Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Chuckles Candy

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

How the heck do you write a review on candy? Normally, many varieties of candy are so ubiquitous that explanation is really unnecessary. Add to that the fact that most candy cost less than a dollar unless you’re buying the family size. There really isn’t much of a need to do reviews on candy. You buy a single pack, take a bite and at worst, you’re out a few dollars. Then, I came across a review for Chuckles. It occurred to me that I hadn’t seen them in a while. (Not that I’ve been looking that hard…)

It’s pretty rare these days that I take a serious look at a vending machine. Usually, they’re overpriced. When I go into a convenience store or supermarket, it’s not to buy candy. However, when I did buy candy a lot, I noticed that there are some candies that are neglected. Chuckles happens to be one of them.

When looking online, I noticed that they are available for purchase. (Just do a search on Google and you should be able to find at least one vendor.) I noticed that to save on shipping, you have to spend a lot. (Who wants to order just one package, anyway?) That leads me to another good question: How the heck do you review Chuckles? I mean, it’s a candy. You’re basically looking at oversized, flattened gumdrops that have more flavor.

For those that have never seen the package, each one contains five different misshapen gumdrops. The candies come in a three-sided cardboard tray and are wrapped in plastic. Each candy is roughly rectangular in shape and you get each of five flavors, with those flavors being lemon, lime, cherry, licorice and orange. This selection has never varied when they were more common. I’ve never seen any special holiday flavors nor have I ever seen them individually wrapped.

This is odd, considering that I seem to be the only person that really likes the licorice. (Note: The objection to licorice seems to stem mostly from the flavor in general rather than from the specific Chuckles licorice.) My favorite is the lime flavor, but lemon and orange are pretty good, too.

They’re pretty chewy, but not like gum. They have consistency similar to that of a gumdrop and are also covered in sugar the same way. The comparison to gumdrops basically differs in the intensity of the flavor, from what I can recall. They’re also pretty fun to eat, although it’s pretty quick. Each one takes no more than three bites if you’re trying to go slowly, and that’s pushing it.

Writing the review makes me want to go out and buy a pack. I don’t know why I never got it more as a kid. I think it’s mostly because my parents weren’t that big on sugary stuff. Maybe next time I’m at Publix, I look for some. 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Who doesn’t like a good vampire movie? I saw Buffy the Vampire Slayer on sale in Best Buy and decided to get it. I figured it couldn’t be that bad. Well, it wasn’t that bad, but it’s definitely not for everyone.

Kristy Swanson plays Buffy Summers, you’re typical valley-girl-type blonde high-school cheerleader. She keeps having these strange dreams about strange people. She’s in the dreams, but has no idea really what’s going on. Then, she meets this strange guy named Merrick (played by Donald Sutherland) who tells her that she’s The Chosen One. It’s The Chosen One’s lot in life to slay vampires.

It’s Merrick’s lot in life to find The Chosen One and train her to slay vampires. It takes them a while, but Merrick finally gets Buffy ready. It’s just in time, too. Lothos is the main vampire and he feels it’s time to regain control of Los Angeles. He sends out his right-hand man, Amilyn to rebuild their army of bloodsuckers. (Amilyn is played by Paul Rubens of Pee-Wee Herman fame.) Buffy manages to take on all of these vampires while being a cheerleader and planning the senior dance.

Ultimately, the movie is a bizarre vampire movie. (When you see the scene with Amilyn dying, you’ll know what I mean.) It’s hard to believe that someone was trying to make a serious movie. For starters, why is the person that’s chosen to do something called “The Chosen One”? It would be funny to have someone called “The Preferred One” or “The Elected One” or something just to be a little different. Also, ‘chosen’ implies some sort of process. Movies that have a Chosen One never seem to explain how the person was chosen.

I also don’t understand why Merrick knows so much. Admittedly, he’s been born and reborn several times, each time with the knowledge about The Chosen One. Wouldn’t it be more direct to simply have Buffy be born with the knowledge? I suppose that would cut out a good chunk of the movie. Buffy has to go through the process of accepting Merrick and training with him. The relationship between them is really the only one that’s developed to any extent. Sure, there are other characters that Buffy deals with, but few of them seem to build up to anything.

It’s a three-star movie. If it comes on one of the movie channels, go for it. As for renting it or buying it, you’d have to have a reason. There are some people that I’d recommend it to, but I don’t think it’s for everyone.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Castle in the Sky (1986)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

I’ve never really been big on directors. Sure, there are movies that were well-directed, but I’ve never really been one to seek out movies based on a director or production company. Then, along came movies like Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and The Cat Returns. I was hooked on Studio Ghibli’s movies. I began renting as many as I could find on NetFlix.

Castle in the Sky seems to be one of the earlier works, but wasn’t released in the US until recently. The story revolves around several people looking for a lost city called Laputa. The military wants this city for its technology. Pirates want it for untold riches that are bound to be there. Then, there’s Sheeta and Pazu, two children that are out to find the city, as well. (Sheeta has a special connection to the city.)

The thing that makes Laputa hard to find is that it floats above the Earth, hidden from view pretty well. Some doubt that it even exists. Pazu’s father died trying to prove its existence. Sheeta has the ability to find it, which makes her valuable to both the military and the pirates. Together, Sheeta and Pazu might just be able to find the lost city which floats above the planet.

There’s this great debate between Sub vs. Dub, or subtitles versus the English dubbing. I’ve always preferred the dub, mostly because the English voices are usually well-known actors. In Castle in the Sky, you have Mark Hamill, Mandy Patinkin, Richard Dysart and Cloris Leachman. From what I understand, the translation of some of the earlier works, like this movie, led to a ‘No Cuts’ policy, forcing a more literal translation of the movies. I’d love to learn Japanese to see the difference.

As I’ve said with other animated movies, there’s so much more you can do with animation. What would require special effects in a live-action movie is bound to look seamless in an animated movie. Castle in the Sky is a great example of such a movie. You’ve got all manner of flying ships. To look at Laputa is to see exactly what I’m talking about. Imagination is the limit with anime and animation Despite a somewhat complicated plot, I found it was easy to follow and understand. The story is as well crafted as the animation.

I never really thought the comparison of Ghibli to Disney was fair. Yes, both have produced a lot of great films, but both are radically different. Ghibli has produced a wide range of films, some being meant more for children and others that are better suited to adults. (Granted, Castle in the sky is probably better for children, but look at movies like Grave of the Fireflies.)

At just over two hours, it’s not too long. Everything about it is genius. I’d recommend it to anyone. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Aventura Mall Food Court Sign

Food Court sign
Last month, I found out that Aventura Mall is renovating the food court.  (Actually, they're replacing it with a new wing that will include a new food court.)  I know this is more local interest than anything else, but I'm posting it for two reasons.  First, I want to see how easy it is to embed photos from Flickr.  Second, the picture is of a sign that has been at the mall for as long as I've been going to that mall.

I'm not sure what will become of the sign, so I wanted to share what might be one last photo of it.  It's been there since they last renovated the food court. They may well keep it.  I don't know.  Anyway, here it is.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Starman (1984)

It’s a big universe out there.  Within our own galaxy, there are something like 200 billion stars.  The number of galaxies in the universe could be of a similar magnitude.  It’s hard to imagine that there’s no life orbiting one of those countless stars.  Of course, as the Fermi Paradox points out, there should be some proof, or at least solid evidence, of alien life by now.  Then again, the distance to the nearest star is four light years.  Any civilization capable of traversing the vast space between stars could probably disguise themselves so that we would never know, unless something went horribly wrong.

Such is the case with Starman.  An alien crash lands on Earth.  He makes it to a nearby house, where he finds Jenny Hayden.  Existing only as a ball of light, he’s able to clone her dead husband and use the resulting body to interact with her.  He sends a distress signal, then gets Jenny to help him to the rendezvous point for pickup.  The body is temporary, so if he doesn’t make it, he dies.  Add to this the fact that the U.S. military is after him.

The two have to travel across the country from Chequamegon Bay, Wisconsin, to Meteor Crater near Winslow, Arizona.  It’s not easy at first, since Starman’s knowledge of human languages is limited to what was onboard the Voyager 2 probe.  (This is odd, though; he states that his people have been to Earth before.  You‘d think someone would have written a phrase guide or something.)  He eventually learns English and she eventually learns to trust him.  It’s still not an easy journey.  He does still have the government after him.

One offshoot of the Fermi Paradox is that, given the vastness of space and the probability that there may be life out there, it may not be wise to broadcast our location.  Starman came to Earth because his race found the Voyager 2 probe.  His seems to be a peaceful race, but what if the probe had been found by a race that saw us as a threat?  Iut may not go as well as The Day The Earth Stood Still.  (For those wondering, I’m referring to the 1951 version.)

It would have been interesting to see how Starman’s mission would have gone had he not been shot down.  Apparently, he was planning on sticking around for a few days anyway.  I’m not sure if his species had taken human form to study our planet or what level of interaction they’ve had.  This is a case where leaving us to wonder works best.  I’m curious to check out the TV show.  (Amazon has Starman - Complete Series on DVD, but I don’t see it on Netflix.)

I’d say for movies from the 1980s, this one held up pretty well.  I think what stuck out most about the movie were two things: The simplicity of the story and the distinctive soundtrack.  I remember a creative-writing professor saying that you could start and end your story however you felt best.  The movie frames the story during Starman’s three-day visit.  He meets a human woman who helps him, despite some setbacks and mistakes.  We don’t need to go into all the details about humanity.  Starman knows that we’re not perfect, but we’re worth studying.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Tomorrowland (2015)

There are all sorts of source material for movies.  Books are a natural choice, as the plot and structure are already there.  TV shows are also popular for a similar reason.  I’ve always wondered what the most difficult source material would be in terms of pulling a feature-length film.  Battleship is a good candidate for this, as it came from a board game.  I have to admit that I would have pegged Tomorrowland as a close second.  The movie seems to draw its name from the similarly named attraction found at the Disney parks.  You can see the influence in the sets and designs, but the story is largely original.

It begins with Frank Walker and Casey Newton telling their story, ostensibly to the audience.  Frank insists on beginning the story with his trip to the 1964 New York World's Fair.  A young Frank has a jet pack that he invented.  He shows it to an official named David Nix, but Nix dismisses the prototype, as it doesn’t actually seem to work yet.  Frank does draw the attention of a girl named Athena, who gets him passage to the futuristic Tomorrowland.

Cut to the present where Casey’s trying to sabotage some NASA equipment.  Her father works at the base, which is being decommissioned.  Yes, it’s futile.  Yes, it gets her arrested.  However, after being released, she comes into possession of a pin similar to one Athena gave to Frank.  Casey is now obsessed with finding Tomorrowland, even after the pin’s battery runs out.  Her only hope to actually get there (and, possibly, to save the world) is to find a now-grown Frank, who has been expelled from Tomorrowland.

I found the movie to be more of a balance than I expected.  I thought that it would either take place mostly in Tomorrowland or mostly in our world, but the movie made the transition midway through the movie.  Because of this, the movie didn’t drag.  I knew that if the movie relied too heavily on our world, the movie would rely too heavily on suspense.  If too much time was spent in Tomorrowland, there would be a risk of it being all starry-eyed wonder, which could get boring quickly.  (I still would have like to see a little more of Tomorroland.)

On that note, I had also wondered how optimistic the movie would be, since the Tomorrowland attraction is supposed to be about making advancements that benefit mankind.  The movie used that optimism and balanced it with an invention of Frank’s that went too far.  We have the option of building a brighter future, but we have to be careful about it.  Not every invention should see the light of day.

Instead of a good-versus-evil theme, we get a dreaming-versus-apathy theme.  The real world is full of people who just go through the motions.  They worry about paying the rent and taking care of families.  Tomorrowland is shiny and is all about potential and advancing society.  Granted, each world isn’t entirely what it seems, but the question becomes at what point do you give up on your dreams?

Friday, January 29, 2016

Die Hard (1988)

Some movies change with age.  You might view it as a kid and think it’s an action movie only to realize as an adult that it had some deeper meaning.  Movies Like WarGames or Star Wars will look different as a kid than as an adult.  There were aspects of The Shawshank Redemption that I didn’t get as a child.  Even UHF parodied things that I missed the first time simply because I hadn’t seen the movie being referenced.  I had kind of wondered if this was the case with Die Hard.  Eh, not so much.

Primarily, Die Hard is an action movie.  It starts with John McClane, a New York City detective, visiting his wife, Holly, in Los Angeles.  They’re estranged, but hoping to maybe get back together.  Things are going not so well when a group of armed men take Holly and her entire office hostage.  John happens to be in the office, but is unseen by the gunmen, giving him an advantage.

Hans Gruber is the lead gunman.  He takes Holly’s boss, Joseph Takagi, into another room to interrogate him.  You see, Gruber and his goons aren’t terrorists, as one might think.  They’re strictly there for the bearer bonds that Takagi has in his safe.  Gruber has no problem letting the police think he’s a terrorist, though.  When Takagi refuses to cooperate, Gruber kills him.  Gruber then assures his associates that the police will help with Plan B.

Meanwhile, John takes it upon himself to kill Gruber and his henchman one by one.  This isn’t an easy task, considering that John is alone and has no guns.  For that matter, he spends a good part of the movie without shoes, having left them in his wife’s office.  It even takes a few tries to get the police to come out.  (Gruber does want the police to come out, just not too soon.)

Being that it’s an action movie, things don’t end well for Gruber & Co.  Yes, it’s very violent.  Yes, is a lot of blood.  Ask someone about the movie and they will probably remember John McClane walking across broken glass.  If you’re into that sort of stuff, it’s a good movie.  There’s just the right amount of story to tie the abundant violence together.

This is one of those movies that spawned a lot of sequels.  This is interesting in that the movie is based on a book called Nothing Lasts Forever.  The first book, called The Detective, was also made into a movie with the same name, starring Frank Sinatra.  Sinatra could have been John McClane, as being offered the part was in his contract, but he turned it down.  (It’s interesting to think of what it would have been like.)

The last time I saw this movie was shortly before the death of Alan Rickman, who played Hans Gruber.  This was his first feature-film role.  (He had previously been in TV series and TV movies.)  It’s hard for me to see him another role without thinking how he’s Hans Gruber.  This isn’t to say that it affects how I view the other movie.  It’s simply a testament to how diverse his roles have been.

Bully (2011)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Someone once said that men had two main theories on women and that both were wrong.  (I want to say Will Rogers, but I’m not certain.)   The same applies for bullies.  As a child, I was told usually one of two things.  One camp held that bullies were looking for someone to push around.  If I stood up, they’d find someone else to push around.  The other camp held that bullies were looking for a reaction.  If I ignored them, they’d get a reaction out of someone else.  Neither one really held true.

Yes, I had problems with bullies as a child, but not so much as the children in Bully did.  The movie follows several children who faced constant bullying.  In one case, a child named Alex was poked, choked, shoved and otherwise harassed on the school bus.  Another girl, Kelby, was ostracized when she came out as a lesbian.  She was even kicked off the basketball team because none of the other players wanted to touch her.  She was even deliberately hit by a minivan.  Two of the children committed suicide because they couldn’t handle it any more.

Here’s the thing.  Not doing anything isn’t solving the problem.  Alex’s mother sees the assistant principal of his school after being shown the footage.  The assistant principal claims that she’s been on his bus and all of the students were perfect little angles, despite what the footage shows and what Alex has said.  The bus driver is shown just driving, not doing anything to stop the children.  (The mother points out that her bus driver would have pulled the bus over.)  Another student is asked why he doesn’t walk away from a kid that torments him.  He does, only to have the tormentor follow him.

Standing up does seem to have limited success.  One student admits that he stood up to some bullies and they backed off.  However, that doesn’t seem to hold true for Kelby.  Her parents offered her the chance to move, but she felt that moving would have handed the town a victory.  She felt that she should stay and try to at least show everyone she wasn’t backing down.  She was eventually pulled out of the school system.  Yes, she does have a few friends that accept her, but most students don’t.

It seems like the biggest problem is that those in a position to do something don’t.  Either they’re ignorant of the problem or they’re unwilling to admit that it is a problem.  The assistant principal at Alex’s school has a bully and the bullied shake hands.  When the bullied kid refuses, the assistant principal tells him that he’s just as bad for not trying to play nice.  The bully is let off the hook because he was so eager to play nice.

The kids don’t always stick up for themselves.  In Alex’s case, he thought that this is just they way kids behave.  It’s also easy to see why the students think that nothing will get done.  In many cases, if anything is done, it may change a very specific behavior, but not get rid of other forms of bullying.

It’s hard to say what to do because each case is different.  There’s no one action that an administrator, child or parent can take that will eliminate bullying every time.  It’s mostly a matter of persistence and knowing that you can have someone to turn to.  Even if it doesn’t stop anything, many of the children either feel that they don’t have friends or don’t really know what it means to have a friend.

I recall hearing about this documentary when it first came out.  It had to be edited to get a lower rating so that children could watch it.  I’d recommend that people watch this documentary as a starting point.  It’s available through Netflix on DVD and streaming, which will make it available to a lot of people.  If you do let your child watch it, I would recommend either watching it with them or watching it before them.  Even if they’re not bullied, you may want to be able to talk about the movie with them. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Bruce Almighty (2003)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.
Bruce Nolan is an ordinary guy. That’s the problem, though. Bruce feels that he’s stuck doing the human-interest fluff stories on Channel 7 while rival newscaster Evan Baxter gets all of the hard-hitting, important stories. Bruce gets stories on the city’s biggest cookie while Nolan gets stuff about health hazards. Bruce desperately wants a shot at the big time, but he’s just not cut out for it.

True to comedic films, Bruce has a really bad day. After flipping out on live TV, he’s fired. Then, he tries to protect a homeless guy, but gets beaten up over it. Then, he gets in a fight with his girlfriend, Grace, played by Jennifer Aniston. Plus, the dog keeps urinating on the furniture. To top it off, he gets in an accident that night. Finally, he has it out with God. Why would such a kind and merciful God pick on poor, poor, pitiful Bruce? Why does he have to suffer so much?

That’s when he gets paged. After several attempts, Bruce finally calls the number. He gets a recording. (The recording is actually specific enough to ask if his name is Bruce.) He goes to an address that turns out to be an abandoned building, but he goes in anyway. The outside is old and dingy, but the inside is pure white. There, he finds the janitor mopping. Bruce is directed to Room 7, which happens to be on the seventh floor. (The elevator’s broken, so he has to walk.) Upstairs, he finds the janitor fixing a bulb. Bruce doesn’t like having to walk up the stairs, but he lets it pass. He asks for the boss, which happens to be the janitor. (The janitor is Morgan Freeman; it turns out that God does all of His own work.)

It takes a few minutes for Bruce to accept who he’s dealing with. When he does, God makes a proposal. Since Bruce thinks that God’s not doing a good job, He’ll take a vacation and leave Bruce with all of His powers for a few weeks. (Hence the name of the movie.) There are two rules, though. Bruce can’t claim to be god and he can’t affect free will. (The first rule is more of a warning to avoid that kind of attention; the second is hard and fast.) Bruce accepts and starts by fixing his own problems. For starters, he gets revenge on the gang that beat him up. Then, he gets in good with his girlfriend and eventually embarrasses Evan into quitting.

After a little prodding from God, Bruce starts thinking about others. He hears voices, which turn out to be prayers. Not wanting to go crazy, he sets up a computer to be Prayer Central. Instead of reviewing each prayer, Bruce finds it easier just to say yes to everyone. This leads to problems. Everyone wins the lottery, but each winning ticket is worth $17. Riots ensue and the power grid loses stability. Also, Bruce’s newfound fame leads to other kinds of attention, thus leading him to break up with Grace. Bruce has to figure out how to get her back without affecting free will. In the end, all works out well. I won’t say exactly how, but Bruce learns his lesson.

What I will say is that the message isn’t overt. The movie doesn’t shove proverbs down your throat or try to make you believe. It’s more about Bruce and what he has to learn about himself. Carrey has it toned down a little bit. He plays the role more like The Truman Show than Ace Ventura. He does have a lot of goofy scenes, though.

As I mentioned in this review’s title, Bruce is in the details. Look for details. Some are obvious, as is the case with the Parting of the Soup. Some are subtler. When Channel 7 throws a party for Bruce, notice what’s in the container that Bruce is carrying. Pay special attention to it and what he’s pouring for the people.

Jim Carrey was the perfect actor for the part of Bruce and Morgan Freeman was perfectly cast as God. Morgan Freeman plays the role with all of the seriousness and dignity you’d expect from God whereas Jim Carrey is just this goofball that wants to do things his way.

Carrey also has Jennifer Aniston to play off of. Bruce can’t see past his own career whereas Grace wants a family and a happy life with the man of her dreams. The more Bruce tries to pull her his way, the more she resists.

Then, there’s Evan. Even is all that a serious reporter is supposed to be. Bruce is always the other guy. He’s the one you turn to with a story the city’s biggest cookie. Bruce is exactly where he’s supposed to be. He just doesn’t realize it. All of Bruce’s selfish acts have dire consequences. Even his altruistic ones have dire consequences. Bruce doesn’t realize that there’s a delicate balance to everything.