Month: July 2011

bring on the new batman

I’m a comic-book geek and I love super heroes. Maybe not as much as my sister does, but I like the idea of super heroes. Or maybe I like superhero movies and I love the villains. I think if I had to be in a comic book movie, I’d want to be the bad guy. They always seem to have more fun.

The first super hero movie I remember watching as a kid was Superman: The Movie, followed by Superman II. Those films were awesome for their time (and still are today) and  not only did Lois Lane make me want to be a reporter, I loved how the comic came to life on the big screen.

Then came Batman and that changed everything. And I’m talking about the classic Batman movie directed by Tim Burton, which for the flaws that it had (such as the fact that Batman never swooped, flew, jumped around, crouched or turned his head) was an awesome film. The sequels, like most sequels were OK, but not as good. Batman Forever had potential, but it was too colorful and too loud and campy with the villains, Two-Face and The Riddler trying to outdo each other. (And let’s just pretend that Batman & Robin never happened, alright?)

And now we have the Christopher Nolan movies. I liked Batman Begins. It told a good back-story and set things up for future movies, but The Dark Knight, as good as Heath Ledger was as The Joker, was more flawed that Burton’s Batman. For all the people who criticized Tim Burton’s version, they seem to not want to mention that Nolan’s interpretation was more of a crime drama with a guy who paints his face and another guy who runs around in a bat costume.

In the comics, The Joker came to be because of a chemical accident, not as a bank robber who uses war paint to scare people. Losing a huge part of the back story of one of the greatest villains of all time was a mistake. And the fact that Gotham City looks too much like Chicago (they made little or no attempt to hide the fact that Gotham has a Chase Bank and Starbucks on LaSalle Street… just like Chicago does) took away from the “escape” factor that Burton’s Batman had.

In the 1989 Batman, Gotham was a creepy, art-deco city with looming buildings and hardly a trace of sunshine. It set the tone for a comic book movie and raised the bar. And I know that Nolan is/was going for a more realistic version of Batman, but it’s still a comic book movie and there should be that element in it.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m looking forward to the new Dark Knight Rises movie, but I’m also looking forward to the eventual reboot of the series again.  Bringing in a new director, new look and keeping it closer to the Batman from the comics, complete with creepy gothic Gotham City, a Joker whose back-story is told like it is in The Killing Joke (one of the best graphic novels ever written, by the way) and the true escape into a living, breathing comic book feeling that a super hero movie should have.

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hard rock casino coming to atlantic city

It’s amazing how a little bit of good news can really turn my day around. Just on Monday I was complaining about how Atlantic City was in a tail spin and I wondered how long it would last.  And now it seems I have an answer: at least a few more years — and then some.

The Hard Rock International (the folks behind that famous restaurant with all the guitars on the wall) announced that they will in fact go ahead with plans to build a casino hotel on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. If all goes well, it will be finished and opened by spring of 2014.

This is great news for A.C. because Hard Rock is a big name and it will (hopefully) bring in big entertainment. And while Hard Rock Atlantic City will be a smaller-scale hotel/casino compared to the massive Borgata that opened in 2003 and the Revel which opens next year, it’s still a sign of good things to come.

But I’ve learned not to get my hopes up. Many casinos have talked about moving into the Atlantic City area and have never shown up. Pinnacle is just the latest along with MGM Grand, but the Hard Rock is a step in the right direction and will hopefully help stimulate things.  And it makes me happy to see that my “downtown city” is hanging in there.

yes, it’s hot. we get it

It must be either a slow news day or local media are going for the quick and easy sell. As temperatures here in Toronto reach the 95°F mark, every major media outlet from CTV to Global and the even The Toronto Star and Toronto Sun are jumping on the “it’s hot outside” bandwagon.

Naturally there are the expected side stories about ways to keep cool, how your pet feels the heat, if you can cook food inside your car and how air conditioning units are selling like – pardon the pun – hot cakes.

While everyone with a pulse is aware of how hot it is, it’s amazing how the media seems to think that nobody knows this. That’s why it’s the lead story everywhere, prompting me to wonder if nobody has criticized Rob Ford in the last seven hours for making cuts or if anyone got shot. (Those are normally the lead stories in this city.)

Hearing about how hot it is certainly doesn’t help the situation and frankly I’m tired of everyone bitching about it. Because we all know that in seven months from now everyone will complain about how cold and miserable it is.

Except me. I have central air and heat.

will atlantic city die?

When I was growing up, to me, Atlantic City was “downtown”. For a lot of South Jersey folks, Philadelphia is the “big city” where you go for a good time. But for me, I called “America’s Favorite Playground” the big city. And why not? It had bright lights, tall buildings, a bustling downtown, and everyone wanted to go there.  I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to be able to play my first game of Blackjack or pull the slot machine handles and hopefully win millions. (In case you’re wondering, it never happened. And by the time I was 21, I had already moved to Canada.)

Then something happened.

While I would love to say it was a direct relation to me moving away, I don’t think it really was.  Some time in the mid 90’s Atlantic City started to decline.  Tacky t-shirt shops and palm readers started to dominate the once famous Boardwalk, outnumbering the stores and restaurants. Casinos started to lose money and the State didn’t seem to care.

Then Las Vegas was reborn as the tourist destination, other states legalized gambling in the U.S. and AC continued to fall.

Sure, there was the promise of big name casinos that would come to town.  But so far, only two have come and many more have pulled out.  And yes, the recent rescission sure didn’t help. But how come Vegas continues to grow and Atlantic City, month after month, continues to struggle along on life support?

The answer is of course that Vegas is Vegas. Atlantic City had that chance too, but failed to grab the brass ring.  It has what Vegas doesn’t have: a shore line.  In the 90’s, the city should have done a massive overhaul, tearing down anything that wasn’t geared to help grow the economy and made cuts, tax breaks and incentives that would lure the casino owners to the coast instead of the desert.

Atlantic City has a great history, but that is almost all forgotten now.  And in the 80’s thanks to Trump and Tyson, the resort town enjoyed a small sporting boom and even hosted WrestleMania twice. (Laugh if you want to, but that event now brings in 50 million bucks to the host city each year) but hardly any big names come to town any more.

There was also the loss of the Miss America pageant and other setbacks including crime and the lack of decent jobs that has kept investors from heading east.  Sadly, no sales tax on clothes and shoes isn’t enough to bring them back.

Small advances have been made over the years.  The addition of The Walk and The Pier at Caesars have helped stir the local and tourist shopping interest, but it isn’t enough.  The question still comes up “why would I go to Atlantic City when I can go to Vegas?

Sad but true.

And every time I read an article from the Press of Atlantic City talking about the decline in business or loss of revenue the casinos are reporting, it breaks my heart because in the back of my mind, I can’t help but wonder “will this be the final blow?”

Good Jersey folks like author Jen A. Miller try to remind everyone that southern New Jersey and Atlantic City are great vacation destinations.  They try hard to fight the negative Jersey stereotype brought on by the crap that is Jersey Shore and other heavily scripted ‘reality’ shows.

I doubt the remaining casinos will all pack up and leave together, but will there be an Atlantic City in 50 years from now?  It may not seem like a huge deal to everyone, but to me and many other Jersey people, it’s a scary thought.

remember the sheraton centre cinemas

When I was living in Toronto during my six-month stint back in 1997, I would often spend my days going to the movies.  Back then, Toronto had some great cinemas and they all had more personality that today’s monster megaplexes that are nothing more than eye-sores.

I lived just south of St. Clair, and there TWO theaters (the Hollywood, a two-screen cinema part of Famous Players and the Hyland, a Cineplex Odeon twin cinema) within a five minute walk.  Both of them are gone now, becoming an office building and parking lot, respectively.  The Hyland stayed around, albeit empty, until the early 2000’s when it was finally torn down and paved over.

One theater that really stood out, but I only got to go to once, was The Sheraton 2, located inside the Sheraton Centre hotel complex. Built almost four levels down, one had to drop down below street level to buy tickets, then keep going down to get to the actual cinemas.  There were only two screens and for the most part, it looked like a typical downtown theater from the 70’s and 80’s, with dark orange and brown decor. But compared to today’s cold and unwelcoming cinemas (I’m talking to YOU, Paramout/Scotiabank Theater) it was quite cozy.

Sheraton Centre cinemas closed in October of 1997 and the only film I got to see there was the forgettable (and for the most part, awful) RocketMan. (I was trying to see at least one movie in every theater in Toronto while I was here.)  All that remains of the cinema is the large gold marquee outside on Queen Street (now advertising shopping and restaurants inside the Sheraton) and the old ticket booth, which last time I checked, was an exchange bureau. Some sites incorrectly still list the cinema as an amenity of the massive Sheraton complex, but I assure it, it’s long gone.  The cinemas themselves, located downstairs from the shopping concourse, have been converted into event space.

For a great list of past and present theaters in Toronto (as well as other cities) check out one of my favorite sites, Movie-Theatre.org, complied by Mike Rivest.

rob ford isn’t always to blame

I noticed when talking to colleagues and friends that Toronto mayor Rob Ford is getting a lot of flack these days because of the cuts he needs to make in order to get the city back on track. Naturally, people who don’t like Ford, his policies and his way of running things, use this as a chance to blast him over and over again.  Most recently, the announcement of cuts, buyouts and layoffs at City Hall have got people taking pop-shots at him.

Aside from all the “Slob” Ford jokes (because after all, nothing says ‘classy’ like attacking a man because of his weight) Ford Haters blame him for everything that goes wrong. But they forget why Toronto is in the situation its in: David Miller.

The seven-year long Miller administration left this city in shambles. Over-taxed and poorly run.  Very similar to how the U.S. is trying to cope with the leftovers from the Bush administration.  Obama is not a miracle worker and he is struggling to get the country back on its feet. Ford certainly has his work cut out of him too.

Miller’s need to make the city the greenest place in the world, coupled with his high taxes, bad management and over-spending is almost forgotten when people are looking for someone to point the finger at. But it shouldn’t be. Miller and his administration were heading in the wrong direction.

Greedy politicians and critics of Ford seem to think that because Toronto has so many people living in it, and it’s the top choice for business as well as media and commerce, that there is some bottomless pit where money comes from. So they lash out at the mayor when he tells everyone we have to tighten our belts.

It’s true: cuts need to be made and yes, in some cases that sucks. But if those cuts aren’t made, then the city will have to look at new ways of generating money — and that always means higher taxes.

And who do you think everyone will blame for that when it happens?

happy slurpee day!

Did you celebrate 7-Eleven’s birthday? You know I did! Yesterday, on July 11 (7-11) convenience store giant 7-Eleven celebrated its birthday with one of my favorite holidays: Slurpee Day. All day long, stores across North America were giving away free 7.11 oz. cups of the drink that made them famous.

So therefor my original plan had been to visit all 7-Eleven stores in the Toronto area as a way of celebrating. But believe it or not, it’s harder than it sounds. Even with my car and the will to sample as much as I could, I found it tough to accomplish my goal

Not counting the stores in nearby cities, there are 19 stores in Toronto according to their website. While there are less stores than there were back in 2002 when I first started celebrating the “holiday” (and even less compared with back in 1997) there are still more than I could go to in one day — especially considering I wanted to sample a Slurpee at each location.

As well-trained readers will remember, I used to work for 7-Eleven before moving to Canada and while I know exactly what goes into each frozen treat, I still love everything about them. My favorite flavors are Dr. Pepper, Bubble Gum, Cream Soda (the pink ones) and the now defunct Vanilla Coke.

After only three stores, I had to tap out. Sugar overload and my expanding waistline were two contributing factors.  Maybe I’ll have better luck next year.  Over the course of the next 11 months, I can familiarize myself with the stores in Toronto.

The current 7-Eleven stores in Toronto

  • 372 BAY STREET
  • 260 COLLEGE STREET @ SPADINA AVE
  • 883 DUNDAS ST W
  • 873 QUEEN STREET W
  • 334 BLOOR STREET WEST @ SPADINA
  • 1260 DUNDAS ST WEST
  • 1151 QUEEN ST EAST
  • 975 DANFORTH AVE
  • 1169 ST. CLAIR AVE W @ DUFFERIN ST
  • 1730 BLOOR STREET W.
  • 1 EGLINTON AVE EAST @ YONGE ST
  • 705 DON MILLS RD.
  • 3355 DUNDAS ST WEST
  • 2480 LAKESHORE BLVD WEST
  • 3587 BATHURST ST
  • 1390 WESTON RD
  • 980 ISLINGTON AVE @ JUTLAND
  • 3260 LAKESHORE BLVD WEST
  • 1718-A WILSON AVE.