A Sarcastic Cover Letter

So, I wrote a really goofy cover letter for an indie publication because they were looking for a “snarky editorial writer” who likes to rant and such. I figured instead of just showing my fiance what I wrote, I’d show my fiance what I wrote through the internet as well. I personally thought their ad was awesome and per request, I tried writing a cover letter that grabs their attention and something that was applicable for what they were looking for. I don’t recommend copying this format though.

“The music scene is terrible. Artistry has been traded in for the talentless. Anything

popular tends to be over produced electronica and ran by nepotism (I’m talking to

you Will Smith). It’s a generation ran by One Directions and I’m expected to give 5

Seconds of Summer a pass because they know how to play the same three chords

repetitively. Please, don’t tell me that Skrillex is talented or how cool Coachella is. If

you’re over the age of 12 and don’t take drugs, then congratulations, you’ve peaked

higher maturity than the aforementioned demographics. I could write a novel about

my distaste for the music scene, but that’s not the point of this “cover letter.” I’m

reaching out to you for employment.

BitCandy, you say you’re looking for a snarky Editorial Writer, but how serious is

your claim? When I was an editor for the Golden Gate Xpress Newspaper, the editors

above me would constantly edit my pieces for being “too snarky” or “too cynical.” I

know I’m what you’re looking for, but do you know it? I personally felt at home

when I read the first lines of “Do you like to rant? Are you a sarcasm machine?” in

your ad. I’m often labeled a hipster because I find the music I like the old fashion

way; you know, by purchasing records and going to shows. Pretty hipster of me, I

know. I could give you a long list of why I’m qualified for what you’re looking for and

how I want this job, but what’s the point? It was either grab your attention or give

you information I’m sure all your other applicants have spewed out.

I hope this was enough of an attention grabber to get you to the third paragraph and

I guarantee you, if BitCandy takes the time and chance on me, you won’t regret it.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

John Bradley Wilson

P.S. Nickleback is spelled “Meghan Trainor.”

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The Hobbit Trilogy: An Evaluation

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I saw The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies last night. 3.5/5 Read on if you need to understand my rating.

Yes, the film adaptation of the beloved novel, “The Hobbit”, originally one piece of literature; originally planned for a two-film adaptation with Guillermo del Toro and Peter Jackson; changed to a two-film adaptation with Peter Jackson; ultimately ending up as a trilogy heavily including material from the appendices, has finally come to its prolonged conclusion. Please don’t call yourself a huge LOTR fan if you have never read the books. Many of my points and discrepancies come from a disregard of the original literature.

BOFA is a guilty-pleasure film, with action I found much more compelling than “The Desolation of Smaug.” Both films’ action defies probability and gravity. However, BOFA didn’t have that ridiculous barrel scene, so it gets a pass. It’s a blown-up action film with Middle-Earth as its background. I enjoyed it on a visceral level and just accepted that it was a stupid action film. It was not as dreadful as DOS, but maybe I had lower expectations. The opening scene with Smaug destroying Lake Town doesn’t work as a beginning of the film. The second film had such a cliffhanger revolving around this dragon about to destroy this city, and to end it 10 minutes into a film that came out a year later feels anti-climatic.

In the opening scene and 40 minutes into this film, I did not care about anyone and was very aware I was watching a film. It took the superb acting by Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins to suck me back in. His dialogue with Thorin (credit to the screenwriters) adds a human element to it. Due to the fact that “The Hobbit” trilogy has a George Lucas touch to it, hinders any real character development. Also, there’s 13 dwarves and a handful of other characters to follow. It’s hard enough keeping up with the dwarves in the book. To Peter Jackson’s credit, that seems like a hard feat to accomplish. But what doesn’t help is that these films are butter scraped over too much bread. There’s great source material to follow and it didn’t need three movies. It’s a stretched out story with as much CGI crap that one can fit in each frame (the George Lucas effect). The film focuses too much on the unnecessary (it’s unnecessary because the original story flows fine without the film’s inclusions) material of the appendices and attempts to be as epic as LOTR, that the character development is stalled and they’re set pieces for a visual experience. Side note: why is Billy Connolly’s character all CGI?

Much like DOS, BOFA’s action does not posses any real peril. The characters are almost untouchable, but I applaud the film makers for following the source material and killing off Thorin, Fili, and Kili. It was one of the few times I felt an emotional connection…..well 2/3. Kili and Tauriel’s romance made me not care more. I know a lot of people have found this romance cheesy, and rightly so. This brings me to a lot of my main points. A lot of the grievances people have with these films are aspects that are NOT in the novel. I follow a lot of Youtube film reviewers; Schmoesknow, Jeremy Jahns, Chris Stuckmann. I really appreciate their opinions and it often makes or break if I see a film. However, they often justify the concept of stretching out “The Hobbit” story and tell people not to compare the source material. But their gripes, like many other film goers, stem from elements that the film is not a stand-alone piece.

It’s Not In The Book/It Is In The Book

I’m annoyed when I hear that the books don’t matter, because they do. As I said earlier, don’t call yourself a fan of the series until you’ve done your homework. Unless you’re Steven Spielberg, you should probably stick to the novel’s material. I’m not a Tolkien purist and understand changes need to be made when you’re making a film. “Jurassic Park” is a great film on its own and it steers from black and white in regards to the novel. But “The Hobbit” novel is a perfect, linear story and the characters you’re supposed to care for, you do. There’s a sense of adventure that the films lack. It’s trying too hard to be like its epic LOTR counterpart. I have my issues with the original trilogy, but I feel Peter Jackson did the best adaptation you will ever get, and I don’t mind most of the creative liberties they took. The Scouring of the Shire; important, yes, but as a film, it does not translate well after destroying the ring. Tom Bombadil; my favorite character (next to Pippin and Merry). Tom and the barrow-downs is such a rich element of the novels and it’s the epitome of great fantasy. But ultimately, it does not affect the overall story of Frodo, which is what the filmmakers were adamant about. There’s much more to discuss about LOTR, but this is about “The Hobbit.”

Radagast the Brown has been dubbed by a few as the Jar-Jar Binks of these films. While not as bad, he’s a zoophile who smokes weed and is covered in bird feces. He rides around on CGI rabbits and is used as an eagle tamer in the final battle of BOFA. He’s nothing more than a sentence in the novel and I think we all prefer him that way.

The romance between Tauriel and Kili has maybe about 10 real minutes of screen time. Sure, Kili makes a penis reference in DOS, but that doesn’t count. Not in the book, not necessary. I don’t understand creating Tauriel. I really liked Evangeline Lily in “Lost”, but this character is not interesting. And when you add her romance with the one dwarf without dwarf prosthetics, it’s forcing a connection that’s not there. The fact that it’s a made up (made up as in not the book’s material) romance with a made up character is too distracting for when you’re supposed to feel something when Kili dies. Kili originally dies with Fili defending a wounded Thorin. It’s more honorable and I cared a lot more. His made up romance with a made up character who serves no real purpose is laughable, not tear-jerking.

Orlando Bloom is great as Legolas and I tend to forgive his over the top antics in the film’s depictions of the Battle of Helms Deep and Pelennor Fields. His banter with Gimli helped is the human element that was missing in “The Hobbit” films. You saw their friendship grow and the film really captured their arcs. But just knowing Legolas was added in for fan service makes me despise his action scenes. He’s untouchable! I also never worry about him because he’s in the next set of films. He kills one of the main villains in BOFA, which I guess isn’t so bad. The main orc that’s not Azog isn’t in the book, so having a character not in the book killed by a character not in the book works….I guess. Legolas’s lack of mortality (besides the fact he’s an elf) is one of the reasons I’m not huge on prequels. Prequels tend to use the same characters from the original, so I’m not too worried about them. The fight between Obi-Wan and Anakin at the end of “Revenge of the Sith” is fun and goofy and all, but you know they’re both going to live. Anakin turns to charcoal, but you know him and Anakin are in EP IV-VI.
Legolas also has aged! I’m not the first one to say this, but he doesn’t have that elegant, elf-like look he had in LOTR. He has a Benjamin Button effect.

Gandalf’s side journeys are a desperate attempt to bridge both stories. Gandalf disappears a lot in the novel, and you accept it because he’s a cooky wizard. You don’t need to know where he’s going (unless you read the appendices). Your focus is on Bilbo and the company. Gandalf being captured by Sauron and seeing the Sauron gif is another desperate attempt to stretch out the story. They eventually vanquish Sauron in the BOFA, but that’s it? For over 60 years, Gandalf never attempts to uncover anything or has any real memory about it? Is it really not until Bilbo gives the ring to Frodo that he bothers to do any research? Hey Gandalf, it’s an odd magic ring that Bilbo found, and you just were captured by a ring maker, maybe you should look into that! Sure, Saruman say’s “he’ll handle it” but over those 60 odd years, you never bothered to ask questions? Sauron did not need to be a focus in the film, but a foreboding presence to the next set of films. With this bridge, you’re left wondering why Gandalf was neglecting any of this. Also, the battle with Galadriel, Saruman, and Elrond against the Nazgul ruined the mystery of the Ringwraiths. You know just enough in LOTR and in BOFA, they’re goofy transparent spirits with different aesthetics that don’t line up with the hooded menaces. This story did not another made up action scene. Seriously, was the barrel scene not enough?

The singing in “An Unexpected Journey” has been met with some mixed reviews. I’ve heard that it’s too kid-like or that it’s corny. Well, hate to break it to you, but “The Hobbit” novel is a kid’s book that is a bit corny. It’s one of the aspects I found the most gratifying in the film. When the dwarves are washing dishes in Bag End and break out into a tune, I broke a smile. I thought it was a great way to include the singing, which is greatly excluded from the LOTR films. It captured the magic of Middle-Earth and AUJ is actually my favorite film in this trilogy. It was the only film that had the adventure-sense and there’s a magic to it that was eventually bogged down by overly-long orc fights in the next films. Yeah, there’s a ton of creative liberties taken and the pacing is off, but I felt like I was in Middle-Earth. It wasn’t in an action movie with Middle-Earth as the setting. It also has a lot of Hobbiton, which is my favorite element from the films and novels. I recently took a trip to Hobbiton and it’s the reason I felt compelled to even write this review.

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I found AUJ to be the most loyal to the novel, and it captured it well. The climax with the cave goblins and Azog served well, even with the extensive time it took to get there. People, primarily those who did not read the book, went into AUJ expecting an epic like LOTR and were disappointed. Of course they were! It’s not supposed to be this grandiose tale. “The Hobbit” is on a smaller scale and does not possess the elements to match LOTR. Sure, the filmmakers tried, but it wasn’t there in the first place.

The encounter with Smaug in DOS starts off great. Bilbo steals the show, yet again, with a CG character. Smaug looks awesome and he lives up to his reputation. But then the dwarves get involved and make that weird dwarf statue. You’re submerged in this dialogue with this hobbit and this monster, and to have it end with dwarf shenanigans was odd, and another reason DOS is my least favorite. It too, was not in the novel and it did not serve as a good climax. As I said earlier, DOS ends with such an emphasis on Smaug’s fury and he’s killed off in the first act of BOFA.

The pacing plagues AUJ the most, but the other films as well. AUJ takes too long to get to the point; DOS takes too long to get to the point, but throws more action scenes in it to please teenagers; BOFA is the polar opposite. There’s a 30ish minute build up, a 60ish minute battle, and a 20ish minute reflection then it’s over. All three film’s pacing suffer from the fact that appendices material is added and it all feels like filler. When you watch AUJ and DOS, then read the novel, it’s humorous how quickly you get to the encounter with the trolls and Beorn. It takes an hour to see the trolls in AUJ and a whole movie for Beorn.

I Do Like The Hobbit Trilogy

I really do. BOFA looks awesome. I saw it in high-frame rate and unlike when I saw AUJ 48 frames per second, I found it complemented the film’s visuals. It wasn’t weird and distracting. They’re well filmed and well acted. I don’t think anyone would doubt Peter Jackson’s talent, and Howard Shore’s music is what separates the LOTR trilogy from many films. Billy Boyd and Annie Lennox both have great songs that see off each trilogy. It’s what makes my stomach drop at the end of “Return of the King.” “The Hobbit” trilogy is fun for its own reasons, but it could have been so much better. If Peter Jackson took the same approach to “The Hobbit” as he did with LOTR, that is, sticking to the novel as best as possible and honoring Tolkien’s work, we would have had a fun singular film and a four film epic. Sticking to the novel would have solved the pacing issues, the stupid inclusion of Legolas and creation of Tauriel, the romance, the character arcs etc. I am really trying to condense my thoughts, because unlike these films, I want to get to the point. The novel ain’t broke, don’t turn it into something it’s not.

We now have a six film saga, so I guess that’s neat. I can at least get through “The Hobbit” films to reach LOTR; I have a harder time with Star Wars EP I-III. Overall, I ache a bit knowing that this is probably our last film experience in Middle-Earth until the remakes. The tradition of seeing these films each December was still fun, and harkened back to my nostalgia when I saw the LOTR each December back in middle school. I still cannot stress enough to read the novels. They’re a difficult read at times, but they are so beautifully written and there’s a lot of neat stuff that isn’t in the films. I’d also be a liar if I said that I don’t own both versions of AUJ and DOS (theatrical and extended) and I’ll probably do the same with BOFA. These films certainly aren’t perfect, but it’s a great portal into a fantasy world that I’ve grown to admire since I first read “When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.”

The Guide To Being a Man II (LOL)

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Last September, I wrote responses to Wall Street Journal’s John Carney’s list of how to be a man. You can read last year’s article here. If you wish to see my responses from last September, just go to that section of this blog. I don’t write a lot, so it shouldn’t be hard to find. They released an updated version of that list this past September. I would have responded earlier, but I’ve spent this whole year not being a man and backpacking and traveling. My bad. But hey, in the Spirit of Christmas, let’s be a little Scrooge-like, shall we?

“Now, we’ve decided to team up with Genius (formerly Rap Genius) and update that list for 2014, and to include annotations. Click the highlighted lines to read more.”

The annotations do not work for my laptop; probably being that I’m not a real man and am a broke backpacker. But I thought I’d take time out of my empty life and respond to their updated list. Being that this is an updated list of last year’s, there’s some repeats. So, I’m just going to respond to the newbies. Enjoy!

Always carry cash. Keep some in your front pocket.-See, this is my problem with this list and last year’s. They offer some decent life advice relevant to tipping and other miscellaneous tidbits. Admittedly, some of it is pretty spot on and could create for just convenience in your life. Much like this tidbit about carrying cash. How is this related to what’s in between my legs? Even in the 21st Century, (especially in San Francisco) there are many places that are cash only. You don’t want to use an ATM; those silly withdrawal fees add up. Also, ever traveled around Southeast Asia? 98 percent of businesses are cash only. So, was I more of a man because I ALWAYS had cash on me! Was my fiance a man because of this? Oh man, I hope not.

Rebel from business casual. Burn your khakis and wear a suit or jeans.- Are you referring to work related incidents, or everyday attire? If you’re referring to everyday attire, I don’t think you’re impressing anyone at The Olive Garden.

It’s okay to trade the possibility of your 80s and 90s for more guaranteed fun in your 20s and 30s.-Are you implying binge drinking? If so, that doesn’t make you more of a man. It shows how you want to justify your stupid decisions. Sure, you get a minor dopamine release, but then all that manliness gets in the way and you ruin not just your liver. In this article, it says it all in the title. So, jackass, alcohol dependency is related to blunted dopamine transmission. You’re obviously dependent on alcohol for your dopamine release, otherwise you wouldn’t try justifying it. And if you’re still binge drinking in your 30’s, if that’s not an incentive to grow up, I don’t what is. Giving up your 80’s and 90’s in such fashion shows that you’re an idiot and don’t think five years ahead.

Play competitive sports for as long as you can.-Yay for masculinity norms! I grew up playing hockey and quite frankly, don’t understand how people dislike sports. But I digress. I certainly don’t look at someone like Sam Harris or Bill Gates and correlate their “manliness” on how long I think they played sports. They’re brilliant, successful minds and don’t rely on jock mentality to stand up for themselves. I’m sorry if you’re trying to compensate for something.

Never date an ex of your friend-Another example of irrelevance to masculinity. Honestly, for the most part, if you switched this article and last year’s, but changed it to “How to be a real woman” it wouldn’t make much of a difference. Yeah, never date an ex of your friend because that’s a dick thing to do. It doesn’t make you more of a man refraining from something that you should be already. It’s like wanting credit for have never been to jail. I haven’t 🙂

If you perspire, wear a damn undershirt- A basic odor issue. Does bathing make you more of a man too?

People are tired of you being the funny, drunk guy-…..said the guy who just tried justify drinking heavily in your 30’s. Your responses are as pathetic as an unknown blogger taking the time to respond to questions regarding how to be a real man.

You probably use your cell phone too often and at the wrong moments.-That’s just social commentary on today’s generation addiction to technology. You should really go to Singapore and tell this to each and every guy you see on their phone. You’ll be out of breath within minutes. Today’s culture has an unhealthy obsession to their phones; men and women. Why don’t you just shoot me a text? We can sort this out iPhone to iPhone.

Buy expensive sunglasses.- Hey, this is cheating! You literally said that last year, but had more to say about it. I quote, “Buy expensive sunglasses. Superficial? Yes, but so are the women judging you. And it tells these women you appreciate nice things and are responsible enough not to lose them.” Did you realize how much you sounded like a tool last year? Well if you’re going to cheat, I’m just going to use my answer from last year. I quote, “Are you only going for superficial girls? I have Star Wars posters in my room and heck, my girlfriend still likes me. I also have an HD Television as well as a Pearl Export drum set. Both of which are more expensive than sunglasses, more useful, in good shape and I appreciate these nice things a lot. Does that really say anything more than I enjoy my movies in HD and I play music as a hobby? Guess what Mr. Carrey, or is it Carney? Sorry, this got long. Chicks dig musicians! I’ll stick to my Wal-Mart sunglasses while being better at something than you. This doesn’t make me more of a “man” than you; it just shows that I have a passion for something other than being Patrick Bateman. Enjoy your spray tan.”

Act like you’ve been there before.-Like I’ve been where before? If you applied this to literally everywhere I went, it might not prove as fruitful. If I went to Planned Parenthood and acted like I’m a “local” there, I don’t think that would pan out very well. I don’t want to be that guy that gives off a confident aroma of passing his HIV blood test every week. Or Disneyland! Does it really make you cooler than all tourists acting like you frequent Disneyland? If anything, you’d get lost not asking for directions on how to get to the Tea Cups. That place is huge!

Laugh more.-A tip to longevity if applied properly. Once again, nothing to do with manliness. Congratulations, you laugh. What a man! Are you Swedish? Well, you must like spinach. Off of your logic, that makes complete sense.

Learn how to fly-fish-Learn how to backpack, play an instrument, surf, skateboard, play hockey, be a programmer (they make the money), play poker, cook….get the point? All the aforementioned are cooler and more enjoyable than fly fishing. They certainly do not make someone less of a man. It just shows you have different hobbies. It sounds like the writers of these articles took their own lives and just slapped together a manly list, like they were the epitome of manly existence. My wine collection has bigger balls than you.

A glass of wine or two with lunch will not ruin your day.-It does for some people, I suppose. I enjoy a 40oz with my burritos as much as the next manly man, but once again, this has NOTHING to do with a penis. This list isn’t even fun to write anymore. If this is a tongue in cheek article written by a woman, it’s freaking genius.

It’s better if old men cut your hair-You’re creepy.

Own a handcrafted shotgun. It’s a beautiful thing.-Sounds good, Sarah Palin.

There’s always another level. Just be content knowing that you are still better off than most who have ever lived.-Good life advice. Ever been to Cambodia? That will humble your suit wearing, binge drinking ego.

Cobblers will save your shoes. So will shoe trees.-You got me there. I don’t know what that is. I thought you were talking about porn.

The cliche is that having money is about not wasting time. But in reality, money is about facilitating spontaneity.-That’s a cliche? I thought the cliche was money doesn’t buy happiness. You’re not deep, sweetheart. All style, no substance.

Do not use an electric razor.-I couldn’t agree more! Those things are annoying!

#StopItWithTheHashtags-Come to think of it, you and I probably have a lot more in common than I thought we would. #missedconnection

Your ties should be rolled and placed in a sectioned tie drawer.-You work at McDonalds. I told you, there’s no need for a tie.

You may only request one song from the DJ.-If you’re going to places with DJs, it shows that you have terrible taste in music and haven’t grown up. End of story.

Take more pictures. With a camera.-Look at my travel posts. Your pictures aren’t impressive. And guess what? Most of those photos were taken with an iPad. It’s convenient!

Place-dropping is worse than-name dropping.Bowel dropping beats them both.

When you admire the work of artists or writers, tell them. And spend money to acquire their work.-Some things are pleasing to the eye aesthetically, but you don’t necessarily need it in your routine life. At the risk of repeating myself, why are you masculine out of this?

Your clothes do not match. They go together.-Did you run out of things to write? I’m getting there myself.

Yes, of course you have to buy her dinner.-Chivalry, nice. But the way modern day feminism is, that’s a hindrance to equality. Oh, the agony.

Staying angry is a waste of energy.-Yup. It leads to ulcers too. You’re not as clever as you think.

Don’t use the word “closure” or ever expect it in real life.-I really hope this article is coming to a closure.

Drink outdoors. And during the day. And sometimes by yourself.-More justification for drinking!

Date women outside your social set. You’ll be surprised-Yes, how surprising is it that women who aren’t binge drinking at 30 are different. Your social set sucks.

You cannot have a love affair with whiskey because whiskey will never love you back.-Yes, most inanimate objects have that issue. Objectophilia tends to be very one sided.

Feigning unpretentiousness is worse than being pretentious.-That’s the most pretentious thing I’ve heard.

The New Yorker is not high-brow. Neither is The Economist.-Neither is Business Insider.

If you believe in evolution, you should know something about how it works.Tell that to Creationists.

Ignore the boos. They usually come from the cheap seats.-What, did your stand up comedy career have a poor ending?

Give thoughtful gifts.-It’s usually the idea behind giving gifts. I didn’t give my fiance the flu without having a sincere motive behind it.

Life is short. Wait for a good pitch to hit-These kind of contradict each other. Wouldn’t it make sense if the words “life is short” and “wait” weren’t next to each other?

Oh man, that was just as long as last time. Well, in tradition with the previous edition, here’s a photo of something completely random.

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I don’t know what’s more sad. The fact that I took the time to respond to some guy who has no idea who I am, nor will he. Or the fact that I did it twice.

Backpacking in 82 Days: Kampot, The Witch of the White Mountain, Siem Reap, and Bangkok

I know, 4 topics for one blog is a little ambitious. But I’m an ambitious, amateur, pessimistic blogger. Devyn and I are currently in Bangkok (funny reference) and I personally hate this city. More on that later, let’s focus on the other 99 percent of the trip.

After a quick stay in Phnom Penh, we booked a bus to take us to Kampot. An alleged 3 hour bus drive doesn’t sound too bad at all. That is, until you hop on the bus. You need to give bus rides an additional 2-5 hours extra time because during your commute, you’re stopping every 15 minutes picking some random person up, or tagging along for their personal errands. No joke. We did a minor grocery store run as well as wait for the driver to make a personal call.

Once you get closer to Kampot the scenery is both breathtaking and heart breaking. It’s a vast landscape of rice fields and greenery. But this is where you notice how severely poor Cambodia is. Many of these houses are on stilts or no bigger than an average bathroom in the states.

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As hard as it is to see people living under .93 cents a day, being in these environments for over a month makes scenarios like this almost common place. The real trick is not to get used to it and remain appreciative of what you have. However, as grim as the conditions are, there’s oddly a sophisticated atmosphere to the poverty stricken lifestyle that is Kampot. These families embraced their relationships and did not appear to take for granted what little they had. Out of this simplicity, comes true happiness. In a way, I envied them.

Once in Kampot, at dinner we had our first unpleasant encounter with a Khmer person. It was just poor service, nothing like Bangkok. They just appeared to be irritated by us, or more specifically, westerners. It’s not the worst thing in the world. We get profiled at airports so we learned how to just take it with a grain of salt. After that dinner, we found our way to Kampot Pie and Ice Cream Palace. It’s a few doors down from where we were staying and thank goodness for that. It has a superb menu from breakfast to desserts, solid coffee, and a warm atmosphere. It’s basically Brad and Devyn’s restaurant baby. We love anywhere with hearty meals and a home like atmosphere. It harkens back to our love for Hobbiton. Its owner, Les, is this unique gent from Canada who owned property his whole life and ended up in Cambodia doing just that. He won’t steer shy from saying hello.

The following day, we found a tuk tuk driver and hired him for the day. Unlike our driver in Phnom Penh (who crashed into a car), this guy was a salty pro, but with a smile. He took us to their caves and the scenery on the way is, need I say again, stunning.

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The caves themselves are these gargantuan, cathedral like phenomenons. It’s a short trek, but you do some serious crawling and ducking. The coolest parts of the cave were not captured. It got too difficult while crawling through the dark.

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Afterward, our awesome tuk tuk driver took us to a Kampot pepper field. It’s a lot like a winery, but with Kampot peppers; these tiny little balls of fiery goodness.

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Serving wine at the pepper field wasn’t too shabby either. The coolest parts about taking a tuk tuk to these locations were seeing the people in their day-to-day lives on the way, as well as the awesome Khmer kids not skipping a beat when it comes to waving to you. It’s almost like being a celebrity. We were told that it’s just in the Khmer culture to display kindness and you certainly see that with the kids. I mean, I’ve rambled about Khmer kids already haven’t I?

Phnom Sor: The Search For The Witch Of The White Mountain This was something we found randomly in a pamphlet. We saw the words “hike” and “witch” so we were in. It wasn’t a tourist attraction and that has proven to provide the most fun days. Anything off the beaten path or locally recommended is the way to go. Nothing through tourist vendors or driving sightseeing tours.

Phnom Sor is more like an exaggerated hill than anything, but according to locals and others, it’s a 30 minute vertical hike to the top where an old witch lives.

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After taking a bit of a dodgy road, our tuk tuk driver stopped in a school yard. He thought we wanted to see the temples on campus, but we reiterated hike, mountain, and old woman he immediately asked anyone he could how to take the most direct path to the White Mountain.

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We ended up recruiting these two schoolboys who said they go up to see the witch all the time. This is a prime example of why you should find off the beaten path activities when traveling. It’s so awesomely random to end up being led to witch mountain by two boys after your tuk tuk driver was unsure how to get there. The boys led us along a long dirt road and you could see Phnom Sor’s looming presence. Dare I say, it has a Tolkien Lonely Mountain element to it. Refer to the the picture a few photos up.

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Once you reach the foot of the mountain, it’s almost a vertical hike to the top up rigid rock stairways. The scenery all over is breathtaking. The higher you get, the better the view gets. As our tuk tuk driver kept reiterating while walking up: “beautiful”.

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You almost forget you’re looking for a witch, being distracted by the great views. Once you get near the top, it gets eerie. It’s dark stones decorated with offerings leading up to a metallic hut. It is a place where a witch would live. The whole group kept their voices down to not disturb whomever we may encounter. So with our wits about and a $5 bill ready, (you’re supposed to bring an offering or you get cursed) we made our final steps to the top.

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Through the hut, there were more offerings and it led to another rock staircase leading down into the back of the mountain. There isn’t much walking room near the back and it’s where we found the creepiest aspect; the cave entrance to the woman’s rest area.

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We didn’t find the witch and the boys said she may be out and about collecting supplies. She must be a tough lady. I’ve seen photos of what she looks like and she is a small, frail looking gal. To make that hike is impressive. We paid our respects through prayer with our tuk tuk driver and just soaked in the views before hiking back down. If you’re ever in Kampot, this is something you should not miss. It’s a great hike and if you’re lucky, you will meet the legendary witch.

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The next day, following the high of an awesome day previously, we proved my earlier point; don’t do sightseeing tours. While some of the sights are neat, it’s relatively a waste of money and caters to tourists. It takes away the magic of it all. Here are some photos of the neater sights we saw.

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We both really like old, abandoned buildings so it was cool having this catered to our tastes. Other than the sunset cruise later that night, it was a pretty “meh” sightseeing trip. Luckily the company was good.

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Siem Reap: We had to bid a sad farewell to Kampot at one point. With the warmth of the community and how often we frequented Kampot Ice Cream Palace, we started recognizing faces, being recognized, and felt like locals.

The bus drive to Siem Reap was a 12 hour endeavor which included a transfer. Fortunately, the bus provided humorous Chinese music videos and films dubbed in Khmer. Once in Siem Reap, our tuk tuk driver couldn’t find our accommodation. It made for an interesting night and it was a moment where Devyn and I practiced our “don’t mess with me” looks, just like we do in Bangkok.

You know what, Siem Reap was a pretty low key point in the trip. When you’re gone for so long, you can’t have every day be adventurous or a “go-go”. It burns you out. For the most part, we stayed out of the heat by frequenting a coffee shop, read, did Christmas shopping at their awesome daily night market, and discovered Asian countries can’t do Mexican food.
Of course, we checked out Angkor Wat and the other temples. These are awesome sights to see, but overwhelmingly filled with tourists. It truly takes the magic out of it all. I’d suggest checking out some of the smaller temples on the outskirts. These are more decayed by age and are overgrown by vines and trees. To Devyn and I, we found these temples much more appealing.

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During our temple of doom run, we were ripped off by monks. They insisted on praying with us, burning incense, and making us bracelets. Of course, where there’s religion, comes asking for money. They expected donations the whole time. I gave them a few bucks and they saw a $20 in my pocket. Naturally, they wanted more. We took off fleeing and mind you, this was only a 15 second ordeal, so anything more than a few George Washingtons is a little excessive. Here’s a picture of me being frustrated after:

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But, we did have an awesome last night in Siem Reap. We wanted a romantic night together and we found this charming restaurant called Bugs Cafe. We enjoyed an insect fondue with each other. It’s love baby. Yup, just a cricket and silkworm dessert.

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The place is cleverly put together though. The owner told us he stresses that the restaurant be spotless clean to help customer’s psyche when eating bugs. The menu items are mixed with normal food items as well, so it’s not too overwhelming. A solid end to Cambodia.

Bangkok: Ok, so if you follow me on Facebook, you’ll know I haven’t had much positive things to say about Bangkok, Thailand. I’m keeping this brief. The flight from Siem Reap to Bangkok is hilariously short. Without exaggeration, it’s like flying from San Diego to Los Angeles. I listened to a song on my iPod before they announced we were descending.

We met a German couple who were coincidentally staying at the same place we were. Good thing too because the ride from the airport cost 400 baht. ($12ish USD) This commute shouldn’t have been more than 150 baht, but Don Meung Airport has a clever way of running taxis at higher rates. It is what is, and was no where like the scams we encountered.

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The people in Bangkok are polar opposite of the Khmer. They’re gruff and bitter looking. You get an unwelcome vibe in the city and they appear to be pissed off all the time. On top of that, everyone is out to rip you off. Our driver this morning to Siam Square filled up gas after picking us up, but kept the meter running. We told him to restart it and even though he knew he was caught, he was livid with us and rushed us out of the car once we reached our destination. Lonely Planet has sound advice about avoiding these notorious scams. Drivers will often offer flat rates that are three times what it should be or “forget” to turn the meter on and charge you a flat rate.

We checked out Siam Discovery which is a mall that of Singapore standards. Their malls are huge. We spent time in that part of town to avoid the heat and scammers. Getting home was a different story. After turning down two drivers trying to charge 500 baht for an 80 baht ride, we had to settle for the third driving offering 150 (originally 200). It was here that we realized during their rush hour, they scam foreigners with flat rates saying their meters don’t work. But, they have functioning meters when it comes to Thai people. It only takes a few looks in other cabs to witness this.

Basically, Bangkok sucks. The rest of Thailand is supposed to be amazing, but Bangkok sucks. Everything I wrote and more of the stuff I didn’t is the epitome of why Bangkok sucks. Everyone is trying to rip you off and those that aren’t, scowled at you and make you feel unwelcome. We take off the Vietnam tomorrow and we are ready for it.

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Backpacking in 82 Days: The Killing Fields at Choeung Ek and the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide

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I wanted to have The Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng in a separate post, as opposed to how I have been blogging our trip. If anything, it’s just for myself because I want to remember all the thoughts that went through mine and Devyn’s head on our morbid day of visiting these locations.

Until I planned a trip to Cambodia, I had no idea about the Khmer Rouge or the genocide that took place from 1975-79. There’s so much to explain for the context and photos to make sense, and I’m still learning more about it. I immediately purchased a book about the atrocities after we visited both locations.

Here’s a quick gist (and I’m still learning more about it, so if I got something wrong, please let me know) Throughout the early 70s, Cambodia was already in a civil war which had a history tracing back two decades. Pol Pot (the eventual leader of the Khmer Rouge) was well educated with his comrades and they, along with many others were not in favor of their Prime Minister, Lom Nol. Lom Nol was very pro-American during the Vietnam war and at that time, the USA were conducting bombing raids on small Cambodia towns trying to push Vietnamese communists back into Vietnam. Many towns were destroyed and a lot of innocent lives lost. Those who survived were easily recruited by Pol Pot’s group, for they hated the States and how Lom Nol allowed this to happen.

They recruited many peasants, on top of an already pretty well educated group, who did their studies in France. Eventually, this created a group known as the Khmer Rouge. They overthrew the government and forced an evacuation of the city of Phnom Penh. They were the new authority of Cambodia and forced many civilians out of their homes.

Over the course of over three years, the Khmer Rouge, under the leadership of Pol Pot, killed over 3 million of their own people until they were finally overthrown and forced to flee after an invasion by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The Khmer Rouge wiped out any traces of multiple religions, schools, family systems, places of worship, and anything culturally based. They destroyed it; physically and abstractly. They wanted the ultimate power to be looked upon to be them.

The Khmer Rouge killed anyone who they felt were traitors to their communist movement, be it an intellectual, those with soft hands, or glasses. People were tortured for alleged involvement against the Khmer Rouge or for being an individual. The country today, has an average age no older than 35 because so many of the older generation was wiped out. Once you visit this still beautiful country, you can see the poverty as a result and how this horrendous moment in history set them back.

Choeung Ek: Now, onto the attractions. We arrived at the Choeung Ek, The Killing Fields, and at first, it’s not much to look at. It is what it sounds like. It’s a beautiful lay out of grasslands and rice fields. The first thing you see when you walk through through entrance is a gargantuan memorial. But this is not your average memorial. It contains the skulls of the thousands of people that were killed and dug up.

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An audio tour guides you around the fields and throughout the walk, are numerous 4ft deep divots in the earth. They’re graves. Once the site was abandoned, many graves were excavated and up to 400 people in one single grave could be found.

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What’s intense is that the kills were not quick. Due to the country being poor, bullets and guns were expensive. Any blunt objects that could be used were. Axes, sticks, knives, whatever. A handful of prisoners were tortured first At Tuol Sleng, before being starved and transported for execution to Choeung Ek. The majority of the skulls have signs of blunt force trauma or holes from being beaten to death. Devyn and I felt weird taking pictures, so we kept it minimal.

It’s the testimonies of the perpetrators and victims in the audio tour that add an additional heartbreaking element. There’s stories of witnessing a family member having their throat slit, a woman feeling shamed after being raped and so much more.

On the trek, which includes walking around bones and victim’s clothing that are still stuck in the earth, you eventually come upon the killing tree. People, primarily children, were beaten against this tree. The part the stuck with me was how the KR would grab babies from their legs and smash their heads against the tree. Yes, they killed babies. Pol Pot wanted to avoid revenge plots against them and felt the youth would seek them out for killing their families. As well, Pol Pot believed that when you cut grass, you need to take out the roots too.

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To prevent those outside of Choeung Ek from hearing the screams of the prisoners, propaganda revolution music would be played over a loud speaker to cover it up. Imagine hearing that during your last breath, as your throat is being slit with tree bark.

Tuol Sleng: I felt Tuol Sleng was more intense, if that’s possible, than Choeung Ek. Mainly because much of the location is left as is. Torture devices are still left out and the buildings are still up. The buildings at Choeung Ek were immediately torn down. Tuol Sleng was a high school before the KR took over and turned three 3-story buildings into torture chambers.

Building A’s rooms mainly consists of rusty looking beds with shackles next to it. In many of the rooms, there are photos of what happened to some of the prisoners in the room you’re standing in. Notably, a prisoner was beaten with a shovel and the photo shows their skull protruding from the flesh.

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It’s hard enough to stomach that you’re inside rooms where people were tortured, but there’s still blood splattered on the floors. And it’s not just drops. It’s dried up puddles on puddles. Almost every room in each building is covered. The photo I took was of a smaller puddle; it felt weird taking more.

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The courtyard of Tuol Sleng has a set of gallows, where they would hang prisoners upside down until they lost consciousness and then submerge them in fertilizer water to reawaken them to answer questions.

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Not all the rooms in the three buildings are the same. There are larger rooms where a multitude of prisoners would be chained to a wall. I think Building C was the building with individual wood and brick cells. I’m pretty sure you and I have used a port-a-potty bigger than these cells. Mind you, prisoners in these cells were chained to the ground and often tortured.

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Building B, I believe, has the rooms littered with photos of prisoners and workers. Looking into their eyes, each person had their own story and many were killed in these rooms. It makes you weak in the knees. Only seven prisoners walked out of Tuol Sleng as survivors. Chom Chey, one of those survivors, was on site that day selling books. You could see the pain in his eyes, but his smile remained genuine and true. The epitome of the Khmer people. As Lonely Planet puts it, they have gone through hell and back. Their smiles are so true and beautiful that you have to experience it to understand. They’re so thankful for life, it’s incredible.

Some of the other rooms have a history of the site, as well as mini biographies of the main people behind these atrocities. The three still alive are still on trial, or had their hearing in 2011. I can’t remember the information properly. Pol Pot, he died under house arrest living a peaceful life, with a family and everything. How the hell does karma exist? He never apologized or showed true remorse. A torturer at S-21, known as Duch, is the only one who has lived up to what he participated in.

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After leaving Tuol Sleng, I was shocked at how this is not common history back home in the US, especially because we were largely responsible for the rise of the Khmer Rouge. Maybe I didn’t pay enough attention in World History when I was in high school, but I don’t remember hearing about a country being damn near forced back to the Stone Age as a result of our war with Vietnam. It was genocide on the same scale as the Holocaust. I understand why we may know more about the Holocaust; Germany was our direct enemy at the time and a religious group was slaughtered. I don’t understand how the KR killing its OWN people through means of personalized and individual killings/torture on a large scale is not common knowledge. The US is partial to blame, along with a few others. France too. It’s heartbreaking and I blame myself for not being better educated.

I don’t want to preach because that’s not why I write. But it’s the age old saying; if we don’t learn our history, we are destined to repeat it. These visits made me eternally grateful for the fact that I get to see my family again and helped me focus on the important things that are easily overlooked. I have a great family, fiancé, health, food, and a home. I was standing in rooms where the people who were butchered had lost all of that.

Devyn and I went to the night market that evening and it ended up being an experience whichever complemented our visits to these sites. I ended up getting in an epic dog pile with these awesome Khmer kids. They got a few lucky punches in, but I still think it was a draw.

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These kids are so pure and genuine. It’s hard to imagine that kids no older than them were butchered against a tree. Unlike the pussified and entitled brats our iPhone carrying kids have turned into, these kids are so high on life with nothing. They were having paper airplane contests. I have never felt so spoiled. As I mentioned earlier, the Khmer, especially the young ones, have smiles, that are infectious and genuine.

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Truly, to hell and back and appreciative of life. How does someone look at the epitome of happiness and think that they’re nothing but deep “rooted” rebels, whom deserve death? These kids brought me back to my childhood, where it took nothing but a stick to make me happy and entertained. They gave me new life again, and I’m eternally gratefully to them.

Backpacking in 82 Days: Last days in Kuta, Singapore, Initial thoughts on Cambodia and Phnom Penh

Getting out of Bali=one of the best parts of the trip. Don’t get me wrong, Indonesia has its great qualities. But it’s turned into such a tourist attraction that it’s full of hawkers gearing toward westerners, while trying to rip you off. Balinese people seem to keep to themselves, so if you want to see their genuine and awesome culture, seek it out and not through a tour. It’s all a bunch of scams.

Devyn and I did go white water rafting on our last day in Bali, which was solid. Not the most extreme, but a solid time nonetheless. We took photos with our other cameras, being the iPad is too large.

The following day, November 13, we finally headed towards Singapore through Jetstar. It’s basically like Southwest, but without the free soda and checked in bag. Their staff is hilariously unpleasant too. Getting into Singapore was a breath of fresh air. No one was trying to rip us off or get us to buy useless trinkets, and it was westernized. It’s a trivial thought, but after being in a place like Indonesia, it’s nice being somewhere that feels like home.

In the airport, we got profiled pretty badly. We’re white with huge backpacks. We certainly stuck out. The guy at customs kept re-checking my passport and every 5 minutes, and we were asked to have our bags put in scanners.

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My initial description of Singapore was an Asian San Francisco. They have a Muni and Bart type modes of transportation, everyone is on their phones, there’s a lot of solid eateries, it’s expensive and it’s obviously filled with an Asian culture. It’s way cleaner than San Francisco and doesn’t smell like crusties. Also, every single Asian stereotype you can think of, Singapore has. It’s awesome. If it wasn’t so expensive, we would have spent a greater deal of time there.

To save money on our two day venture in Singapore, we tried finding the cheapest accommodation so we could have fun during the day. At $18 per person, Backpackers Cozy Corner hostel offered that. Don’t be fooled by the title; it’s not cozy. It’s run down, there was no window in our room and it has some of the most interesting characters you will ever meet. We’re convinced some people live there. It wasn’t predominantly backpackers like most hostels.

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There were loads of frail senior citizens and a South African woman no taller than my leg, who was off her rocker. I had a beer infused conversation with her our last night which included topics of eating anacondas, feeding tribunal cultures with the anaconda, swimming with great whites, marrying a guy 5 times due to different religious ceremonies and a whole lot more. Did the discomfort of our hostel ruin our time? Hell no! It’s hilarious. Everything about this trip, good or bad, results in a fond memory.

First night in Singapore had us eating our weight in ramen, while pounding back sake and solid beer. Our first time not having Bali’s Bintang! We loved it. We were seeing Dumb and Dumber To that night, so we needed a lot of beer. Quick note, the movie gets a 6/10.

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After a sleepless night in paradise hostel, we woke up and booked it out of there to try spending our whole day outside. We visited Little India, which is the closest thing I’ll get to India without actually visiting it.

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Being in Singapore for only two days, we couldn’t fully immerse ourselves in the culture. From the brief descriptions we heard, Singapore’s older generation were hard working trying to pave the way for a better society. The current generation are pampered kids reaping the benefits from the older generation. It’s pretty clear too. There’s a serious technology obsession and you get the vibe that most of these kids never worked a day in their life, regardless of how inaccurate it may be. Hey, sounds familiar! ;). Joe Hill and old Wobblies would be disappointed.

Our dinner was spent at this pretty neat Italian restaurant. Having wine that is remotely decent was awesome. I certainly will appreciate a good Cabernet even more so. Wine in Indonesia was overly priced because of difficult importation. It was our first glass since NZ. Read my review on Trattoria Lafiandra on Trip Advisor, if you wish, to hear about our pushy waiter lacking wine knowledge, while fancying himself a wine guy because he knows what “full body” means.

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The following day, the 15th, we hopped on a plane to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I was nervous because I read about some “safety concerns” in Cambodia, primarily PP. There were stories about tuk tuk drivers threatening violence for a higher rate, sexual assault, pick pockets, being jumped and much more. My old film teacher even said “get the fuck out of Phnom Penh. Nothing but people trying to rip you off.” Despite reassurance from Lonely Planet, saying that just like any other city you need to keep,your head up, I was still nervous.

Lonely Planet has yet to steer us wrong. Yes, tuk tuk drivers are a little overwhelming, but compared to hawkers in Kuta, they’re angels. Once you give an affirmative “no” to their service with a smile, they back down. Hell, if you’re friendly enough with one, you can hire them for most of your transportation in you’re around long enough. It cost a little more, but if you have a good gut intuition, you can tell who is shady. We got a tuk tuk from the airport to our hotel no problem. If you have your wits about you and aren’t stupid, Cambodia isn’t a problem. I felt more overwhelmed by Bali.

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Our first night in PP, Cambodia consisted of eating a fried spider along with a great meal. Like the true Balinese, Khmer people are amazing. Even with more of a language barrier, they never fail offer help and a smile. Genuine people like that really humble you.

For more about the people, our trip to The Killing Fields, and our time in Kampot (which is where we are currently) I want to do two different posts. It’s topics I don’t want bogged down by a long post.

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Backpacking in 82 Days: INTERSTELLAR

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Ok, so technically it’s not 82 days anymore. It’s 82 days minus 14. I realized that after I finished yesterday’s blog.

In keeping with our homesick feeling, all Devyn and I did today was read in 2 different Starbucks while waiting for our 3:45pm showing of Interstellar; all an elaborate ruse to avoid parasites known as hawkers.

Now, generally, I always told myself if I consistently blog, I’ll never do movie reviews. Everyone does it now a days, whether it’s on WordPress or YouTube. Admittedly, my favorite film critics are on YouTube; schmoesknow, Jeremy Jahns, and Redlettermedia. I don’t fancy myself having anything new to offer (except that I hate everything) so it’s a territory I tend to avoid.

However, I am technically reviewing a film simultaneously with my travels, so there’s a new angle for ya. I saw and am reviewing a film I saw, which had Indonesian subtitles. Devyn and I feel pretty similar about Interstellar, but I have some different thoughts about it. If you want to know what she thought, she’s hot and won’t be hard to spot on Facebook.

(Spoilers I guess)

My main verdict about this film is a solid MEHHHHHHHHH!!!! I didn’t hate it nor will I ever watch it again. I went into this film with no expectations after hearing some initial negativity about it, and I remain in a solid middle-ground. The visuals did an awesome job at showing the vastness in space and I felt it was as realistic as a space exploration film would get. It’s not worth the IMAX admission. They’re aren’t enough shots where I wished I was in an IMAX theater. Not to take away from how well the film looks, but as opposed to the opening shot in The Dark Knight Rises, I think a normal price for admission is all you need.

I’m not going to get into how I thought the acting was good because I’m lazy, but I will say one thing. I like that Matthew McConaughey is on a resurgence of being a respected actor. During the period where it was easy to hate on him, I was in my early teens. I remember being shocked at how bad the roles he chose to be in. The first time I saw him act was in 2000’s U-571. He’s great in that, and it’s nothing like how he was in films like Surfer Dude. He’s always been a good actor, so his weird lull period was something of a shock to me.

With this being a Christopher Nolan film, there’s going to be a great deal of hype and nerdgasms surrounding it. This is where lies the film’s first problem. I feel like people had a very different film in their head going into this. It’s part of the same issues that plague the Star Wars prequels (don’t get confused, I hate those films). It was not what they expected, and that leaves people disappointed. Before hearing mixed reviews, I thought this film, and I’m sure others will agree, would be on an epic scale the way last year’s Gravity was, with a Nolan touch. What we are left with is a space exploration film that left audiences confused.

I personally understood the film perfectly well, even with the heavily scientific elements. At the very least, I got the gist. The plot itself is pretty linear; it’s the side elements about relativity and different dimensions that seemed to have left people dumbfounded.

I think another issue with the film is that, it too, didn’t know what it wanted to be. Was it supposed to be a more realistic space epic or opera, like a Star Wars and Gravity love child? Or was it supposed to be a film layered with social commentary about the future of the human species, mixed in with dense scientific theories? The film was entertaining on a visceral level, but I understand why people disliked it.

Side note: It felt lazy when they were showing Michael Caine’s character aged 20 something years later from when we first saw him, but they didn’t bother making Ebenezer Scrooge look older. They stuck him in a wheel chair to imply age and frailty, which is humorous when you verbally discuss it. Also, Matt Damon shows up! His character’s motive I found to be the most baffling.

Maybe I’m wrong, so help me out brilliant people on the internet:

He was sending out faux information about the planet he was on being sustainable in order to be rescued. Instead of explaining this to the crew of the Endurance, he tries killing them so he can take their ship to leave back to earth. Why couldn’t he just tell them the planet he’s been stuck on can’t sustain life, so move on? Was he worried they would carry out their mission and head to the next planet orbiting Saturn? Is attempted murder and blowing up your camp really necessary? The character of Cooper has every motive to head back to earth, even Anne Hathaway does. I could be wrong, but I felt confused at that moment, and didn’t really care either way.

The film looks great, but has nothing much else going for it except on an aesthetics level. The scientific theories about black holes, relativity, and the concept of space hibernation is intriguing, but Neil Degrasse Tyson has a much more interesting outlet in these phenomenons, and then some. I’d say check the film out for something mentally stimulating, but it didn’t go beyond that for me.