Sunday, October 31, 2010

Trendy, Flavorful, And Unimpressive: Powerade Fruit Punch Leaves Me Underwhelmed.




The Good: Tastes all right
The Bad: Does not seem to DO anything, Expensive, Doesn't taste quite like anything.
The Basics: An unimpressive beverage, Powerade Fruit Punch does not taste like any particular fruit, does not refresh consumers and costs a lot to not do much!


With my rather significant arsenal of beverage reviews (still growing as I move the reviews into this blog!), I feel I have both a reputation and authority for consistently finding good things for people to drink (in the nonalcoholic realm). For a long time, I did not have reason to review sports drinks, though lately I have reviewed the Duff Energy Drink (click here for that review!) and the Powerade Mountain Blast (click here for that review!). It has been years since I ran and when it comes to the swimming my wife and I do, we seem fine with the exercise so long as we have water afterward to drink. We've never needed a sports drink to get the most out of our bodies or our exercise.

Last year, during our annual cross-country odyssey to the Las Vegas Star Trek convention, we began experiencing a load of new things that I have since reviewed. Unfortunately, as we traveled West, we found ourselves trying some less successful culinary experiences. One of them was Powerade Fruit Punch, a beverage we partook of while visiting my wife's friends in Michigan. While we were graciously put up by one of her friends, there was little in the house to drink outside filtered water. Eager for something different, my wife cracked open a Powerade Fruit Punch and shortly thereafter, she handed it to me.

I was not impressed. . . in any way.

Basics

Powerade is a sports drink, a type of beverage designed primarily for sports participants to quickly replace nutrients the body loses while working out. Powerade Fruit Punch comes in a 32 oz. (that's fluid ounces) plastic bottle that is bulky to the grip. Contoured not to slip, the #1 recyclable bottle is filled with the translucent red liquid that is Fruit Punch Powerade. Powerade is produced by the Coca Cola Company in their effort to compete with more established sports drinks, like Gatorade.

The 32 oz. bottle is intended to give consumers four servings, though the eight oz. serving size seems unrealistically small to me.

Ease Of Preparation

Powerade is a liquid in the 32 oz. bottle (I've not yet found a powdered version, but it would not surprise me if it was in the works to hit the marketplace in an upcoming quarter). So, preparation is as easy as opening a plastic bottle. Powerade 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 after it is opened, so quality of the beverage may degrade if it is left out at room temperature after the bottle is open.

Taste

Powerade Fruit Punch is surprisingly aromatic for a sports drink. Opening the bottle and actually inhaling the bouquet reveals a lush, fruity scent. The dominant scent is that of cherries, which makes sense because the beverage is colored red like cherry juice.

It is worth noting, despite my not being wild about Powerade Fruit Punch, that the drink still tastes better than any Gatorade product I have ever tried. Still, Powerade Fruit Punch is remarkably indistinct in its taste. Tasting most like watered-down Kool-Aid fruit punch, Powerade Fruit Punch is salty and watery more than sweet and fruity. There is not a single distinct fruit taste that I could pick out of the drink, though the closest fruit analogy I could make is that this is a mix of cherry, strawberry and sour apples. But more than anything that resembles a blend of fruit tastes, the drink tastes watery and slightly salty.

As well, Powerade Fruit Punch bears a punch, in the form of its aftertaste. This drink has a very dry aftertaste that is anything but refreshing.

Nutrition

As a sports drink, Powerade Fruit Punch is designed to replenish sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium quickly. This might restore electrolytes, but it does nothing that makes the consumer feel refreshed or energized. In fact, I've no proof that the drink actually restores electrolytes at an accelerated rate, only the assertion on the bottle that that is what the drink does.

Nutritionally, Powerade Fruit Punch is mediocre. It is primarily composed of water, high fructose corn syrup, and citric acid. It contains no fruit juice, so it is unsurprising that it is not rich in a variety of vitamins. However, it is not the worst beverage one can drink (though there are some fairly chemical-sounding elements in the ingredient list) as it has no fat and only 14 grams of sugar. Still, there is 100 mg (4% RDA) of sodium in each serving. There is also 10% of the RDA of three different B vitamins and 25 mg. potassium.

Storage/Clean-up

Powerade Fruit Punch comes in a plastic bottle and it keeps almost a year (our host said she bought it months ago and the expiration date was March 22, 2010. Stored in a cool place, it ought to be fine at least until its expiration date (whatwith having all sorts of preservatives).

This drink is a clear red color, but if it gets on light fabrics it will certainly 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.

Overall

I was unimpressed by Powerade Fruit Punch. It did not quench my thirst, it did not taste wonderful and having drunk some after swimming for half an hour, it left me feeling no more ready to take on the tasks of the rest of the day than I did before. I suspect most people will find this to be an overpriced beverage that is not worth their time, money, or consumption.

For other beverages, please check out my reviews of:
Saphara White Tea With Schinzara
Lipton tea
Swiss Miss Dark Chocolate Sensation Hot Cocoa

4/10

For other food reviews, please visit my index page for a complete listing by clicking here!

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.


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Another Fine Film to Mystery Science Theater 3000 Apart: The Mists Of Avalon.


The Good: Plot is intriguing, Acting is good, Directing is competent.
The Bad: Characters!!! Most of the effects.
The Basics: An overall unremarkable film telling the Arthurian tale. At least The Mists Of Avalon didn't have Sean Connery and Richard Gere.


This is another review where I haven't read the novel the film is based on and I wouldn't care if I had; I'm evaluating what I watched. This is a review on The Mists of Avalon, the film. I watched it on DVD. On that front, let me first mention that the deleted scenes are a hoot. Especially when they write why they were deleted. The answer is usually "this scene was too obvious" or "this was edited for time constraints." While The Mists of Avalon seems to have quite the following, it did not win me over. Thus, I would have recommended far more scenes be added to the cutting room floor.

The Mists of Avalon is a retelling of the classic Camelot/Arthurian tale. This retelling focus's on the women of Avalon and Camelot and how they influence the course of British history. So, it's truly a tale of Morgaine, daughter of Igraine. Morgaine's mother is part of prophecy and intrigue and ends up married to the high king Uther and bearing him a son, Arthur. Arthur, in a series of events, ends up the focus of a soap opera. In the course of the film sires a son with his sister, has a threesome, and fights for England against the Saxons.

The question I have is what's superlative about this film? From my point of view, not much. Most of the acting is. Michael Vartan is excellent as Lancelot and Anjelica Huston does quite well as the matriarch Viviane. Also excelling are Michael Byrne (as Merlin) and Samantha Mathis as Gwenwyfar. Joan Allen is horribly underused as the villainous Morgause. And Julianna Margulies did not impress me as Morgaine. In fact, this was my first experience with her as an actress and she left nothing in her performance to recommend her by. This is a major fault of the film as the story is narrated by Morgaine.

In fact, the characters are the weakest link of The Mists of Avalon. There are several revelations in the film, usually about bloodlines, alliances or truths. Not a single character is appropriately shocked by any event. Frankly, if I were a king and I discovered I had sired a son with my sister, it would throw me for more than simply moment. Not a single character seems to feel shock or revulsion for their actions.

This alone makes it terrific for a night of mockery. No kidding. If you are watching this with people who lack a sense of humor about such things, you're out of luck. This film takes itself too seriously, everyone is so earnest. That's fine. I like deep, serious films. But this film is the hyperbole of that; the characters are so serious and deadpan there is an utter lack of humor about the film. It is begging to be editorialized. So, even in my first viewing, I could not resist making quips, pointing out obvious problems, ect.

At best, this is a film that looks good. It is, however, populated by people who make little to no sense and some actors who aren't carrying their weight while others take their parts perfectly and are underscored for time. It's easy to watch, hard to get immersed in because of the unflinching tone of righteousness and pomp. I'd highly recommend it for time with friends who want to watch something they can joke through.

For other fantasy films, please check out my reviews of:
Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire
Clash Of The Titans
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

4.5/10

For other movie reviews, please visit my index page for an organized listing by clicking here!

© 2010, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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A Durable Little Screwdriver, The Stanley 3 1/2" Phillips Head Screwdriver Screws In Tight Spots!




The Good: Durable, Works well, Easy to clean
The Bad: Not ideal for long-term (in a day) use.
The Basics: A surprisingly good little screwdriver, the Stanley 64-105 3 1/2" Phillips Head Screwdriver is a great tool that most would not suspect needing until they truly need a reliable tool!


Screwdrivers: how much is there truly to say about them? I've been surprised about how much I can find to write about the various screwdrivers in my toolbox, like the Stanley 66-183 I reviewed before (click here for that review!) and it seems I've never actually reviewed any of the Phillips head screwdrivers. So, I figured I would start small with the 64-105, a 3 1/2" Phillips head screwdriver that I have used for years.

It ought to be noted right off the bat that the Stanley 3 1/2" Phillips head screwdriver is just about a perfect screwdriver and for the projects one ought to use it for it probably is perfect. My robbing it of a perfect rating comes more from how it stands up against all tools in my toolbox. This screwdriver is durable, easy to clean and has a head that has not worn for the fifteen years I have had it. However, because the handle is so short, there are very limited uses for the 64-105 and prolonged use on a project is likely to cause hand cramps.

Stanley is not to blame for this; it is a problem with all such tools. Because one is applying the force so close to the head, they tend to expend more energy than when the shaft is longer and the work is distributed along the tool better. Add to that that most adult hands will find it tough to grip this smaller handle and you've got a handle on my difficulties with using this screwdriver too long!

That said, the 3 1/2" Phillips head screwdriver is a useful screwdriver for when one is working in tight corners, like screwing things in in-between drywall layers where there is only about a hand's width to move around it. I'm not sure what one would be screwing in there, but I know I've found uses for the small screwdriver that involve having very little room to move and needing a very small screwdriver. It occurs to me that the built-in dishwasher which had a screw mount behind it was one of them. This tool is ideal for such specialized projects.

The Stanley 3 1/2” screwdriver has a 1 1/2” steel shaft and a medium-sized four-point Phillips head which is ideal for Phillips head screws. The 64-105 is a manual screwdriver, so you do the work; this tool just makes it easier for you. Fortunately, the 64-105 Phillips head screwdriver works and it is useful for those tight places one never expects to find a Phillips head screw binding something.

For three years, I used this screwdriver on projects around the house that required a Phillips head screwdriver when the screws were standard wood screws or when I found any Phillips head screw in a location I could barely fit my hand. I used the screwdriver for about ten years prior to that and the two years since sporadically, so I've been using the 64-105 Phillips head screwdriver on and off for about fifteen years. The steel shaft never bent, the head remained sharp and intact. This is a very solid piece of hardware and for only $5.00, it has saved me time and headaches. This tool will remain in use for years by anyone who does projects around the house.

At least as important is that the 64-105 has the old style Stanley handle. This is a handle that has little fins which offer much better gripping potential when one has gloves or when one is using the small screwdriver in circumstances that have water. Stanley has changed many of its grips to an ergonomic grip which is smooth and becomes worthless when one truly has to bear down on the screwdriver. The 64-105 is not hampered by that defect and is easy to use under all conditions.

In other words, this is great tool for every do-it-yourselfer. I know I've grabbed this screwdriver with vice grips and it has not dented the handle or stripped the plastic coating. So this stands up for abuse and is still in service, making it an undeniable asset!

For other tools and gadgets, please check out my reviews of:
Craftsman Electronic Studfinder
Howard Leight Laser Lite Corded Hearing Protection
Stanley 8" Adjustable Wrench

8/10

For other tool reviews, please visit my index page!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.



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As The Campaigns Heat Up, The Bartlet Administration Fades On The West Wing Season 7!



The Good: Excellent character work, Great plots, Nice series resolution, Some truly great acting
The Bad: Low on bonus features, "Missing" episode
The Basics: In the final boxed set of The West Wing DVDs, the series presents a long arc away from the White House as two candidates run for President.


For those who have not read many of my reviews, I have become quite the fan of The West Wing. So, when I start my review of The West Wing - The Complete Seventh Season with a little gripe, it must be taken with a grain of salt and the realization that I'm still sore the show is over. The West Wing - The Complete Seventh Season is, in fact, NOT the complete seventh season. Featuring twenty-two episodes on six discs, this appears to be a complete season, save to the true fan of The West Wing. As the scant bonus features in this boxed set both deal with the episode called "The Debate" and admit that the program was originally filmed live, for both East Coast and West Coast audiences. As a result, there are two versions of "The Debate" and in the liner notes for the boxed set, the one on the DVD is differentiated as "The Debate (West Coast)." I suppose this is nice for establishing which of the two is cannon, but it would have been real nice to have both available for viewers (I'm still scouring Disc 2 to see if there's an easter egg with the alternate version!). But I get ahead of myself.

It is, simply put, impossible to discuss The West Wing - The Complete Seventh Season without ruining the surprise of the final two episodes of The West Wing - The Complete Sixth Season (click here for that review!). This is because the final episodes in the sixth season involve the harrowing Democratic Caucus which struggles to pick the Democratic candidate for President. Following that resolution at the peak of the sixth season, the seventh season deals with the campaign trail, so if you're one who is quite vested in The West Wing but is just now getting it on DVD and wants to maintain the surprise, you must stop reading now.

The Santos-McGarry Campaign is heating up, dogging Arnold Vinick and putting Santos within striking distance of the Presidency. Opening with only a nine point deficit, the once-unbeatable Vinick begins to sweat what looked like an easy win for the Republicans. Josh adds a new spokesperson to the campaign, in the form of Lou, and the deficit begins to close quickly. While Santos and McGarry - accompanied by Josh, Anabeth, and eventually Donna - crisscross the nation campaigning, the White House begins to lose relevancy.

The remaining staff of the West Wing, however, do not go gently into the good night, as the shuttle leak investigation heats up and China and Russia begin a military takeover of Kazakhstan which Bartlet uses the U.S. military to intervene in. When the astronauts on the defective space station are rescued by repairs made from the secret military shuttle, the White House is descended upon by investigators. When their attentions turn to C.J., Toby confesses and is fired. It is soon thereafter that Bartlet takes a moral stand to intervene in Kazakhstan, leaving a mess for the next President of the United States of America.

The West Wing - The Complete Seventh Season does what the prior six seasons did best, with the sense of transition for the show. With both Santos and Vinick establishing themselves and their staffs as realistic elements that could reasonably take over the series. Indeed, one of the weakest elements to the boxed set is that final episodes - which realistically chronicle the transition for the winner of the presidential contest - are not followed up on by a continued series. Vinick's staff includes characters played by notables like Stephen Root and Patricia Richardson who seem poised to take over the West Wing. Similarly, Santos's staff comes to include characters portrayed by the likes of Janeane Garofalo. Who will win the presidential election is realistically drawn out as a nailbiter (in fact, in the two-part "Election" episodes, it's something of an Electoral College mystery how the victor actually won) and the suspense is very real.

But like all great television, most of the moves and plots are motivated by character actions, not by plot exposition. As a result, outside one fateful plot twist that is exploited by one of the campaigns, the series progresses as a result of the actions of the characters. And The West Wing has a memorable collection of characters. Here is how the seventh season finds the principles:

Abbey Bartlet - Announces that daughter Ellie is marrying the fruit fly guy and otherwise sits most of the season out,

Charlie - Working under C.J., he finds himself trying to move issues, but often neglected and missing the President,

Toby - Confesses to leaking the shuttle information to the press, which earns him a ticket to jail, the loss of his job and ostracization from all his friends. Eventually, Josh begins to get advice from him for the campaign over the phone as Toby prepares for prison,

Annabeth - Now working for Leo, she finds herself smitten with the Vice Presidential candidate and eager to improve his image,

Leo - Now a candidate for Vice President, he finds himself working to support a man he barely knows while maintaining his fragile health,

Kate Harper - Is given the unfortunate task of keeping the President briefed on the deteriorating situation in Kazakhstan while she develops a relationship with Will,

Will - Is transferred from the Vice President's office to work as the new White House Press Secretary following Toby's firing. There he connects with Kate and begins to think about the future,

Donna - After months on the outs with Josh for backing the Vice President's candidacy and almost keeping Santos from becoming the Democratic candidate, Santos hires her to work for the campaign, forcing her and Josh together again, though now with a very different power dynamic,

Josh - Finding running the Santos-McGarry Campaign to be stressful and harrowing, he finds himself in the crosshairs of the DNC for how he allocates the advertising budget. At risk of coming undone completely, Santos begins to question his ability to do the job,

C.J. - The sole remaining staffer of the West Wing left holding together the Bartlet Administration from the original team, she finds herself stressed out as the target of the leak investigation and later the tensions between China and Russia. She is given the opportunity to question her purpose and her future, which comes to a head when Danny returns,

Santos - Campaigning revitalizes the young candidate as he becomes more and more presidential,

Vinick - Campaigning takes its toll on the older man as he finds himself in a real race against Santos and must compromise his beliefs or risk the conservative base of the Republican party not coming out on election day,

and President Bartlet - As his relevancy in day-to-day operations fades, he finds himself distracted less by his M.S. and more by his sense of betrayal from Toby, his joy over Ellie's marriage and the shock that comes when one of his closest friends dies. Not one to sit by and let genocide occur, Bartlet feels compelled to stop China and Russia from going to war over Kazakhstan and - much to Vinick and Santos's dismay - commits U.S. troops to an intervention there without an exit strategy.

For the first time ever, it makes perfect sense that neither Richard Schiff (Toby) nor Martin Sheen (Bartlet) won awards for their roles for a season of The West Wing. Schiff, by this point, was long past being nominated and Sheen is not presented with enough material to be a real contender this season. Instead, as the plots focused with dramatic intensity on the campaigns of Arnold Vinick and Matthew Santos for the White House, actors Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits found themselves bearing much of the acting burden in the seventh season. Alan Alda won the Emmy for his performance in the seventh season and episodes like "Two Weeks Out" and "The Debate" illustrate perfectly how much he deserved it. This was not a sneaky lifetime achievement award; Alda's performances are truly wonderful.

And more than anything, The West Wing - The Complete Seventh Season illustrates perfectly what can be accomplished with an exceptional ensemble cast. More than any prior season of the series, there are no stars for the show. Instead, most of the characters and actors are given equal weight and work together to tell the stories the show seeks to explore. And this work is a masterpiece of electoral politics, telling stories that almost exclusively focus on the Presidency in twilight and the rise of the next wave of potential leaders. The result is something that looks and feels very different from The West Wing most viewers know and are comfortable with. Instead, this is a season about the campaign trail and the diminished powers of a president following the election of a successor.

The real frustration for the viewer is likely to be that after all of the emotional build-up, we do not get to actually see the presidency of . . .

. . . I'm not ruining it!

But what is more disappointing than that is that the DVD set is utterly lacking in commentary. Instead, there are two featurettes that focus on how "The Debate" was made and nothing else. Fans of the series are likely to be disappointed by that.

But as we enter election season in the United States, The West Wing - The Complete Seventh Season on DVD appears as a model for how fickle election cycles can be. In a year when the fields are (mostly) wide open, it's refreshing to watch something with high-minded people acting honorably in the hope of bettering the nation, even if it is a fictional incarnation of it. This set is ideal for fans of The West Wing who may have gotten tired of watching reruns of the earlier seasons for years and/or want a chance to catch up on reviewing the end of the series. But for real fans of the show, it's easier to recommend The West Wing - The Complete Series (click here for that review!), which is a better investment for those who love great drama.

For other television reviews, please check out my takes on:
Lost Season 6
Star Trek Season 3
V The First Season

9/10

For other television program reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.



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Freedom Loving Progressives Are Not Alone! Lies And The Lying Liars Who Tell Them Still Entertains.



The Good: Funny, Well Argued, Well Researched, Clever
The Bad: Obviously biased, "Supply Side Jesus" comic
The Basics: When Al Franken takes on the Conservative Media Engine, the reader gets a chance to be amused and enlightened. And reinvigorated.


Long before he was a Senator, most of us knew Al Franken from his roles on Saturday Night Live like Stewart Smally. Since then, Franken has proven himself to be a great deal more than a simple comic actor who makes wry observations on political circumstances. In Lies And The Lying Liars Who Tell Them, Franken steps up to take on the horrible biases in the media and the attacks that Conservative commentators are making on the Left and failing to make on the Bush Administration as it continues its irresponsible actions in the world. Despite the fact that those years are now behind us, Lies And The Lying Liars Who Tell Them is still relevant because many of the individuals and institutions Franken calls out in the book are still in place and power today.

Lies And The Lying Liars Who Tell Them is an assault on the stranglehold the Conservatives who are running the Bush Administration have over the media. Franken takes on the vocal supporters the Bush Administration has in the media by disproving their arguments and fighting tooth and nail with them over the irresponsible and inflammatory things they say. Topics in the book include: An all out attack on Ann Coulter, Conservatives who claim Liberals are all weak and weak-kneed (Chapter 38 is one of the funniest things I have ever read), Disproving the "liberal media" allegation, How Fox News distorts and dissembles, The tone of politics in Washington and the national discourse on it, Lies of George W. Bush, The hypocrisy of those preaching abstinence, and disproving the statements of Bush in regard to his tax cuts.

Now, there's a lot to dislike in this book. For example, Al Franken rips into Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity something fierce. No, wait, he destroys the arguments they claim to make and exposes their hypocrisies as well. I suppose it's hard not to like the truth. In all honesty, there is a lot that is pretty wonderful in this book, especially for those of us still feeling let down about the events of the 2004 election process.

Take, for example, his assault on the arguments of Ann Coulter. He illustrates quite efficiently the ways she makes her arguments on faulty principles. He investigates some of her endnotes to illustrate how she lies in her arguments by using endnotes that are hard to find and do not truly represent the truths she claims to be articulating. As someone who could barely stand her poorly presented, ridiculously argued High Crimes And Misdemeanors, this is of no surprise to me.

One of the individuals who speaks for the Right that I had not encountered before this book was Sean Hannity. Apparently, he's quite popular and quite vicious. Franken very rationally exposes him as a fraud in the way he makes his arguments, by comparing the words of support Hannity has for Bush and the office of the President against comments Hannity made on his show speaking out against Bill Clinton. Franken quite correctly and efficiently exposes the despicable contradictions in the Right between the reverence they show to the office of the President for Republican presidents vs. Democratic ones.

They lie.

It truly is that simple. Franken amazingly articulates a whole bevy of lies from people who claim to be impartial. He exposes Fox News for being biased and self-serving while claiming to be "Fair and Balanced" and "news." Franken is incredibly deft at making arguments and defusing the venom of the Right-wing media empire that has sprouted up.

Franken gives us hope. In a world plagued by chaos and run by people who are looking out for themselves, Al Franken crafts a clever, quick-read book that will energize the depressed spirit of anyone on the Left. He has a sharp mind and a keen wit and an ability to reduce complex issues to their most basic side. And it's clear from the beginning of the book how much Franken loves America and believes in living with the ideals of freedom and justice, rather than just using them as a sound byte.

In fact, the only items I did not like especially were the two instances when Franken strayed from sharp arguments and got creative. I'm a novelist, so I love creative, but in Lies And The Lying Liars Who Tell Them something just rings wrong with "Operation Chickenhawk: Episode One" and "The Gospel of Supply Side Jesus." I actually enjoyed the messages of the Supply Side Jesus bit, but I felt it did not fit in with this particular book all that well. The messages are great, very clearly illustrating how the Bush Administration and its cronies have distorted Jesus to their own means. But the method of delivery for this argument did not fit the tone, pace and punch of the rest of the book.

Who won't enjoy this book? Conservatives who are idealogues instead of willing to actually look at their beliefs and those who they let speak for them. Who will enjoy this book? All those who believe in free speech, are tired of bias in the media and liberals with broken hearts. This is our "Chicken Soup" book and it will get you pumped to continue the fight and a lot of ammo to fight with.

For other political books and humor volumes, please check out my reviews of:
Keeping Faith - Jimmy Carter
The Onion Presents "Our Front Pages"
The New York City Bartender's Joke Book - Jimmy Pritchard

8/10

For other book reviews, please check out my index page for an organized listing by clicking here!

© 2010, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.



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Astonishingly Bad Trek Results When The Children Lead: "And The Children Shall Lead."




The Good: Not a bad concept, Psychology of the episode
The Bad: Terrible acting, Abysmal special effects, Dumb character aspects, Generally weak plot
The Basics: In one of the episodes that even the new digital effects won't be able to make any better, "And The Children Shall" lead is one of Star Trek's big strikeouts.


I'm a pragmatist in my love for Star Trek. As much as I adore the series, there are much better television shows out there. In fact, the first two spin-offs easily surpassed the quality of the original Star Trek. Part of the reason for that was that there was a greater priority on character. Star Trek was plagued as an episodic series (what happens in one episode does not generally affect another, characters do not so much develop as experience new things) that was remarkably inconsistent episode to episode. In the third season of Star Trek, some of the best episodes are sandwiched in between some of the franchise's absolute worst outings.

The U.S.S. Enterprise arrives at a colony world to find all of the adults on the planet dead. Captain Kirk, concerned that a madness might have overtaken them, evacuates the children who survived the adults' insanity to the Enterprise. Soon, the Enterprise is warping toward another planet, under the control of the children and a mysterious creature who is influencing them. The children use the creature, Gorgan, to exhibit telekinetic and hallucinatory powers that compel the Enterprise crew to do what they wish. The Enterprise is under their control until, of course, the intrepid Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy can remind them that their parents' were not beastly and the group of children is allowed to actually process their trauma.

"And The Children Shall Lead," this unbearably bad episode of Star Trek has a general concept that is not entirely bad. Gorgan is using the children to do his bidding because he is able to prey upon their innocence. But the real clever aspect of Gorgan is in what actually makes him tick, how he does what he does; he protects the children from thinking about their dead parents and basically leverages the emotional pain against the joy they receive by getting whatever they want. Given the choice, of course most children are going to choose ice cream over mourning (and yes, that is literally how simplistic this episode is at times).

It's the execution of the almost-interesting ideas that is so offensive to most fans of Star Trek. "And The Children Shall Lead" essentially cripples a group of the most intelligent, professional and skilled adults in the galaxy with one of the wussiest aliens of all time. And children. Heck, with Dr. McCoy's temper, the average viewer will wonder why he doesn't just beat one of the children. The episode is just gruelingly insulting to the fans of Star Trek in that the villains are not villainous enough and it's pretty much impossible to suspend our disbelief long enough to sit through this one.

Equally insulting is the stupidity at the level of the characters by the writers of this episode. The children prey upon the fears of the crew to incapacitate them. Sulu, if this episode is to be a guide, is terrified of flying the starship through cutlasses. I kid you not, the children make rows of swords appear on the viewscreen to compel Sulu from moving the ship off their course. In addition to being one of the worst special effects in the history of, well, time, this is just a ridiculous character expression. It makes as much sense having Sulu believe there are giant fear-worthy cutlasses outside the ship as creating a fear of thumbtacks for Captain Kirk (which the episode, fortunately, does not do).

Lt. Uhura's fear is only slightly less disturbing. It turns out she fears getting old and ugly. I suppose it would have taken a clever writer to suggest that a communications officer like her ought to be more afraid of something like aphasia. Sadly, the writing here is not so clever or sophisticated.

The resolution, which involves the children actually processing their emotions is all that saves this one from a zero out of ten. The idea that instead of shooting Gorgan, the children he controls have the be free to feel pain and emotional discomfort borders on clever.

Sadly, even the actors in this episode seem bored with the premise and none of them give their best here. William Shatner looks, most of the episode, like he's waiting for it to be over and like he is being forced to be as flamboyant as possible just to keep the episode interesting for him as a performer. None of the children give anything remotely close to a noteworthy performance.

Instead, this is a dud all the way around and even a fan of the series cannot truly justify this one. It's not worth your time to find or watch, even when it's on television.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek - The Complete Third Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the third and final season by clicking here!
Thanks!]

1/10

For other Star Trek reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.



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A Better Concept Than Execution, The Deluxe Yoda With Force Powers Figure Fizzles.



The Good: Good sculpt, Neat novelty
The Bad: Low collectible value, Powers/base do not completely work, Terrible balance for Super Battle Droid.
The Basics: The Deluxe Yoda with Force Powers action figure is a cheap way to get Yoda, a Super Battle Droid and a Geonosis base whether they work well or not!


Sometimes, fleshing a character out does not do as much for that character as leaving them shrouded in mystery. In Attack Of The Clones, Yoda the Jedi Master exploded onto the big screen as a computer-generated action hero that was almost more laughable than it was cool. Sad to say, this led to more merchandising of Yoda and the results were often mixed. For example, in the Attack Of The Clones toy line, there was a deluxe Yoda figure and that action figure turned out to be more problematic than it was cool, leaving many fans disappointed. The Attack Of The Clones line had several deluxe figures which were hardly bigger than normal figures, like the Nexu figure (click here for my review!).

The Attack Of The Clones Deluxe Yoda action figure is designed to be an action Yoda, with an angry expression and more aggressive stance to him. This Yoda is more youthful in appearance and looks ready to kick the circuits of the Super Battle Droid this figure comes with in!

Basics

Yoda in this form is a Jedi Master posed in a dramatic action moment during the Battle Of Geonosis from Attack Of The Clones (click here for my review of the film!). He is posed with his legs in a solid stance, but spread. Yoda's robes are molded open so it looks like they are being swept back from the force of his movement. This Yoda appears ready to take on the Super Battle Droid that comes with this deluxe figure and that is a nice bonus. This Yoda figure stands only 1 3/4" tall and he is slightly hunched over. Yoda is appropriately coifed in his tan Jedi robes with his brown tunic underneath. Yoda's green head and hands are exposed, as the hood on Yoda's robe is down.

This toy is a decent sculpt, which is pretty easy considering Yoda is one of the most distinctive characters in Star Wars and it is very easy for toy manufacturers to get him right. He is easily recognizable and Yoda is impressive in his coloring detail, save that the character he is based on sometimes lacks realistic flesh shading details. The detailing on the figure's face is somewhat monolithic and the skin tones are nowhere near realistic for anything other than a puppet. Conversely, Hasbro made an effort to both mold and color the figure's hair (which is still remarkably thin on the back of my Yoda's head) and the finger and to nails are appropriately colored.

The Deluxe Yoda figure comes with a 6" by 4 1/2" plastic base that is just under an inch thick. This is sculpted to look like the floor of the droid factory on Geonosis and it includes a 5" tall crane with a 6 1/2" boom that is designed to be part of the combat functions of the toy. I always like bases as they give more structured play area and help to recreate key scenes from the films and this one is nice because it attaches to the Deluxe Anakin figure's base or the base of the Deluxe C-3P0!

Accessories

Yoda, being a battle-ready Jedi Master, might not need a lot of accessories, but this one comes with two accessories in addition to the base. This Yoda figure comes with a lightsaber (the "blade" detaches) and the Super Battle Droid with its laser bolts. The lightsaber is a one and five-eighths inch plastic green lightsaber that is translucent - like the one in the movie - to its base. This lightsaber is nicely cast in shiny silver plastic and the "blade" of the lightsaber may be pulled off to allow Yoda to appear peaceful. Unfortunately, because the base of the lightsaber blade is a thin pin that fits into the base, this accessory breaks real easy leaving one with a detached blade and a choking hazard. As it is, the lightsaber may fit into either of Yoda's hands and the right hand has a magnet in it which attracts the base of the lightsaber.

The Deluxe Yoda also comes with a Super Battle Droid as an accessory. This figure is a 3 7/8" tall robot that looks like a clean version of the Separatist killing machines. It is cast in blue and gunmetal-colored plastic and looks pretty good with its red light on the chest armor and arm gun. This super battle droid also comes with laser beam accents that plug into the gun on the figure's right arm. It is only articulated at the groin socket and shoulder socket with simple swivel joints and to try to make the droid look like more of an active robot, it is mid-step. Unfortunately, this makes it tip over constantly as it is not at all stable and the holes in the bottom of the droid's feet are not accompanied by pegs on the platform. If it stood up to begin with, this would be a vastly better figure combination.

Playability

The four inch toy line was designed for play and Yoda is not bad in that regard. First, Yoda has the "Force" hand function (the magnet in the hand is a neat enough idea and because the magnet and lightsaber are so small, it looks good, even when it doesn't work so well). Second, in addition to the fight-ready action pose, this Yoda moves around using a magnet and a lever under the base of the Geonosis landscape! As a result, one sets Yoda atop the magnet and he moves forward, backward and spins on the platform without having to use the hand on the figure.

Unfortunately, the Deluxe Yoda takes a lot to try to get him to swing with his lightsaber and it is very difficult for him to actually knock the Super Battle Droid over with his lightsaber. Moreover, the crane collapsing mechanism is erratic and the springboard - which is supposed to launch the Super Battle Droid when manipulated right - does not seem to work at all on mine. Combined with the Super Battle Droid tipping over constantly, this is hardly an exciting or highly playable toy in general.

Still, the general concept with the magnet and the moving on the base is all right and this Deluxe Yoda has excellent balance. Yoda figures are not known for wonderful articulation this Yoda is no different. The Deluxe Yoda is gifted with only three points of articulation and for a figure so small, this is more than enough. Yoda, as an action figure, has joints at the shoulders and neck. There is no articulation in the knees or groin socket and all of the joints are simple swivel joints.

Collectibility

Yoda is part of the 2002 Star Wars Attack Of The Clones collection of four-inch action figures. This series of Star Wars action figures was fairly common and the Deluxe Yoda figure was vastly overproduced. This Deluxe Yoda was largely clearanced and has not recovered in the secondary market since. As a result, this Yoda is a poor investment and is more ideal for collectors and children who actually want an interesting Yoda to play with!

Overview

The Deluxe Yoda is a better idea than he was executed. Instead of being intense and playable, this Yoda with playset is often more problematic in trying to get it to work. At least it may be found dirt cheap.

For other Star Wars action figures, please check out my reviews of:
Power Of The Force R2-D2
Original Trilogy Collection X-Wing Pilot Luke Skywalker
Legacy Collection Captain Needa

4/10

For other Star Wars toy reviews, please visit my index page!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.



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Original Dance-Pop Is Very Pet Shop Boys!




The Good: Engaging synth tunes, Good lyrics, Decent vocals.
The Bad: A little repetitive.
The Basics: A surprisingly deep dance-pop alum, Very is still more average Pet Shop Boys than it is extraordinary music.


Sometimes, it helps for me to contemplate an album in-context. After all, it isn't always fair to evaluate new-to-me albums by how they sound now, with twenty years of music between when the album was first released and now. In the case of the Pet Shop Boys, their albums tend to suffer at my hands for two reasons. The first is that my first experience with them truly was a timeless album (Actually) and second, that so much dance-pop music actually sounds similar. After all, there are only so many things one can do with a synthesizer and a drum machine. That said, I find myself enjoying Very more with every repetition of the disc.

The reason for this is probably in the lyrics and the fact that Pet Shop Boys beat most of the world to the synthesizer-driven dance music. As I listen to "I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind Of Thing," I hear the influences that brought us Lady Gaga. Seriously. The production elements and the basic beat patterns are similar and the Pet Shop Boys beat Lady Gaga there by over fifteen years. What tends to set the Pet Shop Boys apart from so much of what I usually find to be an insipid genre is the lyrics and the quality of the vocals, which have a distinctly less produced sound than the instrumental accompaniment, something which is very much uncommon in dance-pop music.

With only twelve tracks occupying 53:14 on a single c.d., Very is much the creative work of the Pet Shop Boys. All of the songs, save "Go West," were written by the Pet Shop Boys ("Go West" had additional lyrics provided by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe). Neil Tennant provides all of the lead vocals on the album and Chris Lowe plays the synthesizers on all of the songs. The only aspect of production the Pet Shop Boys were not directly involved in was producing the album, but given how far along the career of the Pet Shop Boys was when the album was released, it is hard to imagine they would work with anyone who did not yield the sound they wanted for their band.

Instrumentally, Very is very much an average Pet Shop Boys album. The songs are driven by synthesizer melodies that are catchy, melodic and easy to remember. There is an epic, sweeping quality to the crescendos and falls on songs like "The Theatre" and "Yesterday, When I Was Mad" is less a dance track than a ballad which effectively uses the synthesizer. The songs are frequently deceptive in their instrumental accompaniment in that they tend to possess an up-tempo beat, but have thematically darker tones in both the lyrics and the instrumentation. While the beat picks up to an urgent pace in "The Theatre," the chords Chris Lowe strikes are far lower and the result is an unsettling an epic quality to the score.

Very escapes its sometimes repetitive feel only in the climax of the album. On "Go West," the band breaks out of their traditional, somewhat narrow, synthesizer-driven sound and they burst forth melodically with a brass section that rivals the one used on "Don't Stop" by Fleetwood Mac! But for the most part, Very is exactly what one expects instrumentally when buying a Pet Shop Boys album.

Vocally, Very also is very familiar for those who like the Pet Shop Boys. The songs are led by Neil Tennant's vocals and on Very his voice is where it usually is, right in front of the instrumental accompaniment. Tennant has a very clear voice and he articulates everything so that his lyrics may be clearly understood and on Very he is very much within his safe range as a tenor with a soft, smooth voice. He does return to his more nasal deliveries on songs like "One And One Make Five" and he goes into his higher, almost falsetto range for "To Speak Is A Sin." Either way, he has a stunning voice that is natural and presented incredibly well to remind listeners that the synthesizers are not the only real instrument on the album!

What often knocks the Pet Shop Boys albums up in ratings with objective standards are the lyrics. The Pet Shop Boys frequently make songs with lyrics that set them apart and Very is no exception. Unlike many dance-pop artists, the Pet Shop Boys are unafraid of telling musical storysongs, which they do with songs like "Youthful Offender." There, they create a whole character with their lines "You may be broke now and you may be bored / Call you delinquent or leave you ignored / You'll get what you want / Drive to distraction and crash on the way / Watch your reaction and wait 'til you say / You'll get what you want / It hurts if you can't" ("Youthful Delinquent"). The song is danceable and interesting and it tells a whole story.

But what tends to be the forte of the band is the way they characterize real human emotions. They describe the clumsy feelings of rage well and how it effects relationships. When Tennant sings "You have a certain quality, which really is unique / Expressionless, such irony, although your voice is weak / It doesn't really matter 'cause the music is so loud / Of course it's all on tape, but no one will find out / You hated me too / But not as much as I hated you" ("Yesterday, When I Was Mad") it is hard for anyone who has been in a relationship to not relate!

Unfortunately, there is a bit of repetition which makes Very just a little less compelling than it ought to be. For example, the refrain "I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind Of Thing" is repeated so much more frequently than any of the bridges or other lines in that song that it is easy to forget what the musical protagonist is actually doing!

Even so, Very is better than most any other dance-pop music I have heard of late and it makes for a very easy, very strong "recommend," even if objectively it is not the best album by the Pet Shop Boys or best album ever.

The best song is "The Theatre," the low point is the utterly unmemorable, "Liberation."

For other Pet Shop Boys works, please check out my reviews of:
Disco
Actually
Behaviour
How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously? (single)
Discography: The Complete Singles
Was It Worth It? (single)
Disco 2
Se A Vida E (single)
Nightlife
I Don't Know What You Want But I Can't Give It Any More (single)
New York City Boy (single)
Pop Art: The Hits
Disco 3
Fundamental
Disco 4
Yes

7/10

For other music reviews, please visit my index page!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.



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One Of The Worst Celestial Seasonings Teas Is Their Overpriced Saphara White Tea With Schizandra!




The Good: Developed using fair trade standards.
The Bad: Virtually tasteless, Expensive, Lousy environmental impact, Sour/dry aftertaste
The Basics: Celestial Seasonings's Saphara line goes 0 for 2 with White Tea With Schinzandra flavor, a white, flavorless tea not worth stocking up on . . . or trying.


I doubt there are many people who will vocally disagree with me when I write that one of the only things worse than a bad product is paying a lot for it. Sadly, last year when I went to the Celestial Seasonings factory to stock up on tea for the year, I decided to go with - supposedly - quality over quantity and I purchased teas from Celestial Seasonings's fancier Saphara line. I was dismayed when I discovered the Premier Estate Assam (click here for that review!) was not an incredible tea at all and that the Saphara line had a terrible environmental impact, which is uncharacteristic for Celestial Seasonings. But when I opened the Saphara White Tea with Schizandra, I already had braced myself for the worst.

The reason for my bracing came from experience. White teas, which I stocked up on two years ago, proved themselves to be underwhelming in the taste department. So the Saphara version of white tea did not offer any real promise just because it included exotic Schizandra berries. Fortunately, having experience sometimes prepares us for the worst case scenario and in this case, I was quite glad I did not get my hopes up. Saphara White Tea with Schizandra is bland, with a sour and dry aftertaste and it is utterly unworth the time, attention or money of those looking for a tea experience worth sharing.

Basics

White Tea with Schizandra is an organic white tea from Celestial Seasonings's Saphara line, which is "organic fair trade certified." This white tea is entirely natural and organic and for those wondering, white teas are made from fresh tea buds, before they age or dry and the resulting tea is supposed to be more mild. Unfortunately, Saphara White Tea with Schizandra takes this to an extreme and this is an almost tasteless tea. Like the other Saphara teas, the consumer appears to mostly paying for their principles with this box.

White Tea with Schizandra comes with Saphara's standard pyramid-shaped tea bags. Each pyramid-shaped tea bag is made of biodegradable materials (I'm guessing bamboo) and unlike other Celestial Seasonings products, the Saphara tea pyramids come with strings and little tags. Each box of tea has fifteen individually plastic-wrapped tea bags. On the plus side, because the tea pyramids allow the tea leaves to expand and offer more surface area for the tea to brew with, a single tea bag will make an entire pot of tea.

This listing is for the six-pack of White Tea with Schizandra boxes and that is a further environmental travesty as it is simply six boxes of the tea cellophaned together. For those who insist on trying this awful tea, I'd advise starting with a smaller quantity of it.

Ease Of Preparation

White Tea with Schizandra is your standard white tea as far as the preparation goes. A single tea bag will make the standard 8 oz. coffee mug worth of tea and could be reused and make a second cup of this tea, though considering how little the one tea bag makes - as far as a flavorful cup of tea - it makes little sense to try reusing the tea bag. I tend to make my tea using a 32 oz. steeping tea pot and two tea bags makes a pot of tea as strong as this gets and may be used to make a pointlessly weak second batch.

To prepare White Tea with Schizandra black tea, bring a pot of water to a point just below a boil and pour it over the tea bags. Filtered water should not be boiling as this will cook the tea leaves, as opposed to brew the flavor out of them. This tea takes three to five minutes to steep and when the water is below boiling, and it needs at least the full five minutes to approach anything resembling flavor. After five minutes, the flavor does not concentrate any more so there is no benefit to letting it steep longer than that.

Taste

To its credit, the Saphara White Tea with Schizandra has a good scent. In fact, I suspect the rest of mine might end up being used as potpourri instead of tea! The scent is spicy (like cinnamon) and slightly floral, like a hint of lilacs. This prepares the consumer for a taste that will be flavorful and intriguing.

It also sets the consumer up for absolute disappointment. The White Tea with Schizandra is arguably one of the most bland teas I have ever consumed. The scent seems to be the only intriguing aspect of it and even brewing it by the cup, the best I got was a well-scented cup of water. Yes, after three pots and two scientifically-calibrated cups, the best I can say about White Tea with Schizandra is that it is lightly flavored water. What does "lightly flavored" mean? Well, it smells. And it leaves an aftertaste that starts dry (3 - 15 seconds) and then becomes sour (16+ seconds). This Saphara tea tastes like water . . . with a dry aftertaste. That's it.

If this seems remarkably unsatisfying to read, you've correctly nailed just how unsatisfying the beverage is to drink. The problem with a water-flavored tea is that when something tastes like water, there's not much more one may do to describe it and sadly, that is where we are left with the Saphara White Tea with Schizandra. Whatever a Schizandra berry is, it might as well be watermelon with a dry and sour aftertaste! This is not at all a thirst-quenching tea and it is remarkably unsatisfying to drink.

With a teaspoon of sugar, Saphara White Tea with Schizandra becomes even dryer, though it no longer has the sour aftertaste. With a splash of milk, this tea is overwhelmed and tastes like milk. Cool, it tastes dry and the smell dissipates, so it's mostly like drinking oddly unrefreshing water.

Nutrition

This tea is a ridiculously weak white tea comprised primarily of organic white tea, organic schizandra berries, and organic orange peel. As with most Celestial Seasonings teas, there is nothing unpronouncable in this tea and it is 100% natural and organic. It does not appear to contain gluten and it is Kosher.

In terms of nutrition, I would not suggest trying to live on White Tea with Schizandra. In an 8 oz. mug, there are no calories, nor fat, nor sodium, nor carbs, nor protein. Any nutritional value would come from what you add to this. What the tea has is caffeine and this tea has 30 mg of caffeine per serving, but like the taste, this seems to be strangely absent as far as its effects.

Storage/Clean-up

White Tea with Schizandra is very easy to clean up after - the tea bags may be disposed in the garbage, or composted if you have a good garden and/or compost pile. The tea itself is a very light tea and it will not stain most fabrics. Consult a fabric guide if you get the brewed tea on a fabric.

Overall

Saphara seems to be a social experiment by Celestial Seasonings to drain wealthy people of their money on a tasteless product. The endgame is unclear, but White Tea with Schinzandra seems to be the "Emperor's New Clothes" test. Will wealthy people complain about a tea that tastes like nothing? Well, I'm poorer and I'll gladly stand to say this is a waste of money. Life is too short for teas like this!

For other teas by Celestial Seasonings, please check out my reviews of:
Zingers To Go Blueberry Splash
Vanilla Ginger Green Chai
Saphara Tropical Rooibos

1/10

For other Celestial Seasonings teas, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.


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Don't Enjoy Sports? Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire Will Bore You!




The Good: Acting is all-around wonderful, DVD bonus features, Final fifteen minutes
The Bad: Erratic special effects, Predictable plot/character events, Pacing, Editing, Awkward character development (Ron!)
The Basics: Despite a few decent moments and a great climax, Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire is more often a sports-based teen melodrama that will disappoint adult viewers.


I'll admit it right off the bat: I came into Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire biased. The prior cinematic installment, Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban had such a huge, glaring plot problem that went unresolved, essentially setting up Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire that it was pretty much agony for me to sit with my wife watching this installment. Viewed on DVD, Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire is too erratic for the serious cinephile to enjoy, complete with setups that go unfulfilled and such a lack of tone that it was only when the movie was almost over and my wife asked "Have you figured it out yet?" that it even occurred to me that there was a plot underfoot in the film.

Unfortunately, by this point in the Harry Potter Saga, the elements are so predictable as to be tiresome to even bother reviewing. The action always stems around the heroism of Harry Potter, a young man just learning magic, but with a strong innate ability to do it anyway. He goes from his normal life in the muggle (non-magic) world to Hogwart's school where there is something going on, a new villain rising and a complication that always centers around the new Defense Against The Dark Arts professor. It's always the Defense Against The Dark Arts professor that moves the plot in whatever way it zigs or zags. It's like the way the doctors on House, M.D. always guess "lupus" whenever they encounter a sick character. By Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire, the viewer is ready for something different and, alas, we are not treated to it until the final fifteen minutes, long after most of us have stopped caring.

As always, it is worth noting that this is not the book, this is the movie I am reviewing.
As such, the usual "that was explained better in the book" might be applicable, but if it's not clear by the film, it's a poor cinematic rendering. Unfortunately, Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire has far too many moments like that.

After dreaming of Peter Pettigrew and another villain in a house with a severely weakened Voldemort, who has been made corporal, Harry Potter awakens horrified and absolutely convinced the dark lord has returned. So, he goes with his friends to the world championship Quidditch match where after much fanfare, the game is played and the afterparty is interrupted by an all-out attack by Deatheaters, followers of Lord Voldemort. Terrified, the Weasleys shuffle their kids, Harry and Hermione off to Hogwart's School Of Wizardry And Witchcraft.

Once there, the school plays host to a dangerous competition designed to test the magical abilities of a champion from each of the three great magic schools of the area. The Hogwart's champion, because it has to be a person over seventeen, is the Quidditch player Cedric Diggory. But the Goblet Of Fire, which chooses the champions, also spits out Harry Potter's name and he is bound to enter the competition. Tutored and guided by MadEye, the new Defense Against The Dark Arts professor and Hagrid, Harry works to survive the various trials and work with Cedric to win the competition. But at the same time, he is plagued by the sense there is something evil underfoot and his unexplained presence in the competition is a setup for something horrible.

In fact, Potter's place in the competition is a setup for a pretty fabulous finale to the film. Unfortunately, most of the film is the competition broken up by awkward scenes of stupid middle-school antics character scenes. Throughout the film, Ron is moody in a way that is never satisfactorily explained, so it comes across on screen as a Degrassi-style melodrama. The investigation into the acts of the Deatheaters in the opening is brushed under the rug almost instantly and so MadEye's place in the film is mostly to guide Harry on the competition.

But even the competition has a sense of obvious melodrama to it that is unclearly presented in the film. Touted as a dangerous series of challenges to each magician, the competition soon becomes harmless. For example, while rescuing friends who are magically trapped underwater, the champion Fleur Delacour loses her magic bubble (her ability to breathe underwater). She mysteriously survives the event, as does the person she was supposed to rescue from her (would-be) watery grave. My point here is that the competition is revealed to be all hype and no substance; if Fleur lost her ability to breathe underwater, the competition truly is illustrated as dangerous if she dies a horrible drowning death, not if she manages to swim an impossible distance back to the surface. As it is, she only loses that test within the overall competition, so the viewer is seriously letdown. This is the basic theory of the hero; the greater the challenge, the greater the hero. Harry, it seems, is not truly in danger - save by his moody teenage friends being upset with him - until the very end.

As for that, Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire entirely hinges on the mistake made in Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, as it is Peter Pettigrew who appears to be instrumental in making Voldemort corporal again. The Harry Potter films, largely are more about flash than substance. This is almost made hyperbole in this installment when the gang goes to the world championship Quidditch match but after much hype the game is performed entirely off-screen. This first anticlimax comes on the heels of a terrible special effect for the portkey, a magical device that transports people from one location to another. The concept is integral to the final part of the movie, but by the time it comes up, viewers are likely to figure that something is going on given where the movie goes.

What Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire has going for it is the acting. While Rupert Grint is forced to act like a moody, melodramatic teenager with little on-screen cause, he does it quite well, portraying the anger expertly. Similarly, Emma Watson continues to develop as a convincing and impressive acting talent, especially in scenes where he character makes her first few awkward steps forward in dating an older boy. Watson and Grint play the character conflict that causes off perfectly.

Brendan Gleeson joins the cast as MadEye, a hunter of evil wizards and Gleeson is phenomenal. In fact, his performance is so different from any of his other roles that he is virtually unrecognizable in the part. Adult actors like Gleeson, Michael Gambon (Dumbledore), Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid), Maggie Smith (McGonagall) and Alan Rickman (Snape) fill out the cast wonderfully and play off each other perfectly to create a very adult sense of mature magic-users. Even Matthew Lewis, who plays the minor role of Neville Longbottom, comes into his own in this movie, seeming more confident within his character's nervous skin. In fact, the only performance that seems based more on casting than talent is Robert Pattinson, of Twilight (click here for my review of that film!) fame, as Cedric. Pattinson struts around cocky, but never seems to fit the otherwise professionally-performing cast.

It falls to Daniel Radcliffe to hold the film together at many points and he does it as best he can. Unfortunately, there are moments a digital double is used and it looks absurd. As well, there are times when he seems unclear with what the action going on around him is supposed to be and he does his best, but the plot seems to baffle him at times, too.

The problem here is that there is too much that is unexplained that makes the movie a real tough nut to swallow. Peter Pettigrew getting away at the climax of the prior installment makes no real sense, but given that Hermione has one of the many tools needed to capture him, why no one has is not satisfactorily explained. As a result, this is another special effects epic that is more flash than fun.

On DVD there are a bevy of deleted scenes and featurettes on the special effects and the process of bringing the book to screen. They enhance one's education into the broader world of Harry Potter, but do not make this film any more palatable.

For other films in the Harry Potter franchise, please check out my reviews of:
Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone
Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets
Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban

4/10

For other film reviews, please check out my index page for an organized listing by clicking here!

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.




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Overpriced For What It Is, The Sample Size (.30oz.) Burt's Bees Hand Salve Isn't Worth It.


The Good: Easy to use, Not tested on animals
The Bad: Expensive, Odd smell, Limited results
The Basics: Mediocre on dry skin on hands or feet, the Burt's Bees Hand Salve is expensive and does not offer much in the way of benefits for the price.


My new wife is much more into trendy products than I am. Truth be told, she's absolutely beautiful, so she's almost turning me around on the benefits of specific creams and lotions for each different part of her body (though some days, this makes her body like one confusing Scratch N' Sniff book). Still, there are products that she gets that leave me baffled and I end up slightly amused to see she uses far less than the rest of them. One of the tins that was more reduced by my use for review purposes than her actual use was Burt's Bees Hand Salve, which she got in in the .3 oz. sample size.

Burt's Bees Hand Salve comes with little to explain or recommend it. I asked my wife what the product was for and she said that it is designed to keep skin supple to prevent cracking and to protect areas that do have cracked skin. I commented on how this might be an ideal foot salve, but all I got was a glare from her on that. The primary use of this little tin of waxy goo appears to be to protect normal skin and repair dry skin. In my experience, it did the former and not the latter (on my hands or feet!). Given how pricey this is, it became easy to not recommend as there are many products on the market that do what this claims for less money and with better results.

Burt's Bees Hand Salve comes in a .3 oz. tin (that's 8.5 grams for those on the metric system) and the tin is about an inch and a half in diameter and less than a half-inch tall. The tin is sealed initially with a plastic safety seal which makes it easy to see if anyone has tampered with it. Once that is removed, one need only twist the top of the tin off and one has access to the Hand Salve. Burt's Bees Hand Salve is a thick, waxy substance that occupies the bottom half of the tin. It has the consistency of candle wax, until one runs a finger over the top of the surface. Then, a thin film forms and that allows the Hand Salve to be transferred from the container to a finger to the skin.

Burt's Bees Hand Salve smells like the classic Noxema products. I wish I had a non-brand name product association for this, but there it is. This smells precisely like Noxema or, as I recall it, my grandmother's house. The product tastes slightly buttery, but otherwise is inoffensive. Unlike the Noxema product it smells like, it does not tingle when put on the skin of the hands or lips. This bland product leaves no yummy taste on my - or my partner's - lips to make the healing process more fun or interesting. The Hand Salve's smell wears off within half an hour of being applied to the skin.

Unfortunately, Burt's Bees Hand Salve does leave a greasy film on the hands or other places one applies it. For an objective testing, I applied the Salve to a dry spot on my toe and after four hours, it still was shiny. This looks like an oily film or ointment on the skin and while the smell dissipates, after half an hour, even, the salve comes off on the skin. In fact, I was able to blot the salve off the skin still after four hours from applying it!

Despite the claims that Burt's Bees Hand Salve will heal the dry or broken skin, all the Salve did for me was stop the further damage. Even on the dry skin, there was no noticeable acceleration of the healing process (whereas, with something like antibacterial ointment, there is). My hands did not dry out while using this product, but the protective claims of the Hand Salve are objectively a wash. The skin on my hands is not apparently more protected than they are with the use of a much less expensive hand cream or lotion. Moreover, because it does not seem to have anything in the way of extensive healing benefits, it is easy to not recommend this, even in the trial size.

Finally, this is expensive for what one gets. I am a fan of the "all-natural" cosmetics concept, but Burt's Bees seems to milk consumers for that! Made with Sweet Almond Oil, Olive oil, and beeswax primarily, there is little in Burt's Bees Hand Salve that is unpronouncable. Unfortunately, there is equally little in it that is effective at doing anything. The Hand Salve is not bad for a protectant, but it is a poor restorative. And at $2.75 for a .3 oz. container, the benefits make for a ridiculously poor overall value. There are other product that either do the same thing for less money or do what the Hand Salve claims to do for a more reasonable price.

For other skin care products, please check out my reviews of:
Chapstick Spearmint
Dr. Scholl's Smooth My Sole
Bath & Body Works Sassy Strawberry Mint 3-in-1

4/10

For other health and beauty products, please visit my index page on the subject!

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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