Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Do Us a Flavor…It’s back!!

potatochips4I guess Frito-Lay learned from last year’s mistake, and chose to bring back their annual Do Us a Flavor contest, where people submit their favorite tastes for new potato chip considerations (not to mention a chance to win some cash!!).

I never got around to submitting my Sizzling Shawarma this year, will just have to wait till 2018 to win the big bucks!

The three finalists are now appearing on local grocery store shelves. This time around there are only three flavors to choose from, and each one is from a different product line. While the latter does make it a little hard to compare chip feel (crunchiness, thickness, etc.), it does make it easier on the pocket book for those of us who don’t normally buy chips except when trying the unique blends thought up.

For those not wishing to partake, or interested in this year’s options, here are my thoughts:

CRISPY TACO  - Aroma upon opening the bag is definitely reminiscent of browned ground beef like when you’re making tacos at home. As for the flavor? WOW!! Spot on taste of a taco with meat, lettuce, shredded cheese and a mild to medium taco seasoning (Don’t ask me how they do it because we probably don’t want to know).

The flavor was very pronounced when first eating them. But, gets more muted with the more you consume. I’d definitely buy this one again down the road.

KETTLE COOKED EVERYTHING BAGEL WITH CREAM CHEESE – I love this kind of bagel in the morning with a cup of coffee so was looking forward to trying this flavor out. Let me say that the chips are nicely crunchy with none of the usual oily consistency a lot of the kettle cooked varieties have.

Sadly, that’s the kindest thing I can say. When opening the bag, it has a slight aroma which reminds me more of those shrimp chips you find in Asian markets than bagels. There’s no hit of onion, garlic or sesame. Eventually you might pick up some sesame. But, that’s only after eating a whole bunch, and even then it’s only slight. Definitely disappointed.

WAVY FRIED GREEN TOMATO – Not sure if it’s planned scarcity, or what. But, there’s always one flavor that seems to be so hard to find. This year’s entry in that category is the Wavy Fried Green Tomato. I have tried multiple grocery stores to find absolutely nothing stocked. I even asked a Frito-Lay driver. But, he wasn’t even aware of it. Finally, I reached out to my Facebook friends, and through the magic of crowdsourcing I found out that Walgreens carries them.

Let me preface all this by saying I haven’t eaten fried green tomatoes in nearly 20 years. It was some time after the award winning movie came out because I can remember watching it on VHS.

The sniff test revealed the plainest of all three flavors. If you blindfolded me, and then had me smell these and a bag of regular chips, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference to save my life.

Tomato flavor does come out when eating. Not huge. But, enough that it reminded me of the occasional times I’ve sliced up a big beef steak tomato to slap on a burger. There’s also a hint of pepper after a bit, and what I’d describe as a light mustard.

* * *

My clear favorite is the Crispy Taco.

Perhaps my Left Coast leanings towards Mexican comfort food swayed the decision. But, it was a smack dab bullseye for what it was supposed to be, whereas the Fried Green Tomato was more subdued and the Everything Bagel was a big miss.

People in the USA have until October 8th to vote for your favorite flavor at https://www.dousaflavor.com

Sunday, July 16, 2017

And the 13th Doctor is….

13thDoctorTardisKey

To use the words of River Song, “SPOILERS!!”

So if you really don’t want to know who the next Doctor Who lead is stop reading immediately (and stick your head in a bucket of sand because December is a long long way away).

* * *

A lot of Doctor Who fans were hoping we wouldn’t hear the identity of who would be replacing Peter Capaldi until the annual Christmas Day special. Then all of a sudden, the BBC announces it would be revealed today.

Either they got spooked that it would be leaked, as the past few have been, or there was a backroom deal made and they will be magically showing up at Comic-Con next week, or perhaps a combination of the two.

Ever since Capaldi announced in January he was leaving Doctor Who, the speculation has ramped up over who would be the next Doctor. With that speculation came multiple names of who might be stepping into those shoes. Some guesses were pretty solid actors, while others were far fetched.

Adding variety to this change was the big push to have a female assume the role for the first time. There had been speculation that a woman, or at the very least a non-white actor, would be chosen, ever since the show was resurrected in 2005.

But, it should be noted that it was not until 2011’s episode Let’s Kill Hitler, that the possibility of changing race was added to cannon. Then a couple of years later the idea of changing gender was canonized when we were introduced to Missy, in The Bells of Saint John. (As it turned out, Missy was a regeneration of the Doctor’s arch nemesis, The Master, who we’d last seen seven years prior).

Both of those additions to canon were made by outgoing executive producer Steven Moffat, who happened to also be the writer for both stories.

* * *

Around 5:30 am (PDT) all eyes were fixated on BBC One to get the answer. Viewers’ television screens switched to a forest. A figure dressed in a charcoal gray hooded coat slowly walked away from the camera. Excitement grew with every methodical step. The person had an obvious svelte build. But, that’s all we could tell.

Thirty seconds in a white right hand came up meaning the 13th Doctor wouldn’t be David Harewood or Idris Elba. Seven seconds after that a glimpse of an obviously feminine left eye told us the next Doctor would be the first female Doctor. But, would it be Jodie Whittaker, Olivia Colman or Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who odds-makers were projecting as the first female Doctor. (An interesting fact is that all three of these woman played roles in Chibnall’s Broadchurch.)

The hood was slowly removed to reveal Whittaker as the next Doctor!

As quick as a flash of lightning, the Internet was ablaze with people applauding the choice, as well as those condemning it.

Chibnall is now publically saying the 13th Doctor was always going to be a woman, and Whittaker was his first choice. How much of that is reality vs just trying to stand 100% behind Whittaker is up for conjecture. But, if so, it means he was just stringing popular choice Kris Marshall along; providing he ever met with him to begin with.

* * *

So how do I feel about this major change in direction?

I will admit to being a little disappointed about it. But, unlike some, I’m certainly going to wait to see how things pan out when Season 11 airs sometime next year. Besides, as the sixth Doctor Colin Baker tweeted, “…she IS the Doctor whether you like it, or not!”

It’s been quite some time since I watched Broadchurch so Whittaker might turn out to be the best thing to happen to the show since David Tennant (ironically also of Broadchurch).

A lot of fans seem willing to blame Capaldi, the most recent Doctor. Me, not as much. To me, the show seems to have been hit or miss over the past few seasons. Some episodes were great, while others lacked any kind of spark from the get-go.

I think it would have made more sense to cast a well established male actor, such as Tom Hiddleston, Colin Ferrell, or even Ben Daniels, though the latter is probably pushing the upper age limit of who they’d probably consider, as the viewing audience seems to skew towards those 30 and under, with nearly as many women as men tuning in. Then spend the time on tightly written story lines, rather than what might be looked at as a gimmick used to grab lots of attention.

Should the show tank even further, it will be too easy for the detractors to blame the idea of a female Doctor as being the reason for the failure.

The previously mentioned Elba would have been fantastic as the first black Doctor. But, he’s got his hands full with bringing Steven King’s The Dark Tower to the big screen, along with a follow-up television series.

Another important part of the puzzle hasn’t been revealed yet. Who will the Doctor’s new Companion be?

The Companion is a person who encounters the Doctor by happenstance, and then joins them in their travels around the universe.

Chemistry is very important so perhaps it hasn’t been decided upon, and they want to wait so the potential actors can read against Whittaker. The previous companion, Bill Potts (Perl Mackie), was a breath of fresh air over the previous few Companions. But, only she lasted only one season.

Moffat had apparently wanted to leave Chibnall with a clean slate, which is why he got rid of Capaldi, Mackie and Matt Lucas (Nardole) all in one fell swoop. But, I’d suggest that perhaps Mackie’s character being gay might’ve lead to unwanted controversies with the first female Doctor.

Moffat killed off Potts in episode 11, only to bring her back within the sappy closing moments of the season finale, so it’s certainly possible we haven’t seen the last of her; nor Nardole for that matter, who was marooned on another level of the Mondasian colony ship.

* * *

Will some people label me as a misogynist, homophobe, or both, because I’d rather have another male Doctor? I’d hope not. But, it won’t surprise me either if it happens as It seems easier to do so than to actually listen to any opposing viewpoint on something as inconsequential as a television series.

Monday, June 19, 2017

And the Oscar goes to… (2017 edition)

Here we are again. The annual blog entry with my thoughts on the Best Picture nominations at this year’s Academy Awards!

Please note that, with the exception of seeing Arrival in the theater, I watched all the films on either DVD or streaming as they became available so reviews were written over several months.

Comments are based on personal preferences, and don't take into account popularity at the box office.

So without further ado here are my thoughts on this year's Best Picture Nominations for the 2017 Academy Awards presentation.

arrival-posterARRIVAL Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is an eminent linguistics professor, who has been called upon in the past by the United States government. After classes are interrupted by the arrival of several ships from outer space, her life is turned upside down as she’s hired to try and communicate with the aliens.

Unlike many first contact type films, we are introduced to the aliens almost immediately, and a majority of the film deals with Banks and the other scientists trying to establish communications.

The big problem I had with this film was that is seemed physically muted and dark throughout. Apparently this was done intentionally. But, it made the film hard to  watch, especially the darkness even in scenes that would have been brightly lit otherwise.

The ending was rushed and unsatisfactory. It was as if they were going along then someone said they needed to wrap it up immediately. I was left with several burning questions that weren’t answered.

fences-posterFENCES Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) has a life where it seems everything is coming at home, and is in constant turmoil. He tries to get other people to see it his way by trying to explain it away.

Fences is a straight adaptation of the August Wilson play. Wilson also wrote the screenplay. Wilson’s screenplay is very rich, capturing every nuance from the play.

But, herein lies a problem. Most of what is seen on the screen are long scenes of dialog as one would see when going to a play. There were only a handful of times when there’s silence, allowing the viewer’s eye to soak in the situation.

Another issue is the camera seems to always be in motion. Even close-ups have an ever so slight movement which is noticeable and distracting once you notice it, and it’s not the case of it necessarily being handheld. It’s something along the lines of what Ken Burns introduced with The Civil War.

The ensemble cast was the best part of this film. Washington decided to reassemble the same cast who performed the play so many times on Broadway. They, along with newcomer Jovan Adepo (The Leftovers), brought performances that fit like a glove.

hacksaw-ridge-posterHACKSAW RIDGE Like most American males, Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) wanted to due his duty, and signed up for the US Army. The issue for Doss was that his religion forbade his touching a gun and taking another life. Despite multiple challenges from his trainers he made it through Boot Camp and was assigned to the Pacific Theatre of War, and the Battle of Okinawa.

Garfield was a great choice for Doss, with his small stature and meek delivery. He was completely believable in the part.

I appreciated that the original screenplay concentrated on two parts; the challenges of Boot Camp, and then a two day period from Okinawa. Most war films want to come to a conclusion of the war. But, that would have watered down Doss’ amazing contributions, and the lives saved.

Special Effects were incredible, capturing the intense violence and gore of military combat. Bodies were ravaged with realistic intensity which might make some viewers queasy.

hell-or-high-water-posterHELL OR HIGH WATER Tanner and Toby Howard are a modern day cross between Bonnie & Clyde and Robin Hood. Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is just a few days short of his retirement from the Texas Rangers, and would nothing more than to catch up with the unknown criminals before he has to turn in his badge.

The film starts out with a couple of robberies interspersed with some down time. Unfortunately, the down time is frequent, and quite slow.

Dialog between Ben Foster (Tanner) and Chris Pine (Tobey) is tight like you’d expect from a couple of brothers who took different paths in life. But, just didn’t make me sympathetic to what they were doing.

The stark New Mexico scenery is a great stand-in for west Texas, including the small towns. The brightness and clear blue sky exudes the feeling of a hot summer environment.


hidden-figures-posterHIDDEN FIGURES Three unassuming African American women battle stereo types and racial oppression to help send American astronauts into space.

When I first heard of this film, it looked cute, almost sappy like at times. But, I was pleasantly surprised.

The screenplay was based on the Margot Lee Shetterly non-fiction book of the same name, and it did a great job of creating an inspirational story, yet kept us balanced by not sugar-coating the terrible treatment of African-Americans by society of the time.

All three lead actresses (Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle MonĂ¡e) did not overplay their characters, following the balance in the screenplay.

Another thing worth mentioning is the soundtrack, which helped punch up certain scenes, which would have been so bland without the well chosen songs.

I would have liked to have seen a little more about Mary Jackson’s night courses, and any challenges she faced. But, ultimately that might’ve bogged the film down, which was already over two hours in the theatrical version.

la-la-land-poster LA LA LAND Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) both have dreams to make it big. After running into each other several times in one day they fall madly in love. The question is will their relationship strengthen their dreams, or dash them?

Every so often musicals seem to pop up in Hollywood, and then they do, they’re the talk of the town. They’re unique and so easily stand out.
I wish I could say I jumped on the La La Train too. But, I can’t. The opening ensemble number was great, and I was looked forward to what was about to come. Unfortunately, there weren’t nearly as many musical numbers as I’d expected. Several times the background music comes up hinting at a musical number, only to move on to something else.

And while I understand the ending, it was way too long, yet predictable.

PrintLION Saroo goes looking for work with his older brother. After nodding off he awakes and goes searching for his brother, to no avail. He then checks for him on a train, which ends up taking him to Calcutta, which is over 900 miles from home.

Lion is basically divided into three parts. The first part follows Saroo’s wandering Indian streets in hopes of finding his mother and brother. The second part covers his coming to his adoptive homeland of Australia and the new life it brings, and then the third his search to find where he was from, and the family he left behind.

Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, The Newsroom, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) gave yet another strong performance. But, the thing that drew me the most was young Sonny Pawar, who plays the young Saroo in his very first role. You are drawn in as he screams his brother’s name in vain.

Filming in the streets of Kolkata, and other parts of India, brought a raw look to the film which stood out from the other Best Picture nominees.

manchester-by-the-sea-posterMANCHESTER BY THE SEA After the tragic loss of his brother, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) has his life turned upside down when he’s named the guardian of his nephew Patrick.

Over the next two plus hours the viewer is thrown back and forth between the present day and flashbacks from past relationships with his brother and ex-wife (Michelle Williams), and that’s pretty much it.
Just when it seems like issues are going to be resolved, the film is over, leaving the viewer to wonder if things actually worked out.

Affleck does a great job capturing the somber Lee, who has been dealt with a world of hurt over the past decade, or so.

The other gem of a performance is Lucas Hedges, as Lee’s nephew. The teen angst of unexpectedly losing a parent, and the confusion it creates for the young man work well against Affleck’s somber role.

What puzzles me is the nomination of Williams for Best Supporting Actress. Most of the nominees had pretty small contributions to their films so perhaps it was just a lean year. But, Williams had at best two scenes that were longer than 60 seconds, and one of those was basically nothing more than swearing on camera.

moonlight-posterMOONLIGHT From a young age Chiron felt something different. He would sneak subtle glances of other boys his age, which brought him bullying from classmates as well as his mother.

The best way to describe this film is as several vignettes that are strung together that the viewer follows along with Chiron as he meanders through life.

The most standout of the cast was Mahershala Ali (Crossing Jordan, Treme, House of Cards) as Juan. It’s a shame he was gone no more than a third of the way through the film. I would love to have seen more of the relationship between him and Chiron. He could best be described as an anti-hero, who was doing what he thought best for the young boy, and was obviously pained when confronted by Chiron over his drug sales.

* * *

So what would have been my choice for Best Picture?

Lion

This was probably the toughest year since I’ve started doing a Best Picture review. Despite any flaws mentioned above, most of the films left me entertained.

It came down to Hacksaw Ridge, Hidden Figures and Lion. All three films kept me interested from beginning to end. But, the exotic location, and the magnetic innocence of the Sonny Pawar is what through the balance.

Previous entries:
And the Oscar Goes to… (2013 edition)
And the Oscar Goes to… (2014 edition)
And the Oscar Goes to… (2015 edition)
And the Oscar Goes to… (2016 edition)

Friday, January 20, 2017

A Change in Direction – Inauguration 2017

Obama-Trump

And so the 2016 Presidential Election have finally came to an end. Donald J. Trump was elected by the Electoral College, beating Hillary Clinton despite her having more popular votes. Unfortunately for Clinton the president is selected by the Electoral College, not the overall popular vote.

Today I watched the inauguration for most of the day. I had to laugh a bit at all the people saying not to watch it, or coming up with ideas such as leaving their television sets on because it would “drive Trump crazy” over low ratings. Ignoring the fact that they efforts wouldn’t have had any bearing on the ratings,

I have news for them. Trump couldn’t care less. He was the one with his hand on the Bible. It he who took the Oath of Office. It is he who will be sleeping in the White House tonight.

People are already comparing photos of today’s crowds with those of Barack Obama’s first inauguration, using that as some kind of indication that  nobody was there.

It makes no sense to compare the two. First off, the weather was terrible compared to way back in 2009. But, beyond that, you cannot compare the inauguration of the first African-American president with today’s event.

The 2009 crowd, estimated to be around 1.8 million people was the single largest event crowd ever in assembled in the United States. But, let’s be honest. How many of those people were there because he was the first African-American president? I don’t say that to be mean or racist. It’s on honest question. Heck, if I lived on the East Coast I might’ve even made the effort to be there.

Don’t get me wrong. I was not a Trump supporter. But, I look at all these efforts to somehow diminish the situation, or even somehow reverse it, and shake my head. He will be the president of the United States for at least the next four years, unless he resigns or is impeached and removal from office. 

Let him have his day today. Tomorrow will be a new day, and the first day of the 2020 Presidential Election campaign.

So what did I take from today’s speech and festivities?

When Trump was inside the Capital he ha a glazed look on his face. The same look that he had back in November when it first hit him that he’d won the election. That night he seemed rather magnanimous in his victory speech, and more subdued. I was wondering whether he would repeat that today. Turned out to be not so.

The speech was less of an inauguration speech, and more of a campaign speech with some of the words tweaked for the occasion. I said that to myself just a few minutes in. None of the political commentators said the same thing until legendary Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward did a few hours later, which was reassuring.

The president usually uses the speech as an opportunity for reconciliation throughout the country. Not so with this speech.

Trump painted a rather gloomy picture of the current state of the American country, and went on to pledge to eradicate ISIS from the face of the Earth.

I’m hoping that I am wrong. But, after hearing that statement I’m going to predict there will be “boots on the ground” within Syria and western Iraq by the end of 2017. Those of you who voted for the man and have children of prime drafting age should be saying your prayers now because efforts to reestablish the draft cannot be far behind.

Trump has made known some of the goals during his first 100 days in office.

Obamacare, in its current form, will be going away. But, the question is what will be left? The Republican controlled government is ready to repeal Obamacare with nothing to immediately replace it. But, there are undercurrents that this might not happen immediately. In fact, the first executive order signed was to “ease the burden” of Obamacare. What that exactly meant is unclear, and nobody is talking tonight.

The item with the biggest impact on our nation for the long term is filling the vacancy in the U.S. Supreme Court created by the death of Anton Scalia.

As of last fall Trump had a list of twelve candidates he considered to be his short list. Hopefully, he has had unofficial conversations with those people so that the list is whittled down to two or three names, and we can move forward.

Mind you I’m not suggesting there should be a rubber stamp of whomever he places into nomination. But, I’m hoping the opposition can be mature enough to have their hearings, and then vote.

Tonight Trump took a few moments to rail on the press. I had hoped the rhetoric was going to slow down. But, it hasn’t. I can’t even blame it on a few too many celebratory glasses of champagne since Trump does not drink alcohol.

My prayers for the next few days is that protests will be peaceful. You have an absolute right to protest. But, you do not have the right to willfully take a baseball bat or ball pin hammer to a store front. If you do not want to police breaking up a protest then police yourself. It is the anarchists amongst you who are forcing them to react.