Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ben's Super Happy Fun '09 Summer Movie Preview

The summer movie season is nigh, and with it comes an eclectic crop of films from which to choose, ranging from big-budget prequels & sequels to blockbusters about comic books & action figures to smaller/indie flicks of all kinds. There's something worth seeing pretty much every week, and I am excited -- so without further ado, here's a look at a slew of the titles that are on my radar:

X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (May 1) -- The first two X-MEN films were very good; the third one was not; so what should we expect from this prequel/origin story of everyone's favorite iron-clawed mutant/Broadway star? Um, probably not much, especially if early buzz is any indication. That said, Hugh is cool, so let's hope that low expectations will reap greater rewards!

ADORATION (May 8) -- All I know about this one is that it's the latest from Atom Egoyan, director of such films as THE SWEET HEREAFTER (dealing with incest & child death), WHERE THE TRUTH LIES (dealing with murder, deception & kinky sex) and ARARAT (dealing with the Armenian genocide). I'm sure this will be another crowd-pleaser!

STAR TREK (May 8) -- Anyone who knows me knows that I am not now, nor have I ever been, nor will I ever be a Star Trek fan. It just doesn't do it for me, sorry. That said, I'll probably check out this reboot from J.J. Abrams, just to see how it goes. I've actually never seen a Trek movie on the big screen... and I gotta admit that the latest trailer looks pretty cool....

ANGELS & DEMONS (May 15) -- The problem with THE DA VINCI CODE movie was that it was so serious and sucked every last bit of fun and excitement out of the story, which is what made the book so entertaining in the first place. Hopefully Ron Howard, Tom Hanks & Co. will get their shit together this time, because I actually liked this book a lot more. (Plus it taught me everything I needed to know about the Pope selection process!)

TERMINATOR SALVATION (May 21) -- In theory, finally having the inevitable Future War presented on screen, with human freedom fighters going toe-to-toe with legions of Terminators, is mouth-wateringly awesome. However, Christian Bale has proven to be such a huge douche, which is a strike against this film, because who can possibly watch it and NOT think about his big on-set explosion? That said, if Arnold's face makes a cameo appearance, I will geek out BIGTIME.

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN (May 22) -- The first NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM was fun popcorn fluff which somehow made a ton of money, thus spawning this big-budget sequel. Last time that happened with a Ben Stiller movie, we got the giant turd that was MEET THE FOCKERS. But I'll give this one the benefit of the doubt, mainly because my girl Amy Adams is along for the ride as Amelia Earhart!

UP (May 29) -- The latest slice of brilliance from the geniuses at Pixar, and I say that with full, undying confidence that it will, indeed, be brilliant. I know practically nothing about the plot, other than what we've seen in trailers -- but from what I understand, there are twists that are astounding and it may even be better than WALL-E. That remains to be seen, but if anyone can top one work of genius with another, it's Pixar. This is their 10th film and so far they are 9-for-9, so why stop now?

DRAG ME TO HELL (May 29) -- A horror movie for the current economic situation, as Alison Lohman inherits a dreadful curse after denying an old woman's bank loan and putting her on the street. Sounds cheesy... until you realize it's written & directed by the great Sam Raimi, taking a break from the SPIDER-MAN series to return to his roots and show today's horror amateurs how it's done!

AWAY WE GO (June 5) -- Intriguing dramedy from Sam Mendes, hot off the heels of one of last year's most underrated films, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD... this one stars John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph as an expectant couple who travels around the country in search of the perfect place to raise their family. Krasinski is awesome on THE OFFICE, of course... but it'll be interesting to see how he does in a character study such as this.

THE HANGOVER (June 5) -- The latest from Todd Phillips, starring Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifiankis as three guys who wake up the morning after a Vegas bachelor party with no memory of what happened the night before. Looks & sounds like it could be another OLD SCHOOL... though, it just occurred to me that the plot is weirdly similar to DUDE WHERE'S MY CAR. Dunno what to make of that, though I DO love that Chinese drive-thru scene... "And then?" "NO AND THEN!"

LAND OF THE LOST (June 5) -- Will Ferrell vs. Sleestaks and dinosaurs in a big-budget remake of the '70s camp classic? In a word..... um, well, sure! Though, really, I'll go see anything with dinosaurs in it....

MOON (June 12) -- Just saw this trailer the other day and was instantly intrigued. Sam Rockwell stars as an astronaut who spends three years on the moon working on a project, in complete isolation save for a HAL-esque, emoticon-flashing computer. After a while, he starts to go stir crazy, and that's when things get interesting. Looks pretty cool.

WHATEVER WORKS (June 19) -- Ever wonder what would happen if two of Judaism's finest, Woody Allen and Larry David, combined their talents? Well, we're about to find out. I find the presence of Evan Rachel Wood a little disturbing, though -- who knows what kind of freaky shit she pulled to divert Woody's attention from Scarlett and snag this role! The horror....

YEAR ONE (June 19) -- Produced by Judd Apatow, directed by Harold Ramis, starring Jack Black and Michael Cera as bumbling cavemen who are exiled into the unknown world and embark on a journey through the Book of Genesis? If that's not the very defintion of AWESOME, well, I don't know what is!

TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN (June 24) -- People had lots of mixed feelings over Michael Bay's first TRANSFORMERS film, but all the haters can kiss my ass because I LOVED it. It was my #1 guilty pleasure/pure entertainment movie of '07 and I expect nothing less from this sequel, which promises to be bigger, crazier, louder, and more chock full of Autobots and Decepticons wrecking shit! Plus, that Megan Fox is one piece of ayshe... I know from experience, dude.

PUBLIC ENEMIES (July 1) -- Johnny Depp stars as John Dillinger and Christian Bale as the FBI agent who pursues him. That right there would be enough to get me into the theatre, but the fact that it's directed by Michael Mann is icing on the cake. Also stars the achingly gorgeous & sexy (and French!) Marion Cotillard... nice.

ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS (July 1) -- Waaaait a minute... how can it be the dawn of the dinosaurs when the dinosaurs died out BEFORE the Ice Age? I call shenanigans on this whole series! Nah, it's cool, they've been fun and I'll give'em another shot, especially if Skrat keeps trying in vain for that acorn....

BRUNO (July 10) -- I would rank BORAT among the top three movies that have made me laugh the hardest, along with the SOUTH PARK movie and BILLY MADISON... dear lord in heaven, just thinking about the "shape-shifting Jews" still cracks me up. Bruno is arguably even more rife for insanity, and I expect nothing less than gut-busting hilarity from the Sacha Baron Cohen's mad genius.

HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE (July 17) -- FINALLY! This is not only my most anticipated movie of the year, but possibly my most anticipated since STAR WARS: EPISODE III, four years ago. HP6 is my favorite of the books, and I have no doubt that the movie is going to be beyond awesome. Only thing that sucks is that I will be in St. Louis on my annual Baseball Road Trip the weekend it opens, so I won't get to see it (in IMAX 3D glory) until I get back to NYC! ARGH!

FUNNY PEOPLE (July 31) -- By now, you'd think we'd be sick of Judd Apatow. But no -- if anything, having his name attached to a movie now generates Spielbergian levels of excitement. This is Apatow's third directorial effort, about an aging comedian played by Adam Sandler who befriends a younger comic played by Seth Rogen. The trailer features Apatow's trademark wacky sweetness that we've come to know and love -- it'll be tough to surpass the greatness of THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN or even KNOCKED UP, but this one has tremendous potential.

G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA (August 7) -- Eh, I was never big into G.I. Joe figures as a kid -- I was a Star Wars figure kind of guy. So this live-action big-screen adaptation does not sends spasms of childhood joy and nostalgia down my spine. However, I DO love the G.I. Joe PSA parodies, so if they ever make a movie of those, I'll be bouncing off the walls! PORK CHOP SANDWICHES!

JULIE & JULIA (August 7) -- Nora Ephron directs Meryl Streep as Julia Child and my girl Amy Adams as Julie, a woman on a mission to prepare all 500+ recipes in one of Julia's cookbooks in a single year. It's also a biopic of sorts, as Julie daydreams about Julia's life and rise to culinary fame while she cooks. Ephron can be hit-or-miss, but Streep + Adams = pure gold!

PAPER HEART (August 7) -- Interesting concept in which Charlyne Yi (aka, the stoner chick from KNOCKED UP) legitimately attempts to make a documentary about the search for love, only to find, as the project progresses, that it isn't going anywhere... so it morphs into a sort of fictional/autobiographical narrative involving the courtship of Charlyne and her real-life boyfriend Michael Cera, playing a version of himself. Could be cheesy, but I'm sure I'll eat it up like so many hot buffalo wing pretzel bites.

PONYO (August 14) -- Clearly this is going to be an awesome summer for animation, because not only do we get a new Pixar film, but we get a new Miyazaki film, too!! Let the debate begin (but leave me out of it) as to who is better -- not sure it's even possible to compare -- but there can be no doubt as to Miyazaki's genius.

TAKING WOODSTOCK (August 14) -- The story of the guy who became known as the hero of Woodstock, featuring a solid cast... this one looks pretty good. Nice to see Ang Lee branch out a bit and do a comedy, as opposed to movies about dysfunctional families, gay cowboys, Chinese debauchery and, um, the Hulk.

INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (August 21) -- I still think Quentin Tarantino is massively overrated and has never had an original idea in his life. But this one may have potential because it falls into that awesome "Jews Kicking Ass" sub-genre, along with such films as MUNICH and DEFIANCE. Brad Pitt, Eli Roth, B.J. Novak & Co. play a squadron of Jewish soliders whose mission is to torture, kill and basically terrorize the Germans in Nazi-occupied France. Good times!

WORLD'S GREATEST DAD (August 21) -- No idea what the deal is with this other than that it's a black comedy starring Robin Williams and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait. Some of Williams' best work in recent years has been of the dark variety (see: DEATH TO SMOOCHY and ONE HOUR PHOTO); combine that with Goldthwait's usual f'd-up-ness, and color me intrigued.

FINAL DESTINATION: DEATH TRIP 3D (August 28) -- Really, another FINAL DESTINATION film? Has the world been crying out for this? Well, even though the series has gotten progressively dumber as it's gone on, I'll be there to see these gruesomely ironic deaths in glorious 3D!

H2 (August 28) -- Just had to include this one because it is the one movie this summer that I will most definitely NOT see under any circumstances. Seriously, a sequel to Rob Zombie's abomination of a HALLOWEEN remake? DEAR GOD, NO! I fucking hate Rob Zombie as a filmmaker and he needs to be stopped -- can someone please take him out back and shoot him before he does any more damage??

All in all, this ought to be an entertaining summer and I am psyched to get back into the movie-watching swing of things in a big way. How about you, dear readers -- what's at the top of your must-see lists? Let's talk, why not!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Eschew the Monday Blues with a Slew of Movie Reviews

Here's a sextet of reviews recapping my cinematic adventures of the past couple of weeks. Ready? GO!

TWO LOVERS -- Excellent character-driven romance starring Joaquin Phoenix as a troubled soul who moves back in with his parents following a suicide attempt. As he tries to put his life back together, he gets caught in a love triangle with a pretty, shy friend of the family (cutie Vinessa Shaw) and a gorgeous but volatile neighbor (surprisingly impressive Gwyneth Paltrow). Centering around the age-old life question of whether to take a chance or take the safe route, it's heartfelt and very well-acted -- if this is indeed Phoenix's last film now that he has supposedly gone off the deep end in real life, it's a hell of a way to go out! (Also stars Isabella Rossellini, with whom you can never go wrong, as Joaquim's mother -- but it's hard to watch her these days and NOT picture her dressing up like animals and teaching us about their reproductive habits, as per her bizarre Green Porno series... aaaahhh!)

OBSERVE AND REPORT -- Seems like bipolar disorder is a running theme lately: First Joaquin in TWO LOVERS, then Silver on the new 90210 (wait... who hacked into my blog and wrote that?), and now Seth Rogen in this hilarious but strangely poignant dark comedy. Mall cop Ronnie Barnhardt rules his territory with an iron fist, but is desperately lonely in life -- he lives with a disorder that prevents him from becoming a real cop, cleans up after an alcoholic mother, endures an unrequited crush on an obnoxious makeup counter clerk (Anna Faris in yet another scene-stealing performance). Rogen expertly portrays Ronnie's Travis Bickle-esque simmering rage, which comes to a head when real cops usurp his attempt to track down a flasher that has been terrorizing his mall. This movie is raw and unflinching, reveling in its filth but tempered by an underlying twinge of sadness. Further proof of Rogen's genius, which clearly goes far beyond the goofball we've come to know and love -- I wouldn't quite go as far as to say that this is his PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE, but it's not far off!

STATE OF PLAY -- Great film about an old school reporter (Russell Crowe in a great performance) who investigates the connection between the seemingly-unrelated murders of a petty thief and a U.S. Congressman's assistant, and systematically unravels a vast government conspiracy. The plot is intriguing, with lots of twists and turns, and the acting is top-notch -- but what makes this film even more interesting is that it is a veritable eulogy to old school, pen & paper, blood-and-sweat-stained journalism, the likes of which is already on its way out and may someday disappear entirely as technology expands and attention spans shrink. In the film, Crowe teams up with a blogger (Rachel McAdams), to whom he teaches the ins and outs of being a "real" reporter, while also fending off his editors who have succumbed to corporate pressure to make the paper more sales-friendly, and the message is all too clear. Thought-provoking stuff... though it didn't stop me from Twittering about it as soon as I left the theatre. Oh, sweet irony!

EARTH -- Basically a condensed version of the Discovery Channel's PLANET EARTH series, but WAY cooler on the big screen. Produced by Disney's new "Disneynature" division, it's a throwback to Walt Disney's old "True Life Adventures" that revolutionized nature films decades ago. Loosely centered around the stories of a family of polar bears in the arctic, elephants crossing the desert and whales spanning the oceans, the film is filled with awesome visuals (my favorites: the dancing Bird of Paradise and the super slow-mo shot of a giant shark leaping out of the water), gripping stories of survival, and the voice of James Earl Jones (natch). The film is kid-friendly, but it doesn't shy from the harsh realities of nature, which is a good thing. There is definitely some sad/brutal stuff... not quite as emotionally-scarring as Bambi's mom getting killed... but then again, what is?

SUGAR -- Not your average baseball film, but one of the better ones I've seen in some time. It's the story of a Dominican ballplayer with a live arm and bravado to match who gets signed by an MLB team and invited to the U.S. for spring training to show his stuff. Nicknamed "Sugar" because of his sweet curve, he eventually earns a spot with a minor league team in Kansas, and attempts to make a name for himself while also dealing with the culture shock of moving from the D.R. to the Midwest. Seeing as how Hispanic players make up a great percentage of baseball (and, indeed, some of its greatest players) these days, the film is a fascinating look at the trials and tribulations they have to go through to get to the big stage -- the language barrier, the isolation, the uncertainty, the pressure that one bad outing could open the door for more competition. Superb film that is worth seeing whether you're a baseball fan or not.

THE INFORMERS -- My girlfriend Rachel has a theory that being a Bret Easton Ellis fan these days is kind of like being in an intense, abusive relationship. You know it's wrong, but you just keep going back for more. Sure, there have been some fun times (read: AMERICAN PSYCHO and THE RULES OF ATTRACTION, both the books and the films), but overall the bad has outweighed the good. Ellis himself penned the screenplay for THE INFORMERS, based on one of his earlier books, and... well... it's bad. Tonally, the film manages to capture the blase, drug-addled '80s materialism that is Ellis' forte, but the movie is a failure in pretty much every other way. It seriously features some of the most poorly-written and executed dialogue in recent memory. The only two plusses are (1) Mickey Rourke as a creepy old child abductor, and (2) Amber Heard spending most of the movie naked. This film is another nail in Ellis' coffin -- I feel like the only thing that could redeem him now would be the release of the long-awaited and super-controversial GLAMORAMA and GLITTERATI films... but that, friends, is a pipe dream.

The jam-packed summer movie season kicks off this Friday with the new X-Men/Wolverine flick. But before that happens, stay tuned for my annual Summer Movie Preview! Huzzah!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

My blog is going places.... like, other blogs!

I dunno how the heck this happened, but little ol' has been discovered and linked by another, more established movie news/reviews/musings blog. It's called ONLY GOOD MOVIES, and they recently posted an article in which they listed their Top 100 Movie Villains -- an vast and interesting undertaking, to be sure. And wouldn't you know it, waaaay down there at #100 is General Zod from SUPERMAN 2 -- and it is there that they linked to MY blog from last month in which I listed my own All-Time Top 5 Superhero Movies, which of course included SUPERMAN 1 & 2 (and a General Zod reference). Here's the link to their article, which in turn contains the link to my article... can you feel the viral networking in action??

Now the question is, will this tiny slice of notoriety serve as an impetus to get me off my ass and actually write more often? Let's go out on a limb and say..... YES! The summer movie season is coming, and I fully intend to get back to my old crazy movie-watching ways... so stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Movie Reviews, What?

Hey, remember that time I started a fancy new blog, bought a domain name, plugged it constantly on various social networking sites... and then let it fizzle after just a couple of months? Me too. On one hand, it's probably just because I am a lazy ass. But there's also the fact that I simply haven't been going to the movies as much lately. If you look at the little tally to the right, you will see that I have seen 18 movies on the big screen so far in 2009. Believe it or not, that is 12 FEWER than I saw by this time last year. The reason? Well... movies is expensive, yo, and it has finally caught up with me. If I'm gonna spend $12.50 on a movie (or even use a precious discount pass, of which I have a limited supply), I am trying to pick my poison a bit more wisely than in the past, where I saw pretty much everything. Tough times, indeed. Clearly, if there's one main reason why we need to get the economy back on track, it's so I can get back to my old crazy moviegoing ways!

Anyway... enough excuses... let's get back to business and take a look at a few movies I've seen in recent weeks:

SUNSHINE CLEANING -- Similar to that other movie with the word "sunshine" in the title, in that this one is also quirky for the sake of being quirky -- but this one is far less endearing. Amusing at times, poignant at others, but ultimately forgettable -- overall, it doesn't really have much going for it, aside from one thing: AMY ADAMS. That girl could sit on a bar stool and read the phone book for two hours, occasionally glancing up and flashing her perfect smile, and I'd be a happy man. Alan Arkin did his Alan Arkin thing, which never hurts, and it was cool to see Clifton Collins Jr. (aka the drug dealer from THE RULES OF ATTRACTION) as a one-armed cleaning supply store owner (see what I mean about the quirkiness?). Can't wait for the final installment of the "Quirky Sunshine Trilogy," starring Amy Adams and Abigail Breslin as, oh, let's say, an aunt & niece who take up fencing in order to find out who they really are inside. Let's call it... EN GUARDE, SUNSHINE!

DUPLICITY -- Entertaining in the moment, but again, ultimately forgettable spy flick starring Clive Owen and Julia Roberts as dueling undercover agents who may or may not be in love. Lots of twists and turns and double- and triple-crossing, with amusing interplay between the two stars. Julia actually carried the film, and she continues to age quite nicely. However, I am kind of getting tired of Clive Owen's shtick -- it'd be great to see him do something different, to see if he's actually a good actor beyond his smoldering stare. Also, Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson, as rival CEO's constantly trying to one-up each other, are awesome and steal pretty much every scene they are in, which should come as no surprise.

MONSTERS vs. ALIENS -- Seems like "amusing but ultimately forgettable" is the trend right now, because here's another one. But at least this one features some pretty spiffy animation. Some decent characters, too, particularly BOB the brainless gelatinous blob, voiced by Seth Rogen, and the hilariously creepy Insectosaurus. The rest of the voice cast is pretty amazing, including Reese Witherspoon, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Kiefer Sutherland, Rainn Wilson, Stephen Colbert, PAUL RUDD, and more -- but with a couple of exceptions, they're wasted talent. If you can see this in glorious IMAX 3D, it's somewhat worthwhile for the visuals alone -- but as far as animated and/or comedic movies about monsters and aliens are concerned, you'd be better off watching a double-feature of MONSTERS, INC. and MARS ATTACKS!

WATCHMEN -- I know, I promised a full-length review of this one, but... well, yeah. Simply put, I loved this movie, and it instantly turned me into a fanboy -- I went out and bought the book immediately afterwards and I loved it even more. As a movie, it's wildly entertaining, visually astonishing (especially in IMAX) with some intense action sequences, well-crafted and painstakingly loyal to the source material. It's not a PERFECT adaptation -- some of the casting is a bit off (Malin Akerman is smoking hot, but she's a little too THE HILLS-esque to be a truly effective Silk Spectre; on the other hand, Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach may be one of the greatest casting decisions in the long, storied history of film), and there are some controversial plot changes. But I believe these changes were made for purely cinematic reasons and they worked -- honestly, a giant squid devastating NYC in stark, bloody printed panels is terrifying... but on screen it probably would have come across as silly. Granted, I haven't been salivating over the prospect of a movie for 25 years, so I don't have the emotional attachment of the true die-hards, but all in all, I believe it's as good a WATCHMEN movie as anyone could have hoped for. I look forward to the inevitable longer director's cut on DVD!

Okay, that's all for now. Let's see if I can't use this as a springboard to get off my ass and make this domain name worthwhile. Amazingly, we're only a month away from the summer movie season -- so if nothing else, I'm sure business will pick up then!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Ben's Top 5 Best (and Worst) Things About Citi Field

The Mets opened Citi Field's shiny new gates to the public for the first time on Sunday, March 29th for a Big East college baseball game between St. John's and Georgetown. I was there, and I have to admit, it was one of the more surreal experiences of my life. I've attended hundreds of games at Shea Stadium over the years, fell uncondtionally in love with the place, and cried my eyes out during the farewell ceremony at the end of last season. I knew that it was going to be difficult to not only accept this new ballpark, but to simply endure it. From the moment the 7 train made the final approach to the newly-named "Mets-Willets Point" subway stop, it was rough. I looked out the train window and the first thing I saw was one last pile of rubble, smattered with blue durasteel -- all that remains of good ol' Shea. And then, a moment later, emerging in all its new-fangled glory... CITI FIELD.

I know, I know... I'm sure the place will grow on me over time, but my first impression was... well... a little mixed. So as we welcome the start of the baseball season, let's take a look at my Top 5 Best (and Worst) Things About Citi Field:


5. MORE SPACIOUS GROUNDS OUTSIDE -- Back in the day, it would get cramped very quickly when approaching Shea, especially when there was a packed house. There were twists and turns and narrow staircases and walkways to deal with before you even got to the entry gates. At Citi Field, you simply walk down the new subway steps and into anopen expanse of land, perfectly suited to accomodating the 44,000 people that will be there almost every day. Should never get too cramped -- in fact, it should be downright pleasant and scenic, since the stadium itself is very pretty indeed. And then there's the Fanwalk, a collection of personalized bricks surrounding the stadium entrance. This makes for a very cool and interesting nostalgia trip, since 90% of the bricks make reference to Shea and other aspects of Mets history. My friends and I bought a brick of our own, and it was a thrill to finally see it in the ground. Plus, unlike at Disney World, where the supply of brick space is pretty much endless, at Citi Field there is a limited supply, so it feels even more special!

4. THE PEPSI PORCH -- This is nifty and probably my favorite new physical feature of the stadium. The right field stands overhang the field by about 8 feet, so deep fly balls that would be long outs in most ballparks could now very well be homers. I hope this doesn't hurt the Mets more than it helps them... but it is an awesome place to sit, with an interesting perspective. Wonder who will be the first Met to launch one into the Porch? (My money is on Carlos Delgado after he gets a hold of one!) Plus I like the big Pepsi-Cola sign!

3. SHEA NOSTALGIA -- A brand new, larger, shinier Home Run Apple has been installed beyond the center field fence, which is nice. But if you explore the deepest nooks and crannies of the stadium, you will find a section called the Bullpen Gate, where you can not only watch the bullpens in action up close and personal..... but you can also find the ORIGINAL Shea Stadium Home Run Apple in all its top-hat glory! It is pretty awesome, and made me very happy to see it. Another Shea artifact that made it is the NY skyline that used to sit atop the giant scoreboard -- it now appears above the Shake Shack and Blue Smoke concession stands, complete with the ribbon over the Twin Towers. Definitely a nice touch. (I was there during the day, but I wonder if they turn on the lights at night?) Lastly, I believe the plan is to mark the former location of Shea's home plate and bases in the parking lot where they once stood, so people can pay their respects at any time. Nice.

2. FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD -- Simply put, the culinary options at Citi Field are VAST and RIDICULOUS. Pretty much every kind food you can imagine is available, and it all looks really, really good. You have your usual ballpark grub, like hot dogs and pretzels and stuff. But then you've got a tremendous variety of specialty foods and brand-name establishments. The most noteworthy addition is the unparalleled SHAKE SHACK, which makes my mouth water just thinking about it. Right next door, there's Blue Smoke, a BBQ joint where I intend to get a pulled pork sandwich at the next opportunity. Around the corner, there's a Belgian frites place, complete with dipping sauces, as well as a Mexican place that looks mighty good. The list goes on. But perhaps the best new culinary feature at Citi Field is... wait for it... SELF-SERVE HOT DOG TOPPING STATIONS. Seriously, I was probably TOO excited about this. Gone are the days at Shea when you could only top your hot dogs with crappy ketchup, mustard and relish packets. Now you can go to one of these stations and load up your dog with fresh saurkraut, onions (chopped & grilled), relish, jalepenos, lettuce, tomato and more. It is AWESOME. And since the hot dogs cost the same as they did at Shea ($4.75), you are actually getting MORE bang for your buck. NOW THAT'S AMAZIN'.

...and the very best thing about Citi Field is....

1. IT'S A GREAT PLACE TO WATCH A BALLGAME -- Seems like this should be a no-brainer, but you never know these days. Fortunately, I explored the whole stadium and caught a glimpse of the field from pretty much every section, and there really isn't a bad seat in the house. The field is lovely and there are are no obscured views that I could find. Because the stadium is much smaller and more "intimate," you really do feel closer to the action from every vantage point (though this does raise a whole other issue, which we will discuss in a moment). My Saturday plan seats are in the third-to-last row of the Promenade (the uppermost level of the stadium), and the seats are probably equivalent to my old Mezzanine seats, which is not too shabby. Even the center field bleachers somehow feel closer to the action. The seats are comfy (even the cheapest ones), with individual drink holders, and they are angled towards home plate for easy viewing. So, yeah... yay, baseball!


5. NOT ENOUGH SEATS -- I mentioned how Citi Field is small and intimate and thus you feel closer to the action, which is good... but on the other hand, I always loved sitting in the Upper Deck at Shea because tickets were cheap and plentiful, and though you were far from the field, you could still see everything and it really wasn't THAT bad. So the question is, would I sacrifice Citi Field's intimacy if I could get back the missing 12,000 seats, thus ensuring that I could snag an affordable ticket to a game any day of the week? The answer to that is a resounding YES.

4. TOO MANY BELLS AND WHISTLES -- There is so much stimuli in this stadium that you could conceivably spend an entire day there and never catch a glimpse of the ballgame. Hell, if you make a beeline for the Shake Shack/Blue Smoke pavilion, you could go an entire day without even seeing the field! I realize that's the way it is with new stadiums nowadays, as they try to make them more "family friendly" or turn it into an "experience" or whatever... but it's a damn shame. When I was there, I overheard a kid ask his parents (who were enthralled in all the sights & sounds of the stadium), "Are we ever going to watch the game??" It was funny but also a little sad, because I bet the answer will often be "no!"

3. IT'S REALLY JUST ANOTHER "COOKIE-CUTTER" PARK -- The problem with all the new "retro" stadiums nowadays is that while they are very nice and comfortable and have their little quirks here and there, overall they look pretty much the same. I've been to the stadiums in Philly, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh and they are all more or less interchangeable. Unfortunately, Citi Field falls into this category, as well. It has its quirks -- the Home Run Apple and Pepsi Porch and such -- but otherwise, it's more of the same. The look of the scoreboard, the drab green seats, the aforementioned bells & whistles... I've seen it all before. Say what you want about Shea, but at least it had some unique character! From the multicolored seats to the giant scoreboard to the open-air outfield to the neon ballplayers...for better or worse, there was no other ballpark like it. But there are several other ballparks like Citi Field, and I'm sure there will be even more as time goes on.

2. THE PLACE WILL NEVER SHAKE -- One of the coolest things about Shea was that when the crowd was really rockin', the stadium would literally SHAKE under your feet. I experienced this phenomenon many times, including the 10-run inning, the '00 NLCS clincher, Endy's catch, and more. There was really nothing like it... and it's a shame to think that even when the Mets are leading with two out in the 9th in deciding game of the World Series with K-Rod on the mound and the crowd is in a mad frenzy of blissful delirium....... Citi Field will be still.

...and the absolute worst thing about Citi Field....

1. IT'S A GREAT TRIBUTE TO THE STORIED HISTORY OF.... THE DODGERS -- I realize that the stadium is modeled after Ebbet's Field and the rotunda is a tribute to Jackie Robinson, all part of Fred Wilpon's childhood Brooklyn Dodger fantasy. But jesus, last I checked Citi Field was the home of the METS... yet there are Dodgers references EVERYWHERE, from the video screens in the rotunda showing Jackie Robinson clips, to friggin' Dodgers t-shirts for sale in the Team Stores. It's one thing to have "Brooklyn" t-shirts with Jackie's name on them... it's another thing to have an entire rack of stuff that actually says "Dodgers." I am kind of afraid of what it will be like the first time the Dodgers visit Citi Field -- I think their fans will have a field day and make themselves at home, and it is going to suck. This really is a big problem that needs to be addressed. Tone down the Dodgers stuff, for God's sake. You can still call it the "Jackie Robinson Rotunda" if you must, but maybe get rid of the Dodgers video clips! Oh, and while you're at it, how about adding some more stuff about the METS?? I think it's safe to say that they've managed to cobble together a pretty storied history of their own, but when I was there last Sunday, there wasn't a single banner, poster, sign, or any kind of tribute to Mets history. Nothing about '69 or '86... nothing about Seaver, Darryl, Piazza or Wright... NOTHING! It was very disconcerting. Now, I think this may have been a work in progress -- at the time, they hadn't put up the retired numbers yet, either, and I see that those are now there -- and I think they now have some sepia-tone banners around the outside of the park. So maybe next time I go to Citi Field, there will be Mets stuff all over the place. God, I hope so, or we're going to have a serious problem!

All in all, the park is very nice and I am excited to watch 16 (at least) games there this season, thanks to my 10th straight season as a Saturday ticket plan holder. I am also hopeful that many of my concerns will be rectified, or prove to be nothing more than unfounded pessimism. And of course, while Citi Field will never, ever replace Shea Stadium in my heart, it will be a lot easier to get used to the place if the Mets bring home a World Championship... so.... BELIEVE!

(By the way, for a full photo gallery of pics from my first Citi Field Experience, CLICK HERE)