Category Archives: Rants

The Oscars Strike Back

WritingAnother year, another awards season. It’s that time to make the Oscar picks. This year’s awards have been dogged by controversy, most notably about the lack of diversity. I have my opinions on the #OscarSoWhite issue (yes, I think there is a problem with diversity in the awards, but I think the real issue goes a little deeper and is more complicated than that), but that won’t affect my picks for the awards. Unlike in previous years, I have actually managed to see EVERY…SINGLE…FILM, including the shorts, so I feel informed and won’t be leaving anything out of my consideration. Go me! Interestingly, this year the picks are not as clear as they’ve been the last couple of years, with no obvious frontrunners in the various categories with a couple of exceptions, which made this analysis much more challenging than usual. But challenging is good.

As usual, I will be live tweeting the 2016 Oscars, so be sure to follow me and we’ll see how I accurate my predictions are together.

Best Picture
My pick: “Room”
What will probably win: “The Big Short”
Why: Despite what you may have heard, “The Revenant” is probably not going to win this one. It’s a film that has left people very divided between it being a really good film and being an egofest. When it comes down to it, “Room” is easily the best of the bunch. It’s moving, it’s heartbreaking, raw, visceral, and all-in-all a really heavy film. But if a movie can feel that heavy, you know they did something very right. It can be difficult and uncomfortable at times, but it is sooo good. However, “The Big Short” is the likely winner. Personally, I was a bit underwhelmed by it, but it taps into a lot of the anger circulating through society right now at Wall Street, making it very timely. But I don’t see this as the kind of film that will stand the test of time, and will remain a popular product of its own time only.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
My pick: Matt Damon (“The Martian”)
Who will probably win: Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Revenant”)
Why: DiCaprio probably has the best chance of winning this Oscar, but for the wrong reasons. A win for this one would be more for his overall body of work and to make up for being snubbed in the past. While he was good in “The Revenant,” it wasn’t a standout performance and I thought he’s done much better work in the past. Ultimately, among the nominees, Matt Damon is the most deserving. He manages to play a character that is incredibly smart and resourceful and supremely likable. You can’t help but root for him throughout the movie. Even if the end of the movie turned into “Darkstar,” he turns in a great, lovable performance.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
My pick: Brie Larson (“Room”)
Who will probably win: Brie Larson (“Room”)
Why: I found a lot of the picks for this category surprisingly underwhelming this year. But the standout by far is Brie Larson. A relative newcomer to the movie game, she not only plays her role so well, but shows an incredible range within the single movie, moving from being strong to having a breakdown. This is Larson’s award to lose.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
My pick: Tom Hardy (“The Revenant”)
Who will probably win: Sylvester Stallone (“Creed”)
Why: Tom Hardy has been turning in some great performances lately. A lot of them. And he seems to be showing up in everything. But he is almost unrecognizable in “The Revenant,” not only for the make-up but also the way he acts and speaks. At first, I wasn’t sure if that was him. However, again, this is Stallone’s award to lose. Not only is this more for a lifetime of work (and the symbolic passing of the Rocky torch to Michael B. Jordan), but there’s likely some guilt going through the academy over the #OscarSoWhite controversy, and this is one way that some voters may feel they are making this better for the lack of minority actors or black films nominated. Kind of misses the point, guys.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
My pick: Jennifer Jason Leigh (“The Hateful Eight”)
Who will probably win: Alicia Vikander (“The Danish Girl”)
Why: Jennifer Jason Leigh is awesome in “The Hateful Eight.” I’ve heard it said that some actors like the role of the bad guy because it can be fun to play, and Leigh was clearly having a ton of fun with it. Being a small woman trapped in a cabin with eight men, and she is the one you’re afraid of, partly because you’re not sure what her game is, and it’s a great achievement and immensely enjoyable to watch. However, the award will likely go to Alicia Vikander, who has only recently come to the forefront of films, but done it so fast that she’s getting starring roles in everything. She was okay in “The Danish Girl,” a film that, like “The Big Short,” I found a bit underwhelming, but she was also great in “Ex Machina.” As a matter of fact, she probably should have been nominated for “Ex Machina” instead, as that was, in my opinion, a much stronger and more interesting performance.

Best Achievement in Directing
My pick: Lenny Abrahamson (“Room”)
Who will probably win: Lenny Abrahamson (“Room”)
Why: Abrahamson has, without a doubt, the strongest film nominated this year. I’m not saying the actors were hard to work with, but there is a thing among directors that the most difficult subjects to work with are children and animals. “Room” is told from the point of view of a five-year-old boy, who also puts in a Hell of a performance. Come to think of it, why didn’t Jacob Tremblay get an Oscar nod?

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
My pick: “Ex Machina”
Who will probably win: “Straight Outta Compton”
Why: “Ex Machina” is one of those movies that are just fascinating to watch. Told with a minimal cast and mostly dialogue (some eavesdropped), the movie goes into romance and philosophy, particularly what does it mean to be human. It’s very intelligent film. The award will probably go to “Straight Outta Compton,” a movie that, while good, also follows a very rigid and traditional plot structure with few risks and probably has an edge simply because of the guilty vote regarding the #OscarSoWhite controversy. Again, Academy, you’re missing the point.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
My pick: “Room”
Who will probably win: “The Big Short”
Why: Put simply, “Room” is a brilliant piece of film-making. The screenplay is incredibly solid, which isn’t surprising given that it was written by Emma Donoghue, the author of the book on which the movie is based. When you have the original author adapting their own book, you’ll usually get something that thoroughly captures the source material. However, “The Big Short” strikes more of a nerve with society as it stands now and addresses a topic that is at the forefront of everyone’s minds, which gives it an edge in this category.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
My pick: O Menino e o Mundo (Boy and the World)
Who will probably win: Inside Out
Why: As usual, the Academy will remain baffled about what to actually do with animated films. “Boy and the World” is one of those films that is absolutely beautiful, not only with a fascinating art style, but characters that convey and make the audience feel strong emotions without ever saying a word. Yes, this film has no dialogue (what little you hear is actually nonsense; it’s similar to how the adults in Peanuts cartoon all sound like they swallowed oboes). However, Disney has usually bought…er, I mean makes solid movies. Actually, the dead giveaway here is that “Inside Out” has been nominated for Best Original Screenplay. When a “specialty” film like an animated feature or a foreign language film is also nominated in another category as well, it’s usually a shoe-in.

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
My pick: Saul fia (Son of Saul)
Who will probably win: Saul fia (Son of Saul)
Why: Of the films nominated in this category, “Son of Saul” is undoubtedly the most powerful. Following a member of the Sonderkommando (Jews who worked in the crematoriums, destroying the bodies of other Jews sent to the gas chamber during the Holocaust), this film is shot in one of the most uncomfortable and at the same time brilliant styles I’ve seen in recent memory. The entire movie is shot following Saul in close-up and with few edits (think of “Birdman”). The whole movie! Not only is it an extraordinarily intimate view of the central character, but it also becomes extremely claustrophobic, putting the audience ill at ease. It’s an extremely risky choice for the filmmakers, but one that pays off and makes the film incredibly effective.

Best Achievement in Cinematography
My pick: Mad Max: Fury Road
Who will probably win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Why: Cinematography usually awards films shot in black and white (not an easy feat, despite what you might think) or interesting choices with camera angle and sweeping camera work. But with “Mad Max: Fury Road,” you get a film that had to be an absolute nightmare for the cinematographers with the numerous car chases and action sequences. It was a challenge that the cinematographers took on and managed to accomplish brilliantly, shooting an incredibly fun and energetic movie.

Best Achievement in Editing
My pick: Mad Max: Fury Road
Who will probably win: The Big Short
Why: Putting together shots that had to have been so difficult to film and editing them together so as to maintain the energy and pace had to be equally difficult, but was done fantastically. However, the award will likely go to “The Big Short” due to the quirkiness and humor involved with the editing process.

Best Achievement in Production Design
My pick: “The Martian
Who will probably win: “The Martian
Why: Most of the other nominees in this category portray locations that would exist in the today’s world (possible exception to “Mad Max: Fury Road”). But “The Martian” had to create a believable planet, a harsh unforgiving environment, as well as habitats and interplanetary ships. That makes “The Martian” stand out from all the other nominees in this category.

Best Achievement in Costume Design
My pick: “The Revenant
Who will probably win: “The Danish Girl
Why: This one is often unpredictable, not to mention kind of weird (think of the American Express Gold Card dress from several years ago). “The Revenant” uses costumes that actually add to the idea that this is taking place in a harsh and savage environment and adds to the atmosphere greatly. However, “The Danish Girl” likely has the edge for the selection of period costumes, which seem to have an edge in most years.

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling
My pick: Hundraåringen som klev ut genom fönstret och försvann (The Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared)
Who will probably win: “The Revenant
Why: Again, a difficult category to predict, and this one is kind of a toss up. “The Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared” does a great and very convincing job of aging Robert Gustafsson back and forth as we explore his life. Plus, I’m kind of a sucker for Swedish films. However, I’m not sure how many people actually saw this movie, an important factor in a lot of these awards. So, “The Revenant” has an edge in this category, if nothing else than for Tom Hardy’s makeup (to be honest, I didn’t realize that was Tom Hardy at first, which is a combination of the makeup and his acting ability).

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
My pick: “The Hateful Eight
Who will probably win: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Why: The score for “The Hateful Eight” is just plain fun, and adds greatly to the atmosphere, fun, and energy of each scene. However, John Williams “Star Wars” score is so iconic that I can’t count out the Academy resorting to nostalgia in selecting “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” for this award.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
My pick: Til It Happens to You from “The Hunting Ground
Who will probably win: Earned It from Fifty Shades of Grey
Why: The universe hates me. I have no faith in humanity. Whatever the reason, somehow Earned It is going to win so we will be forced to say, “The Academy Award-winning ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’” despite the fact that Til It Happen to You is just straight-up a far superior song. People suck…

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
My pick: The Martian
Who will probably win: The Martian
Why: This one got weird this year. Usually, some kind of military or war movie gets nominated for the sound awards and is guaranteed to win. This did not happen this year, which forced me to really think about where this award would go. Editing together the sounds for “The Martian” was crucial to adding to the harsh atmosphere (or lack thereof, as the case may be). Without that sound, “The Martian” would not have been anywhere near as effective as it was.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing
My pick: The Martian
Who will probably win: The Martian
Why: See above. While “Sicario” is nominated in this category and is close to being a war movie, the sound seemed a little too overdone, which gives “The Martian” the edge.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects
My pick: Ex Machina
Who will probably win: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Why: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is all about the big, grand, in-your-face special effects, so you can’t miss them. However, “Ex Machina” goes for subtlety. While the visual effects are quite obvious, they are so good that they manage to blend into the background and feel normal, which is far more effective when contributing to the art of film-making.

Best Documentary, Feature
My pick: The Look of Silence
Who will probably win: Amy
Why: The Act of Killing” was undeservedly snubbed when the Oscar went to “Twenty Feet from Stardom” a couple of years ago. In Joshua Oppenheimer’s followup “The Look of Silence,” he creates an incredibly powerful film following a man as he confronts the men who killed his brother during the Indonesian genocide. It’s the Academy’s opportunity to correct a wrong. However, the award will likely go to “Amy,” primarily because Amy Winehouse was far more well known and the Academy tends to vote for documentaries about show business most of the time.

Best Documentary, Short Subject
My pick: Last Day of Freedom
Who will probably win: Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah
Why: It’s kind of ironic when you think about it: A short subject documentary about the making of a nearly 10-hour film, and it’s probably going to win because, like “Amy,” it is about a filmmaker and film-making. However, “Last Day of Freedom” was a far superior and important documentary. A rotoscope animation (think “A Scanner Darkly”) but with pencil drawings, giving it a much more stylized look, the film is the story told by Bill Babbitt of his brother’s war experience, crime, and eventual execution. A far more artistic film with an actual message relevant to today’s society.

Best Short Film, Animated
My pick: Mi ne mozhem zhit bez kosmosa (We Can’t Live Without Cosmos)
Who will probably win: Sanjay’s Super Team
Why: “We Can’t Live Without Cosmos” is beautiful and heartbreaking. While it has a simple art style and no dialogue, the film shows the friendship of two cosmonauts in training, until tragedy strikes. It is funny and moving at the same time. However, “Sanjay’s Super Team” is a Disney/Pixar film, so it’s never a good idea to bet against them.

Best Short Film, Live Action
My pick: Shok
Who will probably win: Stutterer
Why: Set during the Kosovo war, “Shok” tells the story of two young boys’ friendship as it is tested. This is not a happy tale, but it is as effective as a solid punch to the gut. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When a film can make you feel something that strongly, you know you’ve found something really good. The problem is that the inferior “Stutterer” has gotten more publicity. I was a stutterer growing up, and this film does not accurately portray my experience (admittedly, by the time I reached the main character’s age, I had mostly grown out of it, but even now I have the occasional stutter). This made the movie far less identifiable for me, but it is still probably going to win.

There you have it. If you’re actually reading this and made it through the whole post, you’re a better man than I. Even I couldn’t get through it in one sitting.

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Do Us A Flavor 2015: The Unretching

ThumbnailLast year, I decided to write a review covering the Lays “Do Us a Flavor” contest, mostly out of boredom and because I hadn’t written anything for a while. I thought it would be something fun to do, although it turned out to involve a great deal of suffering through some truly awful and misguided attempts at new potato chip flavorings (I’m looking at you, Mango Salsa; I still can’t forget the taste of it).

I have decided to do this once more. Lays has released a slew of new potato chip flavors again and asked us to pick one. I have tried them all. Here is my take on the 2015 entries:

DoUsAFlavor2015

The first one I tried was the “Southern Biscuits & Gravy.” On opening the bag, the first thing one always gets is the smell. With these, the bouquet is very subtle and almost unnoticeable. As for it’s taste, the first impression I got was that it reminded me of the classic “Sour Cream & Onion.” But it doesn’t finish that way. The finishing taste is a hint of gravy. This one isn’t bad, but it’s not great either. The flavor is very subtle and not in-your-face like some of the other flavors. I could ultimately take or leave this one.

Second came the “New York Reuben” chips. Opening the bag reveals the distinct scent of pickles and is quite strong. As for the flavor, it is equally as strong but somewhat confused. It has that briny pickle taste but with a smokiness added to simulate savoriness. It actually does a decent job of trying mimic the taste of corned beef, although not perfectly. And that’s the problem. The taste of the potato chip itself seems to throw things off just enough that it come off more like someone tried to smoke a pickle. It’s as if the chip can’t decide whether to be pickle-flavored (and some of those are actually good) or barbeque-flavored. Still, I have to admit that it’s a decent attempt.

Third on the list were the “West Coast Truffle Fries,” which come in the wavy variety. The scent is very subtle, and isn’t much beyond a regular potato chip, and the taste is likewise very difficult to discern. It starts with a subtle herbiness, but finishes much heavier than it starts with. It’s as though the wavy chip flattened out and tried to coat my tongue. The taste is lasting, and doesn’t leave very quickly, even after I rinsed my mouth out. Ultimately, this one tastes the most like a regular potato chip, but it has a weird texture and aftertaste.

Finally, I came to the “Greektown Gyro,” which is of the kettle-cooked variety. The first impression is, as usual, the scent of the bag, and it does not leave a good impression, smelling like an old gym bag that hasn’t been cleaned out in years. As for the taste, the first thing that pops up is the gyro dressing, which isn’t a bad approximation. Next comes a slight taste of flour (for the pita bread) and a smokiness which is clearly supposed to simulate the lamb, although doesn’t manage to pull it off. Where the biggest problem comes in is with the kettle-cooking. It throws everything off and not only doesn’t make for an appropriate texture but also overpowers a lot of the other flavors in the chip. The flavor also doesn’t last, and after about three chips, I stopped tasting the flavoring at all.

Ultimately, while each one has its good and bad parts, the selections this year are far better than the chips last year, or at the very least none of them made me want to retch (seriously, who let that Mango Salsa chip pass testing and get out onto the street?). If I have to pick a particular favorite, it would be the “New York Reuben.” While not perfect, I can definitely tell what they’re going for. Plus, I have a soft spot for New York deli food and pickled foods in general, so I’m not exactly unbiased. With much better selections this year, maybe next year Lays will have flavors that are actually good.

And the 2015 Oscars Should Go To…

WritingAnother year has come and gone. I’m doing a repeat of my previous years’ projects in which I endeavor to watch every single Oscar-nominated movie in every category. Last year, I was able to write full reviews for each movie. This year, due to extenuating circumstances, I lacked the time to write full-length reviews (I had the flu, plus my mother has been in the hospital). However, I have still watched as many movies as possible and will cover the possible winners in brief here. As with previous years, there were some movies that I simply could not see. This year, I missed three films: “The Salt of the Earth” (nominated for Best Documentary), “Wild Tales” (nominated for Best Foreign Language Film), and “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me” (nominated for Best Original Song). And, as usual, for those categories, I’m simply going to ignore those films, which may or may not skew the results. We’ll see.

I will be live tweeting the Academy Awards, so follow me now.

Best Picture
My pick: “Boyhood”
What will probably win: “Boyhood”
Why: Word of mouth began to spread around the release of “Boyhood” because of the magnitude of the project, filming with the same actors over 12 years. But this movie was released during summer, not the typical prestige season of autumn and winter when studios are trying to get people to talk about their movies. And people were still talking about it. “Boyhood” is a film with staying power. If a film tried to ride solely on the gimmick of being filmed over such a long time, it wouldn’t have that. However, this film told a touching story of a family and shows how they evolve as individuals and in their relationships to one another over the years. Often, if you don’t relate to all of the characters all the time, at least at some point you can relate to at least one of the characters and say “Yeah, that’s kind of how I feel/felt.” “Boyhood” was a great film and the producers deserve this award for what they’ve achieved.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
My pick: Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”)
Who will probably win: Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”)
Why: While there’s a potential for upset, the big buzz is around Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Stephen Hawking, which is something to behold. If you watch older and newer videos of Professor Hawking, Eddie Redmayne has every subtle movement and gesture down pat, and manages to convey emotions through the tiniest movement, even just his eyes. This takes tremendous skill. While there did seem to be some buzz about Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance in “The Imitation Game,” much deserved though it was, it has been more recently overshadowed by talk of other performances and by Cumberbatch’s interview blunder, which came at quite possibly the worst possible time during awards season.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
My pick: Julianne Moore (“Still Alice”)
Who will probably win: Julianne Moore (“Still Alice”)
Why: This was a hard category for me to decide on this year, primarily because while I found the nominated performances quite good, something about each one didn’t quite click completely right. But if you want a front runner, it would be Julianne Moore. Now, in this case, I’m a little biased against this performance. Having watched my grandfather suffer through Alzheimer’s, I didn’t completely believe Moore’s performance because it didn’t match entirely with my personal experience. Still, the role she plays is touching and memorable, no pun intended. Of the five nominated performances, this one would be my pick.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
My pick: J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash”)
Who will probably win: J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash”)
Why: The old saying goes that audiences will hate a good villain, but love a great one. And Simmons portrays a great villain in “Whiplash.” As a tyrannical music teacher, you hate him and his abuse of his students, and yet part of you knows that he’s pushing them to be their best in the way he knows how. Among the performances in this category, Simmons by far stands out. Hopefully, he won’t throw a chair at anyone’s head if there’s an upset.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
My pick: Patricia Arquette (“Boyhood”)
Who will probably win: Patricia Arquette (“Boyhood”)
Why: Arquette’s performance in “Boyhood” is really the only one in this category that people won’t shut up about, but with good reason. Not only did she stick with the role for 12 years, but she really put in a great performance throughout the entire process and shows an evolving, relatable character. This one I’m most comfortable saying is a lock.

Best Achievement in Directing
My pick: Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Birdman”)
Who will probably win: Richard Linklater (“Boyhood”)
Why: Finally, we get a divergence where I will probably disagree with the Academy’s choice. This one I’m not entirely sure about, and it could go either way. Iñárritu should win. “Birdman” is a marvel to watch, driven heavily by excellent directing and some clever editing. But Linklater may have the edge just because of the sheer scope of filming “Boyhood.” While Linklater certainly does an admirable job in the director’s chair, “Boyhood” felt like it was more heavily producer driven. Admittedly, Linklater fills both roles, but this is the Director award, so I’m sticking with my personal pick of Iñárritu.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
My pick: “Birdman”
Who will probably win: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Why: This one is almost a three-way tie for me between “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Boyhood,” and “Birdman.” I would ultimately pick “Birdman” because the screenplay feels more unique and leaves a lot to the imagination. I will not be at all disappointed if “The Grand Budapest Hotel” wins, and I’ll admit that I have a weakness for Wes Anderson’s films, but “Birdman’s” screenplay feels more edgy and demands your attention.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
My pick: “Inherent Vice”
Who will probably win: “The Imitation Game”
Why: “Inherent Vice” likely doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in Hell of winning, but I like Paul Thomas Anderson’s work and he did a commendable job attempting to adapt a book that doesn’t lend itself all that well to the big screen. Just the fact that he had the guts to try to adapt Pynchon deserves some points, even if it felt clunky at times. But “The Imitation Game” is a much more accessible film with a sturdier screenplay, giving it the popular edge.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
My pick: “The Tale of Princess Kaguya”
Who will probably win: “How to Train Your Dragon 2”
Why: I’ll admit that I have a weakness for Studio Ghibli films, but “The Tale of Princess Kaguya,” while having a beautiful story, is also visually fascinating to watch. The art style is enchanting, but the story may not be the most accessible to some audiences. Don’t get me wrong. “How to Train Your Dragon 2” was an excellent film and was possibly better than the first one, but for a truly magical film, “The Tale of Princess Kaguya” is the correct answer.

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
My pick: “Tangerines (Mandariinid)”
Who will probably win: “Ida”
Why: This is where it gets tricky because I was unable to see one of the nominees (“Wild Tales”). In addition, the nominees in this category make me wonder if Hollywood needs Prozac or something, because these films are so depressing. Then again, the four I saw are from Russia, Georgia/Estonia, Poland, and western Africa, so not the happiest of places. My particular favorite was the Georgian/Estonian film, “Tangerines.” It tells a defined and concise story set during the War in Abkhazia. With well-defined characters and the story of a war told on a small scale, it’s a well-made film. The winner, however, will probably be “Ida.” You know that when a foreign language film receives nominations in categories other than the Best Foreign Language film category, the Academy will take notice. Unfortunately, I did not particularly like “Ida.” Not only is it bleak, but the character changes seem too convenient and happen solely to move the plot along. Not a fan of this one.

Best Achievement in Cinematography
My pick: “Birdman”
Who will probably win: “Birdman”
Why: Likely a lock for Cinematography, “Birdman” is well deserving of this award. The camerawork is amazing. With the lengthy shots, movements, and very precise framing, it is a technical wonder and the camera takes the audience from their seat to being a participant walking around the set and observing everything going on.

Best Achievement in Editing
My pick: “Boyhood”
Who will probably win: “Boyhood”
Why: Taking 12 years of footage and editing them together as the actors evolve into a cohesive story is no easy task, but this was accomplished with great success in “Boyhood.” In fact, due to the nature of the film’s production, editing would have become so crucial that a poor job could have completely destroyed the film. But make no mistake, it was done and done well.

Best Achievement in Production Design
My pick: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Who will probably win: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Why: While the sets of several of the nominees are interesting to watch, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” creates a delicate mix of grandeur, humility, and style. In creating a fictional hotel (among other settings), artistic stylizing and imagination are combine with technical prowess to create a borderline fantastical but ultimately believable setting.

Best Achievement in Costume Design
My pick: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Who will probably win: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Why: Similar to production design, the costumes are loosely based on actually uniforms and clothing but then artistically changed to create a fictional but believable setting. Most of what I said above for Production Design applies here.

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling
My pick: “Foxcatcher”
Who will probably win: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Why: This one is difficult. My vote is for “Foxcatcher” because of the way they disguised the actors and made them look like the actual people their parts were based on to make a film based on a true story. Admittedly, this wasn’t entirely makeup, and I have to give props to the actors, especially Steve Carell who is unrecognizable not just because of the makeup but the way he loses himself in the character. However, the award will likely go to a film slightly more accessible to a larger audience, that being “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
My pick: “The Theory of Everything”
Who will probably win: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Why: The musical score for “The Theory of Everything” adds greatly to the emotional states of achievement and loss, and creates an atmosphere befitting the grandeur of Stephen Hawking’s endeavors. However, again, I feel the award will likely go to “The Grand Budapest Hotel” simply on the grounds of accessibility.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
My pick: Everything is Awesome from “The Lego Movie”
Who will probably win: Glory from “Selma”
Why: Just for comedy and its satirical value, Everything is Awesome is…well, awesome! However, Glory from “Selma” is the likely winner, and I expect it to be influenced heavily by those angry that the film received only two Oscar nominations and wanting to ensure that it wins at least this one.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing
My pick: “Interstellar”
Who will probably win: “American Sniper”
Why: Sound editing was crucial to “Interstellar” in creating these alien worlds and environments, which requires artistic talent and not simple sound mimicry. However, this award more often than not seems to go to war movies, hence “American Sniper’s” likely win.

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
My pick: “Whiplash”
Who will probably win: “American Sniper”
Why: If “Whiplash” doesn’t get this award, it will be an absolute travesty. The film is so dependent on its precise sound mixing and would have fallen flat on its face otherwise. And yet, there are times during the film that you just want to close your eyes and listen to it rather than watch it, because the sound mixing is that good. However, again, war movies seem to have an advantage in the sound categories, and I’m not entirely confident that the Academy knows what it’s doing with these technical awards.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects
My pick: “Interstellar”
Who will probably win: “Interstellar”
Why: First, “Interstellar” had a lot of buzz behind it. Secondly, the visual effects are used to convincingly create alien environments that could theoretically exist. It’s fantastical and yet the visual effects artists use restraint to make sure it’s believable, something that was crucial to this film’s success.

Best Documentary, Feature
My pick: “Citizenfour”
Who will probably win: “Finding Vivian Maier”
Why: If ever there was a film everyone needs to see, it would be “Citizenfour.” Filmed mostly in a Hong Kong hotel room, Laura Poitras and Glen Greenwald interviewed Edward Snowden before and during the process of the NSA’s spying activity coming to light. It is an issue that seems to have been buried under other stories since it first broke and is an important reminder of what is happening in the United States and around the world. However, over the last couple of years, Hollywood has gravitated to more of the feel-good documentary, of which “Finding Vivian Maier” would be the most qualified to fit the bill.

And that’s it. We’ve made it through another year. Congratulations if you’re still reading this!

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.