Friday, October 24, 2014

Death Of The Supernatural Soap Opera: True Blood Season Seven Disappoints!

The Good: Decent-enough acting
The Bad: Ridiculous plot direction, Poor character arcs, Erratic special effects
The Basics: The final season of True Blood takes a disappointing turn for the series, making it a virtually unwatchable end to the story of Sookie Stackhouse and Bill Compton.

Over the course of a series, how a television show will end is always a big consideration for the writers and executive producers. The audacious shows have big endings, the shows that did not begin with a firm goal often fizzle out. True Blood is definitely the latter.

The seeds of destruction for True Blood were built into the sixth season finale, “Radioactive” (reviewed here!) when the penultimate season ended with a six month leap forward in the True Blood timeline. The move forward would not have been so troubling had True Blood not already done a narrative skip forward seasons before and the climactic events were ridiculous teases. The death of Eric Northman at long range, not seen clearly was a suspension of disbelief that no fan in their right mind bought; the sudden appearance of (essentially) zombie vampires was a left turn that made no rational sense (given how the vampires in the sixth season reacted to Hepatitis V infections at the Governor’s compound, six months after the infection broke out, all of the infected would be long dead).

The seventh season opens up immediately where the sixth left off, where a town mixer where Mayor Sam Merlotte has pitched pairing humans and healthy vampires for mutual protection, is surrounded by Hepatitis V-infected vampires. In the slaughter that follows, a few of the townsfolk are abducted by the invading vampires and Tara is killed. As Sookie, Jason and Alcide investigate the nearby town of Saint Alice and discover that the town has been wiped out by the Hep V-infected vampires, fears in Bon Temps grow. To try to bring down the villains, Sookie uses herself as bait while the townspeople rally against the vampires and other supernatural beings around Bon Temps. When Alcide is killed, Sookie is emotionally adrift.

Meanwhile, Pam goes in search of Eric and finds him alive in Europe. Unfortunately, Eric is infected with Hep-V and is very slowly dying of the disease. Goaded by Pam, Eric returns to Louisiana and goes on a hunt for Sarah Newlin. The search for Sarah Newlin turns from an opportunity for Eric to get revenge on the woman who started the outbreak to a business opportunity he can exploit. Together, Pam and Eric negotiate to produce a new product for vampires that will treat Hepatitis V, but not cure it (making them rich). The storylines converge when Bill gets infected with Hep V and refuses treatment for it, causing Sookie to freak out.

The final season of True Blood is erratic, melodramatic and defies what semblance of reason existed in the earlier seasons of the supernatural drama. One of the strengths of True Blood in its initial concept was exploring the way the real world would interact with supernatural creatures. Throughout the seasons, the addition of more and more supernatural beings and more preposterous situations has gutted the metaphoric bent that made the series clever and any sense of realism. The seventh season is like a soap opera in the character relationships as the show strains to resolve all the dangling character arcs and a series of plot contrivances that are ridiculous. Amid episodes where Sookie loses more people in her life, True Blood struggles to make viewers care about what is going on with Lafayette, Arlene and Sam. Most of the beloved characters from True Blood are treated as afterthoughts in this season; Tara is even killed off off-screen, robbing viewers of a reasonable catharsis.

Nevertheless, the show has characters who fans have grown to love over the prior six years and the final season of True Blood finds them thus:

Sookie Stackhouse – After the death of her closest friend, she and Jason try to save the rest of Bon Temps. Discovering how widespread the carnage in the world goes, she becomes more ambivalent toward vampirekind. But, when Alcide dies and she finds herself alone again, she turns toward Bill and discovers she still loves him,

Bill Compton – After championing vampire rights and trying to make amends for his time possessed by Lilith, he drifts. When he is infected with Hepatitis V, he makes the difficult decision to finally die and be at peace, a decision Sookie cannot understand,

Jason Stackhouse – His relationship with an ancient vampire having progressed, he finds himself giving into all of Violet’s desires. But when he Violet goes crazy, he is rescued by the least likely person. In the aftermath, he steps aside so Hoyt and Jessica may resume their romance and he befriends Hoyt’s girlfriend, though he takes a stab at not sleeping with her,

Andy Bellefleur – The sheriff of Bon Temps struggles to protect his remaining daughter and he goes hunting for Holly when she is captured by the Hep V-infected vampires. Desperate to protect both his love and his daughter, he has to turn to Jessica for assistance. When Sam’s girlfriend give him an ultimatum, it is Andy who must take charge of Bon Temps,

Eric Northman – Having managed to survive nearly being burnt alive when his immunity to the sun expired, he finds himself infected with Hepatitis V through his own carelessness. He goes to hunt down Sarah Newlin until he learns that she possesses the cure that will save his life. Teaming with the inventors of Tru Blood who were ruined by the outbreak of Hep-V, he goes into business exploiting the outbreak Newlin caused,

Pam De Beaufort – Bound to Eric, she experiences a loss when Tara is killed and she is angered when Eric appears ready to give up. After goading Eric into returning to the United States, she teams up with him to hunt Sarah Newlin,

Jessica Hamby – Feeling horrible for slaughtering most of Andy’s family, she vows to protect his remaining daughter. When she succeeds in stopping the Hep V-infected vampires from taking the half-fairy daughter of Andy, she is captured by a vengeful Violet. When she is rescued, she begins to find herself drawn back to Hoyt,

Arlene – Captured during the raid on her new bar (formerly Merlotte’s), she appeals to the humanity in one of the remaining Hep V-infected vampires. Upon being rescued, she allows herself to get seduced by a vampire herself,

Sam Merlotte – Almost an afterthought this season, he tries to protect Nicole (who is pregnant with his baby), but fails horribly. Despite coming to her rescue, she loathes remaining in Bon Temps, forcing the mayor to make a difficult choice,

Lafayette – Also a virtual afterthought, he helps Lettie Mae search for Tara’s ghost. He get involved with Jessica’s prison boyfriend and nearly breaks her heart. After that, he just hangs out in Bon Temps until the end,

Alcide – Happy dating Sookie, he tries to protect her. In the battle with the Hep V-infected vampires and townspeople, he pays the ultimate price,

and Tara – Before she has a chance to grow or develop, she is killed, which sets her mother on a drug-riddled trip to follow her ghost.

Any number of issues arise with the characters in season seven of True Blood. In order to draw out the relationship between Jason and Violet, her initial characterization has to be obliterated. In a similar fashion, Eric Northman becoming infected with Hep-V only jives if one forgets how careful he has been and how smart his character is. Moreover, for a character who evolved beyond his absolutism and vengeful qualities in the past, the way he degenerates into a completely avaricious vampire for his final arc is disappointing.

True Blood in its final season robs its performers of any big moments. Outside of the last two episodes when Deborah Ann Woll is given a genuine romance to play off Jim Parrack and Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer are given the chance to infuse their love back into their characters, the season is devoid of great performances. Instead, the actors plod through their final ten episodes in a location once magical, now full of death.

For more information on this season, please visit my reviews of the individual episodes:
“Jesus Gonna Be Here”
“I Found You Here”
”Fire In The Hole”
“Death Is Not The End”
“Lost Cause”
“May Be The Last Time”
“Almost Home”
”Love Is To Die”
“Thank You”


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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Useful Despite Tarnishing, The RSVP 60 & 50 mm Espresso Tamper Works!

The Good: Inexpensive, Durable
The Bad: Finish tarnishes pretty much instantly.
The Basics: Despite the initial look of the RSVP 60 & 50 mm Espresso Tamper, the finish wears right off this otherwise wonderfully useful tamper!

Recently, for our five year wedding anniversary, my wife purchased a Mr. Coffee Café Espresso Espresso Maker (reviewed here!). Because she is a savvy shopper, she read reviews of the espresso maker ahead of time and learned that one of the detractions for the Mr. Coffee espresso maker was that it did not come with all of the requisite supplies needed to make one’s espressos, lattes, or cappuccinos. In addition to not having a frothing pitcher, the Café Espresso does not have a tamper. To that end, my wife picked me up a RSVP 60 & 50 mm Espresso Tamper.

The RSVP 60 & 50 mm Espresso Tamper is a very simple espresso tamper. For those unfamiliar with the product, when making espresso, the finely-ground coffee used to make espresso has to be compressed in order to make sure the high-pressured, fast-heated water blasting through the grounds gets the most out of their flavor. To compress the espresso grounds, one uses a tamper. It is essentially a pestle for coffee grounds.

The RSVP 60 & 50 mm Espresso Tamper is a solid steel tamper. Measuring 2 7/8” tall, the RSVP 60 & 50 mm Espresso Tamper is essentially two 1/4” thick discs connected by a cylindrical handle. The tamper has flat ends on each disc and when that is used to press espresso in the metal filter basket in the espresso maker. The RSVP 60 & 50 mm Espresso Tamper adequately compresses espresso powder.

In fact, the only real detraction for the RSVP 60 & 50 mm Espresso Tamper is that its finish is remarkably thin and essentially useless. The finish for the RSVP 60 & 50 mm Espresso Tamper is initially shiny and modern. This is a very pretty tamper. However, if one ever puts the RSVP 60 & 50 mm Espresso Tamper through the dishwasher (and it is advertised as “dishwasher safe”) the finish washes right off. One is left with a pretty crappy-looking tamper that looks like it is made of lead (that’s the coloring of the resulting tamper). This tamper will not end up matching the rest of one’s coffee set.

That said, the RSVP 60 & 50 mm Espresso Tamper is an effective, inexpensive espresso tamper that works perfectly.

For other coffee-related product reviews, please check out:
Crucial Coffee #4 Permanent Coffee Filter
Mr. Coffee BVMC-SJX33GT Coffee Maker
Cuisinart Grind Central Coffee Grinder


For other appliance/tool reviews, please check out my Home And Garden Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Worthy Ornament To Celebrate The Anniversary, The 2014 The Little Mermaid Ornament!

The Good: Decent sculpted details, Good balance, Amazing sound clip
The Bad: A little expensive/surface detailing
The Basics: The 2014 "25th Anniversary" ornament from The Little Mermaid was exceptional in almost every way, making it a must-buy Disney ornament!

Disney is making major bank off fans who collect Hallmark ornaments this year. While there are several ornaments that might make collectors balk, the ornament that celebrates the 25th Anniversary of The Little Mermaid is not one of them. The 2014 The Little Mermaid 25th Anniversary ornament is a near-miss on perfection and it is easily one of the best ornaments produced this year. Augmented with an amazing sound clip and glitter, the The Little Mermaid 25th Anniversary ornament could use a little more accenting on the crevices for the statue portion of the ornament, but it otherwise incredible!

For those unfamiliar with The Little Mermaid (reviewed here!), early in the film, the mermaid Ariel pines to go into the airy world. Having found a statue of the prince on a sunken ship, Ariel imagines what life would be like outside of the ocean.

Katrina Bricker did an absolutely incredible sculpt for the ornament and with the addition of a sound chip, the ornament was one of the more expensive Disney ornaments at an initial release price of $24.95 . . . but it was well worth it!


The "25th Anniversary" ornament recreates Ariel and the statue from the sunken ship as they appeared in The Little Mermaid, during Ariel’s iconic song “Part Of Your World.” The ornament, released in 2014, is an incredible sculpt of the mermaid Ariel and a good sculpt of the Eric statue under the sea in The Little Mermaid.

Measuring four and three-eighths inches tall from the bottom of the statue to the top of the heads of the character, the "25th Anniversary" ornament is a slightly larger than normal-sized Disney character ornaments. It has a decent presence for the tree or on a desk with its 2 3/4" width and 2 1/4" depth. Despite being $24.94, it is reasonably priced for the size (which is pretty awesome for an ornament that has a sound chip).

The Hallmark The Little Mermaid "25th Anniversary" ornament is made of a durable plastic and has Ariel, leaning on the statue, singing right to the statue’s face. The coloring on Ariel is amazing; her tail is slightly metallic and features glitter that makes her look appropriately fishy. Because she comes from an animated source material, Ariel’s skin tones being cast in monotones and her hair being monotonal red is fine. Ironically, the statue has more depth and shading than Ariel’s skin and hair, but the sculpted nooks and crannies are not accented with paint to make them truly pop. The contrast between the detailing on Ariel’s tail and the statue is not a dealbreaker, but it is noticeable the difference in quality between the two.


As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, The Little Mermaid "25th Anniversary" is wonderfully accented by a sound chip. Powered by a watch-style battery that the ornament comes with, a press of a button on the statue’s base activates the sound chip. The song “Part Of Your World” plays out a speaker on the top of the base and I was pleasantly surprised by the volume on the song. The sound clip is 41 seconds long and features the actual score and vocals from the film The Little Mermaid. Given how loud and long the sound clip is, it is surprising that this ornament is not a battery hog, but having played it more than thirty times since the ornament was released in July, and seeing no evidence of the volume diminishing, it seems like this is an awesome feature for the ornament.


As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake The Little Mermaid "25th Anniversary" ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate Disney movie Christmas Tree, the "25th Anniversary" ornament could be one of the must-have The Little Mermaid ornaments, especially given the quality of the sculpt and sound clip. The ornament has the standard brass hook loop embedded into the top center of the front of Ariel’s head. This is fairly obvious and necessary for the ornament. Fortunately, at that position, the 25th Anniversary ornament hangs perfectly level. The balance for this ornament is incredible, save when one pushes the button to activate the sound chip. Given how the ornament has a flat base to the statue, that it hangs level is very noticeable.


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 Little Mermaid "25th Anniversary" is one of many The Little Mermaid ornaments the company has released and one of several Disney ornaments on the market for 2014. This ornament has by no means sold out. Even so, given how impressive this ornament is, I would not bet on it being available on clearance for those who like to invest in ornaments and buy low. Despite its high initial price, I suspect that it will still appreciate in value, making it a must-buy.


Fans of The Little Mermaid, Disney, Ariel, and Hallmark ornaments are likely to love the The Little Mermaid 25th Anniversary ornament and want to get it while they are still available. The Little Mermaid 25th Anniversary ornament makes one wish for more Disney anniversaries to pop up and Hallmark to immortalize them!

For other Disney-themed Hallmark ornaments, please check out my reviews of:
2014 "Welcome To 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


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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More Civil War Than Science Fiction, 10,000 Days Struggles To Land!

The Good: Decent direction, Moments of concept
The Bad: Ridiculous exposition moments, Tries to service too many characters in a short time
The Basics: Another futuristic survival story, 10,000 Days puts two families of survivors at one another’s throats when one discovers a potential resource that could allow them to survive longer.

With the somewhat surprising success of the indie science fiction thriller Snowpiercer (reviewed here!) earlier this year, it is no surprise that studios and distributors are opening up to creating limited release science fiction projects. As the mainstream theatergoers look toward the forthcoming Interstellar, indie cinema viewers will have choices, the most notable of which might be 10,000 Days. 10,000 Days is the creation of writer-director Eric Small and, as it turns out, the film is based upon a digital online television series that Small produced a few years back. It is well worth noting that I have not seen the digital episodes of 10,000 Days; this, then, is a review of the film 10,000 Days.

10,000 Days is not going to be a major cinematic release and not just because the biggest star power the movie has driving it comes from John Schneider; the film has a fairly large cast for a film that is barely over an hour and a half long. The result is a number of plotlines and characters who are introduced, but not developed in a satisfactory or truly interesting way. 10,000 Days actually feels like the first chapter of a larger cinematic story and the film’s resolution is hardly as conceptually complex as the film’s set-up.

Twenty-seven years after Comet 23 devastated Earth, plunging it into a new ice age, the survivors in the Rocky Mountains are split into two clans. The Becks and Farnwell are survivors who are fighting over an old observatory (which survived the many tremors, ice and conflict between the two clans), though the Becks – led by Lucas – currently control it. When a boy arrives near the observatory, it is the women in the Beck clan who take pity on him and take him in so he may survive, while William and Lucas Beck explore the nearby faultline created when the boy showed up. In the crevice, William and Lucas find a downed plane, frozen sometime after the comet hit and buried under hundreds of feet of ice. David Ruiz theorizes that the plane might be Air Force One and there might be survivors and supplies inside.

As Remy Farnwell marshals his clan to leave the igloos and retake the observatory, the Becks explore the downed plane. Finding everyone aboard long dead and learning about the crash from the laptop they recover, the Becks find themselves divided. While the men want to defend the observatory, the women at the observatory seem eager to strike a peaceful settlement with the Farnwells. With Remy’s forces moving in, the Becks buckle down and prepare for the attack, while trying to learn more about the boy they took in.

10,000 Days actually has quite a bit going for it. I am not into special effects as a serious qualifier for movie quality, but 10,000 Days should get some credit as an indie film that looks and feels like a major studio work (lack of recognizable actors notwithstanding). 10,000 Days is not like Snow Queen (reviewed here!); it looks and feels like it belongs in theaters and it uses the scope of the world it presents well. Director Eric Small has a decent visual sense and the frozen remnant of Earth he presents in 10,000 Days looks realistic.

Moreover, Small tries to create a distinctive, if occasionally nonsensical future world. The Becks utilize blood lanterns, which are refilled by the younger survivors. Any technology that depends upon human body fluids in a world with a seriously diminished population is not a reasonable or realistic technological progression. In a similar way, the loud, traditional alarm at the observatory makes little sense in a world as tectonically unstable as an ice world; anything where soundwaves might disrupt the environment seems like it should have been disconnected immediately upon taking residence.

10,000 Days is an ambitious premise, though that is where the film falls down. Testosterone driven, 10,000 Days features multiple generations of Becks who illustrate implicitly that life has gone on for the Becks; they continue to have relationships and reproduce. So, as dire as the post-apocalyptic future seems, the Becks have actually been getting along fairly well. But, relationships are strained and the quality of mercy comes up among the Becks in a way that seems like it is laying the groundwork for bigger character moments than the movie possesses. The young women in the Beck clan and the older generation of women in the Farnwell clan seem ready for peace and have the attitude that there is enough space and enough room for both clans to get along with one another. The film is preoccupied with developing the plot instead of satisfactorily following-up on the character conflicts that are brewing between Remy’s desire for battle and the women in the Beck’s compound’s willingness to share resources with the orphaned boy.

The glossed over moments of character development in 10,000 Days rob the performers of big moments to play with their full range. John Schneider plays the patriarch of the Beck clan well, as does Peter Wingfield, who makes Remy pop. The other performers are given such generic characters to play that they come across flat or amateurish in their affects.

Ultimately, 10,000 Days is a promising start that is executed and pays off in a fashion that underwhelms instead of wows. Even so, the film is worth checking out.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
Listen Up Philip
The Best Of Me
Dracula Untold
The Equalizer
The Maze Runner
This Is Where I Leave You
The Giver
The Zero Theorem


Check out how this film stacks up against others I have reviewed by visiting my Film Review Index Page where the film reviews are organized from best to worst!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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The Flash Stumbles Through “Things You Can’t Outrun”

The Good: Decent blend of a- and b-plots
The Bad: So many problems with details, Bland acting, Forced romantic subplot
The Basics: The Flash has its first real dud with “Things You Can’t Outrun” when the terrible acting combines with the least well-executed villain yet.

At the climax of the second episode of The Flash, “Fastest Man Alive” (reviewed here!), the scientists at S.T.A.R. labs mention that “the mist is moving in” and when I heard that, my first thought was “that would be a pretty cool Rogue!” Unfortunately, “Things You Can’t Outrun” does not pick up immediately following that thread. As a result, the character work that left Barry Allen in an emotionally tenuous place (albeit moving in the right direction) at the end of the prior episode is missing from “Things You Can’t Outrun.”

Instead, “Things You Can’t Outrun” blends the story of finding the next metahuman who is active in Central City with scenes from the accident that created the metahuman problem in the city. This leads to a very CW-obvious cast member being added to the mix in the form of Robbie Amell (because, obviously, a nerdy scientist who spends most of her time in the lab is going to be dating a guy who looks like he leapt off the cover of Playgirl!). Amell plays Ronnie Raymond, the fiancé of Dr. Caitlin Snow and even those who have not seen the pilot episode with its painfully obvious exposition that was used to define Dr. Snow will catch context clues early in the episode that make it clear that the episode is moving toward illustrating how he died. The burden of “Things You Can’t Outrun” is to make the episode that combines the two plotlines sensible.

At a meeting of underworld bosses in a sealed restaurant, the organized criminals are suddenly killed by a green mist that seems to come out of nowhere. Joe’s determination to go through the evidence against Henry Allen with Barry is interrupted by the two being tasked with investigating the crime scene. When Barry notes that the trajectory of shots in the room indicate that they might be looking for a metahuman who can control gasses, Barry and Joe ditch Eddie and head to S.T.A.R. Labs. Pitching the idea that a metahuman may be involved puts everyone on edge, especially as Iron Heights is not equipped to hold metahumans and Cisco implies that the only place at S.T.A.R. Labs that could contain the villains Barry apprehends is in the areas sealed off since the particle accelerator accident. Seeing that going to those areas makes Dr. Snow uncomfortable, Barry reaches out to her and suggests she help him with a different angle of the case.

As Sisco and Harrison Wells enter the particle accelerator to ready some containment tubes as storage cells for metahumans, Barry and Dr. Snow investigate the forensic evidence from the toxic gas murder. Barry theorizes that the metahuman they are searching for might have the ability to transform into a gas. Ascertaining the pattern of victims killed, Barry and the S.T.A.R. Labs crew figure out who is responsible for the killings and who his next target is! As Kyle Nimbus closes in on Iron Heights where Joe is visiting Henry Allen, Barry races to save his guardian’s life from The Mist!

“Things You Can’t Outrun” features the first problematically soap operatic scenes between Iris West and Eddie Thawne. Up until now, their relationship has been a very minor background plotline that has served mostly to insure that Barry Allen did not hook up with Iris West immediately. In other words, the purpose of the West/Thawne relationship served the immediate effect of making sure that viewers who had extensive knowledge of The Flash had a firm example of how the show would be different from the long-running comic book series (whatwith Barry and Iris spending most of their lives in the world of The Flash married). The “ticking time bomb relationship truth” card is an overplayed one and it seems utterly unnecessary in The Flash. Nevertheless, in “Things You Can’t Outrun” Eddie and Iris – two consenting adults – continue to hide their relationship from Eddie’s partner, Iris’s father Joe. This plays as all the more ridiculous when one considers that Iris lives at home with her father and is at an appropriate age to be asserting her independence, moving out and making the decision to live on her own or with a boyfriend. Is the CW being run by the Christian Coallition?! The sheer number of blandly goodlooking people in heterosexual relationships with no overt sexuality being expressed makes one think so. At least the plotline is resolved with Joe West being revealed to be smart and professional in a way his job necessitates.

In addition to completely failing to follow-up with the murder of Simon Staggs in “Fastest Man Alive,” “Things You Can’t Outrun” features a disturbing collection of problems with the details. Dr. Snow mentions that her fiancé was a structural engineer on the particle accelerator who was not supposed to be at S.T.A.R. Labs the night of the accident. That is a pretty ridiculous premise; why wouldn’t one of the key structural engineers be present when the building actually experiences the stresses for which it was built?! Barry Allen thinks quickly and inhales a decent chunk of The Mist, for which Dr. Snow uses a pulmonary needle to extract the gas. If the gas was inhaled (which it was) it would already be in his blood and could be extracted from any blood vessel; if it was in his lungs, his attempt to get the sample would have been in vain when he started breathing heavily from running; if he had been smart enough to swallow the gas instead of inhale it, they would have had to extract the sample through a gastric puncture. Regardless of the permutations, given how Kyle Nimbus had already killed multiple people by converting into poison gas, it seemed like he would have the control to kill Barry faster or get out of Barry’s body before he could be captured.

More than any of the prior episodes so far, “Things You Can’t Outrun” suffers from poor performances. Anthony Carrigan plays Kyle Nimbus as a generic villain who is supposed to be set on revenge, but Carrigan plays the part with minimal anger and no joy, which are characteristic for people getting vengeance. Carrigan’s physical acting as he gets the wind knocked out of him is convincing enough, but it is not enough to overshadow the wooden acting from Grant Gustin, Danielle Panabaker, and Robbie Amell. Amell and Panabaker have no real on-screen chemistry. Gustin is wooden for many of his lines as both Barry Allen and the Flash. It does not help that he is given a number of clichés to deliver in the episode that come out with a flat affect.

Even worse is Danielle Panabaker. Panabaker’s Dr. Snow could have an impressive episode with “Things You Can’t Outrun.” Unfortunately, amid scenes where she is supposed to be in love with Robbie Amell’s Ronnie Raymond, Panabaker and Amell fail to credibly emote a connection between them. Panabaker’s version of unsettled shock is widening her eyes and appearing slackjawed. Her lines define her emotional condition without her presentation fleshing the lines out. Particularly unsettling is the lack of emotion to match her character’s reasonable concern at working over imprisoned metahumans. Regardless, for a woman who fairly recently was in love and lost that love in a terrible accident, Panabaker does not realistically emote a character who is grieving (which her lines dictate) or is reasonably unsettled where she is working (which would make rational and emotional sense) or a woman who is at peace with the heroic sacrifice her loved one made (which would not be entirely unreasonable given how short their relationship was and that more than nine months have passed since his death). The cumulative effect of this is that the episode’s potentially strongest emotional moments are robbed of impact.

To its credit, despite the Iris/Eddie romance subplot, “Things You Can’t Outrun” manages to make the flashback plotline vital to the a-plot. In the television version of The Flash metahumans will be housed at S.T.A.R. Labs and “Things You Can’t Outrun” creates the mechanism for that. Unfortunately, the villain is simplistic and the plot formulaic, which makes the episode a dud, though it is not unwatchable.

For other works with Danielle Panabaker, be sure to check out my reviews of:
”City Of Heroes” - The Flash
Piranha 3DD
Friday The 13th


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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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The Wavelike Career (And Life) Of Janis Ian, Society’s Child

The Good: Informative, Mostly well-written, Entertaining
The Bad: A few gaps in the narrative
The Basics: Anyone who is a fan of music should pick up and read Society’s Child, the autobiography of Janis Ian which is a whirlwind of namedropping, professional victories and personal tragedies.

Today was a real treat for me; after months of having it on the nightstand, I finally sat down and read the bulk of Society’s Child. My wife gave me Society’s Child in hardcover for our five year wedding anniversary and as part of my goal for the year to read more, I started it several months ago. Until I committed today to being a reading day, I had not had the chance to devote the time and effort to focus my attention on it. I’m glad that I did; Society’s Child deserves the reader’s full attention for several reasons, not the least of which is that the autobiography’s subject, Janis Ian, has had a whirlwind life.

Society’s Child is the 348 page autobiography (plus the index pages) of singer-songwriter Janis Ian. Published in 2008, Society’s Child is a brutally honest personal narrative of a singer-songwriter whose works might no longer be at the forefront of the collective unconscious, but have far more enduring value than the vast majority of the music being produced and released today. Janis Ian is the writer and singer of songs from the late 1960s and 1970s when her career hit its worldwide peaks with the singles “Society’s Child,” “Jesse,” “Stars,” and “At Seventeen.” Society’s Child chronicles her professional resilience – while she has had many other charting songs between and since, she has certainly become more of a niche performer than a popular recording artist of the masses – and the erratic nature of her personal life.

On the personal front, Society’s Child is the story of a young woman whose trust was systematically destroyed almost from her earliest interactions with other people. Janis Ian writes frankly about her sexual abuse at the hands of her family’s dentist, her early attempts at songwriting and the relationships that formed the basis for many of her poems which she set to music. Ian writes about the effect having a hit song as a teenager had on her and her family, how her life at school dramatically changed and how her earnings contributed to her parents’ divorce. Janis Ian writes about the personal trials and tribulations that framed her life with an honesty that is uncommon in any autobiography, which makes for an engaging read and a deeply human narrative. It is virtually impossible to read Society’s Child as a fan of the works of Janis Ian, once pop superstar around the world, and continue to elevate her in the mind to superhuman status. First and foremost, Society’s Child makes a woman with creative gifts and lifetime earnings that vastly outstrip those of almost every reader seem incidental; she is first and foremost a person and her journey through life has not been easy. There is no other celebrity biography I have ever encountered wherein the subject of the narrative celebrates being able to get $20 out of an ATM to buy socks in chapters following being a superstar who ate live lobster sushi in Japan during a tour that made her rich.

Society’s Child casts Janis Ian as a woman who struggles with relationships and deep trust issues. Her trust violated at almost every turn (the FBI kept tabs on her family, leaving her father unable to get tenure during the Civil Rights Movement; late in the volume, she learns that her financial manager had been embezzling for decades, leaving her at the mercy of a zealous IRS agent who left her destitute), she took solace in romantic relationships that did not pan out. From a somewhat mundane first love to her first romantic relationship with a woman, Society’s Child illustrates how Janis Ian struggled to find love and acceptance regardless of her celebrity. Her first marriage is chronicled and is difficult to read (for the content, not the diction). Only a few pages after the relationship is loving and blooming, Ian faces the barrel of a gun and a situation written with such realism and tension that the reader forgets that the narrator must have survived it in order to write the book.

Fortunately, Society’s Child is not just the troubling tale of one woman who gets abused by a dentist, a husband, a therapist and the IRS. Acting in odd foil to her personal travails, both in terms of relationships and health, Janis Ian chronicles the story of her albums and recording career. After the initial stories, Society’s Child tells the story of Janis Ian’s life album by album. Ian writes about being a folk singer who is deemed “too young” by the established folk community in New York City. Not allowed to perform at some critical, early opportunities, Janis Ian is taken under the wing of luminaries in the pop and folk music fields. After befriending Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, Janis Ian’s meteoric career puts her on par with singer-songwriters like Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seeger, Billy Joel, and Joan Baez.

Society’s Child illustrates the impossibly fickle music industry and how Janis Ian struggled as an artist against a machine that abhorred the art that made her initially marketable. Ian writes about how the industry cycle of touring, promoting and recording became virtually impossible to balance against the act of creating the music the record label demanded of her. The book describes well and in enough detail how the traditional paradigm for the music industry was oppressive and robbed her of the personal moments that she needed to be an artist.

For those who are not already fans of the works of Janis Ian, Society’s Child is a great primer. Ian’s work is not filled with gratuitous namedropping; just as she describes the difficulty of those who did not live through the Civil Rights Movement understanding the social turmoil of the early years of her life, her description of the process of meeting other artists and being recognized by the music community calls back to a very different time and place. Ian writes about the late 60’s club scene vividly and she writes with reverence about her contemporaries and her inspirations as they come into her life.

While there are a few sloppy moments of prose – on one point, Janis Joplin pops up in a story as “Janis,” making the reader think Ian has slipped into the third person – most of Society’s Child is well-written and engaging. Ian writes with a sense of humor where appropriate (her story about eating sushi in Japan and running into Bruce Springsteen on the street after he was charting are instantly memorable) and with a vivid sense of imagery for the rest. Her internal narrative is tormented and she chronicles it well as she describes her feelings of betrayal, her feelings of being affectless, and of coming back to being emotionally well-rounded exceptionally well. Janis Ian details being dosed with vivid and disturbing imagery. Her descriptions, late in the book, of some of her health problems like CFS get troublingly resolved. For example, at the height of her CFS story where she appears otherwise insensate, she finds herself interrogated by the feds in an incident that she recounts without any of the nebulous of the incidents that immediately precede or follow it.

Despite the very few moments when the writing is not as tight or clear, the bulk of Society’s Child reads as a tight, engaging personal narrative. Anyone who has ever had a sense of celebrity worship should read Society’s Child; it humanizes one extraordinary artist and reminds the reader that while the industry and popularity of musical artists and movements might be fickle, those who create the art we consume face the same struggles we do and more and they are bound to face those challenges with the same basic tools we possess. While there is certainly more of the story of Janis Ian left to tell, Society’s Child gives perspective on the portion of Ian’s life most people will be most interested in.

For other works by Janis Ian, visit my reviews of:
Concert - East Lansing, MI - March 8, 2013
Janis Ian
. . . For All The Seasons Of Your Mind
Society's Child: The Verve Recordings
Between The Lines
Breaking Silence
God & The F.B.I.
Billie's Bones
Live: Working Without A Net
Folk Is The New Black
The Best Of Janis Ian - 2 CD + Exclusive DVD Edition


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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

“A Hen In The Wolfhouse” Reminds Viewers Just How Much Peril The Marvel Cinematic Universe Is In!

The Good: Plot moves along, Moments of character, Decent performances
The Bad: Stands poorly on its own, Very much a middle act
The Basics: “A Hen In The Wolfhouse” is one of the best episodes of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. thus far, though all of its important moments are meaningless without already being invested in the show.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is five episodes into its second season with “A Hen In The Wolfhouse” and the show was in danger of going off in too many directions to be accessible to those who are not already fans, watching each episode. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is not even trying to be episodic at this point and the strongly serialized nature of the show actually makes “A Hen In The Wolfhouse” a better episode. Given how “I Will Face My Enemy” (reviewed here!) ended with Raina being given a ticking clock and a mission of her own, it was pretty natural that “A Hen In The Wolfhouse” would pick up almost immediately after the prior episode.

Almost immediately, “A Hen In The Wolfhouse” is tasked with either pushing forward the central plot of the series or mortgaging a reasonable sense of suspension of disbelief in the show. Fortunately, “A Hen In The Wolfhouse” aims for the former and hits the mark. Unafraid to burn the dangling plots that have the potential to be truly problematic the longer they linger in the background, “A Hen In The Wolfhouse” effectively burns the Simmons plotline from “Making Friends And Influencing People” (reviewed here!). Fortunately, the movement made in this episode is well-executed and makes the spy show actually work in a credible way, despite the science fiction aspects of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D..

After a wedding where H.Y.D.R.A. agents experiment upon the guests and kill most everyone there, H.Y.D.R.A. becomes obsessed with obtaining the obelisk. Raina, tasked with getting the obelisk from Skye’s father, is denied the treasure and when she sees Simmons at the H.Y.D.R.A. laboratory, she strikes up a plan to save her own life. Skye, having seen the alien writing carved into the desk in Coulson’s office and after an unsettling conversation with Ward about the nature of those symbols, confronts Coulson. Coulson admits that he and Garret reacted poorly to having alien DNA put in their bodies, but Skye did not. Told she might actually be an alien, Skye freaks out. Raina calls Coulson and his S.H.I.E.L.D. team meets with Raina.

Raina puts Coulson on the defensive, threatening to out Simmons if he does not help her get the obelisk and Skye. Refusing to concede to Raina, Coulson calls her bluff. The H.Y.D.R.A. security agent who is closing in on Simmons suddenly comes to her rescue to extract her from the enemy lab. Bobbi Morse blows her cover, but Coulson uses Raina to try to find the obelisk and Skye’s father. But when Skye goes rogue, tailing Raina, to try to find her father, the entire mission is put in jeopardy. But Skye’s father is struggling to maintain control over his own monstrous abilities and in trying to elude Skye, he runs right into the arms of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s greatest enemy.

The burden of continuing Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. after the climactic events of the first season and Captain America: The Winter Soldier is that the show is plummeted into a genre that has been mined to death. The savvy television viewing audience has seen spy shows and we know virtually every twist coming episodes in advance. To make the heroes interesting, the villain has to be credible and powerful. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s adversary is H.Y.D.R.A., an evil superspy organization that worked with the Nazis . . . and the Nazis were the cuddly half of that arrangement! In making H.Y.D.R.A. the supervillains of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., the burden of the show is to make the enemy smart enough to keep world governments and S.H.I.E.L.D. on the ropes. “A Hen In The Wolfhouse” does that quite well by having H.Y.D.R.A. and Skye’s father becoming appropriately menacing and causing the few clandestine assets Coulson has to be burned.

Adrienne Palicki bursts into Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. as Bobbi Morse wonderfully. From almost her first moment in “A Hen In The Wolfhouse,” Palicki makes viewers wonder just how the hell DC Entertainment failed to successfully launch Wonder Woman with her. Palicki is articulate and has great physical presence in the role of Morse. She instantly upstages Nick Blood’s Agent Lance, though they have decent banter between them in their scenes.

What keeps “A Hen In The Wolfhouse” grounded is that Skye and Coulson are focused on enough to make sure that the episode is not a Raina episode. Clark Gregg and Chloe Bennet have decent on-screen chemistry in the episode as Coulson and Skye. Bennet has grown as an actress and in “A Hen In The Wolfhouse” has her losing her uncertainty in playing Skye. The enhanced performance ability comes at the ideal time as her character has a fairly emotional episode. Skye nears her lifelong goal only to discover that her father is not looking for her for positive reasons. Bennet plays Skye as appropriately shaken and those moments resonate. Fortunately, Gregg’s Coulson grounds the emotional moments of the episode.

Holly Dale directs “A Hen In The Wolfhouse” with mixed results. While the episode moves along with amazing pacing and good cuts to make the banter flow, but the meeting between Fitz and Simmons is cut in such a way that there is nothing cathartic about the much-awaited, potentially emotional moment. Even with that emotional flaw and the necessity of being already invested to care about the sweeping events of “A Hen In The Wolfhouse,” the episode is quite good.

For other works with Adrienne Palicki, please visit my reviews of:
G.I. Joe: Retaliation
Red Dawn


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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Misery Loves Company: Listen Up Philip Is So Much Of The Worst Of Indie Film!

The Good: Performances, Direction
The Bad: Oppressive mood, Unlikable characters, Boring plot
The Basics: When young, angry, and arrogant author Philip Friedman goes away to his idol’s cabin, he finds his plans disrupted by the author’s daughter, who is also living there.

As the movie cycle moves toward pure Oscar Pandering Season, I am enjoying catching up on some indie cinema. Independent cinema reminds us that art is still alive in the film world and that there are whole groups of actors who do not care about being part of the latest blockbuster that the studios are churning out. While independent and artistic cinema is usually associated with intellect, experimentation and mood, I have begun to associate independent cinema with misery. Seriously; it seems like virtually every writer and writer-director who manages to get an independent film made with recognizable actors features characters who are miserable assholes that are impossible to empathize with.

Listen Up Philip is one such film. Packed with an amazing cast, Listen Up Philip is almost immediately off-putting and esoteric. I cannot recall a film of late where it was so difficult for me to be inspired to watch past the first fifteen minutes, which is quite a feat when one considers that Jonathan Pryce (whose works I generally love) appears in that first quarter-hour of the film. But, the tight focus on Jason Schwartzman’s isolated, unlikable character and the droning voiceovers make Listen Up Philip very inaccessible.

Philip Friedman is an author living and working in New York City, whose second novel has just been published. He has a meeting with an ex-girlfriend, whom he tells off (after being kept waiting, he builds to a rage that allows him to finally articulate how her lack of belief in him makes him feel). The feelings of empowerment that brings him inspires him to tell off his old college roommate and to go out with a photographer who has interest in him now that he has a second novel on the market. After meeting with renowned author Ike Zimmerman, Philip allows magazine feature writer Josh Fawn to shadow him . . . until he learns that Josh had a prior relationship with his girlfriend, Ashley. Ashley is feeling distance from Philip and when Philip has the chance to leave the City for a retreat with Ike for most of the summer, Ashley is left feeling pretty much dumped by the author. Ike takes Philip away and seems to have a genuine interest in helping him develop as a writer and a human being.

When Ike goes away, his daughter Melanie pops up and tries to keep Philip at arm’s length. To help get Philip out of the house, Ike helps Philip get a position as an adjunct professor at Lambert College, which Philip does not actually appreciate. Returning to the City, Philip breaks up with Ashley (who promptly sells off the things he leaves behind, gets depressed, engages in risk behaviors and buys a cat for companionship). Ashley starts to get along well-enough without Philip and she reconnects with an ex-boyfriend. Philip finds himself detached from all semblances of his prior life and stagnates while those he encounters start living again by getting away from him.

Listen Up Philip is tough to call well-written or even interesting. The film has an appropriately high level of diction given how intelligent the characters are supposed to be. But the film is packed with clichés and just because the movie acknowledges that Philip is the walking cliché of the successful, but disenfranchised, young author does not make it less of a cliché. Philip is on the verge of being genuinely successful, so he pushes back against the establishment that is about to “make” him under the guise of artistic integrity. The film is loaded with Philip acting depressed and constantly self-deprecating. This mood becomes oppressive, though. Intelligence is becoming synonymous with anhedonia in U.S. culture and that is both unfortunate and anything but entertaining to watch. Listen Up Philip is like Smart People (reviewed here!) without a collection of remotely entertaining characters.

Alex Ross Perry wrote and directed Listen Up Philip and if this is indicative of his work and style, he is in no danger of becoming the next Wes Anderson. Anderson has managed to make miserable characters charming, interesting to watch and entertaining in films like The Royal Tenenbaums (reviewed here!). Perry’s work lacks that spark and when the film diverges to stick with Ashley, the viewer is sucked into an unwatchable cinematic morass. One miserable artist treating people in an off-putting manner is more than enough for one film; two seems like an indulgence of unhappiness that the viewer is supposed to get excited about and praise as wonderful. Listen Up Philip is not wonderful; it’s an invitation to spend almost two hours with people who one would not want to spend five minutes with.

What saves Listen Up Philip from the lowest possible ratings is the acting and direction. Alex Ross Perry may have written utterly unlikable, miserable characters, but he captures those embodying them quite well. For all of the problems with the section of Listen Up Philip that focuses on Ashley, Perry manages to get some great shots of actress Elisabeth Moss performing amazingly well. Moss is able to express misery without a word, looking at the camera and reacting to lines delivered off screen with nervousness and sorrow. Alex Ross Perry gets a compelling performance out of Elisabeth Moss and if Ashley were only more interesting, this would be one of Moss’s best roles ever.

Jason Schwartzman leads the cast of Listen Up Philip very well. He plays the part of Philip with such convincing detachment that he is almost unwatchable. Schwartzman has played nice guys in other roles and the qualities that made those roles memorable or enjoyable to watch is completely absent from his performance of Philip. In a similar fashion, Krysten Ritter almost always seems to play emotionally-strong, articulate, empowered women and her part of Melanie is very different. More overtly hurt, Melanie offers Ritter the chance to play a different style of character than some of her more familiar roles. Unfortunately, her part is minimized in the film and as much as I was excited to see her play a greater emotional range, I was equally excited to see her wearing a shirt identical to one I once owned. Ritter and Pryce play off each other well.

Even Jonathan Pryce is robbed of the charismatic spark that usually makes his characters watchable and intriguing. Like Ritter, that shows Pryce’s range, even if it is unpleasant to watch.

Despite the quality of the performances, Listen Up Philip is anything but watchable, compelling or worth devoting one’s time to.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
10,000 Days
The Best Of Me
Dracula Untold
The Equalizer
The Maze Runner
This Is Where I Leave You
The Giver
Guardians Of The Galaxy
The Zero Theorem


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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Monday, October 20, 2014

Limited Time Character, The Donna Troy As Wonder Woman Figure Endures!

The Good: Great sculpt, Good balance, Great accessories, Decent balance
The Bad: Very limited niche for the figure/fluctuating collector’s value
The Basics: One of the best Wonder Woman figures that DC Direct produced, the Donna Troy As Wonder Woman action figure capitalizes on a cool character in the Wonder Woman storyline!

My wife has gotten me so many awesome toys this year! One of the many that she picked up for me and gave me for our last major anniversary was the Donna Troy As Wonder Woman. As a fan of Wonder Woman (the character and the book), I have a pretty decent collection of Wonder Woman toys. Every now and then, I find a figure of Donna Troy I like, like the Infinite Crisis Donna Troy figure (reviewed here!). The other major Donna Troy figure I really wanted was the Donna Troy As Wonder Woman figure for good reason; the action figure is distinctive and captures the character perfectly from her brief tenure as Wonder Woman.

For those unfamiliar with Donna Troy As Wonder Woman, this is not a surprise at all. During the brief time that Princess Diana was on hiatus from being a super hero, as part of a self-imposed exile, in Who Is Wonder Woman? (reviewed here!), Donna Troy took over in the role of Wonder Woman. Armored and ready for battle, Donna Troy looks tough in this figure incarnation.


Donna Troy As Wonder Woman figure is exceptionally well-detailed, though she comes from a comic book. This version of Wonder Woman has armor with exceptional detailing on the shoulders, elbows, and knees and that is more sophisticated than many of the superhero costumes; DC Direct got the detailing expertly. The stand-in superheroine stands 6 3/4" tall as an action figure. Her costume is appropriately bronze and brown with silver highlights on the wrists and waist, which make her look perfectly like the character rendered in the pages of the DC Comic books where she had this persona. Donna Troy As Wonder Woman is an action figure exclusively from DC Direct.

This toy is a fairly impressive sculpt; for a character that has only had two-dimensional references, Donna Troy As Wonder Woman looks good in all three dimensions. DC Direct did not make the character insanely busty, which is reassuring and she comes with her left hand closed in a fist and with a beltloop that is molded on, where the lasso she has is held. The armor features what looks like a leather strip skirt and that is made of flexible, rubbery plastic that does not inhibit leg movement for the figure at all. Donna Troy As Wonder Woman does not have fingernails molded on or colored red (as the comic book character possessed).

What is most impressive, arguably, about the Donna Troy As Wonder Woman figure is the sculpting work on her face. Donna Troy As Wonder Woman has the sharp cheekbones and full lips of the character and with her hair back, she looks just like she leapt out of the pages of the comic book onto one's shelf! Under her hair on her forehead is Wonder Woman’s iconic tiara. Rightfully, Donna Troy’s face has minimal coloring details to it, though her lips are realistically dark red. Because the comic books this character comes from are not photorealistic, there is not a realistic expectation that the figure would have more realism in its coloring.


Donna Troy As Wonder Woman, efficient Themysciran who is picking up Diana’s slack, comes with only two accessories. She has her stand and her Themysciran sword. The stand is a red disk with the “Wonder Woman” logo and name on it. It is 3 3/4" in diameter and 1/8” tall and it has a single peg which plugs into the hole in Donna Troy As Wonder Woman's right foot. She is very stable on her base.

Donna Troy As Wonder Woman also comes with the cool sword that was featured with the character in the books. The 3 5/8” long plastic sword is silver-gray with a bronze and black hilt. The sword fits perfectly in Donna Troy’s right hand and it matches perfectly the rest of the figure.


The DC Direct figures were designed more for display than play. Still, Donna Troy As Wonder Woman is quite good for play terms. She has incredibly good articulation as well as decent balance! Flatfooted, this is a very balanced toy, though her height does make it easy to tip her over when she is off her stand. As well, Donna Troy As Wonder Woman comes with eleven points of articulation, only four of which are simple swivel joints. Donna Troy As Wonder Woman has joints at the knees, groin socket, shoulders, elbows, wrists and head. The shoulders are proper ball and socket joints, while the elbows and knees are both hinge joints. The head is on a ball joint, which allows the heroine to nod up and down as well as look left to right, at least in a limited fashion! If her hair was as flexible as the skirt and cape, the head would have even more articulation!

For whatever improbable poses one might find where she will not remain standing, there is the stand and while it is stable, the fact that only one foot may be plugged into it makes the balance a little less stable for outlandish poses.


Donna Troy As Wonder Woman is part of the DC Direct “Wonder Woman” Series 1 line which was exceptionally rare and usually only distributed through comic book shops. The Donna Troy figure was a wonderfully sculpted figure and given how few Donna Troy figures there are, it seems like it will retain some value. Unfortunately, Donna Troy was only Wonder Woman for a very short time. I’ve watched this figure plummet in value over the past two years from a peak of $50 down to $25 (occasionally on sale for less!). Hopefully, the value has bottomed out and it will rebound for investors. Given how low-priority Wonder Woman is for toy lines, I suspect that the value will grow again soon.


Donna Troy As Wonder Woman is damn near perfect. Just shy of being perfectly detailed and perfectly balanced, the figure is esoteric but pretty wonderful!

For other Wonder Woman toy reviews, please check out my takes on:
1999 Wonder Woman DC Direct figure
Series 1 Diana Prince
Series 1 Circe
The New 52 Wonder Woman


For other toy reviews, please check out my Toy Review Index Page!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Simplistic, But Okay: The 2014 Defender Of Mankind Superman Ornament

The Good: Generally good sculpt, Basic coloring, Affordable
The Bad: Seems small, Mediocre balance, Simplistic coloring
The Basics: The new Defender Of Mankind Hallmark ornament is a Superman ornament that is very basic, but not bad.

I am having a pretty big DC Comics week. Having caught up on the new television series of The Flash and read a new Wonder Woman graphic novel, I felt like reviewing one of the Hallmark ornaments for a DC Comics character. I chose the Defender Of Mankind Superman ornament. Ironically, given that I generally love DC Comics and Hallmark ornaments (not to mention that my most-read review was for the film Man Of Steel - reviewed here!), Superman is one of my least-favorite characters from the DC Comics universe. Superman is a monolithic good character in almost all incarnations of his character. That bores me.

The Defender Of Mankind ornament suffers a similar problem as the comic book character; the ornament is very simplistic. While I understand that an ornament based on a comic book reference might be simple, there is something very basic about this rendition of Superman; it lacks flair or spark for both a super hero and an ornament.


The Defender Of Mankind ornament faithfully presents Superman in his blue and red comic book costume. This is the Superman in his smooth blue and red suit, red belt and red cape. The ornament, released in 2014, is fair for an ornament based upon the classic comic book look of Superman. With such a basic dimensional model, Hallmark was able to create an ornament that is similarly uncomplicated. Measuring four inches tall, two and three-quarter inches wide and two inches deep, the Defender Of Mankind ornament is one of three DC super hero-based ornaments released by Hallmark in stores in 2014. The Defender Of Mankind ornament came with an original retail price of $14.95 and I am confident that there will be plenty left over at the end of the season, so I suspect there is no rush to buy them at that price.

The Hallmark Defender Of Mankind ornament is made of durable plastic. Superman’s costume is colored in bold blue and bright red. He is ripped with well-defined stomach and leg muscles underneath his costume. The Defender Of Mankind ornament has the traditional Superman symbol on his chest and the ornament even has the symbol silkscreened onto the back of the cape.

Defender Of Mankind features a Superman who looks more like the animated character than Henry Cavill. The skin tones are monotonal as opposed to having rich coloring, which is unfortunate and undermines the potential realism of this ornament.


As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, Defender Of Mankind could have a sound chip or a light-up function. He has neither, but honestly it would have been virtually impossible to make a gimmick for this ornament.


As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake Defender Of Mankind ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate superhero Christmas Tree, the Defender Of Mankind ornament is fair; there are many other Superman ornaments on the market from past years. The ornament has the standard metal hook loop embedded into the top back of Superman’s head at the most discrete position a hook loop could be from the head. From there, the ornament, when affixed to a tree with a hook, swings very easily. This ornament has a slight right bias, which makes sense given how much of the cape is stuck to the right of the ornament’s main body.


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 Defender Of Mankind ornament has been selling slowly at all of the Hallmark stores I have gone to. Given that it is hardly a sell-out, I would not bet on it being a great investment piece.


Fans of Superman and DC comics characters are likely to find the Defender Of Mankind ornament to be very average, though not at all bad. If simplistic and “right-biased” are the worst that can be said about the ornament, it could be much worse.

For other DC Universe superhero Hallmark ornaments, please check out my reviews of:
2013 The Joker The Dark Knight ornament
2013 San Diego Comic Con Man Of Steel Exclusive ornament
2013 Man Of Steel Superman
2013 Descending Upon Gotham City Batman ornament
2012 The Bat The Dark Knight Rises Limited Edition Ornament
2012 Catwoman ornament
2012 "Beware My Power" Green Lantern ornament
2012 The Dark Knight Rises
2011 Batman Takes Flight
2011 Green Lantern
2010 Limited Edition Harley Quinn
2009 Wonder Woman ornament


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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