Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Movie Review: “Now You See Me”

   I am an ardent fan of the cinematic arts. Although I have certain genre preferences, I don’t let that stifle my curiosity and close myself to different flavors of entertainment. That said...I am a huge fan of science fiction, super hero and action movies! Please visit my other blog The Boxed Office for reviews, exclusively, on these types of movies.

   Morgan Freeman needs no critique as he is always exactly how you expect him to be...great. Mark Ruffalo, a standout in Avengers, delivers a stellar performance here. Also no surprise was Woody Harrelson...he has an abundance of skill and was on his game. New to me were Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco and Isla Fisher. Along with Harrelson, these three rounded out what was known as The Four Horsemen, and they delivered excellent performances in their roles. The chemistry between them was real and a nod to a particular action sequence by Franco that will make you remember his name.

   The closer you look, the less you’ll see. A great tagline for a film if ever there was one...especially for this film. Four magicians (Eisenberg, Harrelson, Franco, Fisher) are mysteriously brought together for reason unknown and a year later are performing together as The Four Horsemen. With each of them specializing in a different type of magic, their combined acts are riveting...but also have distinct purpose. Each show is connected to a larger puzzle that is cultivated by years of planning.

   After their first show, wherein they seemingly rob a bank in France...from Las Vegas, FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Ruffalo) and Interpol Officer Dray (Melanie Laurent) bring them in for questioning and so begins the cat and mouse game as law enforcement seeks to prove their culpability in the crime, while trying to stop them from committing more. Emphasis on the word “try.”

   Eventually, Rhodes and Dray seek out the expertise of Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman), an ex-magician, world renowned and very wealthy, from making a living exposing the tricks of other magicians. His insights become invaluable to the case, but also expose the fact that there is something very sinister and profound going on that even he can’t figure out. As the magic becomes more mind blowing, and the crimes more brazen, only one thing is truly obvious...the closer you look, the less you’ll see.

   From the beginning of the film when we are introduced to the four magicians in their natural states of performing, it’s quite clear that the magic in the film is going to be spectacular. Predicated on misdirection as a theme, this comes through in the opening sequences as well as the sleight-of-hand antics of Jack Wilder (Franco) don’t seem all that impressive, until they are put to use and in a situation that shows just how amazing his talent really is. 

   There isn’t a bad performance in the film, by anyone. The movie flows with a quick, but deliberate pace, never really taking any time to develop any single character profoundly, but instead focuses on the idea that everything being shown has a greater purpose...that there is a bigger scheme at work and if you look closely, you might be able to see it, while proving just the opposite.

   The magic tricks are spectacular. I love to watch magic, so every sequence in the film where it was showcased was just pure joy for me. The film does an excellent job of showing us what was really going on, by choosing the perfect time to reveal when it was going on. 

   The plot was a bit of a stretch, but once the pieces finally came together, the simplicity of it all was acceptable...even though the presentation was complicated. There will be no Oscar nominations for this isn’t that type of movie. There is no profound drama. There is plenty of action...and a fair helping of comedy for the witty-minded, giving this film a very high entertainment quotient. It is the type of film that can be watched more than once, even after everything is revealed...and that is a rare thing. With a wave of a wand and speaking of the magic phrase, this film makes four, out of five, cinnamon sticks disappear from my cup of tea.

Rating: 4/5

Monday, September 23, 2013

War Fatigue

   Let me just say that I’m just as patriotic as any other American in this country. I was born here, live here...and as selfish as it may sound, put here first. That said, it’s almost impossible to go anywhere and not be inundated by news or personal opinions about current affairs when it comes to Syria. 

   It is a heinous crime to subject anyone to chemical warfare, be they your enemy or the citizens of your country. As an entity in power charged with the protection of your own people, such an act is particularly horrendous. The death of innocents, especially children, is reprehensible. So anyone feeling this way also, know that I feel as you do. It should not be happening...and needs to stop.

   However...where we will likely diverge in opinions is how it stops, and who will be the responsible party for stopping it. I do not subscribe to the idea that Americans are world police. Such a philosophy usually comes at the expense of American lives. I’m all for saving lives, but I admit to prioritizing those lives to those of my family, friends, neighbors...and compatriots. 

   I don’t live in a bubble. I realize that past situations have dictated we, as a country, take action to prevent the spread of evil...that would eventually claim Americans as victims. World War II was a great example of this (although Pearl Harbor was the doorbell forcing us to answer). The Bosnian War is a great example of intervention that saved many lives and stopped genocide. The truth of that conflict though, is that the situation left to it’s own reckoning would not have reached our shores and taken the lives of our citizens.

   So the question lingers, is Syria another Nazi Germany...or Serbia? Is it morally right to leave innocent people to their own devices when their problems won’t have an impact on us? If we take the moral high ground, are we justified in forcing our position on others? Right and wrong is an ambiguous thing when you consider the various world beliefs...and the fact that what’s right for one may be wrong for another. I personally feel that the use of chemical weapons is a crime. Am I justified to force that opinion on someone that has lost their entire family and wishes the use of such weapons to eradicate what is, for them, a clear and present evil?

   It has been noted that even Hitler did not resort to the widespread use of chemical weapons on the battlefield...but is that really a moral barometer that we should be using?

   The moral argument of intervention is a complicated discussion. Many say it’s simple, but the cost of any decision, in a high price, always mired in complication. How can we take up the mantle of “moral police” of the world...when morality is so ambiguous, and the role of cop (played out far too frequently with regards to this country alone) is magnified a thousandfold when the enforcement of our morality is hoisted upon a world that does not willingly adhere to our laws (as we citizens do) nor recognize our authority to be enforcers (as we recognize as the role of those enforcing the laws we willingly adhere to)?

   There have been many questions asked, but few answers available. I’ve simply reached a point that I am now experiencing war fatigue. I’m tired of the endless wars...especially in that particular part of the world, and this tiredness has drawn me into a careful examination of why we are always there...embroiled in war.

   Am I willing to bury my children to see my personal beliefs expanded? What about the right of others to have different beliefs so long as they don’t infringe upon my freedom or inflict harm upon me? If we don’t put America first, then what’s the point of being an American? Easy questions to you know the answers?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Is it News...?

   By now it should be well known, my outlook on how we are given what passes as “news” these days. I think there is too much propaganda and partisan agendas being injected in what should be objective reporting. It’s just my opinion, but much of what they are calling news just isn’t newsworthy to me. Recently I was given a newspaper (cause I’ll be damned if I spend my hard-earned money on any of these rags) and on the front page, the most important and meaningful bit of information this paper had to offer, was a trade and speculation about the effects of it on that nights sports event. Umm...what?

   There are a plethora of events and situations both locally and globally that are having, and will have, a profound effect on our lives and the best they can come up with to lead off these reports (assuming they will report on them) is sports? Maybe I’m being too critical. I do have a somewhat biased opinion of those that bring us news. I’m sure there are people out there that care very much about the next sports trade...heck, they may even not care about what’s happening in the world (it can get a bit overwhelming when you really think about the depravity humanity is capable of). I’m just not one of those people.

   Now that I think about it, let me indulge in a tangent and mention that there are many worthwhile and uplifting stories that happen all the time that never seem to make it to the front page...or any page for that matter. It seems like bad news is the only news worth reporting...which probably explains sports making the front page. Then again, probably not. In the end it’s just games and I think society places way too much importance on them, but I digress...and realize that everyone needs a distraction. Our sanity depends on it, I just don’t indulge the excess.

   I think it would be nice if an effort to find and present stories that uplift the spirit by featuring the better part of human nature were to become more common. I’m not saying none of these stories ever see print or camera, they do. I’m just saying that it seems like the bad is outweighing the good...and I refuse to believe that this is the absolute truth of our human nature.

   I’ve mentioned propaganda and partisan agendas before, and think the subject should be revisited...often, until it sinks in that such positions are detrimental. First, reporting something that is not true or which the facts are distorted is just heinous. There really isn’t much more to say about that. Second, a partisan agenda pushes one point of view and I firmly think the presentation of news should be just that...a presentation of what happened, not the opinion of the presenter about what happened. Color me intelligent, but I can draw my own conclusions and form my own opinion...and all I need to do so, are the facts.

   The most disturbing aspect about all of this for me isn’t that the  “news” isn’t really news anymore, it’s that so many people continue to accept the poor substitute being offered. So many will regurgitate, no matter how ridiculous, a point that is blatantly false or in no way reflective of good common sense...with the defense of “Well, that’s what the news said.” It’s just another by-product of living in Topsy-Turvy World is seems.

   We have become a captive audience...and those that have captured our minds, our common sense, our emotions...know it. Everyone is in on the gag except the most important player of this Well, I should say you if you have read this and are still snoring. I’ve already woken up and just hope the buzzer will rouse others to do the same.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Utz the Difference...?

   Yeah...this is going to be one of those weird posts wherein I ponder something that just randomly came to mind as I was doing something very simple and ordinary. Actually, I’m going to do more than just ponder. Let me start from the beginning and explain what I was doing when questions formed in my head...without answers. Last week I was food shopping. Yes...I tend to do that every now and then, it helps to keep me alive...the whole eating thing. As is my bad habit that I’m trying to kick, but not nearly as hard as I should, I meandered down the chip isle...and began searching for the perfect potato chip.

   I suppose I should know by now that the selection doesn’t change from week to week, so my search for the perfect chip is pretty much going to always net the gains....none. My health is always on my mind, so yes, it weighs on me (literally) when I ponder my weakness for potato chips. That said, I look for the least artificial ones (as if) and try to get the lowest sodium count available (and surprisingly, chips are getting better with this). 

   In my most recent search, I noticed something very curious...Utz. Now to be clear, this is not a new brand to me, in fact, it’s not a new brand at all. They have several varieties of chips and popcorn on the market, but what caught my eye was the seemingly same type of chip, offered in different packaging. I thought it odd that they would put the same chip in several different bags...label it the same, but change the design of the bag. I started to think “marketing ploy” which prompted further investigation.

   Further investigation yielded the subtle differences in the chips, that a cursory glance of the packaging did not. I’ll note here that all the compared products have a sodium content of 75 mg per serving.Observe...

   Utz Mystic Potato Chips, labeled as “all natural” and “reduced fat” (40% less fat to be precise). Also billed as “New England Style Kettle Cooked.” Price: $ weight 7 oz.

   Utz Kettle Classics, labeled as “reduced fat” (40% less fat again), gluten free and priced at $3.69 (2 for $6.00 as a store special). Net weight 8 oz.

   Utz Natural (40% reduced fat) Kettle Cooked Gourmet Potato Chips. Once again “gluten free,” but priced at $3.99. Net weight 8.5 oz.

   I suppose the price reflected the actual volume of chips accurately, but again, I was fascinated at the multiple offering of reduced fat kettle cooked potato chips. There had to be some other difference besides the volume of chips...right? seems the process has something to do with all of this. I like to read the fine print when I shop, because that’s where all the important information is offered. I guess the manufactures figure you will not bother to read the fine print...or your eyes are simply just too defective to make out the information. In my case, neither explanation reflects the truth. The truth was laid before me in plain English...under the heading “ingredients.”

   Utz Mystic Potato Chips are also a gluten free product...according to the fine print, not the visible packaging. The primary difference between the others is “cooked in 100% cottonseed oil.”

   Utz Kettle Classics are “cooked in pure peanut oil” (with sea salt added).

   Utz Natural (40% reduced fat) Kettle Cooked Gourmet Potato Chips “cooked in 100% expeller-pressed sunflower oil” (with sea salt added).

   So, it seems I am being offered the same chip, just differentiated by each other solely by the oil it is cooked in. I don’t have a problem with that...I just think it’s very interesting. Ultimately, the true test of quality comes from a personal preference of taste. So the final judgment shall be rendered upon a proper taste test.

   The differences in taste (and there is a very slight difference) is absolutely negligible...detected only by eating way more chips than I should have. I’ll venture to say that if all these chips were offered at a social function in the same bowl...very few people would be able to tell the difference in them. have a peanut allergy, then the Utz Kettle Classics would certainly stand the packaging should, more than the gold trim at the bottom attesting to the peanut oil process (peanut allergies are serious).

   So...Utz the difference...? The oil, and little more than that. If you like potatoes like I do, it doesn’t even matter.