Wednesday, September 2, 2015

I Share My Existential Crisis

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The Basics: I return to writing with an exploration of the philosophical horrors that plagued me for the last month.


I took last month off blogging, for the most part, but it was a very intellectually-active month for me. I stopped blogging for the better part of the month because I found myself going through the ultimate cliche: the midlife crisis. As one who seldom does things the same way as everyone else, no one was more surprised that I would do something quite so conventional as have a midlife crisis as me. It, frankly, knocked me off my game for a while and required me to work through some things. But, as I come out of it, I feel like I want to share some of the thoughts I had because my perspective is - I am told - not a common one and I think it is worth sharing.

Background

I grew up living on the outskirts of a fairly affluent area. I lived with my father (and, for most of my childhood: brother, stepmother, and stepbrother), who worked for the government and had the foresight to move just inside the boundaries that kept me at one of the nation's best public schools, yet in a house he could afford. I spent most of my youth - from fifth grade onward - doing my own thing: I immersed myself in science fiction books, wrote extensively, and spending time with only one or two friends outside school hours. For sports: I ran. I was a distance runner and I was content to either run on my own or with two upperclasswomen who seemed to understand me and accept my innate curiosity and converse with me accordingly.

I was taught that I could be an agent of effective change and that I had a responsibility to work to better the world around me. My peers were generally wealthier and many went on to Ivy League Universities and careers that allow them to maintain or grow their family's wealth and influence in the world. Amid geniuses, athletes and people clearly aspiring for a straight and narrow, easy-to-define trajectory, I was generally overlooked and forgotten. Imagine an environment breeding stockbrokers, lawyers and mathematical geniuses: I knew from ninth grade onward that I wanted to be a writer and an artist.

I went to college, became a writer, honed my artistic talent . . . and was thrown into a very business-oriented world.

The Roots Of My Existential Crisis

So, now I am in my late 30s and I live with my wife in an apartment in the virtual middle of nowhere. And we're happy getting by with one another, but we oscillate wildly between poverty and adequacy. I write and run my own small business and we take care of our animals.

Throughout my life, I have been politically active. As one without money, I am particularly attuned to economic issues. As I wrote more and more about economic and political issues, I ran into two big problems: self-censorship and a fundamental personal/political schism.

The self-censorship was very easy for me to define. Two years ago, I wrote a script for a film. It's called Anticapitalist and it is the model for our next Civil Rights Movement. The premise is that our next Civil Rights Movement will seek to free Americans from economic enslavement. I put my heart and a ton of my best lines into the script and it is a work that continues to become more commercially viable with each passing day. But, alas, I don't have an agent and trying to get the script in front of any Hollywood Liberal with even a modicum of interest or influence has been a Herculean task. So, for two years, I've stayed silent on a number of things in order to not spoil my own film.

And then came the personal/political schism. The more I wrote about economic issues, the more I ran into a conceptual problem with the way other people exert influence over my life. Lately, there have been a number of corrupt businesses that hide abysmal practices under the guise of "protecting liberty." Businesses like Hobby Lobby want to be known as a "Christian business." While they cannot literally ask potential employees about their faith (at least, not legally), they speak in Evangelical code (it exists and twenty-five years of deciphering the doublespeak have been a mix of horrifying and enlightening) and the executives of the company use their authority to impose their Evangelical views on their employees (not all Christians object to birth control, for example, but Hobby Lobby went to the Supreme Court to fight for their right to not have to pay for their employees' contraception as part of their health care package). So, the refrain that I kept singing in reaction to such draconian policies by Big Business enterprises was: "If you want to do business in America, these are the rules you have to follow." Want to run a small business as a bigot? It's not legal because every American has the Right to equal service. In other words, individuals absolutely have the right to their bigoted self-expression; that right ends when they step out into society and become a legal business entity. The rules of America are - or once were - that simple. Businesses are not people: a business cannot legally enslave or discriminate against other people or groups. That is the social covenant that every individual who goes into business enters into. That's political and economic and the moment the Supreme Court outlawed Jim Crow Laws that forced businesses to take down signs limiting who could eat at a particular establishment, it has been the law of the land.

The Existential Crisis

So then it hit me: I have an answer to a large number of economic and political issues which is simple and direct. Businesses cannot discriminate because that is the social covenant they entered into - by choice. On a personal level, though, I had a full understanding that I was born into a social covenant that I never agreed to. My life, my existence, was something that was forced upon me. I am Pro Choice and the choice that allows me to truly, definitively, take control of my life is illegal. I exist as part of a social covenant based upon where I was born (the United States in the latter quarter of the 20th Century). That social covenant is simple:

Make money or die.

Think about that for just a moment. If I were to take control of my life and attempt to kill myself, I either need to get it right or else an ambitious District Attorney could prosecute me for attempted suicide (suicide is a felony in many places in the U.S. and attempting it can be used as just cause to question the mental health of the person attempting it). Were I to fail, I could be hospitalized . . . which would rack up bills. So, that leaves suicide by starving to death, which is a pretty horrifying and prolonged way to die.

If I want to live, though, I must make money. How has it taken me so many years of life to recognize just how perverse that is? We live in the most economically prosperous nation in the history of the Earth and if I don't feel like interacting with people around me, I will starve to death and die. I worked for the United States Census Bureau and discovered that in virtually every rural area in the United States, there are abandoned houses that are slowly falling into disrepair. But if I don't want to waste my life making money for companies that increase the wealth of select individuals who have wealth to invest in them . . . I cannot legally occupy any of that abandoned land.

I recognize that it is very easy to read those lines and respond with a gruff: "Everyone has to work" or "What a ridiculous premise! What a whiner; he doesn't want to get a job and he's complaining about life itself!"

But that's the thing: this is not life itself. Life is not, inherently, involved with making money. There is no biological process that requires us to make money. There are biological processes that necessitate consumption of food and protection from the elements (food and shelter). But those are denied to our citizens because all aspects of our society are subservient to our capitalist economic institutions.

I never agreed to those terms.

I was born into this world. I developed into an intelligent, creative individual and I never once was even asked to consent to the institutions that control my life. Think about that: there was never a moment I - or you - was asked, "will you take a job to feed, clothe, and shelter yourself or die?" There is no social contract here: it's make money or die. With a social contract, one could say "I'll make money, but if I'm going to waste my life working for you and your money, it absolutely has to be enough to meet all of my needs."

Who is perverse now: the one who acknowledges that there is something horribly wrong living a life so devoid of consent and control or the one who blindly defends that status quo?

The beautiful thing is that I can easily trace what threw me over. My father is an aging Baby Boomer and he remains politically active. One of his friends posted a photograph of an event for one of his Progressive groups. I noted that for a Progressive organization, there was a distinct lack of young people at the event photographed. I made the comment that for the group's next event, perhaps they should make sure each member brought two younger people to the event. I'm big on the idea that one of the important ways the Left needs to change and evolve strategically is to foster the next generation of liberals in a way they have not, historically, done (say what you will about Evangelicals and their viewpoints; they know how to reproduce to grow a movement over multiple generations!).

One of the members of the progressive group responded to my constructive comment with a snarky retort. Without a direct quote: the gist of the response was that the event pictured was the reward to themselves for their activism. These were the Boomers who cut their hair, got a job and kept fighting (all of that was explicitly referenced in his comment). The snarky aspect within me thought, "they had jobs with pensions and could afford a nice house in the suburbs and a party that no young person today could ever afford." But I like to keep things positive . . . and failing that, constructive.

The Liberal Activists of yesterday cut their hair and took jobs and claimed to be activists while Ralph Reed, Grover Norquist, and Dick Cheney absolutely destroyed the U.S. government and society. Through the efforts of the Reactionary Right, business interests rose up, the E.R.A. and other Civil Rights measures were defeated, and the government was so weakened that social programs were gutted in favor of the interests of Big Business. There is a cause and effect and you know who sees it? A socially conscious individual who was raised among political activists and rising businesspeople who was creative and did not fit in.

For a moment, I saw yet another World That Could Have Been. The Counterculture Movement had a number of problems. Amid standing up for Civil Rights, Equality, and individual liberty and fighting against an unconscionable military action, there was sex without consequences (which seldom worked out as well as people wanted to believe and led to the rise of some pretty nasty STD vectors) and drug culture; the Counterculture Movement was split between incredible social responsibility and ethics and a disappointing lack of personal responsibility.

A large component of what messed me up for the last month was that I could see that World That Could Have Been. The prowar movement fell apart because the American people turned against it; the Counterculture Movement had enough sway over the mainstream that they achieved one of their main, stated goals. But then, they conformed and got a responsible job. Imagine what would have happened if they didn't let employers dictate how they had to look. It seems like such a little thing, but it was one of history's turning points. Seriously. Business made a demand that allowed them to exert their influence over the very bodies of people who were not even working for them yet! With their success, the Reactionary Right began to realize it would undo the gains made by the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. Together, business interests and the Evangelical Christian movement gutted women's rights, stunted the Gay Rights Movement, and exerted more and more control over the bodies and health of employees and their families . . . because they knew they could get away with it.

The hippies cut their hair to get jobs. Business interests forced those hippies to look a certain way to make money to survive. If the hippies held out, what would have happened? Those businesses would have hired them, hair and all. There was a labor shortage and the United States was on the cusp of one of the most significant economic booms in the history of capitalism. If the hippies had held out, employers would have had the choice to employ the hippies regardless of their appearance or import workers from other countries to do the jobs that Americans were willing to do. Business could have relented, business should have relented.

[The corollary for this comes within the last fifteen years. In the 90s piercings became more mainstream and now tattoos are similarly mainstream. I worked, for a time, at a Treasury Department call center with several well-tattooed women who were smart and efficient and now have exceptionally well-paying jobs. Professional businesses that require highly trained individuals do not focus on appearance in an "apply online" world and an economy filled with job openings. The Boomers who are retiring now, the ones who claimed to keep the fight going after they surrendered control of their person for those pensions, are being replaced by people with tattoos and piercings in evident places. And those businesses are surviving.]

The World That Could Have Been is one where businesses had a need for employees and they said, "cut your hair, you filthy hippie!" and the hippie said, "I'm great for this job, but I love my hair and your business where I'll work for no more than 40 hours a week is not going to dominate how I appear the other 128 hours a week!" And after a few lean weeks of trying to find qualified employees, businesses would say "we need you, come to work for us." And there Big Business en masse would realize that they could not exert that kind of control over people. Business would not dominate individuals; people would retain their control over business interests. People are people, businesses are not people; that is a much harder argument to make when the people running businesses create authoritarian edicts that force individuals to change so much of their person.

What happened in the United States was the employers got their way and those at the top of Big Businesses realized that they could exert more and more control over workers and their families and society at large. Want maternity leave? Not on our dime! Don't want a child? We won't hire anyone to assume the responsibilities left by the person on maternity leave; we'll dump their workload on you! We're having a mixer for employees and their families . . . LGBT employees, don't you dare bring your spouse! Minor drug possession charge ten years ago? Not for our company where you'll simply be stocking shelves! Thinking of adopting? We'll vouch that you have steady employment unless you're thinking of getting a kid from that country!

This one subculture capitulation led to an important transition in business; historically, post-Depression, employees were seen as an asset and when people surrendered their sovereignty of their bodies for employment that began a devaluing of the employees. In the 1980s, Big Business made a powerful transition that made them redefine their employees as a financial liability (an expense) instead of an asset. Over the course of my lifetime, I have watched that transition as Big Business exerts massive amounts of influence and utilizes ridiculous amounts of capital to gut social programs, destroy benefits and fight living wages for employees.

It's easy to see how I got mired for a month.

At the other end of my existential crisis was just sadness. Opposite the high-minded revelation that society is entirely structured in a way that my very survival is dictated without my consent was the grounded, rational, probably obvious idea that I might not "make it" in my chosen field. I've spent years trying to get anyone in The Industry to stop long enough to even hear my ideas. While my wife works hard to point out examples of midlife success (it turns out John Mahoney got into acting when he was around my age and following Frasier he has almost exclusively taken theater projects that he is passionate about - as opposed to taking "jobs!"), it has been hard for me to maintain the belief that I could achieve mainstream success later in life. It's incredibly frustrating to watch documentaries of people who are in The Industry, who believe art can be used to shape and define public opinion and have an effect on the world, but not be able to even pitch to them. I'm not going to be in the same room with Anne Hathaway where I'll be able to talk to her about Anticapitalist and there won't be a moment where I can pass the script for it off to Richard Schiff and he'll read it and say, "I know some people who would love to help get this made." So, I might be the right person at the right time with the right idea . . . but I'm not the one who knows anyone. I'm not within six degrees of separation from anyone who would care to produce my films. That's a rough headspace to be in and it doesn't benefit from the self-censorship of trying not to spoil one of my best, finished, works.

Resolution

I've spent the month wrestling with how to live in a world where I have to make money or die. My amazing wife helped me through a big portion of this. I've never been motivated by profit and she fell in love with me knowing that. She pointed out that it is ridiculous to live a life outside of society and its expectations, but still judge oneself by those standards. That's the key to so much.

I was raised to succeed; all my training and education poorly prepared me for failure. As an artist living in a business-motivated world, I fail a lot . . . by the standards of business.

I have written seven complete novels (two published), hundreds of poems, dozens and dozens of short stories, multiple film scripts (not just treatments, ready-to-shoot scripts!), a hundred episode television series (first season of scripts is ready to shoot!) and thousands of product reviews. I have had my visual art installed in exhibitions more than a half-dozen times and I have sold a number of my paintings. I have made barely enough money to survive. But that was never my goal.

There is still some wrestling to be done, but finding joy in the creation of my works and sharing it with my loved ones is a decent starting point. The people who care most about me have liked me and my work without any evidence that I will ever achieve economic success; becoming happy about that myself is a big deal. But part of the change in perspective there is definitely stopping the self censorship. I've had great ideas that are socially and politically relevant now and not sharing them is, in part, based on the preconceived notion that I'll never develop future great ideas. I'm flush with creativity and good ideas and however the world changes - or I change the world - I'll continue to develop intellectually and literarily.

As for the rest . . . I'm trying to figure out acceptance for this world. After all, I don't have the wealth for a bright red sportscar.

For other articles, please check out my articles on:
Parents: It's Not The World You Remember (But It Is The One You Created!)
Facebook Is Not What You Think It Is
Why Modern Libertarianism Is Disastrous For The United States

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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Monday, August 31, 2015

August 2015 End Of The Month Report!

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We pretty much took August off. Tomorrow, we'll start posting again with the usual regularity, but in August, we had a bit of an existential crisis (which will be the subject of a blog post tomorrow!) and took the month off after a few days to focus on some more important things. But, there was a little work done in the blog in August.

This month, we picked up several new followers on Twitter, but no new subscribers! We are always trying to get people to become regular readers and subscribe, so if you enjoy what you're reading, please subscribe by clicking on the right side of the blog to get updates with each posting. As well, if you read a review that really affects you, be sure to "share" it! PLEASE share a link to the blog, not the content of the article; this keeps people coming to the site and, hopefully, liking what they find once they are here! We're slowly growing our readership, so sharing and subscribing to the blog is an important way you can help! If you’re subscribing, please tell your friends about the blog!

In August, the index pages were not updated at all. Still, the primary Index Page, which we try to update daily, lets you know what the featured review is and has an up-to-the-day tally of how many reviews have been reviewed in each category! Check it out!

If you enjoy the reviews, please consider clicking on the links in the reviews and purchasing items. We really appreciate all the purchases made through the blog as that keeps us going. As back to school shopping hits full swing, if you're going shopping online, please come through the blog to to it. Thank you so much!

At the end of August 2015, I have reviewed the following:
533 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Fiction
Star Trek Books
Nonfiction
Graphic Novels
Magazines
907 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
2823 - Movie and Television Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Movies By Rating (Best Movie to Worst)
Movies In Alphabetical Order
Best Picture Oscar Winner Film Reviews
Television Reviews
The Star Trek Review Index Page (All Star Trek Reviews In Order)!
The Star Trek Review Index Page (All Star Trek Reviews From The Best Of The Franchise To The Worst!)!
The Doctor Who Review Index Page (All Doctor Who Reviews In Order)!
The Doctor Who Review Index Page (All Doctor Who Reviews From The Best Of The Franchise To The Worst!)!
219 - Trading and Gaming Card Reviews
Gaming Cards Reviews
Star Trek Gaming Cards Reviews
Star Wars Gaming Cards Reviews
The Lord Of The Rings Trading Card Game Reviews
Other Gaming Cards Reviews
Trading Cards Reviews
818 - Toy and Christmas Ornament Reviews
with specialized pages for:
Ornament Reviews
Star Trek Toys
Star Wars Toys
Lord Of The Rings Toys
Buffy The Vampire Slayer/Angel Toys
Comic Book, Movie, Television Toys
Plush and Other Toys
893 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Drinks
Candy
Cereal
Cheese and Meats
Ice Cream
Other Food
234 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
113 - Travel Reviews
Destinations Reviews
Hotels Reviews
185 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
191 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
99 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
49 - Other Product Reviews

The Featured Reviews For The Month of August is the review of Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation!
Check it out!


The month of August had a little movement within the month and was dominated by (predictably) older reviews! For August, the Top Ten Reviews of the month were:
10. Quaker Oatmeal Squares Cereal
9. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Season 1
8. The Walking Dead - Season 3
7. Arrested Development - Season 4
6. Fantastic Four
5. Talking Labyrinth Jareth Figure
4. Expelled
3. Jenny's Wedding
2. The Top Ten Episodes Of Star Trek: Voyager
1. The Top Ten Episodes Of Frasier

I pride myself on being an exceptionally fair reviewer, but one who is very discriminating. I believe that most reviewers are far too biased toward both what is current and toward unduly praising things. I tend to believe most things actually are average and they ought to follows something around a Bell Curve. Mine is a little lopsided, but not as lopsided as most reviewers I know (who would probably have peak numbers between ten and seven)!

For my reviews, the current count is:
10s - 315 reviews
9s - 461 reviews
8s - 891 reviews
7s - 992 reviews
6s - 920 reviews
5s - 1168 reviews
4s - 865 reviews
3s - 689 reviews
2s - 319 reviews
1s - 216 reviews
0s - 101 reviews
No rating - 95 articles/postings

While there was a decent amount of movement this month, the all time Top Ten remains unchanged. At the end of August 2015, the most popular reviews/articles continue to be:
10. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
9. Safe Haven
8. Oz The Great And Powerful
7. The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bone
6. Warm Bodies
5. Iron Man 3
4. Now You See Me
3. Tyler Perry's Temptation
2. The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug
1. Man Of Steel

Thank you again, so much, for reading! Please share links to the blog with friends and spread the word!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Monday, August 10, 2015

As Close To Transforming Butterfinger Candy Bars To Ice Cream: Edy's Comes Through!


The Good: Tastes good, Good ingredients, Inexpensive
The Bad: Light on chocolate flavor, Vanilla ice cream is more a medium than a flavor
The Basics: Edy’s Butterfinger Ice Cream is good and flavorful, doing justice to the beloved candy.


One of my earliest food reviews was of Butterfinger candies (reviewed here!). I am a fan of Butterfinger candies and ice cream, so the Edy's Butterfinger Ice Cream was an instantly alluring flavor concept to me. And while the ice cream may be a true representation of Butterfinger candies, it accents the idea that Nestle chocolate (who manufactures the Butterfinger candy bars) is not one of the more potent chocolate flavors.

Edy’s’s Butterfinger Ice Cream is a fairly light, delicious ice cream with heavy candy piece additives.

Basics

Edy’s ice cream comes in a one and a half quart cylindrical container. The Butterfinger Ice Cream is a smooth ice cream broken up by frequent chocolate pieces, chunks of Butterfinger candy bars and a swirl of peanut butter. At (locally) $5.99 a half gallon, the Edy’s ice cream is an affordable, mid-range ice cream. This is a standard Edy’s ice cream, available year round.

Ease Of Preparation

Edy’s Butterfinger Ice Cream is a fairly basic ice cream with hard additives. As an ice cream, preparation is ridiculously simple: one need only open the top of the container, scoop out a half cup and consume! There is no trick to preparing or eating the Butterfinger Ice Cream.

Taste

The Butterfinger Ice Cream smells entirely like peanut butter and caramel. The aroma is so perfectly, and predictably, like the Butterfinger candy bar like one expects.

On the flavor front, Edy’s Butterfinger ice cream is a vaguely vanilla ice cream entirely overwhelmed by the chocolate and peanut butter Butterfinger additives. The smooth ice cream is broken up in every bite by peanut butter swirl, little waxy chocolate flakes, and the chunks of crispy Butterfinger candy pieces.

Nutrition

The Edy’s Butterfinger Ice Cream is a heavy ice cream with a substantial and hard additive. The one and a half quart container represents twelve half-cup servings. In the half-cup serving, there are 170 calories, 80 of which are from fat. The nine grams of fat represent 14% of the RDA of fat, with 23% of one’s RDA of saturated fat coming in the 4.5 grams of saturated fat in this ice cream. One serving has 20 mg of cholesterol (that’s 7% of the RDA!) and 55 mg of Sodium (2% RDA). The only other real nutrient is three grams of protein, though there is also 6% of the RDA of Calcium and 4% of the RDA of Vitamin A in the Butterfinger Ice Cream.

Edy’s has decent ingredients, too. Made primarily of Skim Milk, cream, and sugar, Butterfinger is a decent ice cream! There is nothing unpronounceable in the ingredients list. This ice cream has an allergy warning for milk, peanut, and soy ingredients.

Storage/Clean-Up

Edy’s ice cream is both a frozen and a dairy product, so it is pretty obvious that it must be kept frozen in order to remain viable. Kept frozen it remains fresh for months (my half gallon had an expiration date of March 27, 2016).

The Butterfinger ice cream is a light orange color and will certainly stain light clothing and some darker clothing. When the ice cream melts and gets onto fabrics, it will require one to wash it right out, consult a fabric guide for the best way to get it out. On nonporous surfaces, the ice cream wipes off exceptionally easily.

Overall

Edy’s Butterfinger ice cream is a good flavor of ice cream that might have been better with a chocolate ice cream base, but uses the vanilla ice cream to completely carry the Butterfinger flavor throughout it.

For other Edy's ice creams, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Mint Brownie Ice Cream
Outshine Grapefruit Bars
How I Love Thee Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream

7/10

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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sunday, August 9, 2015

Spoiler-Free Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation!


The Good: Decent performances, Good pacing, Engaging plot
The Bad: Very low on character development, Predictable plot reversals
The Basics: Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is fun, but hardly surprising and not at all a character-driven film.


In most major movie franchises, the work gets to the point where viewers can legitimately say, "You've seen one, you've seen them all." The James Bond franchise is an excellent example in that regard and there are several outings in the franchise that feel more like a parody of themselves, as opposed to legitimate outings. The Mission: Impossible franchise has been a pretty rocky one, but after truly being thrilled by Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (reviewed here!), I actually found myself getting excited about the latest installment, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (despite the big action sequences being ruined by the film's trailer!). And, for a fun summer popcorn movie, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation does all that it is supposed to.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is not to the eye-rolling point where viewers are likely to feel they have seen the whole film before (especially the beginning), but for veterans of the franchise the reversals are beginning to get far more telegraphed. And that is the real missed opportunity of Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation: this installment has a formidable villain, but it is limited to the conventions of the genre, as opposed to exploring the unique aspects of the story. So, much the way Die Another Day (reviewed here!) did an inadequate job of exploring the effects of a shellshocked Bond, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation does not actually explore how Ethan Hunt squaring off with - essentially - his equal and opposite, affects the character.

Following a mission to Belarus where Ethan Hunt manages to intercept a shipment of biological weapons, the Impossible Missions Force is disbanded by its Senate oversight board. Hunt's attempt to make it to a London safehouse puts him in the crosshairs of a dangerous individual who plans to have him tortured for information. But the interrogation is quick as Hunt is rescued by a woman he does not know and manages to escape, while she remains behind to infiltrate the Syndicate. With the IMF shut down by the Director of the CIA, Hunley, Brandt and Benji Dunn are assimilated into the CIA while Hunt goes on the run to try to investigate the Syndicate himself.

Six months later, the CIA sends a team to Havana to apprehend Hunt (whom they believe is there) and they find what he wanted them to; his assembled information on the Syndicate, which is an intelligence agency made up entirely of international intelligence agents who appear to have died in the line of duty on prior missions. Hunt enlists Benji to help him identify the leader of the Syndicate in Austria, but the mission goes horribly wrong. Soon, Hunt, Benji, and the Syndicate double agent Ilsa Faust are on the run from both the Syndicate and the CIA.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is fast-paced and engaging despite the reversals that are pretty predictable. If it's Mission: Impossible, at some point, one of the characters will be revealed to be someone else wearing a high-tech mask. In this regard, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is par for the course. And there are the chases. They are good, but the menace is telegraphed and the chases are pretty average.

The performances in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation are good, but most of them are hardly exceptional. In fact, the best one is the performance by Sean Harris. Harris plays the villainous Solomon Lane and he is so good with his controlled body language and tone of quiet menace that he was utterly unrecognizable as the same actor who played Fifield in Prometheus (reviewed here!). His performance elevates what we expect from the villain and while Tom Cruise does some fairly impressive stunts in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, Cruise's performance is bland by comparison. In fact, Cruise is stuck characterizing Lane as impressive more than he makes Hunt the equal of the adversary.

Ultimately, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is all right and it is entertaining, but it is not much more than that.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
Dragon Blade
Fantastic 4
Jenny's Wedding
Ant-Man
Lila & Eve
Minions
Inside Out
Jurassic World

6.5/10

For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for a listing of all the films I have reviewed, from Best To Worst!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Immortalized Classic: The 2015 Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman Hallmark Ornament Is Neat!


The Good: Good sculpt, Decent balance, Good sound effect, Good general coloring
The Bad: Somewhat animated look, Seams at arms
The Basics: The 2015 Hallmark Keepsake “Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman” does justice to the classic 1970s icon version from Wonder Woman and makes for a generally good ornament.


A few weeks ago, actress Lynda Carter who played Diana Prince and Wonder Woman in the mid-'70s television show Wonder Woman turned 64. Right up front, I think it is worth noting that if the director of the new Wonder Woman film does not offer Lynda Carter the role of Hippolyta, then there really is no hope for the DC Cinematic Universe. And, while Lynda Carter is an impressive actress and great musical performer, it bears saying, "Damn! I hope I look that good at . . . well, ever!" For the 40th Anniversary of the first episode of Wonder Woman, Hallmark is releasing the “Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman” Wonder Woman ornament and it is pretty awesome.

For those unfamiliar with the television series Wonder Woman (reviewed here!), it is a problematically split series. The first season takes place during World War II, while the second and third seasons take a narrative leap up into the mid-1970s and has some trouble credibly redefining itself. All the while, Lynda Carter plays the immortal Amazon princess Diana and her alter-ego super-hero Wonder Woman!

It is Wonder Woman with her bullet-deflecting bracelets raised, standing on a base that is the iconic Wonder Woman W's that is the subject of the “Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman” Wonder Woman ornament.

Basics

The “Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman” Wonder Woman ornament faithfully presents the Lynda Carter version of Wonder Woman, the iconic DC super heroine in her red, white, blue and gold outfit. The facial sculpt is clearly intended to be Lynda Carter and it looks like her in the role of Princess Diana as Wonder Woman. The ornament features Wonder Woman with her fists raised, looking like she is ready to deflect bullets, while her Lasso Of Truth hangs from her right hip.

The ornament, released in 2015, is a decent size, but not flawless. The sculpt looks quite good, but has an assembled quality to it (specifically in the arms where there is a deep, unsightly seam on all the copies of this ornament that I found). The hair is sculpted to look like hair (with texture to it) and it succeeds, despite being big-70's hair that goes up and behind Wonder Woman's iconic tiara. But then, the coloring is terribly simplistic. Measuring four and one-half inches tall by two one-half inches wide and one and three-quarters inches deep, the “Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman” Wonder Woman ornament is one of only three DC super hero-based ornaments released by Hallmark for 2015. “Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman” Wonder Woman came with an original retail price of $17.95 and it is very fairly priced at the original issue price.

The Hallmark “Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman” Wonder Woman ornament is made of durable plastic. Wonder Woman's costume is colored in matte red, white, blue and yellow (not quite the foil gold of the actual costume). She is well-built including some muscle definition in the arms and legs. “Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman” has Wonder Woman standing on a yellow and brown Wonder Woman symbol, which is familiar to fans of the television series. Hallmark even took the time to make the high heeled boots accurately sculpted!

As for the rest of “Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman” Wonder Woman, she looks like an animated character. Her coloring for the skin tones are monotonal and bland. Her eyes are matte colored and lack the zest for life Carter brought to the role, which admittedly is hard to bring out in something this scale that is so mass-produced. Hallmark did, however, get Carter's bright red lips perfectly colored!

Features

As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, the “Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman” Wonder Woman ornament could have a sound and light function, but because there is no iconic light effect for Wonder Woman, Hallmark smartly limited the ornament to a sound clip. When the button on the base is pressed, the ornament plays a sound clip from Wonder Woman. The base is, essentially, a speaker and it plays the opening theme to the television show Wonder Woman, which remains pretty funky even today. The sound is loud enough to be easily heard and the ornament comes with the batteries needed to operate the sound clip.

Balance

As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake “Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman” Wonder Woman ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate super hero Christmas Tree, the “Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman” Wonder Woman ornament is pretty much essential. The ornament has the standard brass hook loop embedded into the top of Wonder Woman's head. As a result, the ornament, when affixed to a tree with a hook, hangs well balanced from that loop. The loop is fairly obvious, but does not distract from the overall look of the ornament. Hung in this fashion, she looks like she is ready to fight crime!

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 “Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman” Wonder Woman ornament was not an exceptional commercial draw its first two weeks, but seems to be a hit or miss seller at the Hallmarks I have visited. As a result, I think it is a fair bet that the ornament will maintain its value, even if it does not become an impressive investment piece.

Overview

Fans of Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter and DC comics characters are likely to be generally happy with the “Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman” ornament, even if it does not match the younger generation's expectation of the version of Wonder Woman currently being marketed by DC and Warner Brothers.

For other DC Universe Hallmark ornaments, please check out my reviews of:
2014 Bane The Dark Knight Rises (Limited Edition)
2014 1989 Batmobile
2014 Defender Of Mankind Superman
2013 Man Of Steel
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

8/10

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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Friday, August 7, 2015

Nitpick Free Fantastic 4


The Good: Decent effects, Good set-up, Most of the performances
The Bad: Plot/character progression
The Basics: Fantastic 4 gets a reboot that has been taking flack . . . which is largely undeserved until the film's latter portion.


When it comes to super hero films, the market has been pretty well saturated the last few years. With the monumental success of The Avengers (reviewed here!), it is understandable for studios to want to try to replicate the financial success of movies like that. But from a fan perspective, it is hard not to feel burned out. The plots have become formulaic, the characters have very minimal differences and in team scenarios, they tend to fall into "types" pretty fast. So, when a studio works to reinvigorate one of the fallen franchises, it is unsurprising that there would be some blowback.

In the case of Fantastic 4, the production and hype has been an uphill battle. Fantastic 4 is struggling to reboot the franchise that was killed by Fantastic Four (reviewed here!) and Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer (reviewed here!). Fox invested quite a bit of money in one of the most lucrative (at the time) comic book franchises with its attempt at Fantastic Four. That it was not the box office knockout Fox wanted was hard to swallow and given that they had invested money in the rights, it made a lot of sense (from a business perspective) to make Fantastic 4. So much has been said about Fantastic 4 and how it stacks up against the comic books and people's perceptions that I decided to make a bitch-free review of Fantastic 4. As someone who was not a reader of Fantastic Four, I felt that gave me the ability to write a pretty pure review of the film and I managed to avoid all spoilers and previews of the film.

Going in with low expectations, what instantly impressed me about Fantastic 4 was that there was a sense of philosophy to it. While others have devoted a lot of time kvetching about how Johnny and Sue Storm are adopted brother and sister in Fantastic 4, it is hard to take such whining seriously when the writers spend so much time on Dr. Franklin Storm (their adopted father) in the first part of the film. The writers covered their bases in establishing the Storm pater's commitment to science and the way he has recruited for his projects at the Baxter Foundation. Dr. Storm openly acknowledges that his generation made some big mistakes that have left the world ruined (say what you will about the Millennials, they weren't the ones who created the hole in the ozone layer or the immense wealth disparity that resulted from the destruction of the middle class!) and that it will take applied young minds working together to solve those problems. Thematically, there is a lot in common between Fantastic 4 and Iron Man (reviewed here!) and the result is not terrible.

Opening in Oyster Bay, New York 2007, Reed Richards does a report in elementary school explaining how he wants to create a usable teleporter. He properly meets Ben Grimm when he tries to steal a power converter from Grimm's family junkyard. Years later, Richards attempts the same experiment with his (and Grimm's) more refined teleporter. While it does not go very well, it is enough to get the attention of Dr. Franklin Storm of the Baxter Foundation. Storm recruits Reed to the Baxter Foundation to work on their teleportation project. There, Reed Richards is told by Sue Storm that Richards actually punched a hole into another dimension with his teleportation project and the Baxter Foundation is building up to a mission to that other dimension. With the help of Dr. Victor Von Doom (who started the project independent of Richards years before) and Johnny Storm (who is a mechanical genius), the Baxter Foundation successfully creates the interdimensional teleporter and sends a test monkey there and back again.

When the government gets involved in the project and wants to turn the teleporter over to NASA for a proper manned mission, Reed Richards gets drunk with Von Doom and suggests that they go before NASA can take over. Contacting Grimm, Richards, Johnny Storm and Victor Von Doom hijack the teleporter and go over into the alternate dimension. Disaster strikes in the other dimension when the team discovers a crater with an energy (or fluid, it's not entirely clear) that reacts to the presence of the human invaders. Victor Von Doom is lost there, but Sue manages to rescue the other three. Unfortunately, the team that returns is mutated and taken to Area 57 for examination by the military. Reed Richards is stretched, Johnny Storm is trapped in a state of being engulfed in flames, Grimm has turned into a giant rock-covered creature and Sue (who was splattered with matter from the other dimension) keeps flashing in and out of the visual spectrum. After a year of training, Grimm and the Storms have managed to use their powers to aid the military, while Richards has gone on the run. The military wants to figure out how to cure the four and weaponize their powers to benefit the military, while Reed just wants to help people, most notably his friends. When Richards is returned to the Baxter Foundation, they recover Von Doom - who is still alive - and his transformation convinces Richards that the alternate dimension must not be accessed by the military.

Right off the bat, what is easily the most impressive aspect of Fantastic 4 is the acting of Miles Teller. Teller plays Reed Richards and before this project, I had mostly seen Teller in roles where he played a redneck, like Footloose (reviewed here!). It's a pretty huge leap to go from a role like that to being one of the smartest characters in the Marvel Universe. While Teller is not given the diction needed to truly sell it (that's a writing problem, not an acting one!), he credibly plays the scientific and precise Reed Richards. In fact, his posture and bearing and the way he projects a sense of confidence, is entirely different in the role of Richards than anything he has been in before.

The rest of the performances in Fantastic 4 are largely the subject of good casting. Kate Mara picks up the mantle of Sue Storm and her experience on House Of Cards (season one is reviewed here!) makes her casting ideal. Mara has the ability to emote well opposite blank screens (on House Of Cards, it was smartphones, here is it monitors and bluescreens) and that ability to control her face and eyes. That helps her characterize Sue as a cerebral character whose real ability is pattern recognition.

Similarly, Reg E. Cathey's role as Dr. Franklin Storm allows Fantastic 4 to have a level of instant credibility. Cathey finds the right balance between emotionally realized and paternal and intellectually curious. The rest of the cast is adequate, but not exceptional. Tim Blake Nelson does not have the screen presence as the suit who starts using the Baxter project for the military to be completely credible. Jamie Bell, Michael B. Jordan and Toby Kebbell are not Andy Serkis and director Josh Trank is not using them the way Peter Jackson used Serkis and special effects. While Trank does an excellent job of not overwhelming Miles Teller with special effects (for the most part), Bell, Jordan and Kebbell are eventually overwritten entirely by the CG needed to embody their characters.

Ultimately, the problems that arise in Fantastic 4 come almost exclusively from conformity to the established material (which is ironic given that most people's issues are with how the film diverges from it). In making Fantastic 4, the writers and director are trapped with their perception that Sue, Johnny, Ben and Reed have to end up as the heroes, opposite Von Doom as the villain. As a result, they create an unfortunately typical super hero film that unites the four against Von Doom to save the Earth.

But, the problem is that that dialectic does not at all fit the story being told. Fantastic 4 has a very natural progression up until the moment Victor Von Doom is "rescued" from the alternate dimension (where he has been living contendedly enough over the year since the accident). At that point, Von Doom begins a ridiculous attack on Earth that is utterly uncharacteristic. The writers are stuck trying to make Von Doom conform an the result is as inorganic as the Romulan villains in Star Trek: Nemesis (reviewed here!) and Star Trek (reviewed here!). In Star Trek: Nemesis, Shinzon is tortured for years by Romulans and allies himself with the Remans . . . so it is entirely inorganic for the character to have a beef against the Federation (the writers concocted a ridiculous reason to have him go after Picard) as opposed to attack Romulus. Similarly, in Star Trek, Nero is tortured by Klingons for decades and had the desire only to save his homeworld, so the fact that he doesn't lay waste to the Klingon Empire and save Romulus, as opposed to going off on a half-assed mission of revenge against Spock plays as just stupid (the writers of the Star Trek franchise have, apparently, forgotten how to make a compelling film where the heroes come to the aid of another group of people who are not human). To bring the point around, the writers of Fantastic 4 get trapped with a similar problem based on how they began the movie.

Fantastic 4 has a completely sensible ending based on where and how the story begins. It is that after Reed Richards is betrayed by Sue and Ben and returned to the Baxter Foundation, Richards either destroys the interdimensional device (which cuts Von Doom out entirely) or he is compelled to help rebuild the machine, the military sends its team over and recovers Von Doom and Reed Richards and Victor Von Doom work together to return Von Doom to the alternate dimension and then destroy the device. Instead, Victor Von Doom in Fantastic 4 begins a half-assed attack on Earth from his adopted planet in the alternate dimension. This makes no real sense as Von Doom just wants to be left alone and get away from the Earth that humans have ruined. Reed Richards and Victor Von Doom actually have the same goal and with about thirty seconds worth of conversation could have worked together to achieve that goal.

The problem, of course, is that would fundamentally redefine the Fantastic Four. It's the three on two and it's a harder story to resolve than the two geniuses working together to stop the military and protect an alien planet. The three writers on Fantastic 4 seriously could not figure out a way to make that work?! But, in truth, that's the only real problem with Fantastic 4. It's going along doing its own thing surprisingly well when all of a sudden, it takes a nonsense turn toward the conventional to be like virtually every other super hero film and that's when the film just falls apart.

While it never becomes truly as terrible as the prior two outings, though the need to fit in the line "It's clobberin' time!" comes close, Fantastic 4 is mostly just guilty of not living up to its potential. It is set up as a complicated and surprisingly smart and aware story that degenerates into the obvious conceits of the genre instead of telling its own, unique, story.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
Dragon Blade
Jenny's Wedding
Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
Ant-Man
Lila & Eve
Minions
No Way Jose
Terminator Genisys
Inside Out
Jurassic World

5.5/10

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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Monday, August 3, 2015

Less Intense = Less Effective: Listerine Zero Mouthwash


The Good: Mint flavore freshens breath.
The Bad: Demonstrably ineffective, Comparatively expensive
The Basics: Virtually worthless, Clean Mint Listerine Zero is an expensive, less effective version of Scope.


I am a pretty big fan of Listerine. I'm cheap and I lost my dental insurance, so to keep my mouth clean and fresh, I use mouthwash and Listerine is easily the best. So, when I saw that Listering Zero Clean Mint mouthwash was on clearance at my local grocery store, I bought it all up. I wish now that I had tried it first! Never have I experienced a dud product from Listerine the way I have with the Clean Mint Listerine Zero mouthwash.

Listerine Zero is a liquid that comes in Clean Mint flavor and is designed to help prevent cavities, restore enamel to teeth, strengthen teeth, kill bad breath germs, freshen breath, and fight plaque above the gumline, without alcohol. Presumably, this makes it safer for children and alcoholics to use. The Liter size lasts about a month, but it is not likely to do much for the consumer to prevent cavities, restore enamel or strengthen teeth, because it barely works to freshen breath. Who would have guessed? Alcohol is a key element for killing all the crap that sprouts up in one's mouth!

Listerine Zero is a light pale green liquid that comes in a clear plastic bottle. The Liter bottle is enough for about a month of daily use for two people. The black cap is tamper and child-resistant as it has a plastic seal and the cap itself must be squeezed on both sides to be twisted open. This prevents children - who have less gripping ability - from getting into the bottle and drinking this liquid as if it were a beverage. The Listerine Zero Clean Mint is a watery liquid with no leg that is designed to be swished in the consumer's mouth, gargled at the back of their throat and then spat out.

To use, simply twist open the cap, fill it with the solution and then tip the cap into your mouth. Unfortunately, nothing happens then. This mouthwash does not cause a tingle or anything to happen in the mouth. It barely freshens breath and when it enters the mouth, there is nothing but a vaguely minty flavor and no bite of any kind.

Spitting the rinse solution out leaves the mouth feeling only vaguely clean. The mint flavor is not terribly strong and it does not do much other than cover the causes of bad breath, as opposed to killing them. Unlike other Listerine products, I could see no demonstrable benefits from this mouthwash. It did not cut through plaque, did not seem to kill germs and it barely freshened breath. In other words, it did essentially what Scope does, but for an increased price and without doing it quite as well.

For other mouthwashes, please check out my reviews of:
Listerine Whitening Vibrant White Clean Mint
Listerine Fresh Mint Total Care
Crest Whitening Rinse

1/10

For other health and beauty products, please visit my Health And Beauty Review Index Page!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sunday, August 2, 2015

It's Not GARBAGE! But Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 1 Is More Mediocre Than Spectacular.


The Good: Some funny lines, Generally decent performances, Interesting plot progression
The Bad: A TON of recycled ideas, Derivative performances, Concept overwhelms the characters
The Basics: In its first season, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt sells itself adequately, but leaves very little room for the future.


Whenever I sit down to review a television series, I work very hard to rate it solely on the work itself, not on how it compares to other works by the same creators. With the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, I found that to be virtually impossible as the problems with the show are almost exclusively the result of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock's prior work, 30 Rock (reviewed here!). But, the truth is, the problems with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt come from the fact that it utilizes its cast in a virtually identical way to 30 Rock and has a similar patter and progression as Fey's prior endeavor (it makes sense; she was writer, executive producer and star of 30 Rock).

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 1 is a thirteen episode season released on Netflix (and, given its awards nomination, NBC has got to be kicking itself for letting it go there!) and while I found it, ultimately, to be fairly average, my wife had a very different perspective. While I looked at Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt strictly from a funny and analytical perspective, my wife pointed out that the show is unique in that it provides a perspective not usually shown on television. Kimmy Schmidt is, essentially, a survivor and the fish-out-of-water quality she possesses is something that is not commonly shown on television. In that way, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt does a decent job of showing something new; but in many other ways (specifically, to fans of 30 Rock) it is a repetition of what Fey has put out before.

On the outskirts of Durnsville, Indiana, a subterranean bunker is raided by the F.B.I. Inside, they find four women and the cult leader who had imprisoned them in the bunker for the prior fifteen years. The survivors are thrown out into the world and with her (partial) middle school Kimmy Schmidt decides to remain in New York City to start her adult life. In short order, Kimmy finds a place to live and a job. She starts living in a basement apartment (barely a closet) with street performer Titus Andromedon and she starts working for the wealthy Jacqueline Voorhees. Determined to pretend to be normal, Kimmy tries to keep her history secret, but has to confide in Titus when her backpack (with her money) gets stolen out of the club they go to.

While trying to help Titus get a legitimate acting gig (by helping him get new headshots taken), Kimmy acts as a nanny for Jacqueline's son, Buckley, and works to keep her past history secret from Jacqueline's step-daughter, Xanthippe (who is suspicious of her). As Jacqueline's marriage falls apart, Kimmy tries to empower her and she begins taking G.E.D. classes, where she tries to inspire her fellow students.

In the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (which might well have the most infectious opening theme song ever!), the primary characters are:

Kimmy Schmidt - A naive young woman from Indiana, she ends up in New York City after her fellow cult prisoners are released from the bunker and interviewed on a national morning show. Armed with cash that was given to the survivors, she takes a closet apartment with Titus and tries to get him to follow his acting dreams. She takes a G.E.D. course and she meets two guys, including her fellow student Dong, are interested in her. She is optimistic, but uses outdated cultural references, which makes Xanthippe suspicious. When the cult leader, Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, goes on trial, Kimmy has to return to the bunker to find the evidence needed to get the conviction against him,

Titus Andromedon - An effeminate gay man who has worked as a street performer as an off-brand Iron Man. He supports Kimmy's secret and tries to trade in the suit to get new head shots. He immediately identifies Gretchen's fiance as a closeted gay man and he becomes morbidly fascinated with the court case as it picks up,

Jacqueline Voorhees - The socialite wife of a millionaire businessman, she neglects her children and is a parody of the not-suffering New York City housewife. When her husband is caught cheating on her (but not with the woman she thought!), she considers divorce and is talked into it by Kimmy (compound interest!). She has a secret Native American past that she has kept from everyone,

Lillian Kaushtupper - Titus and Kimmy's drug-addled slumlord. She accompanies Titus to a funeral for someone Titus did not actually know (when he tries to hide that he has money from her),

Gretchen - Another one of the women imprisoned in the doomsday bunker by "Reverend" Wayne, she is given a number of benefits after the women are released, including the crush she had before she was imprisoned. Despite him being gay, Gretchen is eager to live her dreams and is worried when Kimmy does not immediately come back to Indiana for Wayne's trial,

and Xanthippe - Jacqueline's stepdaughter, she is an angsty teen who has a very different persona with her friends than at home (she actually is a pretty decent student and does not take drugs like her friends). She is suspicious of Kimmy and Kimmy becomes suspicious of her when she realizes some of Xanthippe's excuses are from one of the books Kimmy had in the bunker with her!

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is funny, but very average. The best performances of the season come exclusively from lead Ellie Kemper. Kemper's Kimmy Schmidt is almost exclusively played as enthusiastic and wide-eyed excited and Kemper nails it in every scene. She perfectly embodies a woman stepping out into a world that she does not know at all.

That is not to say that Jane Krakowski (Jacqueline) and Tituss Burgess (Titus) are bad, but they're playing what they've already done before. Krakowski is, yet again, playing an ego-centric dimwit which she played on both Ally McBeal (reviewed here!) and 30 Rock. She's hit the niche before and mastered it. She shows us nothing new in the first season on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Tina Fey has typecast her. In a similar way, while Tituss Burgess has a fun role in the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Titus is virtually identical in performance requirements to D'Fwan (Burgess's character on 30 Rock). Titus and D'Fwan would be a huge acting challenge for a masculine heterosexual who can't sing; Burgess is playing an effeminate, openly gay, theater performer . . . two out of the three of those are the function of simple casting (Burgess is not particularly effeminate or over-the-top in his performances like his character!). In other words, Burgess is playing the same part as he did in his television breakout role.

I cannot think of a show I have watched as much before reviewing as the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I've watched all thirteen episodes four times now and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt manages to hold up over multiple viewings. It is a fun collection of lines and the protagonist is generally enjoyable to watch. But Tina Fey's guest performance at the end of the season is solid schtick and the writing feels like jokes that just wouldn't have fit - from the context - on 30 Rock. Is it fun to hear Fey's jokes about pop-culture elements from the turn-of-the-Millennium? Sure. I'm still waiting for the Austin Powers reference and the fact that it didn't come in the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt gives us something to look forward to in the second season. Strangely, after watching the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt so many times, it's really the only thing . . .

For other works from the 2014 – 2015 television season, please check out my reviews of:
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 2
The Flash - Season 1
Orange Is The New Black - Season 3
Sense8 - Season 1
Grace And Frankie - Season 1
Agent Carter - Season 1
Daredevil - Season 1
The Newsroom - Season 3
House Of Cards - Season 3
Doctor Who - Season 8
True Blood - Season 7
The Walking Dead - Season 5

5/10

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

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