Monday, February 16, 2015

Jupiter Ascending (2015) Review

The Wachowskis continue to trek through sci-fi territory with Jupiter Ascending, starring Mila Kunis as the heir (or resurrection?) of someone in royalty.  This expectedly puts her in the midst of debates and conflicts over certain matters, as in property.  Along the way we get spacey air-rollerblading, out-of-place monsters and a little action scene ripped right out of Ender's Game.  Audiences should also know: Jupiter Ascending isn't the sci-fi epic it's marketed as.  Rather, it's a law squabble using space as a backdrop. 

My scant pitch for the plot stems from the apparent laziness of the Wachoskis, since we're never properly cued in to the lore.  Scenes play out with an air of presumption, as if we're already versed in the drab, egregious backstory.  Characters passively spit monikers out left and right, making the story and plot feel like a football when the crew (players) thought they were playing basketball the whole time.
Not only is the narrative poorly realized, but the characters are sloppily portrayed.  Channing Tatum does, as he says, "have more in common with a dog" than a human being.  And no, that's not a good thing.  Sean Bean appears, if only to play an obligatory hard-ass who entertains the same way minimum wage jobs support us.  Then there's Eddie Redmayne, who serves up campy acting like The Cheesecake Factory serves up clogged arteries.  What's astonishing is that I can't tell if he took the role seriously or not.  Finally, Mila Kunis portrays the titular character, albeit with less Jupiter and more Bella Swan.  You'll forget what little she does or says, with one exception being an abhorrent response to the aforementioned canine comparison. 

Despite these blunders, the most appalling crime of Jupiter Ascending is its inability to entertain, even on a guilty pleasure level.  The two-hour runtime would be better served as an overdue nap, which the movie just might accomplish for you.  Forgettable and frustratingly dull, Jupiter Ascending makes but one more case against the Wachowskis, suggesting that The Matrix was either a fluke or realized by other, more capable minds.

Grade: F

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Red Velvet Oreos Review

Nabisco don't always make logical choices with their limited edition Oreo variants.  One needn't look further than last year's Fruit Punch version for proof.  For Valentine's Day, however, America's favorite processed cookie is seeing a proper makeover. 

A Red Velvet Oreo sounds like it would be a long time coming, considering the terrain Nabisco have ventured into with each iteration.  This particular offering features wafers enhanced with red food coloring and cream cheese flavored creme.  The presence of both is immediately noticeable; the wafers are a tried-and-true color while the creme has light, butter-yellow hue that gives these a spiritual, distinguishable appearance.  When you open the package, a definite cocoa aroma pours out, though not the extent of say, 2013's Gingerbread Oreos.

 When biting into one of the sandwich cookies, it's immediately clear that they're playing their part.  Several Red Velvet products miss the euphoric, borderline decadence of the original dessert.  Even Ben & Jerry's Red Velvet Cake ice cream variety missed the mark.  Yet it's Nabisco (of all companies) who managed to get the Red Velvet recreation correct.  Where a brand like Ben & Jerry's made the experience feel subpar, a single bite of these made me swear I just bit into an ice cream sandwich.  The effects are completely disarming.  This is the worst temptation an Oreo product has given me since the Reese Oreos, yet I'll savor every malnourishing slip-up
 Where I Bought Them: Wal-Mart

Price: $2.98

Grade: A

Monday, January 19, 2015

American Sniper (2014) Review

 "American" has become the most tacked on word since "very."  At least, with regards to movie titles.  Between the hustles, horror stories, psychos and more, Americans appear to gravitate towards unpleasant activities.  Add said moniker to the word "sniper" and we have a pure antidote for excitement.  However, we're receiving said title from Clint Eastwood, which obviously counts for something--assuming you deleted J. Edgar and Jersey Boys from your memory.

American Sniper is a non-fictional depiction of Chris Kyle, played by Hollywood do-no-wronger Bradley Cooper.  Kyle was a Navy SEAL sniper credited with well over 100 confirmed kills over the course of four tours in Iraq.  This is primarily what the film demonstrates throughout its meaty runtime.  The story begins with a brief look at Kyle's origins in Texas, where his original "cowboy" aspirations quickly dissolve in favor of a call to duty.  Once Kyle deploys on his first tour, the film initiates a stride which it never falls out of.
Bradley Cooper shines as the film's crowning piece.  With an alarmingly buff makeover, one can't help but double-take throughout the opening act.  Cooper bestows this iteration of Kyle with more care than the scriptwriter(s) probably did, especially considering the simplistic dialogue which pervades every interaction.  Hardly a scene plays without Cooper, so the fact he possesses the degree of interest he does is an accolade in and of itself.  The best scenes focus on his subtle reactions, typically (but not always) from behind the scope of a sniper rifle.  Beyond him, the characters are a host of recurring faces who, outside of Kyle's wife, blend together like pale wrinkles in a photo of the Academy. 

My reference to the runtime stems most from how the film feels.  War is never a pretty picture, and this plays into Eastwood's recent affiliation with drained color palettes.  Grays and browns bathe American Sniper more than they do a Call of Duty installment.  This almost extends to the film's commentative exploration, but that's already allotting it too much credit.  A struggle of balance defines the film whenever it sidesteps from Kyle's tours.  We witness momentary snapshots of how the war affects him back home, yet these feel more like simple, mandated inclusions.  Kyle's plight is more observational than emotional, which wears down as we approach the final, ceremonial segment.  Depiction is American Sniper's priority, yet creativity is hardly of concern.  Furthermore, despite some tense and graphic moments, American Sniper doesn't hold enough to allow for a lasting impression in the midst of other, superior war films.
Grade: C

Monday, December 15, 2014

Pinnacle Pecan Pie Vodka Review

What flavored vodkas lack in dimensions, they make up for in numbers.  Along with fellow booze giant Smirnoff, Pinnacle have basked in the constant introduction of new and zany flavors.  The fad seems to have had a recent fizzle, giving one the chance to actually catch and experiment with previously released flavors.  In this particular case, we're looking at a pecan pie imitation.

Last time I tried a pecan pie product, it was last year's Pringles venture.  Surprisingly, the results were more evocative of pancakes and maple syrup, which wasn't necessarily a bad thing when you set health concerns aside.  And since we're doing just that, alcohol makes for an appropriate transition. 

Pinnacle have a time and test proven history of mimicking whatever flavor they infuse, but since this is still vodka, no one's going to be utterly fooled.  That said, serving this blind would certainly spark a few curious comments.  A caramel-y, brown sugar aroma emits with a touch of butter from the clear spirit.  Whatever formula Pinnacle use is in full swing here; their vodka assaults with a mouth-coating sweetness comparable to candy and liqueur.  The fact this is still fundamentally vodka strangely aids in making this sippable, but the sweet factor will be difficult for most drinkers to get over.  Reactions are like to mimic those that come with sipping maple-flavored whiskey.

The mere premise of a pecan pie vodka is already egregious to turn heads past the next flavor and onto the next brand.  I usually find a line between drink snob and oft-mocked white girl stereotypes that come from trying obscure products.  Pinnacle Pecan Pie vodka finds me wavering along the same road.  I can't say the product isn't potentially enjoyable, but I can't give it my fullest recommendation, either.  If the time of the year is right, this vodka can be incorporated into certain Fall/Winter-themed drinks, but no one will be signing petitions for this vodka's resurgence if and when Pinnacle permanently kill it off.

Where I Bought It: N/A (Gift)

Price: $14.99 (750 mL, listed at Total Wine)

Grade: C

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Ben & Jerry's Peanut Butter Brownie Sundae Review

Ben & Jerry's have caught on.  They know how effective the age-old combination of chocolate and peanut butter is, so doing it with ice cream only means catapulting the effects.  It would certainly explain their recent influx of peanut butter-oriented flavors this past year, and the trend continues in their latest offering, Peanut Butter Brownie Sundae.  Do I even need to inform you of this "vanilla ice cream with fudge brownies & a crunchy peanut butter swirl" after hearing a name like that?
After the recent euphoria-in-a-pint that was Candy Bar Pie, my expectations for Peanut Butter Brownie Sundae are understandably high.  Between that and Ben & Jerry's established track record, it's easy to hold Peanut Butter Brownie Sundae to such standards.  Yet just from the first scoop, I realized this wasn't going to be the indulgent beast I had hoped for.  Vanilla ice cream isn't always an exciting basis, and Ben & Jerry's come a few notches shy of, say, Blue Bell in this regard.  The flavor is typically a foundation for mix-ins to be shown off, and while the brownies and peanut butter swirls are obviously welcome, they're not enough to propel Peanut Butter Brownie Sundae into the top echelon.
Taking every aspect individually, the fudge brownies are the highlight with regards to flavor, although I hit some sizable peanut butter swirls throughout, especially towards near the end.  The two are nearly as blissful as they should be, although I wish the brownies were smothered about the pint to properly rival their companioning mix-in.  A smooth yet slightly crunchy texture defines the peanut butter swirls, and is as welcome as you'd hope.  And if you're somehow a newcomer to Ben & Jerry's catalogue, then these are sure to leave a strong first impression. 
I hate to admit it, but Ben & Jerry's vanilla ice cream base is what keeps me from gushing over Peanut Butter Brownie Sundae.  It's an example of being sufficient for the less discerning individual, but those expecting the charismatic excellence of Ben & Jerry's best flavors may be disappointed.  This is still a pleasant flavor and another solid dive into the ever-expanding pool of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, it's just less so than other, similar ventures.
Where I Bought It: Wal-Mart

Price: $3.48

Grade: B