Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Vengeance And Methodology Make "Gunner" Compelling Punisher!


The Good: Good performances, Moments of character, Moments of principle
The Bad: Pacing, Plot meanders
The Basics: The hunt for The Punisher villain Agent Orange begins in earnest in "Gunner."


One of the best surprises in the last week has been the quality of The Punisher. The first season of The Punisher is, almost instantly, more satisfying and complex than Netflix's previous outing into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Defenders. While the group dynamic of The Defenders was unfortunately dull, The Punisher has managed to be engaging with a much more intimate focus and a stronger sense of thematic cohesion. By "Gunner," it is hard not to be hooked on The Punisher - which is no small feat given how little interest I had going into the show and the antipathy I had toward the source material.

"Gunner" picks up right after "Resupply" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the new episode without some references to the prior one. After all, at the climax of "Resupply," Madani learned that Frank Castle is still alive and David Lieberman was shocked by how he intervened in the car chase Castle took Madani on. "Gunner" picks right up with the consequences of those actions.

As Madani, still deeply bruised from the car accident, gets dressed for work, Castle and Lieberman bicker yet again about the potentials represented by Castle saving Madani and her seeing him. While Lieberman watches from a remote location, Castle goes to Lieberman's home and helps to repair Sarah's car. When Madani returns to work, Rafael informs her that their superiors are going to investigate her for the loss of the guns. Lieberman quickly figures out that the MICRO footage required a cameraman who knew the government team was illegal and Frank Castle guesses that person was Gunner Henderson. Lieberman and Castle believe Gunner might be the key to learning the identity of the shooter in the Micro video, who they are calling Agent Orange.

Madani brings Karen Page in to Homeland Security and the two interview/interrogate one another. When Page stonewalls about Castle, Madani confesses to Stein that it was Castle who stole the guns and then saved her life. Unbeknownst to them, Rawlins is monitoring the agents at Homeland Security. After Karen Page meets with Frank Castle, Stein lies to the reviewing agent about not having a suspect in the gun theft. Stein and Madani begin searching for anyone who can help them find Frank Castle, while Castle and Lieberman manage to track down Gunner, who is living completely off-the-grid. When Castle manages to track down Gunner, he discovers his former Cerberus coworker is anything but eager to see him!

"Gunner" is surprisingly good on the detail front. Rawlins is given a CIA award and director Dearbhla Walsh has an amazing attention to detail in the scene. Rawlins is not actually allowed to keep the physical award and there a no photographers at the event. As Marion James moves up in the CIA, she asks Rawlins to be her Deputy Director. The viewer knows what James does not; that Rawlins is already lying to his new Director and in addition to the war crime video of Zubair being killed, this helps to characterize Rawlins as a bad guy. Also very subtly characterizing Rawlins as evil is his use of CIA or military operatives on American soil to hunt Frank Castle and Gunner. There is only one detail that is unfortunately off in "Gunner," which is that Gunner's log cabin is using an old, traditional fireplace. Modern wood stoves burn so hot that they do not put off smoke, which makes a lot more sense for Gunner's cabin if the guy is trying to remain invisible.

The scene between Frank Castle and Karen Page harkens emotionally back to Daredevil Season 2 (reviewed here!), where Page went out on a limb for Castle. Bernthal and Woll play off one another with an effortless sense of chemistry that manages to not oversell the depth of Castle's care for Page, while clearly showing it. Despite the carnage in "Gunner," most of the episode's best moments involve characters actually reaching out to one another. Page reaches out to Castle and is desperate to try to reason with him and appeal to the humanity he still possesses; Leo reaches out to Frank Castle for a father figure. The intense attempts to connect with one another makes the meandering plot of "Gunner" much easier to swallow.

Despite all of the intensity, the simple moments land incredibly well in "Gunner." David Lieberman helps mix up Castle's ready-to-eat meal right before he dives into a sandwich he made for himself. The moment is hilarious and it says a lot about Frank Castle . . . that he would not even check the lair's refrigerator is deeply amusing. Also simple is the overwhelming arc of "Gunner;" this is a hand-off episode. Frank Castle loses an old comrade and David Lieberman steps up to fill the niche that needs to be filled and the process of Lieberman becoming Castle's comrade-in-arms helps make the sidekick feel vital and entirely essential.

"Gunner" quietly illustrates just how far corrupt people will go to attempt to cover up their mistakes and in that regard, the episode succeeds incredibly well.

For other works with Ben Barnes, please visit my reviews of:
Seventh Son
The Big Wedding
The Words
The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader
The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian

5.5/10

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

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Finally! Hallmark Delivers An Essential The Walking Dead Ornament With Michonne!


The Good: Wonderful sculpt, Good balance, Decent coloring details.
The Bad: A little pricy, Shirt coloring.
The Basics: The 2017 Michonne The Walking Dead ornament is a wonderful genre ornament that might finally bring fans of AMC's hit show into the ornament market!


Hallmark has been picking up licenses for new genre ornaments for years, but the truth is their reach has, occasionally, exceeded their grasp. I like ambition and Hallmark certainly is ambitious with its acquisitions. But executing the new series' has not always been successful. For The Walking Dead, Hallmark has had a rocky road. With ornaments for Rick Grimes (reviewed here!) and Daryl Dixon (reviewed here!) being overproduced and underwhelming on the quality fronts, The Walking Dead has not taken off as an ornament franchise for Hallmark.

But, in 2017, Hallmark proves that the third time is a charm with the Michonne ornament from The Walking Dead!

Ever since Michonne burst into the narrative of The Walking Dead in Season Three (reviewed here!), she has been a fan favorite. Michonne arrived with her sword and two Walkers she had neutered for camouflage and captured the interest of the television show viewers and those who had read the source material and were eagerly awaiting her appearance.

It is Michonne, holding her sword in an action pose as if she has just stabbed downward or is blocking an incoming blow, that is the subject of the 2017 Michonne Hallmark ornament.

Basics

The 2017 Michonne ornament recreates Michonne, as played by Danai Gurira, with a great deal of accuracy for both the sculpt and the coloring. The ornament, released in 2017, is a wonderful recreation of the character as she appeared recently in The Walking Dead. Hallmark made the facial sculpt of the ornament is perfect; it is not simply the sword that makes the Michonne ornament appear to be the character - this ornament looks just like the character!

Measuring four and three-quarters inches tall by two inches wide by two and one and a quarter inches deep, the Michonne ornament is the only The Walking Dead ornament released by Hallmark in stores in 2017 and was released at Gold Crown Hallmark stores on Ornament Debut Weekend in October. The Michonne ornament came with an original retail price of $17.95 and, despite the quality of the ornament, that price seemed a bit steep for an ornament that did not have a sound or light function to it.

The Hallmark Michonne ornament is made of durable plastic. Michonne’s costume is simple, basically a black, sleeveless, t-shirt and leather pants, but she is accurately detailed. Michonne is holding the sword in a defensive position and Hallmark paid attention to details like the lacing on the sword's hilt.

The coloring on the Michonne ornament is pretty wonderful. Michonne's skin tones are beautifully rendered in a chocolate brown plastic and paint job that pops against the gray of her sword and the coloring of her dreads, which have realistic depth and shading to them. Michonne's pants and boots are colored to appear somewhat weathered, which makes sense given the very dirty world of The Walking Dead. In fact, the only coloring detail that is a little off is Michonne's shirt; the contrast between the shirt and skin is not significant enough to make the garment pop and that does not looks as good as it could, especially in low lighting.

Features

As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, Michonne could have a sound chip. Given how many good lines Michonne has in The Walking Dead, it is surprising that Hallmark opted against doing a sound clip for the ornament. But, Michonne with her sword is more than enough to carry the ornament!

Balance

As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake Michonne ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. For those creating the ultimate pop culture Christmas Tree, the Michonne ornament is an incredibly good addition. The ornament has a steel hook loop embedded into the top of Michonne's head and from there, the ornament hangs perfectly balanced!

Collectibility

Hallmark Keepsake began delving into the collectibles market in 1991 with Star Trek when it introduced the exceptionally limited edition U.S.S. Enterprise ornament (reviewed here!). Since then, they have made ornament replicas of almost all major franchises like DC comics, The Wizard Of Oz and Harry Potter. The Michonne ornament has not yet sold out at any Hallmark's I've found, but it is the first The Walking Dead ornament that deserves to sell out prior to the holidays! One suspects that the more fans who come across this ornament and see its quality, the faster it will sell!

Overview

Fans of Michonne, Danai Gurira, and The Walking Dead might balk at the initial release price of the 2017 Michonne ornament, but it is hard not to figure that the quality of the ornament will justify the price to most fans!

For other genre-themed character Hallmark ornaments, please check out my reviews of:
2017 Captain Jean-Luc Picard and Commander Data Star Trek: The Next Generation ornament
2017 Thor Thor: Ragnarok ornament
2017 Rey Star Wars: The Last Jedi ornament

8.5/10

For other ornament reviews, please visit my Ornament Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Father Issues And Grodd Preoccupy "Welcome To The Jungle"


The Good: Moments of character, Special effects
The Bad: Poor use of humor, Very simplistic plot
The Basics: Legends Of Tomorrow brings Grodd back to the DC Television Universe in "Welcome To The Jungle," which is an erratic episode.


With an entire universe of villains, it is always interesting to see in what direction Legends Of Tomorrow goes. For the third season of Legends Of Tomorrow, a new Big Bad has been insinuated by Rip Hunter, but by "Welcome To The Jungle" the show is fairly preoccupied with Damien Darhk as the adversary. "Welcome To The Jungle" picks up after an attack by Darhk, his daughter, and Amaya Jiwe's evil grand-daughter. So, instead of suffering yet another episode where Darhk is the primary adversary, it is refreshing to see a different DC Universe villain come back into play.

"Welcome To The Jungle" picks up after "Helen Hunt" (reviewed here!) and the consequences of the prior episode resonate throughout it. After all, Damien Darhk nearly killed Sara Lance and she remains in a coma in "Welcome To The Jungle" and Dr. Stein wanted to alter the Firestorm matrix to free Jefferson Jackson.

In December 1967, Alpha Team in Vietnam is attacked and only one American soldier manages to escape the threat found there. With Captain Lance out of commission, the Waverider crew decides to randomly pick an anachronism to fix. The crew picks a Level 8 Anachronism in December of 1967 in Vietnam to fix. At the height of the Vietnam War, the Waverider crew finds things surprisingly peaceful as most of the populace in the area has been subdued . . . by Grodd.

While Mick Rory and Dr. Heywood encounter Rory's father in the jungle, Jiwe, Tomaz and Palmer go looking for the anachronism. The trio finds Grodd while posing as journalists and shortly thereafter, the anachronism escalates from an 8 to a 10 and Gideon informs the team that a nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia is imminent. Grodd plans to bring peace to humanity by killing President Johnson and letting humanity wipe much of itself out.

"Welcome To The Jungle" finally has characters within Legends Of Tomorrow questioning their own relationship to the anachronisms and that is refreshing to see. It's no longer treated as random that Stein ran into his ancestor, Palmer's younger self was part of an anachronism, and now Rory has encountered his own father. Mick Rory finally sees a different side of his father, which is almost enough to make up for the truly lame joke that introduces Dick Rory to the narrative. Rory has been a pleasant surprise for Legends Of Tomorrow by playing him with more depth and complexity than he previously was revealed as having. "Welcome To The Jungle" manages to deepen the character without completely undoing his flaws.

Zari Tomaz runs into a decent moral dilemma in "Welcome To The Jungle" when Palmer reveals that Grodd used to be in an A.R.G.U.S. prison. Given that Tomaz comes from a time where A.R.G.U.S. is a villain, the idea of capturing Grodd and sending him back to A.R.G.U.S. makes her uneasy.

That Grodd would use the chaos of the Vietnam War to try to alter human history is an intriguing one, but like most Grodd stories, "Welcome To The Jungle" has a somewhat simple problem/simple solution to it.

Outside the Grodd storyline, "Welcome To The Jungle" is preoccupied with Mick Rory and the strength of the episode will truly only be revealed by how Rory acts in subsequent episodes. Resolving issues with Rory's father makes for an interesting character journey and Dominic Purcell performs the slow transition in his character well. The other decent performance in the episode undermines Dr. Stein as Caity Lotz portrays Lance as clearly under Grodd's influence.

Ultimately, "Welcome To The Jungle" is a pretty average hour of television: nothing truly stands out and develops, but very little is truly horrible in it either.

5/10

For other television and movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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A Satisfying Soda: Henry Weinhard's Black Cherry Cream Soda!


The Good: Very good flavor, No bad ingredients in it
The Bad: Expensive, Light on carbonation, Short shelf life
The Basics: Henry Weinhard's Black Cherry Cream Soda does what it promised by delivering a soda pop that effectively balances the flavors of black cherries and vanilla.


It has been a while since I found a new-to-me soda pop brand that I am eager to try. It did not take me long looking at the shelf of a grocery store I was in recently to find a soda that I got excited to pick up. That soda was Henry Weinhard's Black Cherry Cream Soda and taking the risk on it turned out to be a good investment! Henry Weinhard's Black Cherry Cream Soda was pretty good!

Basics

Henry Weinhard's Black Cherry Cream Soda is a premium soda and my wife and I found it locally in soda aisle. Each 12 oz. glass bottle houses the dark red-purple liquid and they are sold as a six pack. The bottles look good; despite never having heard of Henry Weinhard's before, the bottles look very professional.

The 12 oz. bottle is a single serving of Henry Weinhard's Black Cherry Cream Soda and it is very easy to drink it down in a single sitting.

Ease Of Preparation

Henry Weinhard's Black Cherry Cream Soda is a liquid in a clear 12 oz. bottle. Preparation is as easy as opening the bottle by popping the bottle cap off and drinking the liquid inside. I recommend refrigerating the bottle first as its full flavor potential is reached by having it cool.

Taste

Henry Weinhard's Black Cherry Cream Soda smells strongly of fruit. The dry, pleasant flavor of black cherries is aromatic in the Henry Weinhard's Black Cherry Cream Soda. The cherry scent from the Henry Weinhard's Black Cherry Cream Soda is enough to invite the consumer to take a deep sip of the beverage.

On the flavor front, the fruity taste of cherries explodes int he mouth the moment the drink touches the tongue. The sweet and distinct flavor of black cherries washes over the tongue, making a delightful initial taste. The drink finishes dry, with the clear flavor of vanilla, which embodies nicely the flavor one expects from cream soda. The blending of the two flavors makes Henry Weinhard's Black Cherry Cream Soda a decent embodiment of both promised flavors!

Henry Weinhard's Black Cherry Cream Soda leaves a slightly sweet aftertaste on the tongue that lasts for only two or three minutes after the last of it is consumed.

Nutrition

As a soda, one might expect this to have many unpronounceable ingredients. However, Henry Weinhard's Black Cherry Cream Soda is made primarily of carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup and natural and artificial flavors. There are no unpronounceable ingredients in this, which is nice.

Nutritionally, Henry Weinhard's Black Cherry Cream Soda is not enough to live off of, but it is good. Henry Weinhard's Black Cherry Cream Soda has a whopping 42 grams of sugar. With 180 calories per serving, Henry Weinhard's Black Cherry Cream Soda has no fat, nor any other nutrients.

Storage/Clean-up

Henry Weinhard's Black Cherry Cream Soda comes in a glass bottle and has a cute, distinct label. The bottles we picked up this week would have expired on February 5, 2018, so this drink does not have a very long shelf life. As well, despite getting it just a few days ago, my bottles of Henry Weinhard's Black Cherry Cream Soda were not overly carbonated. This was not at all a fizzy drink!

This drink is a translucent red-purple color, but if it gets on light fabrics it will certainly stain them. Consult a care guide for your clothes, though I suspect even light clothes will be able to wash the soda right out. As well, the drink wipes off surfaces easily with a cloth, assuming they are impermeable.

Overall

Henry Weinhard's Black Cherry Cream Soda is quite good and a decent way to get both promised flavors in a cream soda!

For other soda pops, please check out my reviews of:
Virgil's Black Cherry Cream Soda
Sprecher Cream Soda
Stewart's Orange 'N Cream Soda

8/10

For other food and drink reviews, please visit my Food Review Index Page for a complete listing of all the foods I have reviewed!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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"Therefore I Am" Finally Brings A Compelling Villain To The Flash!


The Good: Awesome character progression, Great acting, Good effects, Wonderful direction
The Bad: Disbelief of the Flash team reads as a bit false
The Basics: The Flash creates its best episode of the series with the revelation of the backstory for DeVoe in "Therefore I Am!"


After years of The Flash following a very familiar format in its seasons and villains, there is something very satisfying about the progression of the fourth season of The Flash. Instead of having a Speedster adversary who the protagonist is clueless about, the fourth season of The Flash began with a pretty strong idea of who The Flash would be encountering. Namedropped several times late in the third season was DeVoe and since the fourth season began, The Thinker has been seen building an elaborate trap for The Flash. By the seventh episode, "Therefore I Am," Barry Allen is coming face to face with the DeVoe he has sought since Ralph Dibny mentioned him.

"Therefore I Am" picks up where "When Harry Met Harry. . ." (reviewed here!) left off and it is impossible to discuss the new episode without some references as to what happened in the prior episode. After all, "When Harry Met Harry . . ." was preoccupied (occasionally) with trying to narrow down the thousands of options of people named "DeVoe" to the one most likely to be the adversary of The Flash. The prior episode climaxed with Barry Allen and Joe West arriving at the door of Clifford DeVoe.

Four years ago in Central City, Clifford DeVoe is teaching at Central City University, where his students are uninterested. DeVoe shows his wife the prototype for his thinking cap and asks her to build it for him so he might better be able to think and interface with his students. In the present, Allen and West interrogate DeVoe and his wife. Despite DeVoe giving many of the right answers, Barry suspects that he is the right suspect for their emerging villain. After ruling Clifford out as a metahuman, Iris suggests to Barry that he is just having pre-wedding jitters.

On the night of the S.T.A.R. Labs accident, Clifford DeVoe attempts to take advantage of the dark matter explosion by harnessing the power of the event to fuel the thinking cap his wife built for him. DeVoe visits the Central City Police Department where he files a complaint against Barry for harassing him. When the camera in the samauroid head goes active, Barry sneaks into the DeVoe home. That gets Barry a restraining order and his friends turn against him.

Almost immediately, "Therefore I Am" sends up a red flag for the continuity police. Clifford DeVoe and his wife are super-geniuses who were working in Central City at the time of the dark matter accident. People like Stein, Raymond, and Dibny were all on the S.T.A.R. Labs radar when the accident occurred. So, how Clifford DeVoe and his wife were not approached by S.T.A.R. Labs to work for them seems suspect. Fortunately, in the course of "Therefore I Am" S.T.A.R. Labs and the accident are addressed, including the rather sensible moment when the time traveling Eobard Thawne subtly acknowledges that he knows who DeVoe will become.

The real joy of "Therefore I Am" is that it unfolds in an incredibly compelling and engaging way. Barry Allen has his guy from minute one and the investigation into DeVoe and his wife follows a methodical and interesting journey for revealing what the audience pretty much already knows. The episode follows Barry Allen doing actual policework to investigate and prove his hypothesis, while flashbacks provide explicit backstory information.

The unfolding of the mystery in "Therefore I Am" well-executed and the episode's direction is quite good. David McWhirter seems to give viewers the answers early on in the form of Cisco's vibe, but the progression of the episode is engaging.

It is only in the episode's final third that the pacing starts to lag and the episode starts to feel like it is headed off the rails. Clifford DeVoe's motivations are not clear - how he developed from the professor who wanted to save the world into the bald man confined to the futuristic chair (until the end when it becomes clear that is simply a lifesaving measure) - outside his frustration. It is as the episode progresses that it suddenly seems ridiculous that at no point did anyone on Team Flash actually ask what it was that DeVoe did that was so bad.

DeVoe is characterized well by "Therefore I Am" and it is instantly refreshing to see a "villain" who has his own support network and love in his life. That sets him apart and the result is that outside the utter disbelief of Barry Allen's friends, "Therefore I Am" builds to a truly compelling and engaging episode that is almost perfect!

9.5/10

For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Awkward Celebration: The 2017 Holiday Celebration Barbie Ornament Is Very Average!


The Good: General details for the sculpt, Good balance, Cool sparkles on the fabric element
The Bad: Expensive, Noticeable seams, Plastic look, Odd leg placement
The Basics: The 2017 Celebration Barbie Hallmark ornament is one of the more mediocre Barbie ornaments that does not seem quite right for the franchise.


There is a certain irony to the 2017 Holiday Celebration Barbie ornament. Barbie, of course, is an immensely popular doll line from Mattel and for the fans, is familiar for blending (nylon) hair, plastic and cloth elements. So, when Hallmark's 2017 Holiday Celebration Barbie ornament did not sit quite right with me and I was trying to figure it out, it became almost laughable when I defined the look of the face and neck area of the ornament as looking "plastic" as the problem. Between that and the slightly off angle on the legs of the character under the dress, which might be accurate from a perspective aspect, but still looks like they are coming askew from under the skirts - almost like they were bent forward at the thighs or knees - the 2017 Holiday Celebration Barbie ornament is just a little off.

Basics

The 2017 Celebration Barbie ornament recreates this year's limited edition caucasian Celebration Barbie doll in ornament form, which allows collectors to get a more affordable version of the popular doll in ornament form. The ornament was released with an original issue price of $19.95, which is a fair bit pricier than other ornaments in the Barbie line and it feels more expensive given the relative quality of the ornament. The 2017 Celebration Barbie ornament is 5" tall by 3 1/4" wide by 2 3/4" deep.

The 2017 Celebration Barbie ornament has a red dress with an enhanced sequin/cloth element for the dress on Barbie's bust. Barbie's hair cascades to her shoulders and looks generally good, save that the hair has a bit of a seam around the character's head, so it looks like a stuck-on wig. The Holiday Barbie ornament looks all right, though the open skirts force the legs into a very odd, detached look from the rest of the ornament.

On the plus side, the 2017 Holiday Barbie ornament has hair that has a beautiful pearlescent quality that looks awesome. The rest of the character's skin tones are fairly solid, but Barbie's face looks very plastic on the skin coloring front. This is a Barbie ornament where the character looks good, but the sequin sparkles on the top really pop!

Features

As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, the Celebration Barbie ornament could have a function like a sound chip or light effect, but it does not. This is just the ornament, with a decent fabric element accenting it. I've long thought that it was disappointing that the Celebration Barbie ornaments do not have any articulation to her limbs. The Barbie ornament is an ornament that does not emulate the doll for articulation at all.

Balance

As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake 2017 Celebration Barbie ornament is that the ornaments will be hung on a Christmas Tree. For those creating the ultimate Barbie Christmas Tree, the Holiday Barbie ornaments become necessary for the die-hard collectors. Barbie has a steel hook loop at the top of her head and from there she hangs perfectly level!

Collectibility

Hallmark Keepsake began delving into the collectibles market in 1991 with Star Trek when it introduced the exceptionally limited edition original U.S.S. Enterprise ornament (reviewed here!). Since then, they have branched out into every major franchise from Barbie to Gone With The Wind to The Hunger Games. The Holiday Barbie ornament was released at the October Ornament Release Weekend and it has sold out at several of the Hallmark stores I've been to. Already the 2017 Holiday Barbie ornament has begun to appreciate in the secondary market, despite its high original release price. The Holiday Barbie ornament often seems to peak quickly in the secondary market before leveling out or even dropping, so it makes little sense to buy it in the secondary market now when some Hallmark's might still be able to get it in.

Overview

The 2017 Barbie Celebration ornament is all right, but not one of the most extraordinary Barbie ornaments, making it a tougher sell than it should be.

For other Barbie ornament reviews, please check out:
2017 Lavender Luxe Barbie ornament (Limited Edition)
2016 Ballet Wishes Barbie ornament
2016 Holiday Celebration Barbie ornament
2016 Soccer Player Barbie ornament
2016 Cherry Pie Picnic Barbie ornament
2016 Picnic Set Ornaments (Limited Edition)
2015 Celebration Barbie (Black)
2015 Barbie Celebration Set (2013/2014 Celebration Barbie)
2012 Barbie Provencale
2012 Brava, Ballerina! Barbie
2012 Holiday Celebration Barbie (Black)
2012 Holiday Celebration Barbie (Caucasian)
2012 Matinee Fashion Barbie - Final In The Series!
2012 Tweed Indeed Barbie
2011 Celebration Barbie (Black)
2011 Campus Sweetheart Barbie
2011 Prima Ballerina Barbie ornament
1996 Enchanted Evening Barbie ornament
1995 Barbie Debut (Brunette) - Club Exclusive
1994 Barbie Debut ornament

6/10

For other ornament reviews, please visit my Ornament Review Index Page for an organized listing!!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Monday, November 20, 2017

Inevitable Return, Inevitable Villain, "Wake Up" Is Unfortunately Crowded Supergirl


The Good: Generally good acting, Moments of character
The Bad: J'onn J'onzz's character, Meandering plot, Too many plotlines to allow any of them to breathe
The Basics: "Wake Up" is a Supergirl episode that bites off more than it can chew to make any of its three major arcs feel satisfying.


As Supergirl has progressed into its third season, the show has been doing a good job of keeping the memory of Mon-El alive. Fresh in Kara's mind after six months of mourning the fact that Mon-El had to flee Earth after the Daxamite invasion is Kara's sense of loss. The fact that Kara's relationship with Mon-El was so short makes the period of her grieving seem disproportionate, but this has been enough to keep Mon-El fresh in the mind of viewers. It is also enough to make viewers anticipate a return for Mon-El and in that regard, Supergirl does not disappoint. The episode in which Mon-El returns is "Wake Up."

"Wake Up" continues after the events of "Midvale" (reviewed here!) and it plays off elements of several of the prior episodes. "Wake Up" is notable for continuing the stories of M'yrnn J'onzz, Samantha Arias, and Mon-El while introducing Imra (Saturn Girl). "Wake Up" also explicitly confirms that Arias is the Kryptonian from the last shot of the second season finale of Supergirl.

Samantha Arias begins to test her abilities, including placing her hand in boiling water and discovering she has no pain (or burn reaction to it). At the DEO, Schott is miffed when M'yrnn asks him to be able to go to the bathroom and he approaches J'onn to suggest J'onn take his father out of the DEO facility. When an expedition under water near National City is attacked, the DEO becomes aware of a massive, ancient space ship under the city. J'onn, Kara and Schott investigate and find Mon-El aboard the vessel. Samantha visits her adoptive mother to try to learn if she ever showed any abnormalities in her childhood, but Patricia is reticent to reveal anything about her childhood.

While J'onn is off-campus with his father, Mon-El regains consciousness and sneaks into the DEO armory. Kara incapacitates him, but when she has him back in custody, he refuses to answer her questions. When Winn Schott visits Mon-El, the Daxamite asks Schott for help and together, they return to the ship. Kara, however, intervenes while Mon-El is attempting to repower the ship and its stasis tubes. They are able to rescue Imra from drowning in her stasis tube and Mon-El confesses that he has lived seven years in the future, while Kara has lived the last seven months alone in the present. Samantha goes out into the desert where she inadvertently creates her own Fortress Of Sanctuary! And after a heart to heart with Kara, Mon-El reveals the true nature of his relationship with Imra.

"Wake Up" continues the trend of diluting Supergirl. Gone are the days when the super hero narrative has a single, strong protagonist. Kara is a support character in "Wake Up" and the episode desperately tries to incorporate James Olsen and Alex Danvers, while neglecting entirely Lena Luthor. "Wake Up" continues to crowd the cast of Supergirl and with so much focus on Samantha Arias, by the time the episode gets around to J'onn dealing with his father, it feels like an afterthought within the narrative.

J'onn J'onzz is severely weakened as a character in "Wake Up." J'onzz long-believed his father was dead and that he was the last Green Martian. When J'onn learned of the existence of M'gann in the second season, he began obsessively spending time with her. And yet, with his own father, he is neglectful and uncaring. That reads somewhere between false and cheap; like J'onn was just a sucker for a cute face and doesn't truly care about his actual family. Given how he has continued to pine over his dead wife and children, his neglect of his own father is disappointing.

The winner on the acting front for "Wake Up" is Chris Wood. Almost immediately, Wood leaps back into Supergirl portraying Mon-El with a reserved quality that is quite good. In fact, it pretty much telegraphs his big reveal at the climax of the episode.

Ultimately, "Wake Up" is a crowded episode, with one too many plots, so none of them get developed well-enough to truly be satisfying.

For other works with Chris Wood, please visit my reviews of:
Supergirl - Season 2
"Duet" - The Flash

4/10

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

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Helping To Train Benny: Zuke's Crunchy Naturals Baked With Peanut Butter & Bananas Treats Work!


The Good: Decent ingredients, Benny seems to like them, Good dental benefits
The Bad: Comparatively expensive.
The Basics: Zuke's Crunchy Naturals Baked With Peanut Butter & Bananas dog treats are helping Benny learn new tricks while keeping his teeth clean!


One of the things that ster, Benny, is how member of our family very long at as not been a member of our family very long at as not been a member of our family very long at all, but already, he knows a decent number of commands. A big part of that is finding the right treats that Benny responds to as positive reinforcement for the tricks he is asked to do. One of the treats that easily falls into the "right" category are the Zuke's Crunchy Naturals Baked With Peanut Butter & Bananas dog treats.

In fact, the only serious detraction to the Zuke's Crunchy Naturals Baked With Peanut Butter & Bananas treats is the expense of the 12 oz bag. These are an all-natural treat and they are an expensive treat!

Basics

The Zuke's Crunchy Naturals Baked With Peanut Butter & Bananas are a treat that is in the same snack niche as Milkbone dog biscuits, save that these are much smaller and intended to be a reinforcement tool for dogs while training them. Shaped like a tan/brown mealy pill-shaped treat, the Zuke’s Large Crunchy Naturals Baked With Peanut Butter & Bananas are just large enough to require most dogs - including my English Setter - to chew the hard treat up, which provides the dog with positive dental benefits from them. When Benny consumes the Crunchy Naturals Baked With Peanut Butter & Bananas, they clean his teeth.

The Crunchy Naturals Baked With Peanut Butter & Bananas Treats are tan ovals with a flat bottom, that are quite hard. Each one is 1 1/4" long and 1/2" wide and thick. The bag of Zuke's Crunchy Naturals Baked With Peanut Butter & Bananas treats is 12 oz. and comes with at least one hundred twenty treats in the bag.

Ease Of Preparation

The brown pressed oatmeal and banana treat is designed to give the dog a hard, flavorful treat that acts as positive reinforcement for good dogs. Preparing the Zuke's Crunchy Naturals Baked With Peanut Butter & Bananas treats for consumption is very easy; simply open the bag, pull out a few of the tiny treats and give them to your dog. I highly recommend having water nearby for the dog to drink as they eat the Zuke's Crunchy Naturals Baked With Peanut Butter & Bananas treats!

Benny’s Reaction

The Zuke's Crunchy Naturals Baked With Peanut Butter & Bananas treats smell very lightly of peanut butter. That said, the scent is strong enough that when we play the "hide them" game with Benny, he is able to sniff them out. The aroma may not be particularly potent for humans, but it is more than enough for a dog to find them when the Crunchy Naturals Baked With Peanut Butter & Bananas treats are hidden. Benny chews these treats up as soon as he is given them and he is enthusiastic about them whenever he is offered the Zuke's Crunchy Naturals Baked With Peanut Butter & Bananas treats. The fact that he chews them up means that Benny gets the dental benefits these hard dog treats off him, which is a nice selling point for both Benny and his human companions!

Nutrition

These treats are fairly good for dogs. The package recommends that dog owners have clean drinking water available to their dog when they feed them this treat. This treat is a dietary supplement, not a full meal. Crunchy Naturals Baked With Peanut Butter & Bananas treats have at least 11% crude protein, 6% crude fat, and no more than 1% crude fiber and 12% moisture, so those looking out for their dog's specific dietary needs, that might help. They are made primarily of oatmeal, pearled barley and rice bran. There are only a couple of preservatives and these treats are vegan-compliant and corn, wheat, and soy free! The package we picked up two weeks ago had a June 10, 2019 expiration date.

Overall

The Zuke's Crunchy Naturals Baked With Peanut Butter & Bananas treats are a decent reinforcement treat for Benny and enough to recommend to anyone with dogs that are still being trained!

For other Zuke's dog treat reviews, please check out my reviews of:
Roasted Chicken Recipe Mini Naturals
Zuke's Clean Berry Crisp Z-Bones
Zuke's Clean Cherry Berry Z-Bones

8.5/10

For other pet product reviews, please check out my Pet Review Index Page for an organized listing of my reviews on the subject!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Subtlety And Character Depth Makes "Resupply" More Than A Generic Bridging Episode!


The Good: Performances, Good character development
The Bad: Somewhat basic plot
The Basics: "Resupply" puts The Punisher and Madani on a collision course over a gun shipment that Homeland Security is looking to intercept!


With The Punisher not being recruited to stop the mystical threat that preoccupied The Defenders (season 1 reviewed here!), the first season of The Punisher was promised to viewers to be a gritty, more reality-based Marvel Cinematic Universe series. So far, by "Resupply," the show has not at all disappointed in that regard. "Resupply" continues to focus on Frank Castle and David Lieberman working to understand one end of a series of war crimes that culminated in the murder of Dinah Madani's partner in Kandahar, while Madani and Sam Stein work to understand the same and solve the murder of Director Wolf. So far in The Punisher, there has been no real supernatural element and the sense of shellshock for many of the military characters forces the viewer to play a guessing game of which one is truly the season's antagonist (though the safe money is on Russo and Rawlins).

"Resupply" picks up after "Kandahar" (reviewed here!), which found Frank Castle and David Lieberman finally teaming up to go after the war criminals on the MICRO video so Castle can get his justice and Lieberman might be able to return to his family.

Lewis Walcott digs a hole in his yard and, essentially, creates a foxhole to sleep in. Castle holds Turk up for weapons and discovers that the arms dealer is remarkably light on firepower at the moment. In an uncharacteristic move, Castle lets Turk live and he sets Lieberman on the task of finding the stolen shipment of heavy weapons. While Madani and Stein prepare to intercept the same weapons, Madani is informed that she is about to be replaced as Director of her section at Homeland Security. Sarah Lieberman calls "Pete" for signatures on an insurance form for her car to get fixed and David holds Castle's weapons search hostage against that.

Hoyle visits Lewis in his hole in the yard and Castle (as Pete) visits Sarah Lieberman. There, he helps Lieberman's daughter fix the garbage disposal and he offers to help out with other things around the house, while David watches remotely. At Anvil, Russo gives a new group of potential recruits a speech about their value, which appeals to Lewis. Stein briefs at Homeland Security, but Madani alters his plans to make it more efficient. When David finds out that Homeland is the buyer for the guns the Greeks are bringing in, Castle commits to getting the weapons. Castle and Lieberman go on their first outing; to pick up cars from an illegal chop shop to use as their getaway in their next mission.

Lewis Walcott is an interesting character to begin "Resupply" with. Walcott is a veteran who is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and is part of Curtis Hoyle's therapy group. Walcott has done very little in the prior episodes of The Punisher, save wake up abruptly to take a shot at his own father and get courted by white nationalists at one of Hoyle's meetings. Opening with his personal struggle sets "Resupply" up to potentially be a very different style episode of The Punisher. Lewis Walcott is a pretty distant b-plot in "Resupply," but his arc is part of the compelling aspect of The Punisher; Hoyle advises Russo not to hire Walcott at Anvil and that continues to disenfranchise the former resupply soldier. Walcott is obviously coming unhinged and that seems like it will make him entirely malleable to any villain that comes into his life, which is unfortunate, but plays into the realism of The Punisher.

At the other end of the spectrum is David Lieberman. Lieberman is a tech analyst and he is skilled at his type of sabotage and surveillance. He is not, however, the guy who gets his hands dirty, like Frank Castle. Lieberman is not the hands on guy and that makes him an interesting partner for Castle. Castle needs his skill set, but critisizes his methods, which sets up a realistic tension between them.

"Resupply" is saved from being a banal bridge episode by Madani. Madani is well-characterized as a tactical thinker and she is essentially the midpoint between Castle and Lieberman. She is smart and tactical, but not afraid to get her hands dirty. While the episode's climactic car race could seem like a very generic, masculine adrenaline-rush style showdown, it actually serves to characterize Madani well as Castle's equal as a tactical thinker.

That scene also serves to illustrate that Frank Castle still has a moral core, which is pretty much essential to allowing the viewer to have any sense of empathy with him.

Jon Bernthal, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Amber Rose Revah and Daniel Webber all give good performances in "Resupply." Bernthal continues to illustrate that he has more range for Frank Castle than he was allowed on The Walking Dead (in fact, on The Punisher there are some moments where it seems like he's doing an Andrew Lincoln impression!) and in "Resupply," he manages to convey thoughtfulness and hardness at key moments. Amber Rose Revah does a solid job as Madani continuing to embody the character as professional, quick-thinking and compassionate in a consistent way. Moss-Bachrach uses his facial expressions throughout "Resupply" to play out his character's inner turmoil wonderfully. And Daniel Webber plays Lewis with such credible twitchiness that there's no possible way he's not an amazing actor; if he were actually that unhinged, he'd never be able to remember his lines. His portrayal of a man suffering from PTSD is impressive and unsettling.

"Resupply" is the first episode of The Punisher that actually feels derivative of other Netflix Marvel Television Universe works. The scene between Rafi and Madani is entirely reminiscent of Misty Knight being put in her place by her boss on Luke Cage. "Resupply" is also the first episode that has Frank Castle feeling out a relationship with his new partner in vengeance, David Lieberman. Lieberman forces Castle to work on his terms and Castle relies upon Lieberman for the titular arms resupply.

Ultimately, "Resupply" is a bit simple on the plot front, but the episode is saved from feeling so simple by the complexity of the character dynamics in the episode.

For other Marvel Television Universe Series works with Rob Morgan, please visit my reviews of:
"Mean Right Hook" - The Defenders
"Soliloquy Of Chaos" - Luke Cage
"Code Of The Streets" - Luke Cage
"A Cold Day In Hell's Kitchen" - Daredevil
"Bang" - Daredevil
"Daredevil" - Daredevil
"The Path Of The Righteous" - Daredevil
"World On Fire" - Daredevil
"Rabbit In A Snowstorm" - Daredevil
"Into The Ring" - Daredevil

7.5/10

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

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Finally! A Wonderful Use For Coconut Water: Bolthouse Farms Tropical Goodness Is Great!


The Good: Very nutritious, Good flavor, Decent ingredients
The Bad: Expensive, Short shelf life
The Basics: Bolthouse Farms Tropical Goodness is a surprising hit for those looking for a nutritious fruit juice and who love a good blend of pineapple, guava and coconut flavors!


I have an appreciation for the niche market of truly healthy fruit juices and bottled fruit smoothies. In my quest to find healthy beverage options, I have often encountered - and largely rejected - juices that include coconut water (or flavored coconut waters on their own). So, when my local grocery store started selling Bolthouse Farms Tropical Goodness, which was coconut water based, I thought nothing of it. But when the store decided to clearance a couple bottles of the Bolthouse Farms Tropical Goodness, I figured that it was about time that I try it.

Bolthouse Farms Tropical Goodness is a pleasant surprise and the first beverage I can think of that included coconut water that I'd love to have more of!

Basics

Bolthouse Farms is a health drink brand, which is a full-health beverage (as opposed to being a liquid vitamin supplement) and, as a general rule, they tend to taste better than energy drinks. This is a fruit beverage that naturally contains several nutrients. Bolthouse Farms Tropical Goodness comes in a 15.2 fl. oz. plastic bottle that is smooth and very portable. The #1 recyclable bottle is filled with the fairly opaque light pink liquid. Bolthouse Farms juice products is one of the leading manufacturer of healthy prepared beverages, both of fruit juices and dairy beverages.

The 15.2 fl. oz. bottle gives consumers just under two full servings, though the bottle is not marked with clear delineations for each serving.

Ease Of Preparation

Bolthouse Farms Tropical Goodness is a liquid in the 15.2 fl. oz. bottle and is a ready-to-drink beverage. So, preparation is as easy as opening a plastic bottle. Tropical Goodness has a plastic cap that easily twists off and can be put back on in order to reseal it. It is important to note that this is supposed to be refrigerated, so quality of the beverage may degrade if it is left out at room temperature before or after the bottle is open. This has a pretty standard security seal ring around the lower half of the cap and informs the consumer as to whether the product has been opened by cracking off when the top is twisted.

Taste

The Tropical Goodness smells fruity, of coconut water and pineapple. The aroma is fruity and subtle, though it is aromatic enough to be inviting. The coconut water and pineapple scents are enough to evoke a slight memory of pina coladas, which is pretty cool.

In the mouth, the Tropical Goodness is a pretty distinct blend of pineapple, coconut water and guava. A few years ago, I probably would not have recognized the flavor of guava juice, but the Tropical Goodness tastes like it. The sweet, fruity flavor of the guava plays nicely off the pineapple and the blend manages to never develop the taste of dry from the coconut water or sour for the pineapple. Instead of overwhelming each other, the blend of juices in the Tropical Goodness manage to compliment one another well and work together to create a delightful drink.

The Tropical Goodness has a slightly sweet aftertaste to it.

Nutrition

As a healthy fruit beverage, Bolthouse Farms Tropical Goodness is designed to fill in some of the nutritional gaps one might have in their diet, most notably Manganese and Vitamins A and C, which the Tropical Goodness has a decent amount of! Nutritionally, Bolthouse Farms Tropical Goodness is an option for those who are dieting or are trying to improve their health, who are looking for specific nutrients and hydration. Tropical Goodness is made primarily of: coconut water from concentrate, pineapple juice from concentrate, and apple juice from concentrate. It contains nothing bad and it is gluten free, though it does not appear to contain any meat or dairy products in it, so it IS Vegan compliant! As well, there are no preservatives, artificial flavors or colors or genetically modified ingredients!

This drink is also very healthy. One serving of Tropical Goodness has .5 grams of fat and 110 calories. While there are 26 grams of sugars and a gram of protein, the beverage has no cholesterol! There are 60 mg (3% RDA) of sodium in each serving. A single serving is a decent source of five key vitamins and minerals.

Storage/Clean-up

Bolthouse Farms Tropical Goodness comes in a plastic bottle and it keeps for only a few weeks. This beverage must be refrigerated!

This drink is a fruit product and watery light pink color. If this gets on light clothes, it will certainly stain them. Consult a care guide for your clothes, though I suspect light clothes would need bleach to get this out. Still, the drink wipes off surfaces easily with a cloth, assuming they are impermeable.

Overall

Bolthouse Farms Tropical Goodness is a healthy fruit juice drink that is more than enough to make one rethink coconut water!

For other Bolthouse beverages, please check out my reviews of:
Green Goodness
100% Carrot Juice
Holiday Nog

8/10

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

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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