Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Maze Runner (2014) Review

Grim visions live on in James Dashner's The Maze Runner, the latest young adult novel to receive on-screen treatment.  If 20th Century Fox have their way, we can expect at least two more entries, especially since a sequel is already in pre-production.  The pitch is that a group of boys are stuck on a small slab of land (the Glade) surrounded by a large maze that, at night, closes and plays host to creatures known as Grievers.  Enter Thomas, our protagonist and the latest in a monthly addition to said group.  Unlike his more settled companions, Thomas immediately repels the idea of confinement and urges his newfound neighbors to take initiative in discovering a way out.   

One can't help approaching The Maze Runner with an air of trepidation, given the number of similarly styled movies we've seen a sudden influx of.  There are only so many times younglings can be subjected before we feel we've had our fill.  The film does have its competencies, but the chances of captivation and anticipation for the apparently-confirmed sequel are simply far-fetched.  
The Maze Runner's greatest facet is its overall intrigue--the mystery it initially presents for us to pick at.  While the use of momentary flashbacks is disenchanting, viewers can expect a light mental stretch from their first viewing.  Another commendable aspect is how the themes are implemented.  They aren't subtle, but we're at least spared the disservice of being drilled by overwrought messages and symbolism.  Perhaps the biggest and most pleasant surprise, however, is the consistency of acting.  O'Brien does an adequate job as the curious protagonist with a drive to do something, yet Will Poulter stands tallest as Gally, the stubborn voice of suspicion.  In that, the chemistry is also worth touching on, but you're not going to experience the same level of connection as Harry Potter or even The Hunger Games.  
This is where the unlikelihood of The Maze Runner's overall resonance stems from.  Most of what's presented works for the sake of adequacy, but finding anything of superb quality is almost as frivolous as making sense of the ending.  For most of the runtime, The Maze Runner moves at a steady, methodical pace.  Then those last five minutes pull the rug out and leave the film to slip and crumble oh so comically.  About the only reason to feel indifferent to this coy play is the probable lack of total investment, which is to say (and confirm) that if you remain detached throughout the whole affair, then you may be better off than those who are more impressionable.

Grade: C

Question of the Day: How do you feel about the surge of popularity young adult fiction has gone through?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Threshold: For the Journey (2014) Review

Listening to For the Journey, one can only wonder if the accompanying cover art is indicative of Threshold's current situation.  A figure walking along railroad tracks into the bleak unknown isn't exactly an exciting pitch, and given 2012's March of Progress, the metaphor may seem unbefitting.  Yet such symbolism has come to be.  If the drab wasteland on the cover can be interpreted as the band's own terrain, then the railroad tracks represent just how on-rails For the Journey really is.

Granted, Threshold have never been much for innovation.  For 26 years these Brits have retained a decidedly niche formula and barely toyed with it.  The fact it's worked this long defies logic and expectation, but like Amon Amarth, Threshold have kept their sound fresh and entertaining.  Or so that was the case.  For the Journey finally sees complacency creep into the band's framework, withering their music down to the point of stagnation.  An immediate red flag is how "Watchtower on the Moon" compares to the rest of the album; when the lead single (and album opener) is one of the better songs, you know something's amiss.  What's more is that we get a twelve-minute piece three tracks in.  I normally approach epics with interest and enthusiasm, but "The Box" merely stands as an example of what not to do.  It isn't as simple as carrying out a song into the double-digits, otherwise you simply wear the listener out.  As a result, For the Journey practically runs its gamut before so much as reaching the halfway point.  

From there on, everything feels irrelevant.  There are no surprises or moments of intrigue, just a series of tracks that showcase Threshold on autopilot.  If you thought they already sounded too settled for their own good, For the Journey will put things into perspective.  In that, the real challenge in critiquing For the Journey is that it doesn't offer much to pick at.  You could just as easily call this March of Progress: The Stale Version and be done, but then you'd have to alter the title.  Instead of developing what worked on its superior predecessor, For the Journey slumps into a state of regression.  To paraphrase (using the band's own lyrics): "there are better sights to see."

Grade: C

Question of the Day: Do you see Threshold doing anything different after this album?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Jim Beam Kentucky Fire Review

Leave it to Jim Beam to play in pairs.  As if the spirit industry wasn't already over-saturated by flavored spirits--cinnamon whiskey in this case, the Kentucky distiller has replicated their honey-infused tactic by releasing a second iteration.  Honey Tea led to Jim Beam Honey, now Spiced with Cinnamon has led to Kentucky Fire, which has also been diluted to 70 proof (from 80).  Can you smell the innovation, taste the excitement?

I didn't.  If you remember how Jim Beam's honey batches compared, you already know the playing field.  The infused cinnamon liqueur plays as much a part as death does in Game of Thrones; sweet and barely-heated cinnamon and caramel notes arise, the latter from what I presume is the bourbon.  While there is a tingling touch or two of cinnamon, it's miles from heated.  The spirit is mouth-coating, but not to the point of destroying your gums.  To my surprise, the bourbon is discernible amidst its cloying outfit, electing modesty before personality.

As has been the case with all other Fireball imitators, Kentucky Fire is less threatening than a piece of Jolly Rancher Cinnamon Fire.  Jim Beam might be a venerable brand, but when they fail to spark a dying fire, it becomes difficult to afford them much regard.  Kentucky Fire isn't a bad product, it just adds more grams to a sagging market.  Fireball set the stage and have remained the key player, something Kentucky Fire further solidifies through its underwhelming performance.

Where I Bought It: ABC Fine Wine & Spirits

Price: $16.99

Grade: C

Question of the Day: Do you have a cinnamon whiskey go-to besides Fireball?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Ben & Jerry's Pumpkin Cheesecake Review

For the longest time, my mind didn't register the "cake" in Ben & Jerry's Pumpkin Cheesecake.  Don't ask, even I don't know why.  Once I re-learned how to properly read, I realized that I must have missed out on a potentially amazing experience.  Maybe not the end-all of pumpkin products, but certainly a solid-to-excellent entry in the escalating seasonal extravagance.  

My late purchase of said flavor came with Ben & Jerry's shift in pint design, which I feel is a less enticing one, even if we're now treated to photos of the actual ice cream.  The style is more straightforward, less expressive, which is applicable to many late Ben & Jerry's flavors.  Not that their quality has receded per se, but the level of indulgence we've come to expect from them certainly has.  Pumpkin Cheesecake, for better or for worse, is yet another representation of this facet.  
Anyone acquainted with Ben & Jerry's will know what to expect from the base, especially knowing what the two key players are (pumpkin and cheesecake).  Neither flavor is inherently sharp, so the creamy density is enhanced more than anything, making Pumpkin Cheesecake feel closer to Blue Bell than it does Haagen-Dazs.  The ensuing flavor is a smooth, pleasant pumpkin flavor.  Similar to Starbucks' new VIA Pumpkin Spice Latte, the level of spice is light--subdued at best.  

Another decidedly light quality to Pumpkin Cheesecake is its graham cracker swirl.  This is where my observation of tamer offerings from Ben & Jerry's springs to mind.  Granted, Pumpkin Cheesecake isn't a new offering, but that doesn't make said aspect any less relevant.  The choice to simply use graham crackers as a mix-in is as appropriate as it is unexciting.  Their frequency is moderate, with the bigger chunks appearing at pint's end.  At that point they come as big as a fragment of fudge would in chocolate-based ice cream; present enough to detect, but not enough to feel like a pivotal player.  
All things considered, Pumpkin Cheesecake is a modestly fitting product for the season.  Those who prefer to keep the "over" out of their indulgence will be content with this popular variant.  Meanwhile, consumers who want to bolster the foundation may look to softened white chocolate and whipped cream.  But at that point you may as well brew a milkshake.  
Where I Bought It: Wal-Mart

Price: $3.48

Grade: B

Question of the Day: What's your favorite recurring Fall product?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Sonata Arctica Discography Conclusion

As with my Dream Theater rankings, these album/song rankings are subjective.  Feel free to add your own!

Album Ranking

8. Stones Grow Her Name
"Nothing on Stones Grow Her Name captures the essence of Sonata Arctica."

Full Review

7. The Days of Grays
"Where Unia failed to push the keyboards, The Days of Grays fails to push itself."

Full Review

6. Unia
"Some might shrug their shoulders at an abundance of slow tracks from Sonata Arctica, but in a field equally ridden with tonal time bombs, they prove to be welcome."

Full Review

5. Ecliptica
"This musical personality makes Ecliptica accessible for newcomers and just enjoyable enough for genre enthusiasts."

Full Review

4. Pariah's Child
"While Pariah's Child reinstates many Sonata Arctica vitals, it's arguably their most inconsistent affair to date."

Full Review

3. Winterheart's Guild
"...it begins to feel like settling into a new home as a child; you're not so certain of the shift in territory, but in time, you become acquainted and learn to accept the change in both structure and color."

Full Review

2. Reckoning Night
"Sonata Arctica had finally secured their stake as a force to watch out for, taking power metal basics and modifying them with various touches."

Full Review

1. Silence
"No one in the band is out to steal the spotlight, since Silence is a truly collective effort."

Full Review

Song Ranking

20. Full Moon
19. Ain't Your Fairytale
18. Everything Fades to Gray
17. False News Travel Fast
16. Misplaced
15. Victoria's Secret
14. My Land
13. Blank File
12. Caleb
11. What Did You Do in the War, Dad?
10. Paid in Full
9. My Selene
8. Black Sheep
7. Wildfire
6. Weballergy
5. Don't Say a Word
4. Larger Than Life
3. White Pearl, Black Oceans
2. Abandoned, Pleased, Brainwashed, Exploited
1. The End of This Chapter