Thursday, January 29, 2015

Absolute Mess: Star Wars Jedi Legacy Cards Sink!


The Good: Good concept/common set
The Bad: Insane numbers of parallel cards, Ridiculous rarities on incentive cards, Lackluster chase cards, Autograph card style.
The Basics: Topps, Inc. goes absolutely absurd on collectors with the Star Wars Jedi Legacy, a set that tries to convince one collector that parallels are the thing!


One of the consequences to being both a reviewer and a small business owner is one sometimes finds themselves in an awkward position of working at cross-purposes. I have a little small business selling collectibles – mostly trading and gaming cards – and for that side of my life, I rely entirely on my ability to sell the cards I get in. In that half of my life, I have relationships with some of the card manufacturers and, frankly, I’m not eager to mortgage those relationships by writing anything akin to “you have made a product that absolutely sucks.” But then there is this half (or more) of my life and I try very hard to maintain an impartiality and a set of high standards with my reviewing. Reviews, like this one, are only useful if there is some integrity to them and I can build a trust with readers as to my objectivity. Today, it is definitely the reviewer that is going to win out over any sense of salesmanship as I tackle the Star Wars Jedi Legacy trading cards.

Star Wars Jedi Legacy cards were produced by Topps, Inc. in 2012 and Star Wars is the company’s flagship entertainment product. Frankly, Topps is going to do whatever the hell they want and they don’t give a damn about this blog or the opinions of collectors. The latter assertion is easy enough to make: Topps has winnowed its collector base from thousands to hundreds to ten and now down to one (or two competing) collectors. Through the “magic” of parallel sets, there are only ten possible true, complete, master sets of Star Wars Jedi Legacy cards available. With the inclusion of Printing Plate cards for each of the common and main chase cards . . . there is only one possible complete, true, master set possible of these cards. There are over one hundred 1/1 unique cards (and, unlike sketch cards, they are not unique works of art where collectors might just collect one of each artist).

So, the first rail against the Star Wars Jedi Legacy cards is that they have no practical collectability. Topps has made the process of collecting cards an absolutely miserable one with the Star Wars Jedi Legacy cards because there can be no “die-hard” collectors of the set. No one can actually assemble a complete set, so one has to ask “Where is the fun in collecting these cards?!” [The businessperson in me says the exact same thing, by the way: “What possible pitch can I use to sell these cards when there is no way to complete a set – not even come close?!”]

The second huge strike against this set is the sheer volume of parallel cards. The common card set (which has silver foil lettering) is replicated by a blue set (almost one parallel card per pack), a magenta set (one card per six packs), a green set (one parallel card per box) and a gold set (one parallel card per case – only ten of each in existence) on top of the printers plate version of the card (only one of each card in existence). Why the hell does Topps think they’ve created such an incredible set of common cards that fans will truly want essentially the same thing four or five times over in increasingly expensive renditions?! Topps obsessively makes parallel sets and that is a distinctly unimaginative way to make a buck. The hyperbolic lengths of rarity in the Star Wars Jedi Legacy set for the parallel cards is ridiculous, not fun, and not truly collectible.

Basics/Set Composition

The concept behind the Jedi Legacy cards is interesting and a good one: the story of Anakin Skywalker is mirrored by the story of Luke Skywalker. Topps found forty-five plot points or aspects of the character arcs that were identical in the Prequel and Original Star Wars Trilogies and designed the set around pointing out those similarities. The set is fleshed out beyond the theme of the common card set with, apparently, whatever was laying around that Topps could get its hands on. While the three minor chase sets have ties to the concepts of the common set, the autographs, relic, and fur cards have no sense of thematic unity, so there is a scattershot sensibility to the set that makes it seem like a mess outside of its least-expensive elements.

Like almost all of Topps, Inc.' products, the cards come with a UV protective coating to protect the trading cards from fading over time and to give them a nice satin sheen. This does appear to work as I've not had any cards from Topps, Inc. fade. While all of the common cards (and most of the chase) are formatted in one orientation (landscape), the text on the back of the cards is (unfortunately) oriented the same way as the text on the front. As a result, when one flips a page in the binder, they must rotate the binder around in order to read the backs. This is not very friendly to those who want to sit and read the cards.

Usually, this is the point in the review where I try to define the number of cards in the set. Unfortunately, the Star Wars Jedi Legacy trading card set is such a craptastic mess that it is virtually impossible to nail down the exact number of cards in the set. According the checklist provided by Topps, there are 215 cards in the set. That checklist, though, is utterly useless to collectors or dealers as it includes none of the parallel cards, nor the promotional cards, and it fails to mention that several of the autograph cards are duplicated (i.e. there are at least two different autograph cards for Tim Rose in this set!). As near as I can determine, there are ten possible sets of 587 cards and one, true, master set that consists of 722 cards. Boxes contain only twenty-four packs of eight cards each. Topps, Inc. only guaranteed two “hits” per box. In my experience, that meant that each box had some form of film cel card and then an autograph, fur, Jabba’s sail barge or gold parallel card.

Common Cards

The Star Wars Jedi Legacy common set is the peak of the product. The 90 card set focuses on the character journeys of Anakin and Luke Skywalker. Inventively numbered from 1 to 45 with an A or L (Anakin or Luke) suffix on each card, the common card set almost demands one track down a different style of card page in order to truly appreciate how the cards (and stories) mirror one another. The common card set is well-written, surprisingly well-researched and well-executed. The photography encompasses the entire Sextet as well as a few comic book panels (to fill in implied parts of Luke’s storyline).

Topps did not use promotional images for the shots, but managed to make each card clear and there is some decent color variation in the set (the cards are not homogenously dark). The set is biased in favor of characters over space battles or equipment, but that makes sense given the concept of the set.

This is a neat concept for a set and Topps gets it right!

Chase Cards

Outside the insane number of parallel cards which simply replicate the common cards with minor variations in foil color (if you, for example, have a blue-green colorblindness, you’re pretty much screwed on figuring out the two parallel sets! – and the “Gold” parallel I pulled in my case was almost indistinguishable in normal light from the common version of the same card!), the Jedi Legacy cards are chock full of bonus cards. The bonus sets include: Connections, Influencers, The Circle Is Now Complete, Ewok Fur, Jabba’s Sail Barge, Chewbacca Fur, Autographs and three styles of film cell relic cards.

The first level of chase cards, found one in every other pack are the Connections and Influencers cards (if a pack has Connections, it tends not to have an Influencers card). The 15 card Connections and 18 card Influencers subsets point out more parallels between Anakin and Luke Skywalker by pointing out common places and characters that appeared in both stories or influenced each character. Like the common cards, these cards have minor foil accents for the lettering. There is nothing that makes them truly special, though they look good and are easy-enough to assemble as far as bonus sets go. That Topps made a 15 card bonus set seems odd; the standard card sheets hold nine cards, so usually they aim for multiples of 9 for the chase sets.

The next bonus set up is an utterly ludicrous The Circle Is Now Complete chase set. These cards, found one in every twelve packs, are designed to create a circle that plays Luke and Anakin/Darth Vader off one another. Neat concept, poor execution. The twelve cards in this set are pie-piece shaped and there is no practical way to assemble the set in one’s binder.

Among the high-level “hits” cards are Ewok Fur, Chewbacca Fur and Jabba’s Sail Barge fur/fabric cards. Apparently, Star Wars Jedi Legacy was the first time Topps had access to set-used materials and they really blew them out. There were eight Ewok Fur cards, which are essentially costume cards that are very thick and feature Ewok fur bursting out of them. The Ewok Fur cards range from the few recognizable Ewoks from Return Of The Jedi (Wicket, Logray, etc.) to the generic – four of the cards are simply “Ewok.” The Jabba’s Sail Barge cards are pretty standard costume cards, save that they all seem to have pieces of set-used sail material from Jabba’s Sail Barge. This is a somewhat baffling five-card subset in that the sail pieces seem to be virtually identical to one another and not at all indicative of any sort of interaction the characters upon the cards had with the actual Sail Barge. So, the Leia Organa and R2-D2 cards have the same type of material. Topps seemed to recognize that fans would not shell out big bucks for a card that pictured the Sail Barge and were far more common than five cards with the same material that had recognizable characters on them. That seems especially, well, duplicitous, to me. In other words, while Leia is pictured on a card, the fabric is not from any set-work material Carrie Fisher wore on the Sail Barge, it’s still a fabric swatch of the sail barge . . . just like the fabric swatch on the Nysad and Boba Fett cards from the same subset. The Chewbacca’s Fur cards are a shadowbox style extra-thick card that features more hair than fur in my personal experience. The sealed card has individual hairs and a picture of Chewbacca and that is cool, but the sheer expense of the hair is impressive (to be fair the four cards in this subset seem to have retained their value and the only high-end card I pulled in the case I opened was one and it was the only significant “hit” card I was able to sell!).

Then there are the autographs. The autographs are the incredibly unpopular format of autograph “card” where the signer signed a holographic sticker and Topps slapped that sticker on a trading card. While the checklist claims there are seventeen autograph cards, the hologram stickers that were signed were slapped on multiple cards. I easily found two different Tim Rose cards for the same set. My assumption in my numbering was that there were others that were duplicated and I just could not find them easily now (two years later). The Jedi Legacy set was sold on its inclusion of the Original Trilogy’s Big Three – Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill, in addition to significant supporting actors like James Earl Jones, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker and Billy Dee Williams. Now, the Kenneth Colley autograph has grown in value since his death, but the signers like Amy Allen (from the Prequel Trilogy), Garrick Hagon (from A New Hope’s deleted scenes and restored scenes in the Special Edition), Bonnie Piesse (young Beru from the Prequels), and Anthony Forrest (yea, a Sandtrooper!) make a “hit” seem like a real miss . . . especially when a case has an average of three autographs and they are only the filler ones!

The last level of chase cards are the three Film Cell cards – 30 single cell, 6 Double Cell, and 10 Triple cell (that being the number of film frames embedded in each card) – sets. While virtually every box had a single cell card, some had a second hit that was a double or triple cell card. These are much like the Star Trek: Animated Series trading cards (reviewed here!), which featured embedded clips of the film of each episode. These cards have film cells from the projector-used print of the three original Trilogy movies. That is, to be honest, pretty cool and these are neat cards that seem to be fairly attainable to collect.

Non-Box/Pack Cards

Outside the boxes, there were seven different promotional cards.

Overall

That leads us to a final analysis. The sycophants at Non-Sport Update (reviewed here!) will never write an editorial on how un-collector friendly The Industry has become (they absolutely depend upon the trading card manufacturers for promotional cards, advertising dollars and access to materials) and I’m sure their review of this set in issue #4 of Volume 24 was glowing and enthusiastic. Dealers are going to be desperate to try to recoup their losses on this set (I bought a single case four months ago and have sold, to date: 1 common card set, 1 Chewbacca fur card, 1 film cell card and 2 parallel – one green, one magenta – cards) because unless they are blowing out the cards well below book or pulled one of the two or three virtually impossible to find autographs, they have not made their investment back. Between the terrible autograph/sticker style, the sheer volume of parallel cards, the checklist that doesn’t actually tell collectors what all is in the set, and the bonus cards that cannot actually be put into card pages in any reasonable way, this set is a lemon.

This set culls images exclusively from the Star Wars Saga, reviewed here!

This is a set of trading cards I sell in my online store (new inventory being added daily!). Please visit and purchase from the current inventory of them at: Star Wars Jedi Legacy Trading Card Inventory!

For other trading card collections based upon the films, please check out my reviews of:
Batman Returns Stadium Club Premium Cards
The Hunger Games Collector’s Cards
Star Trek (2009 Movie) cards

1/10

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

© 2015 W.L .Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Brilliant And Depressing, The Skeleton Twins Showcases Career Bests For Hader And Wiig!


The Good: Great editing, Impressive acting, Good direction
The Bad: Virtually plotless/awkward/oppressive tone
The Basics: The Skeleton Twins lives up to its hype as a disturbing and wonderfully funny dramedy.


As I rush toward the completion of viewing the last few films from 2014 that were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, I find myself distracted by a movie or two that I missed last year that I would rather watch than one of the Oscar nominees. Chief among them was The Skeleton Twins. The Skeleton Twins came out when my wife and I were on vacation in Minnesota and while we wanted to see it in theaters, none of the ones near where we were staying were showing it (we managed to catch This Is Where I Leave You - reviewed here! – instead). Well, we’ve finally rectified that and The Skeleton Twins has leapt into our permanent collection. The fact that it was not nominated for Oscars only shows how narrow the attention spans of the members of the Academy are.

Milo Dean attempts to kill himself on the same day that his estranged twin sister, Maggie, is about to take an overdose of pills across the country. Maggie rushes to Milo’s side – alerted because he left his music playing loud and his suicide attempt was discovered – and she invites him to return to New York with her. Milo comes reluctantly, where he meets Maggie’s outgoing, good (if somewhat white bread) husband, Lance. Milo is put off by Lance and he is shocked when he learns that his sister is trying to get pregnant with him (the last he knew, she despised the idea of having children). Milo tempts fate by going to visit Rich, who is now the owner of a small book store while Maggie is out taking scuba lessons.

Maggie’s scuba lessons lead her to an affair with the instructor. As she confesses to Milo and Milo admits to her that he has seen Rich (who had an inappropriate relationship with Milo while Milo was still a minor). Milo discovers that Maggie is still on birth control pills and when Maggie criticizes his choices, he puts Lance on the path to the truth. The result is both Milo and Maggie have the chance to fall apart and reunite after decades apart.

Milo is deeply sarcastic and he is wrestling with powerful depression. He is aptly played by Bill Hader and Hader manages to find the perfect balance between his established track record of goofy performances and a serious, deeply wounded person affected by his past. One of the aspects of The Skeleton Twins that works so perfectly for the film is for a movie that had some impressive and long preview trailers, the film is packed with surprisingly good lines and moments. The incredibly awkward dinner between Milo, Maggie, their mother Judy and Lance was absent from the extensive trailers and yields some of the film’s best moments (from the drop of the aquarium to Milo snarkily repeating Judy’s New Age nonsense line, anyone who has had a strained relationship with family can relate).

Joanna Gleason (Judy), Ty Burrell (Rich) and Luke Wilson (Lance) give wonderful supporting performances in The Skeleton Twins. Burrell is anything but goofy in the role of Rich and Wilson represses his own morbidity to play the straightman opposite Hader’s sarcastic Milo. Gleason is surprisingly able to repress all of the intelligence and professional qualities that made her an excellent fit for her arc on The West Wing to play the flighty mother of the two disturbed twins.

Kristen Wiig, who has been exploring the depths of her dramatic potential since leaving Saturday Night Live manages to set the bar higher for herself with The Skeleton Twins. The challenge for Wiig coming into The Skeleton Twins was to play a heavy dramatic character without simply reprising her awkward and dramatic role from Hateship Loveship (reviewed here!). Maggie is much more grounded in reality and much more in touch with her emotions than her character from Hateship Loveship. Instead, Wiig is able to play Maggie as depressed and full of self-doubt in a way that is different from the social isolation of her other dramatically-grounded character.

What brings The Skeleton Twins down a bit is the length of investment the audience goes through for the entertainment value of the film. Long stretches of the film follow two depressed protagonists who lead charmless lives and are stuck without any sense of catharsis. Milo and Maggie spend much of the movie lying to one another and while the viewer waits for them to either admit they have been lying or deal with whatever led to their fall-out, the film wanders. While the scene at the hygienist’s office eventually lead to Maggie’s big confession about her present, it is a long way to go before the movie progresses. Milo, alas, never manages to admit his truths to her or Rich, but the backstory about Milo and Rich is discussed, so at least the characters and their fall-out from before the film makes some sense.

Watching The Skeleton Twins is not about things that happen, it’s about how people interact and watching some comedic actors who clearly love working with one another play impressively different roles than they have before. The Skeleton Twins works well and is worth seeing and while the Academy might have forgotten it, it is a film that deserves attention and accolades.

For other works with Bill Hader, please check out my reviews of:
22 Jump Street
Her
Monsters University
Star Trek Into Darkness
This Is 40
Men In Black 3
Hoodwinked Too: Hood Versus Evil
Year One
Adventureland
Pineapple Express
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Knocked Up

8/10

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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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More Than Awesome Product Placement: The Contigo SnapSeal Vacuum-Insulated Stainless Steel Travel Mug Delivers!


The Good: Durable, Fairly inexpensive, Keeps liquids hot for hours
The Bad: Flow is over-regulated for big mouths.
The Basics: The Contigo SnapSeal Vacuum-Insulated Stainless Steel Travel Mug works exceptionally well and does all it promises!


I am a bear to shop for and I know that. So, it is pretty cool when people find me something that I turn out to truly be impressed by. It’s even cooler when I see that product used in media! So, when my brother-in-law and his fiancé gave me a Contigo SnapSeal Vacuum-Insulated Stainless Steel Travel Mug for the winter holiday, I was pleasantly surprised. After weeks of using the Contigo SnapSeal Vacuum-Insulated Stainless Steel Travel Mug, when I saw it in use on last night’s episode of The Flash (reviewed here!), I was geeking out.

The Contigo SnapSeal Vacuum-Insulated Stainless Steel Travel Mug is a 20 oz. travel mug that is stainless steel with a rubberized grip near the top of the mug. The mug is a simple stainless steel cylinder without a handle. The top of the mug has a plastic cap that screws on. To use the Contigo SnapSeal Vacuum-Insulated Stainless Steel Travel Mug, one need only fill the travel mug, then screw on the plastic cap. To access the beverage inside, press the snap lever on the back and it opens a hole on the opposite side of the cap.

What makes the Contigo SnapSeal Vacuum-Insulated Stainless Steel Travel Mug impressive and worth reviewing? This travel mug is the best insulated travel mug I’ve ever encountered. Sealed and with the top closed, this travel mug has kept beverages at almost the same temperature as when it was poured for over two hours. What is truly extraordinary about the Contigo SnapSeal Vacuum-Insulated Stainless Steel Travel Mug is that when one snaps open the access hole and continues to drink from it, it keeps beverages piping hot for over an hour! In other words, partially-drunk beverages remain hot even after one has begun consuming it.

The plastic top of the Contigo SnapSeal Vacuum-Insulated Stainless Steel Travel Mug may be washed in the dishwasher, but the main mug must be hand washed. In order to keep this tall mug thin-enough so it may fit into the standard cupholder (in our futon and in our car), the mug is thin-enough that those of us with big hands have trouble cleaning it out using our hands. The only other detraction for me is that the opening for getting the drink out of the cap limits the flow enough to force me to drink slower than I usually would.

The Contigo SnapSeal Vacuum-Insulated Stainless Steel Travel Mug is near-perfect. It cannot be microwaved or dishwashed, because of the stainless steel and the insulation in the mug, respectively, but it does what it promises in keeping hot beverages hot for incredibly long periods. That makes the Contigo SnapSeal Vacuum-Insulated Stainless Steel Travel Mug an ideal travel mug for both me and Harrison Wells!

For other kitchen gadgets that are beverage-related, please check out my reviews of:
Epica Electric Milk Frother & Heater Carafe
Ovente 1.5 L Glass Electric Kettle
Star Trek Decloaking Klingon Bird Of Prey mug

9/10

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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Rushed Villainy: The Flash Lacks “The Sound And The Fury!”


The Good: Decent backstory fill-in, Acting is fine
The Bad: Character moments that fail to resonate, Generic villain-of-the-week story, Unimpressive adversary
The Basics: Hartley Rathaway is introduced as one of the least compelling villains for The Flash in “The Sound And The Fury.”


Sometimes, the trick to having high standards is keeping up with the expectations and pace of producing a smart show. Unfortunately, The Flash - which has, admittedly, gotten off to a wonderful start – seems to have some serious issues with consistency and maintaining the quality of the show. Thus, with almost every peak, comes a valley that bottoms out the show and forces the viewer to lower expectations. At least, The Flash does not keep its fans waiting long. This is the long way around saying that the latest episode, “The Sound And The Fury” is far (very far) from the best episode.

Almost entirely unrelated to the prior episode, “Revenge Of The Rogues” (reviewed here) – except that it pays off the reference to “Hartley,” who was alluded to when his wealthy parents were seen in the previous episode - “The Sound And The Fury” introduces popular The Flash villain Hartley Rathaway. Hartley is one of the more interesting characters in the DC Comics pantheon (save that the prominently gay character seems to reference his gayness either directly or through comments from others around him in virtually every issue he is in) and he has a compelling, redemptive arc in the books. As such, it makes sense that he would be introduced as an adversary. Unfortunately, in “The Sound And The Fury” he takes the form of one of the least-impressive, poorest-defined, most-generic villains the series has yet produced.

For that, I blame the writing. The Flash is not a lowbrow superhero story, so its audience should be treated with some respect and intelligence. Alas, in “The Sound And The Fury” the viewers are treated with neither and for that, the writers are to blame. The lack of respect to the viewers comes from creating a villain who is supposed to be exceptionally smart, but is not. Ironically, for a production studio that shares a lot with The Big Bang Theory (season seven is reviewed here!) and references the comedy, The Flash does not make use of the same writing staff or technical resources. In other words, the comedy, which fills-in-the-[tech]-blanks with appropriate jargon from experts, pays more attention to creating smart people than The Flash does and that is troubling.

After The Flash helps trap members of a motorcycle gang, Barry Allen returns to S.T.A.R. Labs to celebrate with his friends. He was guided on the mission by Harrison Wells. Going home, Barry finds Iris around and a phone message informs her that she got a new job offer at the Central City Picture News. That night, Harrison Wells is attacked in his home and the Central City Police and his team from S.T.A.R. Labs are called in. Flashback to Cisco’s first day on the job at S.T.A.R. Labs, where Dr. Wells is playing chess with Hartley Rathaway. Rathaway, who calls himself the Chosen One of Dr. Wells, is jealous of Cisco’s hiring and back in the present, Dr. Wells suspects the attack on his house was perpetrated by Rathaway.

Rathaway exposes himself almost instantly, attacking the company his grandfather built. In the resulting showdown, he is easily taken down by The Flash, but when he is brought in to S.T.A.R. Labs, he starts to expose Wells. Wells tells Dr. Snow and Cisco that Hartley warned him about the potential failure of the supercollider and Rathaway uses equipment embedded in his ear to break out of his cell in the Pipeline. Stealing secrets from S.T.A.R. Labs, along with his sonic wave gloves, Hartley escapes. And while Wells comes forward as having risked Central City, it is not enough for Rathaway and he creates an endgame to try to destroy The Flash as a dam in Central City.

“The Sound And The Fury” is hampered by two serious character problems. On the continuing character arc front, the Iris West storyline completely fails to land. West enters the snarky world of reporting/photojournalism where she meets her own generic adversary in the form of Mason Bridge. Mason takes up a pretty arbitrary dislike of West and when Iris covers the Harrison Wells press conference late in the episode, she is given a line to deliver to Mason that fails to land. In fact, it stands out as a terrible line that sounds more like a line than anything resembling organic dialogue. While it is a callback to a line delivered by Mason, the throwback seems especially contrived.

The other big character problem comes in Hartley Rathaway as a villain. Rathaway is supposed to be incredibly intelligent and he is written without real intelligence. Smart people tend to have: 1. More than one iron in the fire at any given time and 2. Plans that are more sophisticated than they simple. Rathaway exhibits an intelligence initially in having a plan that is not immediately apparent: he clearly wanted to get captured by the Flash. But his endgame is remarkably one-dimensional. The Pied Piper has an endgame that is based on the Flash using his super-speed to remove his sonic gloves. But the problem with the character is his whole plan hinges on that. He does not have any sort of back-up plan and that makes no sense for a character who is supposed to be smart.

You know what a smart person would do? He would have a secondary attack designed to save himself or achieve another goal. In the case of the plan the Pied Piper utilizes in “The Sound And The Fury,” Rathaway buys time by banking on the idea that The Flash will save people over the vehicles the Pied Piper flings off the dam. Those falling cars create explosions that weaken the dam. Once the Pied Piper is ungloved, The Flash is incapacitated. A smart person would have a back-up plan and a good one would have been any sort of self-destruct system that utilized the weakened superstructure of the dam. So, if I was a guy who knew that Harrison Wells would either have to expose his true identity or destroy my gloves remotely, I would make sure that whatever way the gloves could be destroyed remotely would result in more destruction. And, hey, that would fit the character of Rathaway, too. If Harrison Wells, in remotely deactivating the gloves, destroyed the dam that helped power Central City, it would continue to discredit Wells. That idea took me, literally, three seconds to develop. I should not be smarter than the super-genius super-villain on the show.

Barring that, a good writer could have used the same technique to give Rathaway an escape plan; the falling, exploding, cars are focused on enough to seem significant. A secondary plan that was the result of clever writing would have involved the idea that The Flash going to super-speed on the weakened dam would result in the dam breaking and The Flash being forced to choose between saving the lives of the people on the dam or capturing Rathaway. No such luck in “The Sound And The Fury.”

The Flash is based on a comic book series that comes the closest to defying the idea that one of the big differences between heroes and villains is that villains do not work together. In the comic book series The Flash, there are the criminals who conspire together, The Rogues. The Rogues have already begun assembling on The Flash and that’s cool. But in keeping fidelity to the source material, “The Sound And The Fury” weakens itself. This is an episode that creates a villain who has the potential to be smart enough to create his own villainous enterprise where enemies of The Flash could work together for an extended period of time and common purpose. Hartley Rathaway has an agenda and in the final moments of the episode, he is given a new escape plan. That escape plan is based on him getting caught a second time. That escape plan, though, is unnecessary because his idea precludes the necessity of him getting captured again. To be explicit, if Hartley Rathaway knows where to find Ronnie and how to stabilize him, the sensible and smart approach for such a person would be to approach Ronnie and get him to work alongside him to discredit Wells. “Hey, Ronnie, want to get some revenge on the guy who made you into a human fireball and robbed you of the chance to actually be with the love of your life? Let me help you . . . “

Harrison Wells has an awesome house, but it is utterly impractical for the character. Wells is a man hiding a big secret – and “The Sound And The Fury” completely undoes any ambiguity left from “The Man In The Yellow Suit” (reviewed here!) – so a big, beautiful house that is almost entirely made of glass makes no sense for the character. People who live their lives under the guise of a persona would not make a safe house where they are so exposed. For a guy who acknowledges that people keep coming to attack his home, Wells having a glass house only works as a plot device for this episode.

Ultimately, “The Sound And The Fury” fails to capitalize on any of the doors it opens in the episode. While it is a well-performed hour of television and the mini-arc in which Wells loses and regains Barry’s trust is decent, the bulk of the episode is less-developed and far less-smart than it ought to be. This is an unfocused episode that tries to do a lot, without doing any of it very well.

For other works with Tom Butler, please visit my reviews of:
The A-Team
The Score
”Colony” - The X-Files

3.5/10

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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Even More Dependent Upon Captain America, “The Blitzkrieg Button” Pushes Agent Carter


The Good: Some of the secondary characters develop well, Moments of performance
The Bad: Bland plot, Focus on unlikable characters, Fits poorly into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe
The Basics: Howard Stark returns to upstage Agent Carter in “The Blitzkrieg Button.”


Last week, The Flash had a pretty kick-ass return to television with “Revenge Of The Rogues” (reviewed here!) and Agent Carter took a week off for the State Of The Union. Unfortunately for Agent Cater, that put a lot of pressure on Agent Carter to have a “knock-it-out-of-the-park” episode; I started this week excited about The Flash, not Agent Carter. Agent Carter, unfortunately, is the weak link in the Marvel Cinematic Universe at this point and “The Blitzkrieg Button” is hardly the hit the series needed.

Picking up where “Time And Tide” (reviewed here!) left off, “The Blitzkrieg Button” continues to have the agents of the Strategic Scientific Reserve marginalizing Agent Peggy Carter. The secondary character from Captain America (reviewed here!) continues to be marginalized in her own series: in “The Blitzkrieg Button,” Howard Stark steals the show and the focus from Carter.

Jarvis and Agent Carter negotiate with smugglers to get none other than Howard Stark back into the United States. Peggy Carter smuggles Howard back into her women’s home and Howard charges her with finding out just which of his inventions have been recovered by the SSR (so he can figure out which ones still remain at large). Carter uses a miniaturized pen camera to photograph the SSR lab while Sousa tries to find out who called in the tip that led him to the shipment of Stark’s devices. Sousa brings in a homeless man who he thinks may be able to identify the caller while Stark goes through the pictures Carter took.

Stark identifies one of his inventions as (essentially) an EMP (with the push of a button, the electrical grid would be entirely fried) and he warns Carter that that device is actually active. Stark tasks Carter with replacing the real Blitzkrieg Button with a fake he made. While Carter, Jarvis and Stark are hunted by the Nazi who was betrayed getting Stark back into the country, Carter’s boss visits Nuremburg and a Nazi prisoner there. Carter, meanwhile, realizes that Jarvis is lying for Stark and Carter’s boss learns that the alleged Battle Of Finow was a publicity stunt for a massacre that was perpetrated by someone other than the Nazis. When Carter exchanges the Button for its doppelganger, she figures out that Stark has played her and he is after a vial that the SSR recovered. Carter learns what the vial is and in her anger at Stark, she leaves the scientist vulnerable to an attack!

“The Blitzkrieg Button” wastes its first act with Peggy getting Howard into her women’s home and the references to the prior episode. While I admire serialized television for its sense of consequence and the way events in one episode play into the next, Agent Carter has real problems with developing the pathos for the character so far. As a result, the death of a minor operative in “Time And Tide” has to have some effect on “The Blitzkrieg Button,” but the expected emotional resonance for the viewer never materializes. As a result, Thompson’s taking command of the SSR just makes him seem like a jerk, as opposed to a compelling leader of any sort.

Sousa and Stark steal the show in “The Blitzkrieg Button,” but only Sousa actually pops as a character in the episode. Daniel Sousa has a decent monologue in “The Blitzkrieg Button” that gives him a good amount of backstory outside his cane. He is a veteran and is given a sense of pathos in addition to his determination to find the cause of his fellow-agent’s death. Sousa becomes the human element who is fascinating to watch.

The rest of the episode is almost entirely monopolized by Howard Stark. At this point in the narrative, Howard Stark is not only discredited, he is a fugitive and that makes “The Blitzkrieg Button” an especially hard sell for fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (who, frankly, are the only people who would even give a part of a damn about a miniseries based on Agent Carter). One of the fundamental problems with Agent Carter is that Howard Stark is a known quantity in the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and so he cannot die, he cannot even remain discredited. The other issue with Agent Carter is more of a conceptual problem with the entire series (and will be covered in my Season One review). So, as charming and apparently underhanded as he appears in “The Blitzkrieg Button,” Stark has to be better than he appears here. The problem in “The Blitzkrieg Button” is that Howard Stark is presented as much more cute and menacing than actually smart and like one who could credibly develop the technologies attributed to him.

The most interesting aspects of “The Blitzkrieg Button” seem to have little to do with the main plot of the episode. Late in the episode, Carter’s would-be assassin is dispatched by yet-another scene-stealer and the lack of follow-through in the episode just makes her appearance seem like a tease. Similarly, the inevitable cameo by Stan Lee pops up in “The Blitzkrieg Button” and that, too, overshadows the main plot of the episode.

While Enver Gjokaj delivers a wonderful couple of monologues as Sousa, “The Blitzkrieg Button” is otherwise short on both compelling performances and decent character moments. Instead, “The Blitzkrieg Button” feels like filler - which is death in a mini-series – between the significant moment of the last episode and the potential consequences of the peripheral characters in this episode. Either way, Agent Carter herself continues to be marginalized and is hardly the most significant or interesting character in her own series!

For other works with Shea Whigham, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Non-Stop
American Hustle
Silver Linings Playbook
Pride And Glory

3.5/10

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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Making Cell Phones Scary As Shit, “Rise Of The Cybermen” Reinvents Another Doctor Who Adversary!


The Good: Decent plot, Good performances, Moments of character
The Bad: Novelty wears off quickly, The Doctor is surprisingly unlikable for most of the episode’s beginning
The Basics: “Rise Of The Cybermen” finds the Cybermen being developed on an alternate Earth where Rose’s father is still alive!


In science fiction, there are any number of conceits that were once audacious, but now are somewhat passé. While time travel in otherwise straightforward (or realistic) science fiction stories is one of those conceits, in more extraordinary narratives, the alternate universe concept is sometimes used to fill the same niche. The concept of the alternate universe made it into the popular vernacular thanks to the popular Star Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror” (reviewed here!). In the newer Doctor Who, the alternate universe idea is re-introduced with “Rise Of The Cybermen.”

As one who is still very new to Doctor Who, “Rise Of The Cybermen” is remarkably comprehensive for newbies. While prior Doctor Who might have explored alternate realities fairly regularly, the Doctor establishes early on that with the fall of the Time Lords, such travel no longer occurs. As a result, “Rise Of The Cybermen” is created as a deliberate anomaly, one that has consequences. This is a rare episode (so far) with a “reverse ticking clock” conceit; instead of a countdown to a critical event, escape is not possible from this alternate universe because the damaged TARDIS will not be repowered for twenty-four hours.

The wheelchair-bound inventor John Lumic succeeds in creating a cyborg, which he knows Geneva will never accept due to its restrictions on creating life forms (or, apparently, modifying human life). Lumic kills his assistant and heads off in his zeppelin for London. The TARDIS crashes in London, where the zeppelins in the sky and an interactive advertisement on the street informs The Doctor, Mickey, and Rose that they are on an alternate universe’s Earth. While The Doctor implores Rose not to go look for her father, Pete Tyler prepares for his wife’s 40th birthday party. Rose contemplates looking into her father’s life while Lumic overrides Jackie’s earpods to get security arrangements to the Tyler Estate before his assistant, Mr. Crane lures local hungry and homeless people into his mobile laboratory for experimentation.

With The Doctor’s hope renewed that the TARDIS could be repowered when he and Mickey find a spark left in one remaining power cell, Peter Tyler and the President visit with Lumic at the Cybus Industries zeppelin. Rose and The Doctor witness the populace freezing up when they all receive a daily update through their earpods and the Doctor grows suspicious of the influence Cybus has over this world. Mickey visits his grandmother, who calls him Ricky and is (much to his pleasant surprise) still alive, where he experiences some self-doubt before he is abducted by an anti-Cybus group. After a demonstration to Lumic, Crane upgrades the captured homeless people into true Cybermen . . . who are then set upon the party at the Tyler Estate!

As are typical in such alternate universe stories, the Earth that the Doctor, Mickey and Rose find themselves on is close, but not quite our Earth. While there are substantive changes like the existence of the nefarious Cybus Industries, “Rise Of The Cybermen” is chock full of novelty alterations that separate our universe from theirs. The references to New Germany, Rose being a dog in the alternate universe and the leader of Great Britain being a President instead of Prime Minister are cute-enough to be entertaining. “Rise Of The Cybermen” also managed to beat Fringe (reviewed here!) to the punch of creating an alternate universe packed with zeppelins, so that was pretty cool.

Fortunately, novelty is not the name of the game for “Rise Of The Cybermen.” In the midst of a plot that seems to force an inorganic Rose motivation – outside “Father’s Day” (reviewed here!), she has not seen her father most of her life and she seems pretty fine with that, so her obsession with meeting her adult father in this episode does not quite read right – the episode finally does something substantive with Mickey on his own. Relegated to sidekick for the bulk of his appearances on Doctor Who, in “Rise Of The Cybermen,” Mickey is given a bit more backstory (he was abandoned by his father, raised by his grandmother until her death and has been on his own since) and a credible tie that binds him and Rose. Mickey’s arc in “Rise Of The Cybermen” also gives rise to his alternate universe persona, Ricky, which plays off a hilarious joke from the first season of Doctor Who. Ricky is smarter, more confident and a leader as opposed to the pushover follower Mickey.

Outside the revelation of Rose in the alternate universe, “Rise Of The Cybermen” is virtually devoid of humor. The episode is one of the more deliberately frightening episodes and the title spoils the revelation as the Cybermen proper pop up at pretty much the last minute. Despite the idiocy of Dr. Kendrick, who seems unable to realize that he is about to get killed in the teaser, “Rise Of The Cybermen” is a smart episode and an engaging set-up to the second part. The enemies of Cybus Industries, with whom Mickey falls in, are revolutionaries who disdain the ethics of Lumic and that plays well as more than making a novelty universe.

The performances in “Rise Of The Cybermen” are good. David Tennant is energetic, though many of his lines are surprisingly douchey. While Shaun Dingwall makes an auspicious return to Doctor Who as Pete Tyler, “Rise Of The Cybermen” is dominated on the performance front by Noel Clarke. Clarke plays Mickey and Ricky and he seems to delight in being given the chance to play a more assertive character. He succeeds to such a degree that when Rose encounters Ricky, she is the only one surprised by the alternate.

“Rise Of The Cybermen” might have been a thrill for Whovians to see a “next generation” approach to Cybermen, but the episode succeeds because it is a compelling set-up and exploration story without simply reverting to novelty.

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

For other works with Roger Lloyd Pack, please check out my reviews of:
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire

8/10

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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Good Idea, Generally Well-Constructed: Mommy’s Helper 0310 Slide-Lok Bi-Fold Door Lock Works!


The Good: Does what it promises, Inexpensive enough
The Bad: Scratches paint, “Guide” handle is breakable
The Basics: The Mommy’s Helper 0310 Slide-Lok Bi-Fold Door Lock solves our basic problems, but one wonders why they are sold singly!


While I am tempted to blame my recent closet issues on our new cat, Elim, the truth is that for the last six months (well before our cat, Gollum, died), our cat Timber had been getting into our downstairs closet. We would hear Timber playing downstairs and we would find our downstairs closet doors – which are a pretty standard, traditional bi-fold door – open. When I heard the usual movement of Timber pulling open the closet doors and went down to find that Elim had climbed up onto the high shelf in the closets, my wife and I realized we needed to stop the problem once and for all. For that, she picked up the Mommy’s Helper 0310 Slide-Lok Bi-Fold Door Lock.

The Mommy’s Helper 0310 Slide-Lok Bi-Fold Door Lock is a device used, ostensibly, for child-proofing one’s house, but it has the added benefit of working for pet-proofing one’s closets as well. The Mommy’s Helper 0310 Slide-Lok Bi-Fold Door Lock is a very simple device. The 2” wide by 7” long by 1” clear plastic device is basically a hard plastic sleeve that fits over the top of a bi-fold door. The 0310 is designed for doors that are 1 5/16” – 1 3/8” thick; ours are 1 3/8” thick and the Mommy’s Helper 0310 Slide-Lok Bi-Fold Door Lock fits perfectly.

Using the Mommy’s Helper 0310 Slide-Lok Bi-Fold Door Lock is easy. Simply remove the plastic sleeve from the card and put it on the top of the bi-fold door. There is a 7” thin plastic dowel that fits through a hole in the lip on the sleeve. This seems to serve only as a guide for the Slide-Lok; it is too thin to use to pull the door lock into or out of place. When applying the Slide-Lok Bi-Fold Door Lock, on places it on one of the two doors in the bi-fold door pair, right near the seam between the doors. Bi-Fold doors work where one pulls a knob and the door folds outward at the center, with two panel doors on tracks that keep them in place. The Slide-Lok Bi-Fold Door Lock works by preventing the doors from folding outward by creating a physical grip on the top section between the two panels, preventing it from having any “give.” Once the Mommy’s Helper 0310 Slide-Lok Bi-Fold Door Lock is applied to the top of a door, one simply has to pull the Slide-Lok into place over the door panel it is not yet on. It is ideally in place when the dowel is hanging between the two doors.

To open one’s bi-fold doors after the lock is applied, simply pull the Mommy’s Helper 0310 Slide-Lok Bi-Fold Door Lock by the lip of the device away from the seam between doors (either direction), until the Slide-Lok clears one of the two doors. After that, the closet can be opened like normal. When you close the doors, simply pull the Slide-Lok back into place over the door seam.

Our bi-fold doors are painted and the Mommy’s Helper 0310 Slide-Lok Bi-Fold Door Lock scratches the paint on the bi-fold doors. Between that, the fact that most of our bi-fold doors are pairs and these only come in single packs and the breakable nature of the guide dowel rob the 0310 of a perfect rating. The fact that the device does exactly what it promises makes it well worth recommending to parents or pet owners!

For other home improvement and safety devices, please visit my reviews of:
Kidde 2 3/4lb. fire extinguisher
Grant's Kills Ants Ant Baits
Speedy White Hearth & Glass Cleaner

5/10

For other home product reviews, please check out my Home And Garden Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Monday, January 26, 2015

Before The Attention: Lilly Wood And The Prick Had An Impressive Debut With Invincible Friends


The Good: Some impressive lyrics, Moments of voice, Moments of music
The Bad: Some derivative vocals, Short for a deluxe album
The Basics: My curiosity got the better of me and I’m glad: Lilly Wood And The Prick’s first full album, Invincible Friends is well worth checking out!


For the last three weeks, I had a song stuck in my head. The problem for me was that I had only heard the song twice – both times in the car – and I had no idea who sang it . . . or even any of the distinctive lyrics. But, I remembered the bassline/basic tune and the way the song made me feel and it got pretty well-ingrained in my subconscious. So, when I was out at the post office at the middle of last week and the distinctive guitars of the song burst out of my radio, I was a little pissed that I had to get the package mailed right then and that I did not have a pen in the car to catch any of the lines I was finally catching. The line I got right-enough was enough that when I returned home, a simple online search came up with the song. The song is “Prayer In C” . . . or, more accurately, the remix of “Prayer In C” by Robin Schulz. I also felt a bit ashamed for the song getting stuck in my head; the repetition is entirely banal in Schulz’s remix (and the video has to be one of the worst music videos I have ever seen, relative to the content of the song/lyrics).

But, hearing the Robin Schulz remix of “Prayer In C” was enough to get me to look up the original . . . and from there, I had to hear the full album that it was on. The album is Invincible Friends and it was the first full album by the duo Lilly Wood And The Prick. And it is an impressive debut. Under the subtitle of “life is too short for less content,” I picked up the deluxe (bonus) edition of Invincible Friends and that is the one I am so enthusiastically recommending.

With fifteen tracks (fourteen songs – one is a demo of the group’s first single from Invincible Friends)and 55 minutes of material, Invincible Friends is an impressive debut that is ironically weakened more by artists who have come after Lilly Wood And The Prick, but have had greater commercial success in the U.S. The duo provides their own lyrics for most of the songs (on the bonus version, “L.E.S. Artistes” at the very least is a cover song), as well as their own primary vocals and the essential instrumentals.

Musically, Invincible Friends falls into a very small category of albums that have a diverse musical sound that does not sound haphazard. Unlike many experimental albums where musical artists try out several different styles of music and the album sounds like a (pretty terrible) collection of singles, Invincible Friends sounds like a cohesive album that has evolution and flow, making for a cool, diverse musical experience as opposed to a musical mess. So, the song “Little Johnny” has a 1960’s Folk sound to it, “Down The Drain” is pure Emo pop, and “Prayer In C” is a haunting ballad. What surprised me most about Invincible Friends (coming to the album with only a remix and a single in my mind’s ear) was how much Lilly Wood And The Prick rock. Opening with the tracks “Hey It’s OK” and “(No No) Kids,” the group sounds like it is producing works more akin to the less-produced sounding tracks by The White Stripes than a folk band. The trippy “Hopeless Kids” sounds like more produced Hem. Despite the prevalence of rock and roll songs, Invincible Friends manages to use a number of instruments outside the simplistic guitar/bass/drum combo many expect from a guitar-driven rock group. The use of the flute on “Prayer In C,” for example, is pretty awesome.

Vocally, Lilly Wood And The Prick is dominated by lead singer Nili Hadida. Hadida has a pretty impressive vocal range on Invincible Friends and that is where the album has a little bit of a problem. Hadida does not enunciate well, for one thing. Singing on “A Time Is Near,” I had to look up the lyrics because is sounds a lot like she is singing that she only goes so far as to not get raped (she’s actually singing “framed,” not “raped”) . . . but that changes the meaning of the song quite a bit. Beyond that, her vocals never find a consistent pattern or distinction. She sounds like A Fine Frenzy on “A Time Is Near,” Lana Del Ray (“Cover My Face”) and Jewel on more than one track (“Go Slow,” especially). Hadida has a nice voice, (outside “L.E.S. Artistes” and “Little Johnny” all her vocals sound like an unproduced, unaccented human voice) but the lack of clarity and the lack of a distinctive voice to separate her vocals from so many others makes it a little harder to want to follow up on listening to Invincible Friends.

That said, Lilly Wood And The Prick have a lot to say on Invincible Friends. In fact, at their most potent, the band makes powerful social and religious commentary that is so poetic, yet obvious, that it left me aghast that someone could so miss the point of “Prayer In C.” With haunting simplicity, Hadida sings “And see the children are starving / And their houses were destroyed / Don't think they could forgive you / Hey, when seas will cover lands / And when men will be no more / Don't think you can forgive you / Yeah when there'll just be silence / And when life will be over / Don't think you will forgive you” (“Prayer In C”) backed by a simple guitar and a flute accompaniment that can still give me chills after listening to the album more than eight times. One need not be religious to enjoy “Prayer In C” – I choose to interpret it as a ballad that speaks to truth to power, as opposed to appealing to an absent or destructive deity.

The social commentary is not limited to one song, thankfully. Perhaps the reason that Lilly Wood And The Prick did not break-out in the U.S. with Invincible Friends was that their first single was too smart. With lines like “Break me off, tie me down, tear me down / Make me feel like a little dog / Why don't you rape me now, when you hit me now / Make me feel like I'm nothing at all / I wait for you, wait for you to kill everything I have inside” (“Down The Drain”), Lilly Wood And The Prick articulate personal angst impressively. The song is not an invitation; it is an exhortation of frustration and an acknowledgment of how bad a relationship has gotten and it is powerful (in both versions that appear on Invincible Friends).

Lilly Wood And The Prick have a beautiful sense of imagery as well as social and personal commentary. On “Water Ran,” they create a clear mental image with their poetics: “Water ran / Through your door and mine / I know / It's too late to say I would have liked to know you / I know / So I stare at the walls of my green green kitchen / I stare at the doors of my empty mind.”

Usually, I try to come up with a strong and weak track. In the case of Invincible Friends, I found that to be too difficult (I even like both versions of “Down The Drain” and think they stand up beautifully on the album!). Outside not being wowed by the last minute of “Hymn To My Invisible Friend,” there is no real weak track. This is a pretty wonderful album well worth devoting one’s attention (and dollars) to.

For other intriguing (full) debut albums, please visit my reviews of:
Glowstars - Heather Nova
Tidal - Fiona Apple
The Uninvited - The Uninvited

7/10

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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Specialized Perfection: The Epica Electric Milk Frother & Heater Carafe Delivers!


The Good: Froths milk fast, Easy to clean, Carafe is virtually indestructible, Safe, Inexpensive
The Bad: None that I can find
The Basics: An impressive and efficient product, the Epica Electric Milk Frother & Heater Carafe is the ideal home appliance for frothing milk!


A few months ago, my wife bought me a very thoughtful gift, a home espresso maker. The key selling point for her, in giving me the gift of the Mr. Coffee Café Espresso Coffee Maker (reviewed here!), was that – in addition to brewing thick, espresso coffee, it had its own frothing want for steaming and frothing milk. Unfortunately for us, within two months of starting to use that Mr. Coffee device (I really should go back and downrate it . . .), the component that broke first was the frothing side of the unit! And, while the good people at Mr. Coffee replaced it, we were pretty soured on the product and my wife wanted to insure that we always had ability to make delicious coffee beverages. So, she (for my birthday) picked us up an Epica Electric Milk Frother & Heater Carafe.

And it is perfect.

Seriously, this has rapidly become the kitchen device we use most, outside our Hamilton Beach Coffee Maker (reviewed here!). The Epica Electric Milk Frother & Heater Carafe is one of those perfectly-designed, specific kitchen appliances that is utterly extravagant, surprisingly affordable, and quickly improves one’s quality of life (for those looking to give up the fast-food coffee expense by brewing at home, this may easily help one stick to one’s resolution/goal!).

Living in the middle of nowhere as I do, my love of fancy coffee came into conflict with my desire to be a hermit. My wife figured out that for my tastes in fancy coffee, all I truly needed was a good coffee maker (I came to the relationship with that!) and a good milk frother. Fortunately, the Epica Electric Milk Frother & Heater Carafe has managed to meet all our needs. For the initial cost of $39.99 on sale, we have had almost daily coffee delight. Within a month of daily coffee with frothed creamer, our Epica frother had paid for itself (vs. buying coffee out of the house!).

The Electric Milk Frother & Heater Carafe from Epica is a two-piece electric appliance that is specialized for taking ordinary cream or milk and both heating it and giving it more volume (frothing) it by agitating it. The Electric Milk Frother & Heater Carafe is comprised of a stainless steel and plastic base and the actual stainless steel carafe.

The base is a simple four inch in diameter plastic disc with a cord that plugs into a three-prong wall socket. The cord is only twenty-five inches long, so there is very little room to stretch this out from the wall socket. This is handy and there are no issues with keeping the base level, despite the cord being fairly stiff. There are three soft-rubber feet on the underside which both protect finer surfaces from any sort of scratching from the plastic bass. Moreover, the rubber feet provide friction so the unit is remarkably stable and does not move from any flat surface I've set it upon. Considering the whole point of this gadget is to froth milk, this is probably a great idea and I have found that it works quite well.

Atop the disc is a raised, contoured disc, which is where the carafe itself attaches to the base. The base simply plugs into the wall and sits where one leaves it.

The actual Electric Milk Frother & Heater Carafe portion is a six and a quarter-inch tall stainless steel pot that is accented with dull black plastic for the handle and has a removable clear-plastic lid. The carafe sets on the base and when together, they are very stable and hard to tip over. The carafe has a capacity that is significantly greater than the 8.5 oz. that the max fill line indicates (there has to be room for the milk after it has been frothed) and when filled to the max fill line, it takes 1 minute, thirty seconds to heat and froth!

Operating this is so simple it almost defies explanation: fill with milk or creamer to the minimum or maximum fill lines (the difference is essentially one or two cups at a time), place the carafe on the base (assuming it's plugged in), depress the upper “heat and froth” button on the side of the carafe (it lights up red when active) and wait. The unit shuts off automatically and starts blinking a neon blue light when frothing is complete.

For those who want a cold coffee drink, the Epica Electric Milk Frother & Heater Carafe has a cold-frothing option. Able to handle more milk, the Epica can be refilled, then press the lower button and in less than two months, the frother froths up the cold milk/cream!

And then all you need to do is pour your frothing milk out, though what the Epica does not mention is that one needs to have a rubber scraper of some sort. Otherwise, one gets only the unfrothed milk out of the Carafe. I recommend a soft, silicone scraper to prevent scratching the Teflon inside the Carafe. The 1” wire whisk inside the Carafe does what it promises exceptionally well.

This is as close to idiot-proof milk frothing that one can possibly get.

Cleanup is also incredibly easy. First, pull out the wire whisk from inside the Carafe. It pops out easily enough and rinse it. I’ve never had it once end up with any sort of curd or butter from agitating, no matter what type of cream I have used in it. After that, rinse out the unit. The carafe rinses out easily, so long as one washes it out right away. With nothing sticking to the Teflon inside the Carafe, it is simple to clean.

As for the base, a damp cloth cleans that up (unplug it first).

This is one of those devices that does exactly what it promises and I have to say, I like that it is made of stainless steel, so it fits my décor perfectly. The Epica frother does not even get hot on the outside, which is pretty impressive.

Easy to clean, affordable, and durable (we’ve used it daily for almost four months now, usually two or three times in a day!), the Epica Electric Milk Frother & Heater Carafe is perfect!

For other fun kitchen gadgets reviewed by me, please check out my takes on the:
Ovente 1.5 L Glass Electric Kettle
RSVP 60 & 50 mm Espresso Tamper
Norpro 3919 Mini Cheesecake Pan

10/10

For other kitchen appliances, please visit my Appliance Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Friday, January 23, 2015

Unfortunately Average, Song One Underwhelms!


The Good: Acting is good, Moments of character development, Decent direction
The Bad: Casting issue, Unremarkable music, Predictable plot
The Basics: Song One disappoints . . . even die-hard Anne Hathaway fans.


I am a fan of the works of Anne Hathaway. What the hell, I’ve seen enough interviews and read enough articles, to stop equivocating; I’m a fan of Anne Hathaway. I’ll watch pretty much anything Anne Hathaway appears in because she brings a presence to virtually every role she takes on and while that might have led to some tensions at home with my wife (Hathaway has been doing more nude scenes in films lately and some idiot once told the woman he was dating that he had a bit of a crush on Hathaway and liked her works), Hathaway is someone who consistently delivers a quality performance. So, it is not an overstatement to say that I have been waiting for Song One to hit theaters for a long time. Song One was filmed almost a year ago and it is one of the films I have periodically checked up on for a release date. Waiting almost a year for a movie’s release builds some serious anticipation; I was excited about Song One when I sat down to watch it today.

So, when I was trying to come up with what to write as my bottom line about the film, all I could think was that I was disappointed. After a year of waiting, there was something incredibly formulaic and underwhelming about Song One. While Song One looks good, the more I thought about it, the more I was bugged by the film’s flaws; the too-close casting of the two male leads, the unremarkable music, and the formulaic plot. For me, they vastly overshadowed the film’s positive points – the direction, Hathaway’s performance . . . I’m coming up short.

Franny is a photojournalist working abroad when she gets a call from her mother telling her to come home. Franny’s brother, Henry, was hit by a car while crossing the road and he is now in a coma. Franny returns home where her strained relationship with her mother is reignited. Franny starts listening to the c.d.s her brother sent her over the years and discovers a ticket in his journal for a concert for musician James Forester. Franny attends Forester’s concert and afterward gives him a copy of Henry’s favorite song (which he had produced shortly before he was hit by the car).

Franny is surprised, then, when she is at Henry’s bedside and Forester shows up. He enjoyed Henry’s music and that starts a dialogue between Franny and Forester. They begin sharing music as Franny retraces her brother’s favorite places. They slowly build a relationship while Forester is around (he’s actually in New York City doing shows until he does a private wedding) and Franny tries to reconnect with her comatose brother.

The motivation in Song One is a sense of guilt; Franny did not support Henry’s music career when her brother abandoned college for his music. So, retracing his steps and experiencing his interests creates a somewhat incidental relationship between Franny and Forester. For a film that begins with Franny having such a strong sense of self at the outset, her character gets pretty much abandoned in favor of slowly building the Franny/Forester relationship and Franny discovering who her brother has been since they had a falling out.

Forester is a dull character and Franny is not remarkable after her introduction, which makes it harder to tough it out watching Song One. Mary Steenburgen’s role as Franny and Henry’s mother has her filling the niche so precisely that viewers of contemporary cinema wonder what Patricia Clarkson was doing that she was unavailable. Having a cast of somewhat generic and unremarkable characters makes Song One harder to stick with.

At the forefront of the character issues in Song One is the casting and music. Actor Ben Rosenfield might be in Song One, actively, only briefly, but he and Johnny Flynn look too much alike to be distinctly different characters. Add to that that they produce virtually the same style of music and the video clips Franny sits and watches requires the viewer an inordinate amount of time to figure out which young musician they are watching. It pulls the viewer out of the narrative.

Moreover, for a film entitled Song One, the music in Song One is painfully unremarkable. I had a song stuck in my head for three weeks until I learned what it was on Wednesday (it turns out it was “Prayer In C”), so music that resonates truly gets captured by my ear. After watching the 88 minute Song One, the only song I could probably pick out if played for me again would be the duet Franny and James have over visiting the Empire State Building. For people who are supposedly so deep and talented, none of the music resonates with deep lines or catchy tunes.

At its heart, Song One is just formulaic and the aspects that should be distinctive or interesting about them fall flat. Writer and director Kate Barker-Froyland makes the film look good and Hathaway gives a performance solid enough that even her non-fans will have little to say against her, but Song One is not inventive or interesting enough to captivate viewers.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
To Write Love On Her Arms
The Seventh Son
Match
Vice
Paddington
Inherent Vice
Selma
Still Alice
Predestination
The Interview
The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
Expelled
Annie
Birdman

4.5/10

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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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