Review: Def Leppard/Journey Show

Another adventure at Nissan Pavillion Friday night, where the journey to and from rivals the perils of Frodo and company to Mordor. The only reason to put up with such a trek is when Good Bands show up.

This time, it was Journey and Def Leppard.

Long without singer Steve Perry, and now without Steve Augeri as he recovers from a throat infection, the power-ballad masters let Jeff Scott Soto take the mic and belt such classics as Don’t Stop Believin’, Wheel in the Sky, Faithfully, Open Arms, Be Good to Yourself and others.

A casual Journey fan, such as myself, probably wouldn’t notice the difference in sound, just Soto’s stage presence. Augeri, with the long hair and white low-cut blouses, has the look for a band such as Journey, while the dread-locked Soto seems he’d be more comfortable fronting a heavy metal band. It was Soto’s first stand-in for this summer’s tour, and he didn’t do a bad job at all (for a casual fan, that is).

A year after touring with Bryan Adams, Def Leppard is now on the road promoting their cover album Yeah! (Read my Amazon review of the album here). For Def Lep, it was business as usual. The four Brits and a Scot opened with Let It Go from the High N’ Dry album, then Let’s Get Rocked from Adrenalize and Promises from Euphoria. From Pyromania, they performed Photograph, Foolin’ and Rock of Ages. They also did three Yeah! songs in a row: No Matter What, Rock On, and 20th Century Boy. Perfect time for a beer run.

They did a few more songs than usual off of the Hysteria album, including Animal, Armageddon It, and Hysteria, songs they don’t always do at their shows. They didn’t even pause in between some of these – each bled into the next. And of course, they did Rocket – an extended version – and came out for an encore with Love Bites and Pour Some Sugar on Me.

The show ended almost at 11 p.m., and it seemed they could’ve squeezed another into the mix, such as Bringin’ on the Heartbreak. But that wasn’t too big of a disapointment, because after all, Leppard likes to tour, and doesn’t shun D.C. (although I wish they’d shun Nissan and go to Merriweather Post). Joe Elliot ended the evening saying they’d be back.

And when that happens, we will come.

Review: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers/Stevie Nicks Show

Saturday, I sat in orchestra seats for the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers show at Nissan Pavillion. I’m not sure how I got orchestra seats – row F to the left – only a day before the show, but the people I sat next to did the same. Nissan must have just released them.

Trey Anastasio opened, and save for a few drunk people who know his music, the crowd was patiently waiting for 9 p.m. to roll around.

Then Tom Petty comes out, opens with Listen to her Heart and You Don’t Know How it Feels. Other songs he plays throughout the night: Free Fallin’, I Won’t Back Down, Mary Jane’s Last Dance, Refugee, Don’t Come Around Here No More, Learning to Fly, and Runnin’ Down a Dream. He also does the Traveling Wilburys’ Handle with Care, a Yardbirds song, and a couple other covers.

Middway through, Stevie Nicks comes out, gives Petty a big hug, and the two launch into Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around. Then Nicks sings the lead vocals on Petty’s I Need to Know with Petty on backup. Nicks came out later to sing another old duet (didn’t catch the name), then she sinks into the background with her tambourine, dancing like a gypsy with the strobe light flashing as Petty rocks out another hit.

Petty sang a couple of songs from his new album – Highway Companion – due out in a month, and they didn’t sound bad at all. The songs probably won’t rise to the top of his hit list but it’s refreshing to know that some aging rockers can still crank out good songs after 30 years.

Petty did three songs for the encore, You Wreck Me, Van Morrison’s Gloria, and American Girl. Nicks, wearing a different outfit, came out to sing backup for the last one.

Tom Petty, the five Heartbreakers, and Stevie Nicks took a bow, walked off stage, and left behind a very pleased crowd in Bristow, Virginia.

Sopranos and Entourage Episode Reviews

Sunday, June 10, 2007
The Sopranos: Episode 86
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

The curtain closes just like that. No encore, no outtakes during the credits, just a black screen. And the audience sits there staring, wondering… was that good or bad?

Lots of AJ here, more than we need. He brings up the ‘Made in America’ theme (the title of the episode) during the after-funeral event as Paulie makes wisecracks. He and his girlfriend look to be committing suicide in the SUV but no! It catches fire! Then he suddenly wants to join the army, and I stood and applauded. Why not? The boy finally finds something he wants to do. I wish I was so sure about my future. Instead, his parents get him an entry-level job in the movies. Our little chubby ziti-eatin’ boy is now all grown up.

Meadow wants to become a lawyer and will be making $170,000 a year. For that amount of money she can hire someone to park her car for her.

Janice decides that she will give motherhood a shot, continuing the Soprano tradition of maternal love. Harpo, you don’t know what you’re missing.

The Christopher vs. Paulie saga continues as Paulie gets mad at this cat that keeps staring at Chris’s photo on the wall (I could make a Chris-always-got-more-‘pussy’-than-Paulie joke here but this is a family-oriented blog).

Silvio spends the rest of his days in a coma, which is very appropriate considering the guy who wrote his character was in a coma (somehow I’ve seen that scene from Little Miss Sunshine a million times but not the rest of the movie).

More with Paulie. He passes on the crew chief job because it’s jinxed, then accepts when he finds out Patsy would get it instead. He saw the Virgin Mary at Da Bing. He hates cats. But there’s one thing that’s certain. “I live but to serve you, my liege,” he says to Tony, then puts that mirror thing under his neck while sitting outside the pork store. Good ole reliable Paulie. Barber scissors for everyone.

CRUNCH! Phil gets it in the head, just as he waves bye-bye to his grandkids. Glad his wife was there to pray for him. Couldn’t they have at least shown the head as the car rolled over it?

On to Tony. Gets help from FBI Agent Harris to locate Phil, our tax dollars hard at work. Goes to AJ’s therapist and starts complaining about his mother again, getting straight to the source of HIS problems. He pays a visit to Uncle Junior in a boring scene that resolved nothin’. Unless, of course, Junior remembers where his stash is, then gives it to Janice and Bobby’s kids.

We all knew someone would flip, and we find out that it’s Carlo! Carlo? Why him? I guess because he’s one of the few left in this family of new characters that we even remember the name of…

The final song? Yeah, buddy… Journey (I’ve seen them in concert twice!), with Don’t Stop Believin’. Tense moments in Lil’ Italy. Strangers all around. The family coming to the table to eat onion rings (Why didn’t they do this at Artie’s place?), my clock reading 10:02. Meadow running in. “Don’t stop…”

The end.

Episode grade: B-

Series grade: A+
Sunday, June 03, 2007
The Sopranos: Episode 85
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

Now we’re getting somewhere. The show starts out with Silvio killing someone with chicken wire, the way they did it before guns were invented. Phil decides to wipe out the top three guys in the Sopranos (imagine how mad Paulie would be if he found out that they didn’t consider him part of the top three). However, there’s a snitch in the crew, otherwise the FBI wouldn’t know and promptly warn Tony.

AJ gets out of the hospital. Hopefully we’ve seen the end of this. Med doesn’t want to go to med school and wants to become a lawyer. Do I hear… spin-off???

Melfi has dinner with therapists and that Elliot guy spills the beans to everyone that she’s been treating Tony (which actually makes his character relevant for the first time in the series). Then Melfi stops treating Tony, all because he tore some paper out of that magazine (was there really more to it?). Okay, so if Tony didn’t have bigger fish to fry, I’d say Melfi has it coming.

Welcome back that Italian-talking loser who sets up the hits with the fresh-off-the-plane cousins. Man, did these guys screw up, killing someone wearing a Phil Leotardo mask who speaks Ukrainian.

Poor Bobby. Gets it in a toy train shop in a beautifully-directed Mafioso whacking scene. (After that, do you think Janice will continue bugging Tony for the money to keep Uncle Junior in the nice psychiatric hospital instead of the state one?) And so much for everyone’s theory that Bobby will go to jail for that one murder he committed. Man, the surprises just keep coming.

Silvio gets shot (and might as well be dead), and Patsy gets away. Tony drags AJ kicking and screaming (completing the character’s parenting arc, of course). Then Tony and the boys hole up somewhere, and Tony goes to bed while holding the machine gun that Bobby gave him.

Might this snitch reveal himself in the final episode and become Phil’s ultimate downfall? Will master chef Artie Bucco save the day? Find out in next week’s episode of the Sopranos (which won’t be followed by Entourage).

Episode grade: A
Sunday, May 20, 2007
The Sopranos: Episode 84
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

What a depressing episode. Makes sense, considering the series was pitched with the line, “Mob boss in therapy.” But isn’t therapy supposed to take us somewhere? This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Phil and Tony battle over money, while Lil’ Carmine plays the man in the middle. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Melfi talk to her therapist, that Elliot guy. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Silvio read the book “How to Clean Practically Anything – Third Edition” (or was it?).
Let’s be honest – who didn’t see the AJ-attempts-suicide subplot? But, let’s say, he did die… wouldn’t that really change Tony? The whole character arc we’ve been waiting for? Are we really waiting for the last episode for this to happen?

Other things…

FBI pays Tony a visit, tells him those Arab dudes may be funding terrorists. Again, I refuse to believe anything will come out of this.

Meadow dating Patsy’s kid. They run into a guy named Coco, who messes with Meadow, then Coco gets puffed by Tony.

Two more episodes left. We’ve already seen the end of the arcs for Uncle Jr., Artie (last season), Christopher, Paulie (he’s still around but what more can they write about?), and Silvio (84 episodes really wasn’t enough to get to know the guy).

Who’s left? Bacala will go to prison for life, while Janice continues her treachery. Carmela and Meadow will be a-ok. AJ will come home, remain the same. Phil will die. And the series will end after Tony visits Melfi, then goes home to stare at the ducks in his pool.

Episode grade: C+
Sunday, May 13, 2007
The Sopranos: Episode 83
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

So this is the end of the great Christopher Moltisanti, one of the best-written characters in television history (come on, name someone better – besides George Costanza). And it happens because of a car accident, aka what television writers write when they’re out of ideas.

Okay, that isn’t really fair. Chris didn’t die just because of the car accident – Tony helped him along (probably because Chris said he was on drugs). Even though that was an abhorant thing to do, at this point in the series we believe the very lies that he tells, though we witness the truth. Right?

The Paulie-Christopher rivalry lives on even in death. Paulie’s ‘mother’ dies at the same time. Everyone goes to Chris’s wake, leaving Paulie alone with 500 prayer cards. Funny.

AJ and friends beat up a Somolian, then AJ cries about it to his therapist. Either AJ will walk away from these jerks, or he’ll sink another level deep into it. There are three episodes left to resolve this. Or leave it hangin’.

Tony flies off to Vegas, sleeps with Chris’s former flame, does drugs, bets on 24, and starts yelling at the sunrise, while asbestos is being dumped into a Jersey river. When the episode ended, I thought there was a problem with the cable box. I kicked it a few times, then the credits rolled.

Episode grade: C (except for the Paulie part, which is an A)
Sunday, May 06, 2007
The Sopranos: Episode 82
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

Now here’s some good writing. Not mine (as usual), but the show. No big surprises that AJ gets depressed over Blanca, and that Tony lets him attend a party at da Bing. Gotta love AJ getting in good with the frat bookies and watching them pour chemicals on some kid’s leg. We haven’t seen the end of this.

This little terrorism thing creeps up again. The big question is whether it will actually lead to something. My money is on that it won’t. Dragging an actual terrorist moment into this show would make it jump the shark, but it’s not bad to tease us with it is just enough to make us wonder. It’s for the best.

Christopher vs. Paulie. I don’t see how this series could possibly end without one of these two guys killing the other. Great writing with the AA, the power tools, Chris throwing Lil’ Paulie out the window, Paulie spinnin’ out on Chrissy’s lawn, and Chris crying to JT. The only part that baffles me is, what’s the point of Chris shooting him? Right when Chris becomes a sympathetic character, he goes and screws it up again. Which is just like Chris. But again, what was the point? That will need to be answered. There are four episodes left to answer that question.

Episode grade: A-
Monday, April 30, 2007
The Sopranos: Episode 81
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

This ep will forever be known as the one with Lil’ Vito. What he did will be forever etched into my head and I will instantly be reminded of it every time I hear the word ‘Soprano,’ the show or the singer. Ewwwe.

Kind of surprising that with only a few episodes left, they’re writing in subplots that no one would’ve missed. Lil’ Vito was entertaining, especially when Leotardo sat down with him over a milkshake, but aren’t there more important things to wrap up before the series ends?

AJ proposes to Blanca, who breaks his heart. It’s clear this ain’t over, particularly because they show AJ going cuckoo on next week’s show. Sometimes I wish they’d stop showing previews after each episode. At this point in the series, what’s the point?

Carm sells her spec house and refuses to put the money down on the Jets. Stupid woman.

Melfi tells Tony that he needs to come to therapy more regularly. Sometimes I forget he goes at all, even when I’m sitting there watching the run-its-course character.

As for the meat of the show, Tony is chasin’ it. It’s actually surprising that so little had been focused on Tony’s gambling until now. Hesh gets his cameo, and Tony causes tension as he keeps paying points. No big whoop that Tony finally pays him the money he owes, but they could’ve done it without Hesh’s shvarts shikse (or is it shikse shvarts, grandpa?) passing away.

Anyone notice that the tension between Tony and Bacala is gone? It’s like the fight never happened. Nancy Sinatra… still looking good at 80.

Episode grade: B-
Sunday, April 22, 2007
The Sopranos: Episode 80
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

Junior finally gets an episode… and it resembles parts of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Pitty that his fall-boy happens to be an Asian kid in wake of this Virginia Tech tragedy. It was certainly fun watching Junior running the card game, telling jokes, writing to Cheney, bribing the orderlies, pissing himself, and getting beaten up during a John Denver song. Unlikely we’ll see him again. Buh-bye, Corrado.

In New York, all it takes is two quick scenes to show that Phil is back on top. Something like that, including the murder, could have easily stretched an episode or two, but then I’d be complaining that they dragged it out.

As for Tony, good sequences with him and Paulie. It took me a moment to remember who Beansie is. Great tension on the boat with Tony trying to get Paulie to admit that it was him who told Johnny Sac about Ralphie’s Ginny joke. I didn’t think Tony would kill Paulie. That would’ve been too sadistic. But Paulie has something coming. And it’s not his own Espresso machine.

Bonus points for the Big Puss cameo.

Episode grade: B
Sunday, April 15, 2007
The Sopranos: Episode 79
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

Finally! Christopher’s movie gets made! (Now I gotta check out ‘The Making of Cleaver’). And I was thinking the same thing as Chris – Ben Kingsley can’t hold a candle to Daniel Baldwin.

The Johnny Sac death sequence stretches out the entire episode, which is only good cause that means more screen time for Ginny and Allegra.

Suddenly Meadow is back from Cali and Finn is out of the picture. No  good explanation. Ugh. At least we see Blanca and AJ getting into it, so that breakup ought to be more interesting. Still, AJ, love that Blanca tattoo.

When will this FBI-terrorism thing go away? Does anyone really think David Chase will allow something to happen terrorism-related in any of the remaining episodes? At the very least, it’ll be Tony ‘doing the right thing’ and blabbing to the feds about something to save his own.

More Lil’ Carmine. Gotta love that guy for the dialogue alone. Our intellectually-challenged Italian-American family man refuses to take a course of action that would lead to his being king of this New York criminal association.

A Geraldo Rivera cameo… Seinfeld did that in their final season, too. What other ideas will they steal?

Why, after all these years, is Silvio Dante still a one-dimensional character? That murder in the restaurant was cartoonish just with him being in it. Silvio makes the movie ‘300’ look like Casablanca.

Cleaver suddenly becomes this huge metaphor involving Christopher (who would never have thought of such a thing), Tony and Adrianna. Carmella calls him out on it, Chrissy threatens the writer into telling Tony it was his idea, and Tony cries to Melfi that Chris suddenly hates him. I’d hate to think that the finale of this series would involve a Chris vs. Tony situation, but it very well could.

So that’s how Phil got his last name. What was supposed to be Leonardo turned to Leotardo at Ellis Island. I can top that, Phil. Mine went from Zundolovitz to Sumner. How’s that for some disrespect? But one thing is now clear. He’s going after Tony.

Bonus points for the song they played at the end.

Episode grade: A-

Another great ep of Entourage, too.
Sunday, April 08, 2007
The Sopranos: Episode 78
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

Season 6 1/2 begins with the writers deciding to put a kid into a scene that happened three years ago, which leads to Tony getting arrested by the local authorities, which pisses off the FBI. Not too bad of a beginning but it’s not ideal to essentially rewrite old scenes to make it fit with something new.

For a moment there I thought I was watching Goodfellas when Phil was standing around, breakin’ balz with the crew. I’m wondering how much his heart attack at the end of last season will mean anything if he’s already back on his feet.

AJ with Blanca’s name tatooed on his arm – excellent.

Bobby giving Tony a machine gun for his 47th birthday – loved that on surround sound.

Then I watched them sing kareoke and play Monopoly for the next 15 minutes. Sure, it was leading to something, and they had to slowly add tension, but good lord did that drag on. Then Tony and Bobby fight and there’s what this episode really needed.

Great Christopher moment – which was more like 3 seconds – when Chrissy calls Tony, wishes him a happy belated birthday, and Tony hangs up immediately.

With eight episodes to go, it’s virtually a lock what will happen to Bobby. He shoots a guy and leaves his shirt behind. Certainly filled with DNA. Poor Janice will have to raise lil’ Dominica on her own – with the nanny.

Episode grade: B

By the way, no Entourage blog this time since it’s on right after the Sopranos. However, I give the new episode an A (although, I was expecting Drama to go and fix the light on the billboard).
Sunday, August 27, 2006
Entourage: Episode 34
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

First of all, Myspace is awful. I typed a blog, I hit submit to publish it, and Myspace killed it. Technical problems. Gone. Stupid jerks. Get some new servers to handle the data if you claim to be a company that can handle this mess. So heres what I remember what I typed before Myspace killed it:

Wow. A season finale that ends on a downer. Ari frantically tries to get back the Ramones flick while Vince and the gang shop for new agents. No big surprise, Vince finds out the Warners has no plans on making the film. No big surprise, Ari tells this to Bob and Bob signs the film over to Warners anyway, for no other reason than hes an idiot.

Meanwhile, Vince & the Gang get Powerpoint presentations from prospective agents with photos of Vince next to name brands like Microsoft and McDonalds. Instead of saying hes sorry, Ari makes the same mistake and gets canned.

Great Lloyd lines, by the way. He gets Vinces entire meeting schedule from other gay receptionists.

Episode grade: C+

Predictions for next season: More girls. Dramas pilot gets picked up but he quits to do a movie that doesnt get made. Ari has a gambling problem. Turtle goes to rehab. Eric breaks up with Sloan and gets back with Kristen. Vince gets a new agent who is awful, and eventually winds back up with Ari. More girls.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
Entourage: Episode 33

Just when we thought Drama was only capable of getting fired from a job, he ends up excelling because he roughs-up-the-suspect in his trailer while the crew listens in with the boom mic.

Vince and Turtle go shoe-shopping, with a cameo by that DJ who used to date Nicole Ritchie. Of course they can’t get a pair from the store just because Vince shows his face. But no surprise that Vince drops 20 g’s to the graffiti artist himself (high-pitch voice and all) just to make Turtle happy.

As for the meat of the ep, old man Bob ruins a meeting while pitching the Ramones flik, so on the way to the next studio Ari tells Bob that it’s at Disney while the others head to Universal. Funny. So Bob takes revenge and sells “I Wanna Be Sedated” to another studio.

Looks like the season’s cliffhanger will be about Eric and Vince deciding to fire Ari after that trick on Bob. Of course that won’t happen. Ari, with the help of Lloyd, will either get the Ramones film back – or something better – and they’ll live happily ever after.

Episode grade: A-
Sunday, August 13, 2006
Entourage: Episode 32
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

Turtle’s big day and… DENIED! Stood up by his own client. Like a rap group would’ve really stuck around with him in the first place. So Turtle and Drama go Saigon hunting, first to the ‘hood where Johnny regrets not bringing his nunchucks. Then over to the hotel where they knock on every door. And finally, they follow the girlz and there he is, Saigon, new manager and all. Turtle still gets paid, Drama nearly gets thrown over the balcony, and that’s the end of the plotline. Turtle, once again, has nothing but Vince.

As for Vince, he takes the day off, goes to the book store, picks up a girl who turns out to have him on her celebrity-can-do list. I’m sure Vince felt all icky after finding that out.

Now the heart of the episode… Eric spends some quality time with some washed-up producer played by Martin Landau. They eat. They talk. They smoke. Eric realizes the guy is full of crap. They find Vince’s next project… Joey Ramone! Great idea. Love it.

Sorta disappointed that we didn’t get to see any of the fallout from the rumble in Vegas, other than Vince looking at the tabloid photo.

Episode grade: B
Sunday, August 06, 2006
Entourage: Episode 31
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

It’s about time they did a Vegas ep, with Vince losing big on the blackjack table, Ari screaming at him for losing so much money and Turtle making deals with the strippers.

Even the Drama subplot here was good. Our favorite now-employed has-been actor gets obsessed with his masseur, flattering the guy to the point the poor man gives in to his homosexual feelings… and then Johnny retreats to the strip club.

Eric vs. Family Guy’s Chris Griffin. Somehow I knew this would get violent (probably because the entire contents of this episode was leaked prior to the season). I wish it were me punching Seth Green… lord he’s annoying. Good job Drama, jumping into this mess. But it would’ve been nice if Vince also stepped up for his boys and throw some punches.

Bonus points for the Rob Zombie soundtrack over the credits.

Episode grade: A-
Sunday, July 30, 2006
Entourage: Episode 30
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

Re-enter Queens Boulevard, now colorized and ready for the masses. That means we get to see our favorite Sundance-winning director Billy again, partying and cursing the suits.

Ari gets tricked into attending a meeting with the other honchos and he has at it with Terrance. At least he’s got Babs on his side now, but obviously this relationship will fizzle as of… next week I’m betting.

And then there’s Drama, complaining about a parking ticket then getting in trouble over not getting a free cup of coffee. Ugh… way over the top. Then he gets a job! The only good thing about Drama getting a job is that it opens up an episode for a hilarious fall off his high-horse, like the time he got fired from working with Brooke Shields because he got excited while kissing her on camera.

Obviously Shawna had her kid, which is likely why she hasn’t been in the last few eps. She hasn’t lost the weight, though.

The entire episode is saved when Vince gets in front of the press and blasts the execs for colorizing Billy’s film. That was great.

Episode grade: B
Monday, July 24, 2006
Entourage: Episode 29

These eps are getting seemingly less and less complex. There was no Turtle or Drama subplot in this, just a continuation of the Eric/Sloan/blonde chick fiasco. Glad it’s finally over because it’s about the most unrealistic thing on the show that a guy like Eric would have that kind of luck.

The meat of this show, Ari settling – in principle – for $11 million with his former agency, getting caught by Davies at the office he was thinking about getting, spending too much money… blah blah blah… kind of boring, other than the fact that we get to hear more great Ari soundbites.

This was bound to happen – at some point Vince had to be auctioned off for something… happens in every series, from Seinfeld to My Name is Earl (actually, not sure if it happened there yet but it’s bound to). The great line here was when the waitress said she couldn’t afford to bid on him, so Vince said he’d loan her the cash. I laughed out loud. And of course the old lady wins the bid while Vince is in the coat room with the waitress. I’m fairly certain that’s the first time Vince hooked up with a girl this season. More interesting stuff to get to, at least.

Episode grade: B-
Saturday, July 22, 2006
Entourage: Episode 28
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

Not much to write about this one.

Eric is an overachiever. Two women at once, for this guy? Okaaayyy… There wasn’t much to that subplot.

Lloyd finding Drama an audition… that is funny, and they’ve got room to play this one out a bit more.

Vince being offered 12.5 for Aquaman 2… losing the Pablo Escobar flick and then not showing for the breakfast with the producer… Now he’s really screwed.

Not to worry, though. Everything will turn out okay for our boy Vince. I’m just not too concerned about this.

Episode grade: B-

Sunday, July 09, 2006
Entourage: Episode 27
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

I gotta give em credit – after last week’s awful Shrek doll episode, Entourage appears to be back on track. Maybe it had something to do with writing off Dom. That’s it? He’s gone? I’m not complaining, but some closure would’ve been good for the viewer.

The Ari vs. Max fiasco appears to finally be over as Ari gets him shipped off to Kazakstan for a movie. Bonus points for casting Ms. Penny “Laverne” Marshall.

The Turtle/Drama meeting with Ari was hilarious. He’ll now rep both of them, but of course, Drama won’t go anywhere. And if he does, he’ll screw it up. But this Turtle/Saigon thing has gotta take a turn somewhere – it can’t be all smooth sailing. If the Sopranos taught us anything, a rapper can only get huge if he gets shot.

Now onto to the meat of the ep, Vince and this Aquaman vs. Pablo Escobar subplot. Yawn.

It just occurred to me – Vince hasn’t been out with any women since this season started. They’re really cutting out the chicks so far. They’ll be back.

Episode grade: B

Sunday, July 02, 2006
Entourage: Episode 26
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

An episode about a stolen Shrek doll? The concept  sounds like it could be funny but the execution  wasn’t at all.

The gang goes to a producer’s house to talk to him about a new movie and our new friend Dom steals the guy’s original Shrek doll. The rest of the ep, everyone is accusing Dom of doing it but of course he denies it. And then he comes clean… he was hiding it in his pants leg.

The only funny moment in this episode came when Eric calls Ari at 6 a.m. and Ari is already up, running his mouth. It was also funny when Dom comes in with a tank top and says that Lloyd is into bad boys. Those were the only times I laughed. Pretty sad.

Now we’ve got the real tense moment… the Pablo Escobar movie is set to be filmed at the same time as Aquaman II. Oh my lord, how will Vince get what he wants AND get millions at the same time?

Could it be that… after a brilliant first season and a well-written second season, the gig is up? I’m sure they can come up with good one-off eps here and there for the rest of the year (the first three were good so far), but when the overall story revolves around which movies he gets, he can only be on easy street going forward. To save this season, we’ll need some potentially life-changing conflicts as well as the silly situations. None of this Aquaman II vs. Pablo Escobar absurdity.

Episode grade: D
Sunday, June 25, 2006
Entourage: Episode 25
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

Good addition to the cast with this Dom guy… even if it’s only temporary. He totally seems like a character who would’ve hung with the boyz back in Queens and done something as stupid as punching a cop after getting caught with a couple of joints.
And yet, he totally seems like that character who you really, really want to like but he just keeps doing things to make you wish he would just go away. Who hasn’t had a friend like that? Someone you’d bend over backward for, someone you had some of the best times of your life with, and yet you want to ring his neck. At least we’ll be getting another ep out of him now that he’s head of Vince’s ‘security.’
I just knew there’d be a seen with Shawna and her assistant meeting the new guy. Good lord is Shawna pregnant… looks like going on twelve months.
The Ari subplot could’ve been funnier. His 13-year-old daughter ‘dates’ a cocky actor. So what?
Episode grade: B-
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Entourage: Episode 24
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

Lots of filler in this episode but ultimately, it was good.
Because of a rolling blackout, the boyz decide to hang out at a high school party. Vinny hooking up the nerds with the hot high school chicks… nice to see, but they could’ve cut the scene later when the boys come back and Vince gives them his car.
Drama obsessed with staying cool because they’re in the Valley… sorta boring, but when he was the first to jump in the pool I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.
Ari’s wife making him go to a sex therapist – funny.
Turtle ignoring the girl at the party because he thinkgs she’s in high school, then giving her a creepy look when she says she isn’t… funny.
Lloyd giving Ari a statue and then Ari destroying it because of the blackouts… not funny. The Ari-Lloyd chemistry is usually pretty good but Ari getting physically upset is a little disturbing.
Drama wrestling the high school kid and getting thrown to the ground… who didn’t see that coming? Happens every time Drama gets in a fight.
Vince on the roof yelling… not too funny.
The most unbelievable part… Aquaman would NOT beat Spiderman at the box office. But it was cool getting a glimpse of what the movie could be.
I’m curious how much longer they’re going to milk this whole Aquaman subplot. It started at the beginning of last season and doesn’t look like it’ll end any time soon. After all, there’s Aquaman II and III. Something else has gotta happen.
Episode grade: B
Sunday, June 11, 2006
Entourage: Episode 23
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

Season 3 starts with a bang, in the exact right place with the boyz rating women and giving out Aquaman premier tix. Ari yelling at Lloyd for dust on the pictures, wonderful. The broken elevator in Ari’s office, excellent. One plot point they didn’t touch but was loud and clear – Shawna got knocked up in the offseason.

Gotta love Vince wanting to invite his mother to the premier, on the radio. Made me think of the time Affleck and Damon brought their mothers to the Academy Awards the year they won for Good Will Hunting.

The James Woods-Drama conflict could’ve been better. Would’ve been funnier if Woods punched him or something at the premier, something a bit better than a playful headlock. Turtle’s mother looks exactly like him.

Episode rating: B+

Sunday, June 04, 2006
The Sopranos: Episode 77
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

Christmas in June, my how time flies. The ep starts with Carlo taking a head from a box and stuffing it in a sewer. Who was that, Jimmy Hoffa? No, it was that fat Dom guy, the one they after he killed Vito.

The real estate chick is back in the picture with Tony trying to bang her again.

AJ gets the hots for a Puerto Rican chick with a kid, gives a bike to some punks so they’ll go away and AJ can live la vida loca.

Lil’ Carmine screws up a meeting between Tony and Phil.

Carm still obsessed with finding Adrianna so Tony gets her back on the spec house.

Phil has a heart attack. Bobby goes to visit Junior. Feds tip off Tony that Brooklyn hates him.

Chris and the real estate chick. They use drugs together. Chris tells Tony about their affair and Tony says he doesn’t care but cries to Melfi.

We fade out on this season with a family shot at Christmas.

Last season, Johnny Sac gets busted in the final episode, leaving us anxiously awating the next season. Now, I’m not quite sure what we’re anticipating. An all-out war with Phil? If so, why slow him down now with a heart attack? For a season finale, nothing was resolved here. No one moved from point A to point B (except maybe AJ). The biggest surprise in this episode was that NOTHING REALLY HAPPENED.

There are eight episodes left, not a one until 2007. We’ll be watching no matter how bad these last few were. Here’s to the final eight. Until then, enjoy my Entourage blog.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
The Sopranos: Episode 76
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

Horrible episode. I can’t even believe they wrote this.
Carm and our throaty friend Ro in Paris. We watch them look at statues. I should have tevoed the episode and fast-forwarded through those parts.
The only good thing was that Carm sees Adrianna in a Paris dream. That was about the only worthwhile seen in the entire episode.
Meadow decides to go to Cali. A.J. continues to be an idiot.
Tony cheats on Carm, in the car. I thought he was over that! But now he’s back to his old self, meaning we’re ultimately back to Square One.
Now the meat of the ep… Vito. It starts off promising enough. He comes back with a plan. He pitches it to Tony. Tony is mad but knows Vito has got to go. Phil gets to Vito first. We learn, through symbolism, that Phil, too, is a homosexual (a self-hating one, like in American Beauty). After all, when he appears in Vito’s motel, he comes out of the closet. Coincidence? Phil was in prison for 20 years. Of course he is a homosexual.
Fat guy from New York pays a visit to Sil and Carlo, ticks them off with Vito jokes, gets stabbed to death. As his body rots on the floor, Sil and Carlo play cards. Where does this leave us? There will be tension between Tony and Phil over this. Oh, lord, I am soooo nervous just thinking about that.
Vito’s big fat sendoff? His kids read about him in the paper and find out he’s not a spy. Then a photographer shows him in his old pants, before he lost all the weight. We’re we supposed to laugh?
When a senior in high school gets accepted to college, he doesn’t typically put forth 100 percent the rest of the semester. Seems to me that coming down the stretch – one episode left in the season and eight more total – David Chase is now suffering from senioritis. This should have been a better set-up for the season finale.
Sunday, May 14, 2006
The Sopranos: Episode 75
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

So so ep. What did we learn? So Tony is a good guy after all, getting a nice big house for his sister at the expense of Johnny Sac.

The Vito subplot. Yuck. I hate watching men make out. And then Vito just leaves our dear mustached fire-fightin’ Jimbo and goes back to Jersey, killing a man along the way.  To think that man gets killed for checking the mail, while Vito will get killed for… checking the male.

So now even Bobby Bacala Jr. thinks his pop’s a loser. Then big daddy gets it in the eye while being mugged by thugs. As long as he can still operate the toy trains.

Carm and her spec house. Who cares?

Sal and the Sac’s lawn. I swore Tony was going to beat the weeds out of him… didn’t happen and that’s one less moment of violence, for better or worse.

Don’t you hate it when they introduce new characters into the family and hardly develop them? Who is this Carlo guy? I know he took over Vito’s business, but there are so many of these dudes around it’s hard to keep track when they finally get a few lines of dialogue.

The best line of the show (I’m paraphrasing cause I can’t remember exactly): “You know a good person to talk to about this? Your mother.” Tony says to Meadow when daughter is crying about her boyfriend Finn.

I was wondering when Christopher would make an appearance. Finally he shows, getting his car taken away because of the Sac’s asset collection. But how’d the collectors know to look for it at Chris’s?

Paulie has prostate cancer. So he’ll get radiation and be done with it. Where else can this subplot go?

Johnny Sac pleads guilty, gets 15 years. Too bad we know the series will end before he gets out.
Sunday, May 07, 2006
The Sopranos: Episode 74
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

The Ep starts great. Christopher’s girl who we don’t even know yet says to him that she’s knocked up. We knew Christopher wouldn’t flip out – that’d be too easy and the exact opposite would do more for the plotline. Cheers on your new bride, Chrisy. Don’t pull an Adrianna on this one.
Tony and Chris stealing wine as the Vipers were stealing it themselves – excellent. I’ll raise a glass to that. “We’re the Vipers, te-he.”
Spare me watching Christopher ‘relapse.’ We’ve already seen him relapse, and snort coke in Cali. Watching him waste away at the carnival… I want my five minutes back.
And what was with that Tony-Christopher heart-to-heart? For a moment there, I thought they were going to make out. Then they had the flashback to when Christopher confessed to Tony about Adrianna yapping to the feds. Pointless. That moment has passed. We knew it happened, we just hadn’t seen it, and seeing it now did nothing to further the plot. However, I’m glad they didn’t show it in the original episode, because then we would’ve realized what was going to happen. Before, we were led to believe Christopher had attempted suicide.
Carm running into Adrianna’s mother… will anything happen with this? Of course Carm should be suspicious about Adrianna’s disappearance. What’s she gonna do? Play detective? Where’s this going? I understand her concerns, but nothing can come of this in the end. And if it does, series over.
And now onto the heart of the show… Paulie, his biopsy, his mother, him ruining the immigrant festival carnival whatchamacallit. Typical Paulie, always trying to save a buck, so he skimps on the safety of the carnival ride. Janice tries to take advantage, and soon we see Bobby trying to get money from Paulie he doesn’t deserve. On a side note, how has Bobby remained likeable since he married Janice? I found myself rooting for him more than Paulie on this matter, though Janice is full of crap, as usual.
I realized I made a mistake a few blogs ago. I thought Paulie had patched things up with his ma. Not because they showed it on screen, but because they implied it. Paulie shook down the waste management guy for four grand a month at the end of an ep – the same amount it cost per month to keep his mother in the home. That right there told me Paulie decided to forgive his ma/aunt for lying to him all those years about who his real mother was. But then, we see that apparently wasn’t the case. However, unexplicably, Paulie goes back to his ma’s, sits down, watches TV, and she gets him cookies. I say the writer’s dropped the ball on this one.
Coming next week – looks like more Vito. That’s an enjoyable subplot (not watching him make out with the biker dude, though), and they’re milking it. Maybe they’ll join the Vipers. One last question – when are they gonna make that slasher movie?
Sunday, April 30, 2006
The Sopranos: Episode 73
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

They were do for a so-so ep. Lots of good ones the last few weeks, but I can manage to go without seeing this one again.
Big whup with the Vito plotline. So he finds another gay guy in a small town. Tension is added when they fight like a couple of cowboys, but all’s well that ends well for those lovebirds. Again, that entire plotline can just end, but I have the feeling it’ll be brought up again. My thought is, Phil LeRetardo, or Leotardo, whatever, will use Mrs. Spatafor to track down Vito after Vito decides to see her somehow. Phil will do the job, ticking off Tony, and starting a war. None of that probably will happen but I’m just speculating here… cause we know Vito won’t be home free by the series’ end.
So AJ really does try to kill Junior. Wouldn’t they have searched him before he entered that facility with a knife? Not exactly the best writing the series has seen. In fact, I can’t help but get bored watching the AJ plotlines when people are sucking up to him cause of who his dad is. They can be somewhat humorous, but at the end of the day… what a loser.
As for Tony… so he actually does the right thing and turns down a broad. Who didn’t see that coming when the real estate chick starts unbuttoning his shirt as he thinks of how Carm had buttoned it for him? Bid deal… he sells the chicken store and his thugs find out while collecting protection money.
What else happened? A few visits to Melfi. Boo hoo.
The episode wasn’t a complete waste. I’m sure it moved the overall plotline along a little, but it certainly wasn’t the most intriguing.
Next week it looks like there will be some tension between Paulie and Bobby. Should be good.
Sunday, April 23, 2006
The Sopranos: Episode 72
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

Christopher punches Lauren Becall and takes her bag of goodies, after following Ben Kingsley around. Artie and Benny have at it. Frankie Valli gets whacked. Tony was hardly even a part of this episode. Also got a needed break from Paulie.
Now that we got the Artie-centric episode out of the season, we probably won’t see much more of him for the rest of the season. Unless of course he decides to go back after Benny for the credit card fiasco and burning his hand, but that’s unlikely. There’s always one Artie episode a season.
More on Christopher… back on the smack, and there’s no way this movie is getting made. But it has to get made, one way or another. Sure, there will be crazy things along the way. But who doesn’t want to see The Ring meets The Godfather (well, I don’t want to see it, but I want to know it gets made – on the show).
Also glad to see the Vito subplot isn’t over. They very well could’ve written him off the show but might as well milk it for what it’s worth. But that’ll be next week.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
The Sopranos: Episode 71
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

Virtually the entire ep surrounding Vito… This needed to happen eventually, but now I’m curious if that’s the end. It certainly could be, as Vito befriends a gay guy in a New England antique shop. If that’s the end, that’s ok… better things are to come. But it still seems to me that they can squeeze a bit more out of this plot. Did anyone laugh as hard as I did when Paulie screamed after Finn said it was Vito being the ‘giver’?
These two Arab guys… they can’t be terrorists, they just can’t. After all, it ‘crossed’ Christopher’s mind. And the writing would suck since that’s what we’re being led to expect. But something will happen with those guys, and I’m anxious to know what.
Seems that the ep next week will have to do with Artie and his restaurant. Without even seeing it, it seems that it could be a standalone episode, one that anyone can watch and enjoy without having to see previous episodes, and can be missed by devoted fans without losing much. That’s just my hunch. Most Artie subplots are like that. They’re entertaining, nonetheless.
Seemed like there were lots of wasted moments in this weeks episode. The first minute was devoted to Tony being annoyed at the rattling sound of the AC. I suppose that’s foreshadowing of things to come. But it still doesn’t add much. Oh well.
Monday, April 10, 2006
The Sopranos: Episode 70
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

Gotta love Tony punching that muscle-headed flunkie and then going to the bathroom and spewing. Imagine for a second if you saw the side of Tony Soprano only when he’s around other mobsters. No one would like him. He might be better than, say, other, more ruthless characters, but he certainly wouldn’t be a likable character. But for us, the fans, he’s still our hero, even when he goes off and does something like that. Why? Because as we saw, behind closed doors, his own behavior can make him sick.
Vito… this has been a long time coming. The gay subplot was pushed to the backburner for a while there. Did he kill himself after getting caught in a gay club by a couple of buttonmen making a collection? There was an article today about fans putting bets on it. The only reason I’d hate for him to kill himself now is that we just had a suicide a couple of weeks ago… in that very same crew! If anything, I’m hoping he goes and kills those two guys who caught him. But that seems unlikely. Regardless, I hope that’s not the end of that.
Christopher… everyone is anxiously waiting to see what becomes of these two Arab guys he’s doing business with. But what happened to the movie subplot? Obviously it will return but it’ll be nice for at least a quick scene each episode.
Silvio… still one dementional.
The wedding was great, especially when Tony and John were discussing a hit at a table with hearing-impaired relatives, just to throw off the security guards. And the way the guards crashed the bride’s exit… excellent. Although, I have to admit, I felt sorry for John as he walked off crying. No matter how evil the person, no matter what they did, I can’t find myself to be heartless enough to spoil something that means so much to someone (then again, I’ve never gotten the opportunity).
Next Sunday can’t come soon enough.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
The Sopranos: Episode 69
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

Another great episode, this time the focus more on Paulie, which can sometimes get annoying, but not this time. It’s fine that Chase squeezes in these sort of subplots, a bit off topic when it comes to the true focus of the show, but good enough to keep the viewer intrigued. At the end, I knew Paulie would do right for his ma/aunt (at the expense of that garbage guy, no doubt).
And the Bacala subplot with shooting the rapper – very funny. This guy is really a mobster?
And now, on to Tony and this garbage business. It’s always fun when it’s about actual business instead of some sideshow. While some would argue the show is more about Tony and his relationship with his family while going to therapy, it wouldn’t be a show if he didn’t have shady business practices that pays the bills.
Again, great ep, looking forward to next week, as always.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
The Sopranos: Episode 68
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

Excellent episode. Paulie taking it between the legs while scoring a million, Chris forcing the screenwriter to write a feature and holding an investors meeting about it… all great moments.
Still not a fan of Silvio in his all-of-the-sudden expanded role. Suddenly he has asthma? That’s the deepest David Chase has every gone into his character. The funny thing is, everyone likes Silvio. Not because he’s a well-written character, or even because they watch the show, but because they have their lips glued to Bruce Springsteen’s behind and worship the people around him. Silvio – Steve Van Zandt – is good for a one-liner each episode, or the occasional temper-tantrum. But what else has he really done?
Back to Christopher – one of the best-written characters on television. He’s great when he’s strung out on drugs, he’s great when he’s sober. Godfather II meets Saw? Hey, why not (although I don’t see what his idea has to do with Saw)? Seeing how this plays out will be great, although it can’t possibly have a happy ending.
While watching this episode for a second time, I found myself fast-forwarding through the dream scenes with Tony (even the Blundetto cameo), and past the parts with Carmela and Meadow taking care of Tony.
Seems that we still have a few more episodes of Tony being bed-ridden (hopefully that means an end to the dream sequences), but it ought to be full-steam ahead with the show.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
The Sopranos: Episode 67
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

It would be very easy to dismiss this episode of the Sopranos as boring, or even awful. I mean, Carmela sitting there talking to Tony with that Tom Petty song playing – I almost changed the channel! And that subplot with the mistaken identity? Couldn’t Chase have come up with something more exciting than that?
But what this will all lead to, ultimately, is unrest among the mob as Tony lies in bed. And that’s when it gets good. We certainly can’t go through with Tony being in a coma for much longer. He’ll get well eventually. After all, it’s only the beginning of the season.
Sunday, March 19, 2006
The Sopranos: Episode 66
Category: Movies, TV, Celebrities

Junior shoots Tony at the end of the episode. Big deal. What, are we to believe that Tony will die? If the audience has no knowledge of how many episodes are left, then yeah, that could be a shocker. But we know, so we can all breath easily knowing that Tony will be back.
Regardless, it’s not a bad subplot, though it could only lead to Junior being put away somewhere and dwindle further into irrelevancy for the show, the way Tony’s mother did years ago before she died. Even David Chase contemplated killing off Junior. Now, I wish he would. He’s milked that character for all he’s worth.
As for other parts of the episode… a huge spoiler was let out of the bag prior to it airing. It was said that a character would commit suicide. When it was clear that Eugene was trying to get out of the life, I knew instantly it would be him. And it was. He wasn’t much of a character, anyway. Very few lines. Very few memorable moments. I think he once smacked the hell out of little Paulie Germani, but not much else. Eugene was the guy who got ‘made’ with Christopher. Good riddance, Eugene. We hardly knew ye.
Kudos to David Chase for giving AJ the long slacker hair. I hate David Chase for the closeup shot of Janice breast-feeding her newborn. No one wants to see that, dude. I love David Chase for giving Baccala the train-set hobby. Hilarious.
As for Vito, the closet homosexual, am I the only one who thinks he’ll wind up as boss of the family at the end of the series? Wouldn’t that be a trip?

Touring Israel: What You Need to Know

Touring Israel: What You Need to Know
If the numbers are anything to go by, the tourism drought in Israel appears to be receding. With decade lows between 2001 and 2003 due to an escalation in violence, Israel has seen clear signs that visitors are coming back. Even before the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005, the number of tourists more than doubled in the first half of 2004 and the number of first-time visitors in the first six months of 2005 increased 73 percent, according to the semi-annual Israeli Inbound Tourism Survey. In all, 2005 witnessed a 26 percent increase of visitors from the preceding year.

On the ground, of course, it can be a wholly different story, and travelers should naturally be aware of ongoing security concerns. And certainly, in-country security precautions may seem daunting by Western standings, but to most Israelis it’s life as usual. Adopt their point of view, and the roadblocks, soldiers, and the need for vigilance can become part of the local atmosphere rather than a reason to stay away. After all, life in Israel goes on, and there’s still plenty to discover and enjoy.

About the size of New Jersey, Israel is ripe with places to go that encapsulate thousands of years of world-shaping history, and it’s nearly impossible for travelers to hit everything. However, for first-time visitors, especially those staying a week or two, there are several obvious choices that should be featured on any itinerary.
Don’t-Miss Destinations

 

Jerusalem, particularly the Old City, is a must, but anyone going to Israel already knows that—in fact, it’s typically the first destination after flying into Tel Aviv and taking an hour-long bus ride. Walk the narrow cobblestone streets. Tour the tunnels by the Western Wall. Enjoy the view of the city along the ramparts. Visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, a monumental, ancient shrine that straddles Calvary, the hill on which Christ was crucified. But wherever you do decide to go, don’t pet the stray cats. Also, beware souvenir prices in the Old City. The merchants offer items at nearly twice the price that they’re ultimately willing to settle for, so be prepared to haggle. Whether you’re purchasing a wooden camel, a decorative candle, or an Israeli Army T-shirt, the merchants may get pushy, and sometimes rude. If you’re due change, they may claim they don’t have small bills and then try to up-sell you.

Another must-see location in Israel is Ein Gedi, a lush oasis in the midst of the barren desert and gateway to the salty Dead Sea on the country’s eastern edge. People come from all around the world, sometimes exclusively, to bathe in the therapeutic baths by the Dead Sea, rub mud over their bodies (making for a great photo op), and float in the salt water at the lowest spot on earth. First-time visitors typically stay overnight, wake before dawn, and hike up Mount Masada to view the brilliant sunrise before taking a tour of the history-rich plateau. The fortress here has served as a mountaintop refuge from pillaging Syrians and Greeks, Herod’s pleasure palace, and the vanguard of a dramatic revolt against the Romans in the first-century AD, so you’d be forgiven for taking your time to absorb its millennia of history.

When most travelers arrive in Israel, they land at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, and then head to Jerusalem. It’s not uncommon, however, for them to spend their last couple of days in Tel Aviv before their return trip home. Unlike Jerusalem, Tel Aviv is a very modern city that’s only been around since 1909. It is the country’s modern cultural capital and commercial center, and beautiful beaches line the Mediterranean coast. The city is known for its openness as well as superlative nightlife. It has quite a few museums, too, like the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the Eretz Israel Museum, and the Diaspora Museum, which features a multimedia exhibit that illustrates the history of Jewish communities throughout the world.

Visitors who have time should travel a couple of hours south to visit Eilat, a resort city that closely borders Jordan and Egypt on Israel’s southernmost tip. The border to Taba, Egypt, is accessible by foot, and tourists who want another stamp on their passport often spend part of the day exploring the small town. Tourists frequently take a worthwhile day-long tour to Petra, Jordan, by way of Aqaba. It’s expensive, but an unforgettable experience amidst the World Heritage-listed “City in the Rock”—the same amazing locale that Indiana Jones and his father explored in The Last Crusade. In Eilat, be sure to take a glass-bottom boat ride, and when the weather is warm, enjoy the beaches and the soothing waters of the Red Sea. Eilat is also a birder’s dream destination, sitting under the migratory flight path of birds beating a path each spring from North Africa to breeding grounds in Europe. Hotels and resorts here abound, among them the five-star Neptune Hotel and Herods Vitalis Spa.
Access & Resources

 

Good to Know:
Security is tight in Israel. Expect to go through metal detectors frequently and answer many questions about what you’re doing there, whether you’re at the airport or cruising the shopping mall. Though Hebrew is the main language, English is widely spoken. Often, travelers can spend time in Israel without needing to understand a word of Hebrew, but it’s still wise to pick up a few common phrases. Remember that many attractions are closed on Fridays after sunset until Saturdays after sunset in accordance with the Jewish Sabbath, and there is no bus service in most places during those times.

Getting There:
El Al Israel Airlines, Delta, Tower, World Airways, CSA/Czech Airlines, Air Canada, and British Airways, among others, all serve Israel from a variety of international hubs. About 90 percent of visitors arrive at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport. Check the airport website for a complete listing of airlines and contact details. Travelers from the U.S., Canada, and most European countries don’t need a visa to visit Israel, just a valid passport (visit the Israeli consular website for full details).

Getting Around:
The most practical way to get from place to place is on the bus. All cities have extensive bus service, but most do not operate between Friday night and Saturday night. However, buses do operate in Haifa and in eastern Jerusalem on the Jewish Sabbath. Taxis are available in every city, but don’t be fooled by drivers who offer you a special price, which is often higher than the meter. Car-renters need only a passport, credit card, and U.S. or Canadian driver’s license. Most traffic signs are in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. And don’t worry—they drive on the right-hand side of the street.

Communication:
To call Israel from North America, dial 011-972, then the number (omitting the initial zero). To call home, AT&T, MCI, and Sprint all have toll-free access numbers in Israel. Ask your hotel operator how to dial from your room. You can also rent a cell phone at the airport. As for the Internet, there are cafes and public Internet outlets all over the place.

Electricity:
Israel’s voltage is 220 volts, like Europe, so break out the converters if you’re coming from North America.

Vaccinations:
No vaccinations or shots are required for U.S. or Canadian visitors to Israel, but if you’ve visited a country prior to coming to Israel where cholera, typhoid, or yellow fever is endemic, you will need a vaccination certificate.

Young travelers:
For college-aged travelers looking for adventure, there are volunteer programs that will offer memorable experiences. If you find the right Kibbutz (a communal farm), you can work for your room and board and meet people from all over the world. Whether you’re gardening, washing dishes, or working the fields, the Kibbutz experience is a way of life you won’t soon forget.

Jewish adults aged 18 to 26 who have never been to Israel before can take advantage of the Birthright Israel program (www.birthrightisrael.com), which is a ten-day expenses-paid educational trip.

How I Became an Iron Maiden Fan – 23 Years Late

It was the Spring of 2003 when I was finally blown away by the music of Iron Maiden. It’s one thing to discover your favorite band when they’re brand new, and to anxiously await its new album every few years. But to discover it 23 years late, well, let’s just say I’ve never felt so treated in my life when it comes to music, not with one album, but more than two decades worth.

I had heard of Iron Maiden in the 80’s, when my friend, Dan, a jean-jacket wearing bully, told me that I couldn’t handle their music – I just wasn’t cool enough, apparently. My relationship with Dan was like Bart Simpson’s relationship with Nelson Muntz – we were friends by location, not because we had much in common. So, I never really heard an Iron Maiden song – well, maybe Number of the Beast once – until years later. Instead, I grew up listening to Bon Jovi, Genesis, Def Leppard, and Madonna, having no idea of what I was missing. I blame radio and MTV, which never plays Maiden’s music. But I could have heard their music, only if Dan had played it for me. This missed opportunity cost of more than 15 years.

It wasn’t until the invention of the MP3, and file sharing on college campuses around 1998, when I illegally obtained a copy of Run to the Hills.

I loved it, but I didn’t think to listen to other songs. I can’t count how many one-hit-wonders there are out there, and I’ve spent too much money on albums because of one good song. And if it was so good, why was it the only one available on that illegal file-sharing network at one of the University of Maryland dorms? It must be their only good song, I thought, and didn’t bother listening to any others.

Though I had never really listened to Iron Maiden’s music, I always enjoyed their artwork. Heavy medal albums with grotesque figures on them, like Metallica’s or Megadeth’s, have always appealed to me for some sick reason. One day in Vegas, I bought The Wicker Man T-shirt, and wore it though I had never even heard the song.

Now, keep in mind, even with MP3’s and illegal file sharing prevalent, I still didn’t bother checking out too many of Iron Maiden’s other songs. Somewhere along the line I got a copy of Aces High and 2 Minutes to Midnight, but I was still too busy listening to Run to the Hills and Number of the Beast to realize that I really liked those, too. I’ve noticed that sometimes I must listen to a song a few times before I know how much I like it. I had mixed feelings the first time I listened to Dance of Death, but now I listen to it regularly.

In 2003, I decided to buy the albums of my favorite artists, even if I already had copies of them. I suppose you could say I felt guilty about illegal downloading, especially with entire albums that I love. Before Korn’s Untouchables even hit stores, I was playing it repeatedly. So much, in fact, I went out and bought the real copy because I wanted the album art, too.

Because BMG Music Service gives you 12 CDs for the price of one, I started buying more albums that I thoroughly enjoyed, even if I already had copies. That included all three Eminem CDs. With four more albums to pick, and lousy options (those stamps BMG sends are sometimes horrible!), I decided to get Best of the Beast. After all, it had Run to the Hills, Number of the Beast, 2 Minutes to Midnight and Aces High, songs that were so good, I didn’t mind at all paying for them, and it clears my conscience.

When I listened to the album, I was nearly floored. Fear of the Dark. Virus. I listened to those two songs repeatedly. Each song outdid the previous. Incredible. I looked at Iron Maiden’s web site. What timing. They were coming to my town! I got a ticket, went to their concert, expecting only to hear the songs on Best of the Beast. Of course, they played others, like Iron Maiden and The Clansman. Again, blown away.

So I went back to BMG. I bought Rock in Rio and Brave New World. A couple months later, Dance of Death hit stores, and I bought it on the first day without even hearing it.

Then came Piece of Mind, The Number of the Beast, and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son in the mail. It was like finding multiple buried treasures at once. I was overwhelmed. I listened exclusively to Maiden for months, trying to catch up on those Wasted Years (haha).

I heard that Iron Maiden and Killers had a different singer than Bruce Dickenson. I was skeptical that I would like them. But on Live After Death, which I also bought, I very much enjoyed some of the early songs, sung in concert by Dickenson. I bought them, happy to fork over my money.

BMG didn’t sell any other Maiden albums so I had to go out and pay full price for Powerslave and Somewhere in Time. In total, I bought 12 Iron Maiden albums in less than a year, including two live double-disk albums. I plan to buy more, perhaps even the rest of them.

Never have I discovered a band that I enjoyed so much, so many years after they came about. If I ever speak again to my childhood buddy, Dan, the first thing I will say to him is, why didn’t you let me listen to Iron Maiden?