Sunday, July 29, 2012

Kotas Reviews The Dark Knight Rises

Charlotte and I saw "The Dark Knight Rises" today. I won't go into any deep detail, because most of those out there who read my stuff have already seen it. That said, there are probably spoilers in here, so just skip to the end for the final verdict.

The movie opens with some operatives from somewhere who drop the name Bane. The resulting hi-jinks, which are surprisingly slow paced, are supposed to set up the premise of the film: A mercenary named Bane is going to wreck shit, and he's an excellent planner. It does a reasonable job of this, and I liked the scene, but it just felt a bit too slow.

After that, the movie moves on to a Gotham City that is "cleaned up". Organized crime has been brought to heel by the Dent Act, and they are celebrating Harvey Dent Day. Commissioner Gordon has a troubled heart, wanting to confess to the lie he's held onto for 8 years, but finds that the time is not yet right. Batman (and Bruce Wayne) hasn't been seen since that fateful night at the end of "The Dark Knight"...

This is where the film really starts, and I feel that the beginning was a false opening, just given to set up some back story about the nuclear physicist, Dr. I'm Totally Dead Meat and show that Bane is "pretty bad ass". It works, but it feels a bit out of place. It also seems to be the only real misstep of the film. I'm confident that with a few changes of dialog the whole "nuclear scientist" bit could be cut without affecting the story of the film.

The rest of this is a loving goodbye letter to this franchise. We get more of what we expect, and then some. More cool toys (The Batpod returns, The Bat copter thing is freakin' awesome). More light social commentary on the nature of humanity (Bane's backstory, Selena Kyle's heists, the whole Robbery of the Stock Exchange sequence), More Gravely Bat Voice (okay, maybe not EVERYTHING is gold...). More amazing Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine. More, More, More, all culminating in the final exit that we've been expecting since Batman Begins. There are a TON of links back to that film in this one, along with several nice surprises and return cameos (I always enjoy Dr. Crane's antics), and this film shows the core of what the Nolan Batman is: Made of Determination and Persistence. This is not the Great Detective Batman, nor the Hyper Prepared Batman, nor the ultimate Combatant Dark Knight. This is the Batman that crawls inside himself to wrench the will to do what needs to be done out, often at great cost. Who returns from his losses, to finally Rise to be the hero that Gotham truly Needs.

It is not often that one gets to say that the first film of a trilogy is probably the "worst" one, but I think this is the case with the Nolan Batman Trilogy, not that any of these films are bad. While I think I like the Dark Knight better, this film is a worthy end. Sure, I enjoyed the Avengers more, but that's because I'm a Marvel Fanboy at heart, and I have my biases.

The Dark Knight Rises is a fantastic send-off to a character who brought Batman as Crime Story to the people, and made them love it. I give it 3 smiley faces on a scale of 5 frowny faces to 5 smiley faces. If you liked Batman Begins and the Dark Knight, do yourself a favor and go see this film.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Kotas Reviews Michelob Ultra Light Cider

So, it turns out that the Michelob company now makes a cider under their Ultra line called, surprisingly enough, Michelob Ultra Light Cider. Why is it Light you ask? Well, it uses Stevia as a sweetenerr and runs about 120 calories a bottle, which is apparently 60 calories less than usual. Who knew, right?

While grocery shopping, we found it at our local Wal-Mart (hey, don't judge) and decided to give it a whirl. Charlotte and I both enjoy a good hard apple cider now and again, and it is almost a perfect summertime beverage. And at $6.29 for a six pack, it was the cheapest cider available.

Most hard apple ciders are a nice golden yellow, and smell strongly of apples. This was decidedly paler, with a much fainter aroma of apples and something else that I took to be the Stevia. Charlotte turns to me and says "Hey, if this sucks, you'll drink the rest of it, right?" I assured her I would make it vanish if it was not to her tastes. We both cracked open a bottle and took a drink. It is almost, but not quite entirely unlike any other cider I've tasted. It is simultaneously too sweet and not sweet enough, and the flavor is what I would describe as "faint". It's not BAD per se, but it is very mild and the aftertaste it leaves is exceedingly chemically, though it is possible I'm just sensitive to Stevia. It tastes like someone once had a cider "a while back" and tried to make a version of it with whatever was on hand, rather than finding an actual recipe. What you get is something that is technically hard cider, but otherwise NOT apple cider.

I will probably be finishing the six pack, but I don't think I can recommend drinking this. It might be worth trying, if you are a cider fan, but if possible just get ONE because you will probably be disappointed. I suppose I'm sort of sad to see that the first foray into hard ciders (as far as I know) by the "big domestic brands" is so very lackluster. It's too sweet for beer lovers, and not sweet enough for alco-pop drinkers and cider drinkers. I give it 1 frowny face on a scale of 5 frowny faces to 5 smiley faces.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Kotas Reviews the Hacienda Casino

While on our way back from Hoover Dam, Jay steered us toward what he called a "locals" casino, the Hacienda. The Hacienda is definitely off the beaten path if you are in Las Vegas, but it is about 10 minutes from Hoover Dam. If you like history, this is yet another place to visit, but only if you are into gambling. The Hacienda has the lowest limits I've ever seen in a casino, with $3 a hand Blackjack, and $1 craps. The video poker was all full pay, but the place was pretty deserted except for what were clearly the "old regulars". Wheelchairs, canes, and walkers abounded and we were clearly the youngest people in the place by a margin of 10 or more years (with James Geiger being the youngest person to walk through the door in an age I bet).

We sidled up to the craps table, where an aged yet clearly experienced dealer was solo manning the craps table...which was blocked off to half a table due to the complete absence of anyone else playing. He had that "seen it all before" thousand yard stare and eyed us like we were in there to pull some sort of scam. Still, he was personable enough and was happy to take our money. Another older gentleman joined us as we began our run of the dice. "Making a fortune at the Hacienda, eh?" He quipped. The game was small, but it was fun, and when you can lose $2 and play for an hour, it's kind of awesome.

Having our fill of craps, we dropped our asses at the nearest blackjack table, manned by a seasoned veteran dealer. She gave us a tired, but reasonably friendly smile and we sat down to bet. The play continued through the shoe, and while she was shuffling she clearly felt comfortable with us, as she told some incredibly off color jokes. I was flabbergasted and just laughed slightly uncomfortably, because the jokes were funny, but really played into not good stereotypes. Still, she could shuffle cards perfectly with one riffle, leaving them perfectly interleaved. It was hypnotic to watch and frankly, I want to be as good at shuffling cards someday. After I lost a little bit of money, I decided to look for some video poker. At first I thought it wasn't very good, so I ended up playing nickel slots for about 20 minutes, while James was off playing some slot machine and winning $5 or so. As we were leaving, Jay informed me of my error in reading the paytables, so I missed out on some fine video poker. I got to get my souvenier chip from there, and we headed back to the Strip. Overall, I give the place 1.5 smiley faces on a scale of 5 frowny faces to 5 smiley faces. I enjoyed the low limits and the skill of the dealers, but the atmosphere was worn and a little depressing, and it was way out of the way. I'd go back, but only if I were going somewhere else along the way.

Kotas Reviews Cirque De Solei's "O"

I finally went to a show in Vegas. Dave's business partner got us a pretty damn good deal on tickets to see Cirque de Solei's "O" at the Bellagio. The discounted ticket was $100, which was not quite half off, but close to it. This should give you an idea as to how much the show cost (I was originally quoted $180).

The show was held at the Bellagio, so we got there early, hoping to grab some dinner before the show. We ended up in some food court area full of overly fancily named places that essentially translated to "adequate food at ridiculous prices!". It wasn't bad, but I don't think I got my money's worth. We eventually moved into the theater proper. Our seats were in an upper balcony along the long edge of the theater, meaning we had a good view of the lower theater seats a well as a high angled view of the stage. Dave, who had seen this show before, said that he liked these seats, because they do a lot of stuff in the theater seat area and he couldn't see any of it before. We were to have an excellent view of these shenanigans.

The show opens with a couple of clowns dressed as sailors (sort of) doing a routine where they push a giant life preserver around the audience. That's kind of fun. The show then starts to spin up as they send in some acrobats and performers to interact with the audience as a elaborate contraption is lowered from the ceiling into the middle of the arena, so a single acrobat can do a neat routine while suspended from it. Then they select a victim from the audience to pull up on stage to read the opening "turn of yo damn cell phone and no cameras" announcement. Then he gets yanked behind the curtain and the show begins!

I will not spoil the majority of the show, but it was absolutely fucking incredible. The acrobats were simply a joy to watch as they flipped, dove, and swung from various contraptions. The contortionists were mind boggling, and Todd commented that they were the best he's seen. The really awesome thing was the stage. For most of the show, it was UNDERWATER. That's right, the stage converted into a 10 ft. pool at times. From our vantage point we could see divers (in FULL DIVING GEAR) moving out of hidden tunnels to do various things and keep the performers safe and sound. They even showed up on stage at one point, for some reason. The story line of the show was...confusing to say the least. There were several "got ya" moments including some really long dives into the pool from somewhere above the stage, lots of flips and dives into the water...and then the stage would drain in a few minutes, leaving an almost entirely dry surface in about 20 seconds for the performers to skitter over...and then it would turn into the pool again!

I loved this show. It was probably the absolute peak of my vacation in Vegas. I give it a well deserved 5 smiley faces on a scale of 5 frowny faces to 5 smiley faces, and I recommend that anyone who travels to Vegas see that show, or one of the many other shows that they have running.