7 Blog

Movies, dining and things to do / Spokane and North Idaho

‘Fury’: visual flash, no meaningful center

I went to see the movie “Fury” the other day and … well, let me explain by way of the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

World War II has been over for nearly 70 years, yet filmmakers are still mining that unspeakable exercise in mass death for material. When done well, as with the two HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific” and in Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated “Saving Private Ryan,” the result is often a telling, tragic look at the fruitless absurdity of war. When done poorly, well … the results can be everything from pure propaganda – 1968’s “The Green Berets,” say – to simple violence porn – the prime example being any of Sylvester Stallone’s “Rambo” movies.

Somewhere in the mix sits “Fury,” writer-director David Ayer’s story of an American tank crew struggling to survive the final few weeks of World War II’s European campaign. Let’s not get into how the war’s major tank action was the Battle of Kursk, which took place in the summer of 1943 and involved not Americans but Russians facing the invading Germans, because that’s a whole other movie – one that Hollywood isn’t likely to waste money making.

Ayer’s film is set in April, 1945, barely a month before Germany’s fall. Hitler has called for total resistance, which means that the crew of “Fury” – the name given to the American tank commanded by SSgt. Collier (Brad Pitt) – isn’t going to enjoy an easy stroll into Berlin. In fact, Collier’s tank is the sole survivor of a recent action that killed one of its five-man crew. The replacement gunner they receive is a clerk-typist named Norman (Logan Lerman), whom Collier has to quickly indoctrinate into the ways of war.

That includes both the crimes of war – forcing him to shoot an unarmed German prisoner – and the spoils of war: ordering him to have sex with a young German woman. Both actions are certainly controversial, but they certainly shouldn’t come as a surprise: Ayer obliterates any notion of nobility in the movie’s opening scene when Collier brutally stabs a German soldier through the eye socket.

But brutality isn’t the problem with “Fury.” Not the sight of hanged children, of tanks rolling over pancaked corpses, of soldiers being immolated like grilled steaks, of stray rounds causing heads to explode like piñatas – not even the ruthless attitudes of Collier and his crew that have been honed by too much exposure to horrors that would give John Wayne nightmares.

No, the problem is that Ayer presents all this with no sense of larger purpose. The acting is competent – with Shia LeBeouf standing out – but the characters are mostly cliché. Worse, Ayer’s narrative arc features action scenes, followed by a long sequence in which Collier and Norman develop a sort of bond, then a close filled with even more action. That bond never fully develops, much of the action seems more convenient than actually believable, and Ayer leaves us with an ending that is more about visual flair than anything significantly meaningful.

War, of course, tends to lose meaning for those caught up in its barbarism. That fact obliges filmmakers such as Ayer to work that much harder to provide it.

Friday’s openings: Chapter two includes sex

After asking for, and receiving a late email from AMC River Park Square, I've decided to add a whole new post about Friday's movie openings. As you can see in the post below, I reported that the two mainstream openings in area theaters are “John Wick” and “Ouija.” I updated that post to include AMC's addition of “St. Vincent.”

Now for three more:

“Addicted”: A gallery owner's sexual obsession threatens her career. Her emotions are 50 shades of something. 

“16 Stones”: Description courtesy of IMDB: “A modern day adventure about the search for special stones touched by the hand of the Lord and brought to the Americas.” Question: Did someone trade a cow for those stones?

“23 Blast“: A sudden blindness forces a high school football player to question whether he can continue playing the sport he loves. What, he can't turn to officiating?

‘Decasia’ makes art out of film ruin

Last week I posted an announcement for a fund-raising event for the Spokane International Film Festival. It involves a special showing of the documentary “The Return to Homs,” which will be shown at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Magic Lantern.

But SpIFF isn't done. A special screening of the art film “Decasia,” in partnership with the Spokane Film Project and also planned as a fund-raiser, will be shown at 7:30 tonight at The Big Dipper. “Decasia,” which was released 2002 and was added to the National Film Registry in 2013, is described as “a beautiful, non-narrative film that is like looking at a fascinating, kinetic, abstract painting.” Filmmaker Bill Morrison compiled the film from “decomposing found footage,” 35mm prints gone bad, and paired it with an original score by Michael Gordon.

Writing in the New York Times, Dave Kehr described Morrison's film this way: ” 'Decasia' seizes on those transitional moments, when the readable images of nitrate film are slipping into the many odd and curious distortions caused by the decay of the physical medium. Some images seem to flake away; some blossom into glowing effects that suggest the solarization that was a popular technique for evoking the psychedelic experience of the ’60s; others suffer distortions like those of a fun-house mirror; still others seem to be invaded by swelling masses of bacteria, like something you would observe in a petri dish.”

Commenting on the irony of film giving way to digital technology, Kehr wrote, “No simple nostalgist, Mr. Morrison comes to emphasize the cyclical nature of creation. The new devours the old, which will be devoured in its turn.”

Tickets to this special showing of “Decasia,” which has a 70-minute running time, are a suggested $5 and will be available at the door. The Big Dipper is located at the northeast corner of Washington St. and 2nd Ave.   

Friday’s openings: Keanu and a ouija board

Note: This post has been amended to include the film “St. Vincent” at AMC River Park Square.

One of the mysteries of Hollywood is … how has Keanu Reeves managed to have a career? Yeah, he was decent in “Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure” and “The Matrix” trilogy. Overall, though, not a thespian. Yet he endures.

Which you will see on Friday when Reeves's latest movie, “John Wick,” opens. The whole of the weekend's mainstream movie offerings, as of Tuesday afternoon at least,  is as follows:

“John Wick”: Reeves plays a former hitman gradually pulled out of retirement. Does he down the blue or the red pill?

“Ouija”: Some teens play the creepy board game and get threatened by an evil force. I wonder: Does it want them to do their homework?

“St. Vincent”: Bill Murray stars as what IMDB describes as a “misanthropic, bawdy, hedonistic war veteran who lives next door” to a young boy whose parents have recently divorced. Can you say role model?

And at the Magic Lantern (besides picking up “My Old Lady” second run):

“Listen Up Philip”: A self-absorbed writer awaits publication of his novel. Jason Schwartzman, typecast again.

“The Return to Homs”: A documentary about young men living in the embattled Syrian city of Homs. Forget the jokes; nothing about the Syrian situation is funny.

And make sure to enjoy.

Bela Lugosi: Happy 132nd birthday

Lots of famous people were born over the years on Oct. 20. Among them, English architect Christopher Wren (in 1632), French poet Arthur Rimbaud (in 1854), Kenyan strongman Jomo Kenyatta (in 1891), Sen. Wayne Morse (in in 1900), pundit Will Rogers Jr. (in 1911), columnist Art Buchwald (in 1925), baseball Hall-of-Famer Mickey Mantle (in 1931), actor Jerry Orbach (in 1935), news broadcaster Connie Chung (in 1946), rocker Tom Petty (in 1950), rapper Calvin Broadus (Snoop Dogg, in 1971) and too many more to list here.

But my favorite: Bela Lugosi (in 1882). The star of “Dracula” had been acting in films for 14 years, mostly in what is now Romania, when he got his big break, portraying the title role in Tod Browning's 1931 adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel. Though he starred in a number of other Hollywood films, from “Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1932) to “The Black Cat” (1934), Lugosi's heavy accent and his growing dependence on pain drugs limited his opportunities.

He ultimately ended up working for Ed Wood, dying during filming (in 1956) of what would become what many consider one of the worst film's ever made: “Plan 9 From Outer Space” (released in 1959). Wood, who had shot footage of Lugosi for use in “Plan 9” and another unfinished film that was to be titled “The Ghoul Goes West,” completed filming of “Plan 9” by casting his wife's chiropractor as a stand-in.

Many actors have portrayed Dracula, from Lon Chaney Jr. to Louis Jordan, Christopher Lee to Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Gary Oldman to … yes, even Adam Sandler. But as with the role of James Bond, which will always be associated with Sean Connery, Lugosi's performance remains the one to which all others are compared.

Ultimate irony: Martin Landau would go on to win a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in for portraying Lugosi in Tim Burton's 1994 film “Ed Wood.”

Anyway, happy birthday, Bela Lugosi.

‘Gone Girl’: a stylish study in gimmickry

Nathan Weinbendeer and I share movie-reviewing chores at Spokane Public Radio. This is good because, though we agree on most things, we come at movies often with a far different perspective — the product of, if nothing else, the 40-odd-year difference in our ages. Since we try to cover as many movies as we can, and since we are both limited to one review a week, we usually don't comment on the same movies — except for when we tape Movies 101.

This week, though, is an exception. We disagree so much on David Fincher's “Gone Girl” that we agreed that I should add my voice to the mix. That way, with two perspectives, you readers/listeners can better decide what your own views are.

So, then, my SPR review of “Gone Girl” follows:

A couple of summers ago, I read Gillian Flynn’s novel “Gone Girl” and, for about half of it, I was enthralled. Well, enthralled might be a little strong, but I definitely felt pulled into Flynn’s twisted exploration of marital discord.

For the life of me, though, I cannot remember how Flynn ends her novel. That’s because at a certain point, her plot goes in a completely unexpected – at least to me – direction. And from that page on, “Gone Girl” ceased to be a serious read and reverted to what I’d call an immensely readable literary curiosity. A more accomplished, if you will, Dan Brown experience.

This, then, was one reason why I wanted to see director David Fincher’s adaptation of Flynn’s novel. I’ve long been a Fincher fan, admiring both the visual narrative and intellectual backdrop he’s given to films as different as “Se7en,” “Fight Club,” “The Social Network,” “Zodiac” and “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” I was anticipating what he would do with “Gone Girl,” even if Flynn was listed as the resident screenwriter.

And my reaction? Mostly disappointment, which seems perfectly appropriate when talking about what is a plot line based on little more than narrative gimmickry.

“Gone Girl” tells the story of Nick and Amy Dunne. It begins with Nick (played by Ben Affleck) examining his wife, Amy (played by Rosamund Pike), musing about cracking open her skull so that he might be able to pin down her thoughts. But told from Nick’s point of view, at least at first, the narrative actually portrays Nick as a right guy soon immersed in a mystery.

One day Nick discovers Amy missing, and their living room bearing signs of a struggle. Concerned, he calls the police … and just that quick Fincher’s movie – following Flynn’s novel – becomes a curious blend of social commentary, would-be social satire and police procedural. Given Fincher’s abilities – not to mention track record – you would think that he’d find a way to handle all of that effectively. Which he does, but only to a point.

Oh, the police part works well enough, if you overlook the strange casting decisions that include Neil Patrick Harris and, yes, Tyler Perry. And so does some of the social commentary/satire, mainly because of Affleck’s natural sense of beefy smarm and Pike’s android-probe stare and ice-princess charm.

But the rest? What the movie tries to say about social media is pretty obvious, especially the points about perception being more important than reality and that a lie repeated long and hard enough can easily become an accepted representation of the truth. And Flynn’s observations about the societal roles of woman and the implicit difficulties of marriage become meaningless when that all-important plot twist – which I won’t expound upon – is revealed.

In the end, it all feels muddled, as if Fincher struggled – and failed – to find just the right plot device to help propel a movie, based on a book that is one big he-said/she-said – yes, gimmick – from beginning to end.

These are a few of my unfavorite things

If you're a baseball fan, then you probably watched — as I did, — both major league championship series games last night. In the first, the Kansas City Royals completed a sweep of the Baltimore Orioles by winning 2-1, and in the second the San Francisco Giants took a 3-1 lead by posting a 6-4 comeback win over the Si. Louis Cardinals.

(Notice I avoided using the cliche “commanding lead” in the Giants score? Hey, for nearly five years, I was a sportswriter and then page editor first at The Spokesman-Review and then The Spokane Daily Chronicle. My colleagues and I tried to avoid cliches like … like … the plague.)

Anyway, my Vancouver (WA) friend Tom Knappenberger — who recently joined the ranks of the retired — sent me a link to a story about a controversy that was inspired by something that occurred in the KC-Baltimore post-game interview. It seems that, during the interview, KC pitcher Jeremy Guthrie wore a t-shirt bearing the inscription “These O's Ain't Royal.”

And this apparently upset some baseball fans. Mostly, I presume, from Baltimore.

Wow. This has inspired me to share a few of my own dislikes. Because I began this blog in 2003 as a movie blog, let me share with you a few things that upset me about contemporary cinema:

  • Dan Aykroyd in “Get on Up.” Is he from France?
  • Neil Patrick Harris in “Gone Girl.” Doogie Howser go home.
  • Pretty much ever Michael Bay movie ever made. Except maybe “The Rock.”
  • Steve Martin in the “Pink Panther” reboots. We're sorry, Peter Sellers.
  • Seth Rogen and James Franco, period. Kim Jong-un wants you … for dinner.
  • Nicholas Sparks' scribblings. Welcome, Mr. Hanky, the Christmas poo.
  • The guy who talked all through as screening of “Kill the Messenger” on Tuesday night. OK, he was explaining the plot to a woman wearing an acoustical assistance rig. But seriously. Inside voice only, please.
  • Filmmakers who insist on using their cameras like salt shakers. It ain't art, pal, it's a business.
  • Chris Tucker. Click here, if you dare.

I could go on all day. In fact, let me add one final dislike:

  • Self-important film critics.

There. I feel so much better now — and not in the slightest way inclined to apologize for anything. Maybe I'll even print up a t-shirt.

SpiFF-Mini: Catch a taste of cinema Oct. 26

Over the past few years, the Spokane International Film Festival — for which I serve as a member of the board — has tried to be more of a presence than a several-day-long festival in February. Through such programs as the Professor's Series, and the occasional partnering with such venues as the Magic Lantern and The Bing Crosby Theater, SpIFF has attempted to make its brand better known.

Which was one of the reasons behind the formation of SpiFF-Mini, a series that began last week with a showing of the film “Dead Show 2: Red Vs. Dead” and continued Monday night with “Purgatorio: A Journey into the Heart of the Border,” a meditative 2013 documentary about the U.S.-Mexican border by Mexican director Rodrigo Reyes.

SpIFF-Mini will conclude at 7 p.m. Oct. 26 at the Magic Lantern with a screening of “The Return to Homs,” another 2013 documentary, this one following two young men caught up in the Syrian conflict. Directed by Talal Derki, the film — wrote the Hollywood Reporter — “should endure as a viscerally direct, consistently informative account of how participants experience the hazards, tedium and lethal thrills of urban combat, and as a portrait of young men radicalized and energized by their circumstances.”

“The Return to Homs” will be introduced by Kristin Edquist, a professor of government at Eastern Washington University. For more information, go to the Magic Lantern or SpIFF websites.

Friday’s openings: War and love, oil and aging

Note: This post was edited to include a third opening film at the Magic Lantern.

Back in Spokane after an eight-day trek around Iceland, where I learned to say Eyjafjallakötull more or less correctly (thanks to the many t-shirts and refrigerator magnets providing pronunciation guides). Now, back to the business of what's opening at local theaters, which this week includes everything from World War II to the joys of aging with style.

First, at the mainstream theaters:

“Fury”: The crew of an American Sherman tank faces down German resistance during the final months of World War II. Wow, never heard that story before.

“Book of Life” (3D and regular): This CGI production follows the story of Manolo (voiced by Diego Luna) as he fights to get back to the woman he loves. Family time.

“Men, Women & Children”: Characters of all ages (played by a cast including, of all actors, Adam Sandler) have to deal with how social media have affected their lives and relationships. Hint: Things don't go well.

“Best of Me”: A rekindled love affair leads to trouble for all involved. Two words: Nicholas Sparks.

And at the Magic Lantern:

“Pump”: A documentary about America's addiction to oil. Think maybe it has something to do with corporate profits?

“Advanced Style”: A documentary exploring the lives of seven New Yorkers and their respective ways of dealing with aging. Substitute “flair” for “style” and you know what to expect.

“Soul of a Banquet”: A documentary on Celia Chiang, the woman who, in 1961, introduced authentic Mandarin dishes to the U.S. Chances are, after watching, an hour later you'll want to watch again.

And, finally, a second Spokane run of “The Skeleton Twins.”

So go see a movie. And enjoy.

Iceland: one day’s drive to last a lifetime

Above: My wife, Mary Pat, standing amid chunks of ice from the glacier ice lagoon Jökulsárlón.

The main question I've had to field in the weeks leading up to my visit to Iceland has been a simple one-word query: “Why?” Iceland is on very few bucket lists of travel destinations (my former colleague Dan Mitchinson, who is now living in New Zealand, being one notable exception).

In fact, most people don't think of Iceland at all unless they recall the volcano eruption in 2010 that disrupted so many international flights and stranded thousands of travelers. That specific volcano, by the way, bears a name that is one of the only Icelandic words I have learned to pronounce: Eyjafjallajökull.

The simple answer is that I came here eight days ago (I fly home today) with my wife to preview a trip that she will be making in May with a larger delegation of U.S. visitors. But considering that Icelandair is making it easy for people who are already heading to Europe to make an Iceland stopover — “at no additional airfare!” — a visit to Iceland makes a lot more sense to anyone heading east across the Atlantic.

Yesterday, while lounging in the geothermal waters of popular Blue Lagoon, we met a New York couple who were stopping over en route to London before catching a cruise to the Canary Islands.

So that simple one-word answer can now be doubled: “Why not?”

Anyway, as this is my last blog post before I catch my Icelandair flight to Seattle (and then the 50-minute hop home), I thought I'd share the best part of our drive around this island (only nine-tenths the size of Ohio): the stretch of the country's main highway, otherwise known as the Ring Road, that runs across the south-eastern edge.

We'd spent the night in the port town of Höfn, which sits between the ocean and the mountain range which cradles the country's largest glacier, Vatnajökull. From there we drove west, past lava fields, to the turnoff to a gravel road 8 kilometers long where we could get a better view of one of the glacier's arms. Then we returned to the highway and drove to the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, where first we took a 40-minute amphibious boat ride through huge glacier icebergs (and even got to munch on some glacier chunks) and then walked along the black-sand beaches that were littered with ice bits of all sizes and shapes.

Driving ever west, we passed geology that ranged from lichen-green-covered fields that resembled sodden cotton balls, to larger upturned cones the size of small houses, to more stark lava fields, to mountain cliffs fronting the ocean that looked as if someone had transplanted them from Monument Valley. We stopped at the foot of Eyjafjallajökull, where a private museum told the story of a family whose dairy farm had been threatened by the 2010 eruption.

And we stopped at the site of Laufskalavarda, where travelers are invited to place a rock to help ensure a safe trip. Which seems to have worked because, finally, we arrived at the village of Vik unscathed. And after a short trip north to see the sun set over a natural rock arch, we settled in for the night.

If you do visit Iceland, and if you do decide to rent a car, making a trip to the southeastern coast is worth the effort (tours can be arranged in Reykjavik, too). It might be one of the most scenic bits of highway I've ever navigated.

Which, if nothing else, makes the question “why” a simple rhetorical query.

And I drank every single Icelandic drop

If you haven't checked out Rick Bonino's beer blog yet, you probably should. I say that in advance of sharing my own beer news: My recent trip to Iceland, which has my wife and I circumnavigating the island during a week-long driving tour, included a first-ever beer treat.

See that picture above? It is the beer that I ordered with my dinner two nights ago in the teeny port town of Hofn. We ate at our hotel, not necessarily because its was good — though, in the end, it was — but because this is the off season and every other restaurant save the local drive-in was closed. So we ate at the restaurant at the Hotel Hofn.

The beer was recommended by our server, a nice enough guy who also took our orders for a langoustine appetizer, soup and a Greek salad. But we washed them all down with beers, a lager for my wife and the regionally brewed Vatnajokull “Frozen in Time” ale for me. Click on the link to get the beer experts' opinions; all I can say is that it was tasty and cold and just what I needed to finish off a hard day's driving in Iceland (where the roads, while mostly in good shape, are so narrow they require constant concentration and so make all driving days hard).

I needed it so much I didn't even blink at paying 1,200 krona — which amounts to exactly $9.94. For a single bottle. Of beer. As I say, that's a first for me.

I'm not sure how you say Happy Hour in Icelandic. But I can imagine anytime something is discounted in this country, the emphasis is likely on the word Happy. 

Miranda Lambert books return trip

Blake Shelton sold out the joint a few weeks back. Now it's his wife's turn.

Country star Miranda Lambert will play the Spokane Arena on Feb. 12, joined by Justin Moore, RaeLynn and Jukebox Mafia. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Oct. 17 through TicketsWest. They'll set you back $39.75 or $54.75.

It will mark Lambert's first appearance in the region since a 2012 set at Watershed, the country music festival held at the Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Washington. She last played the Inland Northwest way back in 2009, with a stop at the Coeur d'Alene Casino.

The tour is a stop on her Certified Platinum Tour, in support of her fifth studio album “Platinum.” Check out a video she made with a Spokane favorite, Carrie Underwood, here:

 

Climb a hill in Iceland, feel like you can make ‘Titanic’

Above: A look down the path from the summit of the long-dead Icelandic volcano Hverfjall. This view gives no indication just how steep the slope is.

Quick admission: I'm not in the best of shape. I stopped going to the gym regularly six months ago and since then have spent more time making excuses for why I'm not exercising than even thinking about working up a sweat.

But I'm not ready to give up on all aerobic activities just yet. Yesterday, while driving through east Iceland — part of our week-long tour of that diminutive but scenic European country — we stopped by one of the area's must-see sites. Hverfjall is what's called a tephra cone (or tuff ring) volcano, which was formed about 2,500 years ago. Sitting 420 meters (1,380 feet) high, the kilometer-wide cone can be seen from miles away.

Located northeast of Lake Mývatn, Hverfjall sits about a kilometer and a half off the highway. A parking lot at the base leads to two paths to the summit. One is more direct and is described as “hard.” The other, which is more circuitous, is considered easier.

I chose direct. And, yes, I had to stop twice and was breathing hard about halfway up. But I still made the top in about 15 minutes. And then I stood there, feeling like James Cameron, looking down at all the mortals far, far below.

OK, so they were all the other people who were also there to climb what is little more than a hillock. Still, I consider my Iceland hiking obligation paid in full. King of the wooorrrlllddd!

Iceland can surprise even the most jaded traveler

Above: October is maybe Iceland's rainiest month. So rainbows are common, Yet they seem to come out at the most unexpected moments. We saw this one after driving down an unpaved section of Iceland's Ring Road toward the eastern seashore.

If you're reasonably well-traveled — say, for example, you've visited nearly 40 countries in five continents — then it's reasonable to expect that only someplace special is going to impress you. We're now in our fifth day in Iceland, and so far we've liked what we've seen. The modern feel of the capital Reykjavik, the barren sweep of the volcanic plains as you drive north and east, snow-covered peaks that cut into the sky like foam-covered saw blades, dormant volcanoes that resemble massive cones made of black sand, the occasional peek of a rainbow as it surprises you around a bend, thundering waterfalls around virtually every corner, boiling mud springs and steam vents that resemble plumes of wood smoke, flocks of sheep that fleck the hillsides and (periodically and without warning) scuttle across the highway … and so on.

But to be honest, until now Iceland hasn't shown us anything that, say, we haven't seen in Sisters, Ore., or Milford Sound, New Zealand, or the Scottish Highlands or the Big Island of Hawaii or the Columbia Gorge or the national parks at Yellowstone and Glacier or the falls known as Iguazu that rush through the intersection of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. Thing is, Iceland has all those … and more.

It was that more that we got a taste of today, during our drive from the east Iceland town of Egilsstadir to the southeastern seaside village of Höfn. First we drove over a mountain pass, which though still part of the island's main Highway I — also known as the Ring Road — is unpaved for the better part of 40 kilometers.

Once past the peak, we saw our first sun of the day (and our second rainbow of the trip). Then we drove past our first black-sand beaches, the waves whipped by winds that almost blew us off our feet. Up the road, we passed stark mountainsides fronting the Atlantic and contrasting the gray ocean with tons of gray, black and green. And, finally, as we rounded a point and came within sight of Höfn — a collection of fragile box-like buildings set next to a small harbor — we could see in the distance not one, not two or even three but four different spurs of the massive glacier Vatnajökull that covers much of south-central Iceland.

Tomorrow we will try to drive even closer. For now, though, I'm just going to sit here and stare.

And feel, yes, impressed.

Iceland’s elves don’t work cheap

Above: Reykjavik, Iceland, is not an inexpensive place to visit.

Iceland is a country of myths. One study claims that some 50 percent of Icelanders believe in elves. And in the city of Egilsstadir, which is set in east Iceland on the banks of the glacial lake Lagarflojt, people claim to have seen the Lagarflojt Wyrm — a kind of Loch Ness monster, sightings of which date back to as early as 1345.

Seriously, though, on our stay so far in Iceland, we've seen two Icelandic myths proven false.

One, Iceland isn't cold. The story here is that most people get Iceland mixed up with Greenland. And, yes, Greenland is mostly snow covered, which isn't exactly green, and Iceland is a geothermic paradise that boasts many colors, including white. But while Greenland is certainly cold, so is Iceland. Especially during the winter. It's only October, and nothing at ground level is yet frozen, but temperatures in the high 30s feel mighty cold when they're accompanied by rain and 20- and 30-mph winds. So if you're planning on visiting Iceland, brings some fleece. And a rain shell. And a wool hat. And gloves.

Two, following the 2008 recession, which bankrupted the country's three largest banks, prices dropped, giving tourists a good deal. And that may be so. If it is, then I have no idea how anyone but a 1-percenter paid for anything here. We spent two days in the capital, Reykjavik, then drove northeast to spend the night in Akureyri and then today to Egilsstadir, and we've basically given up eating more than once a day in restaurants. We ate at a place last night in Akureyri mentioned in guidebooks (Strikid) and at a local eatery tonight (Salt), and both my wife and I ordered sparingly: Fish for her and a burger for me last night, burgers and sodas for both of us tonight. And our bill for tonight? Almost $42. For burgers, fries and sodas.

So come to Iceland, definitely. The outdoor activities, from hiking to fishing and camping, are worth it. But especially during the winter, bring as much clothing with you as you can stuff in a suitcase. And make sure your credit cards are in good shape. Because you're going to need some ready cash.

Those elves don't work cheap.

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