Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Energizing The Kitten: Petstages Cheese Chase Is Diverting For Cats!


The Good: Inexpensive, Engages the kitten
The Bad: Does not grab my five year-oldcat
The Basics: Petstages Cheese Chase Cat Toy was designed to distract Elim, but Evie has truly been grabbed by it!


Almost immediately before my wife and I got Evie, our new kitten, as a rescue, I purchased the Petstages Cheese Chase Cat Toy as a last-ditch attempt to engage Elim, our ill, troublesome two year-old cat. Ironically, though, when I gave Elim the Petstages Cheese Chase Cat Toy, Evie quickly took it over. Not only did she start playing with it right away, but Evie actually brought other toys over to interact with with the Cheese Chase!

The Cheese Chase is a plastic mental agility toy for cats and kittens. It is a one foot in diameter plastic circle that is 3" tall (11" to the top of the central wand). The plastic cylinder is a round track that holds a hollow plastic ball and is open enough on the sides to allow a cat to stick its paw into the gap to slap at the ball inside. The inside of the Cheese Chase is a near-open top container that houses a second hollow ball. At the center of the Cheese Chase is a wand that holds a fabric mouse five inches above the rest of the toy.

Evie loves the Petstages Cheese Chase toy. She approaches it whenever it is moved, wherever it is moved to. When she does, she almost always starts smacking around the yellow and black ball in the outer ring. She will play with it until she is exhausted and flops down next to the toy and continues to bat at the ball until she falls asleep abruptly! Evie interacts with the ball in the center when I point it out to her. By removing the ball from the center and then putting it back in in front of her, she seems to suddenly realize it exists and she works to remove the ball from the center. She will also pull out anything else that we stick in there! It surprised me not only how determined she was to get the things placed in the center out.

Elim, surprisingly, interacts almost exclusively with the fabric mouse on the wand in the center of the Cheese Chase. Beyond that, he only watches Evie play as opposed to interact with the toy himself!

Timber does not interact with the Cheese Chase at all; he seems thrilled to be left in peace while his younger siblings play with the toy.

The Petstages Cheese Chase cat toy is durable and exceptionally easy to clean. The hard plasic is easy to wipe off and the fabric mouse is high enough that it never seems to get particularly dirty. As a result, the Petstages Cheese Chase is worth picking up; using it manages to keep two of the three cats we have engaged and one happy to stay clear of them when they play with it!

For other cat toys, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Hartz Mini Mice
SmartyKat Catnip Mist catnip-infused spray
Sport Pet Designs Pop Open Kitty Play Cube

7/10

For other pet products, please visit my index page!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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"Failed Experiments" Makes Science Fiction Coolness For Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.!


The Good: Engaging character moments, Well-performed, Good (if straightforward) plot
The Bad: Wonky science at the end, Simplistic plot
The Basics: The Kree return to Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. in "Failed Experiments," which ends up as a solid episode of the show!


One of the exciting things about Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is seeing how the executive producers manage to tie the show into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has, since its inception, been involved with cleaning up after problems left from various films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and with the last few outings, the show has actually led into the blockbuster films. "Failed Experiments" is the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode that immediately precedes Captain America: Civil War.

"Failed Experiments" continues where "The Singularity" (reviewed here!) left off. HYDRA was destroyed and Hive was in possession of Dr. Holden Radcliffe, an expert in parasitic organisms who had the potential to create a vaccine against Hive's influence. The episode also offers the most on-screen alien interaction of the series so far.

Opening in ancient times, a human is out hunting when he encounters two Kree Reapers. They capture him, experiment upon him, and make him into an Inhuman . . . Hive. In the present, Hive threatens to experiment upon the three remaining heads of HYDRA the same way, while May keeps Campbell locked down at the S.H.I.E.L.D. base to keep him safe and away from Hive's influence. Fitz and Simmons debate the toxin they have developed to free Daisy from Hive's influence when Campbell volunteers to test the toxin. When Coulson finds Daisy in the town Hive has bought in Wisconsin, he assigns Mack to go kill Hive. Hive is using Dr. Radcliffe to continue the Kree experiment and, in the process, he liquefies the HYDRA leaders.

Not taking no for an answer, Campbell injects himself with the vaccine against Hive's influence, which leaves him weakened. May interrogates James at Hive's town, while Hive tries to turn Daisy against S.H.I.E.L.D. Hive has activated the Kree device to lure live Kree to Earth in order to give Radcliffe the cellular material he needs for his experiments. Hive assigns Daisy to recover the Kree alive and when she comes into the field, Mack abandons the S.H.I.E.L.D. team to try to rescue her.

"Failed Experiments" is an interesting conceptual crossover with the blockbusters for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As Captain America: Civil War explores a deep, philosophical conflict with real-world political consequences, "Failed Experiments" pushes Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. into the fantastic realms of science fiction more akin to the comic book roots of the series than where it has been for most of its tenure. Outside Guardians Of The Galaxy (reviewed here!), "Failed Experiments" might well have the most on-screen Kree of any work thus far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Daisy and Mack continue to develop their relationship in interesting ways. Daisy, despite being under the influence of the Hive parasites, makes a pretty compelling speech on how she was initially lost and trading S.H.I.E.L.D. for Hive was just a lateral move. Mack shows an incredible level of character in appealing to Daisy's humanity. Despite all of the superhuman aspects of the plot in "Failed Experiments," the high points of the episode involve the interactions between Daisy and Mack.

"Failed Experiments" manages to keep the momentum of the Fitz and Simmons romantic relationship going. While they have moved forward in their relationship, the still have conflicts and disagreements with one another and "Failed Experiments" has the often-goofy characters acting surprisingly maturely.

Dr. Radcliffe explodes into Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. as a surprisingly interesting guest starring character. Radcliffe's failed experiment leads to a face-off between Radcliffe and Hive and Radcliffe holds his on screen. John Hannah makes the potentially unimpressive guest character substantive and in "Failed Experiments," he is the one to watch!

Unfortunately, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. pushes into remarkably familiar territory with "Failed Experiments." "Failed Experiments" puts the third season on a course for exactly where the second season of the show ended. Daisy's mother wanted to transform the world for Inhumans and Hive has the exact same goal.

As well, the science of "Failed Experiments" is ridiculous in the episode's final moments. Daisy resolves to give Hive what he wants . . . from her. In the first season, Daisy was healed using Kree blood. There has been nothing in the series to suggest that after their resurrections, Coulson and/or Daisy started to manufacture Kree blood in their bodies. In other words, Daisy's assertion at the climax of "Failed Experiments" that she has Kree blood in her after two years is absolutely ridiculous.

Despite where the episode ends, "Failed Experiments" is solidly performed, interestingly character-filled and generally well-structured.

8/10

For other Marvel movie, television season and episode reviews, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a listing of those reviews!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Saturday, April 30, 2016

April 2016 End Of The Month Report

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April got started pretty fast and wonderfully for the blog, before we got caught up in a few other writing projects! Despite that, we got great traction with new reviews of big genre television events from Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., Legends Of Tomorrow, and The Flash! As a result, readership picked up and we've been enjoying having crossed the 2,000,000 articles read milestone last month (which went by unnoticed!).

This month, we picked up four new followers on Twitter, but no new subscribers! We are always trying to get people to become regular readers and subscribe, so if you enjoy what you're reading, please subscribe by clicking on the right side of the blog to get updates with each posting. As well, if you read a review that really affects you, be sure to "share" it! PLEASE share a link to the blog, not the content of the article; this keeps people coming to the site and, hopefully, liking what they find once they are here! We're slowly growing our readership, so sharing and subscribing to the blog is an important way you can help! If you’re subscribing, please tell your friends about the blog!

In April, the index pages were frequently updates. The primary Index Page, is usually updated daily and lets you know what the featured review is and has an up-to-the-day tally of how many reviews have been reviewed in each category! Check it out and feel free to use that as it is a much more useful and organized index to the reviews I've written!

If you enjoy the reviews, please consider clicking on the links in the reviews and purchasing items. We really appreciate all the purchases made through the blog as that keeps us going. As the tax returns come in, if you're going shopping online, please come through the blog to to it. Thank you so much!

At the end of April 2016, I have reviewed the following:
543 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Fiction
Star Trek Books
Nonfiction
Graphic Novels
Magazines
921 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
2953 - Movie and Television Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Movies By Rating (Best Movie to Worst)
Movies In Alphabetical Order
Best Picture Oscar Winner Film Reviews
Television Reviews
The Star Trek Review Index Page (All Star Trek Reviews In Order)!
The Star Trek Review Index Page (All Star Trek Reviews From The Best Of The Franchise To The Worst!)!
The Doctor Who Review Index Page (All Doctor Who Reviews In Order)!
The Doctor Who Review Index Page (All Doctor Who Reviews From The Best Of The Franchise To The Worst!)!
225 - Trading and Gaming Card Reviews
Gaming Cards Reviews
Star Trek Gaming Cards Reviews
Star Wars Gaming Cards Reviews
The Lord Of The Rings Trading Card Game Reviews
Other Gaming Cards Reviews
Trading Cards Reviews
845 - Toy and Christmas Ornament Reviews
with specialized pages for:
Ornament Reviews
Star Trek Toys
Star Wars Toys
Lord Of The Rings Toys
Buffy The Vampire Slayer/Angel Toys
Comic Book, Movie, Television Toys
Plush and Other Toys
922 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Drinks
Candy
Cereal
Cheese and Meats
Ice Cream
Other Food
243 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
114 - Travel Reviews
Destinations Reviews
Hotels Reviews
192 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
194 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
101 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
55 - Other Product Reviews

The Featured Reviews For The Month of April are my reviews of Heather Nova's April 11, 2016 Concert and a political analysis I am particularly proud of called Fail Of The Superdelegates!
Check them out!


The month of April was, predictably, dominated by prior new reviews of new television episodes. For April, the Top Ten Reviews of the month were:
10. "Leviathan" - Legends Of Tomorrow
9. The Top Ten Episodes Of Frasier
8. "Progeny" - Legends Of Tomorrow
7. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below - Outkast
6. Play: The B-Sides - Moby
5. "Versus Zoom" - The Flash
4. "Paradise Lost" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
3. "The Singularity" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
2. "Spacetime" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 4
1. "The Team" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

I pride myself on being an exceptionally fair reviewer, but one who is very discriminating. I believe that most reviewers are far too biased toward both what is current and toward unduly praising things. I tend to believe most things actually are average and they ought to follows something around a Bell Curve. Mine is a little lopsided, but not as lopsided as most reviewers I know (who would probably have peak numbers between ten and seven)!

For my reviews, the current count is:
10s - 319 reviews
9s - 478 reviews
8s - 921 reviews
7s - 1029 reviews
6s - 953 reviews
5s - 1216 reviews
4s - 895 reviews
3s - 700 reviews
2s - 329 reviews
1s - 220 reviews
0s - 108 reviews
No rating - 116 articles/postings

While there was a decent amount of movement this month, the all time Top Ten remains unchanged. At the end of April 2016, the most popular reviews/articles continue to be:
10. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
9. Safe Haven
8. Oz The Great And Powerful
7. The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bone
6. Warm Bodies
5. Iron Man 3
4. Now You See Me
3. Tyler Perry's Temptation
2. The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug
1. Man Of Steel

Thank you again, so much, for reading! Please share links to the blog with friends and spread the word!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Friday, April 29, 2016

Fighting The Future With The "Leviathan" On Legends Of Tomorrow!


The Good: Moments of plot, Special effects, A few character moments
The Bad: Mediocre performances, character arcs and very basic plot structuring
The Basics: "Leviathan" puts the Legends Of Tomorrow in 2166 in a last-ditch attempt to thwart Vandal Savage.


Legends Of Tomorrow is having an erratic first season and, sadly, as it has progressed, it has become more and more preposterous from a scientific perspective. After drawing out a simple problem with a painfully simple solution for an entire season and several episodes where the main storyline and characters get sidetracked, the show delved into a dubious bit of science in "Last Refuge." Fans of The Flash were softened to the concept earlier in the second season with the episode "The Reverse-Flash Returns" (reviewed here!), but seeing it in action makes it seem somewhat ridiculous: the crew of the Waverider, following the events of "Last Refuge," are temporal remnants. By pulling their younger selves out of the timeline to avoid being erased from existence by The Pilgrim, the heroes of Legends Of Tomorrow now all exist in a weird tangent condition where they are fragments of people who disappeared in a timeline that is now solidifying without their presences.

That leads us to "Leviathan." "Leviathan" follows Rip Hunter's declaration at the climax of "Last Refuge" (reviewed here!) that - in their fight against Vandal Savage - the crew of the Waverider has, literally, run out of time. "Leviathan" puts the crew back in the future, this time in 2166, where they will attempt again to stop Savage. Despite his previous claims, Hunter is now taking the crew to fight Savage at the peak of his power.

The Waverider arrives in London, 2166, three days before Hunter's family will be killed, Hunter disembarks with Lance, Snart, and Rory to try to capture Savage. Studying footage of his speech, Saunders recognizes her bracelet on the arm of a woman at Savage's side. The team is overwhelmed, though and they have to flee. Hunter takes Palmer, Jackson, and Stein to meet with the last remnants of the Resistance. Unfortunately, the attempt they made on Savage's life leads the villain to go into hiding in his bunker, which makes stealing the bracelet virtually impossible. Still, Snart and Rory manage to confront the woman and, upon abducting her, they learn that she is Savage's daughter.

Cassandra tells Snart the story of Per Degaton and how he ruled over Earth before Savage stopped him, while Rory helps Saunders melt down the bracelet to coat the mace Carter Hall left her. The Waverider is attacked by Savage's ultimate weapon - a giant robot - moments after Stein figures out what the weapon is and brings the rebel refugees aboard the ship. In the attack, the Waverider is severely damaged. When Snart turns Cassandra, Palmer makes alterations to the Atom suit to make it super-large. With the Atom fighting to protect the refugees, Hunter, Snart, Rory, Lance, and Hawkgirl make an all-out assault on Vandal Savage!

"Leviathan" refers to the bracelet that Cassandra Savage is wearing. The bracelet is a simple snake and Saunders has a plan to use it to try to defeat Savage because she was wearing it at the time of the meteor incident in ancient Egypt. The title also refers to the massive robot weapon that Savage unleashes on the rebels.

Sadly, "Leviathan" takes a pretty long time to get around to revealing the obvious. The moment Cassandra tells Snart about Per Degaton, the viewer has to wonder why Snart does not reveal the truth about Per Degaton and Savage to her. In "Progeny" (reviewed here!), the Waverider crew is taken to earlier in the 2100s and Hunter explains the methods Savage came to power. Savage used Per Degaton to execute his will and eradicate much of the Earth's population. "Leviathan" pays off the events of "Progeny" and it is a remarkably satisfying development.

"Leviathan" is more than just a gimmick to introduce Vandal Savage's daughter and create a big comic book-y special effects-driven battle. The episode hinges on Snart's backstory with his abusive father, Stein's inherent humanity, and the conflicted relationship between Kendra and Ray Palmer. As a fan of The Flash, it is cool to see Snart develop and grow, but have his future be guided by his known backstory. Similarly, Stein's sense of ethics, like Palmer's, make him a character who has heroic potential and Dr. Stein's desire to save lives grounds the episode's more fantastic episodes.

Palmer and Saunders, though, have a somewhat tired "will they or won't they" vibe and "Leviathan" seems to be pretty much the end of that. Palmer is clearly in love with Saunders, as a result of their being stranded in the 1950s together for years. By the end of "Last Resort," Saunders and Palmer were engaged. In "Leviathan" Saunders is once again torn between Palmer and the now-dead Carter Hall. The internal conflict for Saunders has grown tired, but it plays out in the episode's final act in a way that sets up the final two episodes of the season. Despite how predictable the moment is, at least for the moments before the reveal, the way Saunders reacts to Savage's final act of treachery is impressive.

The performances in "Leviathan" are good, but none are truly exceptional. Casper Crump, for the first time, does not stand out with any specific quality as Vandal Savage. This is unfortunate as the episode introduced Savage's daughter; Crump exhibits no real emotion for his immortal character's daughter. At the other end of the spectrum is Ciara Renee. Renee actually dominates the final act of the episode with Saunders's sudden emotional revelation and her shock is well-performed. Renee has not had a lot of chances to shine in Legends Of Tomorrow, but she does for "Leviathan."

Ultimately, "Leviathan" is entertaining and a clear bridge episode, working hard to set up the first season finale, but it is much more plot-based than character-driven and it is subject to the absurdities that have preceded it.

6/10

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

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Another Near-Miss From ThinkGeek: The Star Wars Battle Of Hoth Pint Glass Set!


The Good: Nice artwork, Collectible value
The Bad: Expensive for pint glasses, "Function" does not work properly, Not dishwasher safe, Poor durability
The Basics: The Star Wars Battle Of Hoth Pint Glasses from ThinkGeek are cute, but not durable enough to live up to all they promise.


Despite there being a ton of coffee mugs around my house, my wife still managed to find something new and cool for me to drink out of. For the holidays, she decided to further lessen our cabinet space by picking up some pint glasses for me. As I get into drinking more cold drinks (especially milkshakes!), she thought I should be drinking out of something other than coffee mugs. So, she picked me up two different sets of Star Wars pint glasses from ThinkGeek. While the Star Wars Cloud City pint glass set (reviewed here!) did not quite thrill me as much as I hoped based on its promised function, the Star Wars Battle Of Hoth pint glasses were pretty awesome, regardless of the lack of functionality to their special function. Like the other pint glasses, though, the Star Wars Battle Of Hoth Pint Glass Set Of 2 utilize a gimmick that does not work like it is supposed to.

The Star Wars Battle Of Hoth Pint Glass Set Of 2 are two identical pint glasses that feature artwork from The Empire Strikes Back (reviewed here!). The pint glasses are predominantly blue and white and feature the AT-AT's coming across the ice plains of Hoth with a snowspeeder headed toward them.

The Star Wars Pint Glass Set Of 2 features artwork that is identical to the promotional photos of the AT-ATs on Hoth that have appeared in books and things like toy boxes for years - since The Empire Strikes Back was released. The AT-ATs are silkscreened on heavy, clear glass. Each set of two is identical and features the same glass in duplicate. As the name implies, each pint glass holds a little over two cups worth of liquid. A whole 16 fl. oz. fits into the glass. Wider at the top, the 5 3/4” tall clear glass drinking glasses are both identical, including the image silkscreened onto them.

The Star Wars Battle Of Hoth Pint Glass Set Of 2 was constructed with a color-changing gimmick. The snowspeeder is supposed to be invisible until a cold liquid is placed into the glass. Unfortunately, the snowspeeder is entirely visible, regardless of there being any liquid in the glass and while it is initially faint, it does get darker like it is supposed to. When a cold liquid is placed in the pint glass, the snowspeeder gets more distinct and darker, but it never truly fades to be anywhere near close to surprising for its appearance when a liquid is added. This was less of a detraction for me because the snowspeeder being visible the whole time looks authentic and cool - and is appropriate for the setting without any form of "cloaking."

The Star Wars Battle Of Hoth Pint Glass Set Of 2 is not at all durable. It took less than a week of using and cleaning the pint glasses before each of them showed noticeable wear. While the snowspeeder on the glasses held up fine, the rest of the silkscreening showed some chips and scratches. The glasses are not dishwasher safe and having hand washed the pint glasses with softer cloths to try to avoid damage, it was especially frustrating that the glasses already show wear to the silkscreening.

Fans of Star Wars will probably excuse the lack of a true color-changing element to the Star Wars Battle Of Hoth Pint Glass Set because the snowspeeder looks good enough even slightly faded against the Hoth snowscape and the AT-ATs are just awesome. The glasses would have been perfect without the gimmick, but with the gimmick being a mild failure, these just become somewhat average pint glasses from ThinkGeek.

For other kitchen supplies, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Buffy The Vampire Slayer Pint Glass Set Of 4
Star Trek Decloaking Klingon Bird Of Prey Mug
Norpro Deluxe Stainless Steel Baster Set

5/10

For other kitchen product reviews, please be sure to visit my Kitchen Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

50/50 - "Back To Normal" Is Somewhat Average The Flash!


The Good: Good performances, Most of the character development
The Bad: Stunningly dull plot, Erratic special effects
The Basics: "Back To Normal" finds The Flash wrestling with his powerlessness while a metahuman terrorizes Dr. Wells.


As The Flash finds its footing as a larger body of television work, it is interesting to see what elements recur. In the second season, the multiverse theory is being pretty adequately explored with multiple trips from Earth-1 (our Earth) to Earth-2 (the Earth from which Zoom originated, which currently has fills a niche like the Mirror Universe in Star Trek). The other elements that are carrying over from the first season to imply seasonal visitions are Eobard Thawne and the episode where The Flash loses his powers. In the first season, the powerless episode was "Power Outage" (reviewed here!); this season, it is "Back To Normal."

"Back To Normal" continues the story from "Versus Zoom" (reviewed here!) and is impossible to discuss without some references to the climactic actions of that episode. Having sacrificed his powers to save Wally West, Barry Allen is powerless in "Back To Normal" and he and the S.T.A.R. Labs team are reeling from Zoom abducting Dr. Snow.

Opening with Barry Allen experiencing a normal day, without speed, Allen tries to adapt to no longer having speed as The Flash. Harry gets upset with Allen and his team about Zoom having Allen's powers and the presence of a breach that now allows Zoom to move between universes and he opts to leave the team to go find his daughter. With the S.T.A.R. Labs team essentially disbanded, Joe and Iris try to cheer Barry up. Meanwhile, on Earth-2, Dr. Snow talks tough to Hunter Zolomon, but he removes her shackles before he goes out to terrorize his Earth. Wells manages to find his daughter, but she is in no mood to have him back in her life, so she pushes him away.

When Wells leaves Jessie's apartment, he encounters a metahuman who abducts him. Cisco almost instantly finds out, as the S.T.A.R. Labs van that Wells was driving has crash assistance that alerts Ramon's console. While Dr. Snow faces off with Killer Frost in Zoom's prison compound, Wells meets his abductor. Wells is being held captive by Griffin Grey, a metahuman with exceptional strength. Unfortunately, each time Grey uses his powers, he ages. While the S.T.A.R. Labs team tries to figure out how to save Wells while Allen is powerless, Dr. Snow and her counterpart attempt to break out of Zoom's lair.

To emphasize Allen's lack of speeds, Barry goes through a normal day where he is forced to do things like ride the bus. The emphasis is somewhat ridiculous; why wouldn't Joe give him a ride to work?! Similarly, the presence of Killer Frost on Earth-2 is marginally explained, but it is somewhat hard to buy that Zoom would not just have killed her when she helped break Jessie out. After all, Killer Frost barely looks like the Dr. Snow he is enamored with and she is completely hung up on the guy that Zoom killed.

One of the real positive notes for "Back To Normal" is that Zoom is finally given credible, sinister motives going forward. Zoom is a multiversal predator and his journey in "Back To Normal" is to accept that as his role. Eobard Thawne just wanted to go home; Zoom needed to be "cured" to save his life and now that he has, he evolves into accepting that he wants to bring more Earths to their knees. This is credible for his character and sets up a conflict between Zoom and The Flash which might force Barry Allen to kill Zoom. After all, trapping Zoom anywhere will leave that place at Zoom's mercy; stopping a person with the goal of conquering everything is only possible by utterly destroying them.

As well, it is refreshing to see realistic character boundaries in place. For sure, it is utterly predictable that Killer Frost would betray Dr. Snow, but it is cool to see Cisco unable to help evaluate the genetics of Griffin Grey. Ramon is not a medical doctor; that's Snow's niche. Unfortunately, the opposite is not true - on Earth-2, Dr. Snow exhibits a knowledge of physics that a medical doctor would not likely have when she rigs an electrical current to weaken carbide.

Throughout "Back To Normal," there is a subplot involving Wally West. West wants to thank The Flash for his rescue and he implores Joe to help him get in touch with the superhero. The character development for Wally West is well-developed and it plays nicely against Wells and Jesse resolving their differences. The plotlines in "Back To Normal" might be stiflingly average (and predictably lacking closure in the serialized Zoom plotline), but the character arcs in them are very good. Wally West and Jesse Wells help illustrate incredible character for young characters and that is refreshing to see on television.

Despite the character inconsistency of Zoom not just killing Killer Frost in a prior episode off-screen, it is easy to see why the writers and executive producers wanted to bring Killer Frost back. Danielle Panabaker is amazing as Killer Frost and when she plays off herself as Snow and Killer Frost squaring off, the conversation is surreal and the performances are absolutely brilliant. Panabaker exhibits incredible range in "Back To Normal" and her minimal screentime helps to transform an otherwise average episode.

Ultimately, though, "Back To Normal" is pretty average television, though it is not bad.

5/10

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

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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All A Coffee Blend Ought To Be! The Organic Coffee Co. Rainforest Blend Coffee!


The Good: Wonderfully flavorful, Nicely caffeinated, Holds its flavor with sweeteners and creamers
The Bad: Comparatively expensive
The Basics: The Organic Coffee Co. Rainforest Blend Coffee might make the consumer pay for having ethics, but they make a damn fine cup of coffee!


I have an awesome discount store near me and it is truly revitalizing my coffee reviews by virtue of getting in amazing coffees from all around the world and offering them to me at affordable prices that I would not otherwise find them at. Today, I am thoroughly enjoying that store for bringing The Organic Coffee Co. Rainforest Blend coffee into my life. The Organic Coffee Co. Rainforest Blend is expensive everywhere else, but it turns out it is an exceptional coffee and for such an ethically-manufactured and distributed blend, it is just about worth it!

Basics

One of the premium coffee roasters in the United States, The Organic Coffee Co. produces a number of blends and is the branding for the Rogers Family Company's coffee distribution network. Rainforest Blend is advertised as a medium blend, bit it is a delightfully dark blend from The Organic Coffee Co. Rainforest Blend is an intense, appropriately coffee flavored coffee that lives up to the serious coffee drinker’s expectations on its own or with additives, while boasting beans that are organically grown. The Organic Coffee Co. Rainforest Blend comes in an 12 oz. plastic bag of ground coffee. Because it is not whole bean, no grinding is required. The Rainforest Blend Coffee is easily protected from absorbing scents of other foods, as it comes with a sticky tab for resealing. Even so, given how quickly my wife and I went through this wonderful blend (less than a week after we first opened the bag), retaining freshness is hardly an issue!

Rainforest Blend Coffee is an aromatic blend in and out of the bag and it is caffeinated.

Ease Of Preparation

Rainforest Blend Coffee is remarkably easy to prepare, no advanced culinary degrees necessary! First, open the bag. The Organic Coffee Co. Rainforest Blend Coffee is vacuum sealed when first purchased, but when the bag is cut open, it allows easy access to the ground coffee within. After cutting open the bag, procure a scoop (not included) and measure out one heaping tablespoon for every two cups of water in your coffee maker. Rainforest Blend Coffee is intended for automatic (drip or percolating) coffee makers, like my Hamilton Beach coffee maker (reviewed here!). This is NOT an instant coffee. As a result, it needs to be brewed.

Consult your coffee maker's instructions for how to brew the coffee. However, as far as the basics go, you'll need a coffee filter, like the Crucial Coffee #4 Permanent Coffee Filter (reviewed here), in which you put the Rainforest Blend Coffee and then brew through your coffee maker. The directions recommend making a pot at a time. The Organic Coffee Co. does not make an explicit recommendation about refrigerating the bag after opening it, though I tend to recommend cool, dark and dry for places for storing coffee.

Taste

The Rainforest Blend smells like the perfect embodiment of a dark-roast coffee. The super-concentrated aroma of coffee wafts out of the mug in a very inviting way.

On the tongue, the Rainforest Blend lives up to its promise of being a coffee, though it is far more full-bodied than the packaging states. The flavor is dark, without being overbearing; bitter without being unpleasant. The result is a fully-roasted coffee flavor that does taste at all watery, light or like anything other than coffee. The robust blend is appropriately bitter without overwhelming the palate with a generic bitterness.

With creamer, the bitterness dissipates, but the coffee flavor does not. In fact, this is one of the best blends for flavoring because the coffee flavor in the Rainforest Blend holds its own against creamers and sweeteners, without losing its essential dark roasted coffee flavor!

The Rainforest Blend leaves a slightly bitter aftertaste in the mouth for about five minutes after it is last consumed.

Nutrition

This is coffee, not something that appears on the nutrition pyramid! The Organic Coffee Co. Rainforest Blend Coffee does not contribute anything to one's daily recommended allowance of anything. In fact, the bag lists only 100% Arabica coffee as the only ingredient.

This is a caffeinated blend, though and it feels like it! This has enough caffeine to pop one's eyes open and I found it to be pleasantly caffeinated when I wanted to keep awake and the aroma itself opens one’s eyes and nose! Because it is a caffeinated coffee, it appears to not have undergone any of the chemical processes that sometimes cause complications in decaffeinated coffees.

Storage/Clean-up

Rainforest Blend Coffee ought to be stored sealed in its bay with the top firmly closed. Coffee is known to absorb flavors of food nearby it, so keeping the bag tightly closed is highly recommended. There are different schools of thought on refrigerating open coffee and I have a very clean refrigerator with a lot of ways to segregate coffee, so I tend to come down on the side of refrigerate it. Stored properly, this coffee might have easily made stayed fresh for years (I could not find an expiration date on our bag), but we went through the 12 oz. bag in less than a week after we opened it.

After brewing, coffee grounds ought to be disposed of. This does not seem like an ideal coffee to make a second pot with (though a second brewing came out 5/8 as potent, which is about as strong as a standard cup of weak/medium coffee). These grounds may be thrown in the trash when used or put in a compost pile, if available. Coffee grounds make great compost.

Overall

The Organic Coffee Co. Rainforest Blend Coffee is my first experience with the brand and it was such a good experience that I know I will try some of their other blends. But for those who like robust coffee and have the desire to buy organically-produced coffee, the Rogers Family Company makes an awesome, if expensive, blend with the Rainforest Blend. It is definitely worth the attention of those who love coffee!

For other coffee reviews, please visit my reviews of:
Amora Intenso Blend Coffee
The Coffee Fool Fool's Caramel Nut Blend
Dunkin' Donuts Cinnamon Coffee Roll Coffee

8/10

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

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Paying Off The Fitz/Simmons Relationship: "The Singularity"


The Good: Character development, Performances, Special effects
The Bad: The ominous sense of dread pervading the episode for anyone who is a fan of Joss Whedon's works, Special effects are so gross for the squeamish!
The Basics: "The Singularity" advances Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. in a pretty awesome way!


With Captain America: Civil War being released next week and The Inhumans being removed from Marvel/Disney's 2019 release slate, fans of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. are undoubtedly feeling like the neglected fanbase in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Despite the rising action of the Inhumans in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. setting the Marvel Cinematic Universe into a state of constant panic, the most voluminous element of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will undoubtedly be neglected in next week's blockbuster film. Despite that, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is powering ahead and moving towards its potentially biggest season finale yet with "The Singularity."

"The Singularity" continues the action from the final scene and twist in "The Team" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the new episode without discussing where the prior episode ended. "The Singularity" picks up after the revelation that Daisy has been infected by Hive and is essentially acting as a sleeper agent for the parasitic organisms running around in Grant Ward's corpse. And the episode is good, especially as it refocuses Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. as something vital and cool.

With S.H.I.E.L.D.'s headquarters crippled by Daisy on her way out of the facility, Coulson uses Campbell to repower the damaged facility and get the bay doors partially opened. Daisy reunites with Hive as May gets the Zephyr in the air and out of the facility. Daisy, who has taken the Kree artifact and some terrigen crystals, is revealed to be under the influence of Hive, much like a drug addict. Fitz and Simmons believe they know a scientist who might be able to help them in getting Daisy freed of the Hive parasites. Coulson opts to try to beat Daisy to the Inhuman Alisha, to prevent her (and her doubles) from falling under Hive's influence. Fitz and Simmons infiltrate a Romanian transhumanist meeting house to try to find Dr. Holden Radcliffe.

Campbell finds Alisha, but she has already been compromised by Hive. Hive and Daisy track down James, inflect him with the terrigen crystals and when he survives to become an Inhuman, Hive infects him with the parasites. Fitz and Simmons are invited to meet with Radcliffe . . . if they implant their cybernetic eyes (which are their ticket into the club) into a human host. When things with Radcliffe go slightly sideways, Fitz must convince the doctor that S.H.I.E.L.D. is distinctly different from HYDRA. But as Coulson and May try to survive one of Hive's traps, Fitz and Simmons must survive a direct attack by Daisy and Hive!

"The Singularity" is a reference to science jargon used by Fitz in the episode to explain his affection for Simmons. The fact that the episode finally devotes some time to progressing the relationship is actually incredibly refreshing. Fans will enjoy the payoff and the on-screen chemistry between Elizabeth Henstridge and Iain De Caestecker is incredible. After years of waiting, the relationship takes a step forward and "The Singularity" is a nice step. Fans of Joss Whedon's other works have to be figuring that one of them will die or be horrifically transformed in a subsequent episode.

Almost instantly, "The Singularity" stands out for the quality of the acting. Despite momentary asides - like Adrian Pasdar's appearance implying a set-up in the next episode for a tie-in to Captain America: Civil War (the resurgence at the end of the episode seems to be trying to close down the last threads of Marvel Phase Two) - the performances are surprisingly solid. Brett Dalton continues to make Hive unsettling to watch with his cold portrayal of the alien-infested corpse. Chloe Bennet gets in on the action by making Daisy seem dark and conniving. Bennet's extended "force choke" sequence is a clear departure from her prior from her prior performances.

In fact, on the performance front, only Ming-Na Wen stands out as at all awkward. May's arc in the episode puts her in conflict with Coulson after Coulson gives Lincoln Campbell a murder vest and her the kill switch. May expresses anger about how Coulson uses her to kill people and while that makes some sense for her character, the expression of the anger - the breaking of her icy and professional facade - is abruptly presented. Later in the episode, when May and Coulson discuss Daisy, Ming-Na Wen's performance is more organic and seems character-based.

"The Singularity" is not for the squeamish. There is an extended sequence with a needle and an eyeball (my two personal bugaboos!) that only appears to be able to be on a network television show by virtue of the eye being revealed as artificial. Despite the gore factor, "The Singularity" manages to make viewers care once again about the core characters of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. while telling an entertaining story (which is clearly setting up the finale!) quite well.

7/10

For other Marvel movie, television season and episode reviews, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a listing of those reviews!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Living Up On Flavor! The Coffee Fool Makes An Impressive Fool's Caramel Nut Coffee!


The Good: Surprisingly accurate flavor! Reasonably priced.
The Bad: Not overly dark coffee flavor, Lacking a nutty flavor.
The Basics: The Coffee Fool Fool's Caramel Nut Coffee is a wonderful blend that is a well-executed flavor of caramel and coffee!


Suddenly, my area is inundated with coffee from The Coffee Fool. There is a wonderful little chain of discount stores that has popped up in my area of Michigan that seems to get in coffee from The Coffee Fool. At this point in my reviews of coffee, I have had a tough time finding flavored coffees that genuinely live up to their promised flavors. One of the recent flavors I have tried that actually did live up to one of its named flavors was The Coffee Fool's Fool's Caramel Nut coffee.

Basics

The Coffee Fool is a well-established Minnesota-based coffee roaster that is expanding its influence outside the Midwest. Fool's Caramel Nut is one of the light to medium blends by The Coffee Fool and it comes in a twelve ounce foil bag. Fool's Caramel Nut is fairly (but not overly) light, but that allows the flavor of the caramel to actually compete with the flavor of the coffee and hold its own. Because it is not whole bean coffee, no grinding is required. The Fool's Caramel Nut Coffee is easily protected from absorbing scents of other foods and the bag can be resealed using the wire-based tie.

Fool's Caramel Nut Coffee is a moderately aromatic blend, but it makes up for the lack of aroma from the bag with actual flavor in the coffee when it is brewed.

Ease Of Preparation

Fool's Caramel Nut Coffee is remarkably easy to prepare, in either the french press or an automatic coffee maker! Open the bag. The Coffee Fool Fool's Caramel Nut Coffee is vacuum sealed when first purchased. After opening foil bag, procure a scoop (not included) and measure out one heaping tablespoon for every two cups of water in your coffee maker. Fool's Caramel Nut Coffee is intended for automatic (drip or percolating) coffee makers, like my Hamilton Beach coffee maker (reviewed here!). This is NOT an instant coffee. As a result, it needs to be brewed.

Consult your coffee maker's instructions for how to brew the coffee. However, as far as the basics go, you'll need a coffee filter, like the Crucial Coffee #4 permanent filter (reviewed here) we use, into which you put the Fool's Caramel Nut Coffee and then brew through your coffee maker. The directions recommend making a pot at a time.

Taste

The Fool's Caramel Nut smells sweeter than straight-out coffee, which gave me an initial hope for the blend. The scent is clearly that of coffee, but it has a mild underscent (the nasal equivalent of an undertone) of something sweeter.

On its own, in the mouth, the Fool's Caramel Nut tastes like pre-sweetened coffee. The flavor is distinctly that of coffee, but without any real bitterness to it. Instead, the sweetness competes with the pure coffee flavoring. As the coffee lingers on the tongue, the true caramel flavoring actually presents! Especially as the coffee cools a bit, the Fool's Caramel Nut begins to embody a very true flavor of caramel, blended into the more overt coffee flavor. While there is no clear taste of nuts in the Fool's Caramel Nut, the caramel flavor was surprisingly evident and that makes it winning to me!

With even a basic creamer, the coffee and caramel flavors get entirely muted. This is a well-flavored coffee, but it is not at all a strong flavor of coffee.

The Fool's Caramel Nut does not have a noticeable aftertaste, which is a pleasant surprise for a coffee.

Nutrition

This is coffee, not something that appears on the nutrition pyramid! The Coffee Fool Fool's Caramel Nut Coffee does not contribute anything to one's daily recommended allowance of anything. In fact, the only ingredient for the cofee is 100% High Grade Arabica Coffee.

This is a caffeinated blend, but it does not feel like it, given that it is a somewhat mild blend. This has enough caffeine to energize the consumer, but not pop one's eyes open. Because it is a caffeinated coffee, it appears to not have undergone any of the chemical processes that sometimes cause complications in decaffeinated coffees.

Fool's Caramel Nut Coffee is not marked as Kosher or with any other dietary notes.

Storage/Clean-up

Fool's Caramel Nut Coffee ought to be stored sealed in its container with the bag’s top folded down. Coffee is known to absorb flavors of food nearby it, so keeping the bag folded tightly closed is highly recommended. The bag came to us fresh and would have lasted until its October 31, 2016 expiration date had we not consumed it all before then!

After brewing, coffee grounds ought to be disposed of. This is not an ideal coffee to make a second pot with (second brewings I attempted came out 1/4 as potent as the first brewing), so this is not an ideal coffee for the coffee miser. These grounds may be thrown in the trash when used or put in a compost pile, if available. Coffee grounds make great compost.

Overall

The Coffee Fool Fool's Caramel Nut Coffee is surprisingly good for anyone looking for a sweeter, lighter, dessert-like coffee!

For other coffee reviews, please visit my reviews of:
Dunkin’ Donuts Cinnamon Coffee Roll Coffee
Four Sisters Coffee Caramel Coffee
Leelanau Snicker Cookie Coffee

7/10

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

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Thursday, April 21, 2016

"Last Refuge" Puts The Legends Of Tomorrow Up Against The Terminator!


The Good: Entertaining, Special effects, Fine performances, Decent character development
The Bad: Very straightforward and basic plot, character moments and acting.
The Basics: Legends Of Tomorrow plays The Terminator for "Last Refuge."


Almost every long-running time-travel adventure ends up paying homage to The Terminator at one point or another. If a conflict through time and space is significant enough, the cunning adversaries work to defeat the heroes before they can ever rise to heroic heights. The Terminator (reviewed here!) is the reference that the Legends Of Tomorrow episode "Last Refuge" is based upon and it makes no attempt to hide the comparisons. When Ray Palmer delivers the iconic "come with me if you want to live" line in the teaser, "Last Refuge" acknowledges the homage to The Terminator.

"Last Refuge" picks up after "The Magnificent Eight" (reviewed here!), which transitioned from a western episode to one that set up the new episode. The introduction of the Omega Protocol and The Pilgrim was a last-moment transition into a very different type of episode, which helps to maintain a strong, serialized, plotline through the first season of Legends Of Tomorrow.

Opening in Central City, 1990, on the night Mick Rory's parents were killed, the crew of the Waverider rescues the younger version of Rory. The Pilgrim next targets Sara Lance and Lance herself rescues her. The Pilgrim's very specific targets quickly stymie the Waverider crew, as they become unable to track her temporal wake. When Ray Palmer suddenly collapses as the result of injuries sustained during an attack from the Pilgrim, the crew has to rescue him when he is on the verge of completing his Atom suit prototype. To prevent the Pilgrim from attacking other versions of the rest of the team, the Waverider crew abducts the infant versions of themselves.

Rip Hunter deposits the children at the Refuge, the place he was raised and where the Time Masters take orphans to fill their ranks. Having to alter her plan, the Pilgrim targets the loved ones of the Waverider's crew. Rip agrees and he offers The Pilgrim a trade; his younger self for Jackson's father. Meeting at a neutral location with his younger self, the team must orchestrate the trade to save their loved ones and stop The Pilgrim.

"Last Refuge" progresses the characters from Legends Of Tomorrow by giving Rip Hunter and Jefferson Jackson backstories that are more fleshed out and by moving forward the Palmer/Saunders relationship. When Palmer is wounded, he does a half-baked proposal to Saunders. Saunders is then compelled to admit that her prior self told her not to get involved with Palmer . . . or anyone else. Rip Hunter's past is well-conceived for the episode's climax and seeing where and how he is raised in the Refuge is very cool.

There are very few times that I review something that I spend more time and space kvetching about what the episode should have been than what it actually was. "Last Refuge," though, is notable for its lack of cleverness. As the episode began, I found myself saying, "It would be really cool if they resolve this problem by just doing to The Pilgrim what she is trying to do to them." That, alas, does not happen. The idea of taking out The Pilgrim when she is temporally vulnerable would completely undo the threat she represents and would play well into the idea of the time travel adventurers dealing with threats in a smart, science fiction context. Sadly, "Last Refuge" opts for a painfully straightforward conflict with The Pilgrim that is largely unremarkable.

The performances in "Last Refuge" are average, the plot is derivative, and the character moments are not as developed as one might hope. But "Last Refuge" is fairly solidly entertaining. The episode is unsophisticated, so it is tough to make a review that delves deeper into it than that.

For other works with Paul Blackthorne, be sure to check out my reviews of:
"Who Is Harrison Wells?" - The Flash
A Christmas Carol

5/10

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

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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