Monday, August 29, 2016

Westeros Uninhibited: Game Of Thrones Season 6 Progresses Beyond The Source Material!


The Good: Good character development, Good plot development, Decent performances
The Bad: Exceptionally detail-oriented for obscure events and characters from prior seasons, Some truly unsatisfying character moments.
The Basics: Game Of Thrones Season Six pushes the narrative of Westeros forward, while relying very heavily on obscure characters and events from prior seasons to make any genuine sense.


I have not been a fan of Game Of Thrones, despite watching it for years with my wife. My wife is a big fan and she had read all of the books and has been eagerly awaiting each new episode of the television series. After a few years of being generally underwhelmed by the first few seasons of Game Of Thrones, I decided to binge watch the first five seasons of the show before watching Season Six. While individual seasons might not grab me, I found by binging the show, I cared more about the characters and their sprawling journeys than I did when it was spread out. That also made me a bit more excited about sitting down to watch and review season six of Game Of Thrones.

The sixth season of Game Of Thrones was arguably the most inherently exciting as it depicted events not written in the source material. After the climax of the fifth season (reviewed here!), Game Of Thrones progressed beyond the novels that George R.R. Martin had written. Treading into new territory allowed the show to stand on its own, return some characters to the narrative and attempt to winnow down some of the storylines.

The sixth season of Game Of Thrones picks up moments after the powerful final events of season five, which means that some of the major characters from the prior seasons are no longer in the narrative and several others have serious challenges to overcome. In addition to returning Bran Stark to the narrative, those who are keeping track of the various claims to the throne of Westeros would note that the sixth season is the first to begin without any truly legitimate candidates fighting for the throne (Daenerys's claim is now three generations removed from legitimacy and Tommen, legitimate or not, is the king and no one is directly combating him for the throne at the season's outset). As such, season six of Game Of Thrones opens with several series's of internal conflicts and struggles, as opposed to a continued war narrative that has dominated the prior four seasons.

The sixth season picks up immediately after the climax of the fifth season with "The Red Woman." There, Jon Snow's body is found by Sir Davos and Snow's one remaining ally at The Wall. While the Red Woman retreats in shock and Sir Alliser seizes power over the Knight's Watch, Sansa Stark and Theon flee Winterfell. Hunted by Ramsay's forces, they are rescued by someone who owes the Boltons more than they know! Blind in Bravos, Arya begs on the street and is attacked by one of her old comrades. In Meereen, Tyrion tries to find the Sons Of The Harpy when they burn the fleet of ships in the harbor. Jaime returns to King's Landing to tell Cersei of Myrcella's death. In Dorn, Ellaria and the Sand Snakes depose Prince Doran and Daenerys discovers what her fate is supposed to be if she stays with the horsemasters.

Bran returns to the narrative in "Home," where he is trained by the Three-Eyed Raven, in the process witnessing his father's childhood! Arya is reunited with her mentor as the Iron Isles sees a change in leadership. Roose Bolton's son is born and Ramsay feels threatened, so he seizes Winterfell. Jaime squares off against the High Sparrow and Tyrion releases Daenerys's two imprisoned dragons. Davos appeals to Melisandre to try to resurrect Jon Snow.

In "Oathbreaker," Jon Snow gets up, much to the chagrin of Davos. Arya continues her training as No One and Daenerys is stuck with the other Khaleesi widows in Dothrak. When Ramsay consolidates power in the North, one of the lords he wants obedience from brings him Osha and Rickon. Bran sees more of the past, when he witnesses the truth behind one of his father's favorite stories. Varys finds out who is financing the Sons Of The Harpy and Cersei creates her own network of spies. As his final act as Lord Commander of the Knight's Watch, Jon executes the people who murdered him.

Daenerys's rescue is the main push of "Book Of The Stranger," though the episode marks the return of Littlefinger, Loras, and Margaery. Theon arrives back in the Iron Isles and pledges his allegiance to his sister, Yara, while Littlefinger manipulates Lord Arryn into committing the Vale's forces to rescuing Sansa. Sansa arrives at Castle Black, where she is reunited with Jon Snow. Soon after, they receive word from Ramsay that he has Rickon and Sansa urges Jon to take back the North with the wildlings. In Meereen, Tyrion tries to compromise with the other leaders in Slaver's Bay with a gradual phase out of slavery, much to the chagrin of Grey Worm and Missandei. While Cersei and Olenna Tyrell make an arrangement for the forces of House Tyrell to take out the Sparrows, Jorah and the sell sword make it to the capital of Dothrak. There, they work with Daenerys to thwart the Khals and free the Queen.

Bran's training dominates "The Door," which also spends significant time on the Iron Isles. Brandon Stark is brought back to the past with the help of the Three-Eyed Raven and he witnesses how The Children created the White Walkers. In Bravos, Arya is given her first assigned kill. Theon vouches for his sister's claim to rule the Iron Isle and both are surprised when their uncle materializes with a plan to take over the world with the help of Daenerys. In Dothrak, Danerys learns of Jorah's infection and tasks him with finding a cure, while Tyrion and Varys turn to a Priestess of the Lord Of Light to get the word out about the peace they brokered in Slaver's Bay. When Sansa is reunited with Littlefinger, she turns him away and volunteers to act as ambassador in the North to the houses there to raise an army against Ramsay. And when Bran wargs on his own, he finds himself in direct contact with the White Walker King and his army, which sets off a tragic attack on the Three Eyed Raven's cave.

"Blood Of My Blood" picks up with Bran fleeing . . . and he is rescued by Benjin, who was thought lost years prior north of the wall. Sam and Gilly make it to the Tully's manor, where they are accepted by Sam's mother and sister, and insulted by Sam's Wildling-hating father. That inspires Sam to finally stand up to his father and take Gilly with him. In King's Landing, the forces of House Martell square off against the High Sparrow, only to learn that Margaery has essentially given them Tommen to earn her freedom. Arya once again betrays the Faceless Men in refusing to kill her mark, leaving their care. And Daenerys is reunited with Drogon, which allows her to inspire the Dothraki who are following her.

Sandor Clegane turns out to be alive in "The Broken Man." He is living with a small community of religious people who found him after Arya left him for dead. Jon Snow, Sansa, and Sir Davos visit some of the minor houses in the North that have not yet aligned with Ramsay and attempt to bring them into Snow's army, while Jaime and Braun reach Riverrun to try to convince the Blackfish to surrender the castle. In King's Landing, Margaery manages to get a message to her grandmother before her grandmother flees for High Garden. Theon and his sister prepare to sail for Meereen to beat her competition to offering Daenerys their fleet first. And in Bravos, Arya is hunted by The Waif.

In "No One," Arya is hunted by The Waif and has to choose between being a Faceless Man and going her own way. Brienne and Jamie reunite at Riverrun where Jamie attempts to get the castle back from the Blackfish and Brienne tries to bring the Blackfish and his soldiers over to Sansa's cause. And after bonding with Grey Worm and Missandei, Tyrion is horrified when the Masters return to Meereen and attempt to attack it from the sea.

"Battle Of The Bastards" features Daenerys liberating Meereen and making a pact with Yara. And Ramsay and Jon Snow go head to head for the climactic, titular conflict.

The season finale was "The Winds Of Winter," which saw Cersei making her move on the High Sparrow, Jon Snow consolidating his support in the North, and Daenerys naming Tyrion her Hand and gaining allies to help her get to and take Westeros!

Game Of Thrones continues to add new characters and forces in its sixth season and with the Iron Isles becoming suddenly relevant, there is the feeling for viewers that the cycle of violence and power struggles might never end . . . or it might not end with any satisfactory sense of resolve. Killing Baelon Greyjoy inspires the show to add yet another significant character in what is a seemingly insignificant part of the narrative. Season Six of Game Of Thrones increases the burden on the writers and producers to tie everything together in subsequent seasons to make viewers believe it was worth it.

Many of the plot developments in the sixth season of Game Of Thrones are dependent upon actions in prior seasons to understand. Arya's final act of the season is entirely dependent upon viewers recalling a story one character told another in one of the earliest seasons of the show. Similarly, Davos's anger when he discovers the charred stag near Jon Snow's camp is utterly incomprehensible within this season. The frustrating aspect of this is that attentive viewers who piece together all of the details from past seasons to fully understand season six of Game Of Thrones are still left with huge gaps in character motivations - like why The Waif has it out for Arya.

The season is also notable for the way it brings back some generally obscure characters - like Benjin, the Blackfish, Thoros Of Myr, etc. - at plot convenient times and expects viewers to be invested in them and remember who they were. While Game Of Thrones is based upon a series of novels and the television series tries to mimic the complexity of a novel, there is surprisingly little heart to the complexity of the show in its sixth season. Zombie Benjin felt like a plot seed; the Blackfish was a background character to an army that was never a serious contender for the throne of Westeros, so his return in season six lacked any real impact. At best, the Blackfish acts as a medium for a character conflict between Jaime and Brienne. But that character conflict goes nowhere; it is built into their characters at this point (they are on opposite sides of a fight now) and the sixth season of Game Of Thrones does not see Jaime growing beyond his simplistic commitment to the Realm. How is it that by this point, after Ramsay has killed his own father in his quest for power, that Jaime cannot see that having Ramsay as an ally is not a viable long-term strategy?! And why the hell would anyone - Jaime included - ever dine with Walder Frey?!

In the prior seasons of Game Of Thrones, it has been difficult to invest in the struggle for who rules Westeros and the split between the civil war in Westeros and the looming threat of the undead north of the wall has been unsatisfying. Season Six of Game Of Thrones struggles to redirect; there is no civil war at the outset of season six, but the show does not really ramp up the impending fight with the White Walkers. Instead, much of season six of Game Of Thrones is designed to delay the White Walker fight and restore the Kingdom to a state of civil war. There is still an attitude of "who cares?" about the struggle for Westeros. In King's Landing, religious zealots have taken over, but because it was Cersei in the fifth season who unleashed them, it's hard not to feel like the horrible crap that the citizens of King's Landing are enduring is a function of Cersei being a lousy character to begin with.

Fortunately, even as the plot reverts to something more familiar (it would be interesting to see how the basic plot of the season lined up with the essential plot of the first season), most of the characters in Game Of Thrones actually progress and develop over the course of the sixth season. In the sixth season of Game Of Thrones, the characters who are still standing are:

Tyrion Lannister - Ruling over Meereen with the help of Varys, Grey Worm and Missandei, he begins to hunt for the Sons Of The Harpy. His first major idea is to release Daenerys's two remaining dragons from their captivity. He tries to make peace with the other two cities by phasing out slavery there and having them cut off their funding to the Sons Of The Harpy. He reluctantly turns to the Lord Of Light's forces for aid in spreading propaganda about Daenerys. He is finally rewarded for his service and intelligence,

Varys - Advising Tyrion in Meereen, he uses his spy network to find out how the Sons Of The Harpy are being financed. He is even more wary of the Lord Of Light's priestess in Meereen, arguably because she knows so much about him. He goes on a diplomatic mission to the far reaches of Westeros to get Daenerys what she needs to get to Westeros from Meereen,

Jaime Lannister - He returns to King's Landing. There, he is reunited with Cersei and discovers how much power the Faith Militant have accumulated. He allies with Cersei to try to influence the Small Council and take the capital back from the Sparrows. He attempts to rescue Margaery with House Martell, but is removed from the King's Guard by Tommen. In retaking Riverrun for the King, he does everything he can to not have to go up against Brienne, including letting her escape,

Cersei Lannister - Shaken because the witch she met as a child's prophecies have come true, she is relieved when Jaime stands up for her. Tommen finally visits her and expresses his guilt for not being able to protect her. She begins using the zombie version of the Mountain to eliminate her enemies. When the Small Council walks out on her, she tries to manipulate Olenna Tyrell into fighting the Sparrows for her. When Tommen joins the Sparrows, she orders Jamie to retake Riverrun from the Blackfish for the Frays. While he is gone, she makes her move to defeat the Faith Militant in King's Landing,

Margaery Tyrell - She refuses to confess to the High Sparrow, even after she is told that Tommen has been despondent since she was imprisoned. She is given the opportunity to see Loras, finally, and tries to convince him not to give in to the High Sparrow. Soon thereafter, though, she convinces Tommen to join the High Sparrow. She figures out Cersei's endgame moments before her plan is executed,

Daenerys Targaryen - Captured by a different Khal, she is told that she is expected to return to a temple in the capital of Dothrak where all the widows of Khals live out their lives. When her allies arrive, she plots to save herself and gain command over the Dothraki in one ballsy move. She accepts Jorah's love and help, but sends him away to try to find a cure for greyscale. She is reunited with her dragon, which helps her wield the authority she needs over the Dothraki and Meereen,

Jon Snow - Having been betrayed and killed, he is resurrected by the power of the Lord Of Light. After slaying his enemies within the Knight's Watch, he declares his watch over and is reunited with Sansa. He tries to organize the North against Ramsay, with Sansa's help. He moves to save Rickon, thwart Ramsay and retake Winterfell,

Sansa Stark - Effectively fleeing Winterfell with the help of Theon, she accepts Brienne as her protector. After arriving at Castle Black, she rallies Jon to take back the North for the Starks. She comes to loathe Baelish and rejects his friendship when she encounters him again. She acts as ambassador for Jon Snow and fights to reclaim Winterfell for the Starks. She understands Ramsay and tries to use her knowledge to save Rickon and stop Jon Snow from falling into Ramsay's trap,

Lord Petyr Baelish - He arrives back in the Vale, lying as always. He manipulates Lord Arynn into committing the Vale's forces to fight Ramsay. He is pushed away by Sansa, who finally sees him for the liar he is. Despite that, he manages to keep his word to Sansa as the most important moment,

Brienne Of Tarth - After saving Sansa, she and Pod pledge service to Sansa. When they make it to Castle Black, she has the chance to reveal to Davos and Melisandre how Stanis met his end. She is made uncomfortable by Tormund and the way he looks at her, though she is also disturbed by Sansa lying about how she obtained information about Sansa's uncle. She is sent to try to get the Blackfish's forces for Jon Snow, but works to stop Jaime from degenerating into a bloodthirsty monster,

Ramsay Bolton - Threatened by the birth of his younger brother, he slays his father, step-mother, and the newborn to consolidate his control over the North. Murdering Osha, he holds Rickon Stark hostage to bait Jon Snow into open conflict with him. He goads Jon into a fight,

Melisandre - Her true nature is revealed after she is powerless to save John Snow. She is as shocked as Davos when Jon Snow is resurrected. She follows Jon Snow around, but does little to influence him . . . until Davos learns what she did to Stanis's daughter,

and Arya Stark - Blind as a consequence for killing a person she had a personal vendetta for, she learns how to be no one as a blind beggar. When she finally surrenders, she is granted her sight back and continues to train to be a faceless person. When she finds herself captivated by an actress she is supposed to kill, she betrays the faceless men and is hunted by the Waif. Having trained blind, she develops a clever trap to thwart her enemy.

The sixth season of Game Of Thrones is where Sophie Turner finally begins to excel as Sansa Stark. Early in the season, she is forced to play a wider array of emotions - more than simply the spoiled girl or the victim - and she nails it. It's virtually impossible to watch Turner's Sansa in the snow and not feel like one is freezing to death! Turner makes a good transition over the course of the season to strengthen Sansa's character. While many of the other female actors - most notably Maise Williams and Lena Headey - do great work at presenting their characters, they were badass to begin with.

Ultimately, despite how insular and self-referential it has become, season six of Game Of Thrones features enough character development and high points for plot development to make it well worth watching and adding to one's video library.

For other works from the 2015 – 2016 television season, please check out my reviews of:
Grace And Frankie - Season 2
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 3
The Walking Dead - Season 6
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Season 2
Legends Of Tomorrow - Season 1
Jessica Jones - Season 1
Daredevil - Season 2
House Of Cards - Season 4
Doctor Who - Season 9

8/10

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

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Shea Moisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar Delivers Limited Results For A High Price!


The Good: Cleans hair well, Inoffensive scent
The Bad: VERY Expensive, Scent wears off surprisingly quick, Limited conditioning properties on its own
The Basics: Shea Moisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar is very expensive and does not do much for hair to justify the expense.


I am, admittedly, not an overly stylish person and I care nothing for fashion or impressing others. As a result, whenever I review a health and beauty product, my priorities are on effectiveness as a cleaner, lasting aesthetic effect, and expense. So, while a professional stylist might have a more sophisticated opinion on a health and beauty product - especially when it comes to long-term usage, I tend to have a pragmatic approach that is useful to a layperson. As a result, some of the more sophisticated and expensive products I get in for review do not rate very highly with me because there are other, less-expensive products that do as much or more. That is where I ended up with the Shea Moisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar.

Shea Moisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar is a high-end shampoo that delivers average results for a pretty high price. The Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar is decent at cleaning, but has a fairly mild scent, almost no lathering ability, and is several times the price of most shampoos.

I love shampoos that both clean and leave hair smelling good. The Shea Moisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar did the former well, but did not leave a distinctive or interesting scent in the hair after use. After my first use of the shampoo, my hair was perfectly cleaned and smelled clean and vaguely fruity. Using the Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar improved the look and feel of my hair, cutting through build-up from other, less-expensive shampoos. The Shea Moisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar was an effective cleaner, but it does so without flair or lasting scent results.

With a cost of approximately $20 (or more in some salons!) for a 13 fl. oz. bottle, Shea Moisture Repair & Protect is very expensive. The bottle is smooth and round, opaque which suggests that the fluid inside should not be exposed to UV rays (something I once learned at a dairy I toured!). When wet, the bottle slips out of the hands easily. The cap screws off, which makes it a little more difficult to get the shampoo out while showering. The fluid inside the bottle is an opaque pearlescent white, reminiscent of a hand cream or a good conditioner.

The scent of Shea Moisture Repair & Protect is very much a fruity, mildly floral smell. The shampoo smells like an indistinct mix of fruits and shea butter (or at least what I know of Shea Butter as a scent from Bath & Body Works products!). The scent is surprisingly weak. As one might expect from the scent as it comes out of the bottle, there is virtually no scent left on the hair after the shampoo is washed out. The scent of the Shea Moisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar lingers for only about four hours and as the scent degrades, it ends up as vaguely apple scented when one really forces their nose into the hair. The scent might accurately be mongongo fruit, but I have no experience with that. As a result, this weakly-scented shampoo does not trigger anything pleasant from what little aroma it has . . . for the brief amount of time it does linger.

Like most shampoos, there is nothing mysterious to using the Shae Moisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar. You wet your hair, lather it up with this shampoo and rinse. Unlike most shampoos, I had to use a half-dollar-sized dollop of the Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar shampoo. This is a bit more than other shampoos I use and have reviewed. As well, the Shea Moisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar has very low viscosity and lather quality. This shampoo is very thick and does not excessively lather, regardless of water in hair and agitation. As a result, the Shea Moisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar takes a bit more effort to wash it out of the hair.

I don't like to spend a ton of time on my hair, but I like the results of a good shampoo or conditioner. The Shea Moisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar is an average shampoo, but one pays for the quality and between the initial expense and the cost of usage, it is impossible to recommend.

The Shea Moisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar does not make my hair feel heavy when it is still wet, and once dry, the shampoo leaves hair clean and moisturized, but not with any strong scents or phenomenal conditioned quality. Washing my hair as much as I do, I could end up with very dry hair, but the Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar eliminates any adverse affects to washing hair so much, but it does so at too high a cost to be worthwhile to most consumers.

For other shampoo reviews, please check out my analysis of:
Garnier Fructis Triple Nutrition Dry, Damaged Hair Fortifying Shampoo
Suave Professionals Black Raspberry + White Tea Shampoo
VO5 Shea Cashmere Silky Experiences Shampoo

4/10

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

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Anything But Epic: XOXO Is A Jumbled Mess!


The Good: Well-directed
The Bad: Generally mediocre performances, Unlikable characters, Stupid plot/predictable and lousy development
The Basics: In the attempt to create a memorable narrative for a party story, XOXO only illustrates the irresponsibility and stupidity of youth culture today.


After watching the Netflix original film Tallulah (reviewed here!), I found myself wondering if there was going to be - consistently - a quality difference between the Netflix Original Films and the Netflix television series's. Having now watched XOXO, it is hard not to feel like there is a deep schism between the two production groups working for Netflix. Perhaps XOXO is the type of film one ends up with when writers are willing to sign exclusivity clauses for script consideration (as writers try to search for a venue at a production company, they tend to pitch buckshot - to anyone who will listen and read their script; Netflix requires [or did the last time I checked] writers to sign a non-compete clause which prevents them from pitching the script to multiple production companies at a time). In other words, XOXO might be the best of what unrepresented talent can get produced when there are not multiple companies bidding on a project.

I went into XOXO blind; knowing only the title and that it was released this weekend on Netflix. XOXO is a youth culture party film that is essentially Netflix's excuse to never have to put Project X (reviewed here!) on their streaming service. If Woodstock wer held today by a bunch of young, vacuous, drug-using, electronic music lovers on the West Coast, the result would be XOXO.

Ethan Shaw is living at home with his family, producing his own music on his computer, with his mother's vocals, when he gets his first internet hit "All I Ever Wanted." Ethan's boss gets him a set as DJ at the club XOXO and tells the young musician eight hours before the set begins. Tariq has to spend the day working at the restaurant his father owns instead of helping Ethan, sending him on a party bus to the club instead of dealing with him. Leading up to the night at the club, the ravers prepare for the night of partying. Krystal lets her friends dress her up for meeting Jordan for the first time. Neil runs the local music store that is going out of business and he runs the party bus while Shannie and her boyfriend prepare to do a lot of drugs at the rave and unwittingly meet Ethan Shaw (whose set they are looking forward to).

The party bus breaks down, Tariq is kissed by a girl with a tab of acid on her tongue, Ethan cannot get in or backstage, and Shannie and her boyfriend have to sneak into the rave after the ticket sales reach capacity. While Krystal searches for Jordan, Ethan encounters a new manager, Chopper, who runs another DJ's career and tries to seduce the young new DJ to his label. Shannie fights with her boyfriend in the sewer, while Ethan arrives on stage to discover the venue does not have the cables he needs and Neil tries to avoid the bus partiers to whom he owes money.

XOXO is just dumb. As a reviewer, we want to make a sophisticated analysis, but sometimes there are projects that just plain suck. By the time the tipping Tariq appears to go headfirst into a port-a-john, XOXO has passed to point of being irredeemably bad. And at that point, the film is only about the halfway point.

What XOXO has going for it is the direction and even that is, unfortunately, inconsistent. Co-writer and director Christopher Louie does an excellent job with directing the dance scenes and the drug scenes to capture the frenetic quality and the surrealism of tripping on acid. But the use of handheld cameras for so many of the other scenes undermines the sense of contrast between reality and stable character moments and the party. In other words, to land the surreal, it helps to have direction that creates a familiar environment that makes it possible to empathize with the characters. Louie's direction lacks that basic contrast to land the narrative.

Sarah Hyland headlines XOXO as Krystal and she plays a young woman who is smart and idealistic so incredibly well that it guts her part of the jumbled narrative. Krystal seems to have her head on straight, she had a decent amount of wisdom to her monologues and she has clear goals; there is nothing within the film that at all explains believably how or why she would go to XOXO or be around the jagweed friends she has. Much of XOXO is waiting for Krystal to suffer a horrible sexual violation given how she makes a number of terrible decisions while around a whole bunch of inebriated, high, young, dumb people who are acting irresponsibly. Perhaps the least realistic aspect of XOXO is how there aren't screams in the background constantly from people getting the shit raped out of them at the rave.

Brett DelBuono holds his own on the performance front with Hyland. Tariq is a fairly interesting character who has the worst night of his life and is the only one truly not responsibly for the initial conflict he runs into. DelBuono plays the drama of Tariq standing up to his father well and he plays tripping exceptionally well. Having seen interviews with Ryan Hansen, his performance in XOXO is the result of acting (in interviews and commentary tracks, he seems like a nice guy and pretty articulate), but his role of DJ Avilo is essentially the natural continuation of his character from Veronica Mars. Hansen plays assholes well, but we've seen that from him before, so XOXO does not add anything to his body of work.

Most of XOXO is a mess of contrived characters acting irresponsibly and plot-convenient character collisions. The interrelated nature of the characters in XOXO is intended to mimic something like Love Actually (reviewed here!) and it lacks the character depth, narrative strength, and quality of performances of that film. Instead, XOXO is a shallow, pale, youth-targeted party dance movie that does not have depth, originality, or strength on any front to make it worth sitting through.

For other new release movies, please check out my reviews of:
Spaceman
The Whole Truth
Suicide Squad
Nerve
Star Trek Beyond
Breaking The Bank

1/10

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

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Peter David Makes She-Hulk Into A Buddy Dramedy With Jaded!


The Good: Good character development, Artwork, Much of the plot
The Bad: Lack of plot resolution/subplot that goes nowhere, Artwork for Jennifer Walters at the end of the book.
The Basics: She-Hulk Volume 6: Jaded finds Jennifer Walter making another big life transition after she loses all of her friends and allies and teams up with a Skrull.


I grew up reading the Star Trek novels of Peter David and his writing style was part of what encouraged me to become a writer. So, as my tastes have grown and changed and I have gotten into different franchises or characters, I am always excited when I find works by Peter David in the new thing I'm into. As I continue to revisit She-Hulk - my She-Hulk Year gave me a real appreciation for the character! - I was pretty psyched to see that Peter David had a stint as head writer for the She-Hulk comic book for a while. The first anthology of his works as writer for the continuing story of Jennifer Walters is She-Hulk Volume 6: Jaded, a book that follows She-Hulk's life after the events of Civil War (reviewed here!).

David picks up the story of Jennifer Walters at a potentially awkward place. Walters is without a job, without any recognizable allies and she has essentially renounced her position as a super-hero. As a simple narrative device, it makes perfect sense that She-Hulk Volume 6: Jaded would feature some new characters and that Jennifer Walters would need a sidekick. Lacking a sidekick, David would have been forced to resort to extended external narration (the comic book equivalent of voiceovers) or the inorganic technique of having the protagonist talk to herself the whole time. Jennifer Walters's sidekick, Jazinda, is a surprisingly strong addition to the character's narrative, which helps make She-Hulk Volume 6: Jaded instantly intriguing and readable.

Jennifer Walters has left her life as a lawyer (and as an Avenger) behind and is now working as a skip tracer for F.B.I. (Freeman Bonding, Inc.). Rockwell Davis, Hi-Lite, attempts a museum heist when a guard walks in and has a heart attack. Unwilling to let the guard die, Davis saves the guard's life and is captured by the police, but goes on the lam before his trial begins. Walters hunts Davis down in Minnesota, but before she can take him away, Davis's cousin, Carl Creel (the Absorbing Man) arrives to take on Walters. She-Hulk is beset both by Creel and Titania, who is in a miniaturized form, pounding away at her eardrum. She-Hulk's fight with Creel takes them through the Mall Of America where She-Hulk has to rely upon her partner, who appears to be Jennifer Walters, for back-up.

She-Hulk's partner is Jazinda, a Skrull, and together they bring Davis to Brooklyn. Despite problems with F.B.I.'s insurance provider, Walters gets paid and goes out to a bar, where she meets Bran. While she is immediately attracted to Bran, she is thrown when his flirting quickly transitions into him setting off a bomb. Returning to the trailer park after saving as many lives as she can, Walters and Jazinda identify Bran and begin a hunt for him. En route, Jennifer and Jazinda are waylaid by an alien ship which is carrying a Froma, a green alien from a Gamma Radiation-saturated planet, who mistakes Walters for a relative. Cazon convinces Jazinda to help him escape the bounty hunters who are after him, but in the process she discovers he is the killer he is accused of being. She-Hulk fights the bounty hunter who is hunting Cazon, until the truth is revealed. In dealing with the consequences of that fight, Jennifer Walters finds herself forced to turn to the life she rejected for resolution.

She-Hulk Volume 6: Jaded works well because the characters are interesting and the book has a decent grounding in very relatable human morality. Even the first villain has a decent sense of ethics to him. Davis puts the human life of a guard over the potential profit he would make stealing the (potentially) Holy Grail. The morality adds a sense of character to an otherwise flat character (and gives readers the hope that Peter David still has his wry wit to him in that he immediately calls out the potential plot hole of a guy stealing the Holy Grail, but giving his inadvertent victim CPR).

The moralization and sense of loss for the protagonist is well-executed. Instead of seeming melodramatic, She-Hulk Volume 6: Jaded finds Jennifer Walters dealing with the full weight of her recent decisions and experiencing loss that is not simply overcome. Even as she explicitly rejects being a superhero, Walters chides Davis for risking his mother's house when he breaks his bail. Walter's attitude when saving Park from the bombed out rubble is equally heroic and moral; she spends She-Hulk Volume 6: Jaded trying to do the right thing, without judging the quality of the people she is attempting to keep safe.

The reveal of Jazinda is fun. Jazinda is a pretty cool character, where her alien nature allows her to get away with monstrous actions, like telling Roz's father that she is dead. There is an initial frustrating aspect to Jazinda's alien biology, but David smartly plays it to the point where it might become unbearable before rewarding the patient reader with making her abilities sensible and the source of future conflict. Jazinda and Walters play off one another well and David writes their banter well and their conflict with psychoanalyzing one another equally well.

While Jazinda is cool, she acts as a medium for the somewhat lamer subplot surrounding the new character Roz, from the trailer park, and her family. She-Hulk Volume 6: Jaded further confuses the reader by immediately throwing in a different troubled married couple to add another subplot. These extra characters are much like the fairly generic villains in She-Hulk Volume 6: Jaded. Carl Creel is written in She-Hulk Volume 6: Jaded as an utterly generic adversary for She-Hulk and I only appreciated his appearance at all because I recognized his character from the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode "Shadows" (reviewed here!). Similarly, Titania's vengeful attitude toward She-Hulk is alluded to without a single example of past wrongs done to her. That makes her appear as unremarkable an enemy as Cazon.

Despite some weak adversarial characters, there is much to recommend She-Hulk Volume 6: Jaded. The artwork in the book features wonderful coloring throughout. While the last chapter's rendition of Jennifer Walters looks very little like the rendition in the first chapter (she suddenly has brown hair, reminiscent of the human corpse from the prior chapter!), most of the book the characters are recognizable. The book has a low sense of movement and some of the book seems rushed in that regard. For example, a single panel is used to indicate a space ship is spiraling down and out of control.

Ultimately, though, She-Hulk Volume 6: Jaded is an enjoyable read which encourages readers to look back into the character of Jennifer Walters and find her journey compelling once again.

For other She-Hulk books from this period in Jennifer Walter's life, please visit my reviews of:
Single Green Female
Superhuman Law
Time Trials
Laws Of Attraction
Planet Without A Hulk
Secret Invasion

7/10

For other book reviews, please check out my Graphic Novel Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Be Afraid Of What Is Really In The Dark: "Silence In The Library" Succeeds!


The Good: Plot, Performances, Moments of character
The Bad: Light on character development, Set-up without resolution
The Basics: "Silence In The Library" effectively introduces River Song and the Vashta Nerada to intrigue Doctor Who fans and give them nightmares!


In the history of science fiction, there are remarkably few adversaries that are either not ruined by overexposure or remain ridiculously underdeveloped. A great example of the former is The Borg from the Star Trek franchise; they began as horrifying, menacing, and virtually unstoppable in Star Trek: The Next Generation and were weakened into essentially a cybernetic cult in Star Trek: Voyager. A great example of the latter are the Vashta Nerada. To date, the Vashta Nerada only appear in the Doctor Who two-parter "Silence In The Library" and "Forest Of The Dead."

While the Vashta Nerada make their debut in "Silence In The Library," their appearance is largely overshadowed by the first appearance of River Song. River Song is an immensely popular secondary character in Doctor Who and given that viewers get to see her and not the Vashta Nerada, it's unsurprising that fans remember "Silence In The Library" for River Song instead of the shadowy adversary. "Silence In The Library" follows on the tradition of "Blink" (reviewed here!) in creating an incredibly scary adversary that is based on something that is (more or less) around everywhere.

Opening with a little girl suspended in midair above a massive library, the girl is revealed to be in therapy. During her session with Dr. Moon, the girl is alarmed when someone tries to break into the room she is in in the library in her mind. Unbeknownst to her, it is The Doctor and Donna Noble. It is the 51st Century when The Doctor and Donna arrive at the Library, an entire planet that serves as a repository of all humanity's printed works. The Doctor is shocked to realize that there is no one in the library, though some form of life is registering on the planet at more than a million million lifeforms. Donna theorizes that maybe the books are registering as life forms, but before that can be explored, a Node contacts The Doctor and Donna with a message from the library itself. The Node's message is laced with menace that someone has come to the Library and another message advises people at the library to count the shadows.

Running from the darkness, The Doctor and Donna enter a room with a levitating security droid. The droid houses the personality of the little girl and the girl foresees others coming into the library. Moments later, a team of astronauts arrives in the library, led by the archaeologist River Song, who appears to recognize and know The Doctor. The Doctor informs Donna that the fear of the dark comes from an entity called the Vashta Nerada, which are like shadow piranha in the air. Shadows can be infected with Vashta Nerada, which then consume the people in contact with the shadow. The Vashta Nerada consume Miss Evangelista, removing all of her flesh from her body (though her space suit's interface continues working even after she is dead). After the last echoes of Evangelista fade, the Doctor explains what the Vashta Nerada are and he tries to get Donna out of the library while the rescue team is attacked.

"Silence In The Library" features a message for The Doctor that comes through space and time to his psychic paper, much like the Face Of Boe did on "New Earth" (reviewed here!). That immediately puts River Song on par with Captain Harkness. It's intriguing to see someone who recognizes The Doctor, but claims he looks younger than she has ever seen him, which makes sense for The Doctor encountering her for the first time. The mystery in "Silence In The Library" comes from River Song: when the Library was sealed 100 years before, a message went out to the owner's family stating that 4022 people were saved, without any survivors. Figuring out what that means is the conceit that allows the expedition to be in the same time and place as The Doctor and Donna.

The other major conceit in "Silence In The Library" is the narrative technique of the little girl's world set opposite the "real" world of the library. The entire subplot with the little girl and Dr. Moon is established to explain the mystery of the people who went missing when the library was sealed one hundred years ago. The mystery is not resolved in "Silence In The Library" and while CAL and Dr. Moon are referenced, how they tie in with "Forest Of The Dead" is in no way clear in this episode.

Donna Noble continues to be characterized as the ultimate pragmatist in "Silence In The Library." She calls bullshit on the sonic screwdriver not working on wood. She bonds with Miss Evangelista, the resident personal assistant in the group of astronauts. Both Noble and Evangelista are fish out of water; so the brief time that Evangelista is in the episode, she gives Donna Noble a very humanizing moment and an actual relationship.

The corporate aspect that is prevalent throughout Davies's tenure as showrunner for Doctor Who is present in the form of Mr. Lux, the owner of the library. He is, in many ways, a stereotype or a parody of a businessman. Still, he adds a convincing realism to an episode that is chock full of either long, slow build-up or seemingly supernatural aspects.

The performances in "Silence In The Library" are universally good. Alex Kingston explodes onto the screen as River Song and she and Catherine Tate share a scene that, in lesser hands, could have been boring exposition. Kingston is given a surprisingly heavy emotional scene and she does an excellent job of adding weight and the impression of experience to one of her earliest scenes with Tennant's Doctor. Tennant and Tate continue their incredible chemistry together with well-written banter passing between them seemingly effortlessly. The big surprise is how quickly Kingston and Tennant get into a repartee.

"Silence In The Library" is not flawless and not just because director Euros Lyn has a shot where River Song takes The Doctor's hand and starts running only to have the shot reframed and they are no longer proximate enough to be holding hands. The episode is much more a set-up episode than a clever execution of its ideas. It is a remarkably effective introduction of River Song and the Vashta Nerada. But while "Silence In The Library" is more than enough to make viewers afraid of the Vashta Nerada that could live in any shadows, it is not quite enough to make viewers care about River Song. Fortunately, it gets an amazing follow-up and is clever enough to make viewers want to follow up upon it!

For other works with Josh Dallas, please visit my reviews of:
Once Upon A Time - Season 2
Once Upon A Time - Season 1
Thor

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

8/10

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

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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"We're Gonna' Need A Bigger Shelf!" The Sharknado Pop! Vinyl Figure!


The Good: Adorable, Stable, Collectible value
The Bad: Ridiculously expensive now, Concept is incomplete in its base.
The Basics: The Pop! Vinyl Sharknado figure is fun and worth tracking down for those who love collectibles from d-rate movies!


There are a few ways my wife and I differ significantly. When it comes to media, I tend to go for drama; she loves comedy. We both love science fiction, but while I tend to be drawn to the cerebral and sometimes disturbing, my wife is enamored with science fiction that makes her laugh (ironically, she is a huge Game Of Thrones fan, so she loves her Fantasy dark and gory!). While I have filled our home with collectibles, my wife has not really gotten into collecting merchandise from the programs she loves (I'm getting her there!). When I was out at our local discount store on a bad day my wife was having, kismet converged upon us when they had a Pop! Vinyl Sharknado toy. The Pop! Vinyl Sharknado figure, as it turns out, is incredibly valuable on the secondary market to collectors of obscure and adorable Pop! Vinyl figures, but we managed to find it dirt cheap at the discount store, presumably, because some collector returned it because of its damaged box. Well, my wife doesn't abide by the whole "collectibles have to be kept in their packaging" ridiculousness (on that, we agree!), so it was a perfect fit for her and her slowly-growing collection.

For those unfamiliar with the Sharknado, the SyFy Network film Sharknado and its subsequent sequels involve the convergence of weather phenomenon and natural predator disasters when spouts of water bring sharks out of the deep and into the air. The tornadoes filled with sharks fall upon populated areas where the protagonist just happens to be and he has to kill sharks and stop the weather events to save the city or the world.

The Pop! Vinyl Sharknado figure is an adorable shark on a watery base with waterspout pieces embedded into its side and a tornado halo on the top of the shark!

Basics

The Sharknado Pop! Vinyl figure is a shark within a water spout only vaguely reminiscent of anything from Sharknado. The figure stands 4" tall from the bottom of the base to the tip of the dorsal fin. The Sharknado figure is 4 3/4" long and 3 1/2" wide.

This toy is a cool sculpt, even if it is pretty basic and more conceptual than representative. The Pop! Vinyl Sharknado figure is a generic gray shark figure with giant black eyes and an open mouth with big white teeth. The shark is, frankly, adorable. The teeth are not sharp, so the toy is fairly safe to be around people. The ventral fins look somewhat stuck on and Funko actually did an awesome job with the detailing in that the underside of the shark is an off-white color!

What makes the shark into a Sharknado Pop! Vinyl figure is the base, the translucent water spout pieces attached to the sides of the shark and the halo water spout on the top of the shark figure. Here is where the figure could have been more representative of the actual sharknadoes from the movies; the base is essentially choppy water. Had the base or any of the other pieces had fins or even painted on little sharks, it would have been more emblematic of the swarm of sharks from the movie. As it is, the Pop! Vinyl Sharknado figure is one cute little sharknado for the shelf!

Accessories

The Sharknado Pop! Vinyl figure comes only with its choppy water stand, no other accessories. No part of the water spout is detachable from the shark, so the figure remains a consistent, stable Sharknado. The Sharknado does not detach from the stand and keeps the figure perfectly stable there.

Playability

The Pop! Vinyl toy line was designed for collectors, not children. The Sharknado Pop! Vinyl figure has no articulation, even in its jaw. As a result, this is like a cute little ridiculous statue and it is definitely intended for display more than play.

Collectibility

The Sharknado is part of the Pop! Vinyl Movie collection, which is a pretty expansive collection. Despite my finding this Pop! Vinyl figure dirt cheap, the Sharknado Pop! Vinyl figure is one of the most expensive and has already appreciated in value. The fact that there was a bloody-mouth San Diego Comic Con variant did nothing to depress the value of this Funko figure, so one suspects that it is at its peak price point now. As more Sharknado films are released, it is likely this will continue to appreciate in value given it is one of the few Sharknado-themed collectibles on the market!

Overview

The Pop! Vinyl Sharknado toy is ridiculous and adorable and while it might not be my thing (or objectively perfect), it is surprisingly cute and it quickly has become one of the few collectibles my wife has come to treasure. That makes it pretty exceptional in my book!

For other fairly random toys, please check out my reviews of:
Boushh Star Wars Pop! Vinyl Bobble-Head
Wizard World Chicago Invader Zim (Old Man Disguise) Invader Zim Action Figure
12" Clockwork Man Doctor Who Doll

8.5/10

For other toy reviews, please check out the Random Toy Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Friday, August 26, 2016

Regular Rebellion Results From The Circle In The Square!


The Good: Decent lyrics, Vocals are not bad . . .
The Bad: Overproduced, Vocals are very predictable and basic, Musically indistinct
The Basics: The Circle In The Square by Flobots illustrates just how hard it can be for a hip hop band to stay politically relevant.


As August nears its end, I am at the end of the Flobots experience (for now). While I was very impressed by Fight With Tools (reviewed here!) and did not have the issued most people seemed ot have with Survival Story (reviewed here!), after several listens, I am finding The Circle In The Square wanting. The Circle In The Square sounds like a number of other hip hop albums and the comparison one might make between Flobots and The Black-Eyed Peas seems especially apt on their third album.

The Circle In The Square is not a horrible album, but it is largely unimpressive and what one might expect of a politically-themed hip hop album. There is a mild musical progression between the Flobots debut and The Circle In The Square, but the album makes one thing that this would have been what The Black-Eyed Peas would have been doing if they had kept their music socially-conscious, like their first mainstream hit, "Where's The Love?" But because The Circle In The Square is generally mundane, it is hard to get excited about writing much about the work.

With eighteen tracks, with more than fifty-two minutes of music, The Circle In The Square is very much the work of Flobots. The band wrote all of the lyrics and composed the songs as well. Flobots plays all of the instruments on The Circle In The Square; this seems very much to be the album they intended to create.

Unfortunately, much of The Circle In The Square feels derivative. The vocals on "Gonna Be Free" sound like Anthony Kiedis and most of the raps sound generic and amelodic. Once again, Mackenzie Roberts's vocals stand out as some of the most distinctive of the album on The Circle In The Square. Her performance on "The Rose And The Thistle" is hypnotic and captivating in a way none of the other tracks are.

Instrumentally, none of the songs on The Circle In The Square stand out as a would-be single. Auditorily, the album is largely indistinct with none of the songs having a musical presence like the tracks on their prior albums. "Sides" sounds like a Red Hot Chili Peppers song and "One Last Show" could have been a lost Black-Eyed Peas track.

What saves The Circle In The Square from being unlistenable are the lyrics. Once again, Flobots has perceptive, politically-astute lines that continue to resonate even years later. Indeed, Flobots does not mortgage its audience when the group sings about gun violence: "Saw the wounds, heard the screams, thought about your last meal / How we ate like kings, how you led us all in grace / How nobody had foreseen what would soon take place / And when everything went down / The silence you left was the strangest sound" ("On Loss And Having").

Given that The Circle In The Square was released in 2012, it is unsurprising that they have some somewhat dated anti-capitalist rhetoric. The song "#Occupyearth" is a clear allusion to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Even so, while it has references like "And we're called a crowd / And we have the tools / So we sing aloud / And we stand up / And we all fall down," it still manages to try for some more universal messages like "I collect recollections / And echoed reflections of moments of loyalty / And defection and measure my essence / A servant or despot, storm or a tempest / Word or a sentence, was I heard or never mentioned" ("#Occupyearth").

Perhaps what is most notable about The Circle In The Square is that Flobots does not shy away from controversy. On "Wrestling Israel," Flobots attempts to tackle the difficulties presenting the nation of Israel in a musical fashion. With the lines "A measure of a man is kindness / Why do I preach to the choir and whatever my kind is? / My eyes are on the other side of minus / If my lifestyle tapes from the other side, I'm fine with / Threats to my climate hang in the air like promise" ("Wrestling Israel"), Flobots throws their hat into the philosophical ring of the Middle East quagmire.

Ultimately, though, The Circle In The Square is an unremarkable album and it leaves fans hoping that as the band continues, Flobots finds a way to create something truly captivating like they once did.

The best track are "Run (Run Run Run)" and "The Rose And The Thistle;" the rest of the album is pretty forgettable.

For other works from former Artist Of The Month artists, please visit my reviews of:
Blackstar - David Bowie
Remember - Janis Ian
Cold Spring Harbor - Billy Joel

4.5/10

See how this album stacks up against all of the others I have reviewed by checking out my Music Review Index Page where the reviews are organized from best to worst rated!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Not Selling Me On The Execution, Ben & Jerry’s Pistachio Pistachio Ice Cream Underwhelms!


The Good: Good ingredients, Not terrible on the nutrition front, Fair trade certified
The Bad: Exceptionally weak flavor, More expensive than other ice creams.
The Basics: Ben & Jerry’s Pistachio Pistachio Ice Cream is about as good as a pistachio ice cream might be, but it's enough to prove to me that I don't love pistachio ice cream.


As summer comes to an end, my local grocery store has begun a clearance sale on a ton of different ice creams. Among them was Ben & Jerry’s Pistachio Pistachio ice cream. I’m a huge fan of pistachios. I love salted pistachios; I have been wowed by some flavors of pistachios. But the truth is, I have never been enamored with pistachio ice cream. Pistachio ice cream has, in my experience, been only a faint recreation of pistachio flavor. So, when I encountered Ben & Jerry’s Pistachio Pistachio ice cream, my thought was that if anyone could make a decent pistachio ice cream, it would be Ben & Jerry's.

And they came close, I suppose. Ben & Jerry's Pistachio Pistachio ice cream is as mild as other pistachio ice creams, with more vibrantly flavorful pistachios embedded in it.

Basics

Ben & Jerry’s ice cream comes in a pint container. The Pistachio Pistachio Ice Cream is a mostly smooth ice cream with full pistachio nuts embedded in it. There are no other additives other than the nuts in this ice cream.

At (locally) $5.99 a pint, before it went on clearance, the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is an expensive ice cream, especially compared to other pistachio ice creams. Given how pistachio ice cream is a weird staple ice cream most places, perhaps what is most remarkable about Ben & Jerry's Pistachio Pistachio ice cream is that it is not artificially colored green.

Ease Of Preparation

The Pistachio Pistachio Ice Cream is a light ice cream that is loaded with pistachios. As an ice cream, preparation is ridiculously simple: one need only open the top of the container, scoop out a half cup and consume! There is no trick to preparing or eating the Pistachio Pistachio Ice Cream!

Taste

Pistachio Pistachio ice cream smells like cream and pistachio nuts. The aroma is exactly what one expects for pistachios, thanks to pistachio pudding. The aroma of this ice cream, though, is enough like actual pistachio nuts that those who love pistachios are likely to recognize the scent.

In the mouth, Ben & Jerry’s Pistachio Pistachio ice cream tastes like sweet cream with a buttery sub-flavor. The ice cream itself is sweet and milky, combined with a faint buttery quality. Nearer the embedded pistachio nuts, the Pistachio Pistachio ice cream is appropriately nutty. The pistachio nuts taste like pistachio nuts and add texture to the ice cream without overwhelming it on the flavor front.

This ice cream has a fairly sweet aftertaste, which lingers in the mouth for several minutes after the last of it is consumed. The pistachio nuts are so coated in ice cream that, at best, they leave their buttery flavor in the mouth, as opposed to drying out the mouth.

Nutrition

The Ben & Jerry’s Pistachio Pistachio Ice Cream is a fairly light ice cream with a strong, nutty additive. The pint represents four half-cup servings. In the half-cup serving, there are 280 calories, 170 of which are from fat. The nineteen grams of fat represent 29% of the RDA of fat, with 50% of one’s RDA of saturated fat coming in the 10 grams of saturated fat in this ice cream. One serving has 80 mg of cholesterol (that’s 27% of the RDA!) and 65 mg of Sodium (3% RDA). The only other real nutrients are six grams of protein and 15% of the RDA of Calcium and 10% of the RDA of Vitamin A in the Pistachio Pistachio Ice Cream.

Ben & Jerry’s has decent ingredients. Made primarily of Cream, Skim milk, and liquid sugar! There is nothing unpronounceable in the ingredients list. The Pistachio Pistachio Ben & Jerry’s is Kosher, but not marked as gluten free. There are no allergy warnings, but anyone with allergies for eggs, milk, and/or nuts will want to avoid this ice cream.

Storage/Clean-Up

Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is both a frozen and a dairy product, so it is pretty obvious that it must be kept frozen in order to remain viable. Kept frozen it remains fresh for months. Ours would have lasted until the end of April, 2017 had we not consumed it all first.

The Pistachio Pistachio ice cream is fairly light and it would be surprising if it left stains outside of light fabrics. As a dairy-based food, though, when the ice cream melts and gets onto fabrics, it will require one to wash it right out. On nonporous surfaces, the ice cream wipes off exceptionally easily.

Overall

The Ben & Jerry’s Pistachio Pistachio ice cream is a good rendition of a flavor that is tough to make distinctive or interesting. The flavor is far more sweet than actual pistachios and that mutes what nut flavor the ice cream possesses.

For other Ben & Jerry’s ice creams, be sure to visit my reviews of:
That's My Jam Core
Ben & Jerry's Blueberry Vanilla Graham Greek Frozen Yogurt
Limited Edition Cotton Candy

4/10

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

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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One Night Of Celebrity Makes Nerve Deadly!



The Good: Direction, Performances, Mood
The Bad: Somewhat predictable plot progression, Light on character development
The Basics: Nerve is a surprisingly well-constructed thriller that makes excellent use out of its young cast.


As Summer Blockbuster Season winds down, there are actually very few films I feel like I missed. Nerve was, in fact, probably the only film I missed on its opening weekend that I actually wanted to see, but today I rectified that. I was drawn to Nerve because it stars Emma Roberts. While I have not loved everything that Emma Roberts has been in, I was impressed by her innate talent as a child actor in Hotel For Dogs (reviewed here!) and as she has grown up, she has only seemed to become more talented. Emma Roberts and her performance was not the problem with Adult World (reviewed here!), for example. Now that I have finished it, I am sorry it took me so long to get around to watching Nerve!

Nerve has a decent blend of young performers and while the initial concept of the film did not actually appeal to me, the execution of it was done well-enough that I found myself investing in the characters and the premise. For the first time in a long time, a thriller actually left me curious as to where the film was going; because of the nature of the concept, there was a tone of danger that fit the idea that any of the characters could be killed at any moment and that at least kept Nerve unpredictable.

Vee is a shy high school senior living on Staten Island, too afraid to click "like" on a photo of the boy she has a crush on, when her friend Sydney messages her about Nerve. Nerve is an online dare-based game and players are rewarded with cash; Sydney wants Vee as a "watcher" for the game (there are watchers and players in the game). Sydney completes a dare at a football game where she has to moon the bleachers and when Vee won't talk to the guy she has a crush on, Sydney tries to move things along. Vee returns to her home and signs up for Nerve and she is almost immediately given an assignment. For $100, Vee has to kiss a stranger for five seconds. At the diner, Vee (for Venus) sees a guy who is reading her favorite book and she kisses him. After he completes a dare of his own, Vee and Ian start talking. Vee's friend Tommy warns her that Nerve has data mined Vee's social media in order to manipulate her, but when the next dare comes in with Vee and Ian being offered $200 just to go into New York City, Vee goes with him for the money.

Vee and Ian quickly begin to ascend in the contest, getting a burst of watchers as they complete tasks like trying on an expensive dress in a department store and fleeing the department store after another player steals their clothes. While Tommy tracks Vee and Vee's mother, Nancy, is unnerved by the sudden influx of deposits into their joint fund, Sydney becomes jealous of Vee's fast rise in popularity. When Tommy uses the deep web to research Ian, he finds that Ian was a player in Seattle, where players of Nerve were rumored to die in the game. For $10,000, Vee navigates a blindfolded Ian on his motorcycle up to a speed of 60 miles per hour. After getting into a huge fight with Sydney for Nerve, Vee attempts to go to the police and discovers there is another level to Nerve and she and Ian are in mortal danger going into the finals!

Nerve is an interesting social commentary in the way it illustrates to consequences of youth culture being so interconnected. It does not take long before it is obvious that Ian is manipulating Vee and the way her phone is hacked to allow Nerve watchers to make side bets is a realistic consequence of the type of game Nerve represents. The young adult players of Nerve make for realistic subjects for the shortsighted, stupid dares that the characters are compelled to take. Nerve takes place over a single night, so the lack of reflection by the characters makes sense and it fits the way the game escalates smartly.

While Dave Franco and Emma Roberts dominate Nerve, Miles Heizer makes surprisingly good use out of his supporting role of Tommy. Tommy is a geek who is a hacker and has hacker friends and to pull off the role credibly, Heizer has to play geeky and a level of smart that he was not required to on Parenthood. Heizer manages to do it well without going over the top; he delivers the technobabble adequately and he plays the role as essentially human.

Nerve takes the concept of a reality game to its logical conclusion with the threat of mortal peril. I've always loathed the idea of something like Russian Roulette as a reality show and as they pointed out on Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip (reviewed here!) that is pretty much all that is left. Nerve manages to get to that point without sensationalizing it. In other words, by the time Nerve gets to the point where a gun comes into play, the game itself is not entertaining; the process of watching the characters struggle to defeat the game is the entertaining aspect.

Emily Meade is initially easy to write off in Nerve as a cute twentysomething playing a teen, but she fits the role perfectly and does exactly what the part needs her to. In Nerve, the viewer is supposed to believe that Emma Roberts is a high school senior that has never been noticed by her classmates; Emma Roberts is Hollywood beautiful, so Nerve needed to cast someone even more over-the-top in that department to land the premise. Meade is an excellent choice and she lands the role of the high school girl used to having a sidekick like Vee whom she can overshadow and dominate.

Nerve is one of those films that adult audiences are not "supposed" to like; it has a young cast, it explores the folly of youth culture and stupidity, and it escalates in a very predictable fashion. But the problem with reducing Nerve is that it is actually quite good. Nerve happens over the course of one night, which makes the idea work because none of the rejected players have a chance to either squeal and ruin the game for those still playing or anyone caught by the authorities to investigate the game. Nerve is remarkably tight; Vee gains fast popularity by Ian (an established player) and her fast rise upsets Sydney and knocks her out of the running for the finals, leading her to make an impulsive, mean move. Vee, Ian, Sydney, and Ty are all manipulated by the watchers of Nerve and those who make side bets on their actions.

But Nerve is surprisingly good; instead of degenerating into a cheap "dare" film that attempts to entertain - a flaw that films like Gladiator (reviewed here!) falls into when it makes the viewer root for the slave fighting in the arena for entertainment - the movie smartly remains focused on the way the protagonists are shuffled around and manipulated. The film explores the negative personal and social consequences of the game and Nerve succeeds because while the escalation of the game is foreseeable, the outcome is not.

And Vee is interesting. Vee is manipulated, but her character is characterized initially as smart and the pay off of Nerve is that the story sees that through to its logical conclusion. The directors of Nerve do a decent job of illustrating the invasive nature of Nerve with tags over New York City as players play and are eliminated.

Ultimately, the social commentary of Nerve makes the film a much-watch. For sure, there are internet trolls who might loathe the admonishment of the climax, but Nerve makes incredibly good points through an engaging story that looks good and utilizes its cast exceptionally well!

For other movies currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
Spaceman
The Whole Truth
Suicide Squad
Star Trek Beyond
Breaking The Bank

8/10

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

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