Tag: positive

Review – “Kubo and the Two Strings”

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About two months ago, my social media started going crazy for this movie. And while I’m usually hesitant to buy into any hype I’m not creating myself (or the hype created by one of the celebrities I want to hear hype from), I decided to give this a chance.

And then…I totally missed it in theaters.

But then I saw it anyway, thus destroying that narrative thread before it even got started. (Sorry. I wrote a literal book during NaNoWriMo in November. So I’m running pretty low on words at the moment.)

The Basics. “Kubo” is a stop-motion movie in the vein of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” or…um…other movies of that genre. It isn’t really something people make much anymore.

This was a nice change of pace, because I like stop-motion animation but I’m tired of Tim Burton’s generic brand of creepiness and oh, look, it’s Johnny Depp for some reason. Now, where’s Hilary Bonham Carter? She’s got to be around here someplace. Although…this movie does get sort of creepy. I mean, actually, I wouldn’t let my kid watch this movie because it would probably give him nightmares. But…well, there’s really pretty stuff, too, so it balances out?

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Okay. So maybe you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a Tim Burton movie.

Tim Burton aside (where he belongs), this movie tells the story of a young boy, Kubo, who lives in a more or less Japanese fantasy setting. He and his mother fled the evil Moon King years before, after he stole one of Kubo’s eyes. And the idea is that they must live in seclusion to keep the Moon King from getting the second eye. So…yeah. I’m reading this again and it seems super dark.

Oh, did I mention Kubo’s eye was stolen while he was a baby?

Look. There’s a sassy talking monkey. Trust me. It’s not all gloom and doom.

The Good. The movie, to make a long story short, is gorgeous. I don’t usually tell people that they should see a movie or watch a show just because it looks pretty. And I guess this is no exception. But it was a near thing.

I give particular credit to the action and fight scenes, which look really, really good. More than that, though, is that the magical powers on display weren’t your standard fare. If there’s another movie where the hero primarily attacks his enemies using origami minions controlled by an enchanted shamisen, it’s slipping my mind at the moment.

The story is solid through the first three-quarters or so, with that “Avengers”-esque mix of action and humor that’s become pretty common nowadays. And while that sort of quip-y action humor is rapidly heading towards cliche territory, I personally enjoy it. Plus, given the sometimes dark subject matter, it was probably necessary to keep the movie from heading deep into “downer” territory rather just hang out near the top and bum you out a little.

The characters are unique and likeable, for the most part. (With the exception of the Matthew McConaughey samurai, who lost some points for being voiced by Matthew McConaughey.) And while I wouldn’t say any really stand out, they were all at or above average. (With the exception of the sassy Charlize Theron monkey, who gained some points for being a sassy monkey.)

As long as you don’t go into this expecting a kid’s movie, you’ll get what you paid for (or pirated illegally or whatever – I’m not here to judge).

The Bad. My only real beef with the movie comes down to the story. Or beefs, I suppose? I’m pretty sure that’s a real word.

The first issue was that the narrative suffered from “set-piece syndrome.” The story didn’t so much move from place to place as it was just jerked between each major setting for an action sequence. And while it’s hard to argue with the results, you did get the strange feeling sometimes that the writer basically said, “Okay. First the idyllic village. Then we’ll go to the desolate snowfields that emphasize the feelings of loss. Then the scary cave for a scary skeleton fight. And then…hmmm…did we do a water thing yet?”

It’s worth mentioning that I didn’t notice this until after I finished watching the movie. It didn’t take me out of the experience at all. But it was a thing and this is a review and here we are.

The other issue was that the story hits kind of a dead note in the lead-up to the final battle. And while I can’t get into it without major spoilers, the whole thing just kind of bummed me out. The movie has a very clear trajectory and then, well, imagine if you were watching “The Lord of the Rings” and Frodo dies of a cold while climbing Mount Doom. It’s the sort of senseless thing that just has you spending the rest of the movie saying, “That can’t be it. There’s a twist coming.”

And then…there isn’t.

Overall, they’re not huge problems. And on their own, I’d honestly be inclined to ignore them entirely. It’s more an issue that if you put an incredibly questionable moment right before the final battle, it’s liable to distract you from, you know, the final battle.

In Conclusion. Having not seen many movies released lately worth seeing, let alone recommending to others, I was happy to find this movie. I was not happy to have missed it in theaters, because it looks like just the sort of movie one should be enjoying as light projected onto a very big screen, but I’m glad it didn’t slip by entirely.

Which, given its pretty weak advertising, is probably going to be the case for almost everyone else.

Was it perfect? No. But it was a thoroughly enjoyable ride from start to finish, minus a slight hitch right near the end. So as long as you aren’t one of those “the ending determines how good a movie is” folk, it’s a net win.

Also, George Takei is in it, mostly to just say, “Oh, my!” Is that enough to see the movie on its own? Well, in my book, yes. Your mileage, as always, may vary.

Though, in this specific case, your mileage would also be wrong.

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First Impressions – “Izetta: The Last Witch”

Whoa. Whoa. I know what you’re thinking. Didn’t I just review this one?

No. You’re thinking of “Brave Witches.” And that wasn’t so much a review as just tearing it a new one and shaking it until all the time I wasted watching it fell out. That wasn’t a review. That was therapy.

This is an entirely different show about witches. You’ll see.

izetta

The Basics. Okay. So this is a story about a fictionalized World War II-era Europe where where magic exists and a young flying witch must save her war-torn…oh, my God, it’s the same series, isn’t it?

Well, not exactly.

I won’t lie. There are more than just superficial differences between this series and “Brave Witches.” I don’t know how it happened, but I ended up watching this series immediately after that one entirely by accident. And while that fact alone made me want to stop watching almost the second I started, I’m glad I gave it a chance.

Anyway, this is the story of an alternate version of Europe with names so similar that I’m just going to use the real ones instead of looking up the fake ones. Despite an unified front by France and England, Germany’s superior tank and air power manages to drive France to surrender. And with English troops driven back across the Channel, Germany is free to attack the small, neutral land of…I don’t know. Luxembourg, I guess? One of those two countries between France and Germany with really high life expectancies.

In the face of sure defeat, the daughter of the Archduke, Princess Fine, undertakes a dangerous diplomatic mission to enlist the help of England. Unfortunately, she finds herself captured by German forces and sent to Berlin. Luckily, she’s saved by the young witch Izetta who literally tears the plane in half and rides them both to safety using a heavy machine gun like a broomstick.

The Good. What part of “tears the plane in half and rides them both to safety using a heavy machine gun like a broomstick” don’t you understand?

The action sequences in this series are good. So, so good. And with an interesting plot and genuinely likeable characters, I finally started realizing that comparing this show to Brave Witches wasn’t just comparing apples to oranges. It was comparing a very unlikable apple to a witch who flies around on a heavy machine gun.

But I’ll take you back to the beginning a bit.

The series starts out with the Princess escaping a moving train while German soldiers open fire on her and her bodyguards. This alone is such a good opening that you’re immediately left wanting to know more. You’re given a quick rundown of what’s at stake without being bludgeoned over the head with it. Princess Fine is a strong female character who isn’t relegated to the usual damsel in distress.

Well, I mean, yeah. She is in almost constant distress. And she gets captured. But before the first episode is over she manages to hold her own in a fight in a falling plane and gets shot in the arm. So by the time you’re saying, “Wow. She pretty much kicks the most ass of any character ever,” bam! Machine gun broom witch!

Izetta is a one-witch army, spending the third episode destroying an entire tank division and bomber formation using telekinetically-controlled swords and lances. And yet, you’re left with the idea that she’s just as fragile as any human. She can and does get knocked around. So even while she’s flipping tanks and piercing cockpits with spears, you never lose the feeling that she’s in legitimate danger at any given moment.

The Bad. For the most part, I was happy with the series, but I will admit it has a few small flaws. They were nothing that ruined it for me, but…well, I can’t just leave this section blank, so here we are.

First off, Izetta’s witch powers are a bit hard to understand. While it seems to let her control and throw things around with her mind, the second episode has her suddenly run out of juice mid-battle for no particular reason. Then, when she expends far more energy in the third episode, she seems completely fine. It worries me that her power reserves will be something of a plot device to keep the battles fair going forward.

Though, in all fairness, the fourth episode is called “The Secret of the Witch,” so maybe they’re gearing up for an explanation.

In a similar vein, well, Izetta is a bit overpowered. If she spends the rest of the series fighting conventional soldiers and weaponry, it’s going to be pretty one-sided. Though, given the German’s interest in her, there may be an evil witch counterpart to make things a bit more interesting.

In Conclusion. I’m rarely so pleasantly surprised by a series I expected to be bad right off the bat. But being wrong can have its perks.

Of course, as with any first impression, I could be entirely wrong. Three episodes was just long enough to see the major plot threads solidify and to learn who the main characters were. Starting in episode four things could go south fast. And I’ll be the first to say, as pleasant as it is to watch Izetta destroy entire armies, if she never faces down a tougher enemy it’ll be a missed opportunity.

I wouldn’t say it would be bad per se, but definitely not as good as it could have been.

In short, I’d wholeheartedly recommend the series to anime fans. I’m not sure it’d be worth the risk for non-anime fans, but it’s got a solid story, good action and a short enough character roster that I don’t have to go online to remind myself who everyone was. Frankly, that’s always a plus.

If you’re still on the fence, though, please enjoy this video of a witch flying around on a heavy machine gun like an absolute boss.

Though, a warning if you happen to watch this in mixed company. This is an anime. Witch butts figure prominently into the opening.

Review – Fall Flavors IV

How are your arteries? I mean, they’re good, right? Because realistically, if you have a heart condition or high cholesterol, you shouldn’t even be reading this review.

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Hostess Deep Fried Twinkies. Depending on your perspective, this review is either dated or really, really dated by now. Fried Twinkies have been part of American fair culture for at least a decade or so now. And even the boxed version is at least a few months old, meaning it isn’t technically a new flavor limited specifically to Fall. But I’m giving it a pass. First, because nothing screams “Fall” like taking something that’s already ninety percent butter and deep-frying it. In butter.

And secondly, well, I accidentally ate some brown rice the other day and I don’t want my body to feel like I’m coddling it.

These come in two flavors – regular and chocolate-filled. I opted to go for the regular because I wanted a more authentic experience. Besides, if I wanted chocolate deep-fried I would eat – and have eaten – fried Oreo’s or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

But first, to address the elephant (or at least the very overweight guy) in the room.

Since Facebook started putting ads every other post in my news feed, I’ve been seeing a lot of advertisements for this product. And since people can comment on these ads, well, has commenting ever made anything better?

I don’t have any odd notions that my taste buds were the first – the archetype from which all human taste buds were created. People eat things all the time and hate them despite my liking them, and vice versa. And that’s fine. Different strokes for different folks. Or, in my case, probably just many more strokes because I put terrible, terrible things into my body.

What irked me, though, was that out of about thirty negative comments I read about this product, only two had actually eaten them. And sure, I get it. These obviously aren’t health food by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, if you put this into a salad, they’ll just cancel eat other out and vanish with a loud popping sound.

But c’mon. If you’re going to say that something makes you throw up, the least you can do is actually try it. It’s one thing to say that it sounds so horrible for you that you don’t think you could actually process it as food and digest it. It’s another thing entirely to say that it puts you on a toilet for three days when you’ve never been closer to the product than the distance between your computer screen and a picture of the box.

It was a weird situation where idiots forced me to actually feel bad for Wal-Mart customer service, who was fielding all these complaints by asking what was wrong and if they’d like a refund. Only to have the person reply, “Well, I’ve never had these, but aren’t Americans fat enough already?”

Surely you could see why they were confused after saying these gave you diarrhea.

All right. Enough of that, though. Rant off. Feedbag on.

I rarely gush about foods in the way that I’d like to gush about fried Twinkies in a box. Simply put, these transported me to a realm of pure ecstasy. Which is probably a good thing, since I couldn’t move after I ate two and count being transported as exercise.

This is probably in my top five desserts of all time. And when I added a little strawberry syrup for dipping, I was more than happy to bump it up to my top three. If you’ve been following my eating career (or just been watching me eat from across the room and shaking your head for the past few years), you’ll know that I’ve eaten some pretty wild desserts. This had some real competition from things like fried cheesecake.

I don’t know how they got the outside to taste and crunch like freshly-fried dough right out of the hot grease. Maybe I don’t want to know. My point is, these are good. Damn good. Damn good-er than they really have any right to be.

This isn’t just a faithful recreation of the real thing – it’s better.

Now, just for the sake of completion, though, I will add a few notes. Don’t try to cook these in the microwave. You can wait the eight minutes it’ll take to cook them in the oven, especially since you’ll be eating a flimsy moist mess otherwise. Or at least, you would, if these things didn’t explode in the microwave.

Most importantly, eat only one of these at a time. I repeat. One. At. A. Time.

I get it. You think you’re a big man. You can eat mouthfuls of the really hot peppers and not even break a sweat. Sour candy? What sour candy? This isn’t like that, okay? This is the real thing. And if you try to eat more than one at once, you’re putting your life into your own hands. I’m relatively sure that’s the reason they put seven in a box – so you didn’t try to eat them in three sittings of two apiece.

If you can follow those two rules, though, you’ll have a full belly of warm, contented goodness.

Review – Fall Flavors III

Now that we’ve thoroughly discussed the merits of spicy beverages, let’s move on to something a little more Fall-centric.

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What is it with these foods and having no good images available?

Frosted Caramel Apple Pop Tarts. I first caught sight of these in a list of about 36 limited edition flavors for the 2016 Fall Season. I remember they immediately caught my interest – mostly by being the single entry that wasn’t flavored with some combination of pumpkin and my own hatred.

Also, I mean, c’mon – caramel apple Pop Tarts? That’s pretty baller right there.

These weren’t really a hard sell for me, though. Because Pop Tarts has had some pretty crazy ideas in the past. And maybe I right to be skeptical of Frosted A&W Root Beer Pop Tarts. Any sane man should have been wary of that one. But what can I say? With the possible exception of those tiny barrel-shaped candies that might not even be edgy enough to exist anymore, I’ve never eaten a solid food with such a convincingly authentic root beer flavor in my life.

After that, Pop Tarts has pretty much gotten a pass from me. Orange soda? Sure. Pink lemonade? Get those things out of their silver pouch and into my mouth. Summer berry? Whatever that even is, absolutely.

Now, are Pop Tarts infallible? Absolutely not. After all, a few of their core flavors – like unfrosted anything, aren’t the best. And their insistence on still pushing that brown sugar whatever flavor after twenty years or so is, at best – ill-advised.

But for the most part, most things translate quite nicely to the medium of “filled pastry dessert with frosting on top.”

So how were these ones? To be blunt, they nailed it. In fact, in a long line of things Pop Tarts has absolutely nailed, this actually stands out as one they nailed to a startlingly awesome degree.

I’m sure you’d be forgiven for dismissing these right out of the box. (Hi-yo!) The swirl designs on the pastry are never quite as nice-looking as the ones in the pictures. One I ate, in fact, had the swirl so far off center that it was partially cut off on the right side. I noticed this only because it was the very first one I ate. I don’t really know if the others looked similar, because they were in my mouth too quickly to notice.

The insides were some mixture of vaguely apple-looking mush and light brown caramel goo. I realize that doesn’t sound all that great – probably less so because I’m mostly guessing as to what each colored slurry was supposed to be. And probably less less so because I used the term “slurry.” But the truth is, anyone who was expecting to find whole strawberries in their pastry not only doesn’t “get” Pop Tarts but doesn’t understand the filled-pastry sciences as a whole.

Pop Tarts are processed food of the most wonderful sort. In short, should you be eating these for every meal? Yes. They taste amazing. But should you? Probably not. Because 400 calories something something sodium carbs.

(Though, 20% niacin isn’t bad, right? And thiamin, too. I think?)

I’m not pretending these are health food or anything. Then again, most health foods aren’t that good. Frosted Kale Pop Tarts, in fact, might be one of the few flavors I’d consider skipping in the future.

Now, on to the last review. Maybe it’ll be a bit healthier and…ha ha. No.

Fried Twinkies in a box.

Review – Fall Flavors II

Writer’s Note: I realize I’ve been doing a lot of reviews lately. And…that’s pretty much the whole note. As long as there’s weird or interesting things to try and movie trailers to check out, I’m probably going to keep doing it. I just wanted to be clear that I’m aware of it.

The three items I’m doing today were a bit tricky, because I wasn’t sure I was even going to try them in the first place. Which is a nice way of saying, “All three of these things sound sort of disgusting.”

But appearances can be deceiving. After all, I’m a tall, handsome, intelligent man who’s a caring husband and father. And on the other hand…well, sometimes looks can be not at all deceiving, too.

Now that I’ve finished with the narcissism, moving along.

Mango Heat.jpg
Sorry it’s not a good picture, but to be fair, people aren’t buying Dew for how it looks.

Mountain Dew Game Fuel: Mango Heat. I realize at first glance that this doesn’t really seem like a fall flavor at all. But Mountain Dew has a yearly promotion with two limited edition flavors to coincide with one major video game release or another. In short, it’s a rather shameless cash grab of the very best variety – the kind that gives me new flavors of Mountain Dew.

I was initially very skeptical of this flavor. In fact, when I heard “Mango Heat,” I thought it was a mango habanero flavor for Doritos. And while that doesn’t sound much better, the idea of spicy soda definitely gave me pause. Even when it’s released by Mountain Dew. To put my relationship/addiction in perspective, Mountain Dew recently sent me a t-shirt just because I drink so much and I was slightly disappointed they didn’t just send me a can of soda.

Because you can’t drink a shirt.

But enough beating around the bush. How was the spicy mango soda? Surprisingly…not too bad. And the only thing that kept it from being great was probably that I’m just not that big a fan of mango.

The heat, however, was rather pleasant.

I feel like the name “Mango Heat” was an apt one. Because rather than an overdone spicy note on the end, it’s more like the slightly cool sensation in your mouth after you have something minty. Or the slight warmth when you’re drinking bourbon. I include the second example because it’s more fitting, and the first because not everyone likes drinks that can catch on fire.

I’ll include the caveat that a number of people absolutely hate this flavor. A number even refer to it as a pleasant mango for three seconds followed by overpowering black pepper for the rest of your life. So clearly, mileages can and do vary.

On one hand, I’m not sure this was a drink anyone was asking for, but it’s something different, so I can’t be angry that Mountain Dew is trying new things. Especially when its fan base would be more than happy to buy any generic berry flavor they release and tint a slightly different color of red or purple.

Next up, Frosted Caramel Apple Pop Tarts

Writer’s After-Note: I’m going to split this article into multiple pieces so I can get the individual parts out as quickly as possible. With a little luck, you should see all three before day’s end. And with a little less luck…not that.