Thunderous Defeat for the Lakers

Welcome to the best round of playoff basketball. The second round is best because all 8 teams have won a series and therefore built up momentum and confidence. Also, you’ve gotten down to the best teams in the league who all (or most) feel like they have a legitimate chance to win a title. Also, there’s still 4 series going, so you usually get 2 playoff games a night. The same goes for the NFL Divisional Round of Playoffs–the second round is the best round of pro football, too.

Lakers Feel the Thunder

Russell Westbrook is Squirrely

Can This Man Be Trusted to Lead the Title Charge?

I wonder if the L.A. Lakers are having flashbacks. It was this stage of the playoffs last year when their 2-year reign as NBA champions came to an abrupt half. Then, it was a 4-game sweep at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks. In that series, the game were close, hard-fought contests, until the final game. Not so this time around.

This year, the Lakers’ second round began with a 119-90 trouncing in Oklahoma City. The OKC Thunder had a nice lead at halftime, but they really blew open the game in the 3rd Quarter. This simply was a blowout. A lot was made of the fact that the Thunder did this without having extraordinary nights from anyone, getting to 119 while Durant/Westbrook scored their combined average. That was a product of the blowout, where backups played the 4th quarter for OKC. Had Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook played the full game, their stat lines would have been gaudy.

It’s Only One Game

Still, you never know about a series when an ex-champion is involved. This is going back a ways, but the 1985 NBA Finals began with a 148-114 destruction of the Lakers by the world champion Boston Celtics, only to have the Lakers win 4 of the next 5 convincingly. The point being, these things happen. I already predicted a Thunder victory, but that doesn’t mean the Lakers aren’t dangerous. But things don’t look good after one game. The Thunder look like they’ve matured into a young powerhouse and they have the willpower and the firepower to do real damage in these NBA Playoffs. The Lakers have to find a way to make this a different series.

You can say if the Thunder only have 4 turnovers in a game, they’re probably going to win. One of their weaknesses the past several years has been turnovers, but not tonight. I don’t think the Lakers are quick enough on the perimeter to change that equation, though four turnovers is a bit of a fluke. Kobe Bryant obviously has to do more than put in a pedestrian 20 points, but this series only turns around if Andrew Bynum and Pao Gasol seize a big advantage down low.

The Thunder simply look better right now, but the Lakers only need 1 game in OKC to make this series look a whole lot different. The question the Lakers have to ask themselves: can (or will) Russell Westbrook keep this up for a whole series? We all know Kobe and Kevin show up every night. So what Westbrook and the Lakers’ bigs do moving forward makes the difference in this series.

One final note: the Lakers may have come in off the Game 7 win a little physically and emotionally fatigued. I guess it goes without saying, but we didn’t see their best game.

Sixers Even the Series 1-1

First of all, it’s cool to be talking about a Celtics-76ers showdown. Second, it’s cool that the Sixers have actually made a series of it. I’d kind of penciled in the Celtics as the automatic challenger of the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. I still assume that applies, but the Philadelphia 76ers have made a nice accounting of themselves so far. In fact, the Celtics were lucky to escape in Game 1. They didn’t escape in Game 2. This series could easily have the Sixers up 2-0 right now.

Eminent Churchillians by Andrew Roberts

Eminent Churchillians is a 1994 revisionist history from English conservative author and historian, Andrew Roberts. The book is about the friends and enemies of Winston Churchill, focusing heavily on Churchill’s time as British Prime Minister in the beginning stages of World War II. These are a collection of essays about leaders and private people in the United Kingdom in the 1930s, 1940s, and beyond. In particular, I want to focus on two of the essays.

Lord Mountbatten and the Perils of Adrenaline

Andrew Roberts on Eminent Churchillians

I First Saw Andrew Roberts on CSpan’s BookTV

The first essay I wanted to discuss was “Lord Mountbatten and the Perils of Adrenaline”, an 81-page essay in which Andrew Roberts deconstructs the myth of Lord Louis Mountbatten. Louis Mountbatten was a member of the royal family who served as naval captain in the British Royal Navy, First Sea Lord, and Chief of the Defense Staff. Perhaps most famously, Lord Mountbatten was the last British viceroy of India. He presided over the ending of the Raj and the partition of Colonial India between the modern-day states of India and Pakistan (which in turn became Pakistan and Bangladesh). It should be noted that Lord Mountbatten was a noted liberal in his outlook, so part of Andrew Roberts’ purpose might be to poke holes in a liberal figure.

The essay begins with a discussion of Lord Mountbatten’s naval career, which (according to Roberts) involved several incidents involving recklessness–that is, running his ships faster than mandated by the Royal Navy–which caused deaths of crewmen. Despite this, Lord Mountbatten used his connections to move up the hierarchy, to the point he was a respected naval officer at the outbreak of World War II. How respected is somewhat in question. The upshot of Andrew Roberts’ argument is that Mountbatten was unqualified for the post of Indian viceroy. This led to decisions where he favored the Hindus over the Muslim residents of the Indian sub-continent. This led to a situation where the Indians wanted to retain the whole territorial expanse of the British Raj, but the Islamic peoples wanted their own state. When Lord Mountbatten got to India, he almost immediately announced a date (18 months later) when the British would leave India.

Andrew Roberts (and historical sources) argue that this announcement undercut British authority, because both sides knew they could wait out the British. It also created a scramble for power. Those holding power were willing to resort to mass murder to keep it, while those outside of power would stop at nothing to seize control of their region, thus exacerbating the situation. This led to the tragic events of August 1947, when hundreds of thousands of people on both sides were murdered. Because of Mountbatten’s recklessness, a partition became inevitable and bloodshed which could have been prevented wasn’t.

The essay goes on to cover the next 25-30 years as an attempt by Mountbatten to justify his actions, slander those who would tell the story another way, and rewrite history. To Andrew Roberts, even Lord Mountbatten’s death in a bombing by the IRA while on vacation in Ireland was his own fault. Apparently, Lord Mountbatten was warned not to take his annual vacation in Ireland, especially after having published his itinerary and location. As always, he was mindless of the advice and thus was bound to be murdered–along with the murder and maiming of several family members also on the boat.

It’s a harsh estimation of Lord Mountbatten’s career. I’m not sure that it’s entirely accurate, but it makes me want to read more on the subject. This book also convinced me to read more about the dual history of India and Pakistan, which I’ll write more about in the future.

The Tories versus Winston Churchill

In this 72-page essay on the first months of Winston Churchill’s first reign as prime minister, Andrew Roberts turns his pen against his own party: specifically the Tories who followed Neville Chamberlain. This account is better sourced, since it makes great use of the personal diaries and journals of prominent Tories of the 1940s (and their wives). This is an excellent essay, if you want an account of how the British establishment viewed Churchill when he took power in May 1940.

Andrew Roberts does a fine job of correcting the image that Churchill had the unqualified support of the British people during this period. In fact, Churchill’s position was precarious. Neville Chamberlain remained the leader of the conservative majority, which owned two-thirds of the seats. These Tories viewed Churchill as a genius, but also a wild man. They were convinced his judgment was unsound and were certain his adventures would get England in more trouble than it already was. These people also tended to believe Churchill’s time as premier would be short, when the MPs who put him there realized their mistake.

It’s worth noting that Winston Churchill himself makes reference to the fact that in his early weeks as prime minister, the Tories sat on their hands and the only ones enthusiastic about his appearances in Parliament were the Labour and Liberal MPs, though they were supposedly Churchill’s opposition. It should be mentioned that Churchill had formed a “National Government”, meaning Labour members like Clement Atlee served in the government. Also, Churchill had been a member of the Liberal party from the early 1900s to the 1920s. He had “ratted” to become a Liberal, then “re-ratted” to become a Conservative once more. No wonder the Tories didn’t trust the man, though their main complaints were his disastrous decisions in World War I (see Galipoli), his seemingly bellicose calls for rearmament in the run-up to WWII, and his criticism of the Chamberlain government over things like the Munich Agreement and the Polish guarantee.

Anyway, I found this illuminating, though I had been exposed to these attitudes before in John Lucaks Five Days in London, May 1940–which also contains chapters where you see what private citizens of the United Kingdom thought of Churchill’s ascension and the horrible news from the Battle of France, which was raging as Churchill gained the PM position.

Review of Eminent Churchillians

I found this to be a thought-provoking book, though it was enough of a polemic that I would urge anyone reading to take it less as gospel than as one piece of a larger puzzle. I’m not British and I’m not a conservative, so it’s hard to understand some of Andrew Roberts’ vitriol against Lord Mountbatten. The British were determined to get out of India at “no later than 1948″, because they were out of money. I’m certain better viceroys could have been found, the same problem would have remained: everyone knew England was getting out, and getting out soon. The British Empire was bankrupt, so they no longer had the power or the will to knock heads together in India. Maybe solutions could have been found had the British had one more year to work with and a better, more even-handed viceroy. Given the bloody nature of Indian-Pakistani politics since, I can’t assign all the blame to Lord Mountbatten.

As for the Tories in England in 1940, I view it as a study in how people can be entirely convinced, and entirely wrong. Long after it should have been obvious that Neville Chamberlain’s policies were a disaster for Britain, these people continued to believe he was the right man for the job and would be the eventual savior of the British people. Their assumptions remind me of many of the assumptions of America in the early 21st century, but that’s as close as I’ll get to that subject. My advice: read Eminent Churchillians by Andrew Roberts and compare those times to our own.

X-Men Anime – DVD Review

So I watched the first three episodes of the X-Men Anime last night. I’d never seen this program when it originally aired, because I’m pretty sure I don’t get whatever network it airs on (G4, a real shame).

Let me say this is the real thing, not some made-to-look-like-anime but really just American-style animation story. It’s full-bore Japanese madness, but with recognizable X-Men characters. The opening sequence has Jean Grey going all-Phoenix in a scene that reminded me of Akira.

X-Men Anime - Beast, Armor, Emma Frost

Three Guesses Who the Busty Woman Is. I Do Like Beast’s Stylish Jacket.

If you don’t like the slower frame rates and slowly-paced storylines of anime, you won’t like this. Everyone from Cyclops to Professor X broods. Many tend to overreact by American standards, such as when Professor Xavier is calming all the frightened little X-Men children, then notices he can’t read the mind of one of the children. He stops down with a mental gasp and begins to zone out from his calming lecture to the children. It’s great.

But before I go too far, let me spell out where I’m coming from anime-wise.

My Anime Scouting Report

My anime bona fides are pretty typical. I love anime, at least the anime I love. Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, and Samurai 7 are some of the finest things in the world, but I can’t think of anything too exotic I enjoy. Gunslinger Girl introduced me to The Delgados. Full-Metal Alchemist I really enjoyed, except for the ending and the movie–neither of which did much for me. Hellsing was great.

As for the American comics/tv forays into anime, I haven’t liked much of it. The Batman anime was only so-so and could have been so much better. The Witchblade anime I could hardly sit through. (Sara Pezzini was replaced by Masane Amaha, who I seem to recall had a child, and that child cried a lot.) The Supernatural anime was missing something essential and Supernatural is my absolute favorite tv show right now. So that’s where I come from anime-wise, what I’d consider an average fan.

X-Men Anime Random Thoughts

I have to say I like what I’ve seen so far. Here are some random thoughts I had while watching these three episodes. I’m pretty sure the whole season/series is on this one disk, so that’s nice.

  • If you ever thought Cyclops was brooding and overwrought before, you haven’t seen nothing yet. Anime-Cyclops is in a league all his own.
  • You never see Wolverine trying to go through a metal detector in Marvel Comics. It kind of makes you wonder why he’d even try. You have to ask yourself why he gets angry enough to pop his claws when they give him trouble, especially post-9/11.
  • Anime-Wolverine is quite at home in this setting. It’s like he’s got a stipulation in his contract that he gets to pop his claws at least once in every scene. They really play up his and Scott’s dislike, but that only seems to grow over time, anyway.
  • At least in her first solo scene, Anime-Storm seemed to have a whimsical quality I don’t remember from the comics. That rakish little trick with her hat had me in stitches. I found it more stylish than I’m used to from Ororo.
  • By the way, Anime-Storm looks a lot like Halle Berry. I wonder why?
  • This is old news, but The Beast has that new funny animal look I hate so much. I understand it’s character development to have him go through another mutation, but I just wish it was a cooler or more menacing looking mutation. Even in the most serious situations, I look at Hank McCoy and think of Dr. Seuss.
  • Especially during the battle with the delivery boy mutant (but to a lesser degree, other times), Anime-Cyclops‘s laser blast appears to be somewhat like the Wave-Motion Gun. I think it’s an improvement.
  • Anime-Emma Frost doesn’t quite have the same look as her classic incarnation, but she embodies the three qualities the White Queen should have: pouty, busty, and slightly aristocratic. “Aristocratic” might not be the best term for someone whose costume is underwear, but I mean somewhat regal in bearing, but with a hint of decadence. The term hellfire club originally meant a secret society for persons of high breeding to engage in immoral acts, after all.
  • I liked how they introduced Emma, with her connection to Hisako Ichiki, aka Armor. Anime-Armor is really young, wears the requisite Japanese schoolgirl outfit, and has the just-as-requisite bangs. She cries a lot, but that’s not out of place in this production. You get one scene where an X-Men kills another mutant, and both of them are weeping over that fact.

X-Men vs U-Men

Beast from the X-Men as You've Never Seen Him

The X-Men’s Beast as You’re Never Seen Him Before

The U-Men were turned into classic anime villains, too. They seemed to embody moral decay–just a bedraggled, dissolute lot. One of them prattled on about how data collecting was the key to battle. Another sipped wine while he spied on the X-Men with his cameras, commenting to himself, “I will have to pay you a visit one day, Professor X”. Still another calmed the others by claiming their science was all they needed to defeat the X-Men. Their one wiry old leader had the shaggy hair that only a moral degenerate would wear, at least when it’s combined with a pseudo-military outfit.

I loved this one preview for a next episode: “Todd, a leading mad scientist with the U-Men, attacks.

Todd proved to be one hell of an opponent, too. My favorite line of his was, “Organs! Organs!

This was followed by Emma Frost trying to get inside of his mind, then (wisely) hesitating to do so. Her reasoning was sound: “He’s completely lost his mind.”

Early Review

As I said, I like what I’ve seen so far. It’s different. After so many X-Men tv series, that’s not easy to do. I can’t wait to see the anime version of all the X-Men’s opponents, as it appears they’ll show up from the end credits. Stay tuned for further reports on the X-Men Anime.

5 History Book Recommendations

It’s been my intention to write some book reviews as I went along. One of my favorite hobbies is to read history books. These range all over the field, including the 19th century, the medieval period, and the big wars of the 20th century. In recent years, I’ve tackled American history in earnest, hoping to understand this crazy story of ours. I’ve also begun a study of Asian history, though I find it tougher sledding because of the vast length of their histories and difficulty remembering names.

Book Recommendations - Judgment of Paris, Distant Mirror, The RetreatWhen I say that, I think people assume I’m a complete novice instead of an amateur historian who’s been at it for a while, but I just don’t want to represent myself as more than I am. For instance, I’d read a couple of books about India and wanted to know more, so I bought a book about the India-Pakistan split/rift. At the checkout counter, the guy at the cashier, who was South Asian, said, “Oh, you like reading about India.

I replied, “I’d like to learn more, but the names sometimes give me trouble.” He looked at me disdainfully and dismissively, like I was a moron who was just learning to read. But I just didn’t want to represent myself as some kind of expert when I wasn’t.Maybe he was hitting on me or something and didn’t like my negative reply–who can say.

Anyway, point being, I’m no expert, but I have read a lot of history and here are a few books I’d recommend, if you have similar tastes in historical reading.

History with a Personal Touch

These days, I feel like I know the broad outlines of history. Therefore, I prefer reading about people’s individual experiences in a particular age.

  • The Judgment of Paris by Ross King – About the 1860s and 1870s in France, when Impressionists like Edouard Manet were struggling to gain acceptance and now largely-forgotten Ernest Meissonier stood atop the French painting scene like a Colossus.
  • Berlin Diary by William Shirer – Written from a CBS correspondent during the early years of Nazi Germany. Told from the perspective of a clear-eyed reporter with access to fairly high levels of power. William Shirer, who went on to write Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, was sometimes right on in his assumptions, and sometimes way off base. It’s fascinating to see what a person living through the times thought and felt.
  • The Retreat: Hitler’s First Defeat by Michael K Jones- This sounds like a standard war book of generals and world leaders, and it certainly has those elements in it. Mostly, you get first-hand accounts of what the front line soldiers went through in the first half-year of the Nazi-Soviet war on the Eastern Front. This starts in June 1941 when Hitler invades, focuses on the Nazi’s first reverse outside Moscow, and the harsh decisions made in the battles which followed. The action leaves off in February/March 1942. If you want to know how the soldiers lived and the human impact, there’s no better book.
  • A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara Tuchman – Discusses the Black Plague of 1348-1349, its aftermath, and the years of the Hundred Years War between France and England. What you get is a sense of the seismic shift in attitudes and social mores when 1/3rd of the population suddenly dies. The Black Death was an awful period of human history, but it also opened the door for the changes that occured in Europe in the following centuries. The Bubonic Plague plunged Europe into a new age of darkness, but it also propelled Europe out of the feudal system and the medieval world. Those forced to read the Canterbury Tales get to see the world which inspired Geoffrey Chaucer.
  • The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat in Medieval France by Eric Jager – From the same time period, a historical account of the last court-mandated death duel in the history of France. This story takes several obscure figures of the 14th century and makes a riveting account of power, the abuse of power, and the settling of old scores. It’s amazing how little the world has changed since 1386. Imagine a duel to the death involving an accused rape. If the accused wins, the lady who accused him will be burned at the stake.

Anyway, this was supposed to be an introduction to the book I want to review, Eminent Churchillians by Andrew Roberts, but I’m out of time for the day. So I guess you get book recommendations for now. Tomorrow, I discuss recent revisionist history.

Big Applause for Private Karaoke Rooms

My girlfriend and I went to a private karaoke bar in North Dallas last Saturday night. This was the second time we went to this place and I wanted to recommend others give these places a try in their hometowns. Because the private karaoke rooms are big in Japan and Korea, they tend to be springing up in the ole USofA under Asian management. I applaud the effort. As far as I know, two of them exist in DFW: Zellar Zone and Family Karaoke. There may be more, for all I know.

Private Karaoke Rooms

Family Karaoke Private Singing Rooms

This Is One of the Large Rooms at Family Karaoke

Family Karaoke is the place we went to. The name is a bit of a misnomer, because it’s open from 6pm until 4am and I’ve never seen anything resembling a family in the place. On Fridays, Saturdays, and holidays, it’s 21 and up after midnight. Both times I went, Family Karaoke was full of 20-something clientele. In fact, it’s an odd mixture of twenty-something Asians and Asian-Americans and twenty-something Texans who look like they either came from a club or came from a frat house. Music is split between English, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Filipino, Indonesia, Russian, and Spanish. I’m taking their word for it on the last several of those. More on this in a minute.

The place itself is at 11433 Goodnight Lane a block off Stemmons/I-35. It’s not that far from Harry Hines, if you know what that means. The first time we went, I got completely lost, mainly because I didn’t read the billboard. Just turn at the Family Karaoke billboard. And if it’s down a dead end street, you’ve found it.

Karaoke Room Rates

Room rates on Friday, Saturday, or holidays is $25 per hour for a small room, $32 an hour for a medium room, and $45 an hour for a large room. Those rates change to $20/$25/$35 on Tuesday through Thursday and on Sunday. The place is closed on Mondays.

As for the rooms, the small room is enough for 5-10 people. It has 3 loveseat type couches and another leather chair. I saw into one of the large rooms one night and it’s big enough for 30 people–it was a big party event going on in there. The room rates may sound like a lot, but when you start talking about a bunch of people chipping in, it’s almost nothing.

Karaoke Music Selection

The music is where my only real complaint lies, which is a big complaint for a karaoke bar. While a lot of American songs are found on the playlist, they tend to be eclectic in the extreme. Many bands you wouldn’t expect to see have 5-10 selections, while many artists and bands you would expect to see a bunch of songs from have only 1-3. Also, the songs included aren’t always the ones you would expect. Look at the songlist on the website before you go and make sure you’ll be able to enjoy the selection. If you like country tunes, I suggest you stay away. It’s mainly rock, pop, r&B, and rap.

I had no problem finding songs to sing, but my girlfriend has a small set list of songs she likes and she doesn’t want to take the trouble to search for alternatives, so she’s been at a loss for songs after about an hour both times we went. I have a big list I use every time, though I branch out into new tunes when I get bored with staring at the list.

The Korean music videos are hilarious. As you sing, random Korean music videos play. These sometimes go perfect with the song, while other times they make no sense whatsoever. Some Korean movie about soldiers going through basic training and then dying in battle were playing while Maria was singing that godawful Celine Dion song from Titanic.

Food and Drink

One thing which surprised me was how good their food was. My girlfriend and I had gone to the gym earlier that day and had a light snack afterward, so we ended up getting the munchies after a couple of hours of wailing away. I got the tempura shrimp and she got a fried rice dish and they were both excellent. Mixed drinks are fairly limited on selection, but are available. All the usual beers apply, including domestic and imported beer. I’m not sure when the food service ends, but I ordered something after 1am.

Family Karaoke Main Room and Bar

The main room/waiting room at Family Karaoke has a huge screen tv which dominates the room. Hip hop videos play on the screen all the time. There’s a bit of room for dancing if people wish, as well as $3 per song for karaoke in the common room, but I’ve never seen that, either. Most of the room is taken up by tables between the bar and dance screen.

The Staff

The staff is mostly Asian and altogether friendly. The security staff are large men of African American descent. As I mentioned before, much of the clientele is Asian, too, but everyone feels welcome. It’s a nice place to be and feels about as multicultural as you get in Dallas, Texas. Parking can be a pain and signs are posted mentioning that one of the businesses next door has you towed, while the other one is cool about people parking in their lot after 10pm. Be sure you don’t park in the wrong additional parking spot.

Why Go To a Private Karaoke Bar?

You might wonder why my girlfriend and I would go 2-man to a private karaoke bar. Well, she used to sing for money when she was a little younger, so she is a perfectionist. We went out to a couple of karaoke nights at regular bars and she didn’t like her performance. Me, the amateur, got a better reception, so she wanted to practice. Little does she know that being a GM for many years and doing all kinds of wacky voices has helped me train my voice in a roundabout fashion. Frankly, I like singing with all the other drinkers, but I’m just along for the ride. Still, if you get tired of only having 2-4 songs per night at a big karaoke bar, you might like getting a room to yourself.

My voice is always shot after two hours, which is a good thing. You can only reserve the room for 2 hours at a time. If you don’t have a big crowd (people in line), they’ll let you continue with no trouble. If you have a crowd, it’s two hours and that’s it. The first time we went, it was the cold of February and the house was packed. This last weekend, it was Cinco de Mayo and nobody was around. Go figure.

Whatever the case, I highly recommend the private karaoke bar. It’s a hoot.

Avengers Movie Review

My friends and I went to see The Avengers movie on Sunday. It was all I could have hoped for.

The packed house gave the film the rare dynamic of having the audience laugh and applause along with the action. As you might expect, The Hulk got the most laughs. I’ve decided the Hulk is better on a team. Those Hulk movies were so grim and dour, though it probably didn’t help to have a seemingly suicidal Nick Nolte and his killer poodles in that first Hulk film. The crowd was so large that our group had to sit half a theater apart from each other, because we ate at Pappadeaux’s before and ended up arriving a little too late. The theater was hot from too many people packed in one room, but I enjoyed it anyway.

Avengers Movie Review - Hulk, Iron-Man, Captain AmericaAdding to the scene was the fact I ended up sitting next to a New Yorker and his teenage son. The son gave his own narration throughout the film. He was a little slow, so I wasn’t annoyed like I normally might have been.

When I say comments, let me give a couple of examples. For instance, on a couple of occasions when Captain America was sneaking up on something or skulking down a corridor, the kid would blurt out, “What are you doing, Captain America?

Then when Thor and Loki had their first encounter and Thor was listing Loki’s various crimes against Asgard and Earth, at a pause, the kid said quite loudly, “Destroy Him!” The father kept shushing the kid, so it really only added to the moment. I’ll say this, too. When the villain in the credits appeared, that kid knew all about the guy. He knew who/what the villain worshipped and which Marvel Comics group he was associated with. I’d rather hear comments from that person than the one who keeps asking who Hawkeye is.

Things I Liked about the Avengers

  • The characterization of Captain America. Cap was exactly as you’d expect. He was old-fashioned without beating people over the head with it.
  • The Hulk’s interaction with Loki was classic comics fun.
  • The Hulk smashing everything. That was good.
  • Mark Ruffalo was good as Bruce Banner. I’ve never been a big Mark Ruffalo fan, but I thought he did an excellent job as Banner. He seemed disheveled and aged prematurely, but he seemed to have matured from his solo movies (where he was played by Eric Bana and Edward Norton, of course).
  • The Black Widow’s interaction with Loki. Excellent stuff.
  • Loki. Tom Hiddleston had a lot more to work with here, but he was a lot more entertaining than in the Thor movie. You got the idea he was really evil, instead of simply whining about his parentage like he did in Thor. You also got the idea Loki really loves being rotten, despite the bitterness. Hiddleston conveyed the mad glee of Loki a couple of times, without cackling and all that nonsense.
  • The introduction of next movie’s villain. If that’s who we get, I’ll like it. It’s not one I would have assumed, but it has my whole-hearted approval. For spoilers purposes, I’ll say no more.
  • Robert Downey Jr was good, as always. Iron-Man was a key member without overwhelming the scene.
  • The subtlety of Loki’s manipulation on the heli-carrier. As the team argues with one another, we see the gem on Loki’s staff glowing. Most other comic book movies, they would practically have had a flashing pointer saying, “Loki is causing them to fight, folks.” That being said, one in our group didn’t pick up on what was happening and simply thought the Avengers were all being jerks to one another.
  • I enjoyed the small touches that continued stories from earlier films, such as the inclusion of Pepper Potts and the mention that Jane Foster had been taken to safety. I wondered aloud whether The Avengers producers had to pay Natalie Portman for her image. Or are those kind of tidbits included in the original contract? I’d appreciate anyone who knows giving me the answer.

Things I Didn’t Like about the Avengers

  • Jeremy Renner didn’t don the Hawkeye mask even once. Did the production team just not find a good time to have that happen, or was this the Stallone-in-Judge Dredd thing where the star doesn’t want to lose face time. Surely not.
  • Too much CGI. This almost goes without saying. The Chitauri foot soldiers reminded me of the Marro from Heroscape, but I liked their use of flying chariots and those large insectoid looking ships looked cool on screen. Still, it was a little too much confusion. While it’s good to show the confusion of battle, it doesn’t make for the best watching experience.
  • Some of the action was over-edited. For instance, Thor vs Loki looks like black/red versus green/gold at times. You couldn’t see what was happening, which is an annoying trend in action scenes. That doesn’t give a sense of action, but simple confusion. Pull away and show us what’s happening, directors. (My friends tell me it’s the editors’ faults, not the directors, but you know what I mean.)

All in all, The Avengers was a good movie watching experience and I’d recommend it to anyone. It’s amazing what happens when the script is written by someone who enjoys the original source material and understands why people love this stuff. It’s been my observation that superhero movies which capture the essence of a comic book have been successful, while those that have tried to deviate from the formula have failed miserably. For instance, when the Spider-Man movies did well, I’m convinced Fantastic Four executives told themselves, “That was a hit because it had a romance. We have to have romantic tension in our movies.” So Dr. Doom becomes a romantic rival of Reed Richards, which is completely freaking awful. It completely ruins the character. Instead, they should have realized the first two Spider-Man movies essentially retold the early stories of Spider-Man, which hooked readers nearly 50 years ago and has kept people coming back ever since.

The Avengers movie was, in essence, a distillation of what always made the Avengers great. It was the most powerful heroes in the Marvel Universe combined with the finest, most skilled members in the Marvel Universe. These were ill-fitting parts, but they combined to make an unstoppable team.

NBA Playoffs 2nd Round Looms – Will Youth Be Served?

Despite the success of the San Antonio Spurs, LA Lakers, and Boston Celtics in the 1st round of the NBA Playoffs, I suspect 2012 represents a changing of the guard in the National Basketball Association. You’ll always have veteran teams trying to hang on and younger squads seeking to break through, but the experienced teams usually have the better of it in the NBA. I’m saying 2012 is the year the young teams break through and the older teams start heading into the night.

Eastern Conference

The inevitable is going to happen in the East. The Miami Heat dispatch with everyone in their path. Because of the Derrick Rose injury, the Bulls expected challenge of the Heat’s supremacy is going to have to wait at least a year. Instead, we’re likely to see the Boston Celtics facing the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics are no more prepared to win that battle in ’12 than they were last year, so the Heat cruise to the finals. The Western Conference looks a whole lot more interesting this year, though I would like to have seen what happened if Rose and Noah had stayed healthy (and to a much lesser extent, Dwight Howard for the Magic).

You might not view the Miami Heat as a young team and it’s certainly problematic. But despite two trips to the NBA Finals, Lebron James is still trying to break through. Until he wins championship #1 or until he’s 30 years old, I’ll consider Lebron James-led teams to be one of the young, hungry teams. I suspect this is the last year the Heat fit in that category.

Western Conference

OKC Thunder versus LA Lakers in the NBA Playoffs

The Thunder Celebrates being Touted by the Jamie Wild Blog

In the West, you have old lions in the Lakers and the Spurs vying with the young lions in the Thunder, Clippers, and Grizzlies. With the Clippers up 2-1 on the Grizzlies and playing at home in Game 4, you have to give the Clippers an advantage, but it’s a young team going through the playoffs together for the 1st time, so that series could (and probably should) end up long and taxing. If the Grizzlies won, it wouldn’t surprise me. But let’s assume the Clippers win. They’ll get the ageless Spurs for a classic battle of old versus new. Maybe it’s because I’m from Dallas and I hate the whiny Spurs (insert picture of Tim Duncan pleading with the refs) from all those battles with the Mavericks, but I imagine anyone who isn’t a Spurs fan pulling against them, just tired to see these guys still hanging around. I bet the Clippers have their moments and even look like they’re going to take it once or twice, but the Spurs ending up winning in the end.

That brings us to the Lakers-Thunder showdown. This is going to be the marquee matchup of the 2nd round. The Oklahoma Thunder which now expects to advance to the Western Conference Finals versus the LA Lakers with Andrew Bynum helping Kobe to make one more run, but without Derrick Fisher and Lamar Odom (and Phil Jackson). Then there’s the fact Derrick Fisher is going to be suiting up against his old team, though Fisher isn’t the starter, so it’s more of a subplot. I predict the Thunder win this series in a hard-fought, bitter battle. The Lakers won’t go easy, but they’ll go.

In fact, I wonder if the Thunder aren’t going to the Finals this year. Maybe it’s wishful thinking. Despite their thumping my hometown Mavericks, I enjoy watching the Oklahoma Thunder. They’re the next nearest NBA team since I live about 10 miles from Oklahoma (poor me), so you find more Thunder fans around here than anything else. Plus, there’s no way you’ll find me rooting for the Lakers or Spurs. So maybe this is wishful thinking, but Kevin Durant & Company have paid their dues, the lost at the conference finals level last year, and the natural next step is the NBA Finals.

I can’t imagine actually cheering on Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli. I respect those guys, but it’s not the kind of respect which translates to cheers. The Spurs seem to have found the fountain of youth, but it helps having built their depth up in the offseason. Tiago Splitter, Gary Neal, and Stephen Jackson all bring something, so this isn’t just a three-man show anymore. Man, I hope we don’t see Lakers/Heat or Lakers/Spurs, because I’d probably have to change my longstanding policy and go for one of those western teams. Maybe I’d just sit that one out.

Post-Script on the Mavs Title Defense

By the way, Mark Cuban is officially an idiot for letting Tyson Chandler and JJ Barrera walk out the door. Well, maybe it’s not official yet, but it will be when Daron Williams snubs the Mavericks in free agency two months from now. Seldom has an NBA champion conspired such much on its own downfall. It’s not at the level of the Bulls’ Jerry Reinsdorf and Jerry Krause at the end of the Jordan Years, but it’s the worst case of arrogant assumptions by the champ leading to bad personnel decisions since then.