come up with a fancier plan to have her eliminated. 

fire2They decide that this quarter quell will be a battle between the victors of previous games, meaning that as the only female winner from District 12, Katniss will have no choice but to participate once again. 

The best part of the book was the second battle ground, in which the contestants must not only face one another, but the grounds themselves, which provide dangers in the form of a ticking clock, where every hour another calamity is released in a specific region of the map (I won’t bother stating how this is another mild rip off from Battle Royale, the far superior, and more original version of The Hunger Games). 

The problem with this movie is that too much time is spent building up to the second games that we know are coming. We are treated to too much repeating from the first film. There is the trip to the Capital, the training, the interviews, the parades, the fancy costumes. I get it, that all of these things should still be included, but for the duration of it, I felt that it could have gone by faster. We know how it all goes. Throw it into a montage or something, and get to the killing. 

Or perhaps, even elaborate on some of the other characters a little bit. 

We are treated to a new cast of people that will stand in the way of Katniss living or dying, but we know very little about them, turning them into very one-dimensional characters. This is too bad, as it would have been good to know a little bit more about the character played by Jena Malone (one of the highlights of the film). Instead, all we know is that she is a little bit crazy. Also, the game felt a little too predictable. Yes, we know Katniss is going to live, because this is not the final installment of the films. There are more to come, therefore, we know she is going to live. But it still felt pretty over-simplified, and I feel like they should have used more time to build up some tension in the arena. As it stands, there is very little of it. 

As expected, everything is set up nicely for the two part finale of the series, what will be Mockingjay Part 1 and Part 2 (as the weakest of the books, I don’t like how they have split these up, but this is the popular thing to do, so so be it, I guess). 

The acting is pretty wooden in the film, which is odd, considering there is a pretty strong cast here. Jennifer Lawrence, who I love, is actually fairly wooden, and doesn’t really present much depth to Katniss in this installment. She sheds the occasional tear, and will sometimes scream, but there doesn’t seem to be much behind it. Too bad. As I mentioned, the inclusion of Jena Malone in the cast is great, but she is underused, and her character is paper thin to begin with, not providing the talented actress much to work with.

As with the first film, there are some good special effects, and some pretty cheesy ones. While the mist looks pretty cool, the flaming clothing again looks pretty B grade, and it is surprising that a trilogy that will rake in such massive amounts of cash isn’t able to generate a bigger budget to make its effects look really great. 

In the end, Catching Fire plays out like most second books do: kind of disappointing. There are long parts that are dull, and the best part of the book felt skimmed over too much in the film. There is depth to this story, but it is lacking in this adaptation. While the movie made tons of money and received generally positive reviews, I think fans of the book can only hope that the adaptation of Mockingjay provides us with a little more depth, a little more suspense, and a little more fun than Catching Fire has to offer. 

lester4

Retooling the Red Sox

Baseball, Sports

The non-waiver trade deadline day was a bittersweet one for me, as a Red Sox fan.

It is time to admit that there will not be playoffs in Boston this season, but I can accept this “do poorly one year, make some smart moves, and compete every other year” concept that seems to be happening there over the past couple of seasons. There is no question that moves needed to be made this year, that the team assembled just wasn’t working out. There are significant gaps in that lineup, and some changes needed to be made.

The Red Sox ended up making the most moves on deadline day of any of the teams, getting back some good major league talent in exchange for some pretty central pieces of their championship team of a year ago.

And this is where the bittersweet feelings come in.

When the rumours surfaced that Jon Lester was on the trading block, I didn’t want it to be true. I know the way the Sox operate, that they don’t want to dole out massive contracts for aging players, but I wanted them to break their own rule for Lester. He is my favorite pitcher, and I have followed his career since he first started with the Sox and threw his improbably no-hitter right at the start of his career. I always figured that he would rack up a couple of Cy Youngs over his career, and while we still may be waiting for the awards, he has had some outstanding seasons and shown himself to be a great playoff pitcher in the Series wins in 2007 and 2013.

Oakland Athletics v Boston Red SoxFor me, Lester was the Red Sox, as much as Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz are. He was the core, and despite him coming up on 30 years old, I wanted him to remain with the organization for his whole career. Sure, there is talk that he could re-sign with the Sox in the off-season, but let’s be honest. That almost never happens, and there will be plenty of teams that will offer him the term that the Red Sox won’t, given his age. I just pray that he won’t end up on the Angels or Yankees.

If he had to be traded, I wanted him to be traded to the Pirates or the A’s, teams that I like, and that do still have playoff aspirations this year. In the case of the A’s, he now can join the best team in baseball, in hopes of leading them to a championship that has eluded them for 25 years.

It was surprising that the Red Sox managed to get back an All-Star player for Lester, given that teams are often looking for top prospects when the big names are traded. Instead, we are treated to a big player-for-player trade, that rarely happens in the MLB anymore. It made for exciting discussions, and while the loss of one of the best left-handed pitchers is crushing for the Sox and their fans, it was no secret that their outfield needed a lot of help.

I will miss Jon Lester, and while I will still cheer feverishly for the Red Sox, I know that they are done for the year. I will cheer along the A’s as they try to make their way through the postseason, hopefully making it back to the World Series.

Some thoughts on the other moves the Sox made:

  • Despite my sadness in losing Lester, I was happy for the return. Cespedes will fit nicely in the outfield, and he should be able to mash in the small confines of Fenway.
  • Surprised they traded John Lackey as well as Lester, but content that they got a couple of big leaguers back in Kelly and Craig. They are both having down seasons, but are “needed a change of scenery” candidates.
  • Glad they traded Jake Peavey. I never liked the deal that got him in the first place, and never felt like he fit with the Sox. Sure, he contributed to the World Series last year, but it was frustrating to watch him this year, because you knew he was going to give up at least one home run every time. He will do much better with the Giants, and being back in the NL.
  • Good return on Andrew Miller, getting a quality prospect.
  • I like the whole idea that they were not gutting the team and rebuilding. They are more doing a retooling, changing things on the fly.
  • They are going to have to go after some pitchers in free agency this winter. They need to try and sign Lester back, and should probably make a play for someone like Max Scherzer. They will need a top of the rotation starter at least, to give the kids coming up some breathing room and some lowered expectations.

I understand that the Red Sox needed to make some moves, and despite so many quality pieces being sent out the door, I understand what they needed, and so I would definitely qualify them as winners on this trade deadline day.

river3

River Ridge Golf & Country Club (Golf Course Review)

Golf, North America, Sports, Travel

I had never before been to River Ridge Golf & Country Club, in the Windermere area of Edmonton, Alberta, and now that I have, I wonder why.

Tucked along the beautiful North Saskatchewan River, the course offers 18 beautiful and isolated holes, away from the city noise, without being far away from the city. I booked here because the pictures looked nice, and the price was absolutely right, at $55 for 18 holes that included a power cart (it would be advisable to have a cart on this course, as there are some long journeys between some of the holes, and a walk would actually take a while).

The course is wonderfully laid out, some of the holes being right alongside Edmonton’s main river, offering great views for your entire round. With the river, and frequent water hazards, and trees on pretty much every hole, River Ridge is a pretty challenging course for the average golfer. Many holes are heavily dog legged, and being straight off the tee is paramount in many cases. The greens, and the whole course, were in tremendous shape, and many of them offered challenging, but not ridiculous, lies. You won’t have to be putting straight all day here, you will get the chance to read the greens and try and execute some cool, bending putts.

river2The course even offers some wildlife, as there were plenty of ducks and geese along some of the water holes, although they weren’t a disruption to the game. There was even a deer on the 10th hole that decided to wander around the green for a little while.

I managed to pull of a decent first nine, despite my drivers and putter completely abandoning me. Having a solid iron game on the front saved me from what could have been a terrible score. I saved my terrible score for the back nine. It was still a nice course, and a great day to golf.

The marshall comes by often, and is quite friendly. He will give advice on holes, tell you about the course, ask you how your day is going, even chase a goose away for you. The beer cart girl is your typical beer cart girl, but she didn’t come by as often as I would have liked, especially since it was a very hot day outside, and more beverages could have been consumed. But, she was quite cool with us, given that she did bust us with some outside drinks that we brought in.

The pro shop is solid, with a quick and knowledgeable staff inside, and a good selection of clothing and items in case you need to stock up your bag before hitting the course. Upstairs, the clubhouse offered great views of the course, had some pretty good food, and some reasonable prices to go along with it. They could use some umbrellas on their outdoor tables, especially for days when it is 30 degrees and cooking outside, but besides that, there is nothing to complain about.

River Ridge is a great little escape within the city limits. Normally, you wouldn’t expect such isolation from a city course, but River Ridge is definitely the best place I have golfed this summer, and at the prices, will be well worth it to go back.

Now I just need to find my golf game in order to compete with the tougher course.

campaign

The Campaign (Film Review)

Film

I have long maintained that Will Ferrell is fantastic in small doses, but simply becomes irritating when he is expected to carry a film. When he is a part of an ensemble, he truly shines, and this comes across in films like Old School and Anchorman. His role was reduced because there was so much talent around him, making him, and the movie, much funnier. When he is forced to carry a movie all on his own, I find that he becomes far more annoying, and difficult to take.

The Campaign is a good example of this. The film is about a congressional election, where Ferrell has typically run unopposed for several terms. This allows him to be a womanizing, idiotic congressman, who does little well, and is quite poor at his job. When finally someone decides to run against him (Zach Galifianakis), the shenanigans of their campaign begin.

And it is ridiculous. But the worst part is, it isn’t funny.

campaign2As with most comedies, there is a plot line in here somewhere, something about big business running American politics, and influences from overseas being able to buy whatever they want when it comes to politics. You’re probably not going to be watching this film for the social commentary.

The premise for the jokes is that both of the candidates will do anything to win, and this leads to a slanderous run up to the election, where they have traded stunts along the way that are meant to draw laughter. Galifianakis does a commercial where he gets Ferrell’s son to call him “Dad.” So Ferrell sleeps with his opponent’s wife, and makes the sex tape into a commercial. Hilarious? There is an ongoing gag about a couple of pug dogs. Are they Chinese dogs? Do they make Galifianakis a communist? Ha? Or there is the running gag of Ferrell accidentally punching things he shouldn’t be punching. Like a baby. Or a dog. Is this the funny part?

While this film could have an intelligent, and humorous look at the US political system, it simply leaves us laughless and flat. Bulworth this is not. It’s not even Swing Vote, with Kevin Costner.

This film is a fairly big waste of a couple of comedic talents, in the two lead actors, both of whom work best with a strong supporting cast around them. Instead, they are surrounded by cliched characters and over-actors, not allowing them to truly shine, and forcing them to have to try and carry the movie all by themselves. The film wastes the talents of some pretty funny supporting characters, who aren’t funny in this film (Jason Sudekis, John Lithgow, Dan Akroyd). It gets old fairly quickly, which is too bad. There could have been some potential here, but it is just far too preposterous, and it feels pretty thrown together, to be considered a good movie, or at least, one that is funny.

I’d recommend skipping The Campaign. There are far better political comedies out there, and I simply did not find this one funny or entertaining.