Monday, January 31, 2011

Even Anne Hathaway's Vocals Could Not Save The Twelfth Night Soundtrack!




The Good: Asthetically interesting instrumental pieces
The Bad: Short, Very limited, Short durations of songs make this incidental music largely.
The Basics: Despite three chances to hear Anne Hathaway sing a few of Shakespeare's lines, Twelfth Night is largely a fractured instrumental album without enough to sustain it out-of-context.

My wife believes I am obsessed with Anne Hathaway and tonight I cannot credibly argue with her. The reason I am unable to denying my appreciation of Anne Hathaway's works is that her vocals are featured on three of the songs on the Twelfth Night Soundtrack by Hem and after months of disinterest in this album, learning that Hathaway was involved made me rush out and pick it up.

Now I wish I hadn't.

Twelfth Night features the music composed by Hem with lyrics written by William Shakespeare. This was the soundtrack to the Public Theater's production of Twelfth Night in New York City that ran in the summer of 2009. As a result, the album is both hardly the written works of Hem and hardly an album at all.

Instead, with twenty-eight tracks that add up to a running time of under forty minutes, the album is a random collection of musical interludes. Bouncing between instrumentals performed by the Illyrian Marching Band and Gowanus Radio Orchestra, this is a fractured collection of mood music that sounds a lot like the musical breaks before and after commercials ...if there had been such things in Shakespeare's time. As a result, most of the songs are under a minute in duration and do not have enough time to develop a theme or tune.

Instead, this is almost random utterances by the flute, harp, clarinet and a few stringed instruments that sounds like what is strummed by performers at a local Renaissance Faire. In fact, the only songs that have memorable tunes to them are "Hey Robin, Jolly Robin" and "The Wind And The Rain," both of which are pieces with lyrics and vocals by actors from the play. But even those songs are little more than jigs or jaunty little tunes with simple, repetitive lines like "I am gone, sir, / And anon, sir, / I’ll be with you again, / In a trice, / Like to the old vice" ("I Am Gone, Sir").

Shakespeare's words certainly have a music to them and Dan Meese does a decent job of creating incidental music that sounds like it would be appropriate for the time and place of a Shakespeare play. But songs like "Not Too Fast! Soft, Soft!" are instrumental pieces that seem designed solely to change a mood and out of context, they feel like pieces of a conversation the listener is not privy to the rest of.

In fact, the entire Twelfth Night Soundtrack suffers because the musical snippets lack context, a building theme or even duration long enough to make listeners feel something before the track changes to the next song. This, alas, is the death knell of the album and one which not even Anne Hathaway's dulcet tones may save the album from.

For other soundtrack reviews, please check out my reviews of:
The Red Violin Soundtrack
The Last Of The Mohicans Soundtrack
Magnolia Soundtrack

2/10

For other music reviews, please visit my index page!

© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.


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Anne Hathaway, A Modest Proposal: Parlay Catwoman Into Wonder Woman!

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Anne Hathaway has a lot going for her as an actress. She has more than proven her willingness to take deep or challenging roles with her parts in Rachel Getting Married and Love And Other Drugs. She has long managed to keep a serious side, but let loose in Get Smart and provided a profoundly unsettling performance in Alice In Wonderland as the White Queen, for which there was a shockingly small amount of merchandise (especially considering the rest of the film . . .). While she has acted opposite greats like Julie Andrews and Meryl Streep, she has a gravitas of her own that sets her up as the natural successor to either or both. With the announcement that Anne Hathaway will play Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises, Hathaway reveals a lack of prejudice toward genre works and this might well be the solution to Warner Bros. other lingering genre franchise problem.

Anne Hathaway should play Wonder Woman in the cinematic rendition of Wonder Woman. While it might take other esteemed actresses like Dame Judy Dench decades to leap from Shakespeare to graphic novel fare, contemporary cinema is proving there need not be a bias against super hero or science fiction works. Hathaway has received a grand total of three (yes, only 3!) nominations for Best Actress in the Oscars and Golden Globes and one has to wonder why. Hathaway has great range, but so many viewers see her in the “good girl” role and as a wholesome woman who represents strangely middle-of-the-road values. But with her being cast as the Catwoman, one has to trust that the man who put Heath Ledger into the role of the Joker is not going to recast the edgy female vigilante as something softer. And if Hathaway can pull off the vicious, self-serving streak needed to embody Selina Kyle properly, honestly what is left for her?

I submit that Wonder Woman is the role that she ought to take following The Dark Knight Rises and customizing the role for Hathaway is the element that could make the film into cinematic gold and help break the stigma of nominating (and awarding) a genre heroine performance for the big two acting awards.

Why Anne? The principle problem with figuring out a script for Wonder Woman is not, despite popular opinion, figuring out the time period to set the film in. The difficulty with Wonder Woman as a cinematic character is casting the title role with a woman who has the ability to straddle the pacifistic values of Princess Diana and the understanding that more drastic measures might be necessary in the real world, which is something Wonder Woman came to learn pretty quickly. Anne Hathaway has the strength on screen to espouse liberal, feminist values of equality without infusing it with any sense of camp. While Lynda Carter did a great job with the attempt in the late-‘70’s Wonder Woman, too often her part was written with the intent that Carter smirk or laugh off inequality with irony. Anne Hathaway has a screen presence that makes speeches interesting when she speaks and for a heroine whose most common method of diffusing a situation is to talk her way out of problems, it seems like that would be a quality directors would desperately want for the role.

The balance issue is a serious one. For a long time, I was in the Charisma Carpenter camp for Wonder Woman. She had the look, I figured she would look great in the outfit (despite her tattoos), I rooted for her. But while Carpenter might make a great Wonder Woman, it is virtually impossible to see her as the more reasoned, mellow, philosophical Princess Diana. Anne Hathaway’s acting background easily makes her the powerhouse choice for the Themysciran Princess and with The Dark Knight Rises she has the opportunity to once and for all prove she has the acting chops to pull off badass and physical.

Second, there is the sex appeal factor. Say what you will about Hollywood and its annoying tendency toward thin and pale, but Anne Hathaway has a quality that her peers do not. Jolie is far too invested in her kick-ass factor, Scarlett Johanssen has done too much where she has played dull and dead-eyed and . . . Emma Stone is still a bit young for the role. Hathaway seems like she would be the one to fit into the one-piece best. But even better than that image (it’s not some Maxim shoot featuring Megan Fox) is this thought: if there were ever to be a heroine on screen who is able to discuss with another character how she is using her sex appeal as a disarming tactic or because she is just so comfortable with her own body, who else could deliver such lines with credibility besides Anne Hathaway? I spent quite a while trying to come up with one person and I didn’t.

Finally, there is the story factor. Wonder Woman has been plagued and delayed for years because apparently every writer working on the project only has an idea what Wonder Woman might look like and not her character, her struggles or her adversaries. Arguably, the fundamental problem with what the Star Trek films was was that they eventually just became “kill the villain” stories. After Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, each director (save Nimoy in The Voyage Home) tried to come up with “the next Khan” and the movies all degenerated into a story that resulted in supposedly pacifistic people killing the villain. Similarly, super hero movies degenerate the same way. The hero is introduced, a villain rises up (either inspiring the hero or inspired by the actions of the hero) and they meet and ultimately the hero must defeat the villain and the viewer is left admitting that the movie might not have been all that original, but the effects were all right. Wonder Woman’s story has been supposedly hampered because writers working on the various scripts can’t figure out the villain. What if the world today were the villain? What if the whole point of a Wonder Woman movie was to have Wonder Woman try to change minds, save lives and fight for peace instead of just using violence to fight more violence? Who could pull off a superhero film wherein the heroine helps insure that roads are made through Africa to insure that medicine gets to war torn villages or wherein the heroine fights in her one-piece superhero outfit by night while working as an ambassador brokering peace in a war torn region by day is not Anne Hathway? Seriously, the writer who can write the script that makes interesting the superhero genre by challenging the conventions that ambitiously is the one who wins the Wonder Woman race and that writer/director is still stuck with who could pull it off on the big screen. Who if not Anne Hathaway? Think: The Dark Knight meets The Hurt Locker meets . . . hell, what is the name of a movie that actually deals with people sitting down and trying to broker peace across a table? That’s the super hero project that Anne Hathaway is destined for and that is worthy of a Wonder Woman story.

I realize that it might take others actually seeing Hathaway in the catsuit, kicking butt before they ask “What can’t she do if she’s making me believe this?!” But I’m already there and I say, “Anne Hathaway, you should be Wonder Woman and you should demand a superhero film worthy of your talents that challenges the audience that stuck with you . . . even after Bride Wars!” And for those naysayers, it all comes back to the balance question: if not Anne Hathaway as Princess Diana and Wonder Woman, then who?

For works featuring Anne Hathaway, please check out my reviews of:
The Dark Knight Rises
One Day
Rio
Love And Other Drugs
Family Guy Presents: It's A Trap!
Alice In Wonderland
Valentine's Day
Twelfth Night Soundtrack
Bride Wars
Rachel Getting Married
Passengers
Get Smart
Becoming Jane
The Devil Wears Prada
Hoodwinked!
Brokeback Mountain
The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement
Ella Enchanted
Nicholas Nickleby
The Other Side Of Heaven
The Princess Diaries

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Why Mess With Peels When You Can Have Ten Pounds Of Delicious? Top Banana Jelly Belly's!

Top Banana Jelly Belly Jelly Beans - 10 lbs bulk
Click to buy directly from Jelly Belly!




The Good: Delicious, Environmentally responsible bulk, Smells and tastes like banana!
The Bad: No real nutritional value, Eaten in bulk they seem to lose the flavor some
The Basics: Another exceptional flavor by Jelly Belly, Top Banana satisfies those who love jelly beans and bananas!


We all have favorites when it comes to . . . well, everything. For me, for non-chocolate candy, it would have to be Jelly Belly Jelly Beans. And among those, one of my favorites would have to be the Buttered Popcorn flavored Jelly Bellys which is where I started my reviews of the confections. Continuing again with the bulk packs of Jelly Belly jelly beans - why limit oneself?! - I decided to tackle a flavor that is equally good as my arguable favorite: Top Banana. And why not start with the ten pound pack so I don't have to complain about the terrible environmental impact of the lesser packages?

For those who might never have had Jelly Belly Jelly Beans, these are easily the best jelly beans on the planet, packing a lot of flavor into a very small size. Unlike most jelly beans which are only vaguely flavored and are more based on colors, Jelly Belly jelly beans have a wide variety of actual flavors, like pina colada, orange sherbet, Dr. Pepper, or their signature flavor Buttered Popcorn.

Who needs ten pounds of Top Banana flavored Jelly Belly's? Anyone who loves banana flavored things - like bananas - but doesn't want the hassle of the peels. Or anyone who loves jelly beans and is sick of yellow jelly beans that taste like yellow.

Basics

Top Banana is a flavor of Jelly Belly jelly beans. Jelly Belly jelly beans are approximately one half inch long by one quarter inch wide and they are roughly bean-shaped. These little candies are marketed to taste precisely like banana and they live up to that well.

Top Banana flavored Jelly Belly's are available in a wide array of quantities, but the largest quantity available is the ten pound bulk case. This is a decent-sized box with a plastic lining and while some might wonder why anyone would need a ten pound box, it's hard not to go through these when they are around. The Top Banana flavor, especially, is one that is so delicious that once one starts eating them, one needs to come up with a reason to stop. I have taken to jarring these babies up when I get them in this extreme bulk just to help ration myself.

Ease Of Preparation

These are jelly beans, not homemade won tons. Preparing them is as easy as opening the box and popping one (or a handful) into your mouth. In the case of the ten pound box, one might want to put them in a candy dish of some form as opposed to always going into the box, but who am I to dictate how you eat them?! You can eat them off the belly of a naked Scotsman for all I care*. Eating them out of the box is fine!

Taste

Top Banana flavored Jelly Belly jelly beans has a few real advantages when it comes to taste. The first is that they are based on something that has about the same texture as a jelly bean. Yes, banana flavored jelly beans make a great deal of sense because bananas are about as squishy in one's mouth as a room temperature jelly bean. Moreover, Top Banana jelly beans have a bouquet! There is a scent a banana emits when it is just a little warm and that is the exact smell of Top Banana Jelly Belly jelly beans.

This flavor is accurately titled, as each jelly bean tastes like a banana. The incredible thing is this does not taste like a banana muffin or a banana milkshake, but an actual banana. As well, the flavor is not simply in the coating, but all the way through the bean. Every lick or bite of this bean embodies the flavor of banana!

Nutrition

Well, these are jelly beans, so anyone looking to them for nutrition needs to take remedial Home and Career Skills because this type food is not a fountain of nutrition. Jelly beans, even Jelly Belly jelly beans, are not a legitimate source of nutrition. These are a snack food, a dessert, and are in no way an adequate substitute for a real meal. A serving is listed at thirty-five beans, with each Jelly Belly jelly bean having approximately four calories. This means that in a single serving, there are 140 calories, which is 12% of your daily recommended intake.

Top Banana flavored Jelly Belly's may taste like banana, but they do NOT have the vitamins or potassium that a banana has.

Jelly Belly jelly beans are not as bad as they could be in the nutrition area. They have no fat and no protein, but for those who have ever dated a Vegan, these are Vegan compliant because they contain no gelatin! They have only one percent of the daily sodium with 15 mg and they are gluten free! The main ingredients are sugar, corn syrup and modified food starch, so it's not like this is an all-natural food, but they could be far, far worse.

Storage/Clean-up

Jelly Belly jelly beans have a shelf life of approximately one year and I have yet to run across a stale Jelly Belly (though that could have something to do with a package never surviving a year around me . . .). They remain freshest when they are kept in an airtight container (the bag in the bulk box is sufficient if it is kept closed) and they ought to be kept in a lukewarm environment. Storing them in hot or sunny places is likely to make the beans stick together and be gross. Kept in a cool, dry place, the beans retain their flavor perfectly.

As for cleanup, unless one allows the Jelly Belly to get hot to the point that the waxy coating on the bean melts, the dyes on these do not bleed or denature, so there is usually no cleanup necessary, not even washing one's hands after eating them. I've never had Top Banana Jelly Belly's stain anything. That said, it's pretty wild to be able to eat something that tastes so much like banana and not have to clean those stringy, sticky things banana peels have off one's fingers afterward!

Overall

Jelly Belly jelly beans might just be the best candy on the face of the planet and Top Banana is an exceptional flavor to use to help prove that. And the ten pound box, while not necessary, sure goes a long way to convincing some of us we're keeping fruit in our diet when we just don't want to be bothered with peels!


For other Jelly Belly flavors reviewed by me, please check out:
Sour Watermelon
Crushed Pineapple
Lemon






*be sure to check with the Scotsman first!

10/10

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

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.



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Top Of The Game Early On: "Darkness Falls" And "The Erlenmeyer Flask" Are Only Brought Down On Video By The Medium!





The Good: Plot, Character, Acting, Effects
The Bad: None that come to mind . . . with the content, medium issues with VHS, the dying medium.
The Basics: Scary and intelligent, a pair of episodes that all television - not just science fiction - ought to aspire to are brought down on the rating by medium issues.


Someone in the Fox Video Department did something terribly right when they made this video. "Darkness Falls" and "The Erlenmeyer Flask" are easily two of the top ten best episodes of The X-Files ever. Putting them together on the same tape was some sharp marketing. Basically, the tape is a pair of perfect episodes and if they're not perfect, I've yet to figure out where they go wrong. In fact, only the fact that VHS is an almost dead medium make me rate the video anything but perfect. That said, the episodes are amazing and anyone still using a VHS ought to pick them up; anyone more hip ought to digitally download them (there are links below for that!).

"Darkness Falls" is an amazing "bottle episode" wherein Mulder and Scully travel to the woods of the Pacific Northwest to try to discover what happened to a logging team that disappeared. The answer (which we, the viewer, know from the teaser) are creepy little phosphorescent bugs and they are easily the most disturbing scenes in the episode and one of the best, most subtle visual effects ever on television. Anyone who can make little glowing pixels terrifying is pretty cool.

"The Erlenmeyer Flask" is the seminal mythology episode in which the basic running theme of the rest of the series is introduced. Until this episode, the government seems to have been in collusion with covering up a U.F.O. conspiracy, here we learn what the government might actually do with such materials. It's a cool episode and it involves a man fleeing arrest that the Deep Throat character brings to Mulder's attention. Baffled about what the mystery is, Mulder and Scully are ready to give up . . . until they get solid evidence of what they've each been looking for.

The strength of both episodes is the level of character. Mulder and Scully are perfectly defined, intelligent, often witty in each episode. But the peripheral characters are all compelling. In "Darkness Falls" the U.S. Marshal and the environmentalist both are strongly independent, they are vivid beings not merely caricatures of what we expect government workers and eco-terrorists to be.

In addition, the acting is solid. Jerry Harding as "Deep Throat" in "The Erlenmeyer Flask" plays the character as amazingly torn between betraying his position and helping Mulder. And David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson aren't bland or unemotive in these episodes (which was part of what plagued their acting near the beginning of the series).

There's a lot to enjoy here. "Darkness Falls" is just plain scary and the final lines of it are easily some of the most creepy and psychologically devastating in television ever. "The Erlenmeyer Flask" is the intellectual's solution to the brainless action film. It's fast paced, smartly written and - being near the beginning of the mythology of "The X-Files" - it's remarkably accessible to any viewer.

[Given that VHS is a rapidly dying medium, a far better investment would be The X-Files - The Complete First Season, reviewed here!
As well, those who already love The X-Files will find The X-Files - The Complete Series to be an even better buy and my review may be accessed by clicking here!
Thanks for reading!]

“Darkness Falls” – 10/10
“The Erlenmeyer Flask” – 10/10
VHS – 8/10

For other television episode and DVD boxed set reviews, please visit my index page!

© 2011, 2008, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.



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Who Needs 14 Speeds In A Blender? Osterizer Thinks Everyone, I Think Different!




The Good: Generally safe, Easy to use, Looks good, Durable
The Bad: Lack of color options, Redundant speeds, Not the easiest appliance to clean
The Basics: Average-at-best, after years of using, the Osterizer 14-speed blender fails to impress me because it has never perfectly blended any of the projects I've used it for.


Some years ago, I worked at a department store in a mall and while it might seem conceptually like a bad fit for me, it paid the bills, I had some fun and up until the moment I had to interact with customers, I did quite well at it. As my days at the job waned, I decided it was the perfect time to get ahead in life and that the best thing I could do with some of my additional money was stock up on appliances that I would need for the foreseeable future. Being the pragmatist I was, I determined that I absolutely needed a blender and therefore I picked up one. It was the Osterizer 14-speed blender and while I have had it for years, I use it a lot less frequently than I thought I would years ago.

The Osterizer 14-speed blender, model number 60242, is in many ways a standard blender with a glass pitcher that blending occurs in as a result of little rotating blades at the bottom of the pitcher. It connects to a plastic base and this unit is accented in white plastic, which has not, traditionally, fit the stainless steel look the rest of my kitchen has been working to achieve all of these years. So, while it might fit some kitchen's decor, it does not fit mine any longer.

That said, the curves of the base and the round toggle buttons have a much more modern appearance than, say the old blenders of the '70s, '80s and early '90s. Instead of being blockish, the unit makes the attempt to blend in with curves as opposed to sharp corner. Still, that it is (or was, at least) only available in white, is problematic for those who want both function and style and do not have a white or neutral colorscheme to their kitchen.

The 14-speed blender is comprised of two essential parts, the base and the glass pitcher. The base is a six inch square block at its base that tapers some to the pitcher lock-in at the top, seven inched above the bottom. The base has a rubberized bottom to prevent slippage and that works exceptionally well to prevent the combined unit from tipping over. The base is remarkably stable and users who are worried about safety with children around will find that it is difficult for children, animals, or just klutzy adults to pull this off any countertop because the rubberized bottom has a significant amount of friction that holds it there.

The controls for the Osterizer blender are eight toggle switches on the front face of the base. One is a simple "Off" button and pressing it at any time unlocks any of the other buttons, preventing the blades from spinning. Moreover, if the jar pitcher is lifted out of the base while operating (NOT a safe or recommended thing to do under any circumstances!) the blades stop spinning. The seven controls are easy to us; either press and lock the button in the "on" position or hold the button down and release for "pulse" function (see below). The base has a three foot long white electric cord which connects it to a two-pronged wall outlet.

For those concerned about saving space, this Osterizer 14-speed blender has both an extensive footprint and lateral space need, though pretty much any blender would. On its own, the base has a large footprint with its six inch square space needs, making it not ideal for cramped quarters.

As for the pitcher (the jargon of the industry appears to be "jar," but I find that to be a misnomer) is a thick glass pitcher with a plastic and metal ring at the bottom and a plastic and rubber top that fits snuggly onto the top of the pitcher. The five cup (40 oz., 1.25 L) pitcher stands seven and a half inches tall on its own and has a much wider top than base. The bottom of the unit is a screw-on plastic ring which holds the rotating metal blades to the glass pitcher. This plastic ring connects to a similar ring on the base of the blender, which allows the base to use a motor to control the blades within the pitcher.

The top of the pitcher is capped off by a plastic and rubber top. The top fits the square shape of the pitcher and has a half-inch rubber seal on the bottom of the top that snugly hugs the inside of the glass pitcher, keeping the top in place. In all my years with the unit, I have never had the top pop off or slide off for any reason. Also as part of the top is a clear plastic seal in the center that twists off. This means that without removing most of the top off the pitcher, one may have access to the blender for dropping ingredients into the pitcher. This is handy because the opening is too small for one to stick fingers, hands or even arms into, making it very safe. (In a worst case scenario, a baby's arm could hypothetically fit through this hole but even fully-extended, the fingers of a baby whose arm would fit through the hole would not even reach the blades at the bottom. And no, no babies were harmed in the testing for this review.)

This Osterizer 14-speed blender is remarkably easy to use. With the pitcher properly assembled, the ring at the bottom of the pitcher fits into the receiving ring on the base. The pitcher must be twisted ninety degrees to lock it into the base. This is, I have discovered, all that keeps the pitcher from easily tipping out of the unit. Many times after cleaning the blender, I will simply stick the pitcher on the base and it falls off the base very easily when not locked in. The blender is remarkably stable when the pitcher is locked into the base. Any direct force against the base yields a pretty unmovable object. However, pushing against the top of the pitcher (i.e. back, instead of down) can cause the base to lift if enough force is exerted. Moreover, the pitcher still may be pulled off the base by lifting straight up, even when locked in. For most operators being careful and wanting to use the blender for its intended purposes, though, this is safe and fairly easy to use.

With the pitcher locked in, simply press or hold one of the buttons for the speed desired. Here is where the 14-speed blender is a bit of a misnomer. There are seven buttons and speeds are considered different when the pulse function is used as opposed to a constant speed by the blender. So, for example, "Whip" and the pulse function from the same button are actually the same speed, but when the button is pressed and locked on "Whip," that is considered a different speed than when one holds the button without pressing it fully in. That latter function, known as pulse, allows one to stop the blades simply by releasing the button; one need not hit the "off" button to stop the blades. Pulse is good for "touch ups" on cutting and when one does not need a lot of grinding.

As for the operation, after years of using this Osterizer 14-speed blender, there are two notes. First, it is very durable. In all that time, I've never had to have the blades sharpened, though at peak usage, I used it every day for a month. Second, this is a thoroughly redundant machine. I cook a lot and using this blender has made me suspect of all blenders with a lot of speed options. The difference between "liquefy" and "ice crush" is not easily determined, nor is the difference between the slowest speeds of "Stir" and "Puree." Is there a difference between "Stir" and "Ice Crush?" For sure; it is the difference between ice mixing with a drink and ice being broken up for a drink.

The problem the Osterizer 14-speed has - in addition to too many options that are so similar as to be more gimmick than substance (a six-speed would probably have all the functionality anyone using this would actually need) - this blender suffers from what most work top blenders seem to suffer from, which is an inadequate ability to blend based on design. To be sure, the blades at the bottom is the safest style of blender; it is also the least efficient in terms of functionality because most heavier objects one wants ground will remain buoyant atop the spinning blades as the pulverize whatever is immediately atop them. This tends to necessitate some pressing on the ingredients one needs ground, which effectively nullifies the safety feature of having the blades at the bottom.

So, for a perfect example, I used to make a lot of fruit shakes. This was composed of cut up fruit that was then frozen for at least twelve hours, juice and a few ice cubes. I would put the frozen fruit and ice cubes in and a little juice and set the machine at various speeds to try to get a uniform, thick fruit shake that did not have any large fruit chunks in it that could not get sucked up by me and my straw. The problem is, the bottom fruit would get pulverized, but there would be a large frozen block of fruit that would not get sucked down and into the blades. As a result, I would have to stick a wooden spoon through the access hatch in the top to push the frozen fruit down (while the unit was not running, of course). It would take an average of fifteen minutes to get the entire batch of fruit and ice (less than five cups worth, obviously) chopped up enough to get a drinkable shake. There would always be a piece or two of fruit lodged underneath the spinning blades, intact. The ice tended to get so destroyed as to not actually be ice any longer. The functional problem here is that I often ended up with either a few big chunks of fruit in an otherwise wonderful shake or I ended up with a slightly thick form of juice. Neither of which is the ideal fruit shake. Keep in mind, I experimented for years using every setting and this never yielded perfection either way, even with fewer ingredients added!

As for cleanup, that is a bit of a process. The base simply wipes clean, but the pitcher has to be disassembled. The glass pitcher may be put in a dishwasher, but the plastic ring, rubber ring that forms a seal between the glass pitcher and plastic ring, and metal blades - along with the top - should be washed by hand. There is a lot of assembly and disassembly that goes into cleaning up the Osterizer, but again, this is pretty standard for a work top blender.

In all my years of using this, I have never needed to exercise the warranty and the motor is still running strong (which is why I have not replaced it with a food processor as opposed to a worktop blender). It does seem durable.

Ultimately, this is an average blender and I suspect people without children would do better with a food processor as opposed to a blender. The problems with work top blenders might all be design-based, but it is a flaw enough for me to not recommend this blender. I would rather have a blender with fewer options that actually worked than one with as many options that still leaves the work unfinished.

For other kitchen devices reviewed by me, please check out my reviews of:
Chef's Choice Electric Kettle
Hamilton Beach 727 Milkshake maker
Cuisinart ICE-20/ICE-21 Ice Cream Maker

4.5/10

For other kitchen product reviews, please check out my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.



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Anne Hathaway Is One Of The Few Bright Lights In Rachel Getting Married.


The Good: Anne Hathaway's performance, Generally the acting.
The Bad: Pacing, Camera movements, Unlikable characters, DVD subtitle issues.
The Basics: Slow, belabored and obvious, Rachel Getting Married is a rare failure featuring Anne Hathaway; indeed, it is only the acting that even marginally saves this.


To understand just how disappointed I was with Rachel Getting Married, one needs to understand just how much I was looking forward to seeing the film. Last year, I saw a lot of movies and Rachel Getting Married was one I did not get to see in the theaters. In fact, the one time I was in a place to see it, the person I wanted to see it with told me she was going with someone else later in the week. Thus deprived, I had to wait until it arrived on DVD. So, I was pleasantly surprised last night to see that my library had managed to get the film in. So, despite having just watched Crash (reviewed here!) as part of the Best Picture program I was hosting at the library, I took Rachel Getting Married out and rushed home to watch it.

Perhaps it is sitting and watching two depressing movies in a night or perhaps it was the early camera stylings in Rachel Getting Married that made me think that the cameraman from NYPD Blue filmed this while falling down the stairs, but Rachel Getting Married might well be the biggest disappointment of 2008. Other movies were worse, to be sure, but there was none from last year that I went into expecting greatness and I ended up wondering how the film had managed to get such good press. To wit, at one point in the movie, I checked to see how much time was left and I was supremely disappointed to discover that only an hour had elapsed and I still had fifty minutes left to endure.

Rachel Getting Married is not actually about Rachel, it is about her sister, Kym, who is checked out of rehab for the weekend in order to attend Rachel's rehearsal dinner and wedding. The first major problem is that where the film sets up all the necessary elements in the first few minutes with implications any adult audience will pick up, the film later makes entirely explicit, beating into the viewer's heads all of the addiction/recovery issues in a way that is not informative and nowhere near entertaining.

Kym is signed out of her in-patient rehabilitation facility by her father, Paul, and stepmother, Carol. Almost immediately, she begins chain-smoking to cope with the sheer number of people staying at her father's Connecticut house. Overwhelmed by the people and the situation, Kym embraces the court-mandated support group meetings, which - because of the nature of her addiction and the crime associated with it - she is forced to cycle to. After the meeting, she discovers that the Best Man in the wedding, Kieran, was one of the people who spoke at the meeting and she finds a kindred spirit in him.

Through Kieran, Kym discovers she is not the Maid Of Honor for her sister that she thought she was and she begins to press the issue with Rachel. As the usual wedding issues come up, Kym's addiction issues complicate things to force the family members into familiar roles which they adapt or break as the film goes on.

Rachel Getting Married, like 28 Days (reviewed here!) is essentially a glorified after-school special with a more impressive cast than its television counterparts. Indeed, if I were still in a middle school health class, I could no doubt name the roles each member of the family is playing, though I know Paul is most often the enabler here. The purpose of my comment here is quite simple; it does not take long before the film becomes less about characters interacting in real ways than it is about character types from the archetypal addict/recovery story. Mixing the addiction and wedding issues - weddings often known to not bring out the best in the people involved! - could be intriguing, but everything in this film falls entirely along predicted lines.

As a result, in the first moments of the movie, there is Unspecified Prior Event which is alluded to, which upsets Kym, even before she is picked up. Then, at the rehearsal dinner, someone refers to a Missing Character, and Kym and virtually everyone else looks upset. Is it a surprise, then, when Kym has Obvious Breakdown/Revelation at her group therapy session? No, not really. And while this could be played out in an interesting or wonderful way, instead, it makes it into the film in the most droll and perfectly-timed execution possible. Rachel Getting Married is so by-the-book, in fact, that one suspects director Jonathan Demme had to shake the camera just to get the film made under the guise of "Yes, I can make this old story seem new." Unfortunately, the camera movements, which are intended to portray how unsettled Kym is returning home are so chaotic as to be nauseating and distracting, in addition to being an Obvious Artistic Technique.

Here's the thing, I love art house films, but what I most frequently appreciate about them is how they get performances or concepts across that mainstream movies do not usually do. Demme gets Hathaway to take her shirt off. Big whoop. Where is the substance? Where is something - anything - audacious? Alas, it is not in Rachel Getting Married. Instead, this movie, which will probably be a favorite for high school Health teachers henceforth for its formulaic portrayal of a dysfunctional family wrestling with addiction issues, is boring.

Rachel is appropriately self-centered given that it is her wedding and the circumstances are complicated by Rachel having to deal with Kym, a mother, stepmother and in-laws. But while some of her issues are understandable, supporting characters act too frequently in monolithic ways that could only serve this specific story. So, while realism is a great aspect of the performances in much of the film, it is not present in all of the characters. To wit, late in the film an artifact from the Missing Character is uncovered, which unsettles Paul in an overlong dishwasher loading sequence. It is at this moment that Paul, distraught, abandons Kym. The thing is, when Paul leaves the room, all of the characters - few who are anywhere near as emotionally invested in the object or its appearance - walk out as well. It feels like Art House Chic and more stylistic than substantial. For a film trying to be gritty and real, this is a fatal flaw.

That said, what is not overrated about Rachel Getting Married is the acting. The acting is all that sucks this out of the most dismal layers of ratings. Anne Hathaway is wonderful as Kym because from the first moment she appears on screen puffing heavily on a cigarette, the viewer is set up to not like her. As a fan of Hathaway's, getting me to not like her character is a challenge, but here she makes it seem effortless. Hathaway slouches through much of the film without her trademark (certainly off-camera) dignity and in the film's quiet moments, she is soulful and vulnerable in a way that makes viewers believe she deserved every award nomination she received for her performance. She is truly exceptional as Kym.

Despite the character predictabilities, Bill Irwin is wonderful as Paul, playing the character with a realism and genuine sense of conflict as he wrestles with protecting and aiding his daughters. Irwin has a likable affect to him and he plays the character almost constantly as a man wearing a mask and he sells us on Paul's fragile attempts at appearing invulnerable. Similarly, Mather Zickel is decent as Kieran, playing him with both the sense that he could have been an addict and that he is in a very different place than Kym.

On DVD, Rachel Getting Married comes with minimal extras, which include several trailers for other movies. There is a commentary track and I was distressed to discover that the two subtitle options were garbled as a result. Activating the subtitles split the subtitles between lines from the commentary track and the actual film. Neither subtitle option was "pure," both had fragments of either of the audio tracks, so those who need to engage the subtitles are likely to have problems with the film. That said, the commentary track lays out all of the symbols in the usual self-congratulatory way independent film do on DVD.

I spent months excited about Rachel Getting Married and Anne Hathaway, great as she is, cannot cover for a script that is predictable and obvious. But it is the look of the film, washed out yellow and characterized by spinning camera movements that add up to nothing that ultimately plunge this average film below the bar.

For works featuring Anne Hathaway, please check out my reviews of:
Love And Other Drugs
Family Guy Presents: It's A Trap!
Alice In Wonderland
Valentine's Day
Passengers
The Princess Diaries

5/10

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

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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The Return To Shadows Of The Empire! The Novel Tells A Different Star Wars Story!




The Good: Some interesting concepts, Fills in the gaps adequately
The Bad: Character and plot issues that are repetitive or redundant, Simple read
The Basics: More average than extraordinary, Shadows Of The Empire, the novel, fills in a Star Wars gap, mostly by recycling characters and ideas.


A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a space adventure took place that was one of the greatest films of all time. That film was The Empire Strikes Back (reviewed here!) and it was such a magnificent movie that when the film series it was a part of returned for the next installment, the plot was a natural continuation, but the characters were anything but. Indeed, if one objectively watches Return Of The Jedi (reviewed here!), vital characters like Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Lando Calrissian and even Darth Vader have very little in common with who they were prior to that film. So, how did the characters get from the end of the one film to the beginning of the other? The answer is Shadows Of The Empire!

It might seem like I have already milked this particular cow, whatwith writing a review of the graphic novel of Shadows Of The Empire but herein lies the genius of George Lucas and the creative people working under him; they created a multimedia experience with various parts under the same name and it is only through experiencing all of those parts that one gets the entire story. So the graphic novel Shadows Of The Empire tells the story arc of Boba Fett working to get Han Solo to Jabba the Hutt and Luke Skywalker's tribulations when he reaches Tatooine. But Shadows Of The Empire, the novel by Steve Perry fills in the same timeframe in a different way, focusing on Leia, Lando and Chewbacca's efforts to recover Han and a fiendish plan by a new alien to thwart Darth Vader and become the Emperor's new right hand. As well, there was a video game and it is when one uses all three mediums that one fills in the story of the missing months between Han Solo's freezing in carbonite and the rescue we witnessed at the beginning of Return Of The Jedi! But for the novel, Shadows Of The Empire is a good, but not great or truly original story in the Star Wars universe.

Darth Vader, troubled by his inability to turn Luke to his cause, recuperates from his wounds while trying to restore his place of favor with the Emperor. However, Vader has serious competition, in the form of Prince Xizor, a ruthless crime boss who runs Black Sun. Xizor has the ear of the Emperor and seeks to become his right hand, using organized crime the way Vader utilizes the Imperial military. Xizor and his assistant, Guri, hatch a plan to kill Luke Skywalker, to curry favor and revenge himself upon Vader for the genocide Vader ordered upon his homeworld some time before.

At the same time, Lando and Chewbacca's attempts to prevent Boba Fett from delivering the frozen Han Solo to Jabba the Hutt fail and Leia joins them. While the Rebellion works to steal the plans for the second Death Star, Leia decides to try to negotiate with Xizor for Solo's life and she and Chewbacca accompany Xizor's assistant, Guri, to Coruscant. There, Leia attempts to not be seduced by Xizor, get Han back and survive, all the while Xizor uses her as bait to lure Luke to Coruscant so he can be easier killed for the Emperor!

Shadows Of The Empire does what it needs to do, but Perry takes some serious liberties, especially with the character of Princess Leia. Leia, so much of a prude in the first two Star Wars movies that it seems Han Solo never has a fair shake at her, is suddenly happy to get busy with a reptilian crime boss far more repulsive than Han ever was. This is a bit of a stretch and readers who are attentive to character details are more likely to read this and roll their eyes than say "oh, that's cool." Conceits like this make the reader wonder why Perry and Lucasfilm bothered.

But there is no conceit - not even Leia getting captured by Xizor and needing to be rescued (wasn't there a movie that involved pretty much that?!) - that is as contrived and terrible as that of Dash Rendar. Rendar is a scoundrel who pretty much takes Han's place for Shadows Of The Empire. Instead of fully developing a redemptive arc for Lando Calrissian, Dash Rendar, who has done some work for the Rebellion since the Battle Of Hoth, pops in, annoys Leia much the way Han did and buddies up with Luke . . . much the way Han Solo once did. In addition to offering momentary confusion for Leia about her feelings for scoundrels, Rendar essentially wisecracks and is cynical the entire time and when Shadows Of The Empire is over, the reader truly is left without a care as to whether or not they shall ever see or hear from him again.

But what Perry and Shadows Of The Empire - in this medium, at least - do well are the characters of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Skywalker is both adapting to his new hand and dealing with the emotional ramifications of learning that Darth Vader might well be his father. Because he cannot confront the spirit of Obi-Wan Kenobi or Yoda with that information (given that those conversations happen on-screen in Return Of The Jedi), Luke is on his own and is given a brief arc to wrestle with the implications while training more in the Force. This, naturally, gives him a decent chance to wrestle with controlling his anger and the book does a good job of exploring that.

As well, Perry is given the opportunity to explore both Darth Vader and the Emperor in a way that makes both more consistent and interesting. Vader, on Bespin, pretty much gambled everything by appealing to Luke to join him and crush the Emperor. Palpatine, knowing this, is looking for his replacement and Xizor offers him a decent chance to replace Vader. Palpatine playing Xizor and Vader off one another works quite well because it establishes what the prequel trilogies illustrate: there can only be two Sith at a time, a master and apprentice or else the apprentice will seek to overthrow the master.

Darth Vader, though, is given the chance to do two things that he never was in the original Star Wars films: he sets in motion the idea that it is reasonable and more than just to save his son that he would turn against the Emperor and that he is not all-powerful and can be outmaneuvered. The joy of the Vader arc in Shadows Of The Empire is that try as both might, the Emperor and Vader end up stuck with one another and Perry captures that sense that both are disappointed by that well.

The novel Shadows Of The Empire is filled with space battles, double crosses and intrigue to be expected from the best science fiction and they are adequate in that regard. Given that most of the space battles happen in regards to rescuing Leia from the Empire, there is more of a feeling of "we've done this before" to it. There is some comedy - C-3P0 flying the Millennium Falcon - but it is definitely sublimated to the overwhelming sense that the Empire might be moving towards its definitive end game and that makes for good reading!

Shadows Of The Empire is remarkably simply written, such that a young adult might be able to read it without any trouble. Perry's diction is unchallenging and the story reads like a pulp novel most of the time. Still, it does what it sets out to do, which is to bridge the gap between The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi. It does that, but some of us were hoping it would do that and more . . . or just a little better.

For other science fiction novels, please check out my reviews of:
Imzadi By Peter David
Neuromancer By William Gibson
Revenge Of The Sith By Matthew Stover

6/10

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

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.


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Sleep Before Dying: "The Bonding" Stagnates



The Good: Acting, Moments of character
The Bad: Pacing, Somewhat absurd plot, Obvious
The Basics: What could have been a humanist story about the loss of a mother, “The Bonding” meanders into a pointless alien of the week tale.


"The Bonding" appeared and almost no one noticed. Why? This innocuous episode of Star Trek The Next Generation appears in the third season, but has the philosophical weight of the second season. This episode also marks the unfortunate beginning of the "alien infestation" motif. What do I mean by that? Despite the fact that Brannon Braga would not appear in the writing department of Star Trek The Next Generation, for a few more years, "The Bonding" opened Star Trek The Next Generation up to his one-trick pony, "an alien is always behind it" philosophy of storytelling. In fact, in Star Trek Deep Space Nine's fourth season, there is refreshing episode that finally shatters that convention. Until then, we're left with the alien always doing "it." Whatever "it" is.

In this case, Marla Aster has died on an Away Team mission on an unexplored planet. This leaves her son, Jeremy, an orphan and Worf feeling a profound sense of guilt. Worf wants to adopt Jeremy, Troi thinks the boy needs a chance to grieve - and blame Worf for his mother's death. Jeremy is confused, however, when his mother appears to him and insists he returns to the planet surface. The rest of the episode that follows is an attempt to figure out who this new - alive - Marla Aster is and what her purpose is.

The high point of the episode is when Wesley Crusher, of all characters, brought in to talk with Jeremy about processing the death of a family member, finally confronts Picard on the death of his father. It's a great scene and Wil Wheaton did an amazing job in it. Playing off Patrick Stewart, Wheaton creates a wonderful scene wherein his character seems to process a number of restrained emotions without seeming overly dramatic and silly. It's a testament to the actor to meet the balance.

The rest of the episode is remarkably inconsistent, due in large part to problems with the episode's pacing. "The Bonding" never hits its stride, going from too slow, to less slow and back. The point of the episode is too slow in being revealed and when it finally is, it never seems compelling enough. The best aspects revolve around the question of "how do we overcome the death of a loved one?" Unfortunately, too much time is spend belaboring "Who is Marla Aster?"

In the end, it's hard to care.

The other aspect of questionable purpose is Worf's desire to adopt Jeremy. He has been security chief for over a year, how naive must we be to believe he has not lost an officer before? Why doesn't Worf have a whole nursery then? The whole aspect of Worf - where the title of the episode comes from - seems terribly forced. What's worse, it is never addressed in the series again. So, we have an episode that belabors Worf adopting a human child, then we never see him again. Someone on the production staff apparently slept through the lesson on "having a purpose" in film school.

Outside an utter lack of purpose for half the episode, the episode offers little. Wesley Crusher makes a memorable scene, but besides that, there is nothing to return to here. Not terribly interesting for those who are not fans already of the series as it bogs itself down in minutia of the "alien of the week" as well as continual references to Klingon culture. Well, to be honest, there's not much here for the fans, either.

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

4/10

For other Star Trek episode and film reviews, please visit my index page!

© 2011, 2008, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.



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One Of The Villains Of Watchman Is An Off-Balance Pegwarmer: Ozymandias Underwhelms.


The Good: Good sculpt, Decent standard accessories
The Bad: Light on accessories, Balance issues, Light on facial details
The Basics: A remarkably average action figure, Ozymandias falls over even on his base, making him a tough sell even to fans of the film.


I let my wife determine which of the Watchmen figures I would open up for review next and I was a bit surprised when she suggested Ozymandias. Ozymandias entered my collection as the last of my initial purchases because, frankly, he came to me dirt cheap. The figure has been a pegwarmer at every outlet that has sold the Watchmen figures and why he was re-released as part of the promotional push for the DVD release is a bit of a mystery to me. But with my Ozymandias standing beside Rorschach (reviewed here!) and the Dr. Manhattan limited edition figure (reviewed here!), Ozymandias stands out as a particularly underwhelming action figure.

But after a few days of posing my figures (my wife had Ozymandias doing the Macarena!) she and I looked at Ozymandias and shrugged. It's a bland figure, punctuated by a very cool cape.

Basics

To support the film Watchmen (reviewed here!), DC Direct released two series of Watchmen action figures. DC Direct was tapped because they had the ability to create a higher caliber of action figure, based on the film characters. DC Direct created only eight figures based upon the cinematic representations of the essential Watchmen characters.

Arguably one of the most controversial characters in Watchmen is Ozymandias, who was played by Matthew Goode in the film and is now immortalized in plastic thanks to DC Direct. There is only the one figure of Goode's Ozymandias; those hoping for an Adrian Veidt character will have to wait until this cult-classic gets its second or third wind (like the way The Exorcist figures popped up on the market a few years ago).

Standing 6 3/4" tall to the top of his head (which is covered with his feathered hair), Ozymandias is a heavily-armored, well-protected man with the traditional superhero mask and cape. The DC Direct action figure features such details as the tiny mask, the tiara (or anti-tiara as it hooks backward on his head so in front of his temples is exposed and the "front" of the "tiara" is on the back of his head), the mini-loincloth coming off his belt buckle and the breastplate of his armor which protect Ozymandias's chest and support his cape. Ozymandias is cast with pretty extraordinary casting details, so his armor looks precisely as it did in the film with great muscle definition and gauntlets that look like they keep him well-protected. Ozymandias's boots look solid with the molded texture to the top and the fist Ozymandias's right hand is in looks ready to deliver quite a punch!

Most of Ozymandias's face is visible under the mask and it looks well-sculpted and generally well-colored. The lips are thin and pink and his eyes are a sharp blue, but Ozymandias lacks the fleshtone details that would make him look more like the film version as opposed to the comic strip version of Ozymandias.

Accessories

Ozymandias only comes with the standard Watchman base. The base is a 2 1/2" plastic square that raises the figure 1/2" off the display surface and most closely resembles a section of suspension bridge. The base has three holes in it, through which one of the two pegs that come with the figure may be placed. The peg is designed to go into a hole in the figure's foot and Ozymandias has a hole that fits the peg in his right foot only. The other two holes may either be filled in or left unpegged. The base also comes with a simple connector which latches together Ozymandias's base with the base of any of the other Watchmen figures; all of the bases seem to be identical.

The lack of accessories for Ozymandias is disappointing given he used a lot of tools in the film and his genetically-engineered animal would have been cool to have. Still, at least the figure isn't ruined by accessories that don't fit him!

Playability

Watchmen is an adult film and as a result, most everyone who picks these figures up will be using them for display, not play. DC Direct seemed to figure this out well in advance and the bases that the figures, like Ozymandias, come with are designed for support and display, as opposed to play.

On the principles, Ozymandias is a pretty cool action figure. Gifted with eleven points of articulation, Ozymandias is adequately posable for those who do put him on display. He has joints at the knees, groin socket, shoulders, elbows, wrists and neck. The joints make for a decent range of motion, with the knees and elbows being standard hinge joints. The shoulders are ball and socket joints, so Ozymandias may make most of the poses he makes in the film! As well, the head is a ball and socket joint, so he may look in a great number of directions.

Unfortunately, Ozymandias has absolutely terrible balance. His feet may not be moved out of a flatfooted position and the fact that there is only one foot-peg prevents those using this as a display piece from knocking the figure over very easily. Moreover, it must be posed flatfooted! This is annoying, as when Ozymandias actually was one of the most flexible characters in the film!

Collectibility

DC Direct seemed to gauge about the right amount of interest in the Watchmen figures and with the impending DVD release, they are re-releasing most of the figures again. This Ozymandias is one of the figures being re-released, which is probably what is currently depressing the market on these figures even further. Ozymandias has been very easy to find and as a result, never appreciated. The fact that this is one of the three most common before the re-release suggests it will be a terrible investment as it is still found well-below the original release price.

Overview

The Watchmen figures are all right and Ozymandias seems like he would be a safe bet given that he is one of the more obvious potential villains for those who would do so to play with. But his lack of balance more than overwhelms the benefit of a cool, maroon cape which is quite flexible. Fans will want this, but those who are not into Watchmen will have no incentive to pick this one up!

For other Watchmen products, please check out my reviews of:
Watchmen By Alan Moore and David Gibbons
Watchmen Portraits By Clay Enos
Nite Owl action figure

5/10

For other action figure reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Reba McEntire's Read My Mind Is Very Average, But Not Unpleasant, Pop-Country.




The Good: A couple of truly wonderful songs, Good voice, Some good lyrics
The Bad: Instrumental accompaniment is fairly predictable and bland, SHORT!
The Basics: A fair album, Read My Mind is a very pop-oriented Reba McEntire album that has musical storysongs that save this one from not being worth the listener's time.


As January races to a close, so too, does my exploration of the musical works of Reba McEntire. It has been a while since I had an Artist Of The Month who offered me such a consistent influx of material as Reba McEntire has and I'm actually quite excited about that and the eight other discs I have to get through in the next week. As the same time, though, I've come to feel many of these reviews are rather repetitive. This comes from the fact that Reba McEntire is a musical performer and less of an artist. As a result, most all of her albums have a produced instrumental accompaniment sound and feel to them. Read My Mind is no exception to that, but the songs on it are some of Reba McEntire's better ones and as a result, there is enough for fans to enjoy.

Even so, it will ultimately come down to a cointoss for the "recommend" advice on this album. The reason for that is quite simple: from the moment I started listening to this album, I realized that I had heard all of the best songs on it. Read My Mind is an album which is heavily culled from for Reba McEntire's greatest hits and "best of" albums. And, as it turns out, in this case the A&R people got it right: the songs from Read My Mind which are generally considered McEntire's best from the album are and if one only hears those and not the others, they are missing nothing truly essential to the Reba McEntire musical experience.

With ten songs taking up 38:19 on a single c.d., Read My Mind is very much a typical Reba McEntire album. As such, McEntire was not involved in the writing or co-writing of any of the songs. As well, McEntire is not involved with playing any of the musical instruments on the album. Instead, she appears as the album's lead vocalist and she contributed to the production efforts as a co-producer of the album. The production is the closest she comes to taking creative control of the work: otherwise, she is a performer, much like Celine Dion or Tina Turner; the only difference is that she is working in the Country-pop genre.

And Read My Mind is very much a Country-pop album. The album employs the steel guitar opposite heavy drums on "The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter," which makes the song sound more "pop" than Country. The album trades the tradition Country fiddles for a saxophone and McEntire seems committed to the pop nature of the album by opening with the sax on "Everything That You Want," the first song on the album. As a result, the album sounds more like a traditional guitar, keyboard, and drum pop album than it does a down-home Country album. Indeed, instrumentally this album has more in common with pop acts than Country ones.

Vocally, McEntire lets in a little Country twang on "Why Haven't I Heard From You" and "The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter." But her vocals are very direct, clear and pop-like on "I Wouldn't Wanna Be You" and the very traditional-sounding ballad "And Still." McEntire has a great alto voice and on Read My Mind, she uses it as well as she does on any of her other albums. There is nothing aurally new or spectacular from McEntire's vocals on this album that listeners haven't heard before. Even so, it is hard to argue that the clarity and vocal force of McEntire's voice does not contribute to the poignancy of "She Thinks His Name Was John."

That song, as it turns out, is considered the first Country song to address or reference AIDS, though there is nothing specific which makes the song "Country." Lyrically, it is similar to a folk song with a musical storysong including a protagonist, events and a theme. In fact, it is a very direct storysong where there is "A chance meeting, a party a few years back / Broad shoulders and blue eyes, his hair was so black / He was a friend of a friend you could say / She let his smile just sweep her away / And in her heart she knew it was wrong / But too much wine and she left his bed at dawn / And she thinks his name was John" ("She Thinks His Name Was John"). McEntire, who even on earlier albums was tackling social injustices and current events issues that were considered controversial handles the topic well with "She Thinks His Name Was John."

Outside that song, the songs do tend to be about love or loss, though McEntire sings with decent irony on "Why Haven't I Heard From You," which is about not getting telephone calls from a partner. She also has a decent sense of Country sass on "I Won't Stand In Line" where her musical protagonist demands to be put first. Unfortunately, some of the songs that are traditional pop ballads come across that way with predictable rhymes like "I looked in your eyes, so bright and so blue . . . Well, I guess I can wait if that's what I have to do / Oh, it's worth it for you" ("Till You Love Me"). Songs like "Till You Love Me" and "Read My Mind" replay poorly because of the obvious rhymes.

Even so, McEntire sometimes is able to overcome lyrical limitations, most notably on the musical storysong "And Still." On that song of love lost, McEntire breathes life into the simple lines "And still / The world stood still / I couldn't move / And all I could feel / Was this aching in my heart / Saying I loved him still" ("And Still") with her powerful, forthright voice. As it is, there is just enough to recommend this album, average as it is. The musical storysongs are good enough to make up for the more mundane instrumental accompaniment that backs them.

The best song is "And Still," the low point is either "Everything That You Want" or "Till You Love Me."

For other Reba McEntire works, please check out my reviews of:
Feel The Fire
Heart To Heart
Just A Little Love
Have I Got A Deal For You
The Best Of Reba McEntire
Whoever’s In New England
What Am I Gonna Do About You
Reba
Sweet Sixteen
It's Your Call
Greatest Hits Volume Two
Greatest Hits Volume III: I'm A Survivor
Room To Breathe
20th Century Masters: Christmas Collection - Best Of Reba

6/10

For other album or singles reviews, please check out my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.


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