Another victory for our sterile, whitewashed culture: Terminator: Genisys will be rated PG-13. The series, which started with a gritty, low budget 80s film that may be one of the greatest Sci-fi action movies of all time, has graduated over four movies to become just another bloated series designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

The 70s and 80s were a golden age for adult movies. The cultural revolution of the 1960s finally paid dividends in the form of unapologetic action, science fiction, thriller and horror flicks. Mainstream film emerged out of an era defined by (relatively) clean entertainment and began to invoke darker themes. Some of my favorite movies were made in these two decades. Even movies that aren’t necessarily my thing seem to hold more emotional weight than what we get today.

The Terminator is a masterpiece. It has excitement and tension. It raises interesting science fiction and horror themes. It sets the era perfectly. There are stakes. The movie feels both 80s and timeless simultaneously. It never shies away from portraying violence, language and nudity as needed. Unless you’re a young child with virgin senses, the adult-ness of the movie never distracts from the conflicts the main characters face.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day, like its predecessor, also had an R rating. Despite this, it became the most successful box office of 1991. A peculiarity of that time saw children’s toys being sold for several R movies, including T-2. Both Terminator films were favorites of mine when I was young. One year (most likely when i was five), I even went as a terminator for Halloween. I wasn’t any more inclined towards violence or swearing as result of these movies, or the Alien franchise or any other child inappropriate media I may have watched. It was entertainment and I understood it as such.

Some time between the tail end of that time and now, we’ve experienced a systemic trend towards curbing movies at PG-13. There are two culprits. The first is overbearing helicopter parents looking to shelter their children from all of life’s horrors. These are usually superliberals and hyperconservatives united in their quest for the most boring world imaginable. The second is greedy studio heads who want to maximize their audiences at the expense of artistic integrity. They’ve decided that every year we need to see another box office record fall instead of producing top quality films. But they get as many hits as they do misses. These are the numbskulls who thought The Lone Ranger movie was a sure thing.

Let’s take a look at RoboCop (2014). Or what would’ve been more aptly named “Robot Police Officer Movie.” The original RoboCop was a dark satire about a dystopian American future. The movie was originally given an X rating for its extreme violence and was trimmed to get it down to R. The gratuitous elements served to drive its points home. Flash forward 27 years and we have another generic action movie, rated PG-13, devoid of any of the traits that made the original successful. I don’t think the people who made that movie even understand why the original was good. It’s about trading on the brand name with a half-assed script and dazzling special effects.

Thankfully, there are still some directors who create the movies they want and the hell with suits and censors. Quentin Tarantino’s movies, for example, use violence and language to great effect. But too many modern filmmakers seem so eager to work that they don’t have their own visions. Those at the top decree and they kowtow. The result is a culture of boring reboots, remakes and unnecessary sequels that shame their predecessor’s legacies.

The world can be happy. It can be hopeful. Experiences can be uplifting and positive. That doesn’t mean the journey can’t still be harsh and brutal. There will always be a place for very good G, PG and PG-13 movies (though I will argue that the PG of Indiana Jones is a lot grittier than that of today), but when a movie needs an R rating, let it breathe. Fuck general audiences, fuck families and fuck kids. Let them either grow up or continue to watch crap like Pudsey the Dog: The Movie. Give us back our quality adult entertainment.


Two significant events in the last couple of days have revived discussion about the Confederate Flag. On Wednesday, a racially motivated gunman opened fire inside a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina. The shooter was pictured in a photo with a car that featured images of the flag on its plates. As the American and South Carolina flags flew at half mast after the tragedy, the Confederate Flag continued to fly high atop the state’s capitol. The Supreme Court also ruled that Texas can refuse to allow images of the flag on specialty license plates on Thursday.

As a born and raised New Yorker who attended school in New England, I’m a Yankee through and through. It sickens me when I have to listen to some folksy-sounding politician decry “East Coast, Ivy League types” like that’s some sort of insult. Even though I identify as liberal on only a handful of issues, I find that I have more in common with my fellow Northeasterners across the political spectrum than with like minded Southerners. What boils my blood the most is depictions of the Confederate flag.

The GOP likes to champion themselves as the true Americans. They’re the party of strong defense, patriotism, religion and Capitalism. The Democrats, by contrast, are the weak, nanny state party who wants your kids to be gay, atheist communists intent on destroying the foundation of our democracy. Why, then are these “true Americans” always the ones I see celebrating the Confederate flag like its some proud symbol of Southern heritage?

The Confederate flag is a symbol of two things: Rebellion and Slavery. It’s value as a historical object is one of acknowledgment in a textbook. And it certainly doesn’t hold value as a beacon of states’ rights. Because when a government entity’s entire existence is predicated on the systemic denial of rights to an entire racial or ethnic group, then that entity is a disgrace. Is displaying the Confederate flag as shameful as displaying a Swastika? No. But it’s a lot closer than flying “Don’t Tread on Me” on your porch. This isn’t some retired flag updated to fit the current U.S. state model. These are the colors of rebels. The flag used to secede from our country.

This, of course, should not suggest that I’m in favor of banning people from showing it anytime they want. The first amendment guarantees individuals have a right to display the flag in any way they see fit and that’s a great thing. But when you choose to fly that flag, you choose to draw attention to yourself, positively or negatively. Every instance of the flag makes my stomach turn. When I see a fellow New Yorker with a Confederate flag bumper sticker jumping off the back of his truck, I judge. I judge hard. You’re denying your proud Northern heritage in favor of a slaveholding legacy.

Governments are not, however, in the business of making the same statements. We have one national flag, the stars and stripes, fifty state flags, and flags of any other territories and commonwealths. None of these include the Confederacy. The United States isn’t going to fly the British flag above the Capitol. Puerto Rico isn’t flying the Spanish flag. Louisiana isn’t flying the French flag. The North won, the union was preserved, and the Confederate flag belongs in the metaphorical toilet of national history.

If South Carolina continues to fly the Confederate flag above its capitol, then it continues to implicitly support its own racist history. I’m proud of one history, that of the United States. We didn’t allow these states to go their separate ways at the expense of millions of disenfranchised African American slaves. Our predecessors fought and died to bring every territory back into the fold and abolish the abhorrent practice completely.

I hope all people can appreciate Dixie hypocrisy and continue the fight against hanging on to the dark periods of our past. When I think of patriotism, it usually involves an interest in preserving the union and making it stronger, not running away when you don’t get your way.


A day at sea was just what we needed after a long visit in Germany and as we looked forward to five straight days in various ports. We used it to relax, exercise, possibly play Bingo (although you won’t hear me admitting to that) and generally just enjoy the Baltic Sea’s stunning beauty.

This was also the first time change during the cruise, which pushed us from six hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time to seven, which means we lost an hour over night. This was especially brutal due to a late night of drinking where we met a young couple who were the only other native English speaking people our age.

That evening was formal night, so we donned our best and met that couple for a drink at the wine bar a half hour before we ventured to dinner at 8:30. The day wasn’t quite the recovery we needed, but it definitely helped.

The Estonian port was one of the easier ones to navigate. There was a large open air cruise terminal where many peddled traditional Estonian goods such as handicraft woodwork, sweaters, ornaments and more. Baltic amber is also a popular souvenir in the region. Beyond this was a relatively short walk to the Vanalinn, or Old Town. This is where we spent our entire visit.


The Medieval architecture and fortifications were remarkable. Having never visited Southern and Western Europe, this was my first taste of authentic buildings from the middle ages. One of the more noteworthy feelings I had was that the entirety of this section felt like it was built in forced perspective. Walt Disney World often uses this trick to demonstrate large scale in a limited space, but it has always seemed a little off to my eyes. Here, though, as I viewed buildings at a distance with some open space, I gained a newfound appreciation for this art. The buildings were obviously real, but I felt like I was on a movie set. It would’ve been easy to overlook Tallinn as someone browsing our itinerary, but for the Old Town alone (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the day here was totally worth it.


We’d made a short list of possible lunch spots ahead of time, all closeby. Although there was one particularly intriguing joint specializing in super authentic Estonian cuisine, we weren’t able to find it, so we defaulted to our second choice, Hell Hunt. The name sounds ominous, but it actually means “Tender Wolf” in Estonian. The food was decidedly not authentic, but they did serve Scandinavian and Russian fare along with an extensive drink menu that included most major beer producing countries and its own proprietary brews. I had a Hell Hunt Tume, which was tasty. This to go along with two “snacks,” an order of Russian dumplings and an order of pickled herring with dark rye bread. Both were around 5 euros and either would’ve been a more than satisfactory lunch portion on its own. They had the Hockey World Championship playing on a large television, so the total experience was fantastic.

There were several antique shops in Tallinn, which featured interesting items in their display cases. Several coins and medals from Nazi Germany were available, but without enough knowledge of the era or research done beforehand, I couldn’t attest to their authenticity. Soviet coins were present in abundance, which were more likely the real deal. A collector could probably have a great time here, assuming everything wasn’t a reproduction or an outright fake.


In search of an Estonian newspaper, I entered a grocery store and had a look around. It was quite cool to see the products locals would use regularly. Some was familiar, some was foreign and some I wished was more readily available here at home (See: Quail Eggs). Also worth mentioning was an entire shelf devoted to Brooklyn Brewery.

After being satisfied that we’d seen every last inch of Old Town, we started back to the ship. Of all our stops, Tallinn ranks as the most underratedly enjoyable. It was relatively inexpensive compared to the high cost Nordic locales, but it had some of the best architecture. There was a certain quaintness related to its recent freedom from Soviet rule that was easily detectable. Estonia is a country finding its own identity, distinct from Russia or Scandinavia, but also heavily influenced by both.

Next Stop: St. Petersburg, our two day adventure into Frenemy Territory.


Early details have emerged for Walt Disney World’s new ride, “Frozen Ever After,” set to occupy the former home of Maelstrom in the Norway Pavilion at Epcot. It will follow suit with several Fantasyland attractions in featuring key scenes and characters from the movie along a slow moving boat ride along the same path as its predecessor. The controversial decision to place it in the World Showcase has garnered intense backlash from Disney faithful, and for good reason. The fundamental purpose it was built upon is now under attack.

Upfront, I will happily exclaim that my favorite WDW park is Epcot by a long shot. It contains my favorite ride (Spaceship Earth), my favorite fireworks show (Illuminations), has an international flair, is broken into two very different sections that appeal to multiples moods, has a collection of great places to eat and drink, has the best background music, sits near the best resorts and places to hang out on property and generally exudes good vibes. If I was in town for one day, I’d always choose Epcot as my stop. Some of my favorite experiences and memories involve the park or surrounding area in some way. This includes one particularly enjoyable late night of drinking with two people very close to me, where we waited in Maelstrom’s line for thirty minutes talking and laughing and trying to find a nonexistent hidden Mickey under the arm of one of the people in the large mural visible from the queue.


When I heard the news of Maelstrom’s closing I was understandably upset. My affinity for it was distinctly nostalgic, which far outweighed its virtues. I won’t be a blind Maelstrom apologist. It had plenty of shortcomings and was in desperate need of an update. Anyone visiting the ride would think Norwegian culture was merely trolls, polar bears, vikings and oil rigs. Everyone knows Norwegians also like skiing. But the intent was there, the bare bones laid for something with a lot of potential, that could have capitalized on Scandinavia’s ascending favor. I’m not opposed to change, but if you do it at the expense of agreed upon integrity, you threaten to lose your core audience.

Instead, that skeleton is being repurposed into another halfhearted attempt to draw more children to Epcot. The Wall Street Journal reports that the old ride was “gutted,” but at the same time insists the “logs and paths will remain the same.” It sounds like another weak overlay, designed to ride the Frozen fervor from two years past to an increase over stagnant visitor numbers to the park in recent years.

The problem I have, as do most others, is that Epcot’s World Showcase is intended to give guests insight into other countries, not cater to Magic Kingdom’s fairy tale culture. Indeed, Epcot as a whole was designed as an education experience, in contrast to the latter’s whimsy, Hollywood Studios’ thrills and Animal Kingdom’s humid ass immersion into the natural world. A little leeway in each park’s mission is to be expected, in order to toe the line between inquisitive and boring, but it’s important to stay true enough to maintain uniqueness between the four properties. An element which belongs in Fantasyland will be out of place in the World Showcase.

COO Tom Staggs responded to critics by maintaining the movies are based in Scandinavian art, culture and mythology. “If the goal is to give people a taste of something like Scandinavia with the Norway pavilion, then ‘Frozen’ would only increase the extent to which people would be drawn to it,” he said. Fine, yes, sure, people will come to the ride, there’s no doubt about that. High demand for underproduced Frozen merchandise immediately after the movie’s released resulted in staggering secondary market prices. But his implication that it would have any value is way off base. Nobody riding ‘Frozen Ever After’ will be more educated about Norwegian (or Scandinavian) culture after leaving the attraction. At the same time, it dilutes the Epcot brand. Norway will now have both a Frozen ride and an awful character dining spot, Akershus, which fears the prospect of guests eating (and hating) Scandinavian food so much it hardly offers it.

When people hear how many times I’ve been to Disney, they inquire why I don’t choose to visit “real places.” I never attempt to justify Epcot as akin to actually traveling to any of these countries, but I like having a small, albeit Americanized, taste of each one. For children, especially ones from families without the means or will to travel abroad, it’s a great way to expose them to something outside the norm. At this point, they should just rename Norway to Arendelle and finish it off. The tenuous connection is shakier than the architectural facades. It’s now eating away the fabric from within.

With this decision, Disney wants to appeal to the lowest common denominator. They increasingly patronize guests by shielding them from anything authentic. I have no illusions about the crowd Disney attracts. Many of them are those who prefer the comfort of Disney over the risks of the real world. But there are also many parents who go to Disney because their kids aren’t old enough to fully appreciate a trip to see Greek ruins or Roman architecture. Disney has a duty to use Epcot to provide nourishment for curious minds hungry to gobble up new knowledge. Many children love to learn and love the adventure of exotic cultures completely unlike their own. Don’t stifle these minds by continuing to offer the same junk food available elsewhere. Because soon, a trip to Disney will mean four parks of better themed versions of rides one can find at every second rate Six Flags around the country. And by then, it will hard for me and many others to justify paying the Disney premium to enjoy these attractions.

Keep the World Showcase International. And about Frozen, just let it go already.

Early on Tuesday, May 5, 2015, our ship docked in Rostock, Germany, adjacent to the resort town Warnemunde and two and a half hours train ride away from Berlin.

The evening before we were informed via PA that Germany was in the midst of a train strike, which would complicate travel from the port to the capital. Thankfully, the speaker didn’t bury the lede and assured us all scheduled tours would be operated through private charters, so we were unaffected. As much as it would’ve been nice to have Berlin to ourselves, we were pretty thankful that we made a point of joining one of the tours well in advance. I’m sure there was a scramble to sign up following this late breaking development.

A wet morning ensured we moved quickly from the ship to the train, which was visible from our disembarkation point and only a short trot. Each tour group was assigned a car with multiple 6 seated cabins like the Hogwarts Express. Our trip to Berlin was long and relatively uneventful. We met an older French Canadian couple from Montreal and chatted with them a bit. I also spent some time reading Underworld, by Don DeLillo. We were provided a snack, a drink and some coffee if we wanted.


Wolfgang, our tour guide (stereotypical, I know), met us at Berlin Ostbahnhof, the eastern railway station. Once we were gathered we headed to our bus and began our tour of East Berlin.


The first stop was a still intact section of the Berlin Wall. It was crowded, as you’d expect, but there were good opportunities for photos here. The graffiti on the wall was so detailed and vivid that we could easily see why the Germans allow it to keep standing despite the dark period it represents. The messages are all positive displays of unity and progress; hope for a better future.


As we crossed the street back to the bus, I snapped a photo of the Ampelmännchen, the famous traffic signal that has become an icon of East Berlin.

Our next stop was the Kathe Kollwitz Pieta in the Neue Wache, a Neoclassical-styled memorial for victims of war and dictatorship. The inside centers on the Pieta, which is a statue of a mother mourning her dead son.

Next was the Brandenburg Gate, one of the principal symbols of Berlin and the site of a number of historic events during its existence. This area was heavily traveled, by locals, tourists and even some obvious pickpockets trying to weasel their way to people’s wallets. There was a rally taking place by Sozialverband Deutschland, an advocacy group for wounded veterans and the handicapped, just nearby.


After learning some history about the gate, we walked a few blocks over to see the Reichstag, another Neoclassical building that housed the old Weimar Republic’s parliament. Following the unusual 1933 fire, the Nazis used it as a pretext to suspend most liberties under that constitution in favor of national security. This essentially ended the Weimar Republic and ushered in the Third Reich.

Our buffet lunch at the Maritim Hotel was fairly straightforward. We had salads to start, sausage, potatoes and vegetables as part of our entree and apple strudel for dessert. We also had a choice of beer, red or white wine and I chose the beer, which was a simple German pilsener. We also used the extra time here to connect to Wi-Fi and see if the rest of the world was still standing.


After lunch we passed by even more Neoclassical architecture on our way to Checkpoint Charlie. The actual building that stands there is a reproduction of the original and there are fake soldiers standing for photo opportunities in front of it. This area would have been a lot more interesting to just sit and take in had it not been for the huge flow of tourists and the shadow of McDonald’s looming over everything.

The final stop of the day was the Allied War Memorial at the outskirts of the city. Here housed another section of the Berlin wall and an actual checkpoint hut used during the Cold War. There was a lot of WWII memorabilia accompanied by in depth descriptions of the history attached to it. The context was nice, but just seeing such significance on display was very humbling.

We stopped for 15 minutes to quickly buy souvenirs, then returned to our train.

The ride back included a thunderstorm and some more food, as well as conversation with the Canadian couple and another couple from Missouri. The day was long and exhausting, but worth all the effort.


Throughout the day in Berlin I noticed a few things. First, the city is diverse, easily the most multiethnic of the cities we visited. This isn’t surprising given its place in Central Europe and its proximity to the more cosmopolitan places in Europe, but it was still interesting to see. Another were the visible scars still on the city, 26 years after wall fell. Germany is the richest economy in the Eurozone and one of the most influential European powers, yet its capital still bears the marks of a long, torrid 20th century. To stand in places where great and terrible things have happened, not hundreds or thousands of years ago, but in the century I was born, and less than 20 years before my parents were, was a feeling I didn’t allow myself to forget while I was there. Berlin quickly became my favorite stop and I want to return as soon as I can.

Next Stop: Tallinn (After a welcome day at sea).