Tag: Reviews

2017…

calendar

In a new year full of new possibilities, a quote comes to mind.

“Just write what you want…”

-My wife (repeatedly), 2012-2017

In all fairness, and as you might guess by the ellipses, that quote was taken out of context. I don’t want to portray my wife as saying something she didn’t, so I’ll include the full quote for your benefit.

“Just write what you want and get me a soda.”

-My wife (repeatedly), 2012-2017

The point of the quote, aside from asking me to get her a drink, was that I should focus more on writing fun articles rather than ones that will get views or what-have-you. More importantly, it’s about me writing what I enjoy writing. Because in the end that’s what’s going to keep me actually writing things on a daily, near-daily or even regular basis. Or, if it got very bad, ever again.

As much as I realize new years are arbitrary when it comes to making changes, I feel like 2017 is a good place to put the plan into action. That way, when people come to me and say, “What happened to all those well-formatted review articles?” I can just roll my eyes and say, “Well-formatted review articles? That is so 2016.”

An answer which, ironically, is so 1993.

So…what do I enjoy writing? Mostly, stories – short or long – that randomly come to mind. These usually involve things that made me say, “I can’t believe that just happened.” And then I notice I’m in Wal-Mart and I rescind my previous statement.

I also like reviews, but not with beginnings, middles, ends and categories to evaluate things on. How are the new vanilla latte Pop-Tarts? Delicious. Except there’s an additive that actually makes your pee smell like coffee afterward. Do I want to turn that sort of thing into a 2,000 word review? Probably not.

I’m fond of watching children’s shows and then doing a reality check. I like mentioning random absurdities that cross my mind. I support the free exchange of recipes with very little backstory. Want to know how to make really good holiday leftover sandwiches? How about when I tell a four-hour story about how I came up with them? Well, good news. The story of how I came up with anything is either “I was hungry so…” or “I was lazy so…” I’m not sure when recipes became books but that’s not my thing.

With all that in mind, hopefully you have a good year, very intelligent and attractive reader of my blog.

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?

kubo2
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.

Review – Eggnog Cake Rolls

eggnog-cake-rolls
Pictured: A very subtle metaphor.

I mean, honestly, why should I even care what I put in my body anymore?

Okay. Deep breaths. Focus. This isn’t about that other thing. This is about Christmas infringing so far on the rest of the calendar that I bought a box of limited edition festive Swiss Cake Rolls a week before Halloween.

Or…maybe I don’t want it to be about that, either.

Where was I? Right. As much as it might surprise people, I’m not eating horrible junk food every moment of every day. Since I fancy myself a rather good cook, I tend to be full by the time dessert rolls around. Combined with my habit of grabbing limited edition flavors the moment I see them, it often leads to a cupboard full of garbage that I ignore for weeks or months on end. One day, I assume, they’ll name the disorder, which will at least make it easier to explain.

It was because of said filled cupboard and unsaid thing that happened that I recently turned to junk food as a way to handle the stress.

Eggnog Cake Rolls are the best kind of theĀ  worst sort of snack. Like eggnog ice cream and fried butter before it, it took two horrible things, shrugged and then mashed it together. Then, it looked at consumers and said, “I mean, nobody lives forever, right?”

So I had some. Four, actually. Because I wanted to feel something other than what I was feeling at the time, even if it was far worse.

Or, at least, that’s sort of how it happened.

In reality, common sense was putting up a good fight against eating it. “We just got your body to a good place,” it cautioned. “You don’t have to stop and rest after washing your hands. If you put this in you now, it’ll do damage that might take months or years to sort out. Don’t do this. We’ve come so far.”

Meanwhile, my self-destructive side just shook its head, interjecting a “wrong” or “not true” every so often as common sense was making its point. “Where did you hear this?” it wondered angrily at the end.

Another part of me was simply tired of things the way they were. And while it acknowledged that eating a box of snack cakes would probably destroy my body, it was tired of so much rational thinking. “Thinking out every decision just means fewer new experiences,” it argued. “Are some of them bad? Sure. Are some of them unhealthy? Absolutely. But there are so many fried foods you haven’t tried.”

Inevitably, in a move that shocked everyone, I ate Eggnog Cake Rolls until I was sick.

It wasn’t the best idea. But it was what my body decided on. Though, not entirely. Because while over half of my body decided not to make me throw up, there was some strange math involved that I still don’t fully understand. And well, next thing you know, I’m staring at a bunch of empty cellophane wrappers wondering how this all happened.

As I sat there, feeling sicker and sicker, parts of me urged to wait it out. “Sure. The nutrition information looks pretty bad, but you’re acting like you’ve already thrown up. You’re just a bit nauseous. That’s perfectly normal.”

“I don’t know,” I reasoned. “I’m pretty sure no human being is supposed to eat so much of something with so many five-syllable ingredients in it.”

“It sounds like you’ve already decided you want to be sick from eating these snack cakes.”

“I don’t know. I feel like they’ve given me good reason to expect to throw up. Stuffing snack cakes with solid eggnog is objectively bad for you.”

To which the dissenting parts replied, “Look. Are you still going on about this? It’s been almost thirty seconds since you ate them. Whatever’s going to happen, you just need to calm down and work with your body to get this all sorted out.”

I brought up that my body had yet to forgive me for eating a salad with no dressing eight years ago. There was name-calling. I’ll spare you the ugly details.

I’m writing this before I know what the outcome of stuffing my face with enough processed food to kill a mid-sized cow might be. I don’t want to throw up. Nobody does. But I fear that’s the only possible outcome from a snack cake that does everything but say exactly that on its packaging.

I fear I sacrificed my health for the promise of something that would taste good for a small moment compared to the time I’m forced to deal with the consequences. And most of all, I fear that no matter how badly things go, there will still be parts of my body that refuse to learn why I can’t eat things like this, all the while still blaming that salad I ate years ago for why I don’t feel well.

I’m not sure what to do now. Because I can’t un-eat what’s already been eaten. And while I hold the small shred of moral victory in knowing that I, on the whole, didn’t want to eat that whole box of snack cakes, I will invariably still have to deal with the results.

They were good. And it’s hard to deny that some parts of my body will revel in that taste and pleasant fullness up to the very moment before I empty my guts into the toilet. But I doubt I’ll look back on it in four years and think it was a good decision.

Re-Views – “Deep Impact”

deep-impact

It’s strange to think, but out of all the movies I’ve seen in my life, I’ve probably watched about nine out of ten just once and never again.

There are lots of reasons this can happen. Most often, it’s because the movie was so thoroughly forgettable that there’s no reason to waste the additional 98 minutes and 1.4 calories required to press the “play” button again. Or, as in the case of, say, “Avatar,” that it was so unrelentingly terrible that I had to stop watching for mental health reasons.

Terrible movies aside, it’s even stranger when it comes to movies I only saw growing up. They leave a certain impression on you that only comes with the (relative) innocence of youth. Like a movie seeming fairly clean but actually being laden with sexual innuendo. Or wondering why Bambi was so sad after his mom went on that vacation. Or wondering why all the people in “Commando” were full of spaghetti sauce.

More recently, though, I’ve been bored enough to actually watch some of these movies a second time. And wow. It’s certainly dissuading me of a few misconceptions…

But let’s get to the Re-View of a movie I saw almost twenty years ago – “Deep Impact.”

Views on this movie were split into two major groups. Half of people remember this movie as “the movie so similar Armageddon that it might have been Armageddon.” And the other half remember it as just “the movie that wasn’t Armageddon.”

Both groups aren’t totally on the mark because this movie is, in fact, a horrible machine that feeds on the tears of parents.

Of course, I had no understanding of this as a child. I fell pretty neatly into the category of people who looked at this as the almost completely forgettable “movie that was sort of like Armageddon but wasn’t and oh, look, Morgan Freeman.”

I remember it not being terrible. In fact, it was actually fairly good, as disaster movies went. And who knows? Maybe things would have played out differently if Armageddon hadn’t come out at pretty much the same time.

Or, you know, not at all, saving us from that damn Aerosmith song about the guy who didn’t like sleeping or something.

Watching it recently, as the parent of a small child, the movie really hits you differently. It was like the difference between my playthroughs of “The Last of Us” pre-baby and post-baby. Before I was a parent, the opening act of the main character’s daughter getting gunned down while he clutches her and begs her not to die, that was rough. When I played it after my son was born, I think I had to go hold him in the middle of the night while he just sort of wondered what the hell was happening.

“If there’s ever a zombie outbreak,” I whispered into his ear, “you have to let me walk in front everywhere, okay?” At which point, he bit me in the shoulder, so that whole thing was messed up on a lot of levels.

To some degree, though, it’s worse in Deep Impact because that movie has a lot of families in a lot of crappy situations. So if any individual plot thread doesn’t tug at your heartstrings just right, they’ve got about thirty or forty to choose from. How about the estranged father who desperately wants to reconnect with his daughter before the world ends? No? How about the family who gets left off the list of people in the shelter and only their daughter gets in? Or the parents who hand off their infant moments before the impact so a guy on a fast bike might get them to safety?

None of those? How about the astronaut who went to space before his son was born and has to sacrifice his life to save the Earth? And his wife and son are late for a last message but get their juuuuuuust in time. But he never sees his son because he was blinded in an accident. Then there’s cooing and “I love yous” exchanged in the final moments before the video feed finally cuts out.

And then, for the last ten minutes, it just lingers on an old dog’s face as it slowly dies in the arms of the boy it grew up with while Johnny Cash plays guitar in the background.

In any event, I thought coming back to this movie after twenty years was particularly strange. Because missing out on sexual innuendo as a kid just means you’re missing out on a movie’s humor. Missing out on the soul-crushing despair in this movie completely changes the subtext. As an adult, you see the disaster as more of just a framing device for a lot of very raw, emotional stories. They could’ve replaced a comet impact with pretty much anything large enough to destroy the Earth but small enough to be stopped by a scrappy team of scientists, and the movie would have been identical.

The only question is, for what diabolical purpose were they harvesting those tears?

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.

Fried Twinkies.jpg

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.

caramel-apple-pop-tarts
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.