Monday, February 19, 2018

"Here I Go Again" Moves Beyond References Into Something Wonderful!


The Good: Wonderful performances, Interesting character explorations, Good direction, Decent plot twist near the end, Good balance of humor and heart
The Bad: Somewhat derivative plot
The Basics: "Here I Go Again" plays the time loop conceit on Legends Of Tomorrow . . . surprisingly well!


Legends Of Tomorrow is having a third season that is made more weird than by its air schedule. The show has had two essential characters depart, a new character added, the brief return of an alternate-universe version of Leonard Snart, and the return of one of the most familiar villains in the franchise as support for the season's primary villain. "Daddy Darhkest" found Sara Lance starting to explore feelings for Ava Sharpe, despite having a fling with John Constantine. Throughout this season, the show has not had a lot of time to explore and grow the new character of Zari Tomaz. The attempt to rectify that is made in "Here I Go Again."

"Here I Go Again" follows on "Daddy Darhkest" (reviewed here!), which had Mallus tormenting Damien Darhk's daughter. "Here I Go Again" also begins with the Legends Of Tomorrow now having a quest of their own; Mallus appears vulnerable to the totems used by Amaya Jiwe, Zari Tomaz and Kuasa.

Zari Tomaz is attempting to alter Gideon's programming when the rest of the Legends return to the Waverider. While checking the results of the mission, Gideon crashes and Sara Lance gets furious with Tomaz. Zari indicates she is trying to hack time to alter the flow of history to prevent her Earth from becoming a dystopia and when she tries to fix the Waverider, it blows up. Time reboots and Tomaz is frustrated and confused by returning to a conversation in which Lance gives her a dressing down. Within an hour from the conversation, the Waverider explodes and Tomaz is thrown back in time.

As one of the loops progresses, Dr. Heywood tells Tomaz about Groundhog Day and the next time through, Tomaz hunts down Heywood and enlists his aid. Together the two try to figure out who might have blown up the Waverider and why.

Despite the allusions to Groundhog Day, "Here I Go Again" plays much like the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Cause And Effect" (reviewed here!) on the plot front. "Here I Go Again" is fun and there is a lot of joy in the moment when Ray Palmer actually references the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode.

More than simply being a plot conceit, "Here I Go Again" uses the repeating time loop to explore the characters of Legends Of Tomorrow and Tomaz especially. Zari Tomaz came from a dark and miserable place and has not truly integrated with the crew. So, putting her at the core of the conflict where she has to try to win the trust of her teammates and save the day is interesting.

Tala Ashe has a chance to truly shine in "Here I Go Again" and she runs with the opportunity. While it is hard not to see Tala Ashe when she is used as windowdressing, to fill a niche to make viewers think of Morena Baccarin, "Here I Go Again" allows her to step out with an incredibly diverse performance. Ashe gets to play heavily dramatic, incredibly funny and wonderfully earnest at various points in "Here I Go Again" and she rises to the occasion each and every time. Ashe's performance is matched by Dominic Purcell's wonderful deadpan and the best on-screen sexual chemistry between Maisie Richardson-Sellers and Nick Zano.

More than simply a rehashing of Groundhog Day or "Cause And Effect," "Here I Go Again" races to a surprising, clever and original climax. Director Ben Hernandez Bray makes "Here I Go Again" feel fresh and original and some of the editing telegraphs the end, but that only makes the episode feel smarter and better-constructed than it originally does.

The result is one of the best episodes of Legends Of Tomorrow.

9/10

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

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Intriguing, But Not Indispensible, Lindt Red Velvet White Chocolate Lindor Truffles Are Fun!


The Good: Good white chocolate flavor, Generally decent ingredients
The Bad: Not the most distinct flavor, Limited edition nature makes them hard to find/potentially expensive
The Basics: The Lindt Red Velvet White Chocolate Lindor truffles are an interesting Valentine's Day exclusive truffle that shake things up for those who love white chocolate.


"Red Velvet" seems to rapidly be becoming one of those trendy flavors that products are produced with the coloring and name in mind, as opposed to the actual flavor. Red velvet cakes seem to have a wide variety of recipes, but the most consistent seem to be cakes that have a high cinnamon content and I most frequently find them with cream cheese style frostings. In that fashion, Lindt Red Velvet White Chocolate Lindor Truffles manage to live up on more than just the coloring front. But next to an actual red velvet cake, these truffles are comparatively mild.

Basics

Lindt Lindor Red Velvet White Chocolate truffles are one of the newest chocolate truffles from the Swiss chocolatiers Lindt & Sprungli and their U.S.-based subsidiary. Each truffle is a one inch sphere of white chocolate with a shell about an eighth of an inch thick. This shell covers a thick red-brown chocolate and cinnamon flavored ganache ball inside. Each of the truffles comes individually wrapped in a dark maroon foil wrapper, which is very easy to distinguish from other Lindt Lindor truffles. While I usually rail against the environmental impact of individually-wrapped candies, it is hard to imagine Lindt Lindor truffles not wrapped. This keeps each one clean, unmelted and intact.

Each Lindor Truffle is a sphere with a seam at the hemisphere that is essentially a white chocolate globe sealing in a soft creamy ball inside. Currently sold individually (at approximately $.75/ea), by the pound or in various-sized limited edition packs outside the Lindt retail stores, Red Velvet White Chocolate Lindor truffles are a seasonally-available truffle.

Ease of Preparation

These are candy, so preparing them is as simple as unwrapping the foil wrapper around the actual chocolate truffles. There is no special way to unwrap or eat Lindt Lindor Red Velvet White Chocolate truffles; it's not like baking a red velvet cake from scratch!

Taste

Opening the wrapper from the Red Velvet White Chocolate truffles, the strong, creamy scent of white chocolate bursts forth from the wrapper. The aroma of white chocolate is very inviting for anyone who loves that style of chocolate. The bouquet of the Red Velvet White Chocolate does not hint at anything more than white chocolate.

The white chocolate coating of the Red Velvet White Chocolate truffles is thick, sweet and creamy without being at all waxy. The strength of the white chocolate overwhelms even the hint at any other flavor hiding inside. As the white chocolate melts away, there is a flavor much like cream cheese that comes to the forefront. As that flavor transitions, the Red Velvet White Chocolate truffles take on a more cinnamon flavor. The cinnamon and mild chocolate flavor finish the truffle well, but the white chocolate definitely dominates the flavor of these truffles.

The Red Velvet White Chocolate lindor truffles leaves a creamy aftertaste in the mouth, which endures for several minutes after the last truffle is consumed.

Nutrition

The Red Velvet White Chocolate Lindt Lindor truffles are candy, so it is tough to look at these for something nutritious and then blame them for not being healthy. Lindt Lindor truffles are made of good ingredients, which is probably why they are so expensive. The primary ingredients are white chocolate, vegetable oil and sugar. There is nothing unpronounceable in these candies, which is something I have come to expect from Lindt.

A serving of the Lindt Lindor Red Velvet White Chocolate truffles is three truffles. From a single serving, one consumes 220 calories, 17 grams of fat. There are twenty-five milligrams of Sodium and 5 mg cholesterol in these truffles. This flavor is devoid of any vitamins. There are two grams of protein, 65 mg Calcium (6% RDA), 85 mg Potassium (2% RDA) in each serving.

Honestly, these are candy and anyone looking to them for actual nutrition needs to get a reality check. These are not Vegan-compliant, nor are they recommended for anyone with a nut allergy as they are produced on the same equipment that peanuts (and tree nuts) pass over. They are marked as kosher (dairy), but not gluten-free.

Storage/Clean-up

The Lindt Lindor Red Velvet White Chocolate truffles remain fresh for quite some time. However, they ought to be kept in a cool environment between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Kept in such an environment, the truffles we bought a couple of days ago would have lasted until August 31, 2018.

As for cleanup, throw the wrappers in the garbage and that is all of the cleanup needed! Outside that, there is no real cleanup needed, unless one is eating them in a hot environment. In that case, it is likely one would need to wash their hands. If these truffles melt into most fabrics, they will stain. For that style of clean-up, be sure to consult a fabric guide for whatever you stained.

Overall

The Lindt Red Velvet White Chocolate Lindor Truffles are flavorful and interesting, though it is hardly a flavor I'd hunt down as vigorously as some of the other Lindt seasonal truffles!

For other Lindt treats, please check out my reviews of:
Extra Dark Peppermint Lindor Truffles
Intense Orange Dark Chocolate Squares
70% Cocoa Almond Brittle Chocolate Bars

5/10

For other food reviews, please check out my Food Review Index Page!

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Lackluster Love: Phantom Thread Blends Boredom And Beauty


The Good: Decent performances and cinematography
The Bad: Pacing, Dull characters, Virtually plotless, Flaccid characters
The Basics: P.T. Anderson disappoints with Phantom Thread.


In the ten days since I saw Phantom Thread, I have been trying to muster up the enthusiasm to write about the cinematic experience. I love the works of writer/director P.T. Anderson. Indeed, in my life full of experiences, one of my most enjoyable memories of an event I attended was a screening with Anderson at which I had a chance to stump the artist with an insightful question and meet him. Ever since Magnolia (reviewed here!), I have been a loyal devotee of P.T. Anderson's works. So, after weeks of trying to find a movie theater within 200 miles playing Anderson's latest, Phantom Thread, I was particularly excited when it was playing at a theater a block away from the hotel I was staying on my recent business trip. My first night on the road, I eagerly went to see Phantom Thread.

And, wow, was I disappointed.

Phantom Thread is no Magnolia. It's no Punch-Drunk Love (reviewed here!) even. The comparison between Punch-Drunk Love and Phantom Thread is an important one; Punch-Drunk Love featured two characters - one in deep emotional pain, the other who appears to be straitlaced and intensely normal - and the two develop an unlikely romantic relationship that builds to an important moment when the expectations about Emily Watson's character are suddenly and brilliantly subverted. Punch-Drunk Love is complicated, quirky, and artistically-delivered in a way that encourages rewatching. Phantom Thread is just boring. Phantom Thread lacks a spark of intrigue or chemistry between the two protagonists (whereas, in Punch-Drunk Love the important character aspect of the protagonist is clearly laid out - he is a man constantly betrayed who is looking for love and needs the security of someone who will not subvert his trust - and he has impressive chemistry with his romantic partner). Unlike something where there are two people who, on the surface, seem to have nothing in common developing a romance, Phantom Thread is plagued by two characters who have nothing in common, no chemistry, and no real interest in one another insisting that they are in a relationship of some sort (it never appears actually romantic).

Reynolds Woodcock is a fashion designer in London, where he runs an upscale boutique with his sister. His dresses are highly sought-after and he goes for breakfast at a little restaurant where Alma works. Woodcock asks Alma out (though it is phrased more as a demand) and he insists on bringing her back to his fashion house where he uses her as a mannequin to design a new dress. After a series of such moments where Woodcock uses Alma's body as a form for his new works, Alma starts to realize that she is not actually important to Woodcock. So, she poisons him so he will be helpless and is forced to rely upon her, but - of course - as soon as he gets better, he reverts to neglecting her.

And it's 2 hours and ten minutes of Daniel Day-Lewis acting stiff, focused, and unlikable. Day-Lewis is fine playing such an emotionally-distant and, on a moment's notice, angry character, but it seems like a truly weird note to end his acting career on. In a similar way, Vicky Krieps plays Alma well as a woman who is subtly begging for affection - though she is not given enough of a role to sufficiently explain why Alma accepts Woodcock from the beginning to make her character at all compelling. And Lesley Manville makes Cyril weird and authoritative through her performance . . . though the character is not particularly interesting.

P.T. Anderson directs Phantom Thread beautifully, but that does not make the story any more compelling, less boring or worth writing more about.

2.5/10

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

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Lot To Ask From White Chocolate Lovers: Loacker White Wafer Cookies!


The Good: Tastes good, Generally good ingredients
The Bad: Could be a little more affordable, Not at all healthy
The Basics: Loacker White Chocolate wafer cookies are powerfully flavored in a way that anyone who loves white chocolate might enjoy!


I love trying new foods, even when they are not my favorite flavored foods. I am a big fan of dark chocolate and mint, but despite that, I often try things that are milk chocolate or white chocolate. I was pretty psyched when a recent food box my wife picked up for me included Loacker White wafer cookies. While she might like white chocolate more than I do, I can easily recognize the quality of the Loacker White cookies!

Basics

Loacker is an Italian food manufacturer that has begun importing to the U.S. to grow their brand here. The Loacker White Chocolate wafer cookies are individually-wrapped wafer wafer cookies and they are good, though they are not the most environmentally friendly.

Each 55 gram Loacker wafer cookie is a single bar-style wafer cookie approximately 3 1/2” long and 3 1/4” wide and 3/8" thick. The White Chocolate wafer cookies come in a 1.94 oz. package with a bar that has six segments.

Ease Of Preparation

Eating Loacker White Chocolate wafer cookies is not a real challenge, simply unwrap the wafer cookie, which is pretty much like a candy bar, and consume. When you have a wafer cookie out, all you have to do is stick it in your mouth and chew; there is nothing complicated or foreign about eating these wafer cookies.

Taste

Opening the individual wrap around the Loacker White Chocolate wafer cookies reveals a strong, surprisingly nutty scent. There is almost no chocolate scent to these wafer cookie bars, but there is a weird, faint peanut scent to the cookies.

The Loacker White Chocolate wafer cookies are very sweet and creamy. The white chocolate is potent and instantly recognizable. The crispy wafer cookie inside the chocolate shell is more of a texture as opposed to a flavor, but it is delightful. The white chocolate flavor is strong and dominates these cookies in a pleasant way.

There is no real aftertaste to the Loacker White Chocolate wafer cookies.

Nutrition

Loacker White Chocolate wafer cookies are intended as a sweet snack, not a full meal. The full 55 gram wafer cookie bar represents a single serving and they are not at all nutritious. Made primarily of sugar, cocoa butter and whole milk powder, this is not an all-natural food product and these wafer cookies were produced on equipment that forces them to add a disclaimer about almonds, hazelnuts, milk, wheat, gluten and soy.

Loacker White Chocolate wafer cookies have a whopping 310 calories for a single wafer cookie serving, 170 of which are from fat. A full serving represents 65% of one's RDA of saturated fat, though they are very low in cholesterol, with only 10 mg. (3% RDA). As well, they are fairly low in sodium for a wafer cookie, having only 70 mg per serving. They have five grams of protein and only fifteen percent of the RDA of Calcium . . . and no other real nutrients. As one who is working on getting heart-healthy, I wish there had been even a gram of dietary fiber.

Storage/Cleanup

Loacker White Chocolate wafer cookies are easy to care for and clean up. Unopened, they have a pretty short shelf life; I received mine last month and they have an expiration date of the end of February 2018. Kept sealed, I am sure they would have lasted at least that long. As wafer cookies, one need only not shake the package excessively to care for them and wipe away any crumbs after eating them. This is a low-stress food!

Overall

Loacker White Chocolate wafer cookies are good, for anyone who loves white chocolate and is willing to overlook the nutritional detractions of them.

For other reviews of White Chocolate products, please check out:
Ghirardelli Sublime White Cookies Jubilee chocolate bar
Quaker Chewy White Chocolate Chocolate Chip Granola Bars
Reese's White Peanut Butter Cups

5.5/10

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

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Legends Of Tomorrow Returns With The Horror That Is "Daddy Darhkest!"


The Good: Fun plot, Competent performances, Hints of character
The Bad: No exeptional plot, character or acting moments.
The Basics: Legends Of Tomorrow resumes with "Daddy Darhkest" . . . and an appearance by John Constantine!


Well before the third season of Legends Of Tomorrow began, it was well-teased that John Constantine would be making an appearance. As the show picks up for its midseason premiere, that appearance happens. Having not watched Constantine, I was intrigued to see if it would be possible to appreciate the new direction and character. Fortunately, "Daddy Darhkest" begins with a pretty basic primer on Constantine to help viewers ignorant of his show catch right up.

"Daddy Darkest" picks up in the aftermath of "Beebo The God Of War"(reviewed here!), which climaxed with John Constantine appearing on the Waverider. Given that Sara Lance had just encountered Mallus in the spirit world, the explosion of supernatural elements into Legends Of Tomorrow seems organic.

Opening in Star City, 2017, John Constantine enters a hospital where he attempts to perform an exorcism on a little girl. There, he finds out that something evil is hunting Sarah Lance. Constantine arrives on the Waverider where he informs Lance that something evil is coming for her. Lance and her crewmates are able to name the evil: Mallus, which helps Constantine plan his next attempt to exorcize the demon from Emily, who turns out to be a younger version of Nora Darhk. While the others work on the exorcism, Amaya Jiwe fights Kuasa, who comes to defend Emily. When the exorcism goes badly, Snart, Constantine and Lance find themselves teleported to 1969.

With Kuasa frozen and Mick Rory obsessed with watching a live football game, Dr. Heywood, Tomaz, and Palmer try to help Emily so she might not grow up to hate them. In 1969, Mallus reaches out to Lance, but Constantine is able to help her. Snart, however, is captured by the doctors at the asylum. While Lance and Constantine rescue Snart from a lobotomy, in 2017, Palmer and Tomaz take Emily out to coffee. While at Jitters, Mallus takes over the girl. To escape 1969, Constantine summons Mallus into Lance's body. In the spirit realm, Nora and Sara Lance work together to fight the influence of the demon.

John Constantine is surprisingly unobtrusive in the character mix of Legends Of Tomorrow, which is nice. With Jax gone and Dr. Stein dead, finding a new balance in the characters takes a back seat for an episode. Constantine hooks up with Lance, which is fun and the idea that Constantine has the ability to fight a demon like Mallus makes sense given how most of the crew of the Waverider is more scientifically-minded as opposed to guided by magic. The return of Snart to the crew - even in his Earth-X form - is enough of an adjustment for the regular crew.

Every scene that Wentworth Miller is in in "Daddy Darhkest" reminds viewers of how much his presence was missed in the prior season. Miller steals the show as Leo Snart continues to establish himself as a very different version of Snart.

Madeline Arthur is wonderful as the creepy young Nora Darhk/Emily. Her waifish appearance is augmented by a wide-eyed stare that is just plain creepy. At the key moment of "Daddy Darhkest," Arthur plays the part with a sadness that is palpable and it is impressive for such a young actress.

"Daddy Darhkest" allows John Constantine to help the Legends Of Tomorrow define the season's villain better and open up the show to how they might defeat it. Tomaz and Jiwe learn that the totems may be the key to stopping Mallus and there might be more than the five that Jiwe knows about in existence.

Ultimately, "Daddy Darhkest" is a horror episode of Legends Of Tomorrow and it is solid, but lacking in anything superlative. The episode had no great performances, no unstoppable character moments and a plot that is very familiar to anyone who has watched horror movies.

For other DC Television Universe midseason premieres, please visit my reviews of:
"Legion Of The Super-Heroes" - Supergirl
"The Trial Of The Flash" - The Flash
"Supergirl Lives" - Supergirl

5/10

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

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Good Career, Average Ornament: The 2017 Veterinarian Barbie Ornament!


The Good: Good balance, Good sculpt, Affordable
The Bad: Does not look at all like Barbie, Seems a little small for the price
The Basics: The 2017 Veterinarian Barbie Hallmark ornament is all right, but not spectacular.


The 2017 Veterinarian Barbie ornament is one of the last 2017 Barbie ornaments I had yet to review. The ornament is all right, but it is hardly one that will light the world on fire. The Veterinarian Barbie ornament is an ornament of a Barbie doll - this time, a brunette! - dressed in a traditional white lab coat, holding a tiny dog in one arm! This is a Barbie ornament intended to be Barbie at work and it is cool on that front, but it is not one that looks like the distinctive ornament from Mattel.

Basics

The 2017 Veterinarian Barbie ornament is an entirely unique ornament, featuring an incarnation of Barbie that is part of the Occupations line of full-sized Barbie dolls. The ornament was released with an original issue price of $17.95, which is on par with other ornaments in the Barbie line. The 2017 Veterinarian Barbie ornament is 4" tall by 2 5/8" wide by 1 1/4" deep and she is made entirely of hard plastic.

The 2017 Veterinarian Barbie ornament has a purple shirt, covered by a white lab coat, and blue pants. The flats that the Veterinarian Barbie wears are notable for the realism of their sculpt. Similarly, the dog in Barbie's arm is cute and surprisingly healthy-looking for a dog at the vet's. This Barbie's hair is long and black and back in a professional fashion. The sculpt is fairly simple, but the ornament has incredibly well-sculpted details like shoelaces!

The coloring of the Veterinarian Barbie might well be its only serious detraction. The 2017 Veterinarian Barbie is incredibly simple in its coloring. The coloring is done without any subtlety or depth of shading; instead the ornament is colored in decent, if solid, colors.

Features

As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, the Veterinarian Barbie ornament could have a function like a sound chip or light effect, but it does not. This is just the ornament, simple and direct. The dog may not be removed and the doll ornament does not feature articulation.

Balance

As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake 2017 Veterinarian Barbie ornament is that the ornaments will be hung on a Christmas Tree. For those creating the ultimate Barbie Christmas Tree, the Veterinarian Barbie ornament is a cute addition, but the ornament does not quite look like a traditional Barbie. The Veterinarian Barbie has a steel hook loop at the top, center, of her head and from there she hangs with excellent balance.

Collectibility

Hallmark Keepsake began delving into the collectibles market in 1991 with Star Trek when it introduced the exceptionally limited edition original U.S.S. Enterprise ornament (reviewed here!). Since then, they have branched out into every major franchise from Barbie to Gone With The Wind to The Hunger Games. The Veterinarian Barbie ornament was released at the October Ornament Celebration Weekend and it has sold out at most of the Hallmark stores I've been to before the end of the season. So far, though, this ornament has not appreciated at all in the secondary market and it seems like a tough sell for it to.

Overview

The 2017 Veterinarian Barbie ornament is all right, if simple and lacking in any iconic Barbie components.

For other Barbie ornament reviews, please check out:
2017 Lavender Luxe Barbie ornament (Limited Edition)
2017 Holiday Celebration (Black) Barbie ornament
2017 Holiday Celebration (White) Barbie ornament
2017 Dream Date Barbie ornament
2016 Ballet Wishes Barbie ornament
2016 Holiday Celebration Barbie ornament
2016 Soccer Player Barbie ornament
2016 Cherry Pie Picnic Barbie ornament
2016 Picnic Set Ornaments (Limited Edition)
2015 Celebration Barbie (Black)
2015 Barbie Celebration Set (2013/2014 Celebration Barbie)
2012 Barbie Provencale
2012 Brava, Ballerina! Barbie
2012 Holiday Celebration Barbie (Black)
2012 Holiday Celebration Barbie (Caucasian)
2012 Matinee Fashion Barbie - Final In The Series!
2012 Tweed Indeed Barbie
2011 Celebration Barbie (Black)
2011 Campus Sweetheart Barbie
2011 Prima Ballerina Barbie ornament
1996 Enchanted Evening Barbie ornament
1995 Barbie Debut (Brunette) - Club Exclusive
1994 Barbie Debut ornament

6/10

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

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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CBS All Access Asks Fans: "Will You Take My Hand?" Into Star Trek: Discovery's Second Season.


The Good: Speeches exemplify Star Trek values well, Most of the acting is good
The Bad: Terrible characterizations, Awful direction, Simplistic plot, A couple of lousy performances, Continuity issues
The Basics: Star Trek: Discovery completes its first season with "Will You Take My Hand?" and it's a lackluster end to a disappointing first season.


The first major chance Star Trek: Discovery has to make a massive course correction has arrived: it is season finale time! Having spent the weekend with die-hard Trekkers - I was at a wonderful fan-run convention populated by the Star Trek fans who remember watching the original series, supported the boom of Trek during the mid-nineties and have kept fandom and the franchise alive for fifty years - who either refused to watch Star Trek: Discovery because they were not going to pay for CBS All Access or because the first two free episodes completely offended their sensibilities (seriously, CBS - I found ONE person who vocally enjoyed Star Trek: Discovery at a convention attended by thousands!), I was in no real rush to watch the first season finale of Star Trek: Discovery. But, upon returning home, my wife - with hope in her eyes - asked, "Did you watch the season finale while you were on the road?" The look of disappointment in her eyes when I said "no" broke my heart. So, while she's sleeping in today, I'm taking in "Will You Take My Hand?"

"Will You Take My Hand?" is a chance for Star Trek: Discovery to make an attempt to re-steer Star Trek: Discovery toward something more recognizably Star Trek and more in line with Star Trek canon (which would be a virtually impossible task). Instead, the show generally digs itself in deeper with an attitude of "we'll do whatever the hell we want with this show!" "Will You Take My Hand?" picks up where "The War Without, The War Within" (reviewed here!) left off, with the U.S.S. Discovery headed on a dangerous mission to the Klingon Homeworld in an attempt to end the war.

As the Klingon fleet closes in on Earth, Emperor Georgiou - impersonating the lost Captain Georgiou - commanded the Discovery on its mission to Kronos. As the ship closes in, Georgiou is harsh with her crew and Saru and Burnham resist her authority and jibes. Georgiou and Burnham visit L'Rell in the brig where Georgiou attempts to torture the information of where she should send a landing party out of L'Rell. Failing that, Burnham brings the Captain to Ash Tyler in an attempt to get the information a nicer way. Tyler advises a team to visit a volcanic site that was leased to the Orions and Georgiou enlists Tyler and Tilly to help deploy a mapping drone needed to better define targets on Kronos. Saru and Stamets take the Discovery under the planet's surface, while the Away Team beams to the Orion marketplace and attempts to gather information.

Shocked by how Tyler's interactions with the Klingons triggers memories of her parents' death, Burnham becomes sympathetic to the Klingons on Kronos. Waking up from being drugged, Tilly discovers that the mapping drone is actually a bomb capable of almost entirely destroying Kronos. Realizing that StarFleet has sanctioned a genocidal action, Saru and the Discovery crew turn on Admiral Cornwell and devise another plan. L'Rell and Tyler leave to end the war by taking control of the Klingon High Council. The Discovery returns to Earth, where Burnham is given a pardon and re-commissioned as a Commander.

"Will You Take My Hand?"actually manages to embody the adage from "Mirror, Mirror" (reviewed here!) that it is easier for civilized people to play the barbarian than the other way around; from the outset, Georgiou is impulsive, short-tempered and cruel, exactly what one would expect from the Mirror Universe version of the character. It proves a severe lack of judgment on the part of the Federation leadership and StarFeet that they would attempt to use Georgiou to end the war. Unfortunately, the fact that no one in the leadership of StarFleet or the Federation foresaw the stupidity of putting Georgiou in command is insulting. How did so many people rise so high in such an ethical organization only to completely lose their principles?! It's a conceit that plays to the idea of a heroic starship crew, but plays poorly to the idea that they are part of something larger; how are they the only capable people in StarFleet who actually adhere to the principles of the Federation?

In a similar fashion, it is utterly ridiculous that Tilly would be part of the Away Team to Kronos. Tilly is a cadet and there is no decent explanation within "Will You Take My Hand?" for what particular skills she had that make her of use to the mission. She is a terrible liability, which is evident almost immediately - especially when Georgiou outs herself to Tilly. Saru is still, technically, in charge of the Discovery and he could easily have ordered a security officer to accompany the Away Team. Allowing Georgiou free range to assemble her team without any oversight makes no real sense.

So, "Will You Take My Hand?" is utilized as an opportunity for Tilly to swear, have StarFleet personnel hang around a strip club and lope into a heroic first season ending. The episode feels like it wants to be audacious, but it pulls its punches. Sure, Tilly gets high and swears again. That's a fairly juvenile way of "being edgy." Georgiou has a threesome and appears almost fully-clothed in the aftermath; the producers were not willing to push the envelope the way something like Altered Carbon (season one reviewed here!) did with naked people in combat.

Akiva Goldsman directed "Will You Take My Hand?" and it doesn't take long before the viewer wishes someone would get him a camera stand. There are almost no shots in the episode where the camera is not shaking and moving in an inorganic way. "Will You Take My Hand?" is nauseating to watch. And the movements make no rational/storytelling sense. For a show that makes viewers pay for the privilege of watching the final product, one would think there would be money in the budget to afford something to hold a camera steady!

"Will You Take My Hand?" is hampered by convention to form over sensibility. While there are continuity issues like a Klingon female taking over (much less serving!) on the Klingon High Council and a Klingon fleet massed right off Earth (seriously, did none of the writers watch Star Trek: Deep Space Nine?!), the episode is far more gutted by its forced attempt to stick to the familiar. Michael Burnham is the protagonist on Star Trek: Discovery and Sonequa Martin-Green gets top billing for the show, so she is utilized like she is the most important character in this corner of the Star Trek universe. As a result, the convicted criminal is the character who upholds StarFleet and Federation values more than anyone else and that plays poorly in "Will You Take My Hand?" As the episode comes to a close, Burnham gives a rousing speech to an assemblage of StarFleet and Federation personnel . . . for no particular reason other than the fact that she is the show's focus. A newly-recommissioned, barely exonerated, officer addressing the top brass in such a fashion is roughly equivalent to me being able to address the United Nations General Assembly. The list of people given such an opportunity before me (or Burnham) is so long as to make such an appearance laughable. It severely diminishes Saru's character that he acts as a supporting character in "Will You Take My Hand?," especially in the climactic speech scene.

On the acting front, James Frain continues to shit all over the legacy of Sarek with his performance - smirking through a key scene between Sarek and Burnham in a way that is decidedly un-Vulcan. Frain cannot be blamed for the writing of Sarek (one supposes Sarek learned his lesson on using force against the Klingons, which is why he was not part of the cabal intended to wipe out the Klingons in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, though his actions in Star Trek: Discovery would have made an approach by any member of that group logical, in which case Sarek failed to disclose?), but when he outright smiles in a scene it is hard for fans not to wince.

The rest of the acting is fine, though Michelle Yeoh and Sonequa Martin-Green dominate the episode. The dramatic standing of many of the characters is well-performed, but given how little is known of their characters, it lacks impact. And Martin-Green delivers her several big speeches well, but they feel forced for the character she plays.

Ultimately, "Will You Take My Hand?" does what it can to resolve the Klingon war arc that has dominated half of the first season and it gets there . . . but it does so in a way that leaps to that end without making it feel organic or incredible. L'Rell becomes suddenly critically important to wrapping up the arc and the way the episode plays, Klingons are undermined for their resolve, personal strength and even their established cultural values. The result is that Star Trek: Discovery ends with its characteristic lack of respect for canon and an emphasis on style . . . though at least "Will You Take My Hand?" pays lip service to Star Trek values and ideology.

For other first season finales from the Star Trek franchise, please check out my reviews of:
"In The Hands Of The Prophets" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"Learning Curve" - Star Trek: Voyager
"Shockwave" - Star Trek: Enterprise
"The Neutral Zone" - Star Trek: The Next Generation
"Operation: Annihilate" - Star Trek

2.5/10

For other Star Trek episode, movie, and seasons, please check out my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Thursday, February 8, 2018

Great For Peanut Lovers, Less For Those Who Adore Fudge: Haagen-Dazs Peanut Butter Salted Fudge Ice Cream!


The Good: Decent peanut butter and salt flavor, Great ingredients
The Bad: More expensive than other ice creams, Not at all healthy, Fudge flavor is entirely sublimated to the peanut butter
The Basics: Haagen-Dazs Peanut Butter Salted Fudge ice cream is an interesting, very nutty ice cream that worked as a pick-me-up, but is unlikely to get a repeat "buy" from me!


Today was not a great day for me. I spent almost twelve hours driving to a convention - and got very much inside my head while driving alone - and I finally managed to take in the new film by one of my favorite writer/directors only to be gravely disappointed by it. Two things, however, made my day better. The first was a series of phone calls from my amazing wife. The other was buying some comfort food. Yes, nothing changes the tenor of the day like cranking the heat up in a hotel room and cracking open a pint of ice cream. In this case, the therapy ice cream was Haagen-Dazs Peanut Butter Salted Fudge Ice Cream.

Haagen-Dazs Peanut Butter Salted Fudge Ice Cream strikes me as something my wife might enjoy more than me. I like chocolatey flavors quite a bit and I love a good mix of chocolate and peanut butter. But, between a peanut butter base, a very weak fudge and actual peanuts, the Haagen-Dazs Peanut Butter Salted Fudge Ice Cream is definitely intended for a peanut butter lover!

Basics

Haagen-Dazs ice cream comes in a 14 oz. (almost) pint container. The Peanut Butter Salted Fudge ice cream is a smooth ice cream with occasional chunks of fudge and a lot of peanuts mixed in. At (locally) $4.99 a pint, the Haagen-Dazs Ice cream is an expensive frozen dairy dessert.

Ease Of Preparation

The Peanut Butter Salted Fudge Ice cream is a basic ice cream with two additives. As an ice cream, preparation is ridiculously simple: one need only open the top of the container, remove the safety seal from the top, scoop out a half cup and consume! There is no trick to preparing or eating the Peanut Butter Salted Fudge Ice cream!

Taste

Haagen-Dazs Peanut Butter Salted Fudge ice cream smells fairly strongly of peanut butter. The aroma is nutty and becomes even more prominent as the ice cream nears its melting point.

On the taste front, the Peanut Butter Salted Fudge ice cream is dry and salty. The chocolate fudge flavor barely has a chance to manifest before the actual peanuts in the ice cream overwhelm any potential sweetness and the saltiness in the ice cream overcomes the cocoa flavoring. This is a great ice cream for those who love peanut butter!

This ice cream has an extremely dry aftertaste to it.

Nutrition

The Haagen-Dazs Peanut Butter Salted Fudge Ice cream is a comparatively thick ice cream with hard additives. The 14 oz. container represents three and a half half-cup servings. In the half-cup serving, there are 340 calories, 210 of which are from fat. The twenty-three grams of fat represent 35% of the RDA of fat, with 55% of one’s RDA of saturated fat coming in the 11 grams of saturated fat in this ice cream. One serving has 60 mg of cholesterol (that’s 20% of the RDA!) and 150 mg of Sodium (6% RDA). The only other real nutrients are six grams of protein and 10% of the RDA of Calcium in the Peanut Butter Salted Fudge ice cream.

Haagen-Dazs has decent ingredients. Made primarily of Cream, skim milk and sugar, Peanut Butter Salted Fudge Ice cream is all natural! There is nothing unpronounceable in the ingredients list. The Peanut Butter Salted Fudge Haagen-Dazs is neither Kosher, nor gluten free. There are no specific allergy warnings on the package, though this ice cream is noted to contain milk, peanut, soy, and egg ingredients, so it is very much not Vegan compliant.

Storage/Clean-Up

Haagen-Dazs 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 pint had an expiration date of September 7, 2018, though it will be gone by the end of the weekend, if not the end of the night!).

The Peanut Butter Salted Fudge ice cream is fairly light off-white/tan color and will stain if the ice cream comes closer to room temperature, especially because the Salted Fudge is far darker and melts into fabrics. As well, when the ice cream melts and gets onto fabrics, it will require one to wash it right out. On nonporous surfaces, the ice cream wipes off exceptionally easily.

Overall

The Haagen-Dazs Peanut Butter Salted Fudge ice cream is good, but the peanuts in it distract some from the salted fudge, robbing it of perfection!

For other Haagen-Dazs products, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Midnight Cookies & Cream Ice Cream
Vanilla Bean Gelato
Black Cherry Amaretto Gelato

6.5/10

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

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Flash Is Unable To Show His "True Colors" In A Lackluster Episode!


The Good: Good direction, Fine special effects, Adequate performances
The Bad: Incredibly familiar plot, Mediocre character development
The Basics: The Flash presents an unfortunately familiar and derivative episode in "True Colors," which plays out as more inevitable than audacious.


The Flash is at an interesting point. The titular character is off the radar, locked up and not doing heroic things. Keeping the emphasis on The Flash and peril that comes from DeVoe - who was promoted in the third season as an incredible villain for Central City - has been wanting for the last few episodes. Instead, S.T.A.R. Labs has adapted to the Metahuman Of The Week phenomenon fairly well, which makes sense given that they had months to get the teamwork done right while The Flash was trapped in the Speed Force prison. In fact, despite no longer having Kid Flash on the team, the S.T.A.R. Labs team has the Elongated Man to help out with the weekly metahumans.

"True Colors" picks up where "Honey, I Shrunk The Flash Team" (reviewed here!) left off, with Warden Wolf in negotiations to sell metahumans to Amunet Black. Having been recognized by Wolf as a Speedster, Barry Allen is in real peril now. In the prior episode, D.A. Horton developed spontaneous telepathic powers (which she did not use to run into DeVoe and read his mind to figure out his long-term plan).

Warden Wolf brings Amunet Black into a secret area of Iron Heights where he shows off The Flash, Kilgore, Hazard, Dwarfstar and Mina Chaytan. Black decides to buy them all. While waiting for the transaction, Wolf meets with Iris and Horton who reads Wolf's mind. Ralph Dibny is disturbed when he runs into an old associate who wants him for a shady investigation. Rejecting him, Dibny returns to S.T.A.R. Labs where he inadvertently shape-shifts into his old friend. That inspires the S.T.A.R. Labs team to try to train Dibny to look like Warden Wolf.

With Amunet Black interested in purchasing so many metahumans, The Thinker's plan is thrown into a place where DeVoe is uncertain what will come next. Marlize illustrates that she does not entirely trust DeVoe's telepathy. Dibny as Wolf is sent to Amunet's bar, with the S.T.A.R. Labs team assisting, while Barry Allen breaks out his fellow metahumans and together they attempt to escape Iron Heights. But, when Dibny's attempt to impersonate Wolf goes bad, Amunet contacts Wolf directly. Wolf manages to get the drop on the escaping metahumans and outs Barry to his confederates. That inspires DeVoe to step in . . . and in the aftermath, Ralph Dibny comes up with an inspired way to exonerate Barry Allen.

"True Colors" feels familiar on both main plots. Dibny infiltrating Amunet Black's lair feels very much like Barry Allen attempting to impersonate his doppelganger on Earth-2 in the second season and Barry Allen working with the metahumans is just like how Supergirl just teamed up with her enemies in "Fort Rozz" (reviewed here!). So, the plot front seems entirely repetitive - down to Allen not having his powers during the team-up and trying to talk to the villains into doing the right thing.

The performances in "True Colors" are fine, but none are truly spectacular, just as the character moments are as familiar as the plot. The villains are predictably treacherous, the heroes rise to their heroic occasion and the plot moves forward with a sense that the writers are done trying to work around Barry Allen's incarceration. "True Colors" is so lackluster that it is hard to muster up the enthusiasm to write more about it than that.

4/10

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

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Delightful For What It Is: Special K Protein Chocolatey Dipped Mint Meal Bars Satisfy!


The Good: Very tasty, Very healthy, Surprisingly filling
The Bad: Comparatively expensive
The Basics: Special K Protein Chocolatey Dipped Mint Meal Bars are a decent meal replacement bar with a surprising number of nutrients and a yummy flavor!


There are very few meal replacement bars that I truly love. So many of them taste like something mealy and gross and unlike their promised flavor. So, when I find one that actually tastes like what it promises to be, I actually get excited. I am excited about the Special K Protein Chocolatey Dipped Mint Meal Bars!

Basics

Special K is perhaps best known for making the breakfast cereal that is a classic, but a little bland. Special K Protein bars are part of Kelloggs’ expansion into meal and snack bars. Their Meal Bars come in several flavors and I chose the Chocolatey Dipped Mint Meal Bar because I love chocolate mint foods.

Each Chocolatey Dipped Mint Meal Bar is in a 1.59 oz. bar that is foil-wrapped. Each bar represents a single serving and the Meal Bars are each 1 1/8” wide by 5/8” thick by 4 1/8” long. The Special K Protein Chocolatey Dipped Mint Meal Bars are unsurprisingly breakable or squishable. A box of Chocolatey Dipped Mint Meal Bars contains only five bars. Each bar looks like a simple chocolate bar.

Ease Of Preparation

Eating Special K Protein Chocolatey Dipped Mint Meal Bars is simple. After removing the foil wrapper, simply pull out the bar and stick it in your mouth. There is no particularly complicated equation to eating this meal bar; it is an entirely ready-to-eat food!

Taste

Unwrapping the Chocolatey Dipped Mint Meal Bar, I was thrilled by how the bar smelled strongly of chocolate and mint. The mint and mild chocolate aroma is distinct and enjoyable to those who like those flavors (which includes me).

In the mouth, the Special K Protein Chocolatey Dipped Mint Meal Bars are sweet with a fairly light milk chocolate coating. The sweet milk chocolate melts way fairly quickly to expose the minty center. The sweet, cool, peppermint is muted by the chocolate coating and its protein isolate medium - which tastes like uncooked cookie batter. The batter-like flavor is delightful and enjoyable and accurately represents a chocolate mint flavor.

The Special K Protein Chocolatey Dipped Mint Meal Bars leaves a mild, minty aftertaste in the mouth for about five minutes after the last of the bar is consumed.

Nutrition

Special K Protein Meal Bars are intended as a meal replacement and they seem to work to fill a consumer up fairly well. These 1.59 oz. Meal Bars represent a single serving and they are surprisingly healthy. Made primarily of sugar, soluble corn fiber, and soy protein isolate, what surprised me was how there was nothing in these bars that was unpronounceable. This is a mostly-natural food product and these Meal Bars were produced on equipment that may leave the bar with traces of peanuts, wheat, almonds, soy, wheat and milk, so they are not Vegan-compliant.

Special K Protein's Chocolatey Dipped Mint Meal Bars have 190 calories, 50 of which are from fat. A full serving represents 23% of one's RDA of saturated fat and they have 15 mg. of cholesterol. Surprisingly, they are fairly low in sodium with only 140 mg (6% RDA) per serving and there are an impressive 8 grams of protein to be had by eating a full bar. These are a significant source of ten vitamins and minerals, with several B vitamins in the 20% RDA range.

Storage/Cleanup

As a healthy meal bar, Special K Protein Chocolatey Dipped Mint Meal Bar remain fresh so long as they are kept in their wrappers. Our box had an expiration date of June 5, 2018, so these last for a while. As long as the bars are not heated up, they remain fresh and the only real clean-up for them comes from wiping up crumbs.

If the Chocolatey Dipped Mint bars get hot, though, the chocolate coating on them will melt and cleaning that up can be a little more tricky, especially from light fabrics. Consult a fabric guide if the chocolate melts onto your clothes.

Overall

Special K Protein Chocolatey Dipped Mint Meal Bars are a pleasant surprise in that they are a delightful meal bar well worth trying!

For other bars, please check out:
Larabar Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bars
Quest Beyond Cinnamon Roll Cereal Protein Bar
Clif Builder's Bar Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Bar

8/10

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

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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