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Monthly Archives: May 2008

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Things Are Heating Up in Atlanta

Hot news — an ex-Weather Channel meteorologist has filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against her former employers. We have the Weather Channel on 24/7 at the house, and I remember plaintiff Hillary Andrews and defendant Bob Stokes (who left the network last January) very well.

This story came out eerily timed, since a couple of nights ago I had a dream about another Weather Channel personality coming under fire. In the dream I was watching Jennifer Lopez being harassed on the set by her male co-anchor for having a high-pitched, nasal sounding voice. The next day (still in the dream), I tuned in again and found Ms. Lopez was back — only speaking with an affected lower-pitched tone like she was trying to imitate a man’s voice. Weird, huh?

WDW Day Three: The Magic Kingdom Pt. 2

Having checked out almost all of the left side of the Magic Kingdom, we decided to take the train from Frontierland to get to the other side of the park. Unfortunately I was in Disneyland mode and thought there would be a train stop in Tomorrowland. Oops. We ended up departing the train at the Main Street stop and walking back to Tomorrowland, but that was okay. First stop was the Carousel of Progress. I cannot believe they still have this thing running — it was first unveiled at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, for Pete’s sake! WDW presents it as a golden oldie and they take pains to stress how much Walt Disney loved the attraction. All this buttering up didn’t seem to affect the audience I saw it with; the four teenage girls in front of us thought it was a joke, and there was even a rude woman yakking on a cell phone behind us. Despite those distractions, I found it utterly charming. So what if the audio-animatronics were more creepy than anything else, and the final scene (supposedly set in the present day) had an distinct mid-1990s look. It was kitschy and cool at the same time.

After this we took a cruise through the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. Another ride much beloved by hardcore WDW fans, this ride is very similar to the old and lamentably gone Peoplemover in Disneyland. The main difference might be that these cars move a lot faster than the leisurely Peoplemover ever did. I had so much fun, and surprisingly the ride gives guests a glimpse at the “City of Tomorrow” model which was originally placed at the end of the Carousel of Progress. On the whole, the ride was a refreshing respite from what was getting to be a hot and humid day.

It was getting later in the afternoon, but too early for our 4:00 meal reservations, so we decided to hang around Main Street until the parade started. I got to break away from the parents (for the only time during the trip), milling about and taking pictures of the buildings. From the outside, this area looks nice, but the insides are full of shops that sell pretty much the same stuff. I went into a section with a gallery sign next to the door, hoping to find something nice. Inside was a bunch of Princess crap. Strangely, the left side of Main Street as you’re looking at the castle is one, long shop. I was able to find a nice, overpriced polo shirt with an appliqué Mickey on it. I caught up with my parents as they were waiting for the Disney Dreams Come True parade. I was expecting corniness galore, but as the parade went by I looked in wonder at the way the costume characters interacted with the kids sitting on either side of me. The performers were complete pros, hard working and cheerful in the hot sun, and they had the children completely enthralled.

After the parade wound up, we had a pleasant yet uneventful lunch/dinner at the Plaza Restaurant, located at the end of Main Street’s right side. We got seated in an octagon-shaped room just off the main dining area, a neat little area with lousy acoustics. It was hard to carry on a conversation with two loud families also in the room, but luckily they left quickly and I was able to enjoy a vanilla shake dessert in relative quiet. After the meal was over, we chatted with our server about working at WDW’s restaurants — 12-hour shifts, no-shows, etc. It was really interesting.

Once the meal was over it was time to explore Fantasyland. Well-timed, too, since the park was closing early for Grad Nite and the crowds in this particular area were thinning out. To be honest, I didn’t have high expectations for Fantasyland since some of my favorite things in Disneyland — the Matterhorn, Alice in Wonderland ride, Storybookland Canal Boats, even the Snow White grotto — are completely missing in Florida. With its mishmash of old-style medieval carnival and Swiss village architectural styles, WDW’s Fantasyland seems a bit aimless and incomplete. Our first stop was the Snow White’s Scary Adventures ride. It was a cute attraction, somewhat less substantial than the Disneyland version. The same could be said for the Winnie the Pooh ride. At least Disney used the ride to stress that Pooh’s story was adapted from a book, something my mom noticed with approval. We also caught a showing of the Florida-specific 3D film Mickey’s PhilharMagic, an enjoyable if not very substantial experience. With the exception of the Pooh ride (5 minute wait with Fastpasses), everything was a walk-on.

Since we weren’t interested in waiting in line for the insanely popular Peter Pan’s Flight, we walked onto the WDW version of It’s a Small World and made it our last stop of the day. After the initial disappointment of finding an indoor queue, we got on and found the ride the same reassuringly cheerful experience we always loved at Disneyland. Despite many tinkerings over the years, the ride still hews to Mary Blair’s original designs and the timeless theme of seeking peace through the world’s children. One improvement of the Disneyland version is the fact that the boats sail through a wide “river” as opposed to the narrow canal at DL. I loved the ride and had plenty of opportunity to take (blurry) photos while our boat got into a logjam in the final two rooms.

Our Small World departure marked the end of Fantasyland and the conclusion of our Magic Kingdom day. I’d say that this was the most fulfilling day of the three, since we achieved everything we wanted to do at a leisurely pace. The only major rides we skipped were Peter Pan and Space Mountain (which all three of us didn’t have much interest in). And all of this was completed before 6:30 p.m., too! Since the evening was still early, I was telling my parents that we should take a bus to nearby Blizzard Beach to play a round of miniature golf. They didn’t seem too hot on going, however, and by that time I was getting a bit peaked — so we went back to the hotel. At least that (and the part of World Showcase that I missed) will give me something to look forward to for a far-off “next time.” All in all, it was a once in a lifetime trip that I’ll never forget!

WDW Day Three: The Magic Kingdom Pt. 1

Friday, April 18th, 2008 marked the end of my Florida trip with the parents and a full day at Walt Disney World’s premiere theme park, The Magic Kingdom. As a lifelong fan of Disneyland in California, I always wanted to check out the Magic Kingdom just to see how it differs from its West Coast counterpart. It turns out that the two parks are very similar in the essentials, but they also have some marked differences — maybe its an East Coast/West Coast thing. Generally speaking, I’d say the main difference between the two is that Disneyland attracts a more laid-back, local crowd who are there for a pleasant day trip. On the other hand, the Magic Kingdom can be summed up more like an expensive, all-encompassing vacation spot geared toward (mostly out-of-state) families who desire a quintessential “Disney” experience.

We arrived at the transportation center bright and early for the park’s opening at 9:00 a.m. Taking the monorail though the Contemporary Resort, I got to catch a glimpse of Mary Blair’s massive multi-story Grand Canyon tile mural — an exciting, old-style way to enter the park. We arrived through the turnstiles and found that we had to wait in the front area for the gateway to Main Street U.S.A. to open. Before the opening there was a splashy musical number to herald the beginning of the day. It was cute and all, but this kinda underlines the differences between Disneyland and WDW. At times it felt like Disney was grabbing me by the collar and yelling “ARE YOU HAVING A MAGICAL TIME ALREADY? WELL, ARE YOU?” I like finding the magic on my own, thank you. Luckily there was a lot of magic to be encountered during the course of the day.

With the throng of morning visitors, we entered Main Street U.S.A. My, that area of the park is huge. I loved the ornate architecture everywhere, but at this point there was no time for dawdling. We made our way to the central hub, where I quickly snapped some photos of Cinderella’s Castle (also much larger than I imagined) on our way towards the Liberty Square entrance. It’s funny that they open the park in stages, but I can see where it helps in terms of crowd control. The bottleneck at the entrance was massive, but our group waiting to get through Liberty Square was much more manageable. Eventually the gate opened and we made a beeline for Splash Mountain to get Fastpasses. By the way, the Fastpass system was a huge, huge help in getting the most out of our trip. The first advice I’d give any Disney theme park visitor — use Fastpasses, and use them often! First thing out of the way, we dropped into Big Thunder Mountain next door for some morning thrills. This was a lot of fun, and we only had to wait for about five minutes to get on. The differences between the WDW and DL versions of the ride seemed pretty minimal to me; mainly the WDW queue is situated indoors and the trains pass by a large area with a fake prospector’s camp.

It was at this point that we took a walk around the river bend to ride on my all-time favorite, The Haunted Mansion. Walking along the nearly deserted pathway through Frontierland and Liberty Square was beautiful. I marveled at the buildings and theming, even telling my parents that I wish it was this empty all day. Approaching the Mansion, we walked right in with no wait. This was a great ride, although it was really dark and my eyes never adjusted to the change in light from the outside (the one bad thing about going during the slow time of the day!). The WDW iteration of the Mansion recently underwent some renovations — everything was in tip-top shape and I’d even say the experience is slightly better than the DL version. It seemed a little longer, and although I love the elegant exterior in Disneyland, the WDW Mansion exterior seems a lot more foreboding. I love the exterior theming, too — that little pet cemetery is the coolest! They even had a gravestone for Mr. Toad, whose ride in Florida was destroyed to make way for Winnie the Pooh.

In my singleminded quest to hit the most popular attractions before 11:00 a.m., the Pirates of the Caribbean was next on the agenda. Having heard that the Magic Kingdom version is widely considered disappointing compared to the Disneyland version, I literally walked onto the ride with lowered expectations. I thought it was pretty good — this biggest loss being the atmospheric intro via the Blue Bayou on the DL version. This was a huge loss since it bridges the gap between the real world and the pirate world. WDW’s Pirates also seemed shorter, but the scenes are presented in an order that makes more narrative sense. The Jack Sparrow audio-animatronic figures were impressive, but it bothered me that there were more than one. For some reason, I always thought of PotC as being a journey through several scenes taking place simultaneously, and having multiple Jacks popping up spoils the illusion. After the ride was over, we had a bathroom break and I took some photos of the great Spanish-style theming around Adventureland.

Further exploring Adventureland, we went over to the Swiss Family Treehouse. That’s one of the great things about the Magic Kingdom — some of the rides haven’t been updated in years! I enjoyed climbing through the unsullied treehouse (even as an adult, it’s fun). That in mind, we avoided the Tiki Room, now updated dumbed-down as The Tiki Room: Under New Management. I can’t stand the thought of my beloved Tiki birds having to deal with obnoxious newer birds. After the treehouse, we went over to check out the hoary old Jungle Cruise. It was another walk-on. This was relaxing and enjoyable, even if our skipper seemed on the blasé side. I liked the addition of a small dark part missing from the DL version. The Kiliminjaro Safari in Animal Kingdom, however, has rendered this quaint boat ride irrelevant.

It was getting time to head down to Splash Mountain and take advantage of our Fastpasses. We only had to wait in line for about five minutes. No matter where it’s located, this is one of my favorite Disney rides. It combines classic “Dark Ride” storytelling and log flume thrills so skillfully that one can enjoy it multiple times. This WDW version didn’t seem dramatically different from the DL version, with maybe not as many scenes containing audio-animatronic critters. It is better placed within the park, and for that reason alone I’d give it an edge over Disneyland’s.

Since the park was considerably less busy than I anticipated, we threw away the touring plan at this point and decided to truck over to Tomorrowland and get Fastpasses for the Buzz Lightyear ride (something I didn’t plan to go on). That done, we stopped in the hub and snapped some gorgeous shots of the Castle at midday. My parents were getting hungry, so we stopped for some hot dogs and fudge in Frontierland before riding on some of the less popular attractions. I wanted to check out the old Country Bear Jamboree, an attraction that hasn’t been in Disneyland since 2001. My parents and I have many nostalgic memories of this particular one, so it was a bit heartwarming to find the original still going — albeit a bit threadbare — in WDW. I even bought a souvenir pressed penny there.

I think at this point (around noon or so), the park was at its capacity. We ducked away from the crowds in the nearby Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square. This is another moldy oldie of an attraction, but I enjoyed it in all its patriotic earnestness. Basically its more like a Presidential Roll Call with speeches only by Abraham Lincoln and George W. Bush. I loved noticing how some of the audio-animatronic presidents on display would keep moving or reacting even when the spotlight wasn’t on them (for some reason Ronald Reagan’s tapping toe stood out for me). That stage is getting awfully crowded — where will they put the next president, out in the audience? We also took a tour of the river in the Liberty Belle Riverboat, where I saw several fake deer and moose and a real alligator.

Yep, I’ve been going on too long on this baby — next time I will write about the conclusion to our Magic Kingdom day.

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom Flickr Montage

Weekly Mishmash: April 27-May 3

Lots of B&W movie watching this week:
The B-52’s – Time Capsule: Songs for a Future Generation. Spotted this for $7.99 (new) at the local indie record store and had to get it, since an old copy of Cosmic Thing was only other thing I had by them. This is a good, solid — albeit flawed — collection. The only song I felt was slighted is “Legal Tender”, a medium-sized hit that made such an impression that I can even remember my high school’s pom squad doing a routine to it. Luckily I already had that song and easily downloaded the other two songs unjustly missing off the CD (“Girl from Ipanema Goes to Greenland” and “Housework”, off 1986’s Bouncing Off the Satellites). I wonder if their new project is worth getting?
The Deep Blue Good-by by John D. MacDonald. I took this brisk little 1964 potboiler, the first of MacDonald’s popular Travis McGee series, along with me to Florida. Appropriate, since these detective novels are evocatively set in a Fort Lauderdale that is changing and growing before McGee’s world-weary eyes. Although set in the ’60s with a macho, bed-hopping hero, the book has a surprisingly contemporary feel. MacDonald was such a gifted writer — and McGee is such an indelible character — that they’re great exceptions to my usually non-fiction reading list.
The Devil Is a Woman (1935). An odd entry in Marlene Dietrich’s filmography and the last of her collaborations with Josef von Sternberg. The star herself cited this as her favorite film in the 1984 documentary Marlene — but when Maximillian Schell pressed her to explain why, she snapped something to the effect of “I just like it the best, that’s all!” To its credit, the film is beautifully photographed with tons of stunningly baroque sets and costumes. Miss Dietrich, playing a Spanish seductress who attracts men and perfect key lighting wherever she goes, gamely inhabits her role but she looks a bit overdone and trampy. She also has this weird tic of moving her head constantly, like a demented bobblehead doll. Despite its several flaws, I actually enjoyed this one a lot. A shade less fulfilling than The Scarlet Empress perhaps, but similarly dripping with artistry during every scene.
A Lady Without Passport (1950). An intriguing looking melodrama which got Tivo’d as part of a Hedy Lamarr month double feature on Turner Classic Movies. I never realized it before, but I’ve never seen a truly great Hedy Lamarr movie. My favorite movie of hers would definitely be Ziegfeld Girl — and that’s mostly due to Judy Garland and Lana Turner, not the blank-faced Lamarr. This one, in which she plays a Cuban refugee desperately trying to escape to the U.S., didn’t change my opinion of her much. It was boring. At least Miss Hedy fared better in the other film —
Hedy Lamarr and Bob HopeMy Favorite Spy (1951). A silly diversion with Lamarr and the hammy, overbearing Bob Hope as competing spies in pursuit of — does it really matter? The film benefited from having a good supporting cast, although the abundance of long scenes played on cheap-o sets made it appear like a trumped-up “B” movie. The exciting slapstick chase scene at the end nearly makes up for the poky hour that preceded it.
Odds Against Tomorrow (1959). Gritty bank heist thriller was one of the last film noirs and probably the only one with a black protagonist (ably played by Harry Belafonte). Robert Ryan and Ed Begley are also really good as the other bank robbers, older men willing to take a chance on one last, great job. This one was pretty good even if individual elements came off better than the film as a whole. Robert Wise’s direction is assured yet heavy-handed, and Shelley Winters and Gloria Grahame could’ve been so much better if their roles weren’t so limited. The film takes a long while to get going, but the climactic bank robbery scene is excellent.
Pinky (1949), a.k.a. the one with Jeanne Crain as a light-skinned black woman returning to her Southern home to care for her aunt (Ethel Waters). Starts off too ponderously with the then-controversial racial identity plotline, then gets appreciably better with a secondary plot involving Ethel Barrymore’s rich old lady character and a subsequent courtroom drama. Crain, always a bit of a cream puff of an actress, was a lot better here than I’ve ever seen her. She definitely deserved the Oscar nomination she got, as did Waters and Barrymore.
Zoot Woman — Living in a Magazine. I can’t believe this little gem of an album passed me by when it came out in 2001. This Europop combo rocks an only somewhat ironic retro-’80s groove and proudly cites Hall & Oates as an inspiration. They remind me a lot of Phoenix and Tahiti 80; “Jesse” is the highlight. Strangely enough, I plopped “Two of Hearts” by one hit wonder and Facts of Life guest star Stacey Q right after this album in its playlist, where it fits like a (fingerless lace) glove.

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