How to be a Good Hotel on a Marathon Weekend

September 22, 2014 In The News, Personal, Reviews, Travels Comments (0) 116

Marathon runners
It’s marathon season
, which means time for runners to book hotels. Actually, it’s late September, which means marathon accommodations will be hard to find in many cities. If you’re running and haven’t booked your stay yet, get on that.

Over the years I’ve noticed varying levels of preparedness among hotel staff on marathon weekends. Some hotels cater to a marathoner’s every need, while others seem surprised to learn there is a marathon in town–especially surprising when 2/3 of the guests are probably there to run.

In the interest of improving accommodations for marathoners everywhere, and to help you hoteliers satisfy your customers and make more money, I’ve put together a quick list of ways you can better serve your marathon guests, in order of descending importance.

  • Rule 1: Offer an extended check-out. Marathons generally start around 7 or 8 AM and take 3-6 hours, depending on a runner’s ability level. With wave starts, slower runners start later than faster runners–sometimes, as at the New York City Marathon, hours later. Bad weather can occasionally delay a start, and blisters and minor injuries can slow a runner’s time. Factor in time to travel from the finish back to your hotel and grab a quick shower before leaving, and your 11 AM checkout isn’t going to cut it. I’ve seen hotels offer extended checkout as late as 3 PM, but even just extending until 1:00 will accommodate most runners. On the other hand I’ve encountered hotel managers who refuse to extend checkout, which is a quick way to piss off marathoners and ensure they’ll never come back.

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HBO’s Game of Thrones: “The Children”

June 17, 2014 Pop Culture, Reviews, Science Fiction & Fantasy Comments (0) 141

Bran-Crow
SPOILER ALERT: Spoilers ahead for both TV series and book series. If you aren’t caught up on both the HBO series and the books (through A Dance with Dragons) you may want to sit this one out.
Sunday’s episode was 66 minutes of incredible television, and in my view probably the best all-around episode the show has ever done. While it may not have surpassed the Red or Purple Weddings for shock value, “The Children” set a new high-point for pacing, drama, and technical achievement. It also made numerous significant departures from the books, in my view largely for the better.
And yet, when the episode ended with Arya sailing off to Bravos, I wanted to throw something at the television. Like most fans of the original book series, I entered Season 4 assuming I knew the image that would close the season finale: The dramatic entrance of Lady Stoneheart, the spirit of vengeance that resides in Caitlyn Stark’s reanimated corpse. I was more excited about this episode than any since the Red Wedding, knowing it promised several startling revelations for fans who haven’t read the books, expecting social media to light up with “WTF???” reactions from viewers worldwide.
To be fair, that’s exactly the reaction I saw on social media–except this time it was from the book readers.

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HBO’s Game of Thrones: The Mountain and the Viper

June 3, 2014 Pop Culture, Reviews, Science Fiction & Fantasy Comments (0) 276

Oberyn Martell in the ring

I just have a couple of quick thoughts on this week’s episode. I know I haven’t been posting on GOT much recently; I’m back in novel-writing mode (elbow-deep in revisions) and putting most of my energies there.

First, a customary warning: As always I play fast and loose with the spoilers, book and show. Read at your own risk.

Like many viewers, I was taken aback by the ending of this episode. The teeth, the eyes, the screaming. The exploded brains. Even for a show that has been brutal throughout, this episode took it further. (How about that flayed man earlier in the show, too?)

It was so traumatic, my initial reaction was “that’s not how it happens in the book!” Then I went back and re-read what happened in the book, and realized this was almost exact. The teeth, the eyeballs, it happens slightly differently, but it’s all there.

And after I got over my initial reaction, horror at what I thought was exploitative, ratings-seeking violence, I decided I liked this ending–and I’ll tell you why. Continue Reading

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HBO’s Game of Thrones: Breaker of Chains

April 21, 2014 Pop Culture, Reviews, Science Fiction & Fantasy Comments (0) 139

GOT_Meereen** Warning: Game of Thrones Spoilers through Season 4 Episode 3; also a few very minor spoilers from the book series to this point.

After George R. R. Martin took his time last week laying out the Purple Wedding, the show runners had to work to catch us up on what’s happening with everyone else, and this week we saw a lot of plot points moving. It strikes me that if there were a similar arrangement on the novels, we might see a book more often than every five years.

Without Martin in control, however, it’s too easy for the show to stray off that knife’s edge it walks on gender and the role of women. The first two episodes of this latest season had me wondering about changes made to the dynamic between Jaime and Cersei from the novels, and I’m outright baffled as to why they thought Jaime needed to rape his sister. Others have pointed out how problematic this scene is, even in the Westerosi context, and I don’t have much to add except to add my objection. Continue Reading

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True Detective Finale / Will the Yellow King Return?

March 10, 2014 Pop Culture, Reviews Comments (1) 305

True Detective Opening

I made myself sleep on the True Detective finale before I decided how I felt about it. It sometimes takes me a while to absorb a work of art, and since I’m not bound by magazine deadlines I have the opportunity to ruminate before sharing my opinion. Where I come down is that I found the end of Season One enjoyable and well-executed, but ultimately unsatisfying.

Be warned: Spoilers abound if you haven’t seen all of Season One.

A lot of critics are praising the finale for redeeming the main characters, surprising us with a happy ending, and avoiding the “too-tidy” close in which all the mysteries are wrapped up. A number of fans, meanwhile, seem upset that their pet theories (and their carefully catalogued webwork of clues) were so far off. There were (arguably*) no Elder Gods or Great Old Ones, no heel turns from the leads, no Vietnamese restaurateurs. Subtle clues that appeared to tie Marty’s daughters to the crimes were either red herrings or coincidences. As Marty himself says in the very first episode, if you focus too hard on a certain narrative, you’ll start shaping the facts to fit it.

* There is always the possibility that the spinning wormhole/galaxy thing Rust sees just before he’s gutted is an avatar of Azathoth or Yog-Sothoth, and that everything from that point on is symptomatic of his madnessContinue Reading

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2012.01.15: Making the most of NYC

January 16, 2013 Personal, Reviews Comments (0) 89

Liz met me after work tonight and we grabbed dinner and took in a Broadway show. Dinner was Korean food at Food Gallery 32, a block from my office. Strange place–eating there, you could almost believe you were in Korea somewhere. The food was good, though, and affordable by New York standards. That’s something I’m still getting used to. I had meatball pho, while Liz had some kind of crazy elaborate sushi. We both resisted the urge to get Red Mango on the way out.

The show was The Mystery of Edwin Drood, a fun and fairly wacky musical presented by Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54. This was my first time entering the famed venue, and looking around I would never have guessed that it was anything but a theater. Roundabout has restored it to an elegant and classy theater, and while the leopard print carpet is a subtle reminder of its former life, I was sort of hoping to spot the moon and coke spoon hanging somewhere near the back of the mezzanine. For the record, it is not.

Drood is the first show I’ve seen wherein the audience chooses their own ending. Based on the novel Charles Dickens was writing at his death, the show’s approach to the unresolved murder mystery is to allow the audience to decide what really happened. According to Roundabout, the various choices available to the audience allow for more than 500 possible combinations. By formatting the production as a show-within-a-show (the Dickensian adaptation is presented by a fictional Victorian English music hall), the production smashes the fourth wall and makes interaction with the audience an entertaining part of the show, rather than a necessity.

Oh, and it’s written by Rupert Holmes, the Pina Colada Song guy. So there’s that.

I expect we’ll be taking in more shows–one benefit of dating an actor is that we get cheap tikets to Broadway and off-Broadway productions, so I’m about to get a lot of culture. I was hoping to get tickets to see Al Pacino in Glengarry Glen Ross, but apparently that’s closing on Sunday. I guess I should have moved on that sooner. Coffee is for closers.

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Making sense of “Prometheus”

June 12, 2012 In The News, Pop Culture, Reviews Comments (3) 294

 

*Oh my God… It’s full of spoilers.*

From the moment I heard that Ridley Scott was returning to the Alien universe, I was excited. With each news item I read – it’s a prequel! It disregards every sequel! It won’t show a single face-hugger, xenomorph, or queen! – I grew more encouraged. Going in, I wanted very badly to love Prometheus. In the end, I will say that it looked fantastic, it was entertaining, but overall I was disappointed.

Alien is one of my very favorite movies, a masterpiece of claustrophobic atmosphere and artistic design that takes a simple concept and executes it well. Alien, however, benefits at least as much from the storytelling skill of Dan O’Bannon as it does from Ridley Scott’s directing. Prometheus may have Scott, but in place of O’Bannon it has Damon Lindelof, who is a master of making the vapid seem complex. Good science-fiction, even if it’s mostly meant to horrify or thrill, is meant to make you think. Bad science-fiction asks you not to think, because thinking will make it fall apart at the seams.

The 21st Century has brought us a generation of writers who have mastered “counterfeit depth.” They’ve studied works with complex backstories and world-building, learned what those look like, and plant clues and red herrings throughout their work that make it appear mysterious. Continue Reading

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Luxor Las Vegas (Vegas Week)

August 29, 2011 Personal, Reviews, Travels Comments (0) 392

In honor of last week’s trip to Las Vegas with Liz, this week is Vegas Week, where we learn about the history, sexy and sleazy, of Sin City, and I share my personal experience and advice for a visit.

Opened in 1993, the Luxor was an early entry in Vegas’s 1990s mega-resort renaissance.  Built by Circus Circus enterprises, the same company that built Excalibur, Luxor shares Excalibur’s heavy-handed approach to theme. While Excalibur’s medieval theme has been carried to a ridiculously tacky exterior, however, Luxor’s ancient Egyptian theme, equally garish, manages to be sexy. From the exterior, Excalibur looks like a giant toy castle, owing probably to the “family attraction” concept Vegas resorts were pushing so hard in the 1990s. The white towers with brightly colored roofs look like something that would come in a box labeled Playmobil or Lego. Luxor, meanwhile, is a sleek obsidian pyramid, which would be invisible by night except for the white lights that dance up and down its vertices and the spotlight beam at its peak, reportedly the brightest in the world, that seems to be beckoning alien life to come drop a few hundred grand at the tables. Yes, there is also a giant tacky sphinx out front, but most people hardly notice it because the pyramid is so eye-catching. Continue Reading

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Book Review: “The Shattergrave Knights,” by David M. Haendler

August 11, 2011 Reviews, Writing Comments (0) 82

 

[Full disclosure: Dave is a personal friend.]

I wouldn’t exactly call myself an avid fantasy reader. While I greatly enjoy some entries in the genre, I’ve sampled many of the best-selling fantasy series and found them wanting. I only have so much patience for yet another repackaging of Tolkein: the unlikely hero, living a peaceful life in an idyllic region far removed from the world’s problems, finds a long-lost (or hidden) relic of great power, which attracts the wise old magician who sets the hero up with some motley companions and sends them on a long quest to challenge the rising power of the Big Bad. Along the way they fall into peril, they’re separated and nearly defeated, and the hero learns to wield a great power long forgotten in polite society. Ho hum.

Some of these are certainly tropes of the genre and relatively unavoidable, but good fantasy finds new and inventive ways of presenting the tropes. I’m pleased to say that The Shattergrave Knights, recently self-published by attorney and fellow Philadelphian David M. Haendler, does just that. The story follows Jack and Olive Merriwether, twins from the tiny hamlet of Muddy Hollow who are caught up in adventure when a simple act of kindness draws the ire of a paranoid and overreaching government. A quest to rescue their parents from extraordinary rendition leads to revelations about the history of the Protectorate and the Merriwether’s own sinister ancestry.  Continue Reading

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My brief X-Men: First Class Review

June 9, 2011 Pop Culture, Reviews Comments (0) 74

Comic book movies can be broken into three categories: Watchable, Really Pretty Good, and Godawful. Fans of comic books and/or action movies will enjoy the Watchable ones, while Really Pretty Good movies can be enjoyed by almost anyone capable of suspending disbelief for two to three hours. Only the biggest die-hard fanboy in denial or brain-dead special effects addict can sit-through, let alone praise, films in the Godawful variety.

A few examples: Recent watchable comic book movies include the first Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, Bryan Singer’s Superman, and the first two Spider-Man movies. Really Pretty Good selections include both Christopher Nolan Batman movies, the Bryan Singer X-Men movies, Iron Man 1 and maybe Iron Man 2. Ang Lee’s Hulk, X-Men 3, Spider-Man 3, Ghost Rider, and Fantastic Four 2 were Godawful.

I am pleased to say that X-Men: First Class is Really Pretty Good, though I can’t agree at all with the folks who are claiming it contends for “best comic book movie ever.”

What X:FC does well is to introduce a historic context and a retro-feel into the super-hero milieu, better than any movie except perhaps Brad Bird’s under-appreciated “the Incredibles.” Comic books themselves are, after all, a bit of a holdover from a bygone era, and while most super-hero movies have planted a flag squarely in the “gritty hero” era of the late 20th Century, the Golden Age of comic book heroes was undeniably the decades following World War 2. Placing the origins of the X-Men against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis is inspired – it gives the franchise depth and history, allows the production to play with costuming and sets in a genre where costumes and sets have become hackneyed and boring, and permits the writers to blend bits of plot lines from X-Men comic books published 30 or 40 years apart. I award a few bonus points for managing to work in a couple of very brief cameos by former X-Men cast members Rebecca Romijn and Hugh Jackman that actually fit the narrative and make sense (provided, in Jackman’s case, that you know some background about the character). While my fanboy heart does break a little bit that they scrapped the original team according to comic book canon, they were able to pay tribute to some classic X-Men ignored by previous movies. Continue Reading

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