A RROY REPORT Special Report: LawyerCon 2017: Lake Tahoe: Part II

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Part II: Living the Resort Life

Something we have learned in our travels: The more upscale a hotel is, the fewer amenities they provide. Or rather, the fewer amenities they provide for free.

I guess that makes sense. Why put a coffeemaker in someone’s room when they can go down to the lobby where there’s a Starbucks? Why give someone free Internet access if you can charge them for it? Sadly, we are not the idle rich. By the end of the week I was missing coffee much more than I was missing Facebook.

So, to sum up: No free continental breakfast. No free USA Today. No coffeemaker. No free wi-fi. No free HBO (but there was Showtime, for what that’s worth). It’s like roughing it at some campground, but with beds and a private bathroom. And free Showtime, for what that’s worth. Oh, but there was a complementary hair dryer. Go figure.

Day Two

tahoe1Andrew’s suitcase arrived as promised, which was a good start to the day. Once we got our act together, we went out for a walk. Harvey’s sits on the state line between Nevada and California, I guess because gambling is illegal in California. Once you cross the street into Cali there is a few blocks filled with restaurants and shops — the kind of things you find in every resort area we stay in.

We had lunch at a crepes place because Laurie loves crepes. There was a shop next door that sold specialty ice cream sandwiches. We planned on going back later in the week but never did. That afternoon Andrew and I made our first of many trips to the hotel pool. That evening was the usual opening reception followed by a live auction and slideshow with highlights from last year’s con. We skipped out halfway through the slideshow to get dinner at a Greek restaurant. It seemed much fancier in the hotel magazine but it was kind of a dive. The gyro was good and that was all that mattered.

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Day Three

More pool time as Laurie spent most of the day in class. A quartet of obnoxious boys kinda made pool time disagreeable on day three, but they never showed up again so that worked out. It was a heated pool and honestly at times I thought it was warmer than the hot tub. We took a lunch break at the Irish pub across the street, then back for more pool time until time for the night’s big event.

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That night we had a dinner cruise on Lake Tahoe. It was very pleasant. The food was meh, but that’s pretty typical for dinner cruises. The whisky sour was just right. About once a year I drink alcohol and it’s usually LawyerCon and it’s usually the whisky sour. That night I had two, because you never know when you’re gonna have a free bar and when you’re not.

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It was windy on the boat so Laurie did her Cousin It impression.

Tomorrow: There’s no escaping Shakespeare

A RROY REPORT Special Report: LawyerCon 2017: Lake Tahoe: Part I

Part One: Hell is for Parents (who let children cry on planes)

This year the National Conference of Appellate Court Clerks — hereinafter referred to as LawyerCon — took place at Harvey’s Casino and Resort in Lake Tahoe on the borderline of Nevada and California.

Getting there, as always, was not half the fun.

Day One 

There is no easy way to get from St. Louis, Missouri, to Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Saturday morning we loaded three suitcases and two carry-ons into the car – drove to the parking lot – got the shuttle to the airport – got our bags tagged – took off shoes and went through security  – put our shoes back on and found our gate – waited an hour for the airplane – sat in plane for 3.5 hours – got off plane in Las Vegas and walked to next gate – waited 45 minutes – sat in plane for an hour – got off plane in Reno, got luggage and rental car – drove 1 hour to Lake Tahoe – check into hotel – collapse on bed and watch free HBO.

If only it were that easy.

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Before we get into the details of yet another horrific travel day, here’s a calm, tranquil picture of beautiful Lake Tahoe, to bring you peace before the terrors to come. 

went through security: Tried to explain to the nice TSA people that Andrew doesn’t understand “stand here and hold your arms up” so the nice TSA people took Andrew and Laurie aside and put gel on Laurie’s hands (I don’t know why). To be fair, the nice TSA people were the least of our hassles.

sat in plane for 3.5 hours: Sitting directly in front of me was a small child. Two rows up from my left was a small child. Three or so rows back and to my left was a small child. All 3 infants cried — sometimes in unison, sometimes solo — throughout the 3.5 hour trip. By the time we landed I had written the chorus to a song parody that I would sell to Weird Al Yankovich if he were buying.

Mamas, don’t let your babies go out and ride airplanes
They’ll cry and they’ll wail and they’ll drive us all nuts
Let ‘me ride buses and light rail and such

Mamas, don’t let your babies go out and ride airplanes
They’ll shriek and they’ll moan and not leave you alone
Makes you want to smack ’em with a glove

Now granted, rolling this through my head and working out the right wording did keep my mind occupied for the last hour of the flight, so there is that.

got luggage and rental car: At the airport we discovered that a Texas lawyer and her husband were on the same flight and were also renting a car to drive to Harvey’s and so we figured we would follow them there, even though there’s only one road to Lake Tahoe and we had brought the Garmin anyway to provide directions.

We got my bag. We got Laurie’s bag. There was no Andrew’s bag. How did they get 2 bags on the right plane but not the third? The nice lady at the help desk assured us it was probably on the next flight and they would sent it along to the hotel and be there for us in the morning. They even gave us a really nice travel bag with toiletries for Andrew to use that night. I don’t particularly care if he gets his clothes for the week, but we’re really going to need that swimsuit.

Did you know that Lake Tahoe sits in the mountains? I did not know this until very late in the program. I hate the mountains. Oh, I love them for their scenic beauty and purple majesty — but I can’t stand the curvy, windy, steep and terrifying roads you have to travel to get anywhere in them.

Keep in mind that by this time we’ve been traveling for roughly 6 hours and I’ve been through two airplane rides. I am literally wasted. Fortunately, my long-suffering wife was well aware of the state I would be in and had already planned to do the driving. First I shot a man just to watch him die, then we took off.

drove 1 hour to Lake Tahoe: The road from Reno to Carson City was straight and fine. The road from Carson City to Lake Tahoe was everything I hate about mountain driving. Oh, the view was incredible BUT WHO CAN’T ADMIRE THE VIEW WHEN YOU FEAR AT ANY MINUTE YOU’RE GOING TO GO OFF THE SIDE OF THE ROAD WHERE THERE IS NO SHOULDER — JUST A CAVERNOUS PLUNGE INTO DEATH.

And did I mention that my wife is driving like a maniac trying to keep up with Texas lawyer even though she’s driving a car she’s unfamiliar with on a road she’s never been on before?

Slow down! We don’t need to keep up with this guy! We’ll get there! We have the GPS! The speed limit’s 40, you’re doing 55! You don’t know what’s on the other side of this curve! Was that a Bear Crossing sign? Don’t hit any bears!

Now to be fair, I think I only shouted to slow down once, but in my head I said it 15 million times.

check into hotel: We arrived – in one piece, no less – at Harvey’s Casino and Resort around 8 p.m. Our room was not ready. It’s 8 p.m. – how is our room not ready? We are encouraged to go up to the casino and get some dinner and come back in an hour. We land in the Hard Rock Cafe upstairs. They seat us around memorabilia from bands and artists we are not familiar with. There was a guitar that once belonged to a member of Hoobastank. I had a decent, ridiculously overpriced burger, but my stomach wasn’t into eating.

An hour later we return to the front desk where Laurie is told…wait for it…our room is not ready. Now, if my sister had been there we would’ve got free lodging for the week and complementary everything, but she wasn’t. They did eventually give us another room, which was supposedly nicer than the room we signed up for, which I suppose was the least they could do.

collapse on bed and watch free HBO: Harvey’s did not have HBO, they had Showtime. I spent most of the week watching the AXS channel anyway.

Tomorrow: Life in Resort Land

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At The Movies: The Hitman’s Bodyguard

Maybe “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” would’ve been a little better if they would’ve got Samuel L. Jackson to sing “I Will Always Love You.”

Maybe. But probably not.

As it is, this “Bodyguard” is just your garden variety action-comedy, heavy on the car chases and fight scenes but light on the funny.

hitmansbodyguard-poster1Ryan Reynolds stars as Michael Bryce, a man who used to run a successful private protection agency until he fell on hard times. His downfall was due to ace assassin Darius Kincaid (Sam Jackson), who put an end to one of Bryce’s high-profile clients with the collateral damage being Bryce’s career.

Kincaid eventually winds up in prison, but cuts a deal with the authorities in exchange for his testimony against Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman) the ruthless former dictator of Belarus.

But getting Kincaid to The Hague could be a problem since Dukhovich has his personal death squad situated all along the route. When Kincaid’s police escort is ambushed, Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung) – who just happens to be Bryce’s ex-girlfriend – realizes she can’t trust anyone on the inside to get her man to court.

So Roussel turns to her former lover for help. But Bryce wants nothing to do with the man who took several shots at him over his career. So naturally, in Hollywood odd couple/road trip fashion, the two men bond while dodging bullets and enduring torture as they try to get to the court on time.

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is a thoroughly average affair. If you like watching Ryan Reynolds do his thing and Samuel L. Jackson do his thing and you’d like to see them play off each other, then that’s about all there is to recommend this. And this isn’t Reynolds or Jackson at their best. Jackson’s charming and amused demeanor doesn’t really mesh with someone who’s supposed to be an expert killer. Salma Hayek actually gives the most entertaining performance in the film, as Kincaid’s rough and profane wife.

The action is slightly better than the comedy, although some of the chase/fight scenes go on far too long. There’s nothing fresh or witty about “The Hitman’s Bodyguard.”

At The Movies: Atomic Blonde

It feels like it takes forever to light the fuse on “Atomic Blonde,” but once it finally goes off it’s pretty explosive.

Based on the graphic novel “The Coldest City” by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, “Atomic Blonde” is a spy movie set in late ’80s Germany just days before the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. The soundtrack features about every Berlin-flavored ’80s song you can imagine.

e1a4230933116bb7b8d295255eb39a21Charlize Theron stars as Lorraine Broughton, a tough-as-nails British secret agent sent to recover a secret list of secret agents before it winds up in the wrong hands and all the secrets are revealed. Her contact in Berlin is agent David Percival (James McAvoy), whose time in the city has made him a bit unhinged.

It’s a simple plot, until the end when it gets tangled up in double agents and triple agents. But then simple stories fueled by ultra violence, a damaged lead and a stylish look have become the trademarks of director David Leitch, whose previous credit is the wonderful “John Wick.”

“Atomic Blonde” wants to be the female equivalent of “John Wick,” and it comes close but close only counts in horseshoes and atomic bombs. It tries very hard to be stylish and edgy — a little too hard for my taste. It feels forced. And while “Wick” had some clever new takes on the assassin trade, “Blonde” doesn’t bring anything fresh to the table as far as spy tales go.

The film also moves pretty slowly in the first half for a film that’s being sold as action-packed. But once it finally takes off, it’s a tour de force of force. Give Theron credit for being a trouper. She (and her stunt double) are willing to take a beating, and she doesn’t shy away from having her lovely face and body covered in bruises and scars.

So, mixed review for me. I was impressed with the brutal fight sequences and action, thought the actors were fine, enjoyed the music, thought the pacing was off in the first half, don’t feel it’s as clever as it thinks it is.

 

 

On Stage: Church Basement Ladies

 

“Church Basement Ladies,” a musical comedy about ladies who work in a church basement, opened Friday in The Playhouse @ Westport Plaza. It’s a humorous little show that’s part “Fargo (except for the murder part),” part “Lake Wobegon Days” and part “Nunsense (if you replace Catholic with Lutheran).”

Created by Janet Letnes Martin, Suzann Nelson and Curt Wollan, the show centers around four women – and their pastor – at a Lutheran church in rural Minnesota. The action takes place in the kitchen in the church basement. The year is 1965.

CBLInvite1 1Vivian Snustad (Janet Paone) is the matriarch of the quartet. She hates big cities and hates change. And she’s not very fond of lasagna. Mavis Gilmerson (Robbie Mancina) spends most of the show working on the church furnace and dealing with her “women’s issues.” Karin Engelson (Lee Anne Mathews) is in line to take over the kitchen if Mrs. Snustad ever moves aside, and her daughter Beverly (Tara Borman) is home from college and represents youth and change (Yes, Beverly and Vivian are bound to butt heads). They are occasionally joined on stage by Pastor E.L. Gunderson (Greg Eiden).

The show covers four major events in the life of a church kitchen: a Christmas dinner, a funeral, a fundraiser and a wedding. The ladies – and the pastor – sing and dance and laugh and cry as they deal with life and death and marriage and lutefisk and the evolving nature of the church.

“Church Basement Ladies” is a funny and charming show. The set design and costumes are spot on (I was having flashbacks to my grandmother’s kitchen). The songs are clever and the actors have strong voices and appear to be enjoying their roles.

I found myself relating to Mrs. Snustad probably more than I should admit.

“Church Basement Ladies” runs through October 1.  http://www.playhouseatwestport.com/

At The Movies: Dunkirk; Valerian

Two very different movies open this weekend and both are worth seeing in a theater with a really big screen and glorious, glorious air conditioning.

Dunkirk

Writer/Director Christopher Nolan delivers an unconventional yet impressive war movie  with “Dunkirk.” He avoids traditional storytelling techniques to present a film that puts the audience in the center of the action.

The year is 1940, and in the early stages of the Second World War, soldiers from Britain, France, Belgium and Canada find themselves trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk, France. The German army is closing in and their only hope of survival is to board a boat that will take them across the English Channel.

dunkirk-posterThe film takes place on three different fronts, each with its own time frame. The main story takes place on the beach and centers on a British army private named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead). Tommy goes through several grueling trials while attempting to get out of Dunkirk.

The second story takes place at sea, where Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) takes his private boat into the channel with plans to bring back as many soldiers as he and his son can fit on board. Along the way they rescue a soldier (Cillian Murphy) who has no intention of going back to Dunkirk.

The third tale takes place in the air, where a pair of Royal Air Force pilots (Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden) fight off German aircraft intent on bombing any ships at sea or soldiers on the beach.

The film veers back and fourth between the three stages. It is told with minimal dialogue and maximum attention to detail. Everything takes place in the now and on the front lines — there are no flashbacks to happier times, no scenes of loved ones back home, no moments with world leaders making plans. This is a “you are there” story in its most visceral and basic form.

Valieran and the City of a Thousand Planets

“Strong visuals, weak story.” I bet I’ve typed those words more than a thousand times over the years since I got in the movie reviewing biz. And nowhere is it more true than with Luc Besson’s science fiction epic, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.”

Based on a French comic book series by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres, the movie features a variety of weird, wonderful, colorful and surreal planets, places, and creatures. Then the plot comes along and gets in the way.

The film begins with a montage showing how a small Earth space station grows over the decades as new life forms show up to visit. Eventually Space Station Alpha becomes too big to be in the planet’s orbit, so it is sent off into deep space. As Alpha travels it continues to grow as other beings latch onto it and craft their own worlds on top of it. And so the space station becomes the City of a Thousand Planets.

Cool, huh?

From there we are whisked off to a beautiful blue planet with gorgeous beaches and tall, thin people who spend their days gathering colorful pearls. It’s all lovely, peaceful and surreal until alien spaceships come crashing down on it.

It’s very cool.

valerian_and_the_city_of_a_thousand_planets-241302562-largeBut then, alas, we have to kick into a story. Meet Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne), two top cops working for whatever government there is that regulates outer space. In addition to being the best law enforcement agents in the universe, the duo are lovers. Valerian has a history as a ladies man, but he seriously wants to marry Laureline.

If it seems odd that characters we’re meeting for the first time (unless you read a lot of French comic books, and I’m assuming you haven’t. I’ve read a lot of comic books and even I don’t know who these people are.) are acting like we’ve been watching their movies for years, well, that’s far from the oddest thing about this movie. But it is on par with how odd this movie is.

Val and Lar get called to Alpha Station where a pocket of radioactivity has been discovered at the station’s core. Attempts to investigate have failed, so the galaxy’s top officers have been brought in on the case.

“Valerian” is a feast for the eyes, best observed on a very large screen. The story is nothing to write home about but the visuals make up for it. The first half of the film is a wonderful hodgepodge of scenes full of clever, creative bits. But by the end it gets bogged down in a bog-standard tale involving corrupt military leaders and accidental planetary genocide.

The leads appear way too young to play the worldly, experienced people they are supposed to be. It doesn’t help that DeHann sounds distractingly like Keanu Reeves.

“Valerian” will no doubt be compared to “The Fifth Element,” the director’s previous sci-fi fantasy film. It looks and feels a great deal like that earlier effort. “Valerian” has a grander scale and better special effects, but I think “The Fifth Element” was a stronger film overall.

 

 

 

At The Movies: Wish Upon

If you’re hoping that “Wish Upon” is a classic horror movie with chills, thrills, shocking twists and buckets of blood — wish again.

This is possibly the most pedestrian horror movie I’ve ever seen. The PG-13 rating ensures there won’t be lots of gore or shocking, horrific deaths, but who wants to watch an antiseptic horror film? And sure, you can make up for the lack of gruesomeness with a creepy, compelling story — but “Wish Upon” doesn’t have that either.

Joey King stars as Clare Shannon, who sits at the bottom of the high school social order with her two friends. Her mother is dead, her father is an embarrassment.

wish-upon-nuovo-trailer-e-poster-del-thriller-horror-con-joey-king-2One day while dumpster diving, dad (Ryan Phillippe) finds an antique Chinese music box, which he brings home to Clare. She can’t open it, and the only thing she can make out are the words “Seven Wishes.” Her first wish, since she’s a sweetheart of a girl, is that the most popular girl in school “go rot.”

The next day Miss Popular winds up in the hospital with a flesh-eating virus. At the same time Clare’s beloved dog dies. Coincidences? Maybe. But after a second wish comes true, Clare begins to believe.

Now a sympathetic character, upon realizing what’s going on, would’ve used her next wish to reverse the first wish, and maybe wish for world peace or a new president. Instead, Clare wishes for popularity, a boyfriend, and that her dad not be such a loser. Concurrently, bad things — like dying horribly — are happening to people around her.

With help from a potential love interest, Clare learns the rules: Every wish must be paid off with a blood debt; everything will go back to normal if you get rid of the box; if you complete seven wishes you will die.

Now the audience has figured this out long before Clare has. And the audience would not proceed to do any of the stupid things that Clare does. The movie plods its way to its inevitable ending and you’re left thinking “I wish I had gone to ‘War for the Planet of the Apes.”

In addition to being totally predictable and toothless, the film suffers for not having any characters you can root for. Clare makes so many bad choices you can’t feel sorry for her and her best friend is so obnoxious you can’t wait for her to get what’s coming to her.

Now that I think about it, teenagers may really like this.