Bet You Can’t Eat More than One

WritingI had originally planned on making a vlog about this, but I need to figure out a better way to do that because my camera software was giving me really cruddy quality, so much so that it would have been embarrassing to post something that bad. So instead I’m writing up my opinions. It’s not as fun, especially since you don’t get to hear me loudly swear after having one of those chips (guess which one), but we do what we must. Hopefully, I can later get the webcam working properly and do some more vlogging. Not abandon this blog at all, but rather supplement it.

Anyway, a little background: Last year, Lay’s potato chips ran a contest for new flavors with three choices. The winner was “Cheesy Garlic Bread,” which was okay but tasted too much like a lot of other chips on the market. Then again, that was probably why it won. It had the most universal appeal. The other choices were “Sriracha,” which was spicy but good (although I love Sriracha anyway) and…”Chicken & Waffles.” The Chicken & Waffles chips were vile on the first taste, but it was also probably because it was hard to anticipate what they would taste like. It was hard to tell. They were mostly sweet and salty, but in a weird way (definitely more sweet than salty, like they had been soaked in syrup). However, they quick fell prey to the Lay’s curse (“Bet you can’t eat just one”), and while they didn’t really get better, they became very addictive. One of the ingredients must have been crack.

This year, Lay’s is at it again, this time holding the contest with four contenders: “Bacon Mac & Cheese,” “Mango Salsa,” “Wasabi Ginger,” and “Cappuccino.” I got my hands on all of them, as seen below, and tried them in the above order, going from what seemed the most normal to the most bizarre.

Lays Chips

Now for a quick confession. I actually tried the Bacon Mac & Cheese chips a week ago at a friend’s house, so I already knew what they tasted like. And they taste fairly normal. They use the potato chip as the starch base (the Mac part of it) with the cheese flavor. What makes it different is that it has a bit of a smokey taste and just a hint of savory. Overall, it meets expectations and seems fairly normal. Basically this year’s Cheesy Garlic Bread.

Next came the Mango Salsa. Now, I’m not sure what I expected this to taste like. First, it only comes in the Wavy variety of Lay’s chips, so it’s a little thicker. After putting it in my mouth, I audibly cursed, to give this a G-rated phrasing. These chips are sweet. Way too sweet with a weird flavor that seems like they were trying to mimic the taste of mango salsa but failed miserably, overly sweet rotten tomatoes. It was like eating diabetic vomit. These chips need to be avoided at all costs.

Third on the list was Wasabi Ginger. This one only comes in the Kettle Cooked variety. I was confused about what to expect. This was basically a sushi restaurant chip, except that there’s one problem: To my understanding, you never eat the wasabi and the ginger together, or at least I never have. The wasabi flavors the food while the ginger cleanses your palate for the next bite. So seeing them together was odd. And it tastes just as weird. Not necessarily bad, but definitely weird. First, there is a definite wasabi taste, although it doesn’t have the spiciness that I would typcially associate with wasabi (which I should have been able to tell because, on opening the bag, I was not hit in the face by a pungent aroma as I expected; in fact, the bouquet was very subdued), although I should note that my wife disagrees with me about the spiciness. Where it getting very confusing is the ginger. Ginger tends to have a bit of a kick to it, but in this case it’s just sweet. So altogether, this chip is like a sweetened wasabi that’s been sitting out too long and has lost its potency. Ultimately, it did not meet my expectation, and I was rather disappointed. A weird and unique flavor, to be sure, but a bit of a letdown.

Finally came Cappuccino, one that I had no expectations for because, well, how does one get a potato chip to taste like cappuccino? To their credit, they actually did. It tastes like a sweet cappuccino with the taste very reminiscent of the foam on top. Unfortunately, it has two problems. The first is that it’s too sweet for my tastes. The second is that the cappuccino taste is immediately followed by the potato chip taste which doesn’t mix well. It’s a flavor that’s too confused about its own identity to be good. Admittedly, it’s not as bad as I was expecting, but it still has major problems.

So, to sum up, from best to worst I rank them as Bacon Mac & Cheese, Wasabi Ginger, Cappuccino, and Mango Salsa. And the Bacon Mac & Cheese still seems to hover around average as far as potato chip flavors are concerned. Excessive sweetness seems to be a common theme with the other flavors.

Kind of a disappointing year for chip flavors, come to think of it.

Update: My niece and nephew tried them and had similar reactions. In fact, my niece had to run to the trash can and spit out the Mango Salsa chip. Yeah, they’re pretty bad.

An Insidious Affliction

WritingIt has been way too long since I wrote any kind of blog update in general, let alone any kind of update at all. I last wrote in March to sum up my Oscar picks and I’ve been having trouble keeping up with this blog ever since. So much for my New Year’s goals that I set for myself, although I could still engage in that now. Speaking of those New Year’s goals, you might remember that I mentioned in that post that I had trouble with writers’ block, although I believed I understood what the problem was at the time. I had said that I wasn’t ready to say anything about it yet, but that I might in the future. In light of some recent events, I think I may want to discuss that now.

As many have heard by now, Robin Williams committed suicide. In a statement, his manager stated that he had recently been suffering from severe depression. This comedic genius who had branched out and proven himself to be more than just a comedian suffered from an insidious disease that afflicts many people, even those that don’t recognize that they have it. I know this because I’m one them.

I’ve suffered from depression for quite some time. It was something that I didn’t want to accept but ultimately needed to if I was going to get better and have any quality of life. And depression is incredibly difficult to combat. It is not a simple sadness or just feeling down that someone has to snap out of, like many people think. It’s currently believed to be an actual chemical disorder in the brain, the organ that one needs to get out of it. I would use the following analogy: Imagine that you’ve busted both your hands very badly to the point that you can’t hold anything. However, the hospital will not admit you to have your hands treated until you fill out the correct paperwork. You are alone in the waiting room with no one to help you (and loneliness in a crowded room is something that depressed people can sometimes feel). And you can’t hold the pen in your hands to fill out the paperwork, preventing you from getting your hands fixed. Eventually, you might finally be able to grip the pen in your teeth and very slowly and imperfectly fill out the paperwork to finally get the ball rolling, but it is extremely difficult to do.

So, it’s not something that can simply be snapped out of or be a passing mood like many believe. I’ve had problems where I’m extremely tired and want to do nothing but sleep all the time. I know that many have had that happen now and then depending on how well they’re sleeping or the weather, or even had Mono like I did years ago, but when it starts happening everyday, it becomes a cause for concern. I’ve had trouble focusing and keeping my thoughts in order. I’ve had trouble with my short-term memory (interestingly, my long-term memory seems to have remained intact). I’ve had trouble with my attention span. So, it’s not just feelings of sadness but can become an all-encompassing illness where many don’t recognize the signs of depression.

It got really bad for me recently, and I’ve had to start taking medication. I’ve also recently had to seek counseling if nothing more than to have someone help walk me through the steps to recovery. Fortunately, I’ve had encouragement from people in my life to seek treatment. There are many others who aren’t so lucky. I’ve never had a suicide attempt or considered it, so again I’m one of the lucky ones, but the overall effect of it has still been very damaging to my quality of life and in seeking to achieve my goals. I haven’t been writing, something which I find enormously satisfying and fulfills a need, nor have I been taking care of other parts of my life. I’ve let this blog slip and needed to start writing again.

Depression is one of those weird things where the research seems to change frequently. Well, maybe not change, but it gets added to and adjusted. To me it appears that we have only developed a basic understanding of how the brain works on the whole and how disorders can affect thought processes, but this understanding is incomplete. But one thing that seems to remain consistent is that the problem is physical, not purely mental. Our current understanding seems to show that depression is often caused by a depletion of monoamine chemicals in the brain, namely serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. So the previous hand analogy may not be very far off.

One little side note that I thought was interesting is how the use of antidepressants can increase the risk of suicide. I know that doesn’t make sense until you understand how recovery from depression works, which I didn’t know until recently when I asked. The first thing to happen in recovery is not an improvement in mood but rather an increase in energy. Where a depressed person would feel down but not have the energy to do anything, someone starting recovery will often still feel depressed but now have the energy to do something about it, hence the reason suicide risk increase in the beginning stages of recovery. Again, I haven’t been this bad, but given the impetus for this post, I thought it was important information to get out there.

I’ve decided to come out about this problem to prove that there’s nothing be ashamed of. As a matter of fact, writing about this feels freeing. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before, but I have been tested to have above average intelligence. I have a loving and supportive family. I’ve led a decent life and I’ve been fortunate enough to have had time go on a sort of walkabout and figure out who I really am. So when I look at these aspects of my life, it has not been a bad one by any stretch. And yet I still suffer from depression. It can strike at anyone under any circumstances. While Robin Williams death is indeed tragic and we’ve lost a man who brought joy to so many people, one thing his death has done is to shine a spotlight on depression, and hopefully it will inspire others who have had these problems to seek help if they haven’t done so.

Aside

Just a little observation I made today.

image

And the 2014 Oscars Should Go To…

WritingHere we go again. I’ve done a repeat of my project last year and watched nearly every feature-length film in every category, and reviewed them. The only film I have been unable to see is “The Missing Picture,” one of the foreign language films. So for that category, I’m simply going to ignore it, which may or may not skew the result. We’ll see.

My reviews were quick and dirty jobs. If I do this again, I will space them out a little more and give myself more time. I’ve only had at best about 30 minutes to bang each one out, so they didn’t go into great depth which I would have liked to do. Check my “Movie Reviews” section to see my individual reviews for each movie.

And one final reminder that I will be live tweeting the Academy Awards, so follow me now. I’m told that I can be funny when I want to be.

And without further adieu:

Best Picture
My pick: “12 Years a Slave”
What will probably win: “12 Years a Slave”
Why: This was an incredibly powerful and socially important film. Like another “Schindler’s List,” it depicts a dark chapter in U.S. history and doesn’t let us forget. It grips us by the shirt collar and doesn’t let go. Difficult to watch, but important to do so, this was clearly the best film nominated in this category, I’m sure it will take home the gold.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
My pick: Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club”)
Who will probably win: Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club”)
Why: McConaughey will probably take it because of how he ruined his body and his health to play this role, but that would be overlooking the incredible acting job he did here. He showed major talent to really get into the head of a real life man and portray him in an accessible way that makes him identifiable and at times likeable even if he can be an ass. So, I predict that the Academy and I will be on the same page but for different reasons.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
My pick: Cate Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine”)
Who will probably win: Cate Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine”)
Why: Once again, I predict the Academy and I to be on the same page. Blanchett turned in one of the greatest performances of her career, even if I didn’t like the movie itself that much. It’s easy to see why so much buzz is surrounding her, and she seems to be a shoe-in for this award.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
My pick: Barkhad Abdi (“Captain Phillips”)
Who will probably win: Jared Leto (“Dallas Buyers Club”)
Why: This one is close for me. It’s so easy to see why Jared Leto would win this award, and I would not complain at all if he did, giving an incredibly powerful and touching performance in “Dallas Buyers Club.” But for me, newcomer Barkhad Abdi is just slightly, barely ahead on this one. He was so good, and unexpectedly so, in “Captain Phillips,” playing the perfect unpredictable villain. Sadly, it’s highly unlikely that he will win this award, but I will not complain if Leto takes it.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
My pick: June Squibb (“Nebraska”)
Who will probably win: Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”)
Why: June Squibb was hilarious in “Nebraska” and manages to portray a character that is shocking but is also so endearing that we can’t help but love her. However, Lupita Nyong’o will probably win because of the incredibly strong performance she gives as the abused slave Patsey, a touching and sympathetic role that makes her integral to the film.

Best Achievement in Directing
My pick: Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”)
Who will probably win: Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”)
Why: When McQueen decided to pick up and adapt a relatively unknown account of slave life in the southern plantations, people must have thought he was out of his mind. But what he has given us is an incredibly moving experience that stays with us long after the film is over. From getting the best out of his actors, to incredibly blocked camera shots, and intense drama, Steve McQueen created a superb film that will leave a lasting legacy.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
My pick: “Her”
Who will probably win: “American Hustle”
Why: “American Hustle” has huge buzz surrounding it, even if it really wasn’t that good of a film. But for me, “Her” has the edge for telling such an amazing and insightful story as we examine a pure relationship as it develops and grows while the individual participants grow.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
My pick: “12 Years a Slave”
Who will probably win: “12 Years a Slave”
Why: Having been adapted from a book, “12 Years a Slave” tells one of the most compelling stories we see nominated in this category. While there is some buzz surrounding “Before Midnight,” which has a great screenplay even if it’s depressing, “12 Years a Slave” tells the better and more important story.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
My pick: “The Wind Rises”
Who will probably win: “Frozen”
Why: I have a pretty low opinion of Hollywood when it comes to how they treat animated films, so I expect a heavy sheep response and for “Frozen” to win. But for me, “The Wind Rises” is hands down the best picture in this category. It’s a beautiful if mildly controversial film, and it is also supposedly Hayao Miyazaki’s final feature-length movie, and it would be wonderful to see him go out on a high note.

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
My pick: “The Great Beauty (La grande bellezza)”
Who will probably win: “The Hunt (Jagten)”
Why: For me, “The Great Beauty,” aside from simply being a beautiful film, is also the most complex one nominated in this category. It makes the audience think, and it also makes us want to see the film more than once to peel back its layers and look deeper. However, “The Hunt” tells a more accessible if intense story, and the film is also more accessible through Netflix at this time. Having a film readily available usually increases the likelihood that it will win.

Best Achievement in Cinematography
My pick: “Gravity”
Who will probably win: “Gravity”
Why: Simply put, “Gravity” has some of the most impressive cinematography in this category this year. From the zero gravity environments, including making the camera feel like it’s floating in zero gravity, to the combination with visual effects and the use of 3D, this film is a feast for the eyes.

Best Achievement in Editing
My pick: “Dallas Buyers Club”
Who will probably win: “American Hustle”
Why: Despite its issues, the editing in “Dallas Buyers Club” is still done very well to tell the story within the confines of the film effectively, even though it peters out near the end. The editing is also good in “American Hustle” and may be the best part of the film, but it doesn’t tell the story we get in “Dallas Buyers Club.” Still this is one award that I would not complain about going to the otherwise mediocre “Hustle.”

Best Achievement in Production Design
My pick: “The Great Gatsby”
Who will probably win: “American Hustle”
Why: Even though I didn’t like the film, “The Great Gatsby” had some amazingly designed sets that showed great imagination. However, “American Hustle” was more contemporary and reflected an era that many seem to be nostalgic for at this time, which likely gives it the edge in this category.

Best Achievement in Costume Design
My pick: “The Invisible Woman”
Who will probably win: “American Hustle”
Why: Like the Production Design category, “The Invisible Woman” was a period piece and required the costuming to go along with it, needing enormous work to bring the Victorian clothing styles to life. Like the Production Design category, “American Hustle” reflects an era many are nostalgic for, especially when it comes to clothing, which again likely gives it the edge.

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling
My pick: “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa”
Who will probably win: “Dallas Buyers Club”
Why: In “Dallas Buyers Club” makeup was most notably used to transform Jared Leto into Rayon, and as I mentioned in that review, he is almost unrecognizable and yet looks convincing. However, what impressed me the most was “Bad Grandpa” because the makeup not only needed to fool the camera, but it needed to fool people in real life as well, and it did that job amazingly well.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
My pick: “Gravity”
Who will probably win: “Gravity”
Why: The soundtrack in “Gravity” is simple, and yet it’s compelling. It fits the scenes so well, and it does what it’s supposed to do: it’s noticeable when you need and want to notice it, but it doesn’t pull you out and demand that you notice it over the events onscreen.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
My pick: Let It Go from “Frozen”
Who will probably win: Let It Go from “Frozen”
Why: While I wasn’t a huge fan of the film, I will admit that Let It Go is a very catchy song that sticks with you. It’s also been marketed so heavily that it’s pretty much another shoe-in for this award.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing
My pick: “Gravity”
Who will probably win: “Gravity”
Why: It wasn’t just the visuals but the sounds that needed to be created that makes the film so immersive. “Gravity” pulled this off very well, especially since it occurs in space and it’s difficult for sound to really travel, making the character of it completely different.

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
My pick: “Gravity”
Who will probably win: “Gravity”
Why: Which brings us to the Sound Mixing. Adding the sound into the movie tracks had to be done with extreme care in “Gravity” in order to keep it believable. Too much would seem out of place in an airless environment. Too little and there’s nothing to hear which would bore the audience. In “Gravity,” the sound team found the perfect mix and edited it into the movie nearly perfectly.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects
My pick: “Gravity”
Who will probably win: “Gravity”
Why: The visual effects were integral in making “Gravity” as good and visually stunning a movie as it was. Without the quality of the visual effects, the illusion of zero gravity would not be as effective and the movie would have fallen apart.

Best Documentary, Feature
My pick: “The Act of Killing”
Who will probably win: “The Square”
Why: “The Act of Killing,” while disturbing, is one of those movie that hits you and then doesn’t take its fist away. It stays with you long after it’s done. However, it may have been too dark and disturbing (and from what I understand, not as widely seen), so the award will likely go to something following more contemporary events like “The Square,” which is also more accessible being available on Netflix.

And if you’re reading this, you’re a monster for making it to the end of this article. Even I couldn’t make it this far. Congratulations!

Movie Review: American Hustle

American HustleTitle: “American Hustle”

Director: David O. Russell

Writers: Eric Warren Singer, David O. Russell

Stars: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

If one film has been grossly overrated this year, I’m sorry to say that it’s “American Hustle.” Based loosely on the ABSCAM scandal of the late ’70s and early ’80s, this film follows two con artists played by Christian Bale and Amy Adams as they are forced to set up an elaborate sting operation by the FBI.

The acting is excellent. Christian Bale does a great job and gained 50 pounds for this role, pulling a reverse of what he did in “The Machinist.” I actually worry about him. If he keeps doing this, he’s going to develop some major health problems. Bradley Cooper plays the loose canon FBI agent blackmailing the con artists, and while we kind of like him at first, his character becomes a real ass as the movie progresses. Amy Adams is the other con artist and love interest, and she plays the role impeccably, although I’ve seen her in better roles. Jennifer Lawrence is great as another loose canon, playing Christian Bale’s character’s unpredictable wife.

The directing is great, per David O. Russell’s usual, and he gets some great performances and interesting camera shots that keep you watching the screen. The editing, while seeming a bit off at first, actually turns out great, and becomes an integral part of this film. There’s also some really good ’70s music throughout the movie.

So why the mediocre rating? The film has great acting, great directing, interesting editing, great music,…and yet something went wrong somewhere. It’s hard to put your finger on it, but something about this film didn’t gel. All those great parts of the movie were like beautifully painted puzzle pieces that don’t fit together. They didn’t mesh well, and the movie winds up being far less than the sum of its parts.

I can’t tell you how disappointing this was. After hearing the buzz built up about this movie, and then seeing it, and seeing all of these great aspects to it, to be left at the end of the movie saying, “Meh,” was a real letdown. I’m convince that the buzz was from people who payed attention only to the movie’s individual parts, and failed to see the forest for the trees.

This movie is okay, but that’s really it. While it has some great parts, those parts don’t fit together to create a fully working machine. The film as a whole is rather mediocre, which is a real shame.

“American Hustle” earns 3 out of 5 stars.