Thursday, March 31, 2011

Review: Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark

Plot in a sentence:   The Peter Parker story we all know so well, brought to life with a $65m budget, dazzling special effects, music by Bono, and a new villain (Arachne).

Trivia:   Spiderman is the most expensive broadway musical ever, and it's aerial stunts make it possibly the most ambitious too. It's becoming renowned for mishaps and injuries. When we saw it, they had to stop part way through a scene because a lift wasn't working. Apparently this happens quite often.

Best thing about it:   Julie Taymor (of The Lion King and Across the Universe) is the most visionary director I can name. Her stage mechanics in Spiderman are genius. They completely immerse you in the show, without handing it to you on a platter. Also the singers were great (Jennifer Damiano as MJ particularly).

What they could change:   This is the longest previewing show in broadway history, which means they're still making edits... and they still need some big ones. The narrating foursome are unneeded, most of the script is overstated, and Bono's music is, well, crap.

We left thinking:     "Any play from a comic that's already been made into a movie needs to bring out something new, and Julie Taymor does that magnificently with the staging, but fails to say anything special about the characters."

Verdict:  Not as much of a train wreck as the tabloids will make you think... but pretty close. Points for taking risks though. That doesn't happen often in the age of Mamma Mia. 6.5 / 10

Life Lesson #12 - Stranger Danger

Today I learned that meeting a beautiful stranger on a subway is not as romantic as Madonna, James Blunt, and countless romcoms make it sound. If you're ever on the subway sitting across from your partner, I don't recommend making furtive glances and pretending you're meeting them for the first time. Because you'll probably lose sight of him and spend an hour alone, wondering where the hell he is, retracing footsteps and freaking out before arriving back at your room and realising you don't have your key, which is your ID to get in the building, so the guard is really rude and begrudgingly lets you upstairs when you show him your Drivers Licence. Only to find that a certain someone has been home for ages waiting for you.

I'm just sayin'.

NYC Day Two: The Met & Central Park

Paul just about wet himself with excitement this morning. He's dreamed of going to The Met for years. We got up later than we planned (familiar story, I know), but we still made it to The Met by about midday.

Hot dog on the stairs at the Met. As ya do.
I think my favourite work there was this piece by Dali:

We stayed until closing, which was about six hours. Phew.

The Met is right on the edge of Central Park, so we headed in there afterwards and walked right through.

Then, we headed back downtown for Spiderman. After the show we ended up chatting until about 2am with a kiwi we ran into at our hostel called Roxie. Typical small world - we have tons of mutual friends. She's awesome and we're hoping hang with her again.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Review: The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures

Plot in a sentence: Old guy decides to commit suicide because he never got over the death of his wife in the 70s, and his grown up children try to convince him not to.

Trivia: The author is Tony Kushner, who wrote Angels in America (possibly my favourite play ever!). Also directed my Michael Greif, who directed Rent. And we saw him there!!

Best thing about it: The acting was good.

What they should change: It hasn't officially opened yet, so they can change it... but it seems confused, like the playwright hasn't decided what he wants to say with it. And the length of the title is a giveaway to the nature of the show... self indulgent and obtuse.

We left thinking: "How can a four hour show explore characters and themes so poorly? Good thing we bought red bull during the first intermission!"

Verdict: Indulgent and mostly dull. Has nothing on Angels. 5 / 10

Review: Memphis

Plot in a sentence:   True story about Huey Calhoun who discovers an amazing singer named Felicia and creates rock 'n' roll in the process.

Trivia:   Won the Tony for Best Musical last year.

Best thing about it:   The acting was phenomenal. And the original music was surprisingly great.

We left thinking:   "I can't believe a show that good had such lukewarm reviews!"

Verdict:  A familiar tone (Dreamgirls, Jersey Boys), but still a story worth telling. 8.5 / 10

I Heart New York

Day One in New York. March 30th, 6am Eastern Standard Time. From here on in we shoot without a script. See if anything comes of it (sorry, couldn't resist the Rent reference).

Our flight to New York was one of the worst ever. It was only five hours long, but because of the time zone change, that was all the night that we got! Talk about red eye. We were sitting in the back row, right next to the loos which also meant we had the flight attendants chattering behind us. and our seats didn't recline. But we had little blue pills to help us sleep.

We arrived at 6am having dozed a tiny bit. Sunrise from the airtrain was stunning. Our hostel is in the most amazing location ever. 30 second walk from Times Square. Awesome!

Sunrise from the airtrain.

---read more after the jump---

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Life Lesson #11 - Air Criminals

Standing in the queue to go through security at LAX, I realised I still had my deodorant in my bag. Like the sly fox that I am, I decided just to walk through anyway and let them confiscate it.

They didn't. My bag made it through with no problems. Well, correction, the bag with the deodorant made it through with no problems. They were very interested in the other one. Not one, but three problems with it. Two cans of orange soda pop and my Gucci Envy fragrance. Not my Gucci Envy fragrance! I considered grabbing the Gucci and making a run for it, but it turned out to be under the weight limit anyway. Not so for my soda pop (which I'd forgotten were in there). The guy looked at me like an idiot and threw those out. They were yuck anyway.

And Paul? He got searched too. The reason? Too many books.

When we got to the plane I smugly sprayed on some of my Nivea Dry Impact For Men, feeling somewhat concerned about airport security, but somewhat awesome about my successful thwart. I can't decide what to sneak on board next. I'm thinking either cocaine or a bomb.

Last Day in Hollywood

On our last day in Hollywood we finished off the last few things on our LA bucket list.

We tried to book rush tickets to see The Ellen Show tape live, but there was no chance. It's a bummer, as we registered months in advance but they don't accept anyone from outside the US unless they're already in the country, so we had no choice but to wait for day-of tickets.

After checking out, we visited a special someone on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
We were walking along Hollywood Blvd trying to find a map to locate Celine's star, then I literally tripped over it!

Then we went all over Paramount Studios on a golf cart. The tour was great - nine people to a group maximum.

If you squint, you can see the Hollywood sign through the arch.

My favourite part was seeing Glee's rehearsal space, the outside of their studio, and a few of their trailers. Yes, I am officially a sad excuse for a person.
The golf cart of someone who actually works on Glee! *crazy obsessed fan giggle*

Other highlights:
- Standing on Dr Phil's stage, and then seeing him in person when we left
No photography allowed = blurry photo.

- Seeing parts of the sets for movies like The Godfather, Citizen Kane, Ghost, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and Spiderman
- The garden workaholic Lucille Ball had modeled to look just like her own, so she could have photo shoots with her kids and then keep working.

- Sitting on Forrest Gump's park bench.

- Tom and Nicole's identical front doors from eyes wide shut. He walked through the left one, she through the right. The lengths some people will go to to look taller!

With just a few hours left until we had to head to the airport, we took the car for one last spin to The Grove, where we shared a delicious chicken pasta and red velvet cheesecake at The Cheesecake Factory to round off our time in Los Angeles.


Monday, March 28, 2011


Wary of crowds, we arrived at Disneyland when it opened. Partly thanks to their Fast Pass system (where you can be in line without standing in line), we found the queues quite manageable. Unsurprisingly, our favourite things at Disneyland were all in the new park - California Adventure. It seems aimed at an older demographic.

Paul arrives a Disneyland for the first time.

In the Hollywood Part of California Adventure.

The whole park feels like a theme park from the 50s or 60s, including the amazing old-style rollercoaster, California Screamin'.

Our other fave was the Tower of Terror, a Twilight Zone ride that takes place in an old hotel. You get shot up super high in an elevator, and when the doors open you can see outside. Then, suddenly you fall. You keep getting shot back up and then falling again about five more times. It's so cool!

On the monorail passing over the Golden Gate bridge.

The last thing we did was watch the fireworks show and Fantasmic. If you're ever at Disneyland, don't go without watching this!

By the time we got home it was 11:00pm. We were exhausted, but it was worth it. We were a bit sick of all the shameless product placement, but then, we're not really the target market, are we!


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Life Lesson #10 - Always Set Two Alarms

When we went to bed at 3:30am on our last night in Vegas we had big plans to get up early anyway. We wanted to make sure we had time to pack our pigsty before checkout at 11.

Helps if you take you phone off silent when you set your alarm. We woke at midday.

I ended up having to use the crap housekeeping as leverage to convince the hotel manager not to charge us for an extra night. Suddenly using the same towels for three days seemed worth it!

---pics after the jump---

Friday, March 25, 2011

Review: Lady Gaga

Our last night in Vegas was insane! When we first booked tickets to Celine, I looked up other gigs and concerts in town at the same time. Oh, you know, no one special, just GAGA at the MGM Grand!!

Meeting Gaga backstage. Kinda.

We had been gutted to miss her show in Auckland so were stoked to catch the tail end of the Monster Ball tour in Las Vegas. She was supported by the Scissor Sisters, who were awesome in their own right, and a crazy DJ up first who drank an entire bottle of Jack Daniels during her 20 min set. That's gotta hurt.

We had an amazing spot about eight people back from the stage, in the standing room only space where only the most die hard fans with no personal space boundaries ever get near the front.

My Gaga get-up.

A South American guy in front of us couldn't handle it. He kept shoving me every time I brushed him the slightest bit. He was convinced that I was trying to push in front of him. I couldnt convince him that, no, I was just getting shoved from behind and was unable to shelter his majesty completely.

Eventually he moved and stood in front of Paul. Within five minutes he scowled at Paul for "breathing right near him". Soon afterwards he had a hissy fit, called Paul a faggot and an asshole and stormed off. This, of all places, at a Lady Gaga concert!

Soon afterwards he started another fight and made a girl cry. We felt vindicated, and offered to be witnesses if they needed help getting him kicked out.

Despite the less than ideal start, Mother Monster was amazing. Watching her do Born This Way acoustic was particularly cool. I now understand what people mean when they talk about her giving everything at a show - she came across as honest and authentic.

This is our best photo, but not really the best view. Most of the time she was just in front of us.

After the show, we gambled at Luxor (the Pyramid), Excalibur and New York New York until 3am.

We doubled our money. That's right, $5 became $10 baby! Oceans Eleven eat your heart out.


What happens in Vegas...

Las Vegas is exactly what it looks like in the movies. I wouldn't wanna live there, but it was great fun for five nights. It's probably the only place we visited that seemed better for having the Spring Break crowds. Though unfortunately that meant there weren't any of the $25 hotel rooms Vegas is known for.

We found a cheap place at the northern end of The Strip, right next to three wedding chapels and classy joints like "Precious Slut III" (I'm still not sure what they do there). Ok, so our place may have been a dive. But it was close to where we wanted to be, and we knew what we were in for before we arrived, so it was fine. (Well, except for the free internet which never seemed to be working and is the reason this blog got a few days behind).

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but here are some highlights:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Review: Love

The Beatles rocked my world even before I saw Love. Now they rock it even more! Of the 7 Cirque du Soleil shows on The Strip, everyone I've spoken to agrees Love is the best one.

It somehow brought The Beatles music to life more than ever. The round stage was custom built for this show, including surround sound speakers in every seat. The result is much more than the spectacle I expected from a Cirque show in Vegas. It has heart.

My favorite parts were the beginning, when about six brick chimneys are blown apart in a WWII sequence, and the end, where John Lennon's assassination was subtly hinted at. They never seemed to take the easy, literal or obvious way, which I thought made this show one of the best things I have ever seen on stage.

Even the entrance to the theatre is amazing.

Broadway has a lot to measure up to!


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Review: Celine

We drove to Caesars Palace even before checking in to our hotel. That was probably a mistake, because we were still dressed like mountain men. I still had on everything I wore to the Grand Canyon, including two pairs of long thermal underwear. And plastic bags over my socks that were visible whenever my pants rode up a bit. But we rocked up to the poshest casino in Vegas like that anyway, because that's how excited Paul was about Celine. (I have to admit I encouraged it a bit).

Paul's pulse got faster the closer we got. When we turned off Flamingo Boulevard onto The Strip and it was right in front of us I thought he was going to pass out... there was a huge billboard and screen with Celine on it. Though I had protested before, we decided that we just had to go to Caesars now and not wait until tomorrow. Paul took photos of every Celine sign in the casino as we walked towards the Colosseum.

Our first glimpse of Celine outside Caesars Palace.

---the rest of the story after the jump---

Monday, March 21, 2011

The dramatic road to Vegas

After the drama with the car keys, it was 4:30 when we finally got on the road to Vegas. Paul read Walt Whitman aloud to pass the time.

It was still snowing like crazy, which made driving scary but photos awesome. We passed an accident that had just happened, when a woman spun out of control into a tree.

It felt like we had moved to Narnia.
---the story gets even more interesting after the jump---

Life Lesson #9 - Locked Out

Today I learned that it really sucks to lock your keys in the car. Especially when you're in the middle of nowhere. In a snowstorm.

What the car looked like about an hour earlier when we went to pack it.

I was dumb enough to not just lock my keys in my car, no I managed to leave the car running too. Engine, lights, heater, windscreen wipers, everything.

We ran inside and I asked the guy behind the counter if he had a coathanger. He went and found the maintenance guy, a surly old man with frostbitten hands, who brought a coathanger and came out to give it a go.

The grouchy helping man attempts to break in.

His willingness to assist was somewhat at odds with his grouchy disposition. I started off by apologising for being so stupid, and he responded by saying locking the keys in the car wasn't stupid, no, we were stupid because we locked the car at all. He genuinely believed that we locked the car out of tangible distrust toward the people of Tusayan.

My offer to buy a coffee for him was rejected with a gruff "I work here, I get all the goddamn free coffee I want".

After about half an hour, he marched inside with an abrupt "my hands are cold, you do it". The warmth inside the car seemed to tease me. As did my gloves, which I could see just inside on my chair.

We crossed the road and went to the general store, where an employee gave me the number of A local guy he said could get us into any car.

We headed down the road to the gas station where there was a public phone. It swallowed my money. Luckily, a lovely woman had noticed and leant me her cellphone. The guy, Randle, said he would be there in half an hour.

Randle arrived in a blue pickup truck wearing cowboy boots and a stereotypical hat. He got into the car so fast that I couldn't quite believe it! Best $120 I've ever spent.

The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is amazing. So amazing that even though it was too cloudy to see the sunset at all, we were still blown away.

Our mascot, Diego (a wooden turtle we got in Mexico), poses in front of the Grand Canyon.

---photos of the Grand Canyon covered in snow after the jump---

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Black Canyon Highway

To say we slept badly in our car parked outside the Wickenburg Inn would be an understatement. Apparently deserts get really cold at night, who knew? (ok, we may have had some idea). We slept in our leather jackets and were glad that we had nicked the Qantas pillows and blankets from our flight to LA.

When the sun came up we saw all the cacti and realised our parking spot was straight out of an old Western.

---road trip pics after the jump---

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Life Lesson #8 - No Room at the Inn

Today I learned that you should follow baseball if you want to get a room in Arizona.

It was late, and I had been driving for six hours. Keeping me going for the last 150 miles had been the promise of a hot shower and a warm bed in Wickenburg, Arizona.

I had made a conscious decision not to book accommodation in advance, because I wasn't certain we would make it the whole way there in one leg. Travel advisors said we'd have no trouble finding a room even though it was Spring Break.

Apparently those travel advisors aren't aware that most of the major league baseball teams are based in Phoenix, Arizona right now. Die hard baseball fans book out all the beds within 3 hours of Phoenix on game nights. Wickenburg is an hour outside Phoenix, and no prizes for guessing whether it was a game night or not.

We were informed of all this by the receptionist at the Wickenburg Inn - the third inn we had failed to get a room at. "If you don't feel like drivin' another two hours, I suggest you consider sleeping in your car. There's a grassy patch behind the hotel where you can park up if you like". What, no stable? "Oh, and did you hear we just bombed Libya?"

Welcome to Arizona.


Our rejection from every inn in town was somewhat less divine.

On the Road

We left San Diego just after 4:00 (about three hours later than planned). The Californian mountains looked like enormous piles of boulders as we drove east for six hours, most of the way parallel with the Mexican border.

To pass the time as we drive, Paul is reading aloud the classic American road trip novel, On the Road by Jack Kerouac. There are a few versions of the book. We're reading the original unedited version which is 300 pages of a single paragraph, but the way it flows is rhythmic and perfect for reading on the road.

---photos after the jump---

Life Lesson #7 - Getting Wet

Today I thought it was odd that SeaWorld had rides. Then we went on them, and I realised why: all rides at SeaWorld exist to get you wet.

---more on SeaWorld after the jump--- 

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Emerald City

After we got back from Mexico, we headed to a place that felt like its polar opposite.

The Hotel del Coronado is ridiculously opulent and has become part of American History for three really cool reasons [putting my trivia hat on]:
  1. Not only did L. Frank Baum say it was his inspiration for The Emerald City when he wrote The Wizard of Oz
  2. But it's also the hotel from Some Like it Hot
  3. And if that doesn't already make it interesting enough, if you've seen The King's Speech, it's also where the American Wallis Simpson met the future King of England, who gave up his throne for her.

---read more after the jump---


We went to Mexico today.

It feels really weird to say that! I guess as a kiwi I find the whole concept of a border crossing on land somewhat foreign.

Our hotel is so close to the border that we could probably walk. You can drive to Mexico in less than 10 minutes. We're not insured if we take the car over, so we left it in the last parking lot on the Californian side and then headed over on foot. Despite being told how relaxed it would be, we were surprised that we didn't have to talk to a single person to enter a new country. We just walked through some barred gates and we were there.

When originally planning this trip I'd tried really hard to get us into real Mexico - I had my heart set on Acapulco. When that prove impossible in our timeframe, we had to settle for something closer to the border. I'd been warned that Tijuana was a waste of time, so we headed 40 minutes further along the coast to Rosarito Beach.

It reminded me a lot of Bali, except I was surprised how many high rise buildings there were. All of them seemed to be either abandoned or still under construction. The most interesting thing I found out about Rosarito Beach is that it's where most of the deep sea scenes in Titanic were filmed. I guess it was handy because it's less than 3 hours drive from Hollywood.

We soon found a place we could get chicken fajitas and pina coladas (in pineapples) on the beach. A lot of things about the place felt really American, not least the music, which was more Bon Jovi than Mariachi.

After a few hours, which included buying a little mascot for our car from the little markets, we headed back towards the border.

A typical Mexican road, as seen from the window of our taxi.

We were shocked by the queue when we got to the border. We had expected it would take half an hour or so, and weren't prepared for the 3 hour long queue of people we saw in front of us. We ended up paying $5 to catch a shuttle over, just so we could go in the vehicular queue. It still took nearly two hours.

The queue of cars waiting to enter the USA.

Highlight of the day: watching a mexican girl put a huge pinata shaped like a person through the security scanners.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Life Lesson #6 - The Numbers Game

Today I learned that it's really valuable to remember important numbers, such as your room number. Because if you forget numbers like this, you might wake up an angry black man who glares out his window at you like this:

And then, by the time you remember where you live (two doors down), your access card will have been deactivated. So you'll have to go and wake up the guy who works in the office to get you a new key, and he'll look at you like this:

Not my finest hour.

Review: Little Miss Sunshine

Most people have seen the movie Little Miss Sunshine. Turns out they're making it into a musical! The La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego is a really good theatre with strong ties to Broadway, dozens of big shows have started here and then transferred to the great white way. So, the prospect of seeing the world premiere of Little Miss Sunshine: The Musical there was quite appealing.

Hippos and Pandas and Bears, Oh My!

San Diego Zoo today. We made the mistake of starting our day with the snakes, spiders and scorpions... I spent the rest of the morning jumping every time something touched me! Not so clever.

They have a baby hippo, and its mum was pushing it around the water in a way that reminded me of the opening scene from Dumbo. Too cute!

Other highlights were the Pandas (which, coincidentally, is one of my best friend's nickname for me), the polar bears and the gorillas.

It was kind of surreal actually being there, because as a kid I used to dream of visiting the San Diego Zoo! Made me realise how world class our zoo in Auckland is though, because while this one was much bigger, I wouldn't say it was any nicer or better for tha animals. Definitely worth going to see the animals we don't have back home though. 

Interestingly, I can never see the kiwis in the nocturnal exhibit back home, but caught the ones here with no trouble!


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Life Lesson #5 - Someone to Watch Over Me

Today I learned that you should always check for strangers with cameras. We were on Oceanside Pier in San Diego trying to take a photo of both of us in front of the beautiful sunset. We had to balance our camera on a rubbish bin and squat halfway down the wall to get a good photo. We knew nobody back home would know how dumb we looked when they saw the photo, cos they'd only see our top half.

But unfortunately a complete stranger saw how stupid we looked and snapped his own pic, then chased us down to send it to us!

Our pic.

His pic of our pic.

The Pacific Coast Highway

After checking out from our drab Hollywood motel this morning, we headed to the Annenberg Space for Photography. They had an exhibition on called Extreme Exposure which was incredible! It focuses on photographers who risk their lives for the perfect shot.

Paul in front of the Annenberg Space for Photography
When we left, we drove about 45 mins to a place I spotted last night on the freeway to Disneyland: Citadel Outlets. It turned out to be not only the sole factory outlet mall in LA, but also right on our route to San Diego today.

We really struck the jackpot! I ended up buying a Levi's jacket for $20 and a blazer from H&M that makes me look like a Dalton Academy Warbler (I think I'll wear it to Celine). But the real find was at a leather shop that's going into liquidation: 60% off everything, plus a further 30%, meant this leather jacket cost me hardly anything. Score!

Very satisfied with our purchases, we continued our drive to San Diego, stopping briefly at the Oceanside Pier to watch sunset.

Paul snapped these great shots of sunset at the pier.

Our accommodation is better than the last place. It's right by the Mexican border, and you can tell because everyone speaks to you in Spanish first, switching to English only when you give them a confused look.