Monday, September 29, 2014

Delightful Dill! North Country Cheese Garlic Dill Cheese Curds Delight!


The Good: Wonderful flavor, Good ingredients
The Bad: Expensive, Not terribly nutritious
The Basics: North Country Cheese Garlic Dill Cheese Curds are a flavorful, delicious snack that is likely to please anyone who loves cheese, garlic or dill!


Having returned almost a week ago from the first vacation my wife and I have had in two and a half years, it is somewhat surprising just how much food I have around the house to review as a result of the trip. I certainly did not think our vacation was designed to give me a stock of reviewable foods! That’s not entirely true; when my wife chose Minnesota as our vacation destination and we decided that we would go through Northern Michigan and Wisconsin, I suddenly had the excited realization that I would be able to sample, stock up and review cheeses that I do not have access to locally. Despite being very excited to potentially tour one of the dairies (and disappointed when that did not materialize!), when my wife and I picked up a cooler, our first cheese purchase was not from that brand. Instead, at a gas station in Wisconsin, on our way home, we picked up cheese curds: North Country Cheese Garlic Dill Cheese Curds!

At $5.99 for a 12 oz. package, these cheese curds are a little pricy, though (to be fair) it has been a while since I have priced out cheese curds. North Country Cheese Garlic Dill Cheese Curds are a great snack, provided one accepts in advance that one’s waistline might expand and that the garlic flavor is potent enough to remain on one’s breath after the cheese curds are gone!

Basics

North Country Cheese is a Wisconsin-based dairy that does not seem to have extensive market penetration outside the Midwest United States (yet). The intent of most North Country Cheese cheeses is that they will be cheeses that hold their own as snacks that may be served to consumers in fancier settings. They specialize in cheeses and cheese curds that have different flavors infused into them: garlic, ranch, buffalo wing seasoning, etc. North Country Cheese cheese curds are intended to be little bite size cheese snacks that consumers eat to enjoy their love of cheese and indulge themselves every once in a while. The North Country Cheese Garlic Dill Cheese Curds come in bags at all sorts of places throughout Wisconsin.

Garlic Dill Cheese Curds are infused with actual dill, but the garlic seems to come in the form of garlic seasoning. Mixed throughout the white cheese blobs of these cheese curds are tons of flecks of actual dill!

Ease Of Preparation

North Country Cheese Garlic Dill cheese curds are a cheese curd product, so basically, one opens the container they came in and they begin devouring them. Opening the bag is like opening a bag of chips: open, eat. It's a pretty simple process! Be sure to seal them after opening them and if at all possible, eliminate the air from the package.

North Country Cheese Garlic Dill Cheese Curds are soft and require refrigeration. While cheese curds may be hard to work with for things like hamburger garnish, they melt exceptionally well and things like omelets may be zested up with these little cheese pieces very easily.

Taste

On their own, the North Country Cheese Garlic Dill Cheese Curds have a scent that perfectly blends the garlic and dill that is in them. The aroma is mouthwatering to those of us who love dill and the dill seems more potent arguably because the smell from the garlic in the cheese curds opens the nostrils up more to receive the herb’s aroma!

On the tongue, the cheese component seems almost like an afterthought or a medium solely to distribute the garlic and dill; the cheese curds are that flavorful. The cheese flavor asserts itself only after the potent garlic flavor in the cheese curd fades a little. The flavor of the cheese curd is like a magnified expression of cottage cheese (i.e. this does not taste like cheddar cheese or another recognizable cheese). The mild dairy flavor of the actual cheese curd is accented by the dill and the dill flavor is strong enough to overwhelm the cheese curd, though it tends to be subservient in the palate to the garlic in most of the cheese curds.

For something that is so intensely and deliciously flavored, the North Country Cheese Garlic Dill Cheese Curds have virtually no aftertaste, which is nice (and surprising).

Nutrition

North Country Cheese and cheese curds are not intended to be all that one lives on. But for those who try, the Garlic Dill Cheese Curds are not the best choice, though they could be far, far worse. The dill and garlic do not seem to add anything of note to the cheese of nutritional value (these cheese curds have 8% of the RDA of Vitamin A, but that seems to be in the standard range for cheese curds). A serving size is considered a one inch block (1 oz.) and some of the cheese curds I ate from my current bag were about that size or a little larger, though most were about 1/2" blobs. In the recommended serving, there are 110 calories, 80 of which are from fat. These cheese curds have 27% of one's daily recommended saturated fat intake and 7% of the RDA of sodium. On the plus side, it does have 20% of the RDA of calcium and has seven grams of protein.

Obviously, the Garlic Dill Cheese Curds are a dairy product, so those who are lactose intolerant will have problems with it. These cheese curds are made primarily of pasteurized milk, cheese culture and salt. That makes then apparently all-natural, as there are no listed preservatives in the ingredient list!

Storage/Cleanup

As a cheese curd and dairy product, North Country Cheese Garlic Dill Cheese Curds should be kept refrigerated. So long as that happens, it ought to stay fresh for several months. Ours had a "sell by" date of February 4, 2015 and so long as they are kept in an airtight, cool environment, they ought to remain fresh and supple. Ours seemed fresh and squeaked when we chewed them!

The Garlic Dill cheese curds are a cheese, so they are not going to stain or ruin anything unless it is ground into a fabric. Baring that, cleanup of nonporous surfaces is as easy as wiping them with a damp cloth. However, the dill from these does seem to come off on the fingers and get all over! Fortunately, the dill is easy to wash off.

Overall

I picked up North Country Cheese Garlic Dill Cheese Curds on a lark as part of having an authentic Wisconsin experience (and to balance my wife’s Ranch Cheese Curds from the same company) and I was pleased to discover that they were delicious and easy to enjoy. While they might have been the cause for some of my vacation weight, they were one of the most delicious and consistent cheese curds we tried on our trip!

For other cheese reviews, please check out my takes on:
Sartori Merlot Bellavitano Cheese
New Bridge Mediterranean Cheddar Cheese
Yancey’s Fancy Steakhouse Onion Cheddar Cheese

7.5/10

For other cheese reviews, please visit my index page by Cheese Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Reboot Failure: The Flash: Rogues Revolution Undermines The New 52 Flash!


The Good: Moments of story, One or two character moments for the villains
The Bad: Glosses over huge moments of characterization, Rushed plot, Erratic artwork/coloring
The Basics: The Flash: Rogues Revolution is a mediocre continuation of Barry Allen’s rebooted story of the Flash as the hero returns to the twin cities where he tries to stop the Rogues . . . with the unlikely help of Captain Cold!


While my Flash Year is long over, I found that the year of studying the character left me very interested in the super hero. I might be one of the rare fans of Wally West as the Flash as opposed to the traditional Barry Allen version of the Flash. As a result, I was not hugely impressed by The Flash: Rebirth (reviewed here!) and the big Flash-related crossover, Flashpoint (reviewed here!). With Barry Allen as the sole Flash, DC Comics’s “New 52” strategy rebooted the character. Following on the heels of Move Along (reviewed here!) was The Flash: Rogues Revolution. Unfortunately, The Flash: Rogues Revolution does not continue the story of The Flash in a compelling way to make one want to continue to revisit his corner of the new DC Universe.

The Flash: Rogues Revolution features almost no character development for Barry Allen and it focuses much more on the various villains in the Flash corner of the DC Universe. Almost as much as Batman, The Flash has an entire gallery of recurring villains who pop up to torment the hero and during the best-written phases of The Flash, the villains were incredibly well-written and deep. Sadly, The Flash: Rogues Revolution lacks that depth and it also has gaps in the storytelling that makes the book have a poor flow and an erratic quality to it that makes it impossible to recommend. The book also begins somewhat in the middle of a serialized story with only context clues for part of how the story got where it is, which makes it harder to get into for new fans.

Trapped in Gorilla City at the hands of the merciless Grodd, the Flash is essentially powerless and confused. While some of the intelligent simians believe that Barry Allen is their savior, Grodd wants to eat the brain of the Flash in order to gain his power and knowledge. When Allen is rescued by some of Grodd’s pacifistic political adversaries, he returns to Central City and Keystone City. There, The Flash discovers that in the years he was gone, an anti-Flash and anti-super hero sentiment has overrun the twin cities. Also, an industrialist has gained credit and notoriety for making the cities completely energy independent . . . using batteries that the Flash super-charged.

Given that the world thinks that Barry Allen is dead and Patty Spivot has mourned and moved on, Barry lays low as an anonymous bartender in the slums. There, he encounters Leonard Snart (Captain Cold) who is on the outs with the Rogues. When Heatwave breaks into the bar and tries to kill Cold, it becomes clear to Barry that there has been a fracture within the Rogues. Working together, the Flash and Captain Cold try to stop a crime spree which further seeks to discredit the Flash and destroy his reputation in the twin cities. But just as Barry comes to trust Cold to help him stop the Trickster, Weather Wizard, Mirror Master, Heatwave, and an ethereal version of Snart’s sister, his ally turns on him and leaves him (and the twin cities) at the mercy of an even worse enemy!

The Flash: Rogues Revolution does the heavy lifting of explaining how the Rogues were altered for the New 52 vision of the DC Universe. As it turns out, the idea is a good one: tired of being constantly disarmed by the Flash, the Rogues banded together to try to give themselves super powers. The idea is a neat one, as is the clever idea that the attempt to incorporate their gadgets as super powers had horrible side effects. Those side effects include Heatwave getting horribly burned and unable to control the fire within him when his emotions get the better of him and Leonard Snart’s sister becoming a disembodied entity who has minimal influence in our universe.

The idea of the mechanized conceits becoming biologically incorporated into the villains is an interesting idea, though it seems somewhat goofy (it’s the super-hero universe equivalent of creating a device that would allow anyone who had a blender to develop the super power of blending); at least it is derived by a clever means. The villains recognize the power of the Flash and have a reasonable way to minimize their vulnerability to him. The execution of their plan leaves people like Mirror Master with terrible consequences, though his being trapped in a mirror universe is erratically executed. The brief time the Flash spends trapped there in The Flash: Rogues Revolution implies that it is a much more permeable membrane than in prior storylines (and it is left unclear why others can move in and out of the Mirror Master’s pocket universe, but McCullough remains trapped there).

Just as the story has gaps and does exceptionally little to further the character of Barry Allen, The Flash: Rogues Revolution has erratic artwork. While the penciling is less blockish than in some of the recent prior graphic novels of The Flash, the coloring is far less vibrant and realistic than it could be. That gives The Flash: Rogues Revolution an unfortunately flat look and feel to it. The result is a book that lacks a sense of being visually stunning just as the story leaves the reader unimpressed.

Ultimately, The Flash: Rogues Revolution is what it is and it feels like it: it is a middle act in a storyline that is surprisingly underwhelming.

For other “New 52” graphic novels, please check out my reviews of:
Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection
Batgirl: Knightfall Descends
Green Lantern: Sinestro
Green Lantern: Revenge Of The Black Hand
Green Lantern: The End
Green Lantern Corps: Fearsome
Green Lantern Corps: Alpha War
Justice League: Origins
Red Lanterns: Blood And Rage
Wonder Woman: Blood
Wonder Woman: Guts
Wonder Woman: War

4/10

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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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From The Political To The Personal, “Father’s Day” Is An Important Dramatic Shift For Doctor Who!


The Good: Wonderful character development, Good acting, Good narrative structure
The Bad: None within the episode.
The Basics: Rose Tyler gets the focus of “Father’s Day” when she explores her dead father’s timeline and makes an effort to save his life . . . with disastrous consequences.


In decent serialized television, like Doctor Who, the conceptual framework of the series has to be established and sometimes the episodes that establish the framework are not as good as the episodes that simply exist within the framework and use it. In the first season of Doctor Who, “The Long Game” (reviewed here!) establishes the fluidic nature of time within the Doctor Who Universe. The episode, however, is largely without significant character development. So, that the episode follows up with “Father’s Day,” a powerfully character-centered episode that utilizes the framework established in “The Long Game” works to the benefit of the season.

“Father’s Day” is also notable in that it does not have a defined villain, which is pretty refreshing given that the prior episodes almost exclusively contain adversaries motivated primarily by greed. “Father’s Day” is a strong Rose episode and focusing on The Doctor’s companion for an altered-time episode establishes a decent precedent for the show. In addition to finally making explicit that The Doctor has the ability to alter the outcome of the Great Time War where The Doctor’s people were all killed, it is finally explained – explicitly - why such changes cannot be made in the Doctor Who Universe.

Recalling how her mother told her about her father’s death, Rose implores The Doctor to take her to visit her father. Together, they witness Peter and Jackie Tyler marrying (with Pete getting Jackie’s name wrong) and then they journey to the day Peter died from a random driver running him over. Witnessing him getting hit by the car, Rose is distraught and wants to make sure that Pete will not die alone. Going back to right behind themselves, Rose runs out and stops Pete from getting killed. Despite The Doctor being clearly upset over Rose’s meddling with the time stream, the pair returns to Pete’s apartment where Rose sees all of Pete’s weird inventions. The Doctor abandons Rose in his anger and runs afoul of a massive flying creature he calls a Reaper.

Accompanying Pete to the wedding of Sarah Clarke and Stuart Hoskins, Rose encounters the younger version of her mother as people in the immediate vicinity begin to disappear at alarming rates. Jackie, seeing Rose, gets upset with Pete (and his job history). The Doctor arrives in time to save Rose and some of the wedding guests from the Reapers who are picking off people in the area. The Doctor reasons that saving Pete’s life has created a wound in time and, seeing the car that was supposed to kill Pete appearing and disappearing around the church leads The Doctor and Pete try to restore order to the timeline.

The fundamental fluidity of the Doctor Who universe is explored wonderfully in “Father’s Day.” Not only does such a fundamental shift in time, such as Rose saving Pete’s life, alter the immediate vicinity, it creates tremendous ripples throughout the timeline. The TARDIS disappears and the appearance of the Reapers menaces all existence. In the larger context of Doctor Who this sort of illustrated consequence makes one question how such consequences are avoided for other temporal incursions (like how the Jagrofess in the prior episode enslaving Earth for 91 years that altered what The Doctor remembered of time not having similar consequences) makes no sense. But within “Father’s Day,” there are no such issues.

In fact, “Father’s Day” might well be the first perfect episode of Doctor Who, at least in the rebooted series. The episode is strong in character development for Rose and there are a number of incredible lines from The Doctor that enhance his character’s flexibility. He gets very angry at Rose throughout “Father’s Day,” but he comes to the anger from a place of frustration and love. Pete is characterized well as a smart, imaginative, but out-of-touch man and there is an interesting parallel to be made between him and The Doctor in the episode. Fortunately, Rose immediately puts the kibosh on Pete’s unwitting almost-advance upon her.

Actors Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper have amazing on-screen chemistry in “Father’s Day.” Their ability to emote to one another through eye contact is incredible and they sell the deepest emotional moments for their characters very well. Camille Coduri (Jackie) and Shaun Dingwell (Pete) have decent banter that makes it seem like they were a viable married couple once upon a time. Their on-screen tension plays out well through the course of the episode.

“Father’s Day” is one of the few episodes of Doctor Who that cheats on some of the consequences; most episodes of Doctor Who do not essentially “reset” the timeline to its starting point (characters remember the incidents in the episodes, casualties remain dead and time goes on with the incursion in place). “Father’s Day,” despite being wonderful, pretty much half-asses its resolution. While it restores the timeline, essentially, the story that Jackie tells the young Rose Tyler changes . . . so how the episode actually works out remains troublingly murky. What happened? What didn’t? In the final blend of the temporal wound and its resolution, the timeline is resolved in a murky way. The argument can be made – given that The Doctor and the previously-deceased father come out of the church after the important event – that a rest happens when Pete meets his fate head-on, but it does not really explain how the temporal reset works. Jackie says “people say” there was a girl . . . even though she saw the girl in question and how they disappeared.

That said, “Father’s Day” is still a perfect episode. The level of character, consequences, and the performances all lend themselves well to a solid hour of television that replays remarkably well. Despite all the time spent on the conceits, “Father’s Day” is a tight, resonating character story that is accessible to fans and casual viewers of Doctor Who.

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

For other, intriguing time-travel stories, be sure to check out my reviews of:
“The Visitor” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
The Time Traveler’s Wife
Fringe - Season Five

10/10

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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Rising To Average, The Legends Of Star Trek Hikaru Sulu Ornament Is (Mostly) Recognizable!


The Good: Fair price, Good balance, Detailing on the tricorder
The Bad: Overproduced, Animated look, Skin coloring.
The Basics: The 2014 Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu ornament is a disappointing ornament to celebrate the character of Sulu or the career of George Takei.


Every year, Hallmark comes out with a new Star Trek character ornament and for the past few years, Hallmark has been making original Star Trek characters under the banner Legends Of Star Trek. This year, it’s Lieutenant Sulu’s turn and it is something unsurprising that the ornament continues the trend of ornaments that the Legends Of Star Trek Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu ornament has an animated look to it.

Starting out at $14.95, the Legends Of Star Trek Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu ornament looks only like Sulu in a general way; outside the yellow shirt, all that really makes this ornament a Sulu ornament is the fact that the subject is not a Caucasian (this is Sulu by virtue of not being Kirk or Chekov).

For those unfamiliar with Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, he was the helmsman aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise for most of Star Trek (reviewed here!). Played wonderfully by George Takei, Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu is so seminal to Star Trek that casual fans seem unaware that Takei missed a huge chunk of episodes (mostly in the second season) and did not have a first name until Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country! The "Legends Of Star Trek" series gives Hallmark a chance to cast Sulu for the first time, though he was minimally rendered in the Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan bridge ornament.

Basics

The Legends Of Star Trek Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu vaguely recreates the Helm Officer of the Enterprise in solid plastic. The ornament, released in 2014, is presented very generally, with a problematically undeveloped sculpt for the face and head. Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu is fairly recognizable to genre fans holding up a tricorder and a communicator. Molded to be recognizable, the ornament still has a more animated look for the character than one might hope for. This comes, arguably, from the character’s rounded head and very generalized colorscheme that lacks realistic depth and shading. Sulu’s skin is not at all realistic to the fleshtones of George Takei! Measuring four inches tall by one and one-quarter inches wide by one inch deep, the Legends Of Star Trek Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu ornament has been selling slowly at my local Hallmarks since its Preview Weekend.

The Hallmark Legends Of Star Trek Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu ornament is made of a durable plastic and has the human officer standing in his yellow shirt, tight black pants and shiny black boots. The face is sculpted much more angularly than George Takei's is. This ornament is molded without deep attention to detail, like fingernails.

Conversely, Hallmark went to create painstaking detailing for the tricorder, getting it and the communicator in perfect proportion with the rest of the ornament. The tricorder is exceptionally detailed in both sculpt and coloring. Oddly, the same cannot be said about the head.

The Legends Of Star Trek Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu is colored correctly with his yellow Command shirt, outside his skin tones. Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu has very pale compared to the actor’s skin tones. I was impressed that the boots were a glossy black, while Sulu’s pants were appropriately matte in their finish. While the tricorder and communicator in his hands and the rank braids on his forearms are well-colored and detailed, the skin is much less impressive or realistic in its detailing.

Features

As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, the Legends Of Star Trek Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu could have a function like a sound chip or light effect, but does not. This is just an ornament, a low-cost (comparatively) option for those who might not want to shell out for the starship or mural series of Star Trek ornaments. This is Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, standing alone with a communicator and tricorder as opposed to behind his helm console. Having the ornament without any features might disappoint some collectors.

Balance

As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake Legends Of Star Trek Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate Star Trek Christmas Tree, the Legends Of Star Trek Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu ornament is a necessary one, given that Sulu is an iconic character. The ornament has a brass hook loop that comes out of the top, center, of Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu's skull. To its credit, Hallmark's Legends Of Star Trek Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu is very well-balanced from that point.

Collectibility

Hallmark Keepsake began delving into the collectibles market in 1991 with Star Trek when it introduced the exceptionally limited edition U.S.S. Enterprise ornament (reviewed here!). Since then, they have made ornament replicas of almost all of the major starships from the franchise and when they started on the personnel in 1995, though this is the first Sulu ornament. The Legends Of Star Trek Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu ornament was not a fast-selling ornament since its release in summer of 2014.

Given the precedent from the prior Legends Of Star Trek ornaments, combined with the already-slow sales of this ornament, this is unlikely to be a worthwhile investment piece; hold out for it to be on the clearance racks at the season’s end.

Overview

Fans of the Star Trek franchise, George Takei and Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu are likely to not be wowed by the Legends Of Star Trek Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu ornament. Even so, this Legends Of Star Trek ornament is not one of the worst Hallmark has produced!

For other Star Trek ornaments of characters, please check out my reviews of:
2014 Vina The Orion Slave Woman
2013 Legends Of Star Trek Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott
2012 Legends Of Star Trek Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy
2011 Legends Of Star Trek Spock
2010 Legends Of Star Trek Captain James T. Kirk
2009 Limited Edition Ilia Probe
2005 Khan
2004 Commander Charles “Trip” Tucker III
2003 Subcommander T’Pol
1997 Dr. McCoy
1996 Mr. Spock

4.5/10

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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Lackluster Labyrinth: Why It’s Hard To Care About The Maze Runner!


The Good: Eventually turns into an interesting concept . . .
The Bad: . . . it takes SO long to get there, Mediocre characters, Uninspired acting
The Basics: The Maze Runner fails to thrill as young men (and a single girl) try to escape mechanized bugs and a maze that is testing something about them.


Last weekend, my wife and I were on vacation and we took a day to watch some movies in the theater. Neither of us got to see our first choice (she wanted to watch The Maze Runner, but did not want to be around people; I wanted to see The Zero Theorem, but had no idea how to get to the one art theater in the city that was showing it). So, it took us an additional week to take in The Maze Runner. My wife wanted to see The Maze Runner because she had read the novel series upon which the film was based. At this point, following the lackluster Divergent (reviewed here!) and the equally unimpressive Vampire Academy film (reviewed here!), I was pretty much tapped out for any interest in films based on young adult science fiction.

My indifference to The Maze Runner did not diminish as the film began. One of the difficult aspects of being dropped into a setting with new characters is developing any regard for the characters. The first duty of the writer/director is to get viewers to care about the characters in their new, fantastic setting. In The Maze Runner, the protagonist is Thomas and he lacks any initially distinctive quality to make the viewer care about who he is or what he is going through. Even Katniss Everdeen had more of a hook when she exhibited a willingness to perform acts of self-sacrifice at the outset of The Hunger Games than Thomas does in the first third of The Maze Runner.

A young man finds himself in an elevator, remembering nothing about his life before, nor even his name. He is trapped in a field, surrounded by massive walls and other young men and boys. The one opening in the wall, he is told, leads into a giant maze, from which there appears to be no escape. Alby and Newt explain to the new arrival how once a month, a new young man is sent into the glade and the group lives there. Each day a few boys go into the maze to chart it, but they live in fear of staying in the maze at night (after the doors close) because Grievers sting anyone in the maze at night, leading to insanity and death.

After a particularly poignant display of what happens when someone is stung by a Griever – namely a stung boy viciously attacking Thomas (as he has come to remember his name) – Thomas enters the maze when Alby and Minho are not able to make it out of the maze before the doors close for the night. With Alby wounded, Thomas and Minho string him up with vines for the night before they are chased by a Griever. Thomas manages to kill the Griever, but it leads to another boy, Gally, getting gravely concerned about the changes in the environment. To punctuate his fear, the elevator arrives again, this time with a girl from Thomas’s dreams. As Thomas learns more about the nature of the maze and the outer sections of it, he and Teresa discover they are tied together by more than just Thomas’s dreams. As they investigate the dead Griever and the nature of the venom, Alby is cured and his memories seem to trigger a Griever attack on the village. In struggling to survive the maze, Thomas, Teresa and the other survivors in the glade become aware of the nature of the test they are in and how it fits into a larger, wounded, world.

The Maze Runner is like The Lord Of The Flies without the shipwreck and it does not truly begin to get going in a compelling way until just over the one hour mark when Thomas enters the maz with Minho as a maze runner (mapper of the maze). When the part of the Griever they recovered begins clicking, it is the first moment in The Maze Runner that actually intrigued me enough to actually care. Given that is the third day of Thomas’s stay in the glade, it was hard to care at that point in the movie.

To be fair to The Maze Runner, from the moment sector 7 and the blades are introduced, director Wes Ball manages to create a creepy and tense film. From the shifting of the maze to the Griever attack on the glade, The Maze Runner picks up and becomes watchable. The special effects team on The Maze Runner makes the Grievers awesome to watch – though they seem like a mechanized version of the Alien 3 xenomorph – and the movie works itself to a climax that actually made me want to know where the series would go, but objectively the film stretches far too long before it gets to its point.

The Maze Runner has some gaping holes – like why the Grievers stop their assault on the boys in the glade when they seem to be pretty efficient at wiping the young people out – and its lack of interesting or likable characters makes the movie drag for the majority of the film. Thomas is not an impressive protagonist and the plot-heavy story does not pop because the characters are not easy to get invested in.

None of the performances in The Maze Runner are particularly compelling. While Patricia Clarkson appears for a few key scenes, she is not in The Maze Runner enough to justify seeing it for her. The usually talented Thomas Brodie-Sangster is similarly relegated to a minor supporting role that does not make use of his talents and Will Poulter is pigeonholed into yet another role where he plays an asshole that viewers are just going to hate. The young cast is led by Dylan O’Brian who plays Thomas with such a lack of spark that one has to wonder what the casting criteria was and who he beat for the part. The unimpressive performances make it hard to emotionally invest in characters who are only minimally defined.

The result is another film franchise with a stunted beginning that entirely hinges on the base of fans from the book turning up in droves to boost its grosses. That is the only audience that will likely find The Maze Runnera worthwhile film on its own.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
This Is Where I Leave You
The Giver
The Expendables 3
Guardians Of The Galaxy

3.5/10

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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Smart, But Way Too Short, Meghan Trainor’s Title Succeeds For What It Is!


The Good: Some great lyrics, Musically fun
The Bad: Very short, Erratic, Mixed quality on the vocals/production
The Basics: More than just an impressive single, Title makes Meghan Trainor into a household name . . . and makes us wish for more!


While on my recent vacation, I had a chance to listen to new music on the radio. While I came home eager to find the new album by a Canadian artist whose work has not quite broken here in the States, the other piece of music that truly moved me on my trip was the (now) #1 single from Meghan Trainor, “All About That Bass.” Learning about a hit single after it has already reached number one is very much like arriving to the party late, but after buying Meghan Trainor’s EP Title, I’m convinced that “All About The Bass” will not be the only hit off the album.

Title is an unfortunately short album that illustrates that Meghan Trainor is a talented singer-songwriter who is near the start of a very promising career. Title is the third album by Trainor and it is fun and clever in a way that I have not heard since Merril Bainbridge’s The Garden (reviewed here!). Unfortunately, the duration and lighter quality of Trainor’s EP make it a bit harder to recommend. Title has decent social messages and a narrative voice of female empowerment, but there is something of a feeling of diminishing returns after the single “Title;” the two singles that follow drop drastically in quality compared to “All About The Bass” and “Title.”

With only four songs clocking out at 12:45, Title is very much a collaborative work between Meghan Trainor and Kevin Kadish. Trainor and Kadish co-wrote all of the songs and co-executive produced Title. Trainor provides all of the lead vocals on Title and a few instrumental aspects on the album (claps, ukulele, and drum programming on two of the songs), while Kadish provides the other instrumental programming. The four tracks are enough to establish that Trainor and Kadish have something to say and a pretty solid method of musically delivering their message.

On “All About That Bass,” Meghan Trainor rails against the unhealthy body image portrayed in the media by celebrating the joys of being a curvy woman. Like a do-wop version of “Baby Got Back” from a woman’s perspective, Trainor celebrates the joys of being a curvy woman. She makes wonderful transitions from the confrontational to the empowered when she sings “I’m bringing booty back / Go ‘head and tell them skinny bitches that / No, I’m just playing, I know you think you’re fat / But I’m here to tell you . . . Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top . . . . You know I won’t be no stick figure, silicone Barbie doll / So if that’s what you’re into, then go ‘head and move along” (“All About That Bass”). The song is fun, catchy, and smarter than virtually any pop song in the last half-decade!

“All About That Bass” is followed by “Title” on the EP. “Title” is such a wonderful song that it is shocking that with the release of Title, it was not the second single released from the short album. Like “All About That Bass,” “Title” has a message of female empowerment and an enthusiastic, catchy, tune. Putting her boyfriend on notice, the female protagonist of “Title” demands, “Baby, don’t call me a friend / If I hear that word again / You might never get a chance to see me naked in your bed / And I know girls ain’t hard to find / But if you think you wanna try / Then consider this an invitation to kiss my ass goodbye.” The song is as strong as “All About The Bass” and has a very universal appeal to women who are tired of being strung-along as second tier date material and it’s about time there was an anthem for those women!

Surprisingly, the second single off Title is “Dear Future Husband.” “Dear Future Husband” is like a second take on “Title” where the female protagonist is talking to her prospective husband about what she wants out of her marriage. The song is not as catchy as the prior two singles, but it is a decent pop song that continues the quality of voice on the prior two tracks, without having quite the bouncy or compelling tune.

The final song on Title is “Close Your Eyes.” “Close Your Eyes” is an entirely forgettable pop ballad. Trainor sings high and slower with a very basic ballad that closes the album in a very mediocre way.

The result is that Title is well-written, sung in a fun manner and a decent collection of pop songs that are enough to make Meghan Trainor a household name, but it is not enough to make us want to play over and over and over again and have a prized place on the shelf; we are left wanting more.

For other newer works, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Shine On - Sarah McLachlan
Lights Out - Ingrid Michaelson
Louder - Lea Michele

6/10

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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Friday, September 26, 2014

Painfully Predictable, “Time Heist” Is The First Doctor Who Flop For Peter Capaldi!


The Good: Moments of direction, Sense of values.
The Bad: Very predictable plot, No real character development
The Basics: With “Time Heist,” Steven Moffat creates a predictable bank job story that maintains Doctor Who ethics and values.


There is an unfortunate thing that occurs when a writer whose body of work largely consists of works that hinge upon a reversal at the end creates a sufficient library that those who watch their works are able to predict their reversals. Unfortunately for Steven Moffat and fans of Doctor Who, if that point had not been reached before, it is certainly hit by the episode “Time Heist.” “Time Heist” is like Mission Impossible III (reviewed here!) was for fans of Alias (reviewed here!); it was entirely unsurprising to anyone who was a fan of the works of J.J. Abrams. Virtually every move in the film was predictable because it was something of a “best of” Alias and fans of Abrams’s other works had seen all of the best plays.

In a similar fashion, “Time Heist” moves right along, but it plays very much like a Steven Moffat “best of,” even if he has not previously done a Doctor Who bank robbery caper. There are some new specifics to Moffat’s Doctor Who Universe that are unique; the indented head and the floor bomb are pretty cool, but feel less surprising than they are well-executed in “Time Heist.” After all of the uncertainty raised in “Into The Dalek” (reviewed here!) as to what kind of man the new regeneration of The Doctor is, “Time Heist” finally explicitly declares that he is a good man.

Opening with The Doctor interrupting Clara as she prepares for a date with Danny Pink, when the TARDIS’s telephone rings, the Doctor, Clara and two people they have never seen before find themselves seated at a table, holding memory worms. After the quartet hears a recording of each of them consenting to the memory wipe they have just experienced, they watch a recording from The Architect. The Architect insists that the quartet is going to rob the Bank Of Karabraxos, an impregnable bank for the ultra rich. One of the two people in the group is an augmented human, who has the ability to download all of the information the Architect left for them. The other additional person, Saibra, is able to mimic the appearance of anyone or anything whose DNA she encounters. Together, the four step into the Bank Of Karabraxos where they witness the price of failure. An individual who is in the lobby at the same time encounters the telepathic Teller, who senses the man’s guilt and liquefies the man’s brain.

As Psi, Saibra, The Doctor and Clara advance into the vault, the head of the Bank Of Karabraxos, Ms. Delphox starts to hunt the quartet. Finding cases left throughout the underbelly of the Bank, the quartet gains tools and information on their purpose. They are pursued by the alien Teller, who is the last of its kind. As the Teller hones in on the group’s mental energy, it comes to feed upon each of them. But when the Doctor and Clara make it to the deepest vault, a solar storm hits and gives The Doctor the tools needed to complete the robbery.

Moffat’s script is hardly an audacious one; in fact, he seems to address how mundane the concept of “Time Heist” is early in the episode. “Time Heist” is essentially a drawn out punchline to the joke, “A time traveler goes to rob a bank . . .*” with Doctor Who sensibilities. So, just like fans of Star Trek expect characters who wear a StarFleet uniform to act with a certain set of values (the Prime Directive, respect for life and freedom, etc.), fans of Doctor Who expect there to be a purpose for the actions of the Doctor. “Time Heist” continues to neglect the overall mission inherent to the new Doctor’s story – namely finding Gallifrey – but climaxes in a revelation consistent with the values of The Doctor.

Sadly, it is not a terribly surprising or clever mission.

“Time Heist,” as a thoroughly underwhelming episode, could not come at a worse time for Peter Capaldi and Doctor Who. Capaldi is embodying one of the most compelling and interesting Doctors in recent memory, but the story in “Time Heist” does nothing to truly advance his character. Unlike most of the prior episodes in which Capaldi has appeared, after the teaser, Capaldi is given nothing remarkable to perform. The Doctor does not advance or develop in “Time Heist;” he is simply restored to a familiar set of values that Doctor Who fans will recognize.

“Time Heist” is plot-heavy, has a cool-looking alien, but does not allow anyone to shine. The result is one of the worst, most mundane episodes of the modern Doctor Who.

For other heist stories, please check out my reviews of:
“Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
The Usual Suspects
Prison Break - Season 1

1.5/10

Check out how this episode stacks up against other episodes and seasons of Doctor Who by visiting my Doctor Who Review Index Page where the episodes are organized from Best to Worst!

* “. . . realizes he’s done it before.”
© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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At Your Own Risk: Deerfield Dog Lodging Broke Our Dog!


The Good: Facility appeared clean and spacious
The Bad: Myah was returned to us with wounds, Owner of facility was unobservant/neglectful/failed to inform, Promised services were not provided.
The Basics: While my wife and I were on vacation, we left Myah at Deerfield Dog Lodging in Traverse City, Michigan . . . and when we recovered her, it was evident that she had not been treated well there.


For those who are unfamiliar with my reviews, I object entirely to the type of reviews that are a rant on a single experience with a product and service. I reject “reviews” that are essentially customer service complaints that clog up the Internet. When it comes to my pet reviews, I pride myself on offering authentic reviews from the perspective of a layperson. I am not the pet expert in my family, so I rely upon stated guidelines for a product in combination with the reactions of my animals to determine a product or service’s worth. Today, I find myself starting the travel reviews from my last vacation (my first in years!) with a review of the facility at which we left Myah, our Siberian Husky.

For those who might not follow my many pet product reviews, Myah is a Siberian Husky, who will turn seven years old on November 27th of this year. She has been in our family for almost three years and she and I have been virtually inseparable in that time. In fact, when my wife moved to Michigan and I stayed in New York, my job was changed so I could bring Myah into work with me, because she was so unused to being left alone.

So, when my wife and I decided to go on vacation for a little over a week, boarding Myah was a big concern for us. While my wife was happy to bring Myah along with us (which, given the volume of things we brought back from the trip would have been a bad idea with our small car!), I was concerned that if we left Myah in a hotel room while we went out and did stuff, she would scratch and damage the room. There was a compromise position; to take Myah with us and enroll her in day care while we were in Minneapolis, but the facilities we found there that did that (including a very cool one that had webcams in which we could see how wonderfully the animals were being treated) required registration in advance. So, we started calling around locally. That process was frustrating, especially when the facility that looked best and most like a resort for dogs was closed for the months between Labor Day and Thanksgiving. My wife found Deerfield Dog Lodging in Traverse City and it seemed like a godsend initially: the owner of the facility, Kevin Ramoie actually answered the telephone and answered all of her questions. It’s amazing how far simple responsiveness goes in forming a new relationship with a business. In retrospect, perhaps Mr. Ramoie was able to spend so much time on the phone with my wife because he was not actually actively taking care of the animals in his care!

Location

Deerfield Dog Lodging is a seemingly spacious facility located at 3435 Beitner Road on the outskirts of Traverse City, Michigan. The facility looks like a ranch-style house set on multiple acres of fields. There are at least six fenced-in kennels in what looked like a converted garage. Each of the kennels has a door to the outside, where the dogs have access to a private area and then a communal fenced-in area where dogs may (presumably) interact. In the main kennel area (the converted garage) there was obvious drainage and the facility looked very clean when we dropped Myah off.

Activity/Purpose

Deerfield Dog Lodging was billed as a clean and friendly dog and cat care facility. Their website boasts that “. . . your dog or cat's comfort and safety is our number one priority. When your pet checks in at Deerfield, you can leave with the peace of mind knowing that they will be well cared for and treated with kindness.” We were swayed by the positive reviews we read beforehand and the fact that for only $5 more per day, Myah would be given a daily Wilderness Walk. Despite the website advertising that pets boarded at Deerfield Dog Lodging get plenty of exercise and receive lots of love, we enthusiastically shelled out the additional five dollars a day for the Wilderness Walk so we could be certain that Myah was well-cared for while there and exercised more than just in the fenced-in yard we saw online.

We brought Myah to Deerfield Dog Lodging at 8 A.M. on Monday, September 15, 2014 having made an appointment with Mr. Ramoie for Myah to stay at the facility until Tuesday, September 23, 2014. With Myah, we brought two tubs of her dog food and a toy she enjoys playing with. After filling out paperwork and directing the worker at Deerfield Dog Lodging (who was not Mr. Ramoie) with feeding instructions for Myah, we left Myah at the facility.

At approximately 10:20 A.M. on Tuesday, September 23, 2014, we arrived back at Deerfield Dog Lodging to pick Myah up. We were greeted by Mr. Ramoie, who seemed to know we were there to pick Myah up (despite us being a bit early).

Effect On Myah

Nightmare.

Deerfield Dog Lodging had a profound effect on Myah and the results of her stay there are troubling. The way Mr. Ramoie runs Deerfield Dog Lodging is disturbing and it has left Myah (literally) scarred.

My first clue that something was wrong with Myah and her stay at Deerfield Dog Lodging came when we picked Myah up on Tuesday. Myah is an exceptionally enthusiastic dog and she is not a fan of being separated from me. For the last ten months of my last job, when I would return home, Myah would wait for me around the time I usually came home and my wife reported how Myah would come running to the top of our stairs the moment she heard our car pull into the driveway. We had been told that Myah would have access to her outdoor area adjacent to her personal kennel; I thought it was strange that when we pulled into Deerfield Dog Lodging on Tuesday morning that Myah did not come running outside to see us. After all, she knows what our car sounds like and we parked much closer to her when we arrived than I do at home, so she should have recognized that sound. When we got out of the car, my wife called to Myah and Myah did not come out of her kennel, nor did she make her customary bark or howl to greet us.

While I stood in the waiting room writing out the check, my wife went to recover Myah from the kennel area of Deerfield Dog Lodging. When she was released from the kennel, Myah exhibited little enthusiasm to see us; in fact, she cowered upon seeing my wife and I, which was entirely atypical behavior for her. Outside the first week we had Myah after rescuing her, she has not been handshy. She flinched from my wife when she tried to connect her to her leash.

While we walked Myah out to the front of Deerfield Dog Lodging, we noticed a large lesion on Myah's left forepaw. The open wound was immediately noticeable and my wife asked Mr. Ramoie what had happened to Myah. Mr. Ramoie claimed to have no idea what was wrong with Myah and stated that he had never seen the wound on Myah. Mr. Ramoie returned one tub of Myah's food (half empty) and the empty tub to us before we left.

We immediately took Myah back to our veterinarian. One of the most useful aspects of our boarding Myah was that before she went, we had to take her to the veterinarian to get her immunized and licensed. We took Myah to the veterinarian on September 9, 2014 for the immunizations she would need in order to have an extended stay at the Deerfield Dog Lodging. At that time, our Siberian Husky was deemed in good health and was weighed at 68.8 pounds. Between her first visit and when we dropped her off at Deerfield Dog Lodging on September 15, Myah was carefully monitored and lovingly cared for, as she normally is. Myah was brought to the same veterinarian on Tuesday, September 23, before we even went home. As a result of the veterinarian's examination, we have come to believe that Myah was, at best, neglected during her stay at Deerfield Dog Lodging and that it is entirely possible that she was the victim of abuse during her stay there.

1. Myah's injuries. Myah had an Acral Lick Granuloma on her left forepaw that was severe and infected. The Acral Lick Granuloma on the left forepaw was over 1/2" in diameter (that is a red and yellow, puss-filled open wound about the size and shape of a dime set against the otherwise white paw of the dog). Myah had three other, smaller, less-severe Acral Lick Granulomas on her right forepaw and both back feet. Our veterinarian and the technicians at the animal hospital were alarmed by the wounds and stated that: a. Such wounds did not happen fast (it would have taken Myah days to make the wounds, especially the primary one), b. Such wounds should have been immediately evident to any caregiver, and c. Such wounds would most likely have occurred in an environment where Myah was neglected (i.e. if she was active, engaged and well-monitored she would not have had time or impetus to make such wounds),

 photo myahwound1_zpsbde0abce.jpg
 photo myahwound2_zps6d06142f.jpg
Can you imagine not noticing that if you had frequent, daily contact with your animal?!

2. Myah's feeding. Myah lost approximately eight pounds during the course of her seven day stay at Deerfield Dog Lodging. Weighed immediately upon reaching the veterinary office, Myah weighed 61 pounds on September 23, 2014. The veterinary technician and veterinarian were alarmed that Myah would lose more than 10% of her weight over the course of her stay at Deerfield Dog Lodging. Questioned on Wednesday, September 24, 2014, Mr. Ramoie provided inconsistent and contradictory information in regard to Myah's feeding. When asked if Myah was fed according the instructions we left her with (1 1/2 cups of her food, twice per day), Mr. Ramoie claimed that those directions were followed. Pressed with information that Myah had lost 7.8 pounds over the course of her stay, Mr. Ramoie revised his answer to say that Myah: a. Occasionally poured some of her food out of her bowl and b. Mostly ate her meals at night. Either way, Myah should not have lost so much weight. Moreover, if she alone was fed her food, there should have been quite a bit more of her food left (measuring her food at 1 1/2 cups, 2 such feedings per day, only ONE of the two tubs of food would have been consumed; there should have been no food missing from the second tub, much less half of the food missing from that tub),

3. Exercising Myah. One of the appeals of Deerfield Dog Lodging for us was that for $5/day, Myah would be given a walk each day of her stay. We paid for that service. When questioned on the telephone on Wednesday, September 24, Mr. Ramoie claimed that Myah had been given the promised walks. However, several red flags were immediately raised with his claim that Myah had been exercised daily during her stay. First, Mr. Ramoie claimed that Myah tugged a bit during her walks, implying that she was rushing ahead of whomever was walking her. Curious about that, because that is unlike her, I pressed for more information and Mr. Ramoie stated that Myah had to be pulled along during her walks because she was eager to stop and smell everything (which does sound like Myah's behavior during exercising). Mr. Ramoie was unable to elaborate on how Myah was motivated to move back to walking when she wanted to stop and smell everything around her. Either way, Mr. Ramoie asserted that Myah was walked each day for a half hour walk to a nearby pond and back. The reason this assertion is suspect is simple; on the morning of Wednesday, September 24, 2014, when I took Myah for a morning walk, she did not make it more than five minutes out our door before she started whining, limping, and refusing to walk farther (which is very atypical for her). If Myah was truly used to walking as she had been before we left her at Deerfield and during her stay, there is no reason she would have been unable to walk upon her return (especially without a limp!).

Myah has exhibited several signs of trauma, from being hoarse to the large Acral Lick Granuloma, since we picked her up from Deerfield Dog Lodging.

Overall

We paid Mr. Kevin Ramoie and Deerfield Dog Lodging $240 for her stay, with exercise, for a stay from Monday, September 15, 2014 to Tuesday, September 23, 2014. Following her stay, we had to spend an additional $86.71 for the veterinarian examination, antibiotics and steroids needed to diagnose and treat the wounds Myah inflicted upon herself while there.

Upon learning the severity of the wounds to Myah and that the most probable cause for such wounds was severe neglect by Deerfield Dog Lodging, I called Mr. Ramoie on the morning of Wednesday, September 24, 2014. Mr. Ramoie called back within a few minutes. After requesting that Mr. Ramoie mail back Myah's paperwork, which we neglected to take the prior day, I began to ask Mr. Ramoie about Myah's stay. Mr. Ramoie had no explanation for: a. not noticing the large Acral Lick Granuloma, b. how Myah had lost 7.8 pounds over the course of her stay, c. how so much more of Myah's food was missing than would have been appropriate if it had been properly measured out for her, d. why Myah would be unable to walk more than five minutes comfortably after her stay (while asserting that she had effortlessly walked half an hour each day while under his care). The “insult to injury” aspect of this is the way Mr. Ramoie approached the problems we were able to clearly and methodically illustrate to him. He claimed not to notice the Acral Lick Granuloma, which seems virtually impossible given its size and placement. His blasé retort that “dogs will lick, what am I supposed to do about it?!” is especially horrifying considering that Myah does not lick excessively when she is given attention and that I had to sign a form making me liable for any veterinary treatment Myah might require during her stay. In other words, if Mr. Ramoie and his staff had paid adequate attention to Myah and noticed her licking excessively and the formation of the Acral Lick Granulomas, they could have (and should have!) taken her to a vet to learn exactly what needed to be done to prevent her from making the wounds more severe!

With all of the contradictory information being given to us by our veterinarian and Deerfield Dog Lodging, it is hard for us to not feel like Deerfield Dog Lodging and Mr. Ramoie are more interested in protecting their business than actually caring for animals. Our veterinarian stated fairly emphatically that the weight loss and wounds Myah exhibited could not have occurred in an environment where she was properly cared for. Our veterinarian said that the only way Myah could have lost the weight she did while being properly fed was if she exercised (paced) constantly during her stay with Deerfield Dog Lodging. The assertion that Myah lost weight from constant exercise was directly contradicted by the presence of the Acral Lick Granulomas. The Acral Lick Granulomas could only have been formed by Myah’s near-constant licking.

Basic logic, then follows: We have the severe Acral Lick Granuloma (and three minor ones). Acral Lick Granulomas are caused by constant licking. If Myah was licking that constantly, then she was not eating, running around or active. The only logical conclusion (considering that Myah was not infested with any parasite) is that Myah lost more than 10% of her body weight over the course of her stay at Deerfield Dog Lodging because she was not adequately fed while there.

Regardless of our veterinarian being unwilling to make a statement alleging neglect or abuse, our veterinarian, the veterinary technicians and other workers at our animal hospital were all very interested in where Myah had been to incur such injuries and all seemed eager to make certain that none of their animal patients were ever sent there. That indicates a de facto understanding that Deerfield Dog Lodging was responsible for the weight loss and development of severe acral lick granulomas. Moreover, Mr. Ramoie and his staff were negligent for neither noticing nor contacting us about such wounds (if they were competently observing that Myah was agitated, she would have been treated and we would have been notified long before the primary Acral Lick Granuloma was formed).

Such neglect and/or mistreatment of animals should not go unpunished. I pride myself on giving fair ratings and I tend to reserve a zero out of ten rating for the worst possible, most unredeemable products or services (like a movie that was not just bad, but caused physical discomfort to watch). While Deerfield Dog Lodging might seem to have a facility that is adequate (or better) for pets, the service one is paying for at such a facility is actual care. None was evident (and, in fact, the opposite is more evident!) from Myah’s stay at Deerfield Dog Lodging. No one should pay a facility for such a lack of proper care when proper feeding, lodging, exercise and monitoring is what Deerfield Dog Lodging was commissioned to provide.

For other products that Myah has helped to review, please be sure to check out our reviews of:
Meaty Bone Dog Treats
American Kennel Club Pet Bed
Cesar Canine Cuisine Filet Mignon Dog Food

0/10

For other Pet or Travel reviews, please check out my Pet Review Index Page and my Travel Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Average Until The Exceptional, “Listen” Is Intriguing Doctor Who!


The Good: Cool, creepy idea, Intriguing continuity, Neat character moments
The Bad: Plot-heavy, Very average performances
The Basics: With “Listen,” Doctor Who seems to be creating a new, creepy, alien race, but the episode only truly gets going at the end when the idea is tied in to Clara’s Impossible Girl arc.


One of the nice things about completing a vacation at the beginning of Season Premiere Season (mid-September) is that one comes home to a decent number of programs they might be excited for. As a new fan of Doctor Who, I find myself returning home to a backlog of Doctor Who episodes I am excited to watch. The first episode I missed while on vacation was “Listen.”

“Listen” looked very much like an average Doctor Who thriller episode from its previews (and its beginning), but it turned into something else (unfortunately) late in the episode. The result is an episode that is tough to review on its own and took me multiple viewings to truly come to a solid opinion on. Perhaps that is a new thing for me, being less judgmental; I did not have an immediate evaluation of The Giver (reviewed here!) while on vacation, either! “Listen” is one of the rare episodes of Doctor Who that is fairly weak on its own, but is a very strong episode in the larger context and story of Doctor Who. This is an episode that solidifies the concept of Clara Oswald as the Impossible Girl, a young woman who influenced all of the Doctors and who was integral to creating the man he became. “Listen” has a concept where Clara takes on a similar property to River Song, where the effects of her influence precede the cause of them . . . and in that way, the episode is smart and clever.

Unfortunately, it is late in the third act when that tie-in occurs and viewers are stuck in a largely mediocre episode until then.

Opening with the Doctor on (and in) the TARDIS, hypothesizing about the existence of a perfect hiding entity. He believes that talking to oneself occurs because we know we are not truly alone, that we are in the company of a race that hides perfectly from other living beings. Clara returns to her apartment from a disastrous date with Danny Pink to find The Doctor there, waiting. He proposes that all living beings have a silent companion and he enlists Clara to try to help him prove their existence. Believing that all people have a common nightmare – where one awakens from sleep, gets out of bed and feels a hand grab them from under the bed – is implanted by the perfect hider, The Doctor has Clara mentally link to the TARDIS to find the moment she had the dream. Going in search of that moment takes an unfortunate turn when Clara’s phone rings and she gets distracted thinking of Danny Pink.

Clara and The Doctor end up at a children’s home in Gloucester, where The Doctor meets with the caretaker while Clara encounters little Rupert Pink (the orphaned child who would grow up to be Danny Pink). In trying to reassure Rupert, Clara and Rupert get under his bed . . . and something reveals itself on the bed atop them! The Doctor arrives to save their lives by getting all three to turn their backs on the entity in order to make sure it does not feel threatened. After returning to the present where Clara tries to resume her date with Danny, she witnesses an astronaut walking through the restaurant. Following him, she and The Doctor end up at the very end of time and the universe with Orson Pink (one of Danny’s descendants) where he is stranded . . . and believes he is not alone.

“Listen” has two strong elements working in its favor. The first is that it has pretty wonderful banter in it. The Doctor is hilarious in his dialogue interactions with Clara. Together, they check out a version of Clara walking away and Clara quips about how being the last man in the universe is not a competition. The Doctor’s comments on Clara’s apartment and face are delightful. A decent chunk of “Listen” is laugh-out-loud funny.

The rest of “Listen” is clever or creepy and that is the second strong element. While the relationship between Clara and Orson is skirted around without being made entirely explicit, the episode’s most clever moments do not occur until the climax when the episode transitions from being an implicit Clara episode to a powerfully-Clara focused episode. Until that moment of transition, “Listen” is an unfortunately average “creature of the week freakout” episode. The Doctor goes in search of an entity that is, if it exists, impossible to find. By going to the end of the universe, The Doctor has the reasonable theory that the unseen entities might be willing to expose themselves to him (given that they have nothing to fear). The leaps between the creepy creature story and the Clara story make “Listen” look and feel like a number of other episodes of Doctor Who until the episode’s final moments.

Unfortunately, while the episode ends strong, it has some serious conceptual problems. The basic concept of “Listen” is problematic in that The Doctor’s whole idea has Clara crossing her own timestream, something which is explicitly forbidden. As the Impossible Girl, Clara Oswald has already witnessed all incarnations of The Doctor, past, present, and future, and influenced him to become the man he becomes (as well as saved his life at every moment of it). So, that Clara has to do the legwork of “The Day Of The Doctor” in “Listen” is an awful mix of brilliant and terrible. The short of it is this: it makes perfect sense that Clara would have done exactly what she does in “Listen” in terms of influencing the past . . . but it should have been Clara from the climax of “Name Of The Doctor” who actually did it, not the Clara who is now months older, traveling around with the current Doctor.

On the acting front, “Listen” is average. Jenna Coleman gives a momentarily great performance under the bed when Clara realizes exactly where she is. Wordlessly, she embodies an epiphany perfectly. That moment is counter-balanced by scenes wherein Coleman and Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink) have generally awful on-screen chemistry. As a result, for an episode that seems like it is ultimately a Clara episode, Peter Capaldi dominates. Capaldi has great facial expressions and deliveries throughout “Listen,” even if his character has no real development over the course of the episode.

Ultimately, the cool way that “Listen” retroactively influences prior episodes keeps the episode from being a dud, but those who are not already in love with Doctor Who are unlikely to have the patience to appreciate what the episode has to offer given how long it takes to come up.

For other works featuring John Hurt, please visit my reviews of:
Snowpiercer
Only Lovers Left Alive
Charlie Countryman
Immortals
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 1
Hellboy 2: The Golden Army
Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull
Hellboy
V For Vendetta
Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone
Dead Man
Jim Henson's The Storyteller
Alien
The Lord Of The Rings (1978 animated)
A Man For All Seasons

5.5/10

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

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