Thursday, February 28, 2013
The "reimagined fairy tale" is a tough nut to crack. Ever since Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland made a gajillion dollars at the box office, sending wide-eyed Hollywood execs scrambling to their nearest elementary school library, we've seen the good (NBC's Grimm), the innocent-but-fun (ABC's Once Upon A Time), the reasonably OK (Snow White and the Huntsman) and the soul-crushingly terrible (Mirror Mirror).
In the latest offering from the Fantasy camp, Jack the Giant Slayer, sometimes-disappointing and sometimes-mind-blowing director Bryan Singer gives us a family-friendly actioner akin to The Hobbit in tone, only without the substance and visual gravitas.
This spin on the classic tale begins when our hero Jack (Warm Bodies' Nicholas Hoult) crosses paths with the Princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) in an Aladin-style meet cute which leads, after a series of events, to the royal crush being lifted up into the sky atop a magic and fast-growing beanstalk. Jack volunteers to join the rescue effort, which also includes military man Elmont (Ewan McGregor) and the nefarious man betrothed to NAME who yearns for the throne (Stanley Tucci).
But wouldn't you know it, at the top of the stock lies a land of giants long forgotten to legend who have apparently biding their time until the day they could return "below" to, in short, kill and eat everyone.
It's been 11 years since we first saw Hoult in the impeccable About A Boy and the actor continues to cement his status as a capable and confident up-and-comer. His Jack is an understated and calm antidote to the oppressively-cartoonish surroundings, from the hastily-rendered CGI giants to the two-dimensional buffoons that round out the supporting characters. Tomlinson and McGregor likewise do well enough to get out unscathed but Ian McShane as the king, adorned in overly-loud and awkwardly-cumbersome gold armor, looks like the live action interpretation of Shrek's Lord Farquaad. Similarly, Tucci – who's usually game for anything – appears to have arrived on set merely to mime through a few lines in front of the green screen before collecting his check.
Speaking of Green Screen, the film looks terrible, as everything is covered with the same off-putting celestial sheen of a Robert Zemeckis animated feature. Everything is either too bright or too dark, particularly the initial beanstalk rising which was little more than an indistinguishable haze behind the shadow of 3D goggles. This is now my second attempt at a 3D viewing and, as before, the constant efforts of my eyes to make sense of the various visual depths left me with a two-aspirin headache.
One last note before we put the CGI to bed. There was only one "wow" moment in the film, in which the camera scoots underwater as our hero ducks into a pond to hide from an approaching giant. It was a rare moment of plot tension heightened by interesting visuals but, unfortunately, the moment was partially spoiled by being featured in the film's lackluster trailer.
Plot-wise, things move along much in the way that you would expect, except for the inevitable showdown between giant and man that the film builds to over the space of an hour and a half only to squander in a 20-minute game of tug-of-war over the castle gate. Anyone expecting a Return Of The King-style war between an army of men and a horde of gargantuan beasts will be disappointed.
All that said, however, I did not hate this film. This is a children's tale adapted into a film intended for families and in that light, JTGS manages to exceed it's rote and tiresome peers. Were I the type of person who made a habit of accompanying children to the cinema, Jack would be a welcome respite from the sea of Ice Age and Madagascar sequels. Here's hoping that Singer is back on his A-game by the time we see X-Men: Days of Future Past
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Reviewing raunchy teen comedies is a difficult thing to do. On the one hand, they're clearly not "good" movies. But on the other hand, I'm a firm believer in rewarding projects for meeting their objectives, whatever those objectives may be.
The simple reality of life is that not every movie can be, or should try to be, Citizen Cane. I thought Amour was spectacular, but after two hours of literally watching a woman die, slowly, before your eyes, a marathon of the Transporter franchise sounds like a warm blanket.
After sitting through 21 And Over, the latest entry from the post-Hangover "one-crazy-night" genre, I find myself a little at a loss for words. My expectations were exceeded and I was admittedly entertained...but I would never watch this film again and, frankly, could have gone for about 30 minutes less male nudity, projectile vomiting and screwball shenanigans. As such, I'm going to write this review a little differently.
The plot: High school best friends Miller, Casey and Jeff Chang (always referred to by first and last name, a funny albeit racially insensitive gag) reunite for Jeff Chang's 21st birthday, which happens to fall on the eve of Jeff's uber-important med school interview. Upon the insistence of Miller (Footloose's Miles Teller, who prattles incessantly like a bad Vince Vaughn impression), the boys ignore the stern warnings of Jeff's father, deciding to go out on the town with the idea that they'll take it easy and get home early so Jeff can rest up for the big interview in the morning.
The inevitable occurs with Jeff Chang getting blackout wasted after a balls-to-the-wall bar crawl that fills up ACT I and makes for the least interesting portion of the film. Strangers in town, Miller and Casey have to then find their way back to Jeff's house, providing the MacGuffin for the movie and setting up the steady stream of escalating hi-jinx that ensue.
The good: Skylar Astin (Pitch Perfect) keeps the show grounded as the likeable straight-man Casey. On paper he's a combination of college-age cliche's (the too-mature, never-has-any-fun-anymore business major, or essentially Breckin Meyer's character from Rat Race) but Astin's delivery of the movie's best dialogue and the sincerity he brings to the completely nonsensical pratfalls the characters find themselves in is fun to watch. Conversely, Miles Teller simply never stops talking and so in the process manages to land on a few genuine laughs. Throw enough mud on the wall, some of it sticks.
The movie employs a nice blend of absurd college fantasy and practical relatability. The story gets mired for a while in a Sorority house ("Gee," you say to yourself, "no one's ever thought of doing that before!") but moments later makes up for it with a late-night pep rally that involves, among other things, a wild Buffalo getting lose and later an all-night rager where our two heroes have to compete in a series of drunk idiot party games to advance up the "Tower of Power."
The Bad: For a movie about a long night of drunk debauchery, 21 And Over actually over-extends itself with a number of unnecessary and, at times, tonally dissonant subplots. I'll give them 10 minutes to address that the three friends have drifted apart over the years, but oh wait, Jeff Chang is overstressed and dealing with mental health issues and oh wait, we need to reconcile Ferris Bueller-style with Jeff Chang's stern father, but oh wait, Miller is a college dropout who needs to wake up and take some responsibility, but oh wait, Casey is too responsible and just needs to chill out, and wait, there's a love interest (natch). I get that all the pieces fit with a group of mid-20s millenials, but do we have to resolve every problem in these guys' lives in one keg-standing night?
The big light-bulb resolution in ACT III is also overly lazy and convenient as the writers go for the same "It was there the whole time!" twist of The Hangover, only to a considerably less amusing and plausible result. Sara Wright, as the resident and obligatory crush is a pretty face, sure, but it's hard to characterize her dry line-reading as "acting". Also Jonathan Keltz, as male cheerleader and romantic rival Randy, turns in a quirky villain with a pair of dimwitted cronies, but every time he appears on screen I found myself wishing I was watching Fired Up!'s Dr. Rick instead.
Unavoidable Comparisons: 21 and Over is less than The Hangover but greater than The Hangover Part 2. It's less than American Pie but greater than AP's straight-to-DVD sequels. It's far inferior to the 90's opus Can't Hardly Wait but also far superior to last year's abysmal Project X.
*21 And Over opens wide in theaters on March 1
Thursday, February 21, 2013
* Obligatory [spoiler] alert but honestly, if you don't know what happened on Downton Abbey this week you either A) Don't care or B) Have somehow managed to block yourself from pop culture for the last year, in which case, kudos to you.
During the very first episode of Downton Abbey in 2011 we were introduced the occupants – both upstairs and down – of an upper-class early-1900s British estate. The episode centered on two catalysts: First, the introduction of the injured Mr. Bates to the servant's hall and Second, the shock to the family of Lord and Lady Grantham that the heir to their title and estate had died during the sinking of the Titanic.
That episode, as all episodes do, established the central framework of the show moving forward, creating a universe and populating it with a host of colorful and distinct characters while also introducing the central concepts that would drive the story forward over the foreseeable future.
We learned many things in that first episode, such as 1.) The downstairs servants staff is comprised of friendships and familial bonds as well as bitter rivalries that would slit each others throats to get ahead and 2.) The ongoing fate of Downton as a physical location and business enterprise was in peril and the family that lived there was comprised of friendships and familial bonds as well as bitter rivalries that would slit each other's jewelry- and cravat-adorned throats to get ahead.
But then, in the waning moments of Ep. 1 we meet Mathew Crawley, a middle-class lawyer, distant relative to Lord Grantham and heir apparent to all of Downton. With one memorable scene it was made clear that Mathew was our hero and that moving forward this was to be his show.
Matthew: It's from Lord Grantham.
Isobel: Really? What on Earth does he want?
Matthew: He wants to change our lives.
In no time at all, Mary became the Rachel to Matthew's Ross, locked in a will-they-won't-they dance of hidden affection and sideways, wanting glances while Mathew's role as savior of Downton was cemented, giving us a singular character with root-for-him likeability and stranger-in-a-strange land relatability. Like Obi-Wan, he was their only hope.
Then he died.
People on TV die all the time. Death, birth and marriage are the three go-to strategies for injecting new blood into an ongoing series. But the demise of Mathew Crawley was not a strategic decision, made for the good of the story. Not only was it emotionally disappointing and narratively awkward– actor Dan Stevens simply refused to return, forcing the show's creator to make a mad dash to put the Crawley house in a semblance of order – but it is also an obvious departure from where the show was intended to go.
Matthew was meant to carry Downton into the next generation, navigating the turbulent waters of modernization, a global depression and second World War with the companionship of his lovely, albeit marginally awful, wife and children at his side. There would have been plenty of high drama and shenanigans, to be sure, but they would have been to further the evolution of a middle-class man thrown unexpectedly into position and prestige.
In a way it feels similar to the hasty replacement of Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men or the recent tonal shift on Community following the ouster of creator and mastermind Dan Harmon. In either case a blatant, jarring shift took place and it was almost as though the powers that be had whispered through to us "Yeah, it's weird, but let's just all agree to get past it, ok?"
But can we? Or at least, can I? Without the anchor of Mathew's character, the remaining elements of Downton Abbey – Maggie Smith's one-liners, Thomas' scheming, Edith's relationship woes, Bates' limp – just seem like hollow gimmicks. Mathew's plotline was truly the star that the Downton Abbey solar system revolved around and I worry that without it, everything will quickly spiral out of control.
On NBC, Up All Night is currently navigating the awkward departure of its lead actress. The show was already going through a re-imagining process but most industry insiders suspect that Christina Applegate's exit is the straw that will, once-and-for-all, break the camel's back and shutter the series for good.
Can Downton really go on without Mathew? Absent her husband, Lady Mary is really a terrible human being and as much as I enjoy Branson – who is clearly being positioned to shoulder more weight moving forward – or whatever other new additions Julian Fellows saunters out in season 4, the basic draw of the show seems lost.
This is all likely the mongering of a fan scorned and in all likelihood I'll be right back in front of my television to hear Laura Linney's introduction when the series returns to American shores. As the Dowager Countess would say, I shouldn't be so defeatist, it's terribly middle class.
That said, part of me thinks I've hung up my liveries for good.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Four weeks ago when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced their 2013 award nominees, I joined many of my colleagues in declaring effective victory for Steven Spielberg's Lincoln. The Spielberg-helmed biopic's major competitors, Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty and Ben Affleck's Argo had received soul-crushing directorial snubs that seemed to all but wipe the path clean for Honest Abe to casually walk up the carpet and accept the statuette.
Oh, what a difference a month makes.
Since nomination day, Affleck and Argo have scooped up the top prize from essentially every. other. award. out. there. building behemoth momentum going into Oscar Sunday next week and in the process going from Oscar underdog to near sure-fire frontrunner.
The last time a movie won Best Picture without being nominated for Best Director was Driving Miss Daisy in 1990 and the feat has only been accomplished three times total in the Oscars 85-year-history. But as anyone who's ever lost big on roulette will tell you, past spins have nothing to do with where the ball will stop next (a lesson I learned the hard way during spring break '11).
Having said that, the last thing I want to do is go from saying "Lincoln's a sure thing" to "Argo's a sure thing" when truly, anything can happen. For all we know, Django Unchained will end up winning. Hint: Django Unchained will NOT win, it's a sure thing, although in a perfect world Leo DiCaprio would've been nominated for supporting. It just shows you how competitive that category is this year.
I would imagine there's lots of Academy voters who don't like being told what they're going to do and could vote against Argo to spite the prognosticators. Also, the Academy tends to skew older than some of the other statue-giving organizations (I'm still a little peeved that The King's Speech beat The Social Network two years ago) which would play more into the hand of Lincoln than the movie Daredevil made.
As for the other categories. Daniel Day-Lewis and Anne Hathaway have pretty much been scorched-earthing the awards season and I see little chance of an upset in either category. Lead actress and supporting actor are quite competitive this year, with close races between Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence in one and a three-way struggle between De Niro, Arkin and Jones in the other. For my part, I think De Niro's turn in Silver Linings is the best we've seen from the veteran actor in years, whereas Jones' performance, while awesome, was pretty much just playing a grumpier version of himself. Plus, Men In Black III was atrocious, and some price must be paid (if you have a minute, read this great post by EW's Darren Franich on how pretty much nothing in that movie makes sense).
So, here's my picks for next week's ceremony. I should note, however, that historically I have not been very good at selecting winners because I tend to vote with my heart (who SHOULD win) and not with my head (who WILL win).
Best Picture: Lincoln
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis
Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence
Best Supporting Actor: Robert De Niro. No, wait, Tommy Lee Jones. Wait...dang this one is hard. De Niro, final answer.
Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway
Best Director: Steven Spielberg
Best Original Screenplay: Moonrise Kingdom (It'll probably go to Amour, but a boy can dream).
Best Adapted Screenplay: Silver Linings Playbook
Best Animated Feature: Wreck-It Ralph (Pixar is usually as close to a sure thing as you can get, but a lot of people hated Brave).
Best Original Song: "Skyfall" Natch.
And...no one cares about the rest.
Sunday, February 17, 2013
The last installment of the Die Hard franchise, 2007's Live Free or Die Hard was preposterous, outlandish, over-the-top, excessively loud and, quite simply, absurd.
It was also loads of fun.
In the space of 129 minutes, Bruce Willis' indestructible beat-cop John McClane drove through walls, leaped from buildings, flung a patrol car at a helicopter and, yes, surfed on top of a crashing fighter jet, all while cracking wise in the pursuit of a gleefully wicket Timothy Oliphant with a happless Justin Long in tow.
The latest incarnation, A Good Day To Die Hard, which is set to explode into a megaplex near you this Valentine's Day, is just as loud, fast and improbable as you would expect (perhaps more so) but is also devoid of anything resembling emotion, tension or reason.
The film zips us into what you could describe as a plot, as John learns his son is in trouble in Russia, goes to Russia and seemingly walks off the plane into a high-stakes car chase. Why, you might ask, is this American tourist out of his jurisdiction stealing cars and destroying private property despite having no information about what's going on? "BECAUSE IT'S AWESOME!" director John Moore seems to scream at you through the screen as debris falls from the sky.
Plenty of movies wear the "non-stop action" badge with pride on their sleeve, but in AGDTDH the scenes bleed into each other with such wanton abandon for character develop and even plot narration that you find yourself at the climax of the film wondering when the story is going to start. The film's 97-minute running time feels like a quick half-hour television special as you patiently wait for exposition that never really seems to materializes.
Most tragically, Die Hard has a tradition of employing highly-entertaining and quotable bond-type Villains as a foil to the sarcastic McClane, from Hanz Gruber in DH1 to Oliphant's Thomas Gabriel in DH4. But in this latest attempt, it's hard to root for the McClane father and son because there's really no big baddie to root against, which makes the films BIG (predicatble) REVEAL all the more unnecessary. When the true mastermind steps out from the shadows it's simply too little too late.
I love Bruce Willis. Sure, he doesn't posses Day-Lewis levels of acting versatility, but he also brings the pain like few other American action stars can and, when given good material like the recent Looper or Red, puts on one heckuva show. To say that Willis "phones it in" for Die Hard 5 puts too much of the blame on the actor alone when in truth, the whole movie seems to have been conference-called by everyone from the director and writers to the craft services team.
So, Die Hard 5 is preposterous, outlandish, over-the-top, excessively loud and, quite simply, absurd. It's also full of wooden, inconsequential dialogue and pointless characters.
In short, it's big, dumb and, worst of all, boring.
*A Good Day To Die Hard opens wide in theaters on Feb. 14, 2013
Monday, February 11, 2013
Ever since last summer’s release of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part II: Electric Boogalloo, there’s been a supernatural romance vacuum in the realm of Hollywood franchises. Much like how TV is still trying to achieve the “next Lost” (Sorry, but Revolution leaves much to be desired), cinema execs are chomping at the bit to find the next sappy YA adaptation to make buckets of money off the wallets of awkward teenagers and escapism-addicted middle aged women.
Cue Beautiful Creatures, the first in an assuredly planned franchise based on the Caster Chronicles book series. It centers on a boy, fancy that, in this case the athletic Ethan who is discontented to be the stereotypical jock and instead spends his free time devouring the banned writings of Rand, Vonnegut, and Salinger, sketching the female vision that haunts his dreams and dreaming of the day when he can finally say “adieu” to his small, southern, backwards town.
But then, a mysterious new girl named Lana arrives in town to stay with her uncle, the local rich, eccentric hermit and supposed devil worshiper. Lana sends ripples through the school and community, immediately catching Ethan’s eye. The two teens share a meet cute in the rain and proceed to fall head-over-17-year-old-heels in love with each other but of course, her family doesn’t approve, because Lana is a witch and obviously that sort of thing is forbidden.
Where the Twilight films creatively drown under the weight of their own nauseating self-seriousness, Beautiful Creatures manages to keep things light and playful. Supporting castmembers Emma Thompson and Emma Rosum gleefully vamp it up, chewing the scenery as a pair of evil “casters” – their term for magical folk – while Jeremy Irons provides the emotional moxie as the family patriarch and Lana’s guardian.
Much like how Twilight is a tale of vampire meets girl, Beautiful Creatures is a tale of boy meets witch. Creatures is not particularly good, but it is spared from being ultimately bad by two things: it’s deep-south setting and the winning charm of relative newcomer Alden Ehrenreich as Ethan.
I was well-prepared to despise Ethan from the moment his heavily-accented voice-over narration opens the film, but after a few glimpses of his wide, Cheshire grin and a few pinches of snappy, if less-than-inspired dialogue, he won me over.
In another rarity, he and Alice Englert, his partner in magical romance, actually present their characters as a believable pair of goofy, nerdy, teenage lovers. Compared to the photo-shopped perfection and age-stretching of the Twilight cast (and any other movie set in High School) Ethan and Lana actually come across as a reasonably authentic adolescent couple, even though lightning bolts occasionally shot out of Lana’s fingers.
Likewise, the film’s deep south setting is one of its greatest strengths, imbedding the film with a certain sense of mysterious cool. Much like other fictional southern works, like Skeleton Key or Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil, the scenery and setting are used as though they were extra characters.
The generic townsfolk are dismissible and two-dimensional, bordering on caricature, with the exception of Viola Davis, who brings the soul as a family friend with a few secrets up her sleeve.
Ultimately, Beatiful Creatures is an adequately enjoyable, albeit blocky and unpolished, fantasy. It has just enough fun to keep things moving and to nearly make up for the laughably awful visual effects. After making it’s money in spades – as I assume it will – I wouldn’t be completely disinterested to see what happens next.
*Beautiful Creatures opens wide in theaters on Feb. 14, 2013.
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
I wish I had more to report but there's little news from the first month of my little online experiment. Clearly, life does not operate on rules of momentum and trajectory so it would be a logical fallacy to assume that since no potential soulmates have manifested in four weeks then, ergo, none ever will...right?
I've so far kept up on my one message per week minimum, although I have to say that this particular online dating site (which, you'll recall, I can not identify due to the specificity of its niche clientele ((hint: It's not FarmersOnly))) the messaging system is about as archaic as Juno.com. Sidebar: I talked to a man today who has a Juno.com email account. Today. In 2013! I resisted the urge to ask if he accesses it via a dial-up connection while listening to his Creed's greatest hits album.
Where was I? Oh yes.
The messaging system on this site doesn't link messages into conversations. What I mean is that unlike every other reasonable email server in the world, you either have to memorize the message your responding to or abandon your draft part way to exit out, enter your inbox and review whatever juvenile questions have been thrown at you.
Speaking of which, the bulk of my correspondence has been with an individual who we will call Lynn (I would make the plug that I've changed her name, but who knows if it's her name anyway. She could be a 57-year-old Bangladeshi post-op transsexual for all I know). Lynn actually first messaged me in December during my free OkCupid days. At the time I did not respond, but that's not something to deter old Lynn.
So, when I popped up in [undisclosed NOT PlentyOfFish] land, Lynn was quick on the draw. And since I had committed to giving this experiment a fair shake I responded, which led to the following exchange.
Lynn: Hi Benjamin, How are you? What is your favorite place to go hiking?
Me: Hello. My favorite place is in Zion's, but I don't get down there nearly as much as I'd like. I haven't been living in SLC for long so I don't really know the trails around here, do you have any favorites?
Lynn: Zion's and southern Utah are great places to hike. I haven't actually been to Zion's since I was too young to do much hiking but I went to Arches and Canyonlands this summer and had a great time. Around salt lake I have quite enjoyed hikes up around Brighton. Where did you move from?
Me: New York, technically, but I'm from Northern Utah. I was just out there after I graduated from USU for an internship.
Lynn: Ah, that seems like it would be a fun place to live for a while. Did you enjoy it there? What was your favorite thing to do in Logan? I really enjoyed Utah State, and the yearly pumpkin walk.
Me: New York or Logan? Either way they were both fun places to live but I probably miss Logan the most. We would go camping just about every weekend in the summer and in the fall I could be out my door and on a biking trail in about 10 minutes. *Note: This is me trying. Sincerely.
Lynn: [Smile] *Note: This is one of the "flirts" I described in my last post, which in this case was literally a small, computer-generated image of a smile. Obviously I'm not a pro at this, but it strikes me as odd to send a "flirt" to someone you're already having a conversation with. It would be like winking at a person un-ironically mid-sentence while speaking to them face to face, only weirder since this comes in GIF form.
Lynn: I really loved Logan as well. It was especially fun in the summer. I spent a lot of time outside enjoying the weather and bonfires, or hiking or just at the park. What is your favorite thing to do in the winter? *Note: Just to make sure you're keeping track. This is the third time she's asked me "What is your favorite ____?" Don't worry, she's not finished.
Me: It used to be hockey but I don't really have much of a chance to play anymore. I'm much more of an autumn guy.
Lynn: Autumn is a much nicer time of year, though I think I might like spring even better. What is your favorite kind of snack? *Note: That's four! Also, you may have noticed that only one of my responses ended with a question – the first one.
Me: Ice cream. No contest.
Lynn: Ice cream is definitely excellent. What type of ice cream do you like best? Do you like it plain or with toppings?
At that point, I just couldn't take make myself continue. Besides the fact that I'm not even remotely attracted to the photographs this person self-selected to post, I'm perfectly capable of carrying on asinine conversations IRL.
Give me a discussion of baroque architecture, Objectivism, the social commentary imbedded in various zombie apocalypse interpretations or the superiority of East Coast vs. West Coast rap. Ask me about politics or religion. Regale me with the mysteries of science and philosophy. Weave me a tapestry of thoughts, desires and profound, shocking statements. We're talking online, after all, you don't have to pay per word.
Our brief exchange started off on a well-enough foot as a tête-à-tête about travel and the outdoors. We even struck on shared interests and experiences in common. But in the short space of four queries we had already disintegrated into my favorite snack and whether I take sprinkles on my vanilla/chocolate swirl.
So, my apologizes to you Lynn (if that IS your real name) but I'm afraid you'll never know how I take my cream.
I actually had a glimpse of an actual conversation from one of the women I messaged to fill my weekly quota. She was (or at least claimed to be) a student at Westminster and because of her posted travel photos we got into a conversation about Hadrian's Wall.
I'm fascinated by Hadrian's Wall, partly because I have a weird interest in Anglo-Saxon and Imperial Roman history and partly because it's like a Westernized and far-superior counterpart to The Great Wall (as in, Of China). Did you know The Great Wall is not actually one wall but, in fact, several disconnected Great WallS (plural) of China? Lame, right?
Anyway, when I realized that she had visited the REAL Great Wall (please, stand up) I proceeded to nerd out in a manner similar to the paragraph you just got through reading. [Spoiler alert] I haven't heard from her since.
Maybe I should've asked her what her favorite snack is.