Friday, September 12, 2014

A Cute, But Fairly Insubstantial, Parody: Fun With Kirk And Spock Is Not Essential Trek!


The Good: Decent artwork, Moments of amusement
The Bad: Fails to appeal to either of its target demographics
The Basics: Fun With Kirk And Spock tries to be a children’s book, but uses too much irony and diction too complex for young readers . . . and is not smart or complex enough for adult fans of Star Trek!


Since Go The Fuck To Sleep (reviewed here!), I have pretty much avoided reviewing children’s books. I am not a good judge of what is age appropriate (generally) and as someone who does not have children and avoids interacting with children or young parents, I find little appeal in reading and reviewing children’s books. But then I saw Fun With Kirk And Spock. My Trekker instincts kicked in and I had to read the book right away. And I did . . . and it’s not worth more than one read-through.

Fun With Kirk And Spock is a picture book in the style of Fun With Dick And Jane. Written by Robb Pearlman with (mostly) simple diction and large drawings of iconic Star Trek characters, Fun With Kirk And Spock is a sixty-four page book that tries (unsuccessfully) to balance between being an educational tool for young Trekkers and a source of amusement for the elders in the same fandom.

Fun With Kirk And Spock introduces readers to the iconic characters of Star Trek (reviewed here!) and gives readers simple statements about them. Written in a simplistic, mildly poetic, style, Fun With Kirk And Spock has many of the things one would expect of a Star Trek-themed parody of Fun With Dick And Jane. So, there are the lines, “See Spock,” ”See Captain Kirk,” etc. followed by simple statements once readers have visually tied the character name to the picture on the page (“Sulu’s sword goes swish!”).

In addition to the iconic characters of Star Trek, Fun With Kirk And Spock introduces readers to key episodes and concepts of Star Trek, albeit in a humorous fashion. The Mirror Universe is designated “bad” because Kirk avoids the advances of women (not because of the tyrannical Empire that keeps humans in fear and Vulcans enslaved); there is commentary that Kirk should let Khan sleep and so forth. Some of the key Star Trek locations are presented with great humor – how secure the Bridge is is a particularly amusing page, for example.

Unfortunately, Fun With Kirk And Spock is a ridiculous educational tool. The transporter is not a useful device about which to educate children and some of the vocabulary is well beyond the age/reading level of those who would need a “See Kirk, See Kirk shoot his phaser, Shoot Kirk! Shoot!” style book. Similarly, the frequent use of irony is unlikely to be something that children learning to read will either get or appreciate, so the book is a tougher sell as a children’s book than it ought to be.

On the flip side, Fun With Kirk And Spock is way too simplistic to be worth it for adult Star Trek fans to give the time of day outside skimming the book once in the store. The diction is simplistic and the humor too safe to engage, so it is more like a Mad Magazine parody than something truly deep and worth returning to. Hopefully, if a Fun With Picard And Data book is ever written, it will pick a target audience and be written to truly satisfy it.

For other humor books, please visit my reviews of:
The Sinner's Guide To The Evangelical Right By Robert Latham
The Tribble's Handbook By Terry J. Erdmann
Bloom County: Penguin Dreams And Stranger Things By Berkeley Breathed

3/10

For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

Monday, September 8, 2014

Even The Best Spit-Take In History Cannot Save “Robot Of Sherwood!”


The Good: Moments of performance
The Bad: Formulaic in context, Mediocre direction, Somewhat predictable plot
The Basics: More formulaic than actually bad, “Robot Of Sherwood” puts the Doctor and Clara in the legendary story of Robin Hood . . . where Earth is actually under attack by robots who have allied themselves with the Sheriff of Nottingham.


As much as I am growing to appreciate Doctor Who and despite the fact that Peter Capaldi has already (easily) eclipsed Matt Smith on my list of best Doctors, it saddens me that he is not being given great material. Ironically, in the modern Doctor Who, the actors who had the most film experience coming into the series seem to be given the most formulaic arcs and the most tired writing. Indeed, if one were to write a parody of “How To Write A Season Of Doctor Who,” the current season would seem to be the result. Many of the seasons since Christopher Eccleston took on the role of The Doctor have had an establishing episode, followed by a trip to the future, followed by a trip to Earth’s past where the Doctor and his Companion meet a notable European (Charles Dickens, Vincent Van Gogh, William Shakespeare, etc.). Executive producers Steven Moffat and Brian Minchin seem unwilling to defy that formula in the current season as the third episode is “Robot Of Sherwood.”

As its name implies, “Robot Of Sherwood” has The Doctor and Clara making a trip to 1190 A.D., Sherwood Forest where they encounter Robin Hood. Robin Hood is a more dubious character of legend for Doctor Who to utilize, though it offers Jenna Coleman the opportunity to play Clara Oswald as thoroughly smitten for an episode. “Robot Of Sherwood” also allows Peter Capaldi to truly dispel the notion that he (as The Doctor) cannot be as cool, vibrant or youthful as other, recent Doctors. But, given that The Doctor teaches Robin Hood a trick or two about fighting, it is hard to argue that he does not have a kick-ass side to him.

When The Doctor offers to take Clara anywhere in time and space, she tells him that she wants to meet Robin Hood. Despite The Doctor’s assertion that Robin Hood is not real, the pair takes the TARDIS back to Sherwood Forest. While Clara is thrilled to meet Robin Hood and his merry men, the Doctor begins testing all the Merry Men to try to determine who and what they are. Even as The Doctor declares that the sun is too bright, Robin Hood joins an archery contest to try winning a golden arrow, a plan which is thwarted when The Doctor bests both him and the Sheriff Of Nottingham. The Sheriff is revealed to be surrounded by an army of robots who shoot from their faces.

Captured to try to get information on the robots, the Doctor and Robin Hood bicker while Clara is taken to their leader. Clara tricks the Sheriff Of Nottingham into revealing how he came to power, thanks to the crash of an alien ship in the vicinity of Sherwood Forest, as well as his plan to dominate the whole of England. Escaping their cell, the Doctor and Robin Hood reach many of the same conclusions as The Doctor realizes that the invading robots are harvesting gold for their disguised space ship. As the forces of good turn on the Sheriff, the Doctor comes to believe that Robin Hood is, in fact, real.

“Robot Of Sherwood” is a fairly cheesy episode of Doctor Who, but it is by no means as horrible as I thought it would be going into it. While most of the special effects are either ridiculous or entirely lacking (the kill shots from the robots are largely unshown, though the steaming blobs of remains are, apparently, safe for television viewing), there is an exceptionally subtle effect near the end of the episode that illustrates the Doctor’s theory about how the invading robots have altered the local environment. Outside that, “Robot Of Sherwood” has simplistic visual and prop effects that make it look more like a b-rate science fiction show than it has been for years.

Chief among the special effects that border on the ridiculous comes from actor Roger Ashton-Griffiths. Ashton-Griffiths plays Quayle and when his character is confronted by the Sheriff of Nottingham, he spits in his face. He spits an impossible amount of fluid, as if he is doing a spit-take and the result is much more silly than defiant.

If it seems like my review is diluted much more with commentary on the special effects than usual, that is true and it comes for a simple, direct reason. At this point in Doctor Who, we’ve seen this before. The plot and the structure of the plot within the season is painfully predictable. The Doctor and his Companion go back to Earth where they encounter someone notable or famous. Will Robin Hood be this season’s Van Gogh, having a notable effect by recurring later on in the season? It’s hard to care; the season seems to be moving toward significant events in “Paradise” as “Robot Of Sherwood” references the location this episode as the destination for the robots, but the larger arc for the character of the Doctor seems to have been lost already. Going into this season, the Doctor was on a quest to find Gallifrey after he re-engineered the ending to the last great Time War, but that quest has not been explicitly mentioned yet since Peter Capaldi took over (unless the calculations he was writing on the chalkboard at the outset of “Robot Of Sherwood” was something to do with that?). In other words, for a season that had the potential to truly shake up Doctor Who in an awesome way, episodes like “Robot Of Sherwood” unfortunately tread toward the banal and predictable. Will Earth’s history be irrevocably altered due to a robot invasion of our past? No; it’s Doctor Who and the Doctor and his Companion’s influence in past events will ensure that humanity develops as it always has (a clever twist on this would have been if the Doctor did something in Earth’s past that caused history to be rewritten and the Companion he has at the time to be erased from the timeline, but “Robot Of Sherwood” is not that ambitious).

Despite having a formulaic plot and a generally formulaic character arc (Clara is smitten with Robin Hood much the way The Doctor is smitten with Madame Pompadour in “The Girl In The Fireplace”), “Robot Of Sherwood” affords Peter Capaldi the opportunity to perform well as The Doctor. The episode, which is not as reminiscent of the Star Trek: The Next Generation Robin Hood episode “Q-Pid” (reviewed here!) as one might expect, has The Doctor as a hilariously quippy protagonist whose own preconceptions prevent him from seeing the circumstances for exactly what they are. While Jenna Coleman has to play starry-eyed the entire episode, Capaldi gets to play along a fairly wide spectrum of emotions. Instead of being monolithically stern, Capaldi plays the Doctor as surprised well and gives a decent physical performance to boot.

The result is an episode that is mostly entertaining, but is not at all substantive or surprising.

For other works with Roger Ashton-Griffiths, please check out my reviews of:
The Brothers Grimm
Nicholas Nickleby
Gangs Of New York
Brazil

4/10

For other television episode and season reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

Liquid Hot Butterscotch: Land O’Lakes Butterscotch & Chocolate Cocoa Is Good, Not Great!


The Good: Good taste and aroma, Nothing truly bad in it!
The Bad: Very expensive in this form, Environmental impact of packaging
The Basics: Mostly meeting the needs of those who love the flavor of butterscotch, Land O’Lakes Butterscotch & Chocolate hot cocoa is not balanced between the chocolate and butterscotch flavors.


One of the nice things about the late summer is that, locally at least, prices for hot cocoa and tea seem to drop before people might actually start stocking up on them. As a result, I was thrilled to find a local grocery store that was discounting Land O’Lakes cocoas and there I found a flavor I had not yet tried: Land O’Lakes Butterscotch & Chocolate hot cocoa.

The Land O' Lakes Cocoa Classics Butterscotch & Chocolate hot cocoa is interesting, but not incredible and it does not find a good balance between the two promised flavors.

Basics

The Butterscotch & Chocolate hot cocoa mix is part of the Land O' Lakes Cocoa Classics premium hot cocoa line. The mix comes in a 1 1/4 oz. sealed foil package and is a delicious mix. Each 1 1/4 oz. packet is a single serving and these bear a relatively high price tag virtually everywhere I have found them (when they are not on sale). They tend to run approximately three for two dollars. For a single mug of cocoa, this is expensive when compared to other make-at-home products, but the Butterscotch & Chocolate is generally good enough to warrant the price tag!

Ease Of Preparation

The Cocoa Classics Butterscotch & Chocolate hot cocoa mix is very simple to make. The cocoa is rather enduring and the new packet I just bought did not expire until late 2016. Because it is sealed and has some artificial preservatives in is, this is likely to last virtually forever unopened. A single serving is the packet and six oz. of water. There is no measuring of the product involved!

As a result, preparation is ridiculously simple. The top of the envelope has a perforated edge and one need simply tear open the top, which is quite easy, and pour the contents of the packet into a mug that is at least eight ounces large. Then, simply pour hot water - near boiling, but not actually boiling as boiling water cooks the ingredients as opposed to simply dissolving them - over the powder and stir. Stir the powder until there are no blobs of chocolate powder visible in the water or giving resistance from the bottom. The beverage will have a light brown color to it and will be uniformly smooth and creamy.

Taste

Land O' Lakes Cocoa Classics Butterscotch & Chocolate hot cocoa smells almost exclusively like butterscotch. The aroma is sweet, but not overwhelmingly so. The scent is muted as it is inhaled, so it starts like what one expects of butterscotch, but ends before it can fully reach its aromatic potential. It is an inviting scent, but not a completely true one.

On the tongue, the Butterscotch & Chocolate cocoa tastes sweet and buttery. The lightness of the flavor is not overbearing or lacking in substance; instead, it is a sweet, flavorful cocoa that accents the chocolate that finishes the palate. The flavor of chocolate manifests as a somewhat dry taste that cuts into the sweetness that erupts the moment this cocoa hits the tongue. This is a good flavor, but not the most robust one and certainly not the most balanced; those looking for a strong chocolate flavor will end up somewhat underwhelmed.

In addition to having a subtle taste, the cocoa has a slightly dry aftertaste to it that is distinctive to Butterscotch. This is not a terribly strong aftertaste and it does not endure for very long at all.

Nutrition

Land O' Lakes Cocoa Classics is a hot cocoa mix and therefore not the most nutritious things ever, though the Butterscotch & Chocolate flavor could be far less nutritious than it is. While I am used to reviewing things like all natural teas where the ingredients are all easily pronounceable and recognizable, the Butterscotch & Chocolate hot cocoa has a few ingredients that cannot be easily identified. The primary ingredients are sugar, nonfat dry milk and whey. It is not vegan compliant as a result. Ironically, there is nothing called Butterscotch or Butterscotch flavoring in the ingredient list, so it is surprising that it replicates the flavor of butterscotch so well.

What is not a mystery is how high this product is in sugars. In each cup of Butterscotch & Chocolate Cocoa Classics, there are 140 calories, twenty-five of which are from fat. There are two and a half grams of saturated fat, so while one might be tempted to curl up and enjoy this while resting, they are likely to pay for it later on! While there is no cholesterol, nor any measurable amounts of trans fats, a consumer gets 11% of their recommended daily allowance of sodium out of a single packet of this beverage! There is a little protein, but not enough to live off this. In other words, this product is not a nutritious food product. But it is good!

This product contains soy and milk and because there are no notations on it, one must assume it is not Kosher or gluten-free.

Storage/Cleanup

So long as one leaves the Butterscotch & Chocolate Cocoa Classic powder in its packet, it ought to stay usable. One assumes it will last quite a while and dissolve appropriately when one attempts to use it. The packets, for those of us who consider the environmental impact of such things, are terribly wasteful and expensive. The foil/plastic wrappers are not recyclable anywhere I've been.

Cleanup is very easy. If the product spills while dumping it into the mug, simply wipe it up or brush it up with a dry or damp cloth. If it has already been reconstituted with water into hot cocoa, simply wipe it up. Light fabrics are likely to stain if this gets on them, in which case consult your fabric care guide to clean it up.

Overall

The Land O' Lakes Cocoa Classics Butterscotch & Chocolate is good as an occasional treat, but is more average than it is exceptional. The result is a cocoa worth trying and even stocking up on, but not one one will find themselves craving it frequently at all.

For other Land O’ Lakes hot cocoa reviews, please check out:
Double Fudge & Chocolate Cocoa
Chocolate Graham Hot Cocoa
Classic Dark Chocolate Hot Cocoa

5/10

For other beverage reviews, please visit my Food And Drink Review Index Page!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

Sunday, September 7, 2014

One-Shot With A Brilliant Social Message And An Alien Of The Week Playing “The Long Game!”


The Good: Acting (especially the regulars and Simon Pegg), Moments of character, Concept
The Bad: Moments of cheesiness, Erratic character development, Special effects
The Basics: “The Long Game” is a better episode in the context of the first season of Doctor Who than it is a decent hour of television.


The concept of a time travel show is an interesting one, especially when it involves travel forward and backward in time. Doctor Who, with its reboot in the mid-2000s, was ballsy in that it went backward and forward in little increments and leaps and bounds, usually episode by episode. Unfortunately, even as the show managed to keep the feeling of being fresh in its seventh episode, “The Long Game,” those who watch the season attentively will find that “The Long Game” is very much the same – thematically – as most of the episodes that preceded it. Doctor Who belabors a theme of greed in its first season, which has a foil in the selfless act at the climax of the season. Until that comes up, though, it seems like every adversary The Doctor and Rose encounter is motivated by pure, unadulterated, greed.

“The Long Game” is an episode that appears to be a standalone episode, though it resonates later in the season with a return to the setting introduced in this episode. The purpose of the episode is largely to dispose of the new companion and illustrate an audacious concept in the Doctor Who chronology. In this version of Doctor Who, time is in flux and The Doctor recognizes differences between what time is supposed to be and what it ends up being. Unfortunately, this revelation – and its relevance later in the season – do not save the episode from being an often-cheesy Alien Of The Week Episode.

The Doctor, Rose and Adam arrive 200,000 years in Earth’s future. There, they find themselves on Satellite Five where The Doctor expects to find Earth at the great and bountiful Fourth Empire, at the height of culture and civilization. While Rose and Adam explore Satellite Five, the Doctor investigates the discrepancies between the history he remembers and the filthy, news-obsessed, somewhat oppressive civilization he finds there. Adam gets Rose’s TARDIS-based cell phone while The Doctor looks at the technology that runs Satellite Five. When their guide, Cathica, is alarmed when her subordinate at the planet’s news organization, Suki is abruptly promoted, The Doctor reveals that time has been horribly altered.

Suki meets with the Editor of the news feed that Satellite Five is streaming out while Adam tries to learn about the advanced computer technologies in the year 200,000 to send back to the past (presumably for his own gain). With The Doctor’s credits buying him a brain-computer upgrade, Adam gains the ability to hack into Satellite Five’s main computer. The Doctor and Rose, watching the heat signatures, head to Floor 500 after Cathica reveals that Satellite Five came on line 91 years prior, which is about how long human evolution seems to be off-course from The Doctor’s expectations. On level 500, The Editor of Satellite Five reveals what is behind the alterations to human history and Adam Mitchell’s interference on Satellite Five puts Rose and The Doctor at risk!

“The Long Game” is a real mixed concept episode. The Jagrofess is a pretty generic alien of the week and the alien and the episode rely largely upon Simon Pegg’s Editor character to sell the concept of the episode. That means a lot of exposition for the episode comes from a surprisingly creepy Pegg. The Jagrofess itself, like the head computer when Adam first uses it, looks ridiculous and it’s hard to watch “The Long Game” and not feel that there is a definite cheese factor working against the episode. Between the computer generated effects and the high camera angle descending upon Suki when she first encounters the Jagrofess and screams (as opposed to attempting escape), “The Long Game” relies a lot on elements that do not work to the benefit of the episode.

But “The Long Game” actually establishes some important conceits for this new Doctor Who. Time is fluid, so the expectations of what the Fourth Great And Bountiful Human Empire is supposed to be is established, but completely undone. The Doctor has knowledge of time and his willingness to change the course of human history . . . without actually fixing the initial problem. “The Long Game” becomes a somewhat disturbing conceptual episode in that, fairly early in the episode, The Doctor is told by Cathica that Satellite Five was created ninety-one years prior. Rather than leaving humanity enslaved for ninety-one years by a force that The Doctor knows is stunting human growth, The Doctor could have taken Rose, Adam and the TARDIS back to the inception of the temporal interference by the Jagrofess and prevented the degradation of humanity. One of the serious issues with “The Long Game” is that the Jagrofess’s temporal incursion is never actually explained. The Doctor knows time has been altered and the cause is the creation of Satellite Five and the appearance of the Jagrofess, but how those events occurred when The Doctor remembers the history of the future differently does not make sense.

On the character front, “The Long Game” is erratic as well. The Doctor is almost an incidental character in the episode until the very end. Ceding the spotlight to Rose, The Doctor lets Rose try to wow Adam before she finds him unworthy of her attention and affection. Adam’s presence pretty much forces the viewer to watch the episode “Dalek” (reviewed here!) to understand. But what follows is a huge chunk of plot exposition where Adam and the setting have more character than The Doctor and Rose. In fact, in the middle acts, the only real character moment for the Doctor and Rose comes when they take one another’s hand and take the lift to level 500.

Adam’s character development mirrors the plot exposition, as laid out by the Editor. Adam is greedy and wants to exploit future technology in the past, much like Rasmussen in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “A Matter Of Time” (reviewed here!). Again, the villain is just motivated by avarice and an inflated sense of profit motive and that, by this point in the season, is getting quite tired.

Fortunately, The Doctor’s actions in the episode’s climax completely justify the lackluster sense of growth throughout the rest of the episode. Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper once again illustrate amazing on-screen chemistry as The Doctor and Rose. They have great timing for their characters’ banter and Billie Piper’s looks of adoration at Eccleston sell her character’s deep-seated feelings for him wonderfully.

Still, “The Long Game” is very average television and while it is amusing and becomes important, on its own it is a much weaker episode than one might hope for.

For other works with Simon Pegg, please check out my reviews of:
The World's End
Star Trek Into Darkness
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Paul
The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader
Star Trek
How To Lose Friends And Alienate People
Run, Fatboy, Run
Mission: Impossible III

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sole season with the Ninth Doctor here!
Thanks!]

5.5/10

For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

The Alternate Universe Still Makes For A Great Gaming Experience With "In A Mirror, Darkly!"


The Good: Easy to play, Wonderful images, Great concept
The Bad: Collation issues with common and uncommon sets, One of the Archive foils could be better.
The Basics: "In A Mirror, Darkly" makes for one of the best Star Trek gaming card sets and is a must for players, collectors and investors!


One of the most popular Star Trek CCG sets was "Mirror, Mirror" (reviewed here!) the gaming set that introduced the Mirror Universe to the gaming set. It made the game dangerous and exciting, just like the episodes that featured that particular alternate universe did. When the Star Trek CCG rebooted with the "Second Edition," players wondered when the alternate universe would make its return to the game. Sure, they were teased with the Mirror Universe Sisko, Smiley and the Intendant back in "Fractured Time" (reviewed here!), but since then, fans had been salivating for the adventure and darkness of the Mirror Universe in the Second Edition.

With "In A Mirror, Darkly," fans finally get their wish! Moreover, this set is everything "Mirror, Mirror" was with the addition of the dark and dangerous cards featuring images and concepts from the Star Trek: Enterprise Mirror Universe episodes! This makes this set one of the most popular and valuable of the Second Edition.

The Star Trek Second Edition for the Customizable Card Game was an easy-to-play game, at least by CCG standards. As the game evolved, the Second Edition worked to bring players and collectors back to the game by broadening the representation of the Star Trek universe it depicted. The "In A Mirror, Darkly" cards were only released in boxes of thirty packs, with packs possessing eleven cards each. Each pack included 11 cards: 1 rare (or foil), 3 uncommon and 7 common cards.

Basics/Set Composition

"In A Mirror, Darkly" is a 142 card set of gaming cards, mostly focusing on characters and events from the Mirror Universe in the Star Trek franchise. The set consists of 41 Common, 41 Uncommon, 40 Rare, 18 Archive Foils and 2 Archive Portrait foil cards. The Archive foils are reprints of popular rares from the "In A Mirror, Darkly" set and the 2 Archive Portrait foils are unique foils that foreshadow future cards.

The 122 non-foil cards consist of: 21 Dilemma (cards that feature obstacles from the series', like an Alien Conspiracy or being Captured By The Breen), 1 Equipment (cards featuring mass-produced objects in the Star Trek universe, like a Multidimensional Transporter Device), 19 Event (cards that feature extended circumstances for the ships or crews, like a Sabotaged Transporter or the appearance of a Temporal Flux Energy Ribbon), 2 Interrupt (cards featuring quick turns of fate in the game, like Brutal Experiments and the Standard Punishment for disobedience), 3 Missions (cards that act as the "board" for the game), 69 Personnel (4 Bajoran, 1 Borg, 3 Cardassian, 4 Dominion, 26 Federation, 5 Ferengi, 2 Klingon, 7 Non-Aligned, 4 Romulan and 13 StarFleet characters), and 7 Ship (1 Dominion, 2 Federation, 2 Non-Aligned and 2 StarFleet) cards.

The cards truly do manage to focus on the diversity of the Mirror Universe, though they do manage to appeal to fans of Star Trek: Voyager by providing the Revised Crew from "Living Witness" and fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation with images of the command crew as altered for "Yesterday's Enterprise" (reviewed here!). Those two series' could not do episodes in the Mirror Universe, so that Decipher managed to include them in this set makes it easily the most impressive and powerful set to date. Given that every Star Trek series is represented and - in the tradition of the earlier Second Edition sets - some of those popular characters and ships, like Captains Picard and Janeway are released as common and uncommon cards.

Playability

The Star Trek Second Edition CCG is essentially a cross between a role playing game and a board game with cards being set down to create the board and players assembling a ship and crew to then travel the "board" and earn points. This set follows the same basic rules as they were laid out in "Second Edition Premiere" (reviewed here!).

By this point, there is some complexity in terms of dealing with time periods for some of the cards (i.e. Enterprise and Star Trek characters are not, technically, supposed to interact in the game with the 24th Century Federation characters), but most of the cards designed for playing, like the Event and Interrupts include the necessary text to understand how they are appropriately played. Anyone who has been playing the game will find this game easy to play and the "In A Mirror, Darkly" expansion does not offer any changes to game play, it just restores the original Mirror Universe to play in the game.

It is worth noting that one cannot play the Star Trek Second Edition game with only boosters from "In A Mirror, Darkly" as there are only three Mission cards. Players need a few more than that to effectively play.

Rule Changes

There are no changes to the rules in this expansion. One need only be attentive that the icons indicating which quadrant of space and which time period/universe the card may be played in.

Highlights

Given that the very popular Mirror Universe from Star Trek and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is the focus of the "In A Mirror, Darkly" set, it makes sense that the highlights would all be related to the Mirror Universe. Even the commons and uncommons are cool, though, with characters like Legate Damar and the Breen making their Second Edition premieres. The designers at Decipher had dome fun and chose to include cards in the Events that bear the titles to previously released Star Trek Second Edition CCG sets! This is very cute and well-conceived.

But the grails are all in the rares. It is in the rares that one finds Intendant Kira, Kirk, Spock, Archer, T'Pol, and Data as a Romulan. As well, "In A Mirror, Darkly" features several rare personnel who were never released in the first edition, like the Gorn captain Slar (who, to be fair didn't exist while the First Edition was in play), Captain Erika Benteen, and Laas, the Changeling. As well, Grilka - Quark's Klingon wife - returns to the game in this set.

The highlight of "In A Mirror, Darkly," objectively might well be the Elim Garak, Craft Underling card. 13R53, Garak is able to assume any skill with the sacrifice of one other character. While the card is a little less powerful than the Odo card in this deck, it also bears fewer consequences to activate a much more significant skill. And hey, it's Garak in chains!

Collectibility

The "In A Mirror, Darkly" cards were only released in the one release, so they are fairly uncommon, which always helps to increase the value. Unfortunately, there are two problems which lower the overall value of this release and make it a little more difficult to collect.

There are two short-printed cards, a common and an uncommon. Yes, the two cards that are new reprints of previous Archive Portrait cards are under-represented in the common and uncommon sets as a result of another printing error. Unfortunately, these are the very popular Empress Sato and T'Pol cards, making them pretty much indispensable for collectors.

The foil reprint cards help to thin the rares out some, but the grail for the collectors are the Archive Portrait cards, which pop up approximately one every three boxes. Unfortunately, in the "In A Mirror, Darkly" set there is a mediocre Archive Portrait (the Orion Slave Girl, Neras) and a highly coveted one, the naked Hoshi Dilemma foil card. The shot of Hoshi holding her breasts certainly panders to the audience that would be buying these cards.

The Archive Portraits have the potential to turn an average set into something truly extraordinary. Unfortunately, they fall short of that with the less inspired one.

Overview

Still, this is an impressive set and anyone who is playing the Star Trek Second Edition game will want to pick this up! The cards have retained their value, even after Decipher's collapse and the images are good. Moreover, because it contains complete command crews, it makes it ideal for fans and collectors alike as they are often the most coveted cards.

This was an all-around wonderful set, despite its minor problems.
.
This set was preceded by "These Are The Voyages" (reviewed here!) and followed by "What You Leave Behind" (reviewed here!).

This is a set of gaming cards I proudly sell in my online store. Check out my In A Mirror Darkly Inventory Page for my current inventory!

This set of gaming cards culls images from:
"Mirror, Mirror"
"Crossover"
"Through The Looking Glass"
"Shattered Mirror"
“The Emperor’s New Cloak”
“In A Mirror, Darkly”
“In A Mirror, Darkly, Part II”

8/10

For other gaming card reviews, please check out my Gaming Card Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

Bjork's Homogenic; The Album I Was Most Prepared For Is Little Better Than The Others.


The Good: Moments of lyrics, voice, sound
The Bad: Much of the album is oversimplified, Much is bland and sounds already done (by Bjork),Short.
The Basics: Bjork rises up into average territory with an album that is poetic, but often more noisy and poorly vocalized.


Those who follow my reviews might wonder why I've spent the past few days in the Music section panning albums by Icelandic alternative/techno artist Bjork. Well, the truth is, I sat down a few weeks ago and decided to broaden my horizons. I had blown my mind by listening to the debut of Janis Ian (reviewed here!) and thought "This is phenomenal, I ought to explore something I've never given a real listen to before!" Bjork was a favorite of someone who was once very important to me and I liked the video for "All Is Full Of Love." So, Bjork seemed like a good choice.

With an Obi-Wan Kenobi delivery, I now say, "I was wrong." The prior albums of Bjork's I've heard and reviewed have presented Bjork as an artist with the new thing that is truly new, different and creepy and so unsettling as to be unlistenable. With Homogenic, I found a Bjork that was much more familiar, mundane and about the same overall quality as her other works.

With ten tracks clocking in at 43:37, Homogenic was the Bjork album I had heard the most from prior to hearing the album. I had seen the video for "All Is Full Of Love," and I know I had heard "Hunter," "Bachelorette" and "Joga" before this. Perhaps they had been on the "Greatest Hits" album, but Homogenic represents a rather pure vision of Bjork, at least as she was producing in 1997 when it was released. Eight of the songs were written by her, one was co-written by Bjork and the last was written by Sjon, who co-wrote "Joga" with her. She produced or co-produced all but two tracks and she played the keyboards on the album. She provides all of the primary vocals as well. So, it does seem reasonable to consider this Bjork's vision as an artist.

With Homogenic, Bjork passes outside alternative into a more regular style of techno/dance/pop, with tracks like "Bachelorette" and "Alarm Call." The result is an album that is easier to judge as a comparative work than some of Bjork's prior works. Unfortunately, the album also falls into a number of very formulaic pop-dance conceits that weaken the sense of originality Bjork usually brings to a work. The flipside of that is that what isn't formulaic dance-pop/techno-alternative is very distinctly Bjork with many of the weaknesses that entails.

As the album cycles into the eleventh playing on my player, I am struck first by the sound of it. The songs on Homogenic have remarkably similar sounds to one another. Musically, this is an album that has one - maybe two - imaginative sounds to it but then simply repeats or reworks the same formula on other tracks. So, there are songs like "Unravel" and "All Is Full Of Love" that utilize an orchestral sound - often fronted by a throbbing dance-beat to keep it from being a neo-classical music - and then there are songs like the keyboard heavy, ultra-produced "5 Years."

"5 Years" is a great example of where Homogenic goes wrong. The track sounds initially creative by replacing the traditional drums with scratching static to keep the beat. But the keyboards and harmony are hardly as imaginative and the result is just a pretty traditional pop song with a cool sounding beat, which makes it pretty much your average dance track.

And Bjork seems determined to fill the tracks up with sound. So, "Immature" has all sorts of beeping and some pulsing ring in it that sounds like computers or telephones gone awry. "Bachelorette" includes animal noises that are more annoying than intriguing and one of the more interesting tracks, "Alarm Call," is just so full of sound that it becomes jumbled and confused. One of the best pop-rock songs of all time, the B-52's "Love Shack" is arguably so great because it is so musically complex; there are at least four levels of sound going on at all times in the song (save the important pause). The track works because they are all working to create one larger theme. "Alarm Call" has a lot going on but it just seems busy and confused. So, right before Bjork begins growling through some of the last choruses, there is a potential wonderful musical moment where the primary vocal cuts out, there's the instrumentals, the background vocals saying "beep beep beep beep" and "Doesn't scare me at all" and then there's a "Oooh-oh-oh-oh-ooh" thrown in and on top of that is an annoying beeping noise. It's when that last sound comes in that the song collapses as a musical mess. It becomes Bjork's speaking in tongues.

As least "Alarm Call" has some build up before it goes bad. Musically, "Pluto" is a loss from the beginning and its traditional dance-techno beat and performance is quickly tiresome.

What is about as boring or troubling as the sound of most of the instrumentals and production elements on the album is the vocals. "Pluto" is especially screechy and annoying. Bjork begins presenting feedback-style scale progressions that are just noisy and unpleasant and they are not even musically interesting. Instead, it sounds like a woman screaming into the microphone and my reaction to that is "who cares?" It's not musical and it's not expressive and it does not say anything that relates even remotely to the lyrics.

That said, Homogenic also includes some of the most natural instances of Bjork's voice. "All Is Full Of Love" presents her voice in a clear and direct way and the song is quite beautiful. In fact, the only problem with the vocals on that song come back to the pronunciations. Bjork - like far too many artists who want to be a hit in the United States - insists on singing in English and the result does not always work. So, for example, "y's" especially come out awkward with a "d'j" sound often. And no matter how many times I hear "All Is Full Of Love," she mangles "Twist your head around" so badly that it always sounds like "Trust your head around" to me.

But with "All Is Full Of Love" and "Unravel" there is the sense that Bjork can actually sing when she is not being overproduced and drown out by production elements and instrumentals. Even "Alarm Call" has its moments - actually, it's mostly the background vocals that she provides that sell any vocal quality to the song - where vocally it comes through.

But more often than not, the album has the vocals altered by reverb, phase shifts or other production elements. This starts with the first track, "Hunter," where Bjork is meant to sound very far away and the effect is more unimpressive than she no doubt intended. And when her voice is brought to the forefront, it is presented with such overlapping reverb that it becomes more noisy than hypnotic. It's one of those songs I suspect people using something like LSD might appreciate more than sober folk.

On the subject of "Hunter," the listener of Homogenic is likely to be fairly unimpressed on the lyrical front. In this fashion, I find myself wishing Bjork were vastly more popular so there would be more parodies of her work out there. After all, whenever I hear Bjork earnestly repeating (over and over) "I'm going hunting / I'm the hunter" ("Hunter") I just hear a parody in my head singing "I'm doing some baking / I'm a baker" and "I'm preparing taxes / I'm the accountant." I mean wow, Bjork has mastered English enough to associate a hunter with hunting; no wonder she's huge with the club scene!

My point with this (other than that I was hoping to have this review done before the twelfth spinning of this disc began - and I failed) is that the lyrics are frequently dull on Homogenic, when they can be understood through the garbled vocal presentations. Sure, there are a few good lines like "I'm a fountain of blood . . . / In the shape of a girl" ("Bachelorette") and "All is full of love / You just ain't receiving" ("All Is Full Of Love"), but more often than not they are either obscured or dull.

On that subject, allusions - I was taught back when I was in writing classes training to be a writer - are only as good as the connection they make in the reader (in this case, listener). So when Bjork sings lines like ". . .[you will] Go astray / [like a] killer whale trapped in a bay" ("Bachelorette") the result is more baffling than poetic and cute. When I think of things that go astray, killer whales aren't even on the list! It's not a strong connection. Maybe in Iceland, but not in the U.S. It just doesn't work. It's either a bad allusion or weird for the sake of weird.

Actually, Homogenic is pulled up by some of the lyrics. "Unravel" is beautifully creative and truly poetic with lines like "While you are away / My heart comes undone / Slowly unravels / In a ball of yarn." It might be simple, but it is sweet and beautiful in its way.

But it's not enough to recommend Homogenic. The lyrics are better to read more than listening to the album, much like reading summaries of episodes of Enterprise is better than watching the episodes (I swear whenever they begin speaking on that show, it just dies). Bjork might be a poet here but she does not present the poetry well.

Even her best poetry on Homogenic is undermined by either the vocals or musical presentation (usually production elements that seek to make the sound of each song unnecessarily complex).

The best track is the simple and beautiful "All Is Full Of Love," the low point is the terrible, noisy and unredeemable "Pluto."

For other reviews by female Artist Of The Month artists, please check out my reviews of:
Hits & Rarities - Sheryl Crow
Educated Guess - Ani DiFranco
My Love: Ultimate Essential Collection - Celine Dion

5/10

For music reviews organized from best to worst, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Sartori Merlot BellaVitano Cheese: PERFECT!


The Good: Amazing taste, Melts great, Wonderful flavor, Good ingredients
The Bad: Somewhat pricy
The Basics: A perfect cheese, Sartori Merlot BellaVitano is one of the best cheeses to hunt down!


This year for my own little Oscars celebration, I splurged on a whole bunch of treats for the night. I scaled back on some of the meats and cheeses I was going to pick up for the event, but the first choice cheese I picked up was a block of Sartori Merlot BellaVitano cheese. That I purchased the Merlot BellaVitano was a bit of a surprise given how the Sartori Espresso BellaVitano (reviewed here!) completely underwhelmed me.

Even though I don’t drink wine, the Merlot BellaVitano is an incredible, flavorful, cheese that is amazing combination of fruit and cheese flavors. Right before the Oscars, I discovered Sartori Merlot BellaVitano cheese locally for $6.49 for the 5.3 oz. package. Despite the price making it seem like it would be expensive, the Merlot BellaVitano is a perfect cheese, worth every cent!

Basics

Sartori is a manufacturer of premium cheeses in Wisconsin. The intent of most Sartori cheeses is that they will be cheeses that hold their own as snacks that may be served to consumers in fancier settings. They specialize in intriguing cheeses that have different flavors infused into them, like merlot and espresso coffee. Sartori cheeses come in blocks that are premeasured, at least for the Sartori Merlot BellaVitano cheese.

The Merlot BellaVitano cheese is as its name implies. This is a solid white cheese with a wine flavor. Sartori Merlot BellaVitano cheese features a burgundy colored coating and is hard enough to maintain its shape when cut open.

Ease Of Preparation

Sartori Merlot BellaVitano cheese is a cheese, so more often than not, it is used on its own or as an ingredient in a recipe. Preparation of the cheese is pretty simple; cut the plastic away and slice the cheese! Sartori Merlot BellaVitano cheese is very easy to work with. My cheese plane easily sliced through the block repeatedly, though If the cheese dries out at all, it will fracture instead of slicing, like a sharp cheddar. It is exceptionally easy to work with on its own or as an ingredient in recipes.

When the cheese is sliced, it melts beautifully with wonderful evenness and liquidity, making it an ideal ingredient to make flavorful omelets or to replace cheddar cheese in dishes like macaroni and cheese. It is delicious when melted into sandwiches, eggs or even a cream sauce (to make a cheese sauce). The first time I tried this cheese as a component ingredient, was in an omelet and it melted beautifully there.

Taste

The Merlot BellaVitano smells delightfully like red wine. The aroma is almost entirely that of the merlot and none of the cheese it is embedded in.

On the tongue, the story is very different; the Merlot BellaVitano is a very sharp cheese, very analogous to a Parmesan cheese, though the wine in the cheese gives it an even sharper tang. The cheese is flavorful and finishes with a strong wine, Merlot flavor that is delightful and insinuates the fruity flavor of wine more than it embodies it. The sharpness of the cheese compliments the dryness of the wine in the cheese and it makes for a very satisfying combination!

Melted into something like an omelet, the Merlot BellaVitano cheese, the cheese melts perfectly! In its hot, fluidic state, the Merlot BellaVitano tastes very much like an extra sharp cheddar cheese with a hint of sparkling wine flavor as an aftertaste. That makes it an exceptionally flavorful cheese on its own or as a component in dishes!

Nutrition

Sartori Cheeses are not intended to be all that one lives on. But for those who try, the Merlot BellaVitano cheese is not a terribly healthy choice. The wine does not seem to add anything of note to the cheese of nutritional value. A serving size is considered a one inch block (1 oz.). In that, there are 120 calories, 90 of which are from fat. This cheese has 25% of one's daily recommended saturated fat intake, 10% of the RDA of cholesterol, and 7% of the RDA of sodium. On the plus side, it does have 18% of the RDA of calcium and has seven grams of protein. There is also 6% of the RDA of Vitamin A, though there is no alcohol in the cheese.

Obviously, Merlot BellaVitano cheese is a dairy product, so those who are lactose intolerant will have problems with it. This cheese is made primarily of BellaVitano cheese and merlot wine. That makes it mostly natural.

Storage/Cleanup

As a cheese, Sartori Merlot BellaVitano cheese should be kept refrigerated. So long as that happens, it ought to stay fresh for several weeks. I am utterly unable to write about shelf-life as our 5.3 oz block was gone within four days of being opened! So long as it is kept in an airtight, cold environment, it ought to remain fresh and supple. Our package bought before the Oscars had an expiration date of September 12, 2014 (and it got eaten up long before it ever could have expired!).

Merlot BellaVitano is a cheese, so it is not going to stain or ruin anything unless it is ground into a fabric. Baring that, cleanup of nonporous surfaces is as easy as wiping them with a damp cloth. Even the crumbs, however, are aromatic, so this is one that is especially important to clean up after!

Overall

Sartori Merlot BellaVitano cheese is perfect, plain and simple. The cheese and wine flavors are absolutely wonderful together and the cheese is amazing on its own or in dishes.

For other cheese reviews, please check out my takes on:
Yancy’s Fancy Roasted Garlic Cheddar Cheese Curds
New Bridge Mediterranean Cheddar Cheese
Cabot Extra Sharp Cheddar

10/10

For other food and drink reviews, please visit my Food And Drink Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

Fun, But By No Means Good: Flubber Fizzles!


The Good: Moments of performance and direction
The Bad: Utterly predictable, Simplistic character arcs, Erratic execution of special effects
The Basics: Flubber is a flop of a family film, despite having an impressive cast.


As the world copes with the suicide of Robin Williams, many of us are finding solace in watching his works. For me, that means rewatching films of his that impressed me, like The Fisher King (reviewed here!); for my wife, it means revisiting the films that delighted her in her childhood. It was she who wanted to watch Flubber, which I had never seen. While I was suitably pleased with the quality of the cast, Flubber is a ridiculous movie that sacrifices most of its moments of merit in order to be family-friendly. The humor is slapstick, the plot and character arcs are thoroughly predictable and the direction is so sloppy in relation to the special effects that only a child will not notice.

Flubber is a Disney live-action film that trades on simplicity and a sense of movement that is more significant than anything in the movie is substantive. As a result, the film features a villain who is adversarial for the sake of being antagonistic, an utterly unrealistic savior (in the form of big business!), and human relationships that are so poorly-conceived as to border on the ridiculous. Despite its many faults, Flubber is fun and easy-to-watch, is more than can be said for some of Robin Williams’s other films geared toward children.

Professor Philip Brainard is such an absentminded professor that he has missed his wedding to Dr. Sara Jean Reynolds two times before. While he promises not to miss it a third time (this time planned to be a big event purposely so he might remember it), Brainard’s floating robot, Weebo (who does all of his scheduling) fails to remind him of it the night before. As a result, the next day Brainard’s experiments in trying to create a sustainable power supply explode and distract him long enough to miss his own wedding. In the process, Brainard inadvertently creates a semi-conscious goo that is exceptionally elastic and has the potential to be used for an unlimited power supply.

But Brainard’s discovery does not solve all of his problems. Instead, Dr. Reynolds is wooed by Brainard’s competitor at the college, Wilson Croft, and the college is due to be shut down due to the machinations of Chester Hoenicker. To try to thwart both, Brainard uses the flubber to help the basketball team thwart their rivals – which costs Hoenicker quite a bit of money and helps Reynolds win a bet against Croft. While Hoenicker sends goons to steal the flubber, Brainard illustrates its uses to Reynolds and together the two work to save the university.

The flubber is a bright green goo that moves on its own and causes anything to which it is attached to bounce in violation of all of the traditional laws of physics. The creation serves as an excuse to have characters like the basketball players bounce across the court in a single leap or bounce back when they fall on their butts. Brainard uses the flubber to make his car fly and that becomes the method by which he and Dr. Reynolds figure out a way to earn enough money to save the college.

The character arcs in Flubber are painfully predictable. Brainard is set up as such an unfocused genius at the outset that any sort of wholesale change to the character in the course of the film would be unrealistic. As a result, much of the character development in Flubber is focused on how the other characters interact with him. Croft is a generic adversary for Brainard in both the personal and professional arena. Croft somehow has survived at the college long enough to live in Brainard’s shadow and steal some of his prior discoveries . . . without ever being reprimanded for it. Similarly, Croft only seems to have any potential for a relationship with Reynolds by the fact that he shows up. Reynolds seems not at all interested in him, but his advances are met with something other than indifference once Brainard misses their third wedding attempt.

While I am always thrilled to see Wil Wheaton in any of his post-Star Trek: The Next Generation roles, his part as Bennett Hoenicker is a distracting enemy that is essentially a third goon from his father. Wheaton’s role is entirely unnecessary and it interfaces poorly with Brainard’s storyline. At least Clancy Brown and Ted Levine might be relegated to the roles of Hoenicker’s goons, but at least they are supposed to be somewhat generic thugs: the addition of a son for Chester adds nothing to the story. Robin Williams and Marcia Gay Harden have fine on-screen chemistry, even if they are not a great cinematic couple.

Flubber makes decent use of Robin Williams’s manic physical acting style, but director Les Mayfield is sloppy with the special effects. The flubber moves at an incredible speed and Mayfield does not make sure to line up the eyelines of Williams or most of the other characters. As a result, most of the characters are not looking anywhere near the flubber or flubber-affected characters when they are bouncing around.

The result is that Flubber is a disappointing film that is utterly forgettable even though it is not unenjoyable while it is on.

For other Disney live-action works, please check out my reviews of:
Saving Mr. Banks
The Lone Ranger
Oz The Great And Powerful
The Odd Life Of Timothy Green
John Carter
Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Tron: Legacy
Oceans
Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time
Alice In Wonderland
Old Dogs
G-Force
Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End
Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe
Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl
The Princess Diaries 2: A Royal Engagement
The Princess Diaries
Tron

2.5/10

For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

More Subtle Than Sheabang! Ben & Jerry’s Blueberry Vanilla Graham Greek Frozen Yogurt Satisfies, But Does Not Thrill.


The Good: Good flavor, Nutritionally decent, Fair trade certified
The Bad: More expensive than other Greek Frozen Yogurts, Not the most robust flavor (could be fruitier)
The Basics: The Blueberry Vanilla Graham Greek Frozen Yogurt is a less intense Greek frozen yogurt and not likely to wow consumers.


Over the last few years, my wife has gotten me into eating a number of healthier foods. My usual ice cream has been replaced, more often than not, with sorbets and frozen yogurts. So, it is of little surprise that I have been trying more and more of the Ben & Jerry’s Greek frozen yogurts. Unfortunately, while some are robust or interesting, some are proving to me that eating healthy is a sacrifice of flavor. One such Greek frozen yogurt is the Ben & Jerry’s Blueberry Vanilla Graham Greek Frozen Yogurt.

Blueberry Vanilla Graham Greek Frozen Yogurt is not bad at all, but it is not the most flavorful flavor that Ben & Jerry’s has produced. Instead, this is a Greek frozen yogurt that is healthy, adequate for what it promises to be, but is entirely lacking on a “wow factor.”

Basics

Ben & Jerry’s Greek Frozen Yogurt comes in a pint container. The Blueberry Vanilla Graham Greek Frozen Yogurt is a smooth Greek Frozen Yogurt with a grainy swirl of graham cracker mixed thoroughly into the Greek Frozen Yogurt. Almost every bite of this frozen yogurt has the crustlike chunks in it!

At (locally) $5.99 a pint, the Ben & Jerry’s Greek Frozen Yogurt is an expensive Greek Frozen Yogurt, though the flavor is very much worth it. This is made of decent ingredients and it is definitely worth the price.

Ease Of Preparation

The Blueberry Vanilla Graham Greek Frozen Yogurt is a Greek Frozen Yogurt with more of a minimal additive than some of the other Ben & Jerry’s Greek frozen yogurts. As a Greek Frozen Yogurt, preparation is ridiculously simple: one need only open the top of the container, scoop out a half cup and consume! There is no trick to preparing or eating the Blueberry Vanilla Graham Greek Frozen Yogurt!

Taste

The Blueberry Vanilla Graham Greek Frozen Yogurt has no scent to foreshadow the flavor. Instead of smelling like yogurt or fruit, this has, at best, a light vanilla scent. Either way, this is not a strongly aromatic greek frozen yogurt.

On the tongue, the Blueberry Vanilla Graham Greek Frozen Yogurt is one of Ben & Jerrys’ more subtle flavors. The dryness of the graham crackers in this Greek frozen yogurt completely cuts the slight sourness that is characteristic of either yogurt or (especially) Greek yogurt. As a result, the swirls of blueberry flavoring in the Blueberry Vanilla Graham Greek Frozen Yogurt actually pops. The creamy vanilla of this frozen yogurt contrasts with the sweet, fruity flavor of the blueberries. The combination makes for an understated, but flavorful sweet Greek Frozen Yogurt.

The Blueberry Vanilla Graham Greek Frozen Yogurt has a fairly dry aftertaste. The flavor does not linger long on the tongue.

Nutrition

The Ben & Jerry’s Blueberry Vanilla Graham Greek Frozen Yogurt is a slightly creamy Greek Frozen Yogurt with a dry, very prevalent additive (the graham cracker swirl is in almost every single bite). The pint represents four half-cup servings. In the half-cup serving, there are 200 calories, 60 of which are from fat. The seven grams of fat represent 11% of the RDA of fat, with 15% of one’s RDA of saturated fat coming in the 3 grams of saturated fat in this Greek Frozen Yogurt. One serving has 25 mg of cholesterol (that’s 8% of the RDA!) and 105 mg of Sodium (4% RDA). The only other real nutrients are six grams of protein and 20% of the RDA of Calcium and 4% of the RDA of Vitamin A in the Blueberry Vanilla Graham Greek Frozen Yogurt.

Ben & Jerry’s has wonderful ingredients. Made primarily of Skim milk, Greek Yogurt and liquid sugar, there is nothing unpronounceable in the ingredients list. The Blueberry Vanilla Graham Ben & Jerry’s is Kosher, but not marked as gluten free. There are no allergy warnings on the package, but it is fair trade certified.

Storage/Clean-Up

Ben & Jerry’s Greek Frozen Yogurt is both a frozen and a dairy product, so it is pretty obvious that it must be kept frozen in order to remain viable. Kept frozen it remains fresh for months; ours was probably on the clearance rack because it expired closer to the purchase date than most.

The Blueberry Vanilla Graham Greek Frozen Yogurt is fairly light and it will stain any light fabrics it melts into. If the Greek Frozen Yogurt melts and gets onto fabrics, it will require one to wash it right out. On nonporous surfaces, the Greek Frozen Yogurt wipes off exceptionally easily.

Overall

The Ben & Jerry’s Blueberry Vanilla Graham Greek Frozen Yogurt is good, but not great. Those who like frozen yogurts might get thrilled by it, but those who love flavorful ice creams will find it lacking.

For other Ben & Jerry’s Ice Creams, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Caramel Buzz ice cream
Raspberry Fudge Greek Frozen Yogurt
What A Cluster Ice Cream

5/10

For other frozen treat reviews, please visit my Ice Cream Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Despite The Expense, Pantene Pro-V Repair & Protect Shampoo Does What It Promises And Is Worth The Price!


The Good: Cleans hair exceptionally well, Great lather!
The Bad: Expensive! No recognizable scent.
The Basics: Pantene Pro-V Repair & Protect shampoo is a really good shampoo, despite the expense of it.


When my wife picked up a bottle of Pantene Pro-V Repair & Protect Shampoo, I was shocked to realize that in my tenure as a reviewer, I had only previously reviewed one Pantene shampoo. Years ago, I reviewed the Pantene Pro-V Daily Moisture Renewal Shampoo (reviewed here!) and I haven’t picked up more Pantene shampoos since. My wife, though, loves trying new things and she thought it was a good time for us to shake up our shampoo usage (which is recommended to prevent build-up as different shampoos have different ingredients, some of which cut through the build-up of others). So, we ended up with a decent-sized bottle of Pantene Pro-V Repair & Protect Shampoo.

Pantene Pro-V Repair & Protect Shampoo - at least in conjunction with the conditioner - did exactly as the name promised. My hair was noticeably cleaner, less dry and my hair was far less brittle after using the Repair & Protect Shampoo for a month. This shampoo, on its own, always left my hair perfectly clean and far less oily than when I began. Given how much I have been working of late, my hair is usually sweaty and gross after work, so the cleaning power of this shampoo cannot be underestimated.

I tend to like shampoos that both clean and leave hair smelling good. The Pantene Pro-V Repair & Protect shampoo did the former well, but the latter poorly. After my first use of the shampoo, my hair was perfectly cleaned and smelled clean and neutral. After my first use of the shampoo and conditioner, my hair was clean, bouncy, more manageable and looked better. The result was so noticeable that my wife smiled at me and said, “I’m glad you finally started using that new shampoo I got us!” The effects after one use were that dramatic. I tend to have hair that gets dry quickly when overwashed and given that my job requires me to wash once or twice per shower per day in order to get it clean after work, I needed a good repairing shampoo. The Pantene Pro-V Repair & Protect shampoo was it!

Fortunately, the Repair & Protect Shampoo lived up on its second promise as well. Since starting to use it a month ago, this shampoo has adequately protected it from further breakage. Instead, in conjunction with the Repair & Protect Conditioner, my hair has not returned to a place where it has split ends and similar damage again.

With a cost of approximately $4.99 for a 12.6 fl. oz. bottle, Pantene Pro-V Repair & Protect is comparatively expensive. The bottle is smooth and is more flat than round. When wet, it slips out of the hands easily. The cap has a flip-top that makes it very easy to get the shampoo out with only one hand. As well, the large cap makes it even easier, though because the hole is still fairly small, there is no waste from the bottle.

The scent of Pantene Pro-V Repair & Protect is very much a chemical smell. The shampoo smells like an indistinct mix of cleansers without anything to recommend it for the aroma. The scent is strong in the bottle and in the shower. However, there is no scent left on the hair after the shampoo is washed out. There is no scent outside "shampoo" and it does not linger in the hair at all when one washes it out. As one who loves interesting smells – fruit or floral - one of my problems with Pantene Pro-V Repair & Protect is that it leaves no scent. I have discovered I enjoy shampoos that trigger a scent memory and the generic shampoo scent of this triggers nothing.

Pantene Pro-V Repair & Protect is a white, opaque shampoo that is creamy and smooth. It has a nonwatery consistency and while it is not especially thick, it does not need to be watered down to get the most out of the product.

Like most shampoos, there is nothing mysterious to using this product. You wet your hair, lather it up with this shampoo and rinse. Like most shampoos, I can get away with using about a quarter-sized drop and that is so with the Pantene Pro-V Repair & Protect. This is pretty consistent with other Pantene products I have used, but I have been shocked by how very well Pantene Pro-V Repair & Protect shampoo lathered up. This becomes one of the most foamy shampoos when lathered into the hair that I have ever used. That also helps it wash out exceptionally easily.

This shampoo has an excellent lather quality. It took almost nothing to work it up to a lather and that lather spreads into the hair and cleans amazingly. Indeed, with average usage, the product was one of the easiest shampoos I have used to spread through my hair. This required very little agitation to lather it properly and the results were spectacular, especially for the minimal effort.

This shampoo rinses out incredibly easily, as well. When I am in a hurry and can only wash my hair, the Pantene Pro-V Repair & Protect shampoo rinses out very quickly and leaves my hair very clean. Moreover, the shampoo alone leaves the hair without any scent, so there is nothing to rinse out. The Pantene Pro-V Repair & Protect required almost no effort to rinse it out, making is a quick shampoo to apply and rinse out.

When a product works this well, it is strange because there is actually so little to say about it. I don't like to spend a ton of time on my hair, but I like the results of a good shampoo or conditioner. The Pantene Pro-V Repair & Protect is a great shampoo, but one pays for the quality and it seems like the conditioner associated with this does a lot of the work of moisturizing, as opposed to the shampoo. Still, the repairing aspects of this shampoo cannot be understated.

The Pantene Pro-V Repair & Protect Shampoo does not make my hair feel heavy when it is still wet, and once dry, the shampoo lives up to its promise of moisturized, healthy-looking hair. Washing my hair as much as I do, I could end up with very dry hair, but the Repair & Protect Shampoo eliminates any adverse affects to washing hair so much. Restoring my hair to cleanliness and preventing split ends is enough to enthusiastically recommend this shampoo, regardless of the price. Even without the conditioner, that is what Pantene Pro-V Repair & Protect Shampoo does!

For other shampoo reviews, please check out my analysis of:
VO5 Free Me Freesia Shampoo
Suave Mango Mandarin Shampoo
Bigelow Mentha Hair Mint Shampoo

8/10

For other health and beauty reviews, visit my Index Page for an organized listing of the products I have reviewed!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |