Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Bobcats V.I.P. for a day

Last night the Charlotte Bobcats lost in a pre-season game against the Miami Heat. The game was held at the PNC Arena in Raleigh.

Thanks to a drawing at work, I won a ticket to the game. Since it wasn’t held in Charlotte, the Bobcats were taking a a group of season ticket holders to Raleigh by bus so they could see the game.

So, for a day, I was a Bobcats V.I.P.

The entire experience was a lot of fun. We left Charlotte in the afternoon on two large buses. It was kind of like a field trip from grade school days, except this time we got to eat on the bus! Snacks, soda and a showing of The Hunger Games. Not a bad bus ride at all.

Shortly before 5 pm, we arrived at the arena.

We were taken through security and then to a private banquet room with a catered buffet.

During dinner, Fred Whitfield (President, Chief Operating Officer, and Alternate Governor) and Rod Higgins (President of Basketball Operations) did a Q&A. Some of the fans hammered them pretty good, asking about last year’s season.

I don’t follow the Bobcats, or basketball, that closely, but it was pretty well known amongst everyone in Charlotte (and every NBA fan), that the team had some issues last season.

Fred and Rod pretty much said that they are in the process of rebuilding the team and that they think there’s potential to develop a couple of real power players in the next few years. They said they are trying to build the Bobcats into a noteworthy team, but there's a few challenges since they are located in a medium-sized market.

I’m not sure those answers extinguished the fans’ concerns, but I think they liked the opportunity to ask their questions.

At that point the group found our seats in the arena.

I took my baby Digi on this trip (left the big one at home), so no pro pics from me – just some snapshots. Although my seats were good enough to get some good shots, so maybe I should have brought it with.

They billed the Bobcats as the home team, but there were a lot of Heat fans in attendance too.

LeBron James got a mixed reaction throughout the night.

Some fans booed him and others cheered him along. It reminded me of the kind of reaction John Cena frequently generates on Monday Night Raw.

A lot of the Cats fans figured they wouldn’t win against the Heat – and they didn’t – but I thought it was a pretty decent game.

The Cats scored the first few points. Then the Heat took the lead, but the Bobcats were within a 10 point distance throughout most of the game. Halfway through the 3rd quarter, the Heat was close to 20 points ahead. The Bobcats closed that gap, but never managed to outdo Miami, eventually losing 92-98.

KEMBAAAAAA Walker (that’s how the announcer said his name each time)was the point leader for the Bobcats. That was evident without even looking at the stats. Kemba, who is 6’1” and 184 lbs., was playing against the bigger guys from the Heat, but Walker did his best to make up for that.

He and Ramon Sessions were the leaders on the team (although newcomer Bismarck Biyombo wins the award for coolest name this season).

They were up against the Miami Heat though – not an easy task. This was my first opportunity to see the Heat live and I was impressed. I see why LeBron James is “King James.” He made it all look so effortless. Whether passing or shooting, he did it with ease. The Heat worked like a well-oiled machine, making passes without hardly looking at each other. LeBron tossed the ball over his shoulder and another member of the team was right there to pick it up.

That’s something Fred and Rod said new coach Mike Dunlap was working on with the Cats – playing an uptempo, faster-paced game.

I saw the effort on their part, but the team just couldn’t stack up last night. I’m anxious to see how the Cats do against the Pacers in their season-opening home game November 2.

Some other fun moments of the night:
-Jingle Bells – there was a woman in attendance who was wearing shiny, skin-tight, mint-green hot pants. She was impossible to miss, even from several sections away. A couple people from our section commenced to singing Jingle Bells when she went to get popcorn.

-The Kiss Cam – some dude and his woman were shown on-screen. She was busy texting. He was looking at the screen. He nudged her to let her know that they were up, but she pushed him away with one hand, continuing her text with the other. A few other couples were shown on screen. Some of them kissed, while others just looked embarrassed. Then the director cut back to the original couple. The guy told her they were up again and pointed at the screen. She looked at the screen and at her beau and said, “So?” with a shrug. Back to texting. They ended the Kiss Cam segment by going back to this couple. The guy shrugged and then pointed to his cheek, indicating he’d settle for that. His girl gave in and kissed him. It got a large round of applause from the audience.

-Perhaps the funniest moment of the night was when they called a the first of two fouls on LeBron James. The little old lady in front of me let out her arms in excitement, like she was praising God. She was a happy little lady when that call was made.

After the game LeBron signed a few autographs. He went onto the court and signed for a few kids. Of course, a mob of people rushed the floor, so he and security headed towards the back, but James stopped near the entrance/exit and signed several more items for fans. Very cool of him to do.

The bus ride back home went by quick. This time we watched Battleship.

I enjoyed the entire trip, having never been to a NBA game before, much less being treated to the VIP experience.

I think I could definitely get into it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man - reviewed.

When The Amazing Spider-Man was first released in the early part of July, it wasn't on my list of movies to see in the theatre.

I'd just seen The Avengers in May and The Dark Knight Rises, which was on my must-see list, was going to be released just a couple of weeks later.

Unfortunately, the new version of Spider-Man was the summer super hero flick that didn't fit into my checkbook.

That changed last Tuesday though.

I was trying to figure out what to do with my evening. I noticed that Cinemark 10, in Matthews, was showing The Amazing Spider-Man. I'd never been to Cinemark 10, but it was the cheap theatre, from what I'd heard.

I figured watching Spider-Man on the big screen would probably be more fun than watching the DVD on my 20" Vizio television at home.

I got to the theatre and it was pretty much deserted. I was literally the only person in the lobby. I purchased my ticket from a machine. It took me a few minutes to get the ticket because I stood there for probably 30 seconds, trying to figure out if the total was correct.

The machine was showing a $1.00 charge.

Surely that couldn't be right. The total stayed the same after I deleted the ticket and added it again.

Turns out Tuesdays are $1.00 days at Cinemark 10. Talk about a deal!

If you got to Cinemark 10, make sure to eat beforehand, though. The popcorn and soda prices are about $4.00, minimum, for each. It's still cheaper than a regular trip to the movie theatre, but not by much if you get the large soda and popcorn.

Onto the movie though.

I was one of the fans who thought it was too soon to resurrect the Spider-Man franchise. The Tobey Maguire franchise had it's issues, but overall it was a good trilogy. Spider-Man 3 is just 5 years old.

It's Spider-Man though. Plus, the hilarious Emma Stone is in the film, so it has to be good right?

Thankfully, the answer is: abso-freakin'-lutely!

Emma Stone brought a combination of comedy and seriousness to the Gwen Stacy character. To be honest, she did a much better job playing the female lead in just one film than Kirsten Dunst did in three of them. Yes, Kirsten, Emma lived up to expectations.

I was expecting that out of Ms. Stone though.

I wasn't expecting Andrew Garfield to steal the show. He did a very modern portrayal of Peter Parker and he did it very well. Tobey Maguire was perhaps a more classic, nerdy Peter Parker, but Andrew Garfield brought a much more relatable awkward teenager vibe to the role.

This was the first film I'd seen Garfield in even though he has acting credits that go back to 2005. He definitely left me wanting a sequel and another one after that.

Sally Field successfully portrayed Aunt May and Martin Sheen was a quality choice to cast as Uncle Ben.

Rhys Ifans wasn't amazing in his role as Dr. Curt Connors.

He was a little bit lackluster as a villain, but I'm sure that can be forgiven by any Spidey fans out there because we finally got to see a big-screen version of The Lizard. The Sam Raimi trilogy gave us The Green Goblin, Doc Oc, Venom and Sandman. Four very good Spider-Man villains to include, no doubt, but The Lizard was one I would've preferred to see before Sandman.

The Lizard and Spidey had some creative fight scenes together. When it came to the fight scenes, I didn't notice any repetition from the Maguire trilogy. The last fight sequence in The Amazing Spider-Man actually felt more epic than the most of the action scenes in the Maguire movies.

It wasn't all action though. There was a lot of comedy -- something I think the Sam Raimi-directed movies lacked. His emo twist on Spider-Man wasn't a fail in my book, but I do prefer the levity that this Marc Webb version delivered.

Along with the action and the comedy was, of course, a little bit of romance. The relationship between Gwen Stacy and Peter Parker was fun to watch blossom throughout the film.

It all seemed very natural, which makes sense since Stone and Garfield are apparently dating each other in real life.

Overall I was really impressed. It felt like a fresh story.

If you rent the film on DVD or see it in a cheap theatre near you, yes, you should stay until the end. There is a bonus scene after the initial credits. Unfortunately it doesn't really lend a clue as to who the villain in a possible sequel would be.

Related content:
John Carter - reviewed.
The Green Lantern and Captain America - reviewed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pumpkin cookies-turned-cake

I’m not the best chef – or baker – or cook. The kitchen appliances I use most are the microwave and the toaster. Even then, my meals can turn out kind of sketchy (if you pour the cheese mix on instant macaroni, you’d better mix it right away or else it chunks up).

Pumpkin season is officially here though! That’s one of my favorite parts of Fall.

Pumpkin pie was always the tastiest part of Thanksgiving. These days you can get just about anything in the flavor of pumpkin spice. Cappuccino, Hershey’s kisses, muffins. You name it, and you can get it.

That’s why I had to get the pumpkin spice flavored Betty Crocker cookie mix.

I was at the store to buy milk and eggs, but it was pumpkin spice cookie mix, so I didn’t even bother trying to fight it. In the basket it went.

The baking directions weren’t too complicated. All I needed was one egg, some water and a stick of butter. Check, check and check.

If only making it was as simple as the ingredients.

It started off easy enough. I put the mix into a bowl while a stick of butter was melting in the microwave.

Then I added the egg.

Then 2 cups of water and, finally, the butter.

I mixed it all together. At first it was kind of chunky, but 10 seconds later it was nice and smooth. 10 seconds later it was smoother than before. It never got to the consistency of liquid, but the mix was closer to a pumpkin milkshake than cookie dough.

Immediately, I retraced my steps. I retrieved the package from my trashcan and read over the ingredients.

1 stick of butter, 1 egg and 2 tablespoons of water. Shit! I put 2 entire cups in.

At that point there were two options – throw it away or try to save it.

Thankfully I had some flour left in my cupboard, so I used a couple cups of that to thicken the batter up. It was still looking a lot like a milkshake though.

I added an egg yoke and a little more flour (then a little ginger to counteract all the flour I put in). That’s about as thick as it was going to get.

So I poured it into a cake pan, put it in the oven (preheated at 350) and baked it for 17 minutes.

Add a little cream cheese frosting and you get: Pumpkin Spice Cookies-turned-Cake

I’m going to give this a favorable result.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

John Carter - reviewed.

I decided to be brave. After the success that I had with Battleship last week, I figured I would check out Taylor Kitsch’s other box office bomb, John Carter. I never saw the film’s previews, but I remember seeing the cover sometime last year and thinking, “It could be good.”

I thought John Carter was an odd name though. It seemed like the name of a movie about a piano teacher in a small town in the 1940s, or maybe the main character in a football movie. It just didn’t seem to fit with a movie about action and adventure.

According to the description, it’s a film about a soldier who is transported to Mars and becomes embroiled in a clash between different social classes. Whichever group wins this battle could very well end up with the fate of the planet in their hands.

It does sound like a storyline you’d find in a B-movie, but with Disney’s budget behind it, at least I didn’t have to worry about the production quality.

I actually really like the idea though. A soldier from Earth gets transported to Mars and does battle there. It’s original enough.

After watching the film, I can say, much like I was with Battleship, I’m baffled at why John Carter was such a bomb. I can see why it wouldn’t win an Academy Award – it’s purely an adventure tale after all – but John Carter was every bit as good as box office hits like Thor, Snow White and The Huntsman or G.I. Joe.

In John Carter, there’s a medallion that transports people from planet to planet, some cool action sequences, and a female Jar Jar Binks-like character (I think I just figured out why it flopped…though I never minded Jar Jar that much).

To top it off, Lynn Collins is absolutely seductive in a skimpy wardrobe. Kitsch’s impressive physique made me feel guilty about eating the piece of chocolate cake I was eating while I watched the film. It has the eye candy covered for both guys and gals.

The plot is very standard in a sense. The guy needs to rescue the girl (a princess, who can hold her own with a sword) from the bad guys, there are a couple of comedic sidekicks, evil men with magical powers and the goal to manage the destruction of the planet. Of course the princess is being forced into marriage for the sake of saving her planet. All the while there’s a bigger picture takeover planned.

While that may have been standard, there was a nice twist at the end. John Carter wasn’t a soldier in current times, like I was expecting. He was a soldier sometime during the Civil War, so the film was set sometime after that. That was something a little different as well.

I guess John Carter can now join Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. as Disney’s list of flops. I didn’t mind that movie either.

Related Content:
• Battleship - reviewed.
• The Dark Knight Rises - reviewed.
• The Avengers - reviewed.

CM Punk backhands fan on Raw - what happens now?

Just like I normally do since I gave up cable earlier this year, each Monday night, after Raw is over, I’ll check out Lords of Pain to read the recap. Despite a lackluster product, it’s hard to kill the wrestling fan in me.

To my surprise, WWE generated a lot of buzz around last night's Raw, but unfortunately it wasn't the kind of buzz they were probably hoping for.

Lots of headlines about CM Punk and an incident with a fan. Mr. Tito published a column saying that punishment should be coming Punk’s way.

‘What the hell happened?!?,’ I wondered.

Turns out, as Raw was going off the air, Punk rushed into the crowd, like many heels have done in the past. Vince McMahon, who evidently made a return, was telling Punk who his opponent would be for the upcoming pay-per-view, Hell In A Cell.

That’s when the incident with the fan happened. Punk was evidently annoyed by a few of the fans, but the camera cut to Mr. McMahon, who was still in the ring. When it cut back to Punk, he snapped and backhanded the fan behind him.

Speculation began immediately. Was this fan provoking him? Reports from fans in attendance said the fan was trying to push CM Punk down the stairs. Punk’s supporters rallied behind him, saying, ‘What would you do if you were being pushed down the stairs?’

A fan by the name of DaJoel was there live and thanks to his YouTube video, it’s easy to see what happened.

Punk shoves off a couple of fans. A black-haired fan in a Brock Lesnar t-shirt shoves him back pretty hard. Punk turns to face the fan, fairly annoyed, but he returns his attention to McMahon.

Then, the fan that ended up getting walloped gets shoved into Punk.

At that point, Punk turns around. After a death stare, he, again, returns his attention to McMahon.

A fan in a white t-shirt is flipping Punk off and pushes his middle finger into the back of Punk’s head.

The fan putting his shades on at that point never touches Punk, but Punk doesn’t know that because his focus is on McMahon, who is still in the ring. That’s when Punk snaps and backhands the dude in the glasses. He knocks the glasses right off. Based on the fan’s expression, he wasn’t expecting it. Why would he? He wasn’t provoking Punk.

A backhand wasn’t enough though. Punk goes on to shove/punch the guy in the face.

A slew of opinions and questions have been served up already. 'Punk could have torn his ACL if he fell down the stairs!' 'Where was security?' (fair point on that one).

The biggest question seems to be: what happens to Punk now?

Personally, I do think Punk should be punished. He attacked a fan! He’s the WWE Champion – a figurehead of the company. That’s a big responsibility and there’s a lot of pressure on him, particularly right now, when Raw’s ratings are so low and members of the creative team are getting shuffled around.

That doesn’t excuse Punk’s actions though.

Could you imagine any other sports figure going into the crowd and beating up on a fan, even if they were shoved a couple of times?

No, fans shouldn’t touch wrestlers, but, like it or not, you open yourself up to that when you go into the stands. That’s fan territory. It's not like these fans jumped the barricade.

WWE serves alcohol at their events, so fans are expected to be a little rowdy. That's the entire concept of Raw.

So what’s next? Banning wrestlers from going into the crowd? It’s possibly the answer WWE will come up with. I don’t see the issue with it, seeing as how it’s been done time and time again. No, the issue is Punk.

The thing I take away from this is that Punk has a short fuse and should probably lose the WWE Title very soon. He’s clearly not the guy who should be representing the company.

It’s ironic that WWE is doing a storyline about Daniel Bryan needing anger management classes when Punk seems to be the one with a short fuse.

He called out Chris Brown on Twitter earlier this year for abusing Rihanna. That one didn’t get Punk in any hot water because his verbal opponent was Chris Brown.

Then he told a fan on Twitter to kill himself, after the fan made a comment about gay marriage.

There was footage last year of Punk calling someone a homo at a house show in Adelaide.

After last night’s incident on Raw, I think it’s safe to say this is not the guy who should be representing the publicly traded company. As much as he bores me, John Cena is someone who can handle that position. You’d never see Cena involved in something like this.

Chris Jericho remained cool under pressure after getting hit with a glow stick at a house show.

He did what a proper heel should do. He created a moment, egging the fans on, encouraging them to throw their glow sticks at him. Why does he care if they want to throw the things they just shelled out $20 for?

CM Punk clearly likes to play the bad guy with the fans, but hitting a fan? Not just verbally challenging him, but hitting him twice? Even if the guy who actually did hit Punk had it coming, you don't provoke a fight in that environment -- with kids nearby.

What's worse is that the fan, who was attacked without cause, stood there, keeping his cool at the end of Raw. He looked like he wanted to stand up for himself, but he kept his cool -- even after Punk didn't. Kudos to him for that.

Maybe the fan who was attacked won’t lawyer up (if he does, I don’t blame him one bit) and he’ll take a sweet trip to Wrestlemania next year, allowing this whole thing to blow over. Whether or not WWE gets sued over this, I think Punk’s days as WWE Champion are numbered. A fine and/or suspension is coming his way.

If this were 1997 or 2000 or even 2005, then maybe that wouldn’t be the case.

It’s 2012, though, and WWE is all about being PG and promoting anti-bullying -- all while Linda McMahon is trying to get into the Senate in Connecticut.

In the current WWE environment, Daniel Bryan gets fired for ‘choking’ a ring announcer with a tie, Chris Jericho gets suspended for desecrating the Brazilian flag, and Abraham Washington gets fired for making a Kobe Bryant joke on Raw.

Agree with those situations or not, that’s the current WWE environment. If you’re going to represent the company, you can’t do things like that. As a member of society you shouldn’t do things like that, but when a million-dollar career is on the line and you’re the figurehead of WWE, you really shouldn’t be doing things like that.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Battleship - reviewed.

Don’t you just hate those dry periods for movie releases? It seems like it happens a few times a year when there’s no movies you anxiously want to see. That’s how it was the other day when I made a stop by the Redbox.

The Avengers DVD came out last week, but I already saw that in the theatres.

I spent a few minutes browsing through the selection of movies, but was having trouble finding something. Some of them didn’t even sound that bad, but they were all on the same level, so it was tough making a choice. When you’re in the mood to see a good movie, you don’t want to spend two hours watching something, only to find out that it’s a dud.

For lack of better options, I went with Battleship. I heard that it bombed in a big way at the theatres, but I remembered seeing previews and thinking it could be decent.

I was surprised to see that Gambit was in the movie.

I didn’t know the actor’s name, so I Googled him. Turns out his name is Taylor Kitsch – a Canadian model-turned-actor.

He was convincing as Lt. Alex Hopper, an all-in, goofball whose action before assessment way of life clashes with the organization and responsibility that being in the Navy requires. Adding to the rather random cast was Leam Neeson and Rihanna, in what I assume was her first big-screen acting role. I didn’t have any issues with anyone’s acting actually. Everyone was realistic and convincing for a film that centers on aliens invading Earth.

There were a couple of storyline faults. For example, why did the aliens want to destroy anything metal? Why didn’t the aliens seem to take mercy on the humans at times? Why did nobody try attacking the force field that surrounded the alien craft? It probably wouldn’t have worked, but if aliens ever did attack, I’d hope someone would at least attempt to break their barrier down.

If you're in an overly critical mood, then you may want to stay away from this one, but if you want to see a decent action hero-like flick with quality CGI and a story that involves rising to meet the challenge, no matter the odds, then check it out. There's been far worse movies -- the Expendables anyone? -- than this one.

I’m not sure why it bombed in the theatres because, beyond a few things like I listed above, it was a decent flick. Maybe it’s just that my expectations were so low that when it wasn’t a completely awful movie, it moved up a few notches?

Whatever the reason for my enjoyment, it was a $1.25 well spent. It’s possibly even a movie I’d buy if I saw it in a $5 or less bin at the store a few years from now.

Hopefully Taylor Kitsch can get a few hits under his belt because he seems to have what it takes to be a decent action star, but he's taken a lot of heat for the failure of this movie.

Related Content:
• Pink's The Truth About Love - reviewed.
• The Dark Knight Rises - reviewed.
• The Avengers - reviewed.