Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Wavelike Career (And Life) Of Janis Ian, Society’s Child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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


Hallmark Keepsake began delving into the collectibles market in 1991 with Star Trek when it introduced the exceptionally limited edition U.S.S. Enterprise ornament (reviewed here!). Since then, they have made ornament replicas of almost all major franchises like DC comics, The Wizard Of Oz and Harry Potter. The Defender Of Mankind ornament has been selling slowly at all of the Hallmark stores I have gone to. Given that it is hardly a sell-out, I would not bet on it being a great investment piece.


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

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


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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Goofy Turns Creepy In “Flatline!”

The Good: Some good lines, Excellent general concept, Decent performances, Some good character moments for Clara
The Bad: Erratic special effects, Concept only works without thinking about it (little explanation in the work)
The Basics: An erratic season of Doctor Who continues with the fun, but conceptually flawed “Flatline.”

Yesterday was Bacon Day in my house. That’s not a euphemism for anything weird; the local grocery store discounted seventeen pounds of bacon to half price, so my wife and I bought it all up and I spent the entire day cooking bacon (my home remains saturated with the scent!). While I was cooking bacon for the day, my wife was trying to get in the mood for the new Doctor Who specials that were just added to Netflix (thank you, Netflix, for ruining my big holiday gift to my wife! Grumble!) by rewatching episodes from David Tennant’s tenure as the Doctor. She chose the “fourth” season, which featured The Doctor and Donna Noble . . . and frequent appearances by Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler on monitors shouting for The Doctor, unheard. So, before we watched the new episode of Doctor Who, “Flatline,” I found myself having an epiphany about what is wrong with the current season of the show:

I don’t care.

Seriously, I love Peter Capaldi as The Doctor and some of the stories this season have been interesting, but rewatching the fourth season, I realized that what is missing from the current season is something to tie the episodes together that is actually compelling. Rewatching the fourth season, I recall being hooked on the episodes, looking for Rose to pop up and wondering what she was so desperately trying to tell The Doctor. The current season does not have that. Fans might point to the occasional end-of-the-episode scenes that feature Missy, but where that plotline and “Paradise” are going is not clear or compelling. Is Doctor Who going to do something clever, like bring back “The Doctor’s Daughter” in an alternate regeneration? Is the Doctor Who universe actually going to end? Is The Doctor ever going to bother resuming his search for Gallifrey? Probably not, so the season is just meandering toward the point where the BBC publicity department has admitted that Clara’s Jenna Coleman will be departing the show. “Flatline,” like several of the other episodes of the current season, ends with a Missy scene that seems to add an element of menace to the background plot of the current season, but like so much of the rest of the current season, it falls a bit flat. The a-plot in “Flatline” is creepy and compelling enough; the serialized element makes it feel like the show is stretching for a purpose.

On its own, though, “Flatline” is actually fairly good, both as an episode of Doctor Who and television in general.

After a random man, who is calling for help on the telephone, ends up flattened and in the wall of his apartment, The Doctor and Clara arrive close to where they intended. The Doctor is delivering Clara back to moments after they just left, but instead of being near Clara’s home, the pair arrives in Bristol. The Doctor and Clara are alarmed to discover that the TARDIS’s spatial system is malfunctioning; the TARDIS appears to have shrunk! Exploring Bristol, Clara discovers a number of people have recently disappeared and murals around the area have popped up commemorating them. When the TARDIS “shrinks” again, with the Doctor inside, he passes his sonic screwdriver and psychic paper off to Clara and sets her on the task of figuring out what is affecting the TARDIS.

With the help of the local graffiti artist, Rigsy, Clara begins investigating the disappearances. Seeing the flat of the last man to go missing and with the help of a police officer who is promptly killed, Clara and The Doctor deduce that murals being found on walls are the missing people in one form or another. The Doctor attempts to communicate with entities. Given that they are two-dimensional and from another universe, communicating becomes a chore, a task which proves futile as the entities begin to erupt into three-dimensions and terrorize Clara and the local community works workers in the subway.

“Flatline” is creepy and cool, with generally good special effects and some neat concepts. Unfortunately, it only truly works when one does not think about the episode or the entities in it. Rather smartly, “Flatline” makes a point of illustrating how the two-dimensional beings would perceive us (beings in three-dimensions). The Doctor and Clara see a mural of footprints and tire tracks and that makes perfect sense; those representations are exactly how beings on a flat surface would perceive our universe without any depth. But the moment that the show starts to build a real “creep out” factor, all sensibility goes out the window. The murals of people in the subway walls are a cool concept, but cannot work for two-dimensional beings. Unless the entities from the two-dimensional universe were on the walls and their victims ran into the walls, they would not have the concept or ability to “camouflage” themselves on the wall. To put it another way; if you were on the floor looking up and flattening people through their feet, how would you have any conception of how to project their backs onto a flat wall?!

In a similar fashion, “Flatline” does not even imply the abilities that the entities from the two-dimensional universe suddenly possess. The invaders in “Flatline” are, the Doctor theorizes, studying us. They are two-dimensional and suddenly conceive of a third dimension. They are suddenly able to manifest themselves as three-dimensional beings. This is a clever ability, rendered well as a neat special effect, but it makes no rational sense. The closest analogy here would be the impossibility of moving differently on the moon; I can understand that gravitational forces on the moon affect my body differently requiring me to move differently on the moon in order to get my body where I intend to go. Just because I understand that would not suddenly enable me to, for example, teleport around the moon using only my mind (or any set of muscles I now possess). If the two-dimensional beings could suddenly conceive of three dimensions, they would still have to evolve or develop a technology that would allow them to transform into three dimensions.

Why, then, do I actually find myself enjoying and recommending “Flatline?” The first is that, despite the problems, “Flatline” tells a good story where the monsters are monsters. Like the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Schisms” (reviewed here!) where extradimensional beings are experimenting on the crew of the Enterprise, the search for knowledge does not mean that the adversaries do not understand what they are doing. Not all scientists are ethical ones and the two-dimensional beings are aware of their destructive nature and are simplistic enough to revel in it.

At the other end of the spectrum, “Flatline” succeeds because Clara steps up in The Doctor’s absence. There is an unlikable quality to Clara, the way she continues to lie to Danny Pink (The Doctor might not like soldiers, but Danny Pink is actually presented in a pretty likable way) about her travels with The Doctor, at the outset of the episode. Clara has to think fast and lead in a way that The Doctor usually does, with minimal help from The Doctor. The arc for Clara is compelling and well-executed.

In fact, more than the Missy scene in “Flatline,” the Clara arc in the episode saves the episode and alludes to the potential that remains for the season. “Flatline” is a conceptual sequel to “Into The Dalek” (reviewed here!). “Into The Dalek” had a miniaturization ray (referenced frequently in this episode) and a Dalek who referred to The Doctor as a “good Dalek;” “Flatline” features dimensional changes and Clara evolving into a “good Doctor” (largely by abandoning her likable qualities). That parallel quality saves “Flatline” from being a generic and unsatisfying “creature of the week” episode.

Jenna Coleman steps up as Clara in “Flatline” and she becomes a credible leader. In the absence of The Doctor’s constant aid, Clara steps up and Coleman makes the transition believable. Coleman is able to emote at key moments, creating the perception that the wheels are turning in Clara’s head and that sells the evolution of the character who is deceptively more experienced than the actress appears.

Ultimately, “Flatline” is good for the effects and character aspects, even if the creatures writer Jamie Mathieson creates for the episode fall apart under any scrutiny.

For other works with Christopher Fairbank, please check out my reviews of:
Guardians Of The Galaxy
Jack The Giant Slayer
Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
The Fifth Element
Alien 3


For other Doctor Who episode and season reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page where the episodes are organized from best to worst!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sunday, October 19, 2014

More Bith, More Problems, The 2014 Star Wars Cantina Band Ornament Is Still Pretty Cool!

The Good: Good sculpt, Great sound clip, General coloring
The Bad: PRICE, Poor balance, Not detailed enough on the coloring
The Basics: Unfortunately overpriced, the 2014 "Cantina Band" Hallmark ornament is good, but not quite worth the money.

Now that Barbie is no longer serviced by Hallmark for the Keepsake ornament line, Disney seems to be the strongest licensee with Hallmark. Between traditional Disney ornaments from the animated films produced by Disney studios, Marvel Comics-themed ornaments and Star Wars ornaments, Disney has a big stake in Hallmark’s ornament production. Star Wars fans are certainly feeling the pinch this year as the proper Star Wars line has five common-release ornaments, plus the Santa Yoda peekbuster and the Comic Con limited edition Wampa ornament (which is anything but common). The most expensive of the line this year is the Cantina Band ornament.

Unfortunately for Star Wars fans and Hallmark Keepsake ornaments, the Cantina Band ornament is a bit overpriced for what the ornament is and its quality.


The "Cantina Band" is a diorama -style ornament from Hallmark, which recreates scenes from Star Wars both with a molded scene and special effects. The "Cantina Band" ornament, reasonably, features a sound effect, but no light effect. Hallmark's initial price for the ornament was $34.95, which was the most expensive (initial price) Star Wars ornament for the year and it was even more expensive than the Star Trek starship ornament this year.

The 2014 "Cantina Band" is made of durable plastic and includes a sound function emitted through a tiny speaker in the bottom of the ornament. The 3 3/4" wide by 4 1/4" tall by 1 1/2" deep ornament faithfully recreates some of the Modal Nodes. The Cantina Band has more members than the four who are cast into this ornament. That said, what the Cantina Band possesses is generally good. The four Bith band members are each cast expertly, each one holding its appropriate musical instrument. The piece is held together with a section of the floor wall of the Cantina, molded in cool, sandy-looking plastic.

Hallmark sculptor Katrina Bricker did an excellent job on the sculpt for the "Cantina Band" ornament. Unfortunately, the sculpting is only one factor of the ornament. The four characters in the Cantina Band are well-rendered, but the ornament has an assembled quality to it; the various characters look like they were masterfully cut, but then there are fairly deep seams around the feet, which makes them look like they were stuck on later. The level of detailing for the sculpt of the Cantina Band ornament is impressive. Bricker seemed to get every wrinkle in the pants, the face gills of the band members and a decent level of detailing for the hands and the instruments the characters are playing. These characters look very good.

The coloring detailing for the Cantina Band ornament is another matter, unfortunately. While the skin of each of the aliens looks appropriately detailed – the characters are not simply monotonally colored for their skin – that cannot be said of the entire ornament. The pants, shirts, and musical instruments of the Cantina Band members are simplistically colored and the hands are also presented with a lack of realistic depth and shading. As well, the section of floor for the Cantina Band ornament is sand-colored, but not infused with additional color detailing.


As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, the "Cantina Band" ornament features a sound effect, but not a light effect. Powered by batteries that are housed in the ornament (and come with it), the "Cantina Band" ornament plays what appears to be the full song that plays in the background of the Cantina scene in Star Wars: A New Hope (reviewed here!). When the button on the ornament is pushed, the ornament plays a section of the A New Hope soundtrack and it sounds loud and realistic as it plays. This is a cool and accurate effect for the ornament.


As an ornament, the "Cantina Band" is intended to be hung on a Christmas tree and for that purpose, the ornament falls a little short. The "Cantina Band" features a steel loop protruding from the back of the head of the bandmember who is second from the left. From that point, the ornament hangs with a strong right bias. That makes sense as more than half the ornament is found to the right of that point. This is problematic as the ornament features the cantina floor section and thus is noticeably off-balance.


The "Cantina Band" ornament was issued at $34.95, which is ridiculously expensive, despite the quality of the ornament. At that price, it is not terribly collectible and it is unlikely its value will appreciate significantly. For the months since they were released, I have managed to easily find the "Cantina Band" ornament in every Hallmark Keepsake store I have been to. This does not look to be a sellout ornament or a great investment piece for investors.


The 2014 "Cantina Band" Hallmark ornament looks generally good, but for the price, fans of Star Wars and Hallmark ornaments are likely to want a little more for their money.

For other Star Wars diorama ornaments, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
2013 At Jabba's Mercy
2012 Han Solo To The Rescue
2011 Showdown At The Cantina
2010 His Master's Bidding
2009 A Deadly Duel


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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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A Tale Of Erratic Flavor (And Excellent Nutrition): Bolthouse Farms Daily Roots!

The Good: Fairly nutritious
The Bad: Expensive, Does not taste good at all!
The Basics: Bolthouse Farms Daily Roots is a vegetable juice that is made with excellent ingredients, but still tastes pretty horrible.

I love Bolthouse Farms. It’s a good company and it makes very healthy products that (usually) taste wonderful. The taste is not something that the Daily Roots vegetable juice drink has going for it. Unfortunately, this is one of the worst flavors Bolthouse Farms makes. While this is a very healthy beverage, it is no surprise to me that I was able to find it on clearance today at the grocery store. Ironically, this drink was one of many I found on clearance today at the local grocery store and the only way I’ve managed to keep it down is by pairing it with all of the clearance bacon I bought today!

The Daily Roots is a mix of vegetable juices and “boosts” (added vitamins) and it is pretty much only worthwhile for those who need to drink their vegetables, have no taste buds and too much money!


Bolthouse Farms is a health drink brand and, as a general rule, their products tend to taste better than energy drinks. This is a vegetable beverage that is enhanced with nutrients. Bolthouse Farms Daily Roots comes in a 15.2 fl. oz. plastic bottle that is smooth and very portable. The #1 recyclable bottle is filled with the opaque purple-red liquid, which looks mysterious and not indicative of any particular fruit or vegetable juice. Bolthouse Farms juice products is one of the leading manufacturer of healthy prepared beverages, both of fruit juices and dairy beverages.

The 15.2 fl. oz. bottle gives consumers just under two servings, which is a somewhat esoteric amount.

Ease Of Preparation

Bolthouse Farms Daily Roots is a liquid in the 15.2 fl. oz. bottle and is a ready-to-drink beverage. So, preparation is as easy as opening a plastic bottle. Daily Roots has a plastic cap that easily twists off and can be put back on in order to reseal it. It is important to note that this is supposed to be refrigerated, so quality of the beverage may degrade if it is left out at room temperature before or after the bottle is open. This has a pretty standard security seal ring around the lower half of the cap and informs the consumer as to whether the product has been opened by cracking off when the top is twisted.


The Bolthouse Farms Daily Roots smells like beets and radishes. The acidic scent of the juice is anything but inviting and the aroma is not reminiscent of anything other than vegetables. The acidic, somewhat sour scent of this vegetable drink is pungent and very root-oriented.

In the mouth, the Daily Roots flavor is exceptionally variable. One moment, there is a strongly onion flavor mixed with beets and carrots, the next moment there is a rooty-beet flavor that tastes almost like it is mixed with tomatoes. The vegetable flavors are fairly sour and only a little salty. This beverage tastes mostly like liquefied beets, onions and radishes. The flavor is distinctive, but not terribly good.

The Daily Roots drink has a slightly sour aftertaste; the aftertaste actually does not last very long in the mouth.


As a healthy fruit and vegetable beverage, Bolthouse Farms Daily Roots is designed to fill in some of the nutritional gaps one might have in their diet, most notably Vitamin A, which the Daily Roots has 70% of your RDA of! Nutritionally, Bolthouse Farms Daily Roots is an option for those who are dieting or are trying to improve their health, who are looking for specific nutrients and hydration. Daily Roots contains beet juice from concentrate, purple carrot juice from concentrate, and cucumber juice from concentrate (among other things). It contains nothing bad and it is gluten free and does not appear to contain any meat or dairy products in it, so it IS Vegan compliant! As well, there are no preservatives, artificial flavors or colors or genetically modified ingredients!

The Daily Roots drink is very healthy. One serving of Daily Roots has no fat and only 60 calories. While there are 13 total grams of carbohydrates, 10 grams of sugars and 3 grams of protein, the beverage has no cholesterol! There are 210 mg (9% RDA) of sodium in each serving. A single serving is a decent source of Calcium, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Iron (25% RDA each), Vitamin C (20% RDA) and Folate (10% RDA). The Daily Roots beverage is incredible for Manganese (50% RDA) and Zinc (40% RDA).


Bolthouse Farms Daily Roots comes in a plastic bottle and it keeps for only a few months. The bottle I bought this morning would have expired on October 22 of this year had I not drunk it all up. This beverage must be refrigerated!

This drink is a fruit and vegetable product and dark purple-red. If this gets on clothes, it will aboslutely stain them. Consult a care guide for your clothes, though I suspect light clothes would need bleach to get this out. Still, the drink wipes off surfaces easily with a cloth, assuming they are impermeable.


Bolthouse Farms Daily Roots is not one of the poorest Bolthouse beverages, it tastes pretty foul and given how many incredibly good Bolthouse Farms beverages there are that taste exceptionally good, it is impossible to recommend it.

For other Bolthouse Farms beverages, please check out my reviews of:
Berry Boost
Holiday Nog (Limited Edition)
Peppermint Mocha (Limited Edition)


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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Friday, October 17, 2014

Expertise In Monotones: The Star Wars Black Series Bastila Shan Figure Is Incredibly Dynamic!

The Good: Wonderful sculpt, Decent accessories, Great balance and articulation
The Bad: Very simplistic coloring
The Basics: The Star Wars The Black Series creates a concept figure worth picking up with the Bastila Shan action figure!

For my recent birthday, my wife picked me up several truly awesome gifts. One of them was the Black Series Bastila Shan Star Wars Black Series action figure. Bastila Shan is a concept figure, an embodiment of a character not seen in the Star Wars films. This is actually the second Bastila Shan figure to be released and, honestly, I am uncertain if the new Black Series version of the character is any different from the Vintage Collection one, but given how the first iteration is virtually impossible to find, the Black Series version of the character makes the inaccessible affordable and gives collectors a reason to bother with the new Black Series, which has been plagued by figures of oft-recast characters.

The Bastila Shan figure is the Jedi from the Old Republic who is part of the Star Wars Expanded Universe concept of action figures, so there is no live-action reference for the toy.

This 4" Bastila Shan figure is wonderfully balanced, incredibly sculpted and articulated exceptionally well.


Bastila Shan in this form is the female Jedi, who looks lithe and dangerous. She is cast in a yellow outfit with brown flexible armor overtop it. She has a neutral stance and both of her hands can hold the lightsaber she comes with.

The Bastila Shan figure stands only 3 5/8" tall, which puts her in proportion to the rest of the line. Bastila Shan is appropriately coifed in her yellow-tan body suit and maroon-brown armor/skirt and boots. The figure is cast with exceptional detail for the face and hair of the character. Bastila Shan is cast with a somewhat angry look on her face and deep ear canals. This figure is made of a combination of solid plastic, with her hands, skirts, and ponytail being composed of a softer, more rubbery plastic.

This toy is a decent sculpt, despite there being no frame of reference for the character. Unfortunately, Bastila Shan is unimpressive in her coloring detail. The detailing on the figure's face and costume is entirely monolithic and the skin tones are nowhere near realistic. She has no rouge, for example on her cheeks, but her lips are a darker pink. As well, the fingers do not have fingernails molded into the sculpt, so they are not colored either. Unfortunately, this figure has a somewhat sloppy paint job; in addition to the hair being monotonally brown, the hair on the left side of the figure is painted so erratically that mine was flesh-colored for most of her bangs!


Bastila Shan, being a Jedi Knight, has two appropriate accessories. This Bastila Shan figure comes with a double-bladed lightsaber and the lightsaber handle. The lightsaber handle is a simple 1 1/2" simple sliver cylinder. The lightsaber handle attaches to the figure’s belt from a little peg that is on the lightsaber handle. The lightsaber fits nicely onto the belt or in the figure’s hands.

The other weapon Bastila Shan comes with is the same double-edged lightsaber with the lightblades extended. This basically looks like Darth Maul’s lightsaber, but with yellow blades instead of the red ones. This is a 4 3/4" lightsaber that looks awesome in Bastila Shan’s hands!


The four inch toy line was designed for play and Bastila Shan is incredible in that regard. This Bastila Shan has incredible balance and articulation. The figure has holes in the bottom of the feet that allow it to be stuck onto any playset or vehicle that has the corresponding pegs. Bastila Shan is gifted with an incredible fourteen points of articulation. Bastila Shan, as an action figure, has joints at the knees, ankles, groin socket, waist, shoulders, elbows, wrists, and neck. Most of the joints are actually hinge joints that also swivel, which gives Shan an incredible amount of articulation.

Between the balance and articulation, this is an incredible figure that has somewhat obvious and exposed joints, but still looks pretty wonderful.


Bastila Shan is part of the 2014 Star Wars The Black Series collection of four-inch action figures. This series of Star Wars action figures was fairly common and the Bastila Shan figure was #20 in that collection and was one of the rarest from the Black Series so far. As a result, Bastila Shan is highly sought-after, but nowhere near as rare as the Vintage Collection version of the same figure. That makes it less of a good investment than the Vintage Collection figure, but a more worthwhile investment than most of the other 4.5” Black Series figures. It remains one of the few Black Series figures I’d actually recommend as an investment figure.


Bastila Shan is a cool figure and a must-buy for those who are collecting Jedi and concept figures, but not as worthwhile for those who are only casual Star Wars fans.

For other Star Wars concept figures and toys, please check out my reviews on:
Legacy Collection TC-70 Build-A-Droid
Vintage Collection VC61 Boba Fett Prototype Armor (Mail Away)
Vintage Collection VC96 Darth Malgus


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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Middle Earth Mediocrity: The 2014 Thorin Oakenshield Ornament Underwhelms!

The Good: Good balance, Decent sculpt, Affordable
The Bad: Severe coloring issues, Animated look
The Basics: The 2014 "Thorin Oakenshield" ornament continues Hallmark’s line of somewhat disappointing ornaments from Middle Earth.

For as much as I love Hallmark ornaments and Peter Jackson’s interpretations of J.R.R. Tolkein’s Middle Earth books, Hallmark has yet to commit to creating truly amazing ornaments from The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit. Focusing only on the characters so far, Hallmark’s The Hobbit ornaments are unfortunately underdetailed and while the sculpts can be good, they have yet to get skin tones right on their Middle Earth character ornaments. Thorin Oakenshield is this year’s The Hobbit ornament and he certainly suffers from the coloring defect that Hallmark has had for their Middle Earth line.

For those unfamiliar with the idea of the ornament, Thorin Oakenshield features the dwarf leader from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (reviewed here!) and The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug (reviewed here!). This is Thorin Oakenshield, ready to slice down orcs and ogres with his sword. He is in a running pose and the ornament actually looks quite a bit like Richard Armitage, who plays Thorin Oakenshield.


The "Thorin Oakenshield" ornament recreates Thorin Oakenshield in his armor and traveling coat with his hands raised to hold his sword in a two-handed grasp. The ornament, released in 2014, is a pretty well-detailed sculpt of Thorin Oakenshield, as portrayed by Richard Armitage. This version of Thorin Oakenshield looks unfortunately animated, though most of the sculpt is adequate when compared to the live-action reference.

Hallmark only seemed to make an effort on the molding with his belt buckle and the armor that is visible on Thorin Oakenshield’s shoulders. The fine work on the boots and hair is not indicative of the entire ornament. The back of the coat and the travel armor is less deep and detailed than the rest of the ornament. The facial sculpt, though, does look like Richard Armitage. Measuring four and one-quarter inches tall, three and a half inches wide and two and one-half inches deep, the "Thorin Oakenshield" ornament is one of the larger Hallmark character ornaments this year and it is not at all in proportion to the prior Middle Earth ornaments that were released in prior years! At $17.95, the Thorin Oakenshield ornament is, admittedly, one of the more affordable genre ornaments this season, though for the quality of the ornament makes it seem pricy.

The Hallmark "Thorin Oakenshield" ornament is made of a durable plastic and sculpted to look generally like Richard Armitage. The coloring for the skin is monotonal, which makes the skin look cartoonish as opposed to realistic. The hair on Thorin Oakenshield’s head is straight black with a little white stripe. As well, the clean costume is colored in single colors without any realistic depth and shading. The silvery color of the belt and armor is realistic and pretty good.


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


As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake "Thorin Oakenshield" ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate movie nostalgia Christmas Tree, the "Thorin Oakenshield" ornament is very much an esoteric and extravagant ornament. The ornament has the standard steel hook loop embedded into the top of Thorin Oakenshield's head. This is fairly obvious and necessary for the ornament. Hanging there, the ornament has good balance.


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 (click here for that review!). Within a few years, every major franchise from Star Wars to A Nightmare Before Christmas to Indiana Jones started making Hallmark ornaments. "Thorin Oakenshield" is one of only a few Middle Earth ornaments on the market and it is the first one truly unique to The Hobbit. Between the mediocre quality and the short half-life of Middle Earth-related merchandise, investors might want to wait until this is half price before picking up the ornament!


Fans of the Middle Earth franchise, Richard Armitage, and Hallmark ornaments are likely to all be disappointed by the execution of the Thorin Oakenshield ornament, though it is not at all the worst Hallmark rendition of a character from The Hobbit!

For other Hallmark Middle Earth and fantasy-related ornaments, please check out my reviews of:
2013 Bilbo Baggins The Hobbit ornament
2012 Gandalf The Gray The Lord Of The Rings ornament
2013 The Sorting Hat Harry Potter ornament
2013 Pirates Of The Caribbean


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

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