Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Momentous Day?

Months back, I read in Entertainment Weekly magazine about a small indie film, an actors' showcase called Any Day Now. It was the two lead actors that caught my interest, a pair of performers who slip back and forth a fair amount between comedic and serious roles.

Garret Dillahunt has played a Terminator in The Sarah Connor Chronicles, a sadistic rapist in The Last House on the Left, and two different recurring roles on Deadwood... but these days he's most recognized as the dim-witted father Burt on Raising Hope. Alan Cumming has played comic relief in Goldeneye, over the top villainy in Josie and the Pussycats and the Spy Kids series, and Nightcrawler in X2... but he's also starring in a one-man Macbeth on Broadway this summer, on his hiatus from his very dramatic role on The Good Wife. Both men are exceptionally gifted actors who bring incredible nuance to every role they play, whether the roles would seem to deserve it or not.

Any Day Now gives both of them a full meal to sink their teeth into. They play gay men in 1979 Hollywood, who meet in a bar where one of them (Alan Cumming) works as a drag performer. Just days after they meet, the performer meets a neighbor kid with Down syndrome, whose mess of a mother has just been arrested for drug use. To avoid seeing the unwanted kid passed around foster care, he goes to the man he just met (Dillahunt) to recruit his skill as a lawyer to secure custody of the boy. Soon, the three are living together as a family, trying to conceal the true nature of their relationship to keep the child from being taken away.

There are parts of the film that effectively tug on the heartstrings. There's a lot of genuine emotion in the film, and the skilled actors really squeeze every bit of juice from the premise. But there's also often something quite melodramatic about the script itself. That is to say, for every genuine moment, there's another that seems to come across as a "Very Important Movie" with its hand out for an Oscar. (The film wasn't nominated for any.) It feels a bit overly manipulative at times... and yet, there's no denying that the movie has some powerful things to say in the final act.

In all, I'd say there is enough material of substance to outweigh the melodrama. Even if there weren't, it would probably still be worth seeing for the exceptional work of Garret Dillahunt and Alan Cumming. But this also isn't the "movie of the year" it seems to think it is. I'd grade it a B.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Me Two

Three years ago, Despicable Me was a pleasant surprise, a fairly strong effort from a rival animation studio at right about the time Pixar was beginning to decline. I was more than willing to give this summer's new sequel a shot.

Despicable Me 2 brings back Steve Carell's Gru, now retired from villainy to raise his adopted children. There's a simple and predictable plot that revolves around his effort to catch another villain, but story isn't the main draw here. As with the first film, there's a fun emphasis on character that carries the movie.

Carell remains the main draw; his quirky character is fun and quotable. Joining the mix this time is Kristen Wiig as a skilled but highly strung partner who becomes a love interest. The interplay between the two is humorous, a strong new addition for this movie. Benjamin Bratt also camps it up as a Mexican restaurant owner who may or may not be the legendary villain El Macho. This role was apparently voiced originally by Al Pacino, but Bratt was brought in when Pacino left the film over "creative differences." Pacino's departure came very late in the production, but Bratt's replacement is seamless enough (and effective enough) that you'd never know anything was amiss.

But the first film also had solid heart to it, and this sequel isn't nearly as strong in that department. Gru's relationship with his three adopted daughters takes a back seat to the spy-like antics, and a subplot about a young romance involving the oldest girl falls fairly flat. There isn't anything wrong here as such, but the sentiment of the first film simply isn't there.

That said, if you're looking for more physical comedy with Gru's minions, this movie delivers in spades. After being the surprise hit characters of the first film, the minions are moved front and center here -- and they don't disappoint. They're inevitably part of the movie's best jokes, and again figure in an entertaining end credits sequence worth staying for.

In all, Despicable Me 2 isn't quite the winner the first film was, but it's still worth seeing. I give it a B-.

Monday, July 29, 2013

TNG Flashback: Yesterday's Enterprise

Many fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation consider "Yesterday's Enterprise" to be the best episode the series ever produced. But perhaps what makes it truly exceptional is that it was successful in spite of having the odds stacked hugely against it at the time it was made.

A temporal rift appears, and from it emerges the U.S.S. Enterprise-C, the predecessor to our heroes' ship. Instantly, all of reality is altered by the C's disappearance from two decades in the past, because it was not there to help defend a Klingon outpost from a Romulan attack. Our Enterprise is now a battleship, fighting a hopeless war against a Klingon Empire that never made peace with the Federation. And serving at tactical aboard this ship is Tasha Yar, very much alive in this timeline. Guinan alone is able to sense that something is amiss with this version of reality, and urges Picard to send the C back through the rift to the past, where this war can be averted. But as the ship will be impossibly outmatched by the Romulans, this will be a suicide mission.

There are no less than six writers credited for "Yesterday's Enterprise," two for the story concept and four for the screenplay. What's more, show runner Michael Piller also worked on the script, but agreed to take his name off the credits to satisfy the rules of the Writers Guild, which limited the number of writers that could be credited. When you see this many writers on a film, it's usually a sign of a long and troubled creative process marked (and marred) by endless rewrites.

In this case, it was more a sign of desperation. Midway through season three of the show, the writers had run out of scripts to put before the cameras. They were so desperate for something they could film, they turned to a slush pile of rejected ideas, full of cliches that they'd resolved to avoid -- time travel chiefly among them.

One writer had pitched a somewhat dramatically inert story where a previous Enterprise came forward through time (causing no alterations in the present), putting Picard in a dilemma over how much to tell the crew about where and when they were before forcing them to go back. Another writer had pitched an overcooked bit of Trek fanboy service in which a Vulcan science team went back in time through the original series' Guardian of Forever, accidentally killing Surak, the founder of Vulcan logical philosophy. The result was a warlike Vulcan race in the present, who had united with the Romulans to threaten the entire quadrant. The timeline would be restored by Sarek, father of Spock, traveling back in time to take Surak's place.

A decision was made to try and fuse these two ideas -- along with a perceived opportunity to bring back Denise Crosby to play Tasha Yar one more time. The writing process began normally, but then the decision was made that the character of Guinan needed to be fit into the episode too. That's when things got complicated. There was only a narrow window where both Whoopi Goldberg and Denise Crosby's schedules lined up, and that meant a finished script needed to be ready in just a matter of days. And so the entire writing staff worked over Thanksgiving weekend, each taking a different chunk of the script, and racing to finish something. Anything. According to writers Ira Steven Behr and Ronald Moore, the only reason any of them had any real enthusiasm for this story at the time was that it gave them the opportunity to kill off all the main characters in the final act.

So you can see, there was no reason to think they had anything special here. But they did. I remember watching this episode back in 1990 -- back when you generally watched TV live -- and getting a phone call from a friend the moment the Act 1 commercial break came on. "What is going on?" she asked, confused but thrilled by an alternate reality that included war with the Klingons, a female captain of an Enterprise, and Wesley in a red Starfleet uniform.

Honestly, these are the reasons why fans responded so much to this episode -- the changes (subtle and not-so-subtle) to the world they knew and loved. But to be fair, it's a reaction that was earned. Every department of the production did amazing things with the TV budget they had to make the alternate Enterprise-D feel like a truly different place. The costume department changed cuffs and added belts to evoke a militaristic feel. The sound effects department created a louder ambient background, including new sounds for ship-wide announcements, and doors opening and closing. The lighting department created a stark and dim world, accented with harsh blues and yellows. And the set department made startling transformations to the traditional locations, including a number of strategic alterations to the bridge.

But if this kind of fanboy service was all this episode offered, it wouldn't deserve to be thought of as one of the series' great episodes. The fact is, it was also about something. In a tight 40 minutes, the episode is a surprisingly deep examination of what it means to die a "meaningful" death. The crew of the Enterprise-C is being asked to die, with no chance of survival; there's no wiggle room for a typical Star Trek resolution in which the ship saves the day and lives to fight again. Similarly, the D crew must give their lives at the end of the episode to ensure the C can travel back to the past. It all shows how much one small event, one sacrifice, can change the course of history.

And Tasha Yar's appearance in this episode isn't a mere gimmick. Her character is at the very heart of this discussion. In our original timeline, her death was utterly meaningless. (And bravo to the show for being willing to call themselves out on this point and basically say, "we got that wrong, and we're here to make amends now.") Her impassioned speech to Picard, begging to be transferred to the Enterprise-C, carries real emotion in the midst of a dense science fiction gimmick. Next to Tasha's funeral, it's Crosby's finest work on the show.

And it's only one of several good scenes in the episode. The clash between Picard and Guinan -- two characters who have never been at odds before -- is tense and powerful. When Picard confides in Enterprise-C captain Rachel Garrett that Starfleet is at death's door in this war with the Klingons, it's a crushing revelation. When Picard announces his decision to send the Enterprise-C back in time, everyone challenges him, and he shuts them all down in an unusually dictatorial manner. Hell, even before the alternate universe thrills kick in, there's a wonderful scene between Guinan and Worf, full of marvelous character-driven banter between them.

So strong is the episode overall, you can overlook the flaws that easily appear when you take half a moment to think about the episode. Does the romance subplot between Tasha Yar and Enterprise-C officer Castillo really add that much to the episode? Does it even work that well? Why does Guinan have a pseudo-omniscient power to see the falseness of this reality, and how is she able to convince anyone she's right? (As show runner Michael Piller put it, even while acknowledging this was the season's best episode: "Picard sends 500 people back to their death on the word of the bartender. Come on, that's hard.")

Looking back on the episode later, however, the writers would have regrets other than some minor plot holes. Ira Steven Behr and Ronald Moore wished they'd thought to make it a two-parter, to better amortize the production costs and spend more time exploring the characters of the alternate universe. (Wesley, a teenager serving on a warship? Data, an emotionless being forced to rationalize genocide? Troi, maybe an interrogator of some kind in the alternate universe instead of not being present at all?)

Ronald Moore would later also wish (briefly) they'd never done this episode at all; he says that in planning meetings for the first Star Trek movie he worked on, Generations, they wistfully realized that "Yesterday's Enterprise" should have been the plot of the film, with Kirk and the entire classic crew in the "brought forward from the past" roles. You'd think producing one of the fans' favorite episodes would be enough to satisfy him. (Though he is right; that would have been a way better movie than the one we actually got.)

Other observations:
  • Worf's love of prune juice, "a warrior's drink," is introduced in this episode (in that great opening scene I mentioned.)
  • The Enterprise-C is really a fantastic ship design, a perfect fusion of the Next Generation and original series versions of the Enterprise.
  • Originally, some of the writers had the idea to make Worf the captain of one of the attacking Klingon ships at the close of the episode. Producer Rick Berman didn't buy that a mere lieutenant in our timeline would somehow be a captain in the other, while Ira Steven Behr argued that having Worf show up right at the end would feel like a cameo, distractingly kitschy in a moment that was supposed to be starkly serious.
  • With the writers being keen on killing off the main characters, the original final act included Data being electrocuted and Wesley getting his head blown off. By the time filming began, time and budget constraints forced everything but Riker's death to be removed.
  • This episode is about giving Tasha a meaningful death to "apologize" for the meaningless one in "Skin of Evil." But later, this is undermined by the revelation that Tasha didn't die. She survived and gave birth to the half-Romulan villain Sela. The character of Sela was actually Denise Crosby's own idea, so I suppose she has only herself to blame for compromising her character's "better death."
  • One of the writers of J.J. Abrams' Star Trek movie cited this episode as a key inspiration for their own plot (which itself spawned an alternate reality... but stuck with it).
  • There's a blooper in the final scene of this episode. The timeline has been restored, but Geordi is wearing the uniform from the alternate universe. (Look at the cuffs on his sleeves.)
"Yesterday's Enterprise" might not sit at the very top of my list as it does for many fans, but I still agree that it's a grade A episode of the series, truly one of the best.

Sunday, July 28, 2013


Last night, I went to go see Amaluna, the newest in Cirque du Soleil's long line of touring productions. This one seems to take inspiration from Shakespeare's The Tempest, presenting a loose love story about a group of sailors who wash up on an island, where one of them falls in love with a strange, magical local.

Cirque du Soleil has produced over two dozen shows to this point (and I've seen nearly a third of them, I believe), so every new show they mount seems to be a -- pun not intended -- tightrope act. They have to balance the need to present the core of what people expect from a Cirque production, while still providing enough innovations to justify the new show. Amaluna succeeds mostly in this regard, though does miss in a few areas.

The set is probably the weakest part of the production. It feels like recycled Cirque props, selected just because they fit in the traveling tent space used for this show. For example, there's a bit of metallic sculpture meant to evoke jungle (and feeling slightly ripped off from Ka), and a half-globe filled with water (as seen in Zumanity).

The costume design, however, is some of Cirque's most interesting work to date. There's a strange lizard character with a prehensile tail covertly operated by the performer. A group of acrobats have back supports slyly built-in to their costumes for when they lay on the stage to lift other performers with their legs. Even the sailor characters, the most straightforward of the show, are dressed in an interesting interpretation of pirate made of not-quite-denim, not-quite-vinyl.

The music isn't a total departure for a Cirque production, but it does stretch the usual boundaries. Amaluna has an unusual emphasis on percussion, and has a rock vibe throughout that occasionally brushes up at the boundary of metal. Also, it's performed by the first all-female band in Cirque's history, who roam the stage with the other performers more freely than is typical in other Cirque shows.

The acts themselves are a bit hit-and-miss. The "clown" segments, as is typical for Cirque shows, are overly long and underly funny. (A prolonged sequence of a couple giving birth to octuplet footballs is especially tedious.) The Act 1 finale, featuring a half dozen performers on uneven bars, seems oddly simplistic for Cirque, not much evolved beyond what you could see watching any gymnastics competition. But there are far more hits than misses. Act 2 is especially full of highlights, with an impressive pole-climbing act and an amazingly skilled juggler. But the real show stopper is the second act opener, in which a woman constructs a precariously balanced skeleton-like structure of sticks. In all the Cirque shows I've seen, I've never seen anything like that.

Though Amaluna doesn't feel quite as revolutionary as some of the standing Cirque shows in Vegas, there are enough highlights in it to recommend. If you're in Denver, the show will be here for another month or so, giving ample opportunity to see it. If you're elsewhere, check the tour schedule and see if it's coming near you.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

TNG Flashback: A Matter of Perspective

Mysteries in the broad sense were part of most episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation (and indeed, Star Trek in general). The crew was routinely confronted with puzzles they had to figure out. But rarely did the series ever tell a mystery, a whodunnit crime with an unknown perpetrator. "A Matter of Perspective" was such a story.

Riker leads an Away mission to review an alien scientist's experimental research on a new power source. When he beams back to the Enterprise at precisely the moment the research station explodes, the local authorities accuse him of murdering the scientist by firing his phaser into the station's reactor at the moment of transport. A hearing is convened to determine whether Picard will allow Riker to be extradited for trial. Riker and two key witnesses each use the holodeck to recreate their account of events leading up to the explosion, each with some degree of shaded truth, and some painting a compelling picture of Riker's guilt.

Show runner Michael Piller thought very highly of this episode, at least on paper. He was proud of how well constructed the mystery is -- and generally I would agree that it is. Motives, red herrings, clues, and twists are all well incorporated, and almost every moment of the episode of fraught with meaning. But Piller also acknowledged that the episode wasn't quite "compelling television" in its final execution, and he's right there too. It's not bad, but it's not a high water mark for the show.

Personally, I attribute this to the fact that it's an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and not a one-off mystery. We the audience all know that Riker didn't commit the murder of which he is accused, so there's very little tension in the exploration of the crime. In fact, the episode wastes a bit of time in the opening minutes trying to make Riker look suspicious; his behavior is uncharacteristically shifty and evasive, and the crew looks at him with a bit too much shock when he's accused of murder.

Also, there are a few holes in the mystery that I think Piller didn't recognize. For example: Riker can't have fired his weapon while beaming out, or he would have arrived on the Enterprise with a phaser in his hand. Chief O'Brien can testify that he did not. Or later on: the lab assistant, Tanya, presents key information in her testimony that she somehow managed to witness even while her back was turned.

But in many ways, this episode is less about the mystery than it is about the conflicting accounts of events leading up to the explosion. This kind of "drama of conflicting perspectives" was made famous by the Japanese film Rashomon, and I have no problem with it being reused. Many writers do, and often make no attempt to hide the source of their inspiration. The writers use the device here, and use it very well.

You can clearly see in the episode how each version of events is shaded from what must have been the objective truth. The scientist's wife, Manua, has a version that artificially plays up the loving relationship between the couple. The assistant, Tayna, has a version in which the scientist is a veritable action hero. Even Commander Riker's version seems like less than the unvarnished truth. He styles himself as such a boy scout in his account, it's ridiculous. The scientist's flirtatious wife Manua throws herself at him. He doesn't even raise a hand to fight back when the scientist tries to punch him. But we've all been watching this show for two-and-a-half years; we know Riker is a total horndog, and that something isn't quite right here. It's clever writing, and somewhat brave in allowing one of our characters to look less than heroic.

Other observations:
  • If an episode is called "A Matter of..." something, it's about Commander Riker.
  • Captain Picard gets yet another hobby in this episode. On top of the already established fencing, Shakespeare, and horseback riding, we see him dabble in painting. He's quite the Renaissance man. (Though Data doesn't think he's a very good painter.)
  • There's a very obvious stunt double in the scene where Riker punches the scientist -- the worst doubling seen on the show in a long time.
  • The idea of presenting trial testimony on the holodeck is a clever one that makes perfect sense. I would kind of question it if all testimony wasn't presented this way.
  • But on the other end of the spectrum, I question that the holodeck recreates the lab with such fidelity that the experimental device being developed there actually functions. It's especially suspect given that the scientist was trying to hide the fact that his device actually worked. Why would he have given someone else schematics proving that?
  • A science consultant was brought in by the writers to help them work out how the holodeck could create a radiation generator when it's not supposed to make anything harmful. The consultant came up with the idea of energy originating from the planet, and the simulated device simply refracting it into dangerous radiation. Satisfied with this gimmick, the writers actually named the radiation after the consultant -- Krieger.
  • The "next time on Star Trek: The Next Generation" promo for this episode totally gives away the mystery, if you know what you're looking for. One of the final shots shows what really happened, as revealed at the end of the hour.
  • This episode is the source of the popular "Double Facepalm" meme:

  • ...or at least, sort of. This image is actually Photoshopped (though admittedly, very well). Picard's facepalm comes from the previous episode, "Deja Q," and is dropped into the rest of the image from this one.

In all, I'd say there's enough clever thought behind this episode to make up for its lack of real dramatic tension. I'd rate it a B.

Friday, July 26, 2013

It's a Gas

Last year, I wrote about the documentary Gasland, which delves into natural gas mining through hydraulic fracturing. Director Josh Fox is back this year with Gasland Part II.

The first film focused more on the process itself, demonstrating the dangers of it, and presenting a case that the supposed safety measures surrounding it are insufficient. Now, years after he made that film, far more people know what fracking is, so the thrust of this film is decidedly more political. It lays out the lobbying machinations of the big fracking companies, and examines the attitudes of government officials on the subject -- which are basically shown to range from sadly ignorant to willfully corrupt.

I noted in my review of the first Gasland movie that it showed the signs of being a novice filmmaker's work. Josh Fox was at times a stale personality in his film. He had a passion for his subject, and had clearly done research to become knowledgeable on it... though he wasn't always successful at conveying that passion and knowledge.

In Gasland Part II, Josh Fox has found his voice. Unfortunately, it seems to be modeled off the more shrill, grandstanding moments in Michael Moore documentaries. (You know, not the moments where he's making a reasonable point, but the moments where he's ambushing a half-senile Charleton Heston at his house.) In his new film, Josh Fox spends still more time showing people lighting their water on fire (well covered in the first film), and caps it all off with storming a congressional hearing with the apparent desire to get arrested (and he does). It's style without substance.

And it's a shame, really, because Josh Fox really does have good points and a worthy cause here. I suspect he's gone to this frustrated place due to the opposition he's faced in pursuit of this cause over the years. For example, when he went on Real Time With Bill Maher to plug this very documentary, he was basically denounced as an idiot by all three panelists, who shouted their prideful rejection of his facts without ever letting him finish a complete sentence. So I get his attitude.

But with a more attentive audience as he has in someone who has decided to watch his new film? I just wish it presented a better case in a more compelling way. Gasland Part II is perhaps even more important than its predecessor, but has even less polish. I give it a C+.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Wise Analysis

It took me a while to get through, but I recently finished the fantasy novel The Wise Man's Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss. This is the second book of the not-yet-completed Kingkiller Chronicles trilogy, which began with The Name of the Wind. It's another weighty tome, continuing the story of notorious character Kvothe, now in retirement and wanting to set the record straight with an historian about all the famous adventures of his life. It's another solid book, worth the read. But even though I found myself liking it about as well as the first volume overall, there were ways in which this book is better, and other ways in which it's worse.

One thing Patrick Rothfuss excels at is world creation. He seems to have well thought out reasons for why things are the way they are in his book. He'd already established an intriguing magic system in the first book, and some compelling cities and other locations. In this book, he turns his attention to creating some alternative cultures within his world, and describing the peculiarities of their customs and language. It all flows well within the narrative, not feeling unnecessary. And the cultures themselves feel very original. There's a society deep in the throes of courtly pretense and political ambition. There's another that's developed an elaborate gesture sub-language used to shade the meanings of their spoken words. The novel is at its best when painting these fascinating pictures.

But the overall structure of the novel is the same as the first, in that it unfolds as a series of episodes more than a single overall narrative -- and some of the episodes are not nearly as compelling than others. For example, there's an "episode" in this book that sees the main character basically having sex with a faerie creature time after time for more than 50 pages. What starts out interesting in its oddly different tone winds up being painfully tedious and repetitive.

There's also a bit of "middle chapter" syndrome at play in the book as a whole -- after kicking off the story in volume one, things tread water in anticipation of a big climax in the final volume. In fact, the main character starts the novel in one place, goes on 1000 pages of adventures all over the fantasy world, and then literally ends up exactly in the same place he started by the end of the book. If some of the adventures weren't so compelling and enjoyable on their own, you'd be left with a strong feeling of "what was all that for?" by the end of the book.

But overall, the skilled writing style of Rothfuss more than makes up for a few shortcomings in his plotting. I'd give The Wise Man's Fear a B+ (the same as I rated the previous volume). And I'm looking forward to the eventual publication of the final book.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Gimme a C! (Plus)

I recently watched a movie from 1999 called "But I'm a Cheerleader." It's a romantic comedy with a satirical streak, about a high school cheerleader whose family and friends suspect of being a lesbian. Her parents send her to a gay reparative therapy camp, where she quickly realizes the truth about herself that she hadn't really understood before. And she's falling for one of the other girls at the camp.

Reparative (or conversion) therapy programs have been making the news a bit recently, as some states are beginning to pass laws that prohibit their use on minors, and one very prominent program has publicly renounced its own mission and shuttered its doors. This movie takes this quite serious subject and explores it with comedy. There's nothing wrong with that idea; in fact, skewering the serious with humor is the very heart of satire.

But the film mostly plays too broad to be effective. The conversion camp in this movie is camp in the other sense of the word. It's populated only with the most extreme gay caricatures, from the kids to the counselors. I suppose maybe it's possible that there was a subtle commentary in this, saying that "it's portrayals like this that keep many people from realizing and accepting that they're gay" -- and there's absolutely truth in that. But I don't sense the film was actually pursuing anything that intelligent or insightful. It feels like it was just going for the easy jokes.

It would be one thing if the whole film were slapstick, but the two main characters are actually quite well drawn and realistic. The title cheerleader, Megan, is played by Natasha Lyonne, and her struggle to accept herself and come out of her shell feels very honest. The object of her affections, Graham, is played by Clea Duvall, and is an almost heartbreaking portrayal of a young woman who has learned to suck it up and give her parents what they want just to keep a roof over her head. Both actresses give very honest and often dramatic performances that really are something to see.

But sadly, they're doing it in a slapstick movie surrounded by the likes of RuPaul and Richard Moll, hamming it up in every scene. There are a few other recognizable faces, including a very young Michelle Williams and Cathy Moriarty (doing a far less sinister version of her character from Soapdish). But all these other characters are shallow stereotypes that clash with the depth of that central story. And they don't generate nearly enough laughs.

The movie might well be worth watching for the performances of Lyonne and Duvall, but otherwise, it's watching a comedy that isn't especially funny. I give the movie a C+.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Prose and Con(juring)

This weekend, I went to see the new horror movie The Conjuring. (Oddly, my boyfriend and I got carded by the ticket taker, apparently because it was Saturday night, the kids were out in force, and there was a cop standing right behind him. It's surely not because I look under 18.)

The movie is the latest from director James Wan, most known for the first Saw movie, but who has lately (with Insidious) sought to make horror movies that operate on suspense more than gore. He's really swung hard in that direction here -- and that's generally a good thing.

The Conjuring is based on a real life husband and wife who made their careers investigating supposed paranormal phenomena. The stories of their investigations have been lifted and warped substantially into other films before, but this is the first time that the couple themselves were portrayed as characters on film. They're played by a skilled pair of actors, Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson. The script puts more emphasis by far on the supernatural than on their characters' relationship, but even the presence of these two performers infuses the film with a notch of credibility.

The two are investigating the haunting of a family led by Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor. Again, these are two actors who are strong for their roles, though again, those roles on paper are fairly limited for the bulk of the film. (That said, Lili Taylor gets some meatier material to play in the film's final act.)

Where the film shines is in the way it ratchets up tension. As I noted earlier, there's very little gore in the movie; it aspires not to be gross, but to be truly scary. Generally, it's good on that front. It rarely relies on cheap startles that come from nowhere. Startles do abound, but they always come to punctuate a long scene of dread that you know is going to end with such a moment. There are a lot of clever set pieces that have you mentally screaming warnings at the characters not to do certain things.

But that said, the movie does take a little bit of time to get going in the beginning. Slow burns aren't necessarily a bad thing in a movie, but this movie isn't exactly breaking new ground. The haunted family conceit is well traveled ground in horror films. Even the haunted family in the 1970s is well traveled ground, thanks to The Amityville Horror (which itself was based on a case apparently also investigated by the ghost hunting couple). It's not that there aren't clever or semi-original moments in this film; there are. But it does take an awful long time for the movie to finally get to the place you know it's going.

I would also say that while the movie is often suspenseful, it's not often all that scary. There's been a lot of talk in the media about how terrifying this movie is, and how it received an R rating for nothing more than being scary. I'd say that's overselling things a bit, a marketing gimmick in the form of a rating. The movie is decent, certainly worth seeing if you're a horror aficionado. But I wouldn't go expecting it to be the scariest horror film in years (even if it is the least bloody).

Overall, I'd give The Conjuring a B-. Everyone involved knew how to weave a respectable, if not exceptional, horror yarn.

But as a footnote, what the hell is with that title? So far as I can tell, nothing is conjured in the entire film. It feels like they figured every other thing that sounded like a viable horror movie title had been taken, and this was the name they'd paid for already.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Don't Be Such a Squire

I read "The Adventure of the Reigate Squire" on the flight home from my trip to Mexico, and was frankly not impressed. Maybe it's because I'd just had an amazing series of adventures myself. Maybe it's because I hadn't read another Sherlock Holmes story in a while. Or maybe I was just dog tired and cranky. But for whatever the reason, I found it to be one of Arthur Conan Doyle's weakest efforts.

Appropriately enough for the time I read the story, Holmes himself is on a vacation of sorts in this tale. Following a particularly demanding case, Watson has persuaded Holmes to head to a friend's estate for some rest. Of course, a brand-new case pops up there for Holmes to spring into action.

This is another mystery that I feel can't possibly be solved by the reader, for lack of information in the text. This case turns largely on the handwriting on a scrap of paper. We learn at the resolution of the mystery that every other word of this note is written in a different handwriting -- something that would likely be readily apparent if the audience could actually see the note. But Doyle doesn't describe this detail at all until the moment Holmes is revealing it as crucial to the case. And while it's a perfectly acceptable writing technique to let the characters see something the readers don't, I feel it's cheating to not tell the readers there's something they're not seeing. (By that I mean, it's perfectly fair game to write, "when he broke down the door and barged into the room, his jaw dropped at the ghastly scene before him"; end of chapter. But tell us the characters are seeing something!)

Frankly, the "every other word" handwriting gimmick seems like a preposterous one to me in any case. Is this a spiritual precursor to writing a ransom note by cutting letters out of magazines and newspapers? It just never seems realistic to me that a key part of the culprits' plot involves the two of them writing alternating words in a letter.

There are some tantalizing hints in the framing of this tale about the back story of Watson before he met Holmes. The two are vacationing with an old friend of Watson's, and there are dribs and drabs of information about the nature of that friendship. But in all, I felt like things were left a little too vague, with a little too much time spent on the mystery itself, to pay off that history in a satisfying way. For that matter, Doyle writes just as much about Holmes' unspecified previous case that exhausted him so as he does about Watson's history.

A confusing tale that doesn't play fair with the reader, I give "Reigate Squire" a D+.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Last Day in Mexico

For our last full day in Playa del Carmen, we'd originally planned quite a grand finale: we'd booked a snorkeling excursion with whale sharks. The web site promised, "we guarantee you will see whale sharks, or your money back." ("Check with us 24 hours ahead of time to confirm pickup at your hotel.")

Well, I mentioned in an earlier post that in the middle of the week, we had a lot of rain. For three days, it rained quite a bit, especially in the mornings. It by no means dampened our good time (except in the literal sense), but it turns out it did have a negative impact on the whale shark excursion. The rains had cooled the ocean temperature enough to drive the plankton to a lower depth, so we were told. The plankton being the food for the whale sharks, they had followed... out of snorkel range. We were told that our excursion had been canceled, as they could offer no guarantee of seeing any whale sharks.

So we needed a Plan B.

It started out as more time at the pool. I'm going to wedge in here a mention of the jacuzzi, not because we used it that day, but because I was amused (more than I should have been) by the nearby sign, and this is my last chance to show it:

It seems that no two languages presented the same information in the same way. There were different numbers of bullet points, a different order or information, some information missing in one language and present in another, typos aplenty, and what seemed like questionable phrasing to those of us with a little German and French familiarity.

But we decided we weren't going to spend the whole day at the pool. So it became a "shopping day." We started off with a lunch at a restaurant recommended to us by our dive master from the first three days. It was located right on the beach, a short cab ride from the hotel. The food was indeed delicious. I had a memorable mahi-mahi absolutely drenched in an amazing garlic sauce. But the highlight of the lunch was the miscommunication. A platter for three people was mistaken for a platter of three selections, so my friend ended up ordering a preposterous amount of food.

After lunch, we went to a nearby area of pedestrian streets lined with various shops. We picked up souvenirs for ourselves and some folks back home: t-shirts, Mayan calendars, and other various items.

I learned that either Mexicans really like Alien and Predator, or (more likely) American tourists really like to spend money on Alien and Predator. It seemed like every other shop had some carvings of both for sale:

And sometimes the depictions were quite bizarre:

Coming back from the shops, we came upon a park where a very tall pole had been set up. A group of five acrobats were performing:

Four of them spun around in a circle for a while, then stopped to allow a fifth to climb up to the center. That one simultaneously played a tiny whistle and a small drum, building up tension to...

...we never found out. We stayed watching these acrobats for five to ten minutes, but they never did anything more than sit on top of the pole before we all got bored and left. Mind you, I would not have wanted to do anything more extreme than that myself, but from a group of acrobats, it definitely had an "and now what?" feeling.

There was more time at the pool when we got back to the hotel. In fact, it turned out that all this outdoor time gave me a sunburn at long last, though I'd managed to avoid it for the entire trip with careful sunscreen use.

We capped the night at the notoriously slow Italian restaurant at our hotel, which was slower than ever on this last night. Some guy at another table got into a giant yelling match in Spanish with the maitre d', which seemed to be about some other table who'd arrived after him getting their food before him. We tried to play it nice by contrast, but still ended up waiting 20 minutes to order, 40 minutes for soup, and another 40 minutes for entrees, before finally bailing on dessert.

So in all, perhaps not the best day for our final day of the trip. But still... what a trip overall! Playa del Carmen, with my many scuba adventures (and misadventures), as well as my visit the the ruins of Ek Balam and two very different excursions to two very different cenotes... it's a vacation that I'll remember fondly for a long time.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Mayan Water Park

After our time at Ek Balam, it was back on to the tour bus. The drive at times seemed more harrowing than any of the scuba diving had been. The road wasn't wide enough for two vehicles side by side, yet was fairly well traveled by bicyclists, cars, and other tour buses. The protocol seemed to be that the larger vehicle would always make way for the smaller vehicle, pulling briefly off the side of the road, but generally vehicles barely slowed down for one another.

After half an hour, we arrived at Cenote Maya. Unlike the underwater cave system of Chac Mool, this cenote was a single, enormous cavern in which you could simply enjoy a swim. First, though, we ate a lunch that was said to be authentic Mayan food. I can't really speak to that, though it was delicious -- the handmade, fresh tortillas most of all.

Before entering the cenote, all visitors were to be blessed by a Mayan shaman. Our tour group was led into a small, open hut where a brief ceremony was performed:

While Americans have something of a reputation for being dismissive or intolerant of other cultures, such was not the case on this occasion. The rest of our tour group was made up of French speakers from Canada and Belgium, and one of them was quite disrespectful indeed. As the shaman came around to each person to hold a brazier at the chest to let us inhale the smoke, one of the Belgians pulled a bandana from his neck up tightly around his mouth and simply glared at the shaman.

Perhaps since we weren't total pigs, the shaman had something special for my me and my friends. This particular day of our trip happened to be July 4th, so the shaman pulled us aside, as the only Americans in the group, for an additional blessing said to honor our country's anniversary. Honestly, this acknowledgement seemed to mean less to us than it did to the shaman himself and to our tour guide (from France; strangely, none of our excursion leaders this trip were actually from Mexico). Still, it was a fun moment nonetheless.

From there, we went to the cenote. Now, I mentioned that was a giant cavern you could swim in, but that's only half the story. It was also sort of a water park. (This maybe undermines the authenticity of the whole "you need to be blessed before you go in" thing, but it was really cool.)

First, you can rappel down into the cenote from an opening more than 50 feet above the water:

From there, you can swim over to a giant tower built in the center of the cavern:

And from there you can do all kinds things. There was a seated zip line, and a more Tarzan-style rope swing:

There were also dive platforms, from both 10 feet and 25 feet.

It felt like you fell forever when you jumped off the 25 foot platform, even though the POV videos we shot move so fast you can hardly see them. We got to play around in the pleasant, cool water of the cenote for an hour, then got dressed and got back on our tour bus for the three hour ride back to the hotel.

The double header of Ek Balam and the Cenote Maya made for a full and fun day. The next day would be out last full one in Playa del Carmen.

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Vacation in Ruins

With our scuba adventures finished, the next day of our vacation took us inland. We wanted to visit one of the Mayan city ruins. There are several to choose from, and when we were first planning out the trip, we were considering the most famous, Chichen Itza. After a little research, however, we found out that a few years ago, the site was closed off to visitors. You can still go and see the ruins at a distance, but you're no longer permitted to climb them and see them up close.

We decided to look for an alternative instead, and settled on Ek Balam. Though rediscovered in the late 1800s, excavation of the buildings on the site only began in earnest in the late 1980s. The site is thus among the "newest" of the Mayan ruins, and still allows visitors full access.

You enter the ruins on the south side, near a building appropriately named the Oval Palace:

From there, you can see across to the north side of the ruins, where the largest building, the Acropolis, towers over everything:

We had a tour guide lead us through the area for half an hour, explaining the history of the place and explaining some of the Mayan civilization. We were then free to explore the ruins on our own. There was a lot to see, but we were naturally drawn to climb the Acropolis. About halfway up the main staircase were landings with interesting features of their own. To the west side was the temple believed to contain the tomb of Ukit Kan Le'k Tok', and marked with all kinds of interesting carvings:

The west and east ends of the landing offered great places to try out the panoramic photo feature on my phone:

But of course, we pressed on to the top of the Acropolis itself. As expected, it offered a spectacular view of the city and the surrounding jungle.

But there were many other things to see at the site, including a variety of animals. A snake...


And the busiest ants I'd ever seen, carrying bits of leaves from a tree dozens of feet away back to their enormous hill.

Ek Balam was a neat stop on our trip, but it was only the first part of the day's adventure. Our next stop would be a cenote that offered a completely different experience than the scuba diving of the previous day.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Oh, Brother

After our swim through Kulkulcan at the Chac Mool cenotes, we walked back up to the trucks to switch out our air for a second dive in the other cave, Little Brother. The other team, which included my brother-in-law and my friend's wife, had finished the first dive ahead of us and were already about to head down for their second, so we saw them off and started changing out our gear.

When my friend hooked up his next tank, it had a clearly audible leak. He tried reconnecting, checking to make sure there was a o-ring at the seal, but nothing seemed to stop the leak. We had one backup tank on hand, so he switched over to that one... only to find a version of the same problem. And there were simply no other fresh tanks on hand.

But there, sitting next to the truck, were the tanks that all of us had used on the first dive. One of them was the one his wife had used, and we all knew how little air she tended to consume. My friend connected to one tank: 1350 psi left (from 3000 to start with). He connected to another: 1400. Then he connected to a third: 1900 left. That had to be it. And, given the air he'd used himself in the Kulkulcan dive, 1900 seemed like enough for him to go with. Hell, given my air usage in the first dive, it would have been enough even for me to go with... though I'm certainly glad it didn't come to that. We finished gearing up and headed down to Little Brother, the second dive site.

Right at the start of the dive, we had the chance to test the "wave your light to signal the group" system. We'd only been going for maybe 30 seconds, and I noticed a flashlight on the cave wall waving up and down. I looked back to see my boyfriend waving his light and my friend coming to his side. I then caught the dive master's attention with my own light and we all circled up. It turned out to be a minor issue: the skirt on my boyfriend's mask was folded in just a bit, so water was steadily leaking in, almost faster than he could clear the mask. By the time the dive master and I had stopped, my friend had already helped him fix the problem, and they were ready to go. But it was nice to know that the system worked.

For most of the dive, there wasn't all that much difference between this and our previous dive. More claustrophobia I probably should have been feeling but wasn't:

More interesting cave features:

More following a thin line through the darkness:

But about two-thirds of the way through this dive came something special to really set it apart from the previous one. The passage led to a subterranean chamber with enough space to surface in.

Though the chamber appeared to be completely enclosed, fresh air was getting to it from the surface somehow. We were able to bob around in the water, take our masks off and regulators out, and have a leisurely look around. The room was full of wonderful stalactites and other features.

It was like a real-life room from Casa Bonita, my brother-in-law joked later. (Hilarious, if you know the restaurant from more than its notorious appearance on South Park.) But it was also one of the most tranquil places I've ever visited. We'd passed dozens of other divers throughout the two cenotes dives, and in truth hadn't actually swam all that far to get here... and yet for the few minutes we spent in the chamber, we were all alone, and it felt more secluded than any place I've gone in recent memory. It was a truly unique and memorable experience.

We put our regulators back in (well, except for my boyfriend... who momentarily forgot to when he first tried to submerge again), then swam the last 10 minutes or so back to the entrance. We packed up our gear, met back up with the rest of our gang (confirming that indeed, the tank with enough air for a second dive had belonged to my friend's wife), ate a lunch, and then headed back to the hotel.

It rained on and off throughout most of the day, which it turned out would put a crimp in our plans a few days later (but I'll come to that). Still, it was hardly enough to stall another afternoon of lounging around the pool. This was the end of the scuba diving for the trip, but we still had a couple more days planned before we returned home.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


For our fourth day of diving (and the last day of the trip that we'd devote to scuba), we shook things up a bit. Instead of heading out on the ocean with dive master Claudio, we headed inland for some cave diving at the Chac Mool cenote.

Cenotes are natural sinkholes, pits, or caves in the limestone bedrock surrounding a groundwater supply. They come in all shapes and sizes, some of which you can easily and safely swim in, and others that you can only explore (and then only in limited fashion) with scuba gear and a skilled dive leader certified in cave diving. Our group met up with Alex and Dario, both originally from Italy, to take us to Chac Mool and lead us through its two dive sites, Kulkulcan and Little Brother.

Back in Colorado, before we left on this trip, I wasn't at all sure I was going to be able to do these dives. I don't even like to ride a dimly lit, cramped elevator. Going through a pitch black cave under water? How in the world was that actually going to happen? And if I'd actually known the name of this cenote beforehand and had Googled it, my nerves probably would have been even worse; four divers on two occasions have died in Chac Mool in the last 15 months!

After my scare at the shipwreck, you might think I'd be even more psyched out this excursion, but my boyfriend knew just the right things to say to ease my mind. The trouble I'd encountered on my previous dives had been due to current; there wouldn't be any in the cenote. And the times when air had been a problem for me had been when we'd dived deep; we wouldn't even reach half that depth in the cenote.

The two of us went with with Dario, joined by my instructor friend. (His wife and my brother-in-law went with Alex instead.) Dario walked us through a detailed briefing that calmed me down even more. We'd all have our own flashlights, and we could just wave the light to signal for help if we needed it. The entire path we'd be traveling would be marked with a line of twine; just keep to the line, don't go where the signs clearly tell you not to go, and everything will be fine.

The main thing to be aware of were the haloclines. These would be layers in the dive where the salinity of the water changed suddenly. The two different waters would be swirling with each other, causing a visible distortion that would pass once you ascended or descended through the halocline. Don't worry when you see it; it's perfectly normal.

We geared up, putting on extra thick wetsuits for insulation in the colder water, then made our way down a path to our first dive, Kulkulcan. One last check at the surface...

...and down we went.

I was frankly surprised by how much it didn't bother me. After the fast-paced dives of the last few days, trying constantly to look everywhere, this was almost relaxing. Of course, I got the easiest position (being the least experienced diver in the group), following right behind our dive master. My boyfriend followed me, and my dive instructor was bringing up the rear. I was hardly ever more than a few feet away from hypothetical rescue. A quick kick and an outstretched hand, and I could have grabbed onto the dive master's fin, going for that very reassuring second full tank of air on his back.

In any case, Dario kept a nice and leisurely pace as I followed him and the line down into the darkness:

We never went through any passage I'd call "tight," but some areas were definitely more open than others. There was always something to look at, wildly different than anything I'd encountered on the previous three days of diving.

You weren't always surrounded by rock; often, there was some path to the surface visible somewhere:

The only moment I really tensed up was the first time we passed through one of the haloclines we'd been warned about. It's hard to describe. One moment, the water was crystal clear, then the next, it was like looking through stained glass. I could still see the shape of the dive master in front of me, but everything was blurry and indistinct. This photo is the closest we have to showing the effect:

In that picture, there's nothing on the lens, nothing wrong with the focus. Everything at the bottom is perfectly sharp -- below the halocline -- while everything to the left and the top is obscured by the halocline. We passed through a handful of these distortions during the dive; sometimes it would last only a moment or two, while other times it lasted a good 30 seconds.

After my initial disorientation, my thoughts were actually about the two behind me. Again, I could easily grab hold of the dive master if I needed anything. But what if my boyfriend or friend were trying to signal the dive master with his light? Would he even be able to clearly see the motion? Would I, and be able to "telephone" it ahead? Fortunately, we never had to find out on that dive.

We spent 43 minutes going through Kulkulcan, but it honestly didn't feel like that long -- nor did it ever seem as harrowing as I think these pictures might make it look. And my boyfriend had been absolutely right about me doing fine in the shallower, current-free waters. I still had between 1/3 and 1/2 of my air left by the time we circled all the way back around to our starting point:

We then went back to the truck to switch out air tanks and rest a moment before heading to the second dive, Little Brother.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Mama Mia!

For our third day of diving, we again planned on two sites. The first was Mama ViƱa, an old shrimp boat that was taken out of service in 1995 and deliberately sunk to create an artificial reef. This started out as possibly the best dive of the trip, but ended up being the worst.

Our dive master Claudio was really laying it on thick in the briefing. The currents down at the wreck are very strong, he said. You have to get down to the bottom very quickly; hopefully no one will have trouble clearing their ears as we descend. You have to stay close. We're going to swim through the wreck, and as soon as you exit, make sure you get back down in the shadow of the boat. Be very mindful of where you put your hands; you don't want to cut yourself on anything, and there is fire coral growing on the wreck. And the wreck is down at 90 feet, so remember what we did on the deep dive and switch air at the safety stop if you need to.

Yikes! I was thinking. But my boyfriend pointed out -- and correctly so -- that Claudio had really made all of our previous dives sound more intimidating than they'd actually turned out to be (turtle dive excepted, maybe). Just keep calm about it.

So down we went. And I was really doing great, I thought. I'd had a little trouble equalizing my ears here and there on past dives, but not this time. And I was getting down really fast! We were down to the ocean floor at 90 feet seemingly faster than I'd managed to get to half that depth on our other dives. I was actually so jazzed about how well it was going that I actually did not see the ship until we were practically on top it. Not that there were any problems with visibility or anything. I was just didn't happen to look to my left until, boom, there it was:

We swam up nice and close to it and started circling, looking into windows as we pass along side:

There were a lot of divers there. Before this, we'd only encountered one other small scuba group of four in all five of our previous dives. Yet now, there are at least three groups of that size besides ours. But I'm really not thinking too much about that; I'm too busy trying to swim right behind the dive master to stay out of the current.

We come up over the deck so that we can get a look down inside hatches and such:

...and then we start to swim back up the other side. Here I noticed for the first time that the current was indeed as strong as advertised. I do have a little bit of trouble, getting pushed into the side of the ship when I don't mean to be, but generally things are still going alright.

We come back around to where we started, and this time we're going to swim through the ship.

I was kind of nervous about this part, I must say. I'd skipped out on swimming through the underwater arch the day before, and this was considerably more cramped. Plus, all that talk about fire coral and sharp edges had me mentally prepped for some kind of twisted version of the game Operation. Don't touch the sides, or you'll get zapped!

But the only way "out" was through, so I checked my air (1500; half a tank left), and in I went. It was totally worth it. We passed through two adjoining rooms, the first light and open...

...and the second dark and spooky:

But then we emerged on the other side of the wreck, and the fun quickly came to an end. As I mentioned earlier, there were other dive groups in the area. By this point, they'd practically doubled, and there were probably around two dozen people besides us circling the wreck. And not a single one of them was showing any consideration to anyone else.

Once again, my boyfriend's camera, dutifully snapping pictures every five seconds, happened to catch the perfect moment:

That's me on the left. The jerk in the bandana is some random diver who cut inside and underneath me for no reason. I was pushed up and left to avoid him, and this put me immediately into the full current
churning past the ship. I start swimming with everything I've got, but between all the effort and the fact that I'm both freaked out and ticked off, it takes a lot more air than I realize. I manage to get back in close to both my boyfriend and the dive master, but then I look at my gauge: 500?!

In the only two minutes, maybe three, since I've last checked my air, I've managed to use fully one-third of the tank, and now I'm well past the point where I should have started heading back up. I signal this to the dive master, and he immediately gathers the group. All... five of us? My brother-in-law is nowhere to be seen.

We're now out well away from the wreck, looking at a swarm of other divers, but everyone seems to be paired off. There's no one that should belong to us. I'm trying to breathe evenly, but between the "holy crap, how did I get down to 500?" and the "what happened to my brother-in-law?", I'm not doing a very good job of it. We're 80 feet down, and now I'm at 400.

We start going up, and when my air reaches 300, the dive master forces his alternate into my hand.

Yes, I realize. I should just focus on my own issue here and not keep looking around everywhere for someone who has been on a hell of a lot more dives than I probably ever will.

I switch to the dive master's air, idly wondering how much he has left and wishing I could get a look at his gauge. Then finally I just sort of "give up" and relax. I'm quite literally tethered to him now anyway; there's almost certainly nothing I could have done before, and there surely isn't now. So just calm down and "enjoy" the ride.

When we finally reach about the halfway point between the floor and the surface, I start looking up for the octo tank. To my instant relief, I see my brother-in-law already there, switched over to the second air source. I want to get there too; I don't want to be sucking down our dive master's air any longer than necessary. But at a rate of no more than one foot up per second, the tank is still a long way away. Fortunately, being tethered to the dive master kept me from bolting for the octo and heading up faster than I should have.

Finally, an agonizingly long time later, we reach the octo, and I switch air for the second time. Then my brother-in-law and I just hang there for our safety stop.

By this time we're done with this dive, I've used basically all my air, who knows how much of the dive master's, and my brother-in-law and I have gone through half the spare tank between us. Meanwhile, my boyfriend is still doing just fine with a third of his tank left, while my friend and his wife are just chillin'-- you know, no big deal.

We finally came back to the surface, but in the moment I think I was far more focused on being mad at the random diver who caused it all than really thinking about what had happened to me. My brother-in-law had had a similar experience, it turned out; some other careless diver had swam in under him, exhaled a huge cloud of bubbles, and driven him up into the current. He exhausted a bunch of air trying to get back down before concluding that his dive was over; he'd go hang out at "the octo bar" and wait for the rest of us.

We went on a second dive after that, a reef called Sabalos. I honestly can't remember much about it. From my friend's dive computer, I know we went down about 45 feet, for about 40 minutes. I also remember that I was fairly calm and reasonably in control. For once, I wasn't the lowest one on air at the end of the dive. (My boyfriend and I were "tied" this time, both using two-thirds of our tank.) But I don't remember a single thing we did or saw on the Sabalos dive, probably because my mind was still back on the shipwreck.

Much later, after we'd gotten back to the hotel, it finally hit me just how tense I'd found the whole experience. I ended up being pretty low on energy, depressed all afternoon and up until dinner. Fortunately, my boyfriend was great about everything, both while it was happening and while I was pointlessly freaking out about it after the fact. He got me back to the point where I was ready for the next day's crazy dive adventure.