Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Not One Of Disney’s Greatest: The Great Mouse Detective Ages Poorly!


The Good: Generally fine animation
The Bad: Unmemorable music, Dull story, Bland characters
The Basics: Arguably one of the worst Disney ever produced, The Great Mouse Detective is a fairly generic reimagining of Sherlock Holmes as a fable.


My wife has been on a Disney kick. The latest in her long string of classic Disney animated films that she’s introduced me to is The Great Mouse Detective. Interestingly, The Great Mouse Detective was released when I was a kid and was age appropriate for going to see it. To the best of my knowledge, I did not and I had no interest in it. In fact, as one of Disney’s more lackluster (at the box office) films, it is somewhat unsurprising that it has taken me almost thirty years to catch the film. Now that I have, I’m surprised that the movie had any impact on my wife. The Great Mouse Detective might well be one of the least interesting, least memorable, least worthwhile Disney animated films ever produced.

A rare Disney mystery, The Great Mouse Detective continues the trend Disney has of making somewhat familiar stories into fables by replacing human characters with animals. In the case of The Great Mouse Detective, the characters are mostly mice and they are part of a story that is enough steps removed from the stories of Sherlock Holmes that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is not even credited in the writing acknowledgments. Even so, The Great Mouse Detective owes a large debt to the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and those who adapted the stories into films and television works. The Disney adaptation includes iconic aspects of Holmes such as his hat and his doctor sidekick.

As the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee approaches all of mousedom is thrown into chaos. Hiram Flaversham is kidnapped by a bat, Fidget, in front of his daughter, Olivia. Olivia meets Dr. David Q. Dawson in his search for the great mouse detective, Basil Of Baker Street. Basil is reluctant to take Olivia’s case until he learns that the bat was involved, as Basil knows that the bat works for his nemesis, Professor Ratigan. Ratigan is preparing his biggest, most destructive, plot yet for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Basil enlists Toby, the dog, to track down the bat and Ratigan with the idea of getting Flaversham back only secondary to his own agenda.

When Olivia is captured by Fidget, Basil recovers the bat’s “to do” list and has the chance to crack the case and find Ratigan. Basil uses the paper to track Fidget and Basil and Dawson head off to rescue Olivia from the villainous Ratigan. Heading off to the waterfront, Basil, Dawson and Toby go through a rousing song and dance number before they see Fidget and he leads them to Ratigan’s lair. There, Basil must outwit Ratigan and rescue Olivia and Flaversham.

What The Great Mouse Detective lacks entirely is charm. While Disney animated films cannot truly be accused of lacking originality (almost all of them are based upon works that are in the public domain), what they usually possess is charm and decent music. As one of the last underwhelming Disney films to precede the studio’s explosive rebirth that came with The Little Mermaid (reviewed here!), The Great Mouse Detective is lacking in the sense of magic, wonder, and catchy tunes.

Basil is a cheap knock-off of Sherlock Holmes as his elaborate experiment that ties the paper to the waterfront illustrates. Basil does not have any distinguishing characteristics or quirks that make him engaging to watch. Instead, he is a stiflingly generic detective. Even worse, Dawson is relegated to the status of pure sidekick with nothing that he brings to the investigative team. Unlike John Watson who both grounds and humanizes Sherlock Holmes in most of Doyle’s stories (and whose unique experiences make him an actual asset in the current BBC production Sherlock), Dawson is just a sidekick who bumbles around after Basil in The Great Mouse Detective.

Equally unimpressive is the adversary in The Great Mouse Detective. Ratigan is a somewhat ridiculous villain. Simply luring Basil to his lair leads the supposedly brilliant Ratigan to declare victory over the detective. Ratigan is not terribly smart; he trusts that Flavisham has constructed his killing machine without error and his motivation is not clear for the bulk of the movie. Instead, Ratigan is a generic enemy who wants to rule the world for no particular reason. The plot to replace the queen of mice is so flawed as to be laughable and that Basil is predictably able to thwart him is not a function of great detective work or impressive skill on Basil’s part as much as it is a plot inevitability. In other words, Ratigan is not so great as to enhance Basil’s stature and Basil’s mediocrity only makes Ratigan seem more ridiculous as a villain.

The animation in The Great Mouse Detective is adequate, but unexceptional. One of Disney’s first major motion pictures assisted by computers, The Great Mouse Detective illustrates early on how computers cannot save films that start with a weak script. In contrast, the voice talents employed in The Great Mouse Detective are universally good. Each of the performers is appropriately expressive. Barrie Ingham, however, does not speak in such a way that makes one believe that Basil is a mouse of superior intellect and that guts the premise of the film almost from the character’s introduction.

Ultimately, The Great Mouse Detective is a forgettable, dull fable that can be forgotten; when Disney puts it in the vault, one doubts there will ever be enough of a clamor for its release to warrant the studio to ever take it out again.

For other works with Eve Brenner, please visit my reviews of:
Walk Of Shame
“Remember” - Star Trek: Voyager
“Violations” - Star Trek: The Next Generation

1.5/10

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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Monday, August 18, 2014

Penultimate True Blood: “Love Is To Die” Has One Good Arc As It Cuts Ties!


The Good: Good acting between Jim Parrack and Deborah Ann Woll, Moments of character
The Bad: Light on plot, Blasé character moments, Mostly unexceptional performances
The Basics: “Love Is To Die” moves True Blood much closer to its end; without leaving a compelling hook for fans to come back for the finale.


With only two episodes of True Blood left, the penultimate episode works very hard to frame how the series will end. True Blood’s “Love Is To Die” sets up a finale that is likely to be less bang and more “fade away.” The way the second-to-last episode feeds into the finale is actually somewhat unsurprising; the seventh and final season of True Blood has been a lot of fizzling out and the cramped cast has struggled to find a compelling story to tell. In fact, given how serialized the show is, it is almost surprising that “Love Is To Die” bothers with a “previously on” montage at the beginning of the episode.

“Love Is To Die” picks up where “Almost Home” (reviewed here!) ended and it continues the trend of the last few episodes of cutting ties for the characters. In fact, given the tone of most of “Love Is To Die,” the finale is almost unnecessary. There is a “ho-hum,” “this place is becoming a ghost town” attitude toward Bon Temps that the show feels like it is just waiting out the clock at this point. In discussing “Love Is To Die,” it is not possible to discuss where the characters are without (potentially) spoiling prior events from the season.

With Bill refusing to drink Sarah Newlin’s blood and be cured of the Hep-V infection that is ravishing his body, both Jessica and Sookie are furious at Bill Compton. After Bill renounces his ties to Jessica, she turns to Pam and Sookie finds herself in Eric’s arms. Sookie and Jessica visit Sam’s house where they find it abandoned and two letters waiting for them. Sookie’s letter explains to her exactly why he and Nicole have abandoned Bon Temps; the letter Sam left for Andy is simply his resignation as mayor. As Bellefleur’s, Jessica makes peace with James and LaFayette. Hoyt and Bridgette fight, largely because Bridgette is jealous of Jessica. Things get worse for their relationship when Jessica shows up. Bridgette gives Hoyt an ultimatum and Hoyt follows the vampire out into the night. Jessica and Hoyt reconcile and Jessica tells Hoyt their story.

While the bulk of the remaining town has dinner together at Bellefleur’s, Eric visits Bill Compton (who has returned to his mansion). There, Eric tries to convince Bill to take the cure and live on for Sookie. When Jason tries to rescue Bridgette from Hoyt’s house, he gets knocked out and she ends up rescuing him (though he helps book her a ticket back to Anchorage). Pam restores Sarah Newlin to her traditional look in preparation to sell her to the highest bidders (billing her as potentially the highest paid trollop in history). As the party at Bellefleur’s breaks up, Eric approaches Sookie to try to explain why Bill is allowing himself to die. Sookie returns home to attend to Bill as he dies. At Fangtasia, Eric almost fucks Ginger and he descends to the basement where Gus Jr. has Pam captured. Forced to be honest to save her life, Eric tells Gus Jr. where Sookie lives.

“Love Is To Die” is a mediocre episode that continues the trend of writing out characters to the series in thoroughly underwhelming ways. Earlier in the season, Tara died off camera and her arc in the season had her existing as a ghost to essentially further the unlikable character of Lettie Mae. Sam is similarly written out with an off-camera departure, which is incredibly unsatisfying for viewers who have stuck with the series so long. It is somewhat ridiculous to make Sam mayor only to have him have only one tiny arc! Sam’s big character arc was over at the end of the prior season when he proposed the pairing of humans and vampires for protection. This season, he has been a non-entity and his promotion to mayor has had less impact than Andy Bellefleur wanting to marry Holly! One of the essential characters at the beginning of the series, Sam has faded to not at all a presence by “Love Is To Die.”

The scene between Hoyt and Bridgette is more melodramatic and like a soap opera than it is realistic and compelling. Far more interesting in “Love Is To Die” is how much time the episode devotes to Jessica and Hoyt. Hoyt was a supporting character at the outset of True Blood and his arc with Jessica was a good one for the seasons they were involved. “Love Is To Die” capitalizes on the on-screen chemistry that Jim Parrack and Deborah Ann Woll have. Boosted by the scene where Jason tells Bridgette about his childhood with Hoyt and the relationship Hoyt and Jessica had before. More than any other relationship in True Blood, “Love Is To Die” frames Jessica and Hoyt as the great love story of the series.

This late in the story, the burgeoning relationship between Jason and Bridgette seems somewhat forced. In fact, not since Star Trek: Voyager contrived a relationship between Chakotay and Seven Of Nine in the final few episodes has a relationship seemed so forced on television near its end. At least the almost-sex scene between Ginger and Eric is treated with appropriate ridiculousness.

“Love Is To Die” is an episode where virtually nothing happens; the characters are realigned, but there are no stellar events to make one want to bother with the finale.

For other penultimate episodes to television series’, please visit my reviews of:
“The Dogs Of War” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
“Parallel Lives” - VR.5
“Episode 28” - Twin Peaks

4/10

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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Best Of The True Blood Graphic Novels? True Blood: Tainted Love Might Well Be It!


The Good: Accurately references key moments of True Blood and foreshadows well, Good character development
The Bad: Mediocre artwork
The Basics: True Blood: Tainted Love smartly develops a story involving contaminated Tru Blood years before the television series did it!


As True Blood winds down, I am finding that I am more eagerly filling in the gaps with the True Blood franchise by catching up on some of the graphic novels I had missed. Interestingly enough, I was working at a comic book shop when True Blood: Tainted Love began, but I never managed to take the time to read it until now. For the last few years, the six individual issues of Tainted Love have been compiled as a single graphic novel, Volume 2 in the True Blood graphic novel series. Unlike some of the other True Blood graphic novels I have read, True Blood: Tainted Love lives up to its potential and the expectations of fans of the franchise in that it tells a decent story and does so quite well.

Having not read any of the Sookie Stackhouse novels upon which True Blood is based, my perception of the franchise is based entirely upon the television series and their accompanying graphic novels. True Blood: Tainted Love capitalizes on the relationships from the television show, while still telling an engaging story with a compelling villain. Perhaps one of the best aspects of True Blood: Tainted Love is that it does not directly contradict True Blood . . . at least not at the time the book was written. In fact, True Blood: Tainted Love essentially foreshadows events of the final season of the show by creating a scenario with tainted Tru Blood making vampire life much more difficult.

As Sookie finds herself somewhat distressed over fantasizing over both Eric Northman and Bill Compton, Hoyt Fortenberry realizes his relationship with Jessica is a lot more complicated than he initially thought it was. When Jessica sees that Bon Temps is having its prom, she misses the normal growing up moments she never had. Flashing back to her conservative, homeschooled upbringing and the near-misses she had as a young adult with teenage rebellion and sexuality, Jessica gets more and more upset. Hoyt decides to take her to the prom and as Jessica gets excited for the event, she consumes a batch of Tru Blood that makes vampires feral killers.

Under the guise of being tainted to free vampires from the shackles of civility, vampires near Bon Temps begin to go psychotic after consuming the Tru Blood and the hunt begins for the perpetrators. While Jason and Hoyt hunt for Jessica, Bill and Eric desperately search for the vampires involved with spiking the Tru Blood and the cure for the additives that corrupted the batch. But Tara helps point the gang in the right direction; that Steve Newlin’s Light Of Day Institute (the Church of the Sun) might be behind the corrupted Tru Blood and that time is running out for Jessica and the other infected vampires!

True Blood: Tainted Love is smart and well-assembled. Instead of bothering to try to include the full cast of True Blood, True Blood: Tainted Love tells a more focused story. Given the immense popularity of Jessica, she becomes a great subject for a graphic novel and writers Marc Andreyko and Michael McMillian seem to realize that. Sookie Stackhouse, who is the protagonist of the novels upon which True Blood is based, is basically a supporting character in True Blood: Tainted Love. Sookie, Bill and Eric work to save Jessica and expose the plot-based elements introduced in the book, but most of the actual character development is centered around Jessica.

The writers of True Blood: Tainted Love smartly recall the origins of Jessica, which is something the writers of the HBO series seem to have lost. Jessica was a sheltered, home-schooled, ultra-conservative girl before Bill Compton turned her. In True Blood: Tainted Love, her origins are explored in greater depth, which enriches her character. The prom story is a great concept for her character and the way the story turns into a feral Jessica revenge story is pieced together well as the king of the prom is a boy who once maligned her in her pre-vampire days.

One of the nice aspects of True Blood: Tainted Love is that all of the important aspects of Jessica’s s character are included in the graphic novel. Anyone can pick up True Blood: Tainted Love and get everything essential to the story within the pages. Sure, fans of True Blood will catch more allusions than those who are not fans, but anyone can read and enjoy the graphic novel as a self-contained “episode” with a decent character arc.

The artwork in True Blood: Tainted Love is muted in its colors and sloppy in its lines. The characters look only vaguely like the characters from the series. Panel to panel, the book features renditions of the characters that frequently look like anyone but Anna Paquin, Alexander Skarsgaard, Stephen Moyer. Only Jessica, Hoyt and Jason Stackhouse are truly accurately rendered consistently. True Blood: Tainted Love is a bit unsatisfying on the art front and fans of the series are likely to be a little disappointed or at the very least underwhelmed by the book.

Even so, True Blood: Tainted Love is well worth picking up and worth reading for anyone who likes a good supernatural love story and mystery.

For other True Blood graphic novels, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Volume 1, All Together Now
Where Were You?
Volume 5, The French Quarter

7/10

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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My First Full Cryptozoic Set: DC Comics The Women Of Legends Is Unfortunately Erratic!


The Good: Interesting concept, Some genuinely nice artwork, Some wonderful/creative bonus cards
The Bad: Overproduced, Some dull chase cards, Some ridiculously simplistic sketch cards.
The Basics: Cryptozoic’s The Women Of Legends card set is a decent concept for a trading card set, though it is executed in an underwhelming way for card collectors and (especially) fans of DC Comics.


The last month of my life has been a wonderful turnaround for me. I went from working a terrible job that I absolutely loathed, that underpaid me and undervalued me and worked me to the bone to completely revitalizing my business as a trading card dealer. It has been a wonderful change for my family and I and it has left me in a place to take advantage of a number of great deals that appear before me. One of the deals I was able to enjoy as a result of having more investment capital was the 2013 Cryptozoic release for DC Comics, known as The Women Of Legend trading cards. I was excited about the Women Of Legend trading cards because – for me – it represented the ability to branch out beyond the Star Trek cards I have long collected and sold. While I have had a few random packs of Cryptozoic cards cross my path before now, the Women Of Legend set was the first Cryptozoic product that I have broken down by the case. Sadly, it was a less incredible experience than I hoped it would be as a fan of the DC Comics universe.

Basics/ Set Composition

The DC Comics The Women Of Legend trading cards were originally released in boxes with thirty-six packs, packs containing five cards each. Properly assembled, the Women Of Legend consists of 240 cards! Featuring cards that span the recent DC Universe and the New 52 Universe, the Women Of Legend card set is written (mostly) as a New-52 Universe set that focuses on the Women of the DC Universe. Properly assembled, the set features sixty-three common cards and 177 bonus cards (all but three are available in the boxes of Women Of Legend cards).

Common Cards

The Women Of Legend is a 63 card set that features both the most popular women of the DC Comics Universe and the significant team-ups between those characters. The common set has an introductory card with the most recognizable women of DC (Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Catwoman, etc.) in their “New 52” renderings, 46 cards featuring significant women from the DC Universe, 15 cards that feature significant pairings of those heroines and one checklist card.

The common cards are an unfortunate mixed bag. The artwork varies between incredible renderings, like the title card and the nightmarish painting of Harley Quinn (card 17) and cards that have ridiculous, cartoon versions of the characters (like cards 18 and 19, of Terra and Hawkgirl). While the Women Of Legend set is all oriented in the portrait form for all 63 cards, the quality and subjects vary incredible amounts. There is a cartoonish version of Saturn Girl, an obscure heroine from the Legion Of Super-Heroes (set centuries outside the primary DC Universe), but no card for Silver Swan (a popular villain instantly familiar to fans of Wonder Woman, like me!).

The writing for the Women Of Legend set is good-enough. Fans of the DC Universe will not learn anything new or extraordinary by reading the backs of the cards, though they are clearly intended for fans of the New 52 (Wonder Woman, for example, is mentioned to be the daughter of Hippolyta and Zeus). The card backs are interesting for telling more casual fans about the obscure heroines and the team-ups they might not be familiar with, but they do not feature any incredible spoilers for recent stories or information that is not particularly revealing.

Chase Cards

The Women Of Legend set features more bonus cards than common cards, which is not at all uncommon for contemporary trading card sets. The Women Of Legend set features 177 chase cards which range from simple foil parallel cards to significantly rare sketch cards (each of which are entirely unique). In the packs, collectors can find 174 of the 177 bonus cards. The chase card breakdown is thus: 63 foil parallel cards, 9 Gail’s Picks, 9 Katie Cook Sticker cards, 3 Totally Fabricated, 89 sketch and 1 Redemption cards. The most basic chase card set found in the packs are the foil parallel cards. The parallel cards replicate the common cards, but with mirrored accents. Some of the cards are extraordinary for how the foil enhances the image of the character the card portrays. The backs of the foil parallel cards are identical to the common cards, so when going through the packs, one has to look at the front of each card. It takes about a case to assemble a complete set of 63 foil parallel cards.

Found two cards per box are the Gail’s Pick and Katie Cook sticker cards, each of which is part of a nine-card bonus card set. The artwork for both sets is unique to that chase set and the writing for the Gail’s Picks set is a little more extensive than for the common cards. The Gail’s Picks cards are a foil-enhanced bonus card set that focuses on the women and female teams that writer Gail Simone most likes. The set features characters she wrote for – Wonder Woman, Black Canary, the Huntress – as well as others she just seems to like (Supergirl and Lois Lane, apparently). The writing on those cards does not provide much in the way of insights from Simone, which is unfortunate. Gail Simone could have written that backs of the cards and told people why she loved the different characters, but Cryptozoic did not go that far with the bonus card set. Similarly, the Katie Cook sticker set (which, honestly, I have not been able to peel apart to discover if they actually are stickers) features no insightful writing, though they all have artwork from artist Katie Cook. The artwork is simplified and cartoonish, like Katie Cook did a “Muppet Babies” version of the DC Universe heroines.

The Totally Fabricated cards are a “hit or miss” concept card for fans of the DC Universe heroines. Costume cards are immensely popular trading cards these days and as the subjects of the Women Of Legend set are comic book characters, there would seem to be no costume cards that could be produced for the set. Cryptozoic did not let that stop them. Instead, they produced the “Totally Fabricated” bonus cards and the Women Of Legends set has three such cards in the boxes and packs. Found one in every 175 packs, the Women Of Legends set features admittedly fake fabric swatches (not really) from the costumes of Catwoman, Wonder Woman and Supergirl. I think the Totally Fabricated cards are a neat idea and they are executed incredibly well. Cryptozoic, to its credit, did not overproduce the Totally Fabricated cards and only did them for the very most popular characters in the DC universe.

In addition to the Totally Fabricated cards, there is an exceptionally rare redemption card for a piece of Wonder Woman’s invisible plane. After almost a year, only seven of the existing twenty-five redemption cards have been redeemed, which suggests either many are still out there or DC Comics fans, like Star Trek card collectors, consider the redemption card a legitimate part of the set.

The Women Of Legend set is fleshed out with eighty-nine sketch cards of women of the DC Universe. The sketch cards are produced by eighty-nine different artists and each one is absolutely unique, so assembling a master set requires one to track down one from each of the eighty-nine artists Cryptozoic hired for the project. The quality of the sketch cards, like the common cards, varies greatly between fine-art quality colored sketches and cartoonish, animated versions of the significant DC Comics heroines.

Non-Box/Pack Cards

No matter how many packs or boxes of Women Of Legend cards one opens, there are three cards collectors will never find there. Non-Sports Update Magazine released a promotional card for the Women Of Legend set. Similarly, the actual card for the fragment of Wonder Woman’s Invisible Jet (which might just be an empty costume card, a high-quality image of one has not been made available) is only available by redeeming one of the redemption cards. The other card that cannot be found in any of the boxes or packs is the Batgirl Totally Fabricated card. That card is only found in the binders of the Women Of Legends cards. Having only three cards that cannot be found in the cases is actually not bad at all.

Overall

I have long decried the use of redemption cards, but the fact that the Women Of Legends set features only one is not bad. The set only holds value for the sketch cards, but Cryptozoic did a decent job of making an interesting set with the Women Of Legends cards. While fans like me would hope for more consistency, Cryptozoic’s erratic effort at least does what it promises which is to highlight the incredible women who make up the DC Comics universe.

For other artwork-based trading card sets reviewed by me, please check out:
SkyBox Star Trek Master Series
SkyBox Star Trek 1994 Master Series
Rittenhouse Archives Star Trek The Original Series Portfolio Prints

5/10

For other card reviews, please visit my Card Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Sadly No Better Than The Movie; The 2014 U.S.S. Vengeance Ornament Is An Under-Detailed Disappointment!


The Good: Accurate rendering
The Bad: Pricy, No sound effect, Very lightly detailed
The Basics: The U.S.S. Vengeance Hallmark ornament renders the ship from the disappointing Star Trek Into Darkness in an accurate, but disappointing, way.


Every now and then, I actually feel sorry for licensees of major franchises. In order to market merchandise for products, usually the manufacturers who produce such products have to make them a decent amount of time in advance of the work being released and they have no idea as to whether or not the source material will actually be successful. In the case of Star Trek licensees, I seldom find myself feeling sorry for the manufacturers. After all, more often than not, the licensees look at Star Trek as a cash cow. But with Hallmark, the franchise is seldom really exploited – this year’s Vina ornament (reviewed here!) was the first Star Trek wide-release limited edition ornament produced in years – so I have come to appreciate how much work they put into the ornaments they produce for the Star Trek franchise. Unfortunately with the 2014 starship release from Hallmark, Hallmark shot double duds.

This year’s Hallmark Star Trek starship ornament is the U.S.S. Vengeance. The Vengeance was a somewhat briefly seen ship in Star Trek Into Darkness. Two summers ago, the serious Star Trek fans who attended the Las Vegas Star Trek convention voted Star Trek Into Darkness as the worst of the Star Trek feature films. And it wasn’t even close to the next film on their “best of” list. So, that Hallmark chose a fairly unpopular ship from an unpopular film makes it a tough sell for the Star Trek fans and there is no hook for the population in general.

For those unfamiliar with the U.S.S. Vengeance, this is the starship that was utilized by the villain in Star Trek Into Darkness (reviewed here!). The ship was used by Admiral Marcus to try to destroy the U.S.S. Enterprise after Kirk liberated the man who bombed StarFleet’s secret library in London from Klingon space. The giant starship utilized by Section 31 nearly destroyed the Enterprise before it crashed into Earth.

Sadly, Hallmark’s 2014 Keepsake ornament is the dark starship that was briefly seen . . . and for which there is no reasonable expectation that we will see it again.

Basics

The "U.S.S. Vengeance" ornament faithfully recreates the dark Section 31 starship in solid black plastic. With very simple lines and almost no coloring details, the U.S.S. Vengeance looks pretty much like it did in the film. The ornament, released in 2014, is an accurate casting of the StarFleet vessel with a light feature, but almost no painted-on details. Measuring just over five and five-eighths inches long, 3” wide and 1 1/2” tall, the U.S.S. Vengeance ornament is bland and an utterly unnecessary addition to the Star Trek ornament line. Hallmark continues to bank on the Star Trek fans for revenue and with a starting price of $32.95 for the ornament which has a light effect, but no sound chip, this is comparatively expensive.

The Hallmark "U.S.S. Vengeance" ornament is made of a durable plastic and has the starship on its own, as is typical for Hallmark's starship line of Star Trek ornaments. Unlike the previous Star Trek ornament releases, there is no date stamped onto this ornament. If it is molded on, it is very subtle and may just be the copyright date. This ornament includes the 1.5V LR41 batteries to power the ship for the light effect.

The U.S.S. Vengeance is poorly detailed, though the source material is ridiculously simple. The monolithic black starship only has white painted details on the inner portion of the saucer section (which has some open space in front of the bridge section). The U.S.S. Vengeance has a few sections of baffle panels and nooks and crannies and the U.S.S. Vengeance has those and the weird angles on the front of the engineering hull detailed on the ornament. This ship looks clean and black, without any battle scarring which makes sense given that this was essentially a prototype vessel. The simple source material, no matter how well-rendered, is exceptionally simplistic and stacked up next to other Hallmark Star Trek ornaments, it looks very poor.

Features

As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, the "U.S.S. Vengeance" has a light function, but sadly, no audio one. This was one of the many Star Trek ornaments to light up, but not play a sound clip. The ship is powered by 1.5V batteries which fit into the engineering hull. There is a panel that requires a screwdriver to open. The ornament comes with the appropriate batteries and given Hallmark’s track record, it is easy to assume the one set will last at least one full holiday season.

After the batteries are installed and the battery compartment is closed, there is a button that lights the U.S.S. Vengeance up. Pressing the button activates the light effects for the U.S.S. Vengeance and there is only a blue light that comes from the main deflector dish on the engineering hull. This is a minimal light effect and it is barely noticeable in regular lighting conditions. This is a huge disappointment for fans.

It is similarly disappointing that the U.S.S. Vengeance does not have any sound effect.

Balance

As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake "U.S.S. Vengeance" ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate Star Trek Christmas Tree, the "U.S.S. Vengeance" ornament is a poor addition and given how Star Trek Into Darkness did not do stellar business comparatively, the U.S.S. Vengeance ornament is a tough sell to fans and the general public. The ornament has the standard steel hook loop embedded into the top aft section of the saucer section.

From that point, the U.S.S. Vengeance is well-balanced. In fact, this hangs perfectly level, without any balance issues, though it does swing easily when knocked around on the hook/branch.

Collectibility

Hallmark Keepsake began delving into the collectibles market in 1991 with Star Trek when it introduced the exceptionally limited edition original U.S.S. Enterprise ornament (reviewed here!). Since then, they have made ornament replicas of almost all of the major starships from the franchise and they have begun mass producing exceptionally minor ships like the U.S.S. Vengeance. The "U.S.S. Vengeance" ornament seems to be selling very slowly; I’ve found them in quantity at all of the Hallmark stores I have visited recently. Given the price and obscurity of the ship in the source material, it is hard to bet on this being a good investment ship ornament. As a loyal fan of the franchise, I am banking on finding these after the holiday when they are put on 50% clearance.

Overview

The U.S.S. Vengeance is no better than Star Trek Into Darkness and that makes it not at all worth picking up.

For other Star Trek ship ornaments from Hallmark, please check out my reviews of:
2013 U.S.S. Kelvin (Battle Damaged) Convention Exclusive
2013 U.S.S. Kelvin
2012 U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-D 25th Anniversary Edition
2011 U.S.S. Defiant (New York Comic Con Exclusive)
2011 Romulan Bird Of Prey
2010 U.S.S. Enterprise (Star Trek refit)
2009 Klingon Battlecruiser
2008 U.S.S. Reliant
2006 U.S.S. Enterprise (reissue)
2005 U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-A
2004 Vulcan Command Ship
2003 Scorpion Attack Craft
2002 Delta Flyer
2001 Deep Space Nine
2000 Borg Cube
1999 Runabout Rio Grande
1998 U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-E
1997 U.S.S. Defiant
1996 U.S.S. Voyager
1995 Romulan Warbird
1994 Klingon Bird Of Prey
1993 U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-D
1992 Shuttlecraft Galileo

4/10

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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Friday, August 15, 2014

No Wonder It Is Already Being Clearanced: Sodastream Cooking Light Kiwi-Pear Sparkling Drink Mix Underwhelms!



The Good: Fairly inexpensive, Low calorie
The Bad: Requires a pricy machine to make into a not-quite soda pop, Harder to find, Not at all a strong or vibrant flavor, Not actually nutritious.
The Basics: Sodastream makes a disappointing sparking drink with its not-quite-fruity enough Kiwi-Pear Flavored beverage.


When I picked up a Sodastream home carbonation system for my wife for her 25th birthday, there were several products we found ourselves instantly baffled by. Why, we wondered together, would Sodastram and its patrons need Ocean Spray, Hawaiian Punch and Crystal Lite flavors for what was a soda pop maker?! We never, honestly, intended to utilize our Sodastream for anything but the company’s zero calorie soda pops . . . until we found the Cooking Light Kiwi-Pear Sparkling Drink Mix on clearance the other night at our local grocery store. Some combination of our power being off, boredom and curiosity played together for us to actually buy the Sodastream not-soda flavor mix. Unfortunately, neither of us were at all impressed by the Sodastream Kiwi-Pear Sparkling Drink Mix.

Had we not known that this was supposed to be Kiwi-Pear flavored, neither of us would have guessed it was that flavor. In fact, given that it is not quite a soda pop, the Kiwi-Pear Sparkling Drink Mix bears more of a resemblance to a flavored seltzer water than a satisfying low- (or no-) calorie soda pop.

Basics

Available primarily in a 16.9 fl. oz. plastic bottle, Sodastream Kiwi-Pear Flavored Sparkling Drink Mix is a concentrated flavor syrup for creating Kiwi-Pear drink that is somewhat like soda. Despite finding it on clearance for $3.50, the usual price is in the $5 - $7 range per bottle. The Sodastream Kiwi-Pear Flavored Sparkling Drink Mix makes 50 8 oz. servings and that is about what we got out of our bottle.

Ease Of Preparation

The Sodastream Kiwi-Pear Flavored Sparkling Drink Mix is a flavoring to be used with a Sodastream soda pop maker, like the Sodastream Fizz (reviewed here!). After one fills the Sodastream bottle with water – I recommend filtered water and when I use my Brita Water Filter Pitcher (reviewed here!) in order to prepare the sparkling drink it provides a more pure flavor – and carbonates it, they must add a capful of Sodastream Kiwi-Pear Flavored Sparkling Drink Mix to the bottle. It is that easy. Preparing the Sodastream Kiwi-Pear Flavored Sparkling Drink Mix into a prepared beverage is easy and it makes a very lightly flavored carbonated beverage.

Taste

The Sodastream Kiwi-Pear Flavored Sparkling Drink Mix has a light generically fruity scent to it. The aroma is not very strong and that actually prepares the consumer for the beverage surprisingly well.

In the mouth, the prepared mix is overwhelmed by the carbonation. The Kiwi-Pear flavor is rendered as a generic, sweet flavor. Indeed, once the carbonation has dissipated, this beverage tastes more like a powdered drink mix than a soda pop. With the carbonation, there is little in the way of fruit flavor in the Kiwi-Pear Sparkling Drink. Instead, there is a light applish fruit flavor that is sublimated to a sugary taste that comes from the drink. This is not a powerful flavor at all, nor is there anything that truly embodies kiwi (which is usually somewhat sweet then sour).

Unlike most beverages, the Sodastream Kiwi-Pear Flavored Sparkling Drink Mix has no aftertaste.

Nutrition

The Sodastream Kiwi-Pear Flavored Sparkling Drink Mix makes a drink that is not quite a soda pop, so it is unsurprising that it does not have a strong flavor (though it seems odd that people would bother with it given that it is not at all flavorful or distinctive!). Mixed properly, the Kiwi-Pear Sparkling Drink results in a beverage that has forty calories and ten grams of carbohydrates all in the form of sugars. There are no other nutrients of any sort in the Kiwi-Pear Sparkling Drink mix, so it is not bad for consumers, but not good either.

Made primarily of fructose, water, and citric acid, the Sodastream Kiwi-Pear Flavored Sparkling Drink Mix has nothing particularly bad in it, but nothing very good either (which makes one wonder why Cooking Light associated its name with it. There is no caffeine, no aspartame, and no high-fructose corn syrup. It is kosher and carries no allergy warnings.

Storage/Cleanup

The Sodastream Kiwi-Pear Flavored Soda Mix is a liquid, so there is the danger of spilling it and wasting some of it. But, for the most part, it is a drink mix that keeps for quite some time, at least until it is prepared. The bottle we got last week had an expiration date of February 15, 2015, so this is a mix that does not last forever!

The Kiwi-Pear mix is very light yellow, so it will only stain light colored fabrics. Consult a fabric guide to get any stains out.

Overall

Sodastream Kiwi-Pear Flavored Sparkling Drink Mix continues to leave consumers baffled as to why anyone would buy a non-soda Sodastream drink mix instead of one of their many wonderful soda pop flavors (some of which are much healthier than this mix)!

For other Sodastream Mix reviews, please check out my reviews of:
Diet Orange Mango
Diet Tonic Water
Caffeine-Free Diet Cola
Diet Pink Grapefruit

2/10

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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Part Two, “World War Three” Concludes, But Does Not Blow Viewers Away.


The Good: Decent acting, Good pacing
The Bad: Mixed special effects, Light on character development
The Basics: “World War Three” reveals the plot of the alien invaders in the second part of the arc that is very preoccupied with answering questions from the first part as opposed to telling a strong Doctor Who story.


On Doctor Who, the new continuation of the franchise, the stories are largely serialized. Even so, there are some stories that cannot be contained within a single episode. The very first explicit two-parter is “Aliens Of London” (reviewed here!) and its second part, “World War Three.” “World War Three” is a continuation of the plotline which finds Earth under an alien invasion in the near future (or what was the near future when the episode aired in 2006) and it is impossible to discuss without revealing some spoilers from the first part.

“World War Three” has some of the same basic problems as the first part – minutae like The Doctor listening to a signal and trying to translate it while Rose shows none of the same ability (though both should be tapped into the TARDIS telepathic translation matrix) – and the episode is similarly plot-centered, though it is not bad. What it does illustrate is how curt The Doctor can be and, unfortunately, how plot-focused the show could be for some of its arcs. “Aliens Of London” dug the characters into a sufficiently deep hole; “World War Three” takes a lot of focus to get the characters out of their predicament and save the world . . . with little time for character growth and development.

When The Doctor turns the Slitheen weapon on his captors, it incapacitates all of the Slitheen on Earth. This allows Rose and Harriet Jones and Mickey and Jackie, separately, to escape their respective Slitheen captors. Rose, Harriet, and The Doctor escape to the most secure room in Downing Street where The Doctor works to formulate a plan. The Slitheen, which is a family of aliens, congregate at the upper levels of the Prime Minister’s office.

Using Rose’s boosted phone to contact Mickey, The Doctor tries to narrow down where the Slitheen are from. Deducing from the technology, size and composition of the aliens that they are from Raxacoricofallapatorius, the alien-inhabited acting Prime Minister makes an appeal to the United Nations for the nuclear codes that will allow the Slitheen to destroy the ship they crashed in the Thames. Believing there is an alien invasion imminent, the UN debates releasing the nuclear codes, while the Doctor appeals to the Slitheen and is forced to make a decision which endangers Rose. Working with Mickey over the phone (Mickey having gotten into UNIT’s controls over the internet thanks to the Doctor), the Doctor tries to avert nuclear destruction and stop the Slitheen from making profit off the Earth’s burnt-out remains!

The thing is, Rose is an adult and she is old enough to make her own decisions, so her willingness to be put in peril in order to save Earth from the Raxacoricofallapatorians is hers to make. So The Doctor’s moral dilemma of the episode seems especially forced and melodramatic.

Arguably more important to “World War Three” is the progression of guest character Harriet Jones. Harriet Jones acts as a Companion to The Doctor in the episode and she is an interesting addition to the team. Indeed, she is a natural leader and she makes for a good Companion for The Doctor, even if only for the episode. The Doctor’s revelation about Harriet Jones near the climax of the episode is an interesting one and it promises the character’s return, which adds to the sense of a larger story being told in the first season of Doctor Who.

The Doctor is much more curt in “World War Three” than in prior episodes. He’s pleasantly goofy at some points, but he’s just mean to Mickey (until the very end of the episode) and the way he dismisses Jackie out of hand when she tries to cook for him is off-putting. On the plus side, The Doctor is characterized more as a thinker than any sort of omniscient being in “World War Three.” He uses deductive reasoning and rational thinking as opposed to suddenly divining correct answers (and keeping them from his Companion and the audience) until it is plot-convenient.

Despite the plot-heavy nature of “World War Three” and the occasionally gruff nature of The Doctor in the episode, the acting is wonderful. Billie Piper, Christopher Eccleston, and Penelope Wilton all interact flawlessly with CG versions of the Slitheen. While some people take issue with the cheesy look of the Slitheen, they are a unique alien life form in science fiction and they look decidedly more real as big rubber suits than in their computer generated forms. Piper and Eccleston continue to build on their character’s chemistry, though there is less flirtatious banter in “World War Three” than in any of the prior episodes.

“World War Three” ends up being a necessary conclusion to the first two-parter in the new Doctor Who, but it is not a stellar episode of television. It suits its purpose in an enjoyable-enough way, but it is not particularly substantive or satisfying outside the resolution it brings.

[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 works with Penelope Wilton, please visit my reviews of:
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Pride And Prejudice

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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Despite The Hassle Of Accessing The Components, The Star Wars 30th Anniversary The Battle Of Hoth Playset Is Worth Hunting Down!


The Good: Awesome components, Collectible value, Playability/poseability, Detailing
The Bad: Removing from the package is a pain in the butt, Lack of a play base
The Basics: At long last, I not only acquired, but opened the Star Wars 30th Anniversary The Battle Of Hoth Ultimate Battle Pack “playset” and find it still worth the wait and every penny paid!


A few years ago, I gave up a lucrative career with the Federal government to go to work for a start-up comic book shop. The hook the owner of the shop I was managing had was that he and a friend of his had invested to buy one of the largest collections of Star Wars toys in the United States. When they split up the collection they bought, the new comic book shop owner started a shop in a generally low-trafficked mall and I went to work there. Eager to make his money back, he sold a number of big and rare pieces to collectors. In fact, I was responsible for moving some of the biggest pieces. The only one I coveted was the Star Wars 30th Anniversary Collection The Battle Of Hoth Ultimate Battle Pack.

Having only discovered the Target-exclusive “Ultimate Battle Pack” (which is more like a bundle pack of action figures and vehicles than a playset) while we were breaking up the collection, my love of AT-ATs and Hoth drew me to it. For about a week, the store’s owner set the Ultimate Battle Pack aside for me before selling it to one of his friends. After leaving the shop after four months (after I organized a kick-ass Free Comic Book Day event), The Battle Of Hoth Ultimate Battle Pack ended up immediately on my wish list and until two weeks ago, I never had the disposable income for the set . . . nor could I find one affordably priced. All of that changed recently and I am now the proud owner of the The Battle Of Hoth. Having now unboxed it, I am happy beyond belief that I have it and that it is so cool.

The Battle Of Hoth Ultimate Battle Pack is a bundle pack packaged in a transparent box that features two “playsets” (one stationary, one vehicle) and eight Star Wars action figures. The figures and vehicles are attached to the cardboard display base in the box by a number of wire ties and plastic shells that keep them firmly rooted to the base. This becomes an issue when one removes the figures and, especially, the vehicles from the packaging. It is virtually impossible to remove the toys in the The Battle Of Hoth Ultimate Battle Pack from the packaging and ever get it back inside, looking like it originally did. The Battle Of Hoth Ultimate Battle Pack includes: 1 AT-ST Scout Walker, 1 “laser” turret with firing projectile, 1 Hoth Han Solo action figure, 1 X-Wing (or Snowspeeder) Luke Skywalker action figure, 2 Hoth Rebel soldier action figures, 1 AT-ST Driver action figure and 2 Snowtrooper action figures. There is no plastic base playset for the figures or the vehicles (only the cardboard display in the box).

Completely unique to the Battle Of Hoth Ultimate Battle Pack (at least at the time) was the “laser” turret with firing projectile toy. The laser turrets were part of the Rebel defense on Hoth. They were the big cylindrical buildings behind the Rebel trenches that fired on the AT-ATs as they advanced at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back (reviewed here!). In the Battle Of Hoth set, the laser turret is exceptionally detailed and puts the turret from the Power Of The Force Hoth playset (reviewed here!) to shame. In addition to including a two and a half inch long red projectile meant to mimic a laser bolt, which can be fired about two feet away, the top of the turret rotates. The top has a bucket which seats a single figure who may act as a gunner for the turret. The figure may pop out of the top so long as the turret’s top hatch is open. There is also a side door into the turret and it may hold at least seven figures inside. The turret is colored to look battle-worn and dirty, which allows it to fit in perfectly with the modern collections of Star Wars toys that have included realistic detailing (which is anything but a clean representation of the figures and vehicles).

In a similar fashion, the AT-ST that is included in the Battle Of Hoth Ultimate Battle Pack features realistic wear/burn marks and molded details that make the AT-ST look virtually identical to the ones in the films. This AT-ST is by no means as sophisticated as the newer Vintage Collection AT-ST (reviewed here!), especially in the scale; the Battle Of Hoth AT-ST can only house a single action figure. The proper scale would allow two pilots to fit into the AT-ST cockpit. What makes this AT-ST worthwhile is a very cute play function. On the back of the base below the cockpit on the AT-ST is a slide “lock.” When the lock is slid to the right, it unlocks the AT-ST’s legs. Pressing a button above the lock causes the legs to make a running motion. When one locks the legs, the AT-ST is perfectly (surprisingly) stable. The molded details, like the side guns, are immaculately rendered and while the legs might not have full articulation, the cockpit module turns on the base and looks good when doing so.

As for the figures, they are a decent mix of Rebels and Imperial officers. On the Imperial front, the AT-ST pilot is arguably the most sophisticated of the bunch. While only minimally articulated (the legs, for example, only bend at the groin socket for straight-legged sitting with the AT-ST cockpit), the AT-ST Pilot has an appropriately-sized, removable, helmet and such molded and accurately-colored detail elements as the wrist communicator on the figure’s left wrist. The AT-ST driver also comes with a pistol that fits in his right hand.

The Snowtroopers are split into two varieties: two with removable helmets and one without. The two Snowtroopers with the removable helmets are identical and also feature the cloth capes (which are essentially skirts). Those two Snowtroopers also have incredible articulation, including hinged ball and socket joints at the knees, shoulders, ankles and elbows. While the other Snowtrooper has an equal level of coloring detailing – like the “dirty” knees and shoulders – it features a stiff plastic cape and less articulation. Even so, it is balanced well-enough that it can stand just fine after it is removed from the package.

Like the AT-ST Driver and one of the Snowtroopers, both Hoth Rebel Soldier figures have less articulation than the standard Star Wars figures of the time (and since). Even so, the appropriately coiffed - if generic – Hoth Rebel Soldiers both come with firearms and one even has the removable backpack that many Rebel fighters on Hoth were seen wearing.

Hasbro put more of an effort in the Hoth Han Solo and X-Wing Luke Skywalker figures that are found in the The Battle Of Hoth Ultimate Battle Pack. Luke is evidently Luke Skywalker by the fact that he is holding a blue lightsaber and the head under the removable X-Wing pilot helmet appears to be Luke Skywalker. This version of the X-Wing Luke Skywalker features the soft plastic straps that connect his chestpiece to his knees. He also has extensive articulation. Similarly, the Hoth Han Solo has incredible articulation (including a lowered hood section on his jacket that turns independently of the head!) and balances incredibly well. Han Solo comes with his trademark blaster, which fits in his right hand or the holster on his right hip, and a pair of electobinoculars on a strap that looks cool slung across his chest.

In addition to being immensely playable, the Battle Of Hoth Ultimate Battle Pack is one of the Star Wars toy sets that has retained its value well over the years. I was able to get mine on a lark for a decent price, but usually, these sets are found now in the $100 range, which is up from what they sold at when Target sold them in 2007. Still, they are well worth the $70 - $125 that most fans and collectors are likely to find them at. This is one of the coolest Star Wars toys Hasbro ever produced and it remains worth coveting and hunting down!

For other Star Wars vehicle and playset toys, please visit my reviews of:
Vintage Collection Luke Skywalker's Tauntaun
Carbon-Freezing Chamber Playset
Motorized Theed Palace Playset
2010 Collection AT-AT Imperial Walker

9/10

For other Star Wars toy reviews, please check out my Star Wars Toy Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sarah McLachlan Invites Listeners To Shine On As She Churns Out An Unremarkable Album!


The Good: Good lyrics, Good vocals, Generally decent sound
The Bad: Overproduced, Short, No hook, Nothing surprising.
The Basics: Shine On delivers Sarah McLachlan fans new music . . . without reaching any of her prior greatness.


The aspect of anticipation that works like a double-edged sword is that the eagerness one has for an anticipated project leads to heightened expectations. The more we crave something, the more we want it to be exceptional, superlative . . . the best we’ve ever heard from the artist, in the case of musical works. That type of anticipation usually leads to disappointment and as a fan of Sarah McLachlan’s works, that is where I am after listening to her latest album, Shine On. Even if I had not spent the last few weeks listening to the two-disc version of Closer: The Best Of Sarah McLachlan (reviewed here!) and falling back in love with her body of work, I suspect that I would have found Shine On unfortunately dull.

To be clear, Shine On is not a bad or terrible album; it is an average album. Shine On continues in the direction that Laws Of Illusion (reviewed here!) was headed in, with artist Sarah McLachlan providing a more produced-sounding album. Shine On shows an evolution from McLachlan’s prior works . . . but not in a particularly compelling or enjoyable direction. Instead, Shine On lacks a spark, a zest or originality that makes it at all distinctive. The result is an album that is unfortunately forgettable and one where listeners are hard-pressed to choose superlative songs because the album blends together after multiple listens without any tracks that stop the listener and compel them to react in any meaningful way.

At a little more than forty-one minutes of music, Shine On is short, but it is very much the work of Sarah McLachlan. Ten of the eleven songs were at least co-written by McLachlan (collaborator Luke Doucet wrote the album’s final track, “The Sound That Love Makes”) and Sarah McLachlan provides all of the album’s primary vocals. Sarah McLachlan plays at least one instrument on each song as well. Interestingly, the liner notes to Shine On do not credit the album with a producer; each song has a producer and that seems to be the one creative credit McLachlan does not receive on Shine On.

Vocally, Shine On sounds only somewhat like a Sarah McLachlan album. McLachlan usually has forthright vocals that highlight her natural singing voice. Shine On seldom does that. To be clear, McLachlan sings clearly and articulately on Shine On, so all of her lines may easily be heard and understood. However, the instrumental accompaniment occasionally overwhelms McLachlan’s voice, production elements enhance her vocals and she seldom stretches her range on Shine On. Instead, Shine On feels like Sarah McLachlan is holding back, like she is giving just enough to be recognizable, without taxing herself.

As far as the instrumental accompaniment goes, Shine On is very much a nondescript pop-rock album. McLachlan alternates between faster and slower tracks, which makes for a listenable album, though it does not allow any one track to break out. In a similar fashion, the album itself does not “pop” as the songs listlessly move from one style to another. The album does manage to blend well between guitar and piano-driven tracks, though there is not a single distinctive tune that sticks with the listener after the first few listens.

Lyrically, Shine On is very much a typical Sarah McLachlan album. That means that, despite any failings, the album is well-written. Diverging from just love songs or socially-conscious songs, Shine On has McLachlan venturing into some new thematic directions. Take, for example, “Monsters.” “Monsters” has Sarah McLachlan singing about aging and disillusionment in a manner she has not before. With lines like “When we were young / There were always creatures lurking under the bed / A thousand year old dragon lived deep in the lake / And he said don’t be afraid / So you dove in . . . And don’t you know that there’s a wolf stalking in sheep’s / Clothing tells me he’s the real thing / Think what your life would be missing / if you didn’t have him to sing / To sing about” (“Monsters”), McLachlan transitions well from metaphor to reality to build her themes.

Shine On is not a complete thematic departure for Sarah McLachlan. Love and loss are common themes for Sarah McLachlan and on Shine On she does not disappoint. Loss transitions to healing and forgiveness on Shine On when McLachlan sings “If this is love beside me / I’m working on forgiveness / Laying the past down behind me / Letting go the ways that I’ve been hurt/ Let the rivers rise and rage / I’ll try and stand with grace / If everything is love” (“Love Beside Me”).

McLachlan blends the personal and political on Shine On. With the song “Brink Of Destruction,” McLachlan carefully weaves a connection between the plight of the world at large with the strength of the musical protagonist’s relationship. While it might be viewed as a simple love song, McLachlan infuses larger themes by playing external imagery with the intimacy of the relationship. There is strength infused in the lines “I hold fast to my destination I know that the road will be long / We light up the sky let the beauty define us and give, / Give it all we got / We’re two side by side with impossible dreams / taking a chance to let love in” (“Brink Of Destruction”) that McLachlan presents well.

Unfortunately, Shine On is short on impressive moments and much of the album would have stood just as well as part of a book of poems. The result is an underwhelming album from an artist whose infrequent albums in recent years has led fans (like me) to anticipate. Shine On fails to live up to the anticipated greatness that fans hoped McLachlan would deliver after years of work.

For other albums that are new this year, please check out my reviews of:
Lights Out - Ingrid Michaelson
Unplugged: The Complete 1991 And 2001 Sessions - R.E.M.
Louder (Deluxe Edition) – Lea Michele
High Hopes - Bruce Springsteen

4.5/10

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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Baileys With A Hint Of Caramel Are Flavorful, But Indistinct.



The Good: Flavorful, Affordable, Good caramel
The Bad: The chocolate and caramel combination is hardly distinctive.
The Basics: Turin's Baileys with a hint of Caramel chocolates are good, but lack a distinctive quality to make them different from most other chocolate caramels.


Sometimes, the worst a candy can do is not be interesting or have a flavor that is truly unique. Candy should be distinctive and seem unique and flavorful. Unfortunately, while they taste good, Baileys with a hint of Caramel chocolates are good, but taste like many other milk chocolate caramels I have tried. As one who does not drink, but whose wife lovescaramel and toffee, I was initially enthusiastic about these chocolates. Both of us were underwhelmed by the result, though.

Basics

Turin is a chocolatier that features nonalcoholic fillings of flavors most commonly associated with alcohols. The Baileys with a hint of Caramel pack is a 7 oz. tube that features individually-wrapped chocolates inside. The Baileys with a hint of Caramel chocolates are encased in a brown foil wrapper. Unwrapping the chocolates reveals a truffle-like dome that is 1" in diameter and 3/4" tall. Each of the chocolate candies features a ribbed side and the top of each dome has the Turin logo stamped on top.

Ease Of Preparation

Eating Turin chocolates is not a real challenge. After opening the box, unwrap the chocolate and stick it in your mouth. There is no particularly complicated equation to eating these chocolates. The unwrapping of each chocolate before consuming it is the essential preparation to this food.

Taste

With a very chocolatey scent, the Baileys with a hint of Caramel has an aroma that is very inviting. The scent is light and somewhat sweet. The scent is not powerful at all, but it is distinctive.

The Baileys with a hint of Caramel is a milk chocolate truffle, so the chocolate is light and very sweet. The chocolate melts away very quickly. The lighter chocolate melts away from the thick, sweet, buttery caramel and it makes it taste much sweeter than the initial chocolate.

The Bailey’s with a hint of Caramel candies have no enduring aftertaste.

Nutrition

Turin chocolates are intended as a dessert product, so they lack any real nutritional benefit! A serving of these truffles is three truffles, but they have no real nutritional benefit. Made primarily of milk chocolate made of sugar, dry whole milk, and cocoa butter, there is nothing alcoholic in the ingredients. This is not an all-natural food product and these truffles were produced on equipment that forces them to add a disclaimer about tree nuts (pecans), milk, eggs and sulphites.

The Turin Baileys with a hint of Caramel chocolates have 150 calories, 90 of which are from fat. A full three chocolate serving represents 30% of one's RDA of saturated fat and 2% of the RDA of cholesterol. Surprisingly, they have very little sodium and there is no protein in a full serving. These are not a significant source of any vitamins or minerals, though they have 6% of the RDA of Calcium and 2% Iron.

Storage/Cleanup

As a chocolate, Turin chocolates are fine as long as they are stored in their container at a cool, dry temperature. My wife picked these up for me late last year and they had an expiration date of July 4, 2014. If they melt, they will not likely stain because they are so light. Otherwise, cleanup is simply throwing the foil wrapper away and recycling the cardboard container.

Overall

Turin Baileys with a hint of Caramel chocolates meet their goal of tasting like chocolate and caramel, but they do so in a pretty unremarkable way, making them worth trying, but not going out of one’s way for.

For other reviews of cool candies, please check out:
Turn Baileys With A Hint Of Mint Chocolate Truffles
Turin Kahlua and Malibu Rum Chocolates
Draft Beer Jelly Belly jelly beans

6/10

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

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