Friday, December 19, 2014

Perfect Pumpkin Pie Without The Crust: Jelly Belly Pumpkin Pie Jelly Beans!

Pumpkin Pie Jelly Beans - 16 oz Re-Sealable Bag
Click here to purchase the 16 oz. pack of
Pumpkin Pie Jelly Belly Jelly Beans
directly from Jelly Belly.com!

The Good: Amazing taste, Environmentally responsible bulk, Taste does not fade
The Bad: Only seasonally available!
The Basics: Delightful for anyone who loves the flavor of pumpkin and the spices present in pumpkin pie, Jelly Belly Pumpkin Pie flavored jelly beans are an amazing addition to the line!


This year is ending on an exciting note for me! One of my favorite brands, Jelly Belly Candy Company, has sent me a little holiday gift . . . in the form of a package promoting their two new flavors of Jelly Belly jelly beans. Jelly Belly is one of the few companies that comes instantly to mind for me when I think of companies that have maintained their integrity and produce products at least as good now as when I first encountered them. That is a rare thing indeed. None of that, however, came into play when I sat down to review the first of the two new flavors I received from the company today: Pumpkin Pie.

Pumpkin Pie Jelly Belly jelly beans are perfect. Quite simply, they embody their promised flavor ideally, bite after bite, making for an amazing flavor experience that holds up. And I am not a huge fan of pumpkin pie!

For those who might never have had Jelly Belly jelly beans, these are easily the best jelly beans on the planet, packing a lot of flavor into a very small size. Unlike most jelly beans which are only vaguely flavored and are more based on colors, Jelly Belly jelly beans have a wide variety of actual flavors, like Raspberry Chocolate Jelly Bean Dips, Apple Pie A La Mode, Champagne, or their signature flavor Buttered Popcorn.

The Pumpkin Pie Jelly Belly jelly beans might have the distinction of being the only perfectly-rated bean in the product line for a flavor I was not inherently drawn to. Anyone who might like Pumpkin Pie Jelly Belly jelly beans will likely find that the best way to get them is in the ten pound bulk, which is both environmentally responsible way and the most cost-effective!

Basics

Pumpkin Pie is a new, limited edition, flavor of Jelly Belly jelly beans. Jelly Belly jelly beans are approximately one half inch long by one quarter inch wide and they are roughly bean-shaped. These little candies are marketed to taste precisely like Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie and they live up to that without fail. The Pumpkin Pie flavored Jelly Belly jelly beans are intended to mimic pumpkin pie, not simply pumpkin or pumpkin spices, so the fact that it does is truly something. Jelly Belly included everything but the flavor of crust in it!

Pumpkin Pie flavored Jelly Bellys are available in a wide array of quantities, but the largest quantity available is the ten pound bulk case. This is a decent-sized box with a plastic lining and while some might wonder why anyone would need a ten pound box, I ask, "Why spend days trying to bake perfect pumpkin pies, when you can get the flavor for fewer calories from these beans?!” I suspect that for most people, a ten pound case is a year's supply of these jelly beans, though when friends and family start devouring them, one might find they want more.

Pumpkin Pie flavored Jelly Bellys are remarkably easy to recognize and distinguish from other Jelly Bellys, even the other orange-colored beans. Pumpkin Pie Jelly Bellys are dull orange color that is reminiscent of pumpkin.

Ease Of Preparation

These are jelly beans, not baking pumpkin pies and trying to keep crusts from burning! In the case of the ten pound box, one might want to put them in a candy dish of some form as opposed to always going into the box. Then again, there is no law against eating them right from the box, though anything that will keep them from spilling would be advisable. Eat them from the box if it makes your holidays happier!

Taste

Pumpkin Pie Jelly Bellys do not have a strong scent at all. Opening the bag of Pumpkin Pie Jelly Belly jelly beans, one gets only the faintest hint of nutmeg emanating from the beans. This bean has almost no aroma to it, which made me think they would be mildly flavored.

On the tongue, though, the flavor of the Pumpkin Pie Jelly Belly jelly beans is anything but subtle! Far from the dry flavor those conditioned by pumpkin pie spice have come to expect, the Pumpkin Pie Jelly Bellys have a sweet, squash-like flavor that is almost immediately followed by the flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg and a hint of clove. In other words, the flavor evolves from tasting like the gourdlike vegetable into the more refined version of it and the final flavor on the tongue is a sweet burst of sugar and the hint of spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.

As well, Pumpkin Pie flavored Jelly Bellys do not diminish in flavor, regardless of how many one consumes. The consistency of the flavor adds additional value to the limited edition flavor.

Nutrition

Again, these are jelly beans, so anyone looking to them for nutrition needs to understand they based upon something that is not inherently nutritious! Jelly beans, even Jelly Belly jelly beans, are not a legitimate source of nutrition. These are a snack food, a dessert, and are in no way an adequate substitute for a real meal. A serving is listed at thirty-five beans, with each Jelly Belly jelly bean having approximately four calories. This means that in a single serving, there are 140 calories, which is 12% of your daily recommended intake.

The thing is, Jelly Belly jelly beans are not as bad as they could be in the nutrition area. They have no fat and no protein, but for those who have ever dated a Vegan, these are Vegan compliant because they contain no gelatin! So long as your Vegan does not mind beeswax, these are Vegan compliant. They have only one percent of the daily sodium with 15 mg and they are gluten free! The main ingredients are sugar, corn syrup and modified food starch, so it's not like this is an all-natural food, but they could be far, far worse.

Storage/Clean-up

Jelly Belly jelly beans have a shelf life of approximately one year and I have yet to run across a stale Jelly Belly. They remain freshest when they are kept in an airtight container (the bag in the bulk box is sufficient if it is kept closed) and they ought to be kept in a lukewarm environment. Storing them in hot places is likely to make the beans stick together and be gross. Kept in a cool, dry place, the beans retain their flavor perfectly.

As for cleanup, unless one allows the Jelly Belly to get hot to the point that the waxy coating on the bean melts, the dyes on these do not bleed or denature, so there is usually no cleanup necessary, not even washing one's hands after eating them (even if they don't melt!). I've never had Pumpkin Pie Jelly Bellys stain anything.

Overall

Pumpkin Pie Jelly Belly jelly beans perfectly illustrate that Jelly Belly’s rigorous standards have not diminished over the years. The Pumpkin Pie flavor is appropriately complex on the palate and makes for a satisfying, well-rounded jelly bean experience!

For other Jelly Belly jelly bean flavors reviewed by me, please check out:
Draft Beer
Tabasco
Beanboozled Assortment

10/10

For other Jelly Belly jelly bean reviews, please check out my Ultimate Jelly Belly Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
Pumpkin Pie Jelly Beans - 10 lb Bulk Case
Buy the 10 pound case of Pumpkin Pie Jelly Belly Jelly Beans
directly from Jelly Belly!

An Annoying Concept Executed Very Well: The 2014 Yoda Peekbuster Ornament!


The Good: Great sculpt, Good sound effect, Most of the coloring.
The Bad: Monotones for the costume, Frontheavy, Sound clip plays poorly over time!
The Basics: The October Star Wars ornament release from Hallmark was a concept ornament in the form of the Yoda Peekbuster, which is pretty good . . . for what it is!


More than any other fandom that I have yet encountered, Star Wars fans seem to be the most receptive to concept figures and designs. For those unfamiliar with the terminology, concept figures are toys that are based upon original designs or ideas insinuated in, but not a part of, what is considered to be the canon of the franchise. Concept Star Wars figures include the likes of Bastila Shan (reviewed here!), a character who only appeared in the Star Wars novels and comic books. Hallmark has been expanding their ornament line in Star Wars and as they reach the end of their canonized characters, ships and situations, they have gotten creative. This year, Hallmark released a LEGO Boba Fett ornament (reviewed here!) and in October, they put out the Yoda Peekbuster ornament. When it comes to Star Wars, it is hard to go wrong with Yoda, Darth Vader and Boba Fett when testing the waters and because last year saw the emergence of the Darth Vader Peekbuster ornament, it is somewhat unsurprising that Yoda was next.

Yoda Peekbuster is a late-release Star Wars Hallmark character ornament that features a motion sensor and a series of unique sound clips designed to startle and delight those who come near it . . . and the presents it is set beside to guard! Based upon Yoda from the original Star Wars Trilogy, the Yoda Peekbuster looks like Yoda from The Empire Strikes Back (reviewed here!), save that he is on a snowy base with presents and cloaked in a Santa outfit, instead of being cast on the swamps of Dagobah.

Basics

The Yoda Peekbuster ornament recreates the alien Jedi in solid plastic. The ornament, released in 2014, is the small creature staring outward, perhaps judgmentally, while wearing an incongruently festive Santa Claus outfit. Yoda is cast standing on a white snow-like base. He is wearing a red Santa hat and red Santa robe and leaning on his gimmer stick with his left hand while slightly extending his right. This Yoda ornament is just over 3 1/2" tall, 2 1/2" wide and 1 3/4" deep. Hallmark charged $19.95 for the ornament originally and I suspect I can still find it because that price is just a little steep for some people.

The Hallmark Yoda Peekbuster ornament is made of a durable plastic and has him holding his gimmer stick, standing amid presents with a noticeable Rebel insignia on one! He is the green-skinned humanoid originally embodied by a puppet. The ornament is molded with a decent amount of detailing. The character has the brow lines, toenails and fingernails that helped give Yoda more definition than the average puppet back in the day. The Santa outfit is molded to look like it has puffy fringe on the hat, cuffs, and bottom.

The coloring detail on Yoda Peekbuster is unfortunately erratic. Yoda himself is rendered and painted with such a level of detailing that he almost looks like a CG model could be made from him. The nooks and crannies on the characters face and the coloring of his nails and eyes are live-action quality and Hallmark has a lot to be proud of with that. Unfortunately, the costume and presents are colored in simple monotones. The result is incongruent; Yoda looks real, but enrobed in a perfectly clean costume that lacks the same level of realistic depth and shading.

Features

As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, Yoda Peekbuster has a sound chip but no light effect. When turned on, the Yoda Peekbuster is a motion-activated ornament. When it senses movement in the field before it, the Yoda Peekbuster speaks one of five admonishments to the person making the movement. Yoda calls out about how looking at presents early is not the way of the Jedi and how those who take presents early will be caught! The voice is close-enough to Frank Oz’s Yoda to make one believe they are being yelled at by Yoda!

Balance

As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake Yoda Peekbuster ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate Star Wars Christmas Tree, the Yoda Peekbuster is very much a luxury which is likely to appeal only to the die-hard collectors or those who want to freak out their geeky children! This ornament has a steel hook loop embedded into the top center of the back of Yoda’s hat. From that hook, the Yoda Peekbuster ornament hangs noticeably downward. The ornament sways when rocked, but it is frontheavy, a fact accented by the slope of the base upon which Yoda stands.

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 branched out into other popular franchises like Star Wars and The Wizard Of Oz. The Yoda Peekbuster ornament is not as limited as many other Star Wars ornaments and has not appreciated in the secondary market yet, which makes sense because many Hallmark stores still have him on their shelves. At this point in the Star Wars ornament collections, fans are either sticking with what they know or accepting concept ornaments like the Peekbuster and LEGO Star Wars ornaments. I suspect that the novelty of this ornament will wear thin with people other than just myself and that it will be a while before it appreciates in value, especially because of its hefty initial price.

Overview

Untike most Star Wars ornaments, the Yoda Peekbuster has a lot to do with the Christmas holiday, but because the Star Wars Universe is not set in a place and time that would logically accept such a holiday, the ornament is a crapshoot with the fans. But, because concept figures go over so well with Star Wars fans and because there is some novelty and quality to it, I very lightly recommend the Yoda Peekbuster ornament to the open-minded collectors.

For other Hallmark ornaments of Star Wars characters, please check out my reviews of:
2014 Imperial Scout Trooper
2013 Jango Fett
2013 Wicket And Teebo
2013 Lego Yoda
2013 Boushh Limited Edition
2012 Lego Imperial Stormtrooper
2012 Sith Apprentice Darth Maul
2012 General Grievous
2012 Momaw Nadon Limited Edition
2011/2012 Lego Darth Vader
2011 Jedi Master Yoda
2011 Bossk Limited Edition ornament
2010 Lando Calrissian Limited Edition ornament
2010 Luke Skywalker X-Wing Pilot
2010 Boba Fett and Han Solo in Carbonite mini-ornament set
2009 Greedo Limited Edition ornament
2009 Han Solo As Stormtrooper
2008 Emperor Palpatine ornament
2005 Slave Leia ornament
2000 Darth Maul
1999 Max Rebo Band mini-ornament set
1998 Princess Leia

6.5/10

For other holiday ornaments, please check out my Ornament Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Repetition Wounds Charli XCX’s Sucker!


The Good: Moments of vocals, One or two songs, A few lyrics
The Bad: Short, Repetitive, Musically unimaginative (save the last song), Overproduced
The Basics: Charli XCX falls into the familiar dance-pop trap of repeating lines ad nauseum as opposed to creating more complex songs with Sucker.


When I went searching for new music to review, I came across Charli XCX and her album Sucker. The truth was that I was looking for something to review that I might enjoy and that was new and relevant on the music front. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that Sucker contained “Boom Clap,” a single I had heard on the radio the last few months and actually enjoyed (not to be confused with the Jessie J song “Bang Bang Into The Room” – which I pretty much loathed). When I saw all of the critical acclaim Sucker was getting, I allowed myself to raise my expectations.

Unfortunately, after listening to the album eight times now, I have had my hopes dashed. After a good start, Sucker pretty much peaks with “Boom Clap” (its sixth track) before descending into a murky lot of indistinct dance-pop tracks before finishing with a retro-sounding song “Need Ur Luv,” which illustrates a whole range of potential for Charli XCX that went untapped for the rest of the album. In other words, while Charli XCX might have a whole lot of talent, but it is not as evident on Sucker as it could be.

With thirteen tracks clocking out at only 40:19, Sucker is short and the more one listens to it and realizes how little there is to it on the lyrical front (there is a LOT of repetition of choruses here!), the album feels like a lot more filler than substance. Charli XCX is not left taking a lot of the blame, though. While she was a co-writer for all of the songs and provides all of the lead vocals, she was not responsible for any of the production (or, at least, is not credited with it). For a dance-pop album that is heavy on the programmed instrumental accompaniment, that means that Charli XCX is less responsible for the lack of musical diversity and the sense of repetition than a more established musical artist would be.

The initial sound of Sucker is audacious and pounding and Charli XCX has a distinct sound. The album has a pounding bass and powerful synth elements which Charli XCX sings over and from the moment the album begins, it is clear that she has something to say. The problem is with how she says it. Contrasting the deeper, throbbing instrumental accompaniment are Charli XCX’s more dynamic vocals. But the longer Sucker goes on, the less imaginative the musical accompaniment seems. Dance-pop song is followed by dance-pop song is followed by dance-pop song and they have underlying percussion elements so similar that the experience starts to blend together, like someone droning on and on. The exception to this is at the album’s end. “Need Ur Luv” might be titled as if by a contemporary chick texting her way through dumbspeak, but the sound is classic early-1960’s pop and it’s a welcome departure from the rest of the album.

“Need Ur Luv” is also a vocal exception for Charli XCX on Sucker. While most of Sucker has her singing forcefully in lower registers, “Need Ur Luv” has her singing at a higher pitch, again, mimicking a style long gone by. The rest of Sucker, though, is presented with a very limited vocal range. Much of the vocals on Sucker could easily be replaced with spoken word or shouting the lyrics out for as modally uncomplicated as the vocal accompaniment to the music is.

Where Charli XCX redeems herself for the severe musical limitations of Sucker is in her lyrics. Sucker has some legitimately decent songs where Charli XCX and her cowriters tap into something universal. “Boom Clap” would never have reached the height of its popularity if its resounding emotional message “First kiss just like a drug / Under your influence / You take me over you're the magic in my veins / This must be love / Boom! Clap! / The sound of my heart / The beat goes on and on and on and on and / Boom! Clap! / You make me feel good / Come on to me come on to me now” did not resonate with virtually everyone who had ever been in love before. Charli XCX offers an interesting foil to Lorde’s “Royals” with “Gold Coins,” about having tons of money and being eager for the finer things in life.

Unfortunately, amid the few songs about desire and love and relationships, Sucker is populated by dance tracks about being young, partying and just hanging out. The second radio hit from Sucker, “Break The Rules,” is so repetitive with its title/refrain that it becomes hard to listen to after a half-dozen times. Similarly, it is hard to care about musical protagonists who just want to party. When the average song on Sucker has lines like “Back at the hotel / Ringing off the doorbells / Now we're feeling so alive / Come to the top floor, jumpin' like we're 'bout to fly / No one's leaving / 'Bout to blow the ceiling / When we turn it up to ten / Wake up in the morning, gonna do it all again” (“Die Tonight”), it is hard to care to come back to the work.

The only place where the repetition and predictable rhymes work to the benefit of Sucker is on “Need Ur Luv.” The singsong lines “Boy, you really messed around / Put me six feet underground / Always kick me when I'm down / But I'm still driving through your town . . . I need your love / I need it even when it hurts me / I won't give up / I won't give up, so come and get me” (“Need Ur Luv”) are at home on a retro-sounding hit; the form plays to the theme and it works.

But the few hit tracks on Sucker are not enough to justify buying the album. I might seem to be the contrarian critic, but so long as her inevitable compilation album includes “Boom Clap” and “Need Ur Luv” (it will undoubtedly contain “Break The Rules” as well), there is truly no reason to shell out for Sucker.

The best track is “Boom Clap,” the low point is the utterly forgettable “Hanging Around.”

For other new music, please visit my reviews of:
Little Secret - Nikki Yanofsky
Nostalgia - Annie Lennox
Title - Meghan Trainor

4/10

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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SONY And The U.S. Government’s Reaction In Cancelling The Release Of The Interview Proves Throwing Money At The Military Is Money Poorly Spent!

The Basics: With SONY capitulating to (supposed) North Korean threats over its release of The Interview, citizens of the United States should demand their tax money go other places than the U.S. military.


This week’s news has been dominated by stories surrounding the hack of SONY Pictures’s servers and threats surrounding the imminent release of the film The Interview. Amid all of the stories planted by the hackers and leaked as a result of the hack, there has been one glaring one that has not been reported that I have been waiting for: SONY executives had to know of the risk in making The Interview . . . and they disregarded it entirely.

The Backstory

The Interview is a film starring James Franco and Seth Rogen with a basic premise that Americans visiting North Korea for business are conscripted by the CIA to kill Kim Jong-un. About a month ago, SONY Pictures Studios’s servers were hacked and after digitally-releasing at least four of the studio’s films online, the hackers began to leak e-mails and other private information they stole from the servers to mainstream media and online sources. While North Korea initially denied being the hackers, after the hackers threatened an attack on movie theaters that showed The Interview, the United States government claimed that North Korean sources were responsible for both the threat and the hack. The Interview was subsequently pulled from SONY’s Christmas release roster.

Red Flags In The Backstory

When the SONY hack became a major news story, virtually anyone with any intelligence and insight had to notice some gaping holes in the story of the hack and where blame was being spread. While North Koreans were almost instantly scapegoats for the hack, when they denied involvement, but praised the attack, there were certain questions that remained unanswered in the media. If North Koreans were responsible for the hack, they had to be North Koreans that were fluent in English. Supposedly, the hack occurred on November 24, when SONY personnel turned on their computers to a message warning that more damage to the company was to come. It took about a week for the hackers to start releasing more information taken from SONY.

That makes perfect sense; if you’ve just stolen a treasure trove of information in a foreign language, you need some time to sift through the data to figure out what will be useful (i.e. damaging or damning) in ruining your target. A quick online search estimates that the percentage of North Koreans who are fluent in English range from 1 – 10%. One has to believe that the number of North Koreans who are both expert hackers and fluent in English would be well-below 1% and if the motive was protecting the head of state of North Korea, that number has to be pretty small. So, if the U.S. intelligence community was looking at suspects in North Korea, it seems like their pool would have been ridiculously small.

As information from the hack continued to disseminate, it became more and more clear that The Interview was the source of ire for the hackers. But, even in releasing internal documents with executives panning The Interview showed a level of consideration to what the hackers were releasing . . . and it makes one wonder just what kind of publicity machine SONY actually has working for it.

I write that for multiple reasons, but the chief among them are these: if one wanted to ruin The Interview, releasing it for free would have been a pretty decent way. Hackers who released The Expendables 3 (reviewed here!) online this past summer have been credited with causing that sequel’s grosses to take a noticeable hit. Or, if hackers truly wanted to stop The Interview from being released, the hack of SONY’s servers should have targeted the digital copies of The Interview and destroyed them!

Second, SONY has not leaked what should have been its ace card on the matter: the hack of SONY’s servers and subsequent release of private e-mails illustrates that virtually every conversation at the company is fairly well-documented. What is missing from all the leaked documents are any executives who said anything to the effect of, “Hey guys, I read the treatment for The Interview and I’ve got to ask . . . should we really be pissing off the North Koreans by making this movie?” And the reason the hackers, if they truly were from North Korea, would not release those e-mails is because the two most-probable responses to them are: 1. “Who the fuck cares?! It’s North Korea, what are they going to do to us?!” and/or 2. “North Korea doesn’t have a leg to stand on; just last year, there were two blockbusters that dealt with terrorists attacking the White House” (White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen, reviewed here!). So, SONY’s affirmative defenses to threats against The Interview had to be that North Korea couldn’t touch the U.S. militarily and “we’ve already done movies that attack the heart of the U.S., so it’s not a big deal to have a screwball comedy about killing another country’s Head Of State.”

So, why hasn’t SONY leaked those e-mails to show they are not afraid and/or The Interview is hardly groundbreaking for its potential offensiveness?

The Logical Answer

When the hackers released a direct threat against theaters that showed The Interview, the United States government went from “actively investigating” the SONY hack to actually making statements and throwing around allegations. The intelligence community publicly accused North Korea and, while SONY’s problem has been not poking the bear, the intelligence community has reason to take the opposite tact. In intelligence, one does not give away anything one does not have to: you don’t let your enemy know you’ve cracked their codes and you try to keep your methodology as secret as possible. So, why is the intelligence community now publicly blaming North Korea? That surprised me quite a bit. In fact, while SONY’s approach could easily have been “We were worried about North Korea, until we realized their opinion didn’t matter,” the U.S. intelligence community’s approach should have – at best – been dismissive: “The Interview has been screened multiple places and there have been no attacks on any of those venues, so this seems like a fear tactic to us.”

And, in the e-mails or memos that have not been leaked, SONY executives would be right: North Korea does not have the ability to launch any sort of offensive that would destroy every movie theater screening The Interview. So, it begs the question, why capitulate to the hackers’ demands?

There are only two logical answers to capitulation at this point (considering the film is made and people have already seen it): the intelligence community in the United States has a credible threat or SONY’s executives are so gunshy that they are broken. Fear is a powerful motivator and certainly someone at SONY’s legal department figured out that the liability for attacks to theaters across the U.S. would be astronomical – like, enough to destroy the mega-corporation. But even if such attacks occurred and SONY was sued for liability, precedent shows that free speech is not to blame for violent attacks and the liable parties should be the attackers, not incidental department (suing SONY for any attacks that resulted from releasing The Interview would be analogous to suing the Department Of The Navy for building a base at Pearl Harbor . . . instead retaliating against the Japanese military for attacking the base there).

In Light Of It All. . .

So, that brings us to the second possibility and what it actually means. Right now, the hackers are bullies and SONY (and theater owners) are wusses. If North Korea is the source of the hack and the threat, SONY and theater owners are expected to believe that North Korea has the resources to blow up thousands of targets (the number of screens The Interview would have released on) simultaneously on Christmas Day. According to CIA sources from 2013, North Korean missile technology was only advanced enough to get missiles to the West Coast of the U.S. So, the threat from the hackers was either a bluff, North Korea has advanced its missile technology dramatically within the last year . . . or we are to believe that North Korea has a network of several thousand agents working in the United States who would have delivered the threatened explosives to the theaters when The Interview was released.

And here’s where American citizens should be outraged and have a course of action against the United States government: under any of those circumstances, our tax dollars are just being thrown away. According to usgovernmentspending.com, in 2014, $605 billion were spent on military defense (the deficit was some $483 billion). What the reaction to the SONY hack and alleged North Korean threats tells us is this: that is money poorly spent.

Seriously.

Let’s say the intelligence community is doing its job. The CIA and FBI have identified a credible threat. They say, “Hey, theater owners and SONY, we’d really appreciate it if you didn’t release this movie because North Korea is making threats and they can actually back them up.” That’s the job of the intelligence community. They find the threats and if it’s domestic, they arrest suspects to prevent them. If there were a massive terror network of potential North Korean bombers in the United States ready to actually blow up every theater that screened The Interview (despite the fact that they did not blow up any of the theaters that screened it already for press and potential audiences). Given how the media is all over this story and there have been no stories of arrests or interrogations around the country of North Korean nationals being rounded up by the CIA, logic suggests that the intelligence community discovered that North Koreans were responsible for the hack, but there is no network of bombers in the U.S. ready to blow up theaters here. They turn their intelligence over to the NSA, who shares it with the military.

At that point, the issue becomes a diplomatic and military matter. The diplomats should be saying “Hey, North Korea, you guys can’t just threaten us!” (albeit not the most receptive or rational audience in the world). The military, though, should be saying “before you can launch one missile, we will reduce your arsenal to ashes.” And we have a new Bay Of Pigs or another bloodbath in Asia. The reasons not to pursue a military option are either because it would not work or because it is not going to get the desired results (The Interview, North Korea attacks, the U.S. counter-attacks, China launches its missiles, WWIII, Armageddon). So, what does it mean that it would not work, then? Capitulating to North Korea, if the threats are coming from North Korea, as a military solution is a de facto admission that the U.S. military cannot defend the United States from North Korean missiles.

So then what are we paying our military for?

The United States is a big continent (just drive through Kansas!); taking the United States might be second only to taking and holding Russia in the world. North Korea does not have the military resources to launch a land war to take the U.S. and while it might have some missile resources that could harm the U.S., what are we paying the military for at this point if not to have such overwhelming might that even an egotistical dictator would think twice about attacking us? In order for any threat from the North Korean Head Of State to be deemed “credible,” one has to believe that enough of the high-ranking military officers in North Korea would also be willing to martyr themselves and have their nation reduced to ashes for that leaders vision. Is The Interview being buried because it hits too close to an actual CIA plan to take out Kim Jong-Un? That seems doubtful (the cat’s already out of the bag on the “how” of the assassination attempt in The Interview), so it inevitably points back to the idea that the U.S. military is unable to defeat North Korea without taking what they have already calculated as “acceptable losses.”

North Korea is a nation of approximately 24.45 million people and is about 60% the size of Kansas, located thousands of miles away from the continental United States. If it is a credible military threat to the United States then spending hundreds of billions of dollars on our military is a waste of money. I am a pacifist and I don’t think anyone should die to see a movie, certainly not The Interview (Cheap Thrills, maybe . . . ) and if North Korea could deliver on its threats then that should be taken seriously. But if our military cannot defend against North Korea, that’s just a jobs program that is not advancing anyone’s best interest. The $122 billion dollars spent on military defense (after eliminating the entire deficit of overspending that the military represents) represents $336 each and every American citizen living in the United States could be paid for health care, healthy food, or education. Hell, we could even use that money to go to the movies.

For other reviews and commentaries, please check out my Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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A Slacker Works Extra Hard To Remain Out Of School In Expelled!


The Good: Performances are fine
The Bad: Ridiculous premise, Inconsistent characters, Dull plot, Unimaginative direction/acting
The Basics: One of the worst films of the year, Expelled is a laughless comedy not worth one’s time and attention.


Counterprogramming is a sweet science, just ask the makers of The Love Letter (reviewed here!). The Love Letter has the distinction of being the major studio release that went up against The Phantom Menace (reviewed here!) when it was theatrically released. Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema forced a number of studios to release big projects opposite The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies by pushing to a mid-December release. The Hobbit sequel was always going to win its weekend (and probably a few after) because the prevailing wisdom is “I’ve sat through sixteen hours of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth Saga already . . . yeah, I’m going to wait to see the last one!” Fans have invested years in anticipation for Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth Saga and the final chapter is this weekend’s big release. Fox seems to be bucking the trend of some of the other major studios (Sony is actually releasing one of its most-anticipated bits of Oscarbait to go head-to-head with The Hobbit) and opting for utter non-competition. Fox’s big release this weekend is Expelled. Instead of a big, theatrically impressive film, Fox went with small, unknowns and comedic in a way that is utterly remarkable.

Expelled is, supposedly, a comedy, but it draws no laughs from the audience. The film centers on high school students where the young people are all so much smarter than the film’s adults and the jokes fail to land. Expelled is a study of inconsistencies: a protagonist who is a slacker who works ridiculously hard to scheme to have time to not do anything specific (though he calls it “not missing opportunities” that surround him), young people who universally have skewed moral compasses (by which I am focused more on the poor characterization; all of the goodie two-shoes in the film are just as corrupt as the protagonist) and adults who have only the flimsiest of pretense surrounding how much attention they pay to the young people in the movie.

Hitting the ground running, Felix gets his third strike at Eastwood High School by reprogramming the school’s vending machines to give out free gum. Principal Gary Truman expels Felix. Concurrently, his ex-girlfriend, Vanessa, turns to Felix to help her win the race for student body president. She is running against Stacy, whose campaign is built entirely upon an anti-bullying campaign. But when Felix and his best friend discover that the school’s big cyberbully is actually Stacy and he exposes her, Vanessa double-crosses Felix (in exchange for him helping her, she was to provide him with a fake report card to keep his parents happy). Facing the threat of being shipped to a boarding school in Montana (a punishment his older brother has already received), Felix uses Stacy to help him get access to the school to make a new fake report card.

When Truman is at the school the night Felix breaks in, the principal has him arrested. But Felix is rescued by an unlikely ally; his brother, who escaped from Montana by shipping himself out of the boarding school. With the help of his pizza-delivering friend Katie (whose attraction to Felix is never honestly justified in the film), his brother, and best friend, Felix works to keep his parents from finding out he was expelled while extorting Mr. Truman to get re-enrolled in Eastwood.

Expelled is one of those ridiculous films that absolutely buggers common sense. The viewer is to believe that Felix’s mother, who claims to not have a “real job,” is utterly neglectful of Felix, while still caring about the results of her neglect. In other words, she only cares about how Felix is doing in life when report cards come out and when she gets summoned to parent-teacher conferences. The reason this conceit utterly fails to work in Expelled is that it is based on the premise that Felix’s mother has a life outside the home that keeps her occupied throughout her days (Felix’s few days of vacation after being expelled are devoid of parental incursions), but puts her in contact with absolutely no one from her son’s life. In other words, the pizza delivery chick knows Felix has been expelled, but Felix’s own mother has no contact with other parents or friends of friends who might know that Felix has been expelled.

The premise is off to an initially shaky start when Felix is introduced as a character who both has friends who have all the skills and access he needs and ambition and talent. People who are engaged enough to reprogram things and want to influence their environment often have some sense of ambition and goals. In other words, if one wants to believe that Felix is smart enough to hack systems (not demonstrated in the film, as he entirely relies upon his best friend for the actual tech work) and reprogram things, when he gets the time off away from school . . . it seems like he would have things he actually wanted to do. Expelled’s writer-director plays lip service to this idea by having Felix explicitly claim that everyone is surrounded by missed opportunities that cannot be exploited if one is stuck in History class, but then he limits his “missed opportunities” to things like lounging around shooting aerosol cans with flaming marshmallows launched from crossbows. The slackers I know who were just in the wrong environment and were understimulated used their time suspended from school to write computer viruses, hack networks, go to the movies, go on trips, shoplift, read books, etc. etc. etc. In other words, the smart people who want a vacation from establishment bullshit usually have things they want to do other than sitting on their asses doing nothing. So, Felix doesn’t jive with a realistic character.

But the real death knell for Expelled is how it fails completely to be funny. The comedy does not come from any particularly witty lines or zany situations or interesting characters with fast minds and diction to match. There are a few moments of physical comedy, but they do not even illicit smiles. The film isn’t even smart enough to be a farce.

The result is a non-compete for the box office that doesn’t try to be a draw to anyone. Expelled is a waste of 85 minutes and money for people who . . . actually, I have no idea who the target demographic for this movie is even. Expelled is just an all-around waste.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
To Write Love On Her Arms
Annie
Comet
Horrible Bosses 2
10,000 Days
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
Interstellar

2/10

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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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

If It Weren’t For The Sprayed-On Nutrients . . . Froot Loops Treasures Would Utterly Fail!


The Good: Surprisingly decent vitamins and minerals
The Bad: Generically sugary flavor
The Basics: Kellogg’s Froot Loops Treasures cereal is unsurprisingly being clearance and with its generic flavor it will not be missed.


As cereal standards have diversified in recent years, it is surprising to me to see how the major breakfast cereal manufacturers try to reinvent the wheel to get new consumers. With standards like Kellogg’s Froot Loops, the slow addition of new colors to the mix (I swear, when I was a kid they didn’t have blue) has mostly been enough to keep the company happy. But every now and then, they tweak the familiar Froot Loops with something different. Enter Froot Loops Treasures, a cereal already being discontinued that added little pockets of strawberry-flavored pieces. The cereal is plagued by the same problems as usual Froot Loops, a cereal so indistinct in its sugary flavor that they can’t even use the word “fruit” in the cereal name.

Basics

Kellogg’s Froot Loops Treasures cereal is the standard Froot Loops cereal with additional pieces added to the mix. The standard Froot Loops are blue, purple, green, orange, yellow and green and are approximately 5/8” in diameter. The standard pieces are augmented by corn pillow pockets that are 7/8” long by 3/4” wide by 3/8” thick. The red pillow pockets are filled with a jelly-like gel that is intended to be strawberry flavored.

The standard box of Froot Loops Treasures cereal is 10.5 oz. That represents approximately ten servings and that seems to be about right.

Ease Of Preparation

Froot Loops Treasures cereal is a breakfast cereal, so this is one of the low-impact breakfast options as far as preparation goes! Simply open the box of Froot Loops Treasures cereal, pour out a one cup serving (I recommend actually using a measuring cup, especially if you are monitoring your intake) and add 1/2 cup of milk to it. I have discovered, as part of getting healthy, that one of the biggest challenges one might have with breakfast cereal is actually eating the serving size recommended by the manufacturer.

For the purposes of my reviews, and my regular consumption, I only use skim milk (fat free) milk with cereal.

Taste

Froot Loops Treasures smell vaguely fruity, like the scent of a glass of lemonade after the lemonade has been consumed. The scent is very mild.

As for taste, dry Froot Loops Treasures cereal is overwhelmingly sweet. There is almost no genuine fruit flavor to the Froot Loops and the overwhelmingly sugary flavor finishes dry and like corn meal. The Treasures portions are legitimately fruity, once they are cracked open. The generic sweetness gives way to the flavor of strawberry jam, which is what the center seems to be made up of. The Froot Loops Treasures have a fairly dry aftertaste to them.

Covered in milk, the Froot Loops Treasures lose any real fruit flavor they possess . . . except in bites that have the actual strawberry Treasures. The sweet flavor carries into the milk and the trade-off is that the milk gets very sugary, while the corn loops simply maintain a grainy flavor. The bites with the strawberry Treasures explode with strawberry flavor when they are cracked open. That flavor fades quickly, though it is truly nice for the moments it is present.

The Froot Loops Treasures have a dry aftertaste that is followed by an aftertaste of sugar. The aftertastes linger for only a few minutes after the Froot Loops are consumed.

Nutrition

Kellogg’s Froot Loops Treasures cereal is surprisinlgy nutritious on its own and with skim milk! Made primarily of sugar, whole grain yellow corn flour and wheat flour. The Froot Loops Treasures ingredient list degenerates into a chemistry equation after “citric acid.” This cereal has some preservatives in it and it also has a separate list of vitamins and minerals, which means that this is a cereal that has nutrients sprayed onto it. That makes it very important to drink the milk after one has consumed the actual cereal.

A single serving of Kellogg’s Froot Loops Treasures cereal is 30 grams, 1 cup. In that serving, there are 110 calories, with 10 calories coming from fat. There are only .5 grams of saturated and no trans fats in this cereal, nor is there any cholesterol. With 140 mg of sodium and three grams of dietary fiber, this is actually a really good dietary choice for those striving to improve heart health. With two grams of protein and 35mg potassium, Froot Loops Treasures has more going for it on the dietary front than one might suspect. On its own, this cereal has significant percentages of eight vitamins and minerals.

Storage/Cleanup

Froot Loops Treasures is a cereal, so as long as it is kept sealed in its box, it ought to remain fresh for quite some time. Obviously, when you are done pouring the cereal from the box, fold down the plastic inner wrap to help maintain the cereal’s freshness.

Cleaning up after Froot Loops Treasures cereal is simple as well. Simply brush away crumbs left by it and you are done! It is that simple! This is a cereal that barely discolors the milk added to it, but because you should drink that up to get all the vitamins and minerals Kellogg’s added to the cereal, that shouldn’t be an issue with staining.

Overall

Froot Loops Treasures cereal is not the most flavorful cereal in the world, but it is strangely healthy, which saves it from being uneatable, but it is still not at all surprising that it is already being discontinued.

For other cereals, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
Apple Cinnamon Chex
Fiber One Honey Clusters
Maple Brown Sugar Frosted Mini-Wheats

3/10

For other food reviews, please visit my Food Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the food reviews I have written!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Neat Concept, Light On Detailing: The 2014 Cornelius Planet Of The Apes Hallmark Ornament Is Only Average!


The Good: Good sculpt, General coloring, Affordable
The Bad: Weird balance issue, Simplistic coloring, No feature
The Basics: The 2014 Hallmark Planet Of The Apes ornament of Cornelius is objectively average, with an odd balance issue offsetting the very precise sculpt.


As Christmas approaches at what seems to be an accelerated rate, I’m working on Christmas ornament reviews, while shoppers still have a chance to get them before the holiday (or, conversely, for discounts right after Christmas for the ones worth investing in!). One of the last genre ornaments that I had yet to review was the Cornelius Planet Of The Apes ornament that hit stores as part of Hallmark’s October release. The Cornelius ornament is, unfortunately, a study in average. It has a decent sculpt, but one of the weirdest balance issues I’ve seen on an ornament ever. It has surprisingly good coloring for some of its aspects, poor detailing on others. The result is an average ornament, at best.

Hallmark sculptor Kristina Gaughran created an ornament that is evocative of the film persona of Roddy McDowell as Cornelius from Planet Of The Apes for the Cornelius ornament. For those not familiar with Planet Of The Apes (reviewed here!), the villain was Cornelius, an ape who worked to keep apes in power over the human slaves. He and Dr. Zaius disagreed on the intelligence of humans who insisted they were intelligent.

It is Cornelius on a patch of ground, standing, looking slightly angrily, not in any iconic pose or moment, that is the subject of the 2014 Cornelius Hallmark ornament.

Basics

The 2014 Cornelius ornament faithfully recreates Cornelius in sculpt, if not in coloring, in his simple ape garments, standing on a small patch of rocky dirt. The ornament, released in 2014, is fair for an ornament based upon the costume used in the original Planet Of The Apes film. Measuring four and one-quarter inches tall by one and three-quarters inches wide by an inch and a quarter deep, the Cornelius ornament is the only Planet Of The Apes ornament released by Hallmark in stores in 2014 and was part of October’s push for classic genre film ornaments by Hallmark. The Cornelius ornament came with an original retail price of $14.95 and given that it has not been a sell-out at any of the Hallmark Gold Crown stores I have been to, I suspect it will be easily available after the holidays on discount.

The Hallmark Cornelius ornament is made of durable plastic. Cornelius’s costume is simple, but remarkably well-detailed. Cornelius is dressed in a simple tunic with a leather-looking bib. His hands are bare and hairy. His shoes are well-rendered and a cool conceit from the film; they are like gloves for the feet, with an individual compartment for each toe! Cornelius the ape stands, looking askew, with an angry look in his brown eyes.

The Cornelius ornament features a version of Cornelius who looks more like an animated version of the character than the live-action one based on Roddy McDowell. The skin tones have a reasonable amount of depth and shading based on the mask from the 1960s when the film was made. But the costume is clean and simplistic and it seems incongruent with the character in the outfit.

Features

As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, Cornelius could have a sound chip or light-up function. Given how many good lines Cornelius has in Planet Of The Apes, it is surprising that Hallmark opted against doing a sound clip for the ornament.

Balance

As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake Cornelius ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate movie nostalgia Christmas Tree, the Cornelius ornament is very much an unnecessary one. Oddly, the ornament is bottom, back heavy, with the front bottom of the ground leaning forward and up at a noticeable angle. The ornament has the standard steel hook loop embedded into the top, center of the back of Cornelius’s head at a pretty obvious position. From there, the ornament, when affixed to a tree with a hook, swings very easily and is clearly weighted more to the back (an effect accented by the base).

Collectibility

Hallmark Keepsake began delving into the collectibles market in 1991 with Star Trek when it introduced the exceptionally limited edition U.S.S. Enterprise ornament (reviewed here!). Since then, they have made ornament replicas of almost all major franchises like DC comics, The Wizard Of Oz and Harry Potter. The Cornelius ornament just began selling at the October Preview Weekend and seems to be pretty easy to find still. Given the problems with the balance and inconsistent coloring for this ornament, along with the general lack of relevance for Planet Of The Apes, it is doubtful it will be a sell-out and appreciate in value any time soon.

Overview

Fans of Cornelius, Roddy McDowell, and Planet Of The Apes are likely to be utterly unimpressed by the Cornelius ornament. It is fair and the price is inexpensive, but it is one of those ornaments that is hard to get excited about going out of one’s way for.

For other film-themed Hallmark ornaments, please check out my reviews of:
2014 Alien 35th Anniversary ornament
2014 Bane The Dark Knight Rises ornament
2014 Scarlett’s White Dress Gone With The Wind ornament

5/10

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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Aging Poorly: The Dark Crystal Does Not Hold Up!


The Good: Good puppet work, Decent voice acting, Elements of the story
The Bad: A ton of exposition, Minimal character development, Pacing
The Basics: Hardly audacious or even interesting, The Dark Crystal is a tough sell these days!


One of my wife’s favorite films of all time is Labyrinth (reviewed here!) and the circles she travels in in fantasy geekdom seem somewhat surprisingly (to me, at least) divided into two camps: those who love Labyrinth and those who have an affection for The Dark Crystal. Personally, I think that comes down to positive childhood memories for either camp, but rather than dispute it, we figured it was time to rewatch The Dark Crystal. Both my wife and I had seen The Dark Crystal only once, in our respective childhoods and neither of us had been grabbed by it or remembered it particularly well. In fact, all I truly recalled about it was the end and the liquefying of the “soul” (“essence”) of characters, which made them into slaves.

Having now watched The Dark Crystal as an adult, I have to say I am proud of my younger self and my current self; both of us managed to stay awake the entire movie (which is not something my wife may honestly say about the experience!). The Dark Crystal is unfortunately boring, heavy on exposition to explain the setting and characters and suffers from a number of problems unrelated to the early 1980’s special effects.

On an alien world, inhabited by magical creatures and budding scientists, there is a schism between the power-hungry Skeksis and the docile Mystics. A thousand years ago, during the Great Convergence of the planet’s three suns, the Dark Crystal shattered and the Skeksis came to power. Following their exile, the Mystics kept to themselves while the Skeksis brutalized their planet. But now, both the Mystics and the Skeksis are down to only nine of their kind. When the Skeksis Emperor and the Great Mystic die simultaneously, it appears a prophecy is about to be fulfilled.

The prophecy declares that a Gelfling will restore the Dark Crystal and, in the process, reunite the Skeksis and Mystics and restore the planet. Jen is, to his knowledge, the last of the Gelflings (the Skeksis having killed off almost all of the rest of the Gelflings to prevent the prophecy from coming true) and the Great Mystic sends him to Aughra to get the shard. After the Great Mystic dies and disappears, Jen’s quest begins and he travels to Aughra’s observatory where he manages to find the Shard. Unfortunately, the Skeksis power vacuum has led to a struggle for the throne and the discredited Chamberlain sees Jen and the prophecy as his best chance to seize power. As the Mystics journey to the Dark Crystal’s location at the Skeksis’s castle, Jen and his new companion, Kira (another Gelfling who believes herself to be the last of her kind) must evade the Chamberlain, the Skeksis’s army of monstrous Garthim, and attempts to draw out their everlasting essence to be in the right place at the right time to execute the prophecy and save the world.

The Dark Crystal is one of those troubling films that does not seem to have any sense of audience. Far too simplistic for adults, The Dark Crystal nevertheless includes adult political elements and monstrous character designs for the Garthim and Skeksis. The film is a bit cerebral for children and the pacing is so slow it might only keep children awake based on their own sense of wonder at the film’s spectacle. In fact, The Dark Crystal has such a linear narrative that it is almost surprising that it ever developed such a fanbase (Jen walks the prescribed three days to Aughra’s in such an uneventful sequence that it had to have the Skeksis politics cut into it in order to illustrate the passage of time and actually have something happen!).

A vehicle of directors Jim Henson and Frank Oz, The Dark Crystal is notable for its use of puppets. Unlike the movies that feature the Muppets and have a blending of puppets and live-action characters interacting in the real world, The Dark Crystal is an almost entirely virtual setting populated by puppets. The world of The Dark Crystal is imaginative and (outside the animated exterior painting shots that look incredibly dated) has a realism that is very easy to get into. The look of the various races is distinct and the film was clearly created with a sense of wonder to it.

Unfortunately, that sense of visual wonder was not developed with a strong story in mind. In fact, the movie is one of the most bland, thematically-simplistic, fantasy films of all time. Lacking in any distinctive or iconic quotes, The Dark Crystal is a painfully uncomplicated hero journey where the film belabors establishing the tenants of the world it depicts as opposed to allowing the viewer to truly become immersed in it. There is no joy to be had in how formulaic the film is and The Dark Crystal does not so much develop characters as much as it simply resolves its own plot points.

The result is a film that is virtually impossible to go back to; it did not captivate my wife or me . . . but then, we’re Labyrinth people.

For other fantasy films, please visit my reviews of:
The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy
The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen
Oz The Great And Powerful

3/10

For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for a listing of movie reviews from Best To Worst!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sunday, December 14, 2014

For The Expense, Lindt Gourmet Truffles Are Satisfying, But Not Superlative!


The Good: Generally flavorful, Good ingredients
The Bad: Expensive, Not as rich and diverse on the flavor front as one might hope
The Basics: The Lindt Gourmet Truffles assortment is good, but offers more generic flavor at premium prices.


My wife is a big fan of chocolate and she keeps me in a number of wonderful, premium chocolates for my enjoyment and review. The latest that she picked up for me was the Lindt Gourmet Truffles assortment. The thirteen-piece, six flavor box of chocolates was one she picked up for me for one of our recent minneversaries. And, while they were good, given that they have a comparable price to other premium chocolates like Godiva, I expected a similar level of quality. Alas, the Gourmet Truffles are good, but do not rise to the value offered by most other Lindt products or other premium chocolate brands.

Basics

The Gourmet Truffles by Lindt are a 7.3 oz. box featuring thirteen chocolates truffles. These candies are meant to look distinctive and they are pretty different-looking (thought the milk and dark truffles are pretty close). The six truffles in the Lindt Gourmet Truffles Assortment are: Milk, White, Dark, Extra Dark, Hazelnut, and Vanilla.

The Milk Chocolate Truffle is a textured, somewhat veiny sphere. Instead of a smooth truffle, the light brown sphere looks like it is stuccoed. The Milk Chocolate Truffle is 1 1/4" in diameter.

The White Chocolate Truffle and Dark Chocolate Truffles are both 1 1/4” in diameter and have the same textured look as the Milk Chocolate Truffle. The White Chocolate Truffle is virtually identical in appearance to the Milk Chocolate, save that it is white. Similarly, the Dark Chocolate Truffle looks like the Milk Chocolate Truffle, save that it is a darker brown color for the chocolate.

The other three truffles are each 1 1/8” in diameter. They are smooth, with a distinctive drizzle on the top of each one. The Extra Dark Truffle is even darker than the Dark Chocolate Truffle; it is almost black in color. It has a lattice of white chocolate atop each smooth sphere. The Hazelnut and Vanilla Truffles are smooth and lighter brown, which makes sense given that they are milk chocolate. The Hazelnut Truffle has a simple white chocolate zigzag on it; the Vanilla has a milk chocolate drizzle that mirrors the white chocolate on the Extra Dark Truffle.

Ease Of Preparation

There is no preparation involved with consuming the Lindt Gourmet Truffles. Simply remove the plastic wrap and cardboard sash and pluck out the truffles! These are definitely chocolates that one will want to eat one by one!

Taste

Each of the truffles is different and they are fairly distinctive.

The Milk Chocolate Truffle smells very faintly of chocolate. The aroma is mild and sweet and only hints at the flavor of the truffle. On the tongue, the sweet milk chocolate truffle is somewhat indistinct. The chocolate is sweet and appropriately milky and there is an almost caramel aftertaste to the flavor of this truffle. The chocolate is mild and not at all waxy, but it is also somewhat unimpressive or distinctive. In other words, it is not bad, but it is so sweet as to be indistinct and not overly chocolatey.

The White Chocolate Truffle has no real aroma to it. In the mouth, the White Chocolate Truffle is appropriately mild and creamy. The milky flavor of the White Chocolate Truffle tastes like a sweetened cream in solid form. Seriously, this taste almost identical to a sweet, unflavored, coffee creamer. The milky flavor is sugary and sweet and leaves a slight sweetness on the tongue. The White Chocolate Truffle coats the tongue with a lingering, strongly sweet flavor that endures for about five minutes after it is consumed.

The Dark Chocolate Truffle smells delightfully like chocolate, rich and full. The Dark Chocolate Truffle lands on the tongue with a cocoa flavor that is stronger than the milk chocolate. While the chocolate flavor is rich and tastes like one might expect dark chocolate to, it is cut with a sweetness that is not familiar to those who love true dark chocolate. Instead of finishing strong and dry like a real dark chocolate, the Lindt Dark Chocolate Truffle ends up diminishing in flavor after a few seconds on the tongue and the resultant flavor is virtually identical to a standard milk chocolate. It is that sweet. The Dark Chocolate Truffle has a very slight cocoa flavor that lingers on the tongue for about three minutes after it is consumed. That chocolate aftertaste is also very sweet.

I was most looking forward to the Extra Dark Truffle and they live up! The Extra Dark Chocolate Truffle has almost no aroma to it. The white chocolate drizzle contributes nothing to the flavor of the Extra Dark Chocolate Truffle. The Extra Dark Chocolate Truffle starts sweet and develops into a more intriguing flavor. The dark chocolate has tiny grounds of cocoa beans embedded in the shell. As the dark chocolate shell melts away, the Extra Dark Chocolate truffle is augmented by the dry, distinct chocolate that blends with the creamy, but dark chocolate. The Extra Dark Chocolate Truffles have a pretty strong, dry chocolate aftertaste to it. The aftertaste remains on the tongue for several minutes after it is consumed.

The Hazelnut Truffle actually smells sweet and chocolatey. The chocolate melts away faster on this truffle and the ganache is buttery and appropriately nutty. The sweet chocolate and blends nicely with the hazelnut pieces. The Hazelnut Truffle has a very sweet and buttery aftertaste to it that lingers for several minutes after it is consumed.

The Vanilla Truffle smells simple and unassuming. On the tongue, the Vanilla Truffle is dominated by the sweet milk chocolate that coats the vanilla ganache. The flavor comes through in a very subtle way. As the chocolate melts away, it takes on an increased flavor like vanilla extract is blended into the milk chocolate. The vanilla is not at all dry like the Dark Chocolate truffles and the flavor is very mild. There is no real aftertaste to the Vanilla Truffles!

Nutrition

The Gourmet Truffles is an assortment of chocolates, so they were never going to be a wealth of nutritional value. Even so, these are not the worst confections to ever grace my lips and eventually tummy. The ingredients all start with sugar, cocoa butter, and chocolate. None of the ingredients are unpronouncable.

Still, this is a box of candy, so it is not ideal to try to live off of. The Gourmet Truffles are intended to be two-truffle servings, so there are six and a half servings per box. In each serving, there are 200 calories, 140 of which are from fat! The single serving has 50% of one's recommended daily allowance of saturated fat and there are 5 mg of cholesterol. There are negligible amounts of vitamin A, calcium, iron and protein. In other words, one does not want to try to live off this box of chocolates for too long!

Storage/Clean-up

Just as there is no real preparation for eating the Lindt Gourmet Truffles, outside opening the box, there is no real clean-up issues either. Simply eat the chocolates and dispose of the leftover garbage when one is done! These chocolates get softer in warm climates and as such are liable to melt. As a result, they may stain fabrics. Consult a fabric care guide if it melts into any of your clothes or table linens.

As for storage, this package of chocolate comes doubly sealed and there was no expiration date on my box. However, chocolate does not last forever. Still, sealed properly, the Gourmet Truffles ought to remain viable and delicious for quite some time.

Overall

The Lindt Gourmet Truffles Series of chocolates is a box of chocolate brought down mostly by expense and lack of real distinction to it. The Gourmet Truffles are decent, but not extraordinary, making for a tougher sell than most Lindt products.

For other reviews of candy assortments, check out my takes on:
Ghirardelli Holiday Assortment
Whitman’s Soho Assortment
Jelly Belly BeanBoozled Jelly Bean Assortment

6.5/10

For other chocolate reviews, please visit my Chocolate Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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The 2014 The Daring Princess The Princess And The Frog Ornament Holds Up!


The Good: Decent sculpted details, Cute glitter, Affordable
The Bad: No sound clip, Slightly back-heavy
The Basics: The 2014 "The Daring Princess" from The Princess And The Frog ornament is a well-sculpted, well-colored ornament is cool, but somewhat simplistic.


For no reason I can determine, Hallmark ornaments from The Princess And The Frog tend to get reviewed by me later in the season. I only realized this as I sat down to review this year’s The Daring Princess ornament. Hallmark has an extensive line of Disney-themed holiday ornaments and a number of them are wonderful. The Daring Princess is this year’s The Princess And The Frog and it is actually one of the better ones this year.

For those unfamiliar with The Princess And The Frog (reviewed here!), the young waitress Tiana slowly gets over her preconceptions about life, relationships and work. After an adventure with a transformed man where she is transformed into a frog by a voodoo prince, Tiana is more open minded and adventurous. At that point, she tries kissing the frog/prince and it is Tiana kissing the frog that is the subject of the Hallmark The Daring Princess ornament.

Basics

The "The Daring Princess" ornament recreates Tiana as she appeared at the end of The Princess And The Frog, in the climactic and iconic pose of Tiana kissing the frog. The ornament, released in 2014, is a very accurate sculpt of Tiana the waitress turned princess in the act of kissing the frog. While it is simplistic, it is accurate for the subjects and the frog actually has pretty impressive detailing.

Measuring three and three-quarters inches tall, two and one-quarters inches wide and deep, the "The Daring Princess" ornament is an average-sized Disney character ornament. As well, it is one of the more affordable ones at only $14.95.

The Hallmark "The Daring Princess" ornament is made of a durable plastic and has Tiana, with her gloved hands raised, frog in her right palm, lips about to touch the frog. The ornament is sculpted accurately and looks wonderful, with wonderful detailing for the sash and texturing on the hair. In addition to the costume, Hallmark did an incredibly job with the sculpt of the tiara on Tiana’s head. The Daring Princess is colored in monotones, though there is a little bit of depth and shading to her lips and cheeks. The dress and tiara have glitter on it and the paintjob is good. Tiana’s eyes are perfectly rendered and the coloring on the frog is impressive given how small the frog is!

Features

As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, "The Daring Princess" could have a sound effect, but it does not. Instead, this is a less-expensive option that is just the character.

Balance

As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake "The Daring Princess" ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate Disney movie Christmas Tree, the "The Daring Princess" ornament is arguably the best of the The Princess And The Frog ornaments. The ornament has the standard brass hook loop embedded into the top center of Tiana’s head. This is fairly well-obscured by the character’s tiara and obviously, it is necessary for the ornament. Unfortunately, at that position, The Daring Princess hangs just a little off. The ornament is a little back-heavy, so Tiana is essentially leaning up.

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!). Within a few years, every major franchise from Star Wars to A Nightmare Before Christmas to Indiana Jones started making Hallmark ornaments. "The Daring Princess" is one of many The Princess And The Frog ornaments the company has released and one of several Disney ornaments on the market for 2014. This ornament has not sold out at any of the local Hallmarks I’ve been to, but it might still be one of the better investments for collectors as ornaments from The Princess And The Frog have historically held their value at the very least; if found on clearance, the market should bounce back pretty quickly.

Overview

Fans of The Princess And The Frog, Disney, Tiana, and Hallmark ornaments are likely to want the The Daring Princess ornament, which is likely to meet expectations, at the very least.

For other Disney-themed Hallmark ornaments, please check out my reviews of:
2014 Queen Elsa Frozen Limited Edition
2014 Jack's Peculiar Pet The Nightmare Before Christmas ornament
2014 Rapunzel's Long Locks Tangled ornament
2014 The Little Mermaid 25th Anniversary ornament
2014 "This Is Halloween" The Nightmare Before Christmas ornament
2014 All Eyes On Belle Beauty And The Beast ornament
2014 Olaf Frozen ornament
2013 Under The Sea The Little Mermaid
2013 The Nightmare Before Christmas Jack’s Sleigh O’Scares
2013 Tiana's Party Dress The Princess And The Frog ornament
2013 Beautiful Belle Beauty And The Beast
2013 Fierce With A Frying Pan Tangled ornament
2013 Ariel's Big Dream The Little Mermaid ornament
2013 Merida The Archer Brave ornament
2012 The Circle Of Life The Lion King ornament
2012 Jack Sneaks A Peek The Nightmare Before Christmas ornament
2012 Monsters, Inc. ornament
2012 Merida Brave ornament
2012 It's All About The Hair Tangled ornament
2011 Rapunzel Tangled ornament
2011 CLU’s Light Cycle from Tron: Legacy ornament
2011 Up ornament
2011 A Snowy Surprise The Nightmare Before Christmas ornament
2011 Captain Jack Sparrow Pirates Of The Caribbean ornament
2010 Tron: Legacy Light Cycle ornament
2009 Welcome To Christmastown The Nightmare Before Christmas ornament

7.5/10

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

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