Monday, February 28, 2011

Tough To Guess, But 7Up Flavored Jelly Bellys Truly Taste Like That Drink!

7UP Jelly Belly Jelly Beans - 10 lbs bulk
Click to buy directly from Jelly Belly!


The Good: Great realistic flavor, Environmentally responsible bulk, Taste does not fade
The Bad: No real nutritional value
The Basics: Perfect and enduring, 7Up flavored Jelly Belly jelly beans are a great taste investment by the ten-pound box!


When the 7Up flavored Jelly Belly jelly beans showed up on my radar, I was skeptical. After all, Jelly Belly already had a Lemon Lime flavored bean, why did they need 7Up? Well, having now gone through most of a ten pound box, I am beginning to see who needs this many . . . me! And anyone who likes drinking 7Up but wants a different way to get the same flavor, these Jelly Bellys are an intriguing way to go.

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 A & W Root Beer, Top Banana, Smoothie Assortment, or their signature flavor Buttered Popcorn.

Who needs ten pounds of 7Up flavored Jelly Bellys? I suppose anyone who would drink that much 7Up but is now mortally afraid of straws. Anyone who might like 7Up Jelly Belly jelly beans will likely find that this is the best way to get them in bulk in an environmentally responsible way for the least amount of money.

Basics

7Up 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 7Up and they live up to that exceptionally well.

7Up flavored Jelly Bellys 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, I ask, "Have the straws gone back from whence they came?!" I suspect that for most people, a ten pound case is a year's supply of these jelly beans.

7Up flavored Jelly Bellys are remarkably easy to recognize and distinguish from other Jelly Bellys. They are light green, with white spots. Ironically, they are more easy to mix up with other translucent white Jelly Bellys like A&W Cream Soda (reviewed here!) than the more green Lemon Lime beans.

Ease Of Preparation

These are jelly beans, not fighting off cases of cursed straws with only a spork. 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. Then again, going into the box constantly might make you feel like you're getting exercise, so that might be the way to go. Eat them as you would!

Taste

7Up Jelly Bellys have a faint, citrus scent. As a result, the consumer is ready for something with a little twist of lemon and they are adequately prepared for the taste they have. Given even a faint aroma like these have, it is surprising how much flavor they pack into each and every bean.

Sadly, this is a flavor where the flavor defines itself and there is no real comparison. These jelly beans taste precisely like 7Up. The amazing thing is that they seem to have something in the shell of each bean that simulates the fizz of 7Up as well. As a result, eating these beans gives the consumer a pretty amazing and realistic lemon soda experience: one gets a slight bite, as if from fizz, on the tongue when the beans are initially placed there, biting releases the full flavor of 7Up, including the lemony aftertaste. What is equally incredible is that after it is swallowed, the bean has a strong aftertaste that even comes from the back of the throat. These taste just like 7Up soda.

As well, 7Up flavored Jelly Bellys do not diminish in taste when you eat vast quantities of them. No, these taste like 7Up bite after bite, never fading and that is quite incredible. The enduring quality of the taste helps make the ten-pound case have added value and for those who love 7Up, this is a great way to go.

Nutrition

Again, these are jelly beans, so anyone looking to them for nutrition needs to understand they are based upon something that is not exactly rich in nutrients. 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.

The thing is, 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 and this flavor doesn't even last six months usually). 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 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 (always wash your hands before eating Jelly Bellys, there is no straw or bottle to protect the beans from germs and dirt, so show some respect to the beans). I've never had 7Up Jelly Bellys stain anything.

Overall

7Up Jelly Belly jelly beans are a perfectly delicious, if unlikely, flavor of Jelly Belly jelly beans, truly embodying the exact flavor they claim to have. I would have thought they would be redundant with all of the other lemony flavors of Jelly Bellys, but these are too good to pass up!

For other Jelly Belly flavors reviewed by me, please check out:
Peach
Berry Blue
Smoothie Assortment

10/10

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

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



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Deny Everything About Scully: "Ascension" And "One Breath" Are Perfect X-Files!






The Good: Amazing character study, Tense plot, Creepy, Well-acted, Intense, Bonus feature
The Bad: None that I can find! (Medium issues)
The Basics: When Scully is abducted, Mulder hunts those responsible and attempts to find her in two episodes loaded with great performances and wonderful character moments.


It takes a pretty extraordinary series to hit perfection early on. Some shows have a number of perfect episodes, like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine which arguably made the best hour of television ever with the episode "Duet" near the climax of its first season. The X-Files managed a perfect episode or two in its first season, most notably "Darkness Falls" and "The Erlenmeyer Flask" (reviewed here!). Illustrating that the show could be kept taut and interesting and create more episodes that were groundbreaking and excellent, The X-Files soared to perfection with two episodes that essentially act as a two-parter (though they were separated by an episode in their original airing and in The X-Files mythos) with "Ascension" and "One Breath."

"Ascension" and "One Breath" are essentially the stories of FBI agent Dana Scully's abduction and return, which was necessary because actress Gillian Anderson was pregnant and needed to be written out of the series for a short time. In the process, The X-Files created two episodes that are perfect in very different ways. "Ascension" is a plot-driven thriller as Mulder races to rescue Scully from Duane Barry and "One Breath" is perhaps the ultimate early The X-Files character study.

In "Ascension," Mulder checks his answering machine to discover that Scully has been abducted and reaching her apartment, it is clear to Mulder that Duane Barry is responsible. Going without sleep, Mulder launches an investigation into Scully's abduction, with Krycek in tow. For his part, Duane Barry begins to make a beeline for the place he believes his prior abductions occurred. Pulled over for speeding, Barry kills a trooper.

That death puts Mulder and Krycek on the right direction, to Starland Mountain. Eager to prevent Duane Barry from exchanging Scully for himself with the aliens, Mulder takes a risky gambit; riding the lift car up the mountain to try to reach the top first. Unfortunately for Mulder, there is someone working against his - and Scully's - interests and by the time he realizes this, it may well be too late for Scully!

In "One Breath," Mulder is exhausted from searching for Scully and Scully's mother decides it is time to move on and she purchases a grave marker for Dana. The next day, Scully's comatose body turns up at a Washington hospital and Mulder bursts onto the scene demanding to know how she got there. Calmed down, her doctor reveals that no one knows how she arrived at the hospital or why she is in a coma. Kept on life support while her mother and sister watch over her, Mulder goes in search of answers.

Mulder does his best to contact X, who finds Mulder when the FBI agent chases down a mysterious man who steals a sample of Scully's blood. Determined not to end up like his predecessor, X lets Mulder know Mulder doesn't have it in him to do what he does. While Mulder turns to the Lone Gunmen and Skinner for assistance in tracking down any leads - and the Cigarette-Smoking Man - Scully drifts in the netherworld between life and death seeing visions.

"Ascension" continues pretty much where "Duane Barry" (reviewed here!) left off, though for those who did not see that episode, everything is fairly well explained, without doing a "previously on The X-Files" bit. Instead, Mulder infers what happened when he visits Scully's apartment. The episode then becomes a chase and Mulder and Krycek hunt for Duane Barry, a hunt that intensifies when Mulder realizes that Scully is still alive.

It is in that scene where David Duchovny infuses a look into Mulder that says what virtually every fan of The X-Files wanted at the time. Without saying "I love you," Mulder leaps into action and Duchovny does it perfectly with the understated performance of the line "she's still alive. . ." Throughout "Ascension," Mulder acts far more like a man who loves - perhaps not romantically - his ex-partner than one who is simply hunting down a colleague.

But for genuine character, "One Breath" is packed end to end with it. Opening with a story about Scully told from Scully's mother, the episode gives big character sequences - usually in the form of monologues from the characters - to X, the Cigarette-Smoking Man ("I've watched presidents die . . ."), Walter Skinner, the deceased Scully (Dana's father), and Dana Scully (through visions and what her family says about her). Every act has a remarkably complete explanation of who and what the characters of The X-Files are with revealing explanations into how they became who they are. Skinner's is perhaps the most extensive and obvious exposition and his potentially monolithic character is suddenly exploded into a substantive and essential role.

That said, the character who does the most in "One Breath" is Mulder whose sleep deprivation puts him in a rage that compels him to chase down those responsible while Scully lays dying. Instead of dealing with her impending death when her mother insists they execute her living will and take Dana off life support, Mulder attempts to avoid his feelings and chase down those who were responsible for abducting Scully and the ultimate character act of the episode comes in his decision as to what kind of person he wants to be for the rest of his life. It's a huge decision and he has to choose whether to become one of the people who utilizes power or retain his innocence.

This is not to say that Mulder is the only worthwhile character to watch or Duchovny's performance is the only one that makes a splash. Far from it; both episodes are graced with wonderful performances, ranging from Steve Railsbeck's brilliant portrayal of crazy as Duane Barry to Nicholas Lea's cold and brutal portrayal of Krycek. Don S. Davis makes an auspicious return to The X-Files in a vision where he delivers one of the most beautiful pieces of writing ever to be voiced on the series.

But Gillian Anderson ought to get a lot of credit for her performance in "One Breath." In "Ascension," she is stuck in the trunk of a car, which was ballsy for the producers and director to do to a pregnant woman, but in "One Breath," Anderson has to perform, usually by playing dead. The thing is, her performance in her own dream/vision sequences is so good they often do not feel like what they are: Anderson as Scully sitting and looking blankly while the world turns around her. Anderson helps the viewer get inside the mind of Scully, cleverly infusing a genuine sense of genuine loss into even her most mundane scenes.

Fans of The X-Files who like to nit-pick things should still absolutely love "One Breath" because it implies that the future is not yet written. Presumably, Scully's dead father has some knowledge of the future when he says to Scully that she will join him soon, but not now. Die-hard fans of the show come to realize that after a certain episode there is a real lack of ability to believe Scully is in danger as a result of something that happens to her (it's real irksome to tiptoe around revealing the big secrets one garners if they simply pay attention to the show). "One Breath" happens well before that and the nice thing is, even for fans of the show, it reminds us that the jeopardy to Scully is still very real.

On video, these two episodes are accompanied by a little behind-the-scenes featurette called "A private conversation with Chris Carter." It gives details on how parts of the episodes were made and they are fun for fans and add a little extra value to the video.

But this is a pairing of episodes that hardly needs additional value; they are tight, fun, suspenseful and heartwrenching. In other words, they are everything great television ought to be.

[Given that VHS is a rapidly dying medium, a far better investment would be The X-Files - The Complete Second 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!]

"Ascension" - 9.5/10
"One Breath" - 10/10
VHS - 8.5/10

For other television episode and season reviews, please visit my index page!

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



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Ode To A Key Holder: My Annual Creatively-Written Review!





The Good: Inexpensive, Cheap, Magnetic and neat!
The Bad: Not truly a safe place to leave anything.
The Basics: A very average product, the Ultra Hardware magnetic key holder does everything a magnetic key holder ought to, even after five year's use.


[DISCLAIMER: Once a year, I write a review in a format atypical for reviews (like when I wrote my take on Quarantine in the form of an interview with myself here!). Despite the unorthodox style, I endeavor to include all of the information I would include in a standard review, I just try to shake up the style. Tonight, while looking through my tool box for my next review there, I found a ridiculously simple product and I began to make up little rhymes about it. Please consider that this review includes all of the key (pun intended) information about the product before disregarding it! And with that . . .]

Once Upon A Key Holder!

Five years ago, at a special event,
My new father-in-law a great deal of money spent,
As a housewarming gift, a toolbox he gave
Filled with all sorts of tools, new and old, which were all the rage!
Amid wrenches and hammers and screwdrivers (Phillip's head and flat),
Was an Ultra Hardware Magnetic Key Holder stuck in the back.
My father-in-law grinned and said with a sigh,
"With that, at your new house, you'll never be locked outside."

But wary was I, to leave my keys out of doors,
Even in rural areas there are brigands and thieves and hmm [can't write that here!] bores!
So weeks and weeks later, locked out I found myself,
Wishing I had a key, that it was not hanging inside by the shelf.
So I made a spare key and brought it to my mom,
Saying, "For when I lock myself out or am otherwise gone.
You'll have a key and I'll be able to get in,
Locking my keys inside makes me feel dim!"

And not too long after, I locked myself out in Spring,
Not knowing my neighbors turned out to be such a bad thing!
So I walked the ten miles to my mother's house two towns away
(The car keys were locked inside with the house keys, what can I say?!)
And picked up the spare key and she drove me home again,
Saying the whole time, "This is such a pain!"
So I went back to my toolbox and found the Magnetic Key Holder
And decided to see if my problem it could shoulder.
This little black box, was it truly the answer?
I'd give it a try and then have the answer!*

So I inspected this simple device, turned it over and over in my hand,
How safe did it make me feel? It felt like it was tin!
But it is actually steel with a black enamel finish,
Using it was intuitive; it was a cinch!
The box was two and a half inches long by one and a half inches wide,
With a height of only three eighths of an inch, how could anything fit inside?
In fact, the inside height was a whole eighth of an inch shorter
Because the magnet on the bottom was 1/8" and circular.

Almost an inch in diameter, the magnet I found on the bottom in the center,
But would it work, I asked my mentor?
My father-in-law assured me the magnet would never give up
And after five years and a divorce, I'd have to say "Sure enough!"
My ex-father-in-law was right, the magnet did not give up even when the marriage was broken,
To say this is a surprisingly durable product, no truer words were spoken!
The magnet sticks to iron, it attaches firmly to steel
And if it's well-hidden, the keys inside will not be steal
(Well, stolen, actually, if you pardon the rhyme,
It's important to find a secure hiding place, do take your time!).
My partner at the time and I, we found a nice place; under our steel roof
Despite pounding rain, thunder, and snow, it never moved, my word is the proof!
The magnet it stuck, as now it sticks in its new secret place,
Knowing I have a secure key outside allowed me to retire my worried face.
So the magnet is tough, in years and years, it has never demagnetized!
I'm not sure I would have believed it if I had not seen it with my own eyes.

Use of the magnetic key holder could not be more simple,
Sliding it open is easier than popping a pimple.
The steel base with the magnet on the bottom has a simple metal top,
Which wraps around the base with tracks that only stop
On one side which allows the cover to slide away to open this up.
Pull the cover back along the track and it will close up!**
The key holder is secure because there is only a single direction the cover may go;
Away from the end without the metal flap, the design is so
Smart even a fool can operate this key holder
(Which is why a good hiding place is so vital to the owner!).
As for the capacity, aye there's the rub,
It claims it may hold six keys, but there it's a dud!
Unless one has six house keys arranged three facing left and three facing right,
This key holder will not hold them; it is not a pretty sight!
I quickly discovered that I needed a key to my house and another for my car,
Held in the magnetic key holder, else I'd have to walk far.
The key holder held these two, but surely no more!
That Honda key was huge, else I'm sure I could have fit four
Keys in this holder, to say the least;
This key holder does not hold large car keys, certainly not one that's a beast!
But even with the weight of a pair of keys for car and house,
The Magnetic Key Holder was not dislodged by bird, bat or mouse
(All of which had periodically gotten into the area the holder was hidden
This Magnetic key holder certainly did what it promised, there's no reason it should be forbidden!).

Because of the frost, because of condensation, because of cracks in caulk,
My Magnetic Key Holder has gotten wet over the years, but no need to balk!
This solid key holder, so sturdily built, has not rusted a bit,
It does not rust at all, no need for a fit!

But those in areas dealing with a lot of crime,
Might want a more secure key holder, take the time
To know the area you're in and the security needs there,
The Ultra Hardware Magnetic Key Holder offers no protection there!***
Easy to open, easy to take, this magnetic key holder is easy to make
Off with itself or the contents within, so for heaven's sake
Think about what you place in this durable little box.
One thumb opens it easily, you don't need to be strong as an ox.

And if you should lose it, if it happens to go away,
No need to wait to remarry, these are inexpensive enough to say,
"I will go down to the store, where I will buy another,
Maybe I'll buy two or three and one for my mother!"
At about a dollar fifty each these make good stocking stuffers,
But if you don't lose it, you'll never need another.
Now I live somewhere else, still in a rural setting,
And I have my Magnetic Key Holder, for when my keys I am forgetting.
I still lock myself out (occasionally)
But with the Magnetic Key Holder, I live fearlessly!

* If Avril Lavigne can rhyme the same word with itself, so can I!
** Sorry about that, I'm blaming Avril Lavigne's influence again; if that won't fly, I'll blame Alanis Morissette's!
*** Okay, Shakespeare didn't rhyme words with themselves, but a lot of artists today do!

For other hardware reviews, please check out my takes on:
Great Neck Saw 16 oz. Mallet
Stanley 60-006 6 5/8" Cabinet Screwdriver
Plano Pro X 16" Toolbox

6/10

For other hardware reviews, please visit my index page for an organized listing!

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





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Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Gets An Ugly Stepsister With Looney Tunes: Back In Action.





The Good: Moments of humor/social commentary, Generally charming
The Bad: Predictable, Light on character, Obvious plot, Often painfully self-referential.
The Basics: Funny in a few parts, Looney Tunes: Back In Action is more frequently a painful collection of Warner Bros. references that fall flat as a film.


Perhaps it is the sheer number of great films I have seen lately, but mediocre movies suffer even more under my pen than they did before. Still, my wife has gotten quite sick of being "subjected" to Best Picture winners and to maintain a happy household, I've let her choose movies to alternate with my Best Picture winners. The latest new-to-me flick she wanted to watch was Looney Tunes: Back In Action.

For those who might not have heard of the film, Looney Tunes: Back In Action was a blend of live action settings and actors and animated characters. Hardly seamlessly blended, Looney Tunes: Back In Action is based on the premise that Looney Tunes characters like Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny are real, but are actors. As such, real-life characters walk around interacting with animated characters and the animated characters, puppets and humans are treated with equal respect and sense of reality.

The Warner Brothers are looking to make a new film with Bugs Bunny and have brought in Kate, a network efficiency expert. Kate decides that the old formula with Bugs and Daffy fighting one another is not going to work and she fires Daffy Duck. Daffy is taken off the Warner Bros. lot by D.J. Drake, the son of action star Damien Drake. Despondent, Daffy accompanies the also-fired D.J. back to his home and once there, they learn that Damien has been kidnaped by the Acme Corporation. Acme is after the Blue Monkey Diamond and they are convinced D.J. has the tools to recover it for them.

Unfortunately for Kate, the new movie with Bugs Bunny is testing poorly and the Warner Brothers give her the weekend to get Daffy back. Kate and Bugs head out to Las Vegas to try to get the duck and former security guard back. But once reunited, the quartet works to save Damien, recover the Blue Monkey Diamond and thwart the machinations of the CEO of the Acme Corporation!

Looney Tunes: Back In Action has its moments, but they are few and far between for my tastes. Moreover, the movie oscillates problematically between being a ridiculous slapstick film and a social commentary. The commentary tends to explore how vacuous Hollywood is and how it markets and focus-group creates its works. So, for example, one of the amusing moments involves Kate, D.J., Bugs and Daffy wandering through a desert and encountering an oasis . . . WalMart. On the way in and out, Kate and D.J. reference the appearance of the WalMart in the film and how they keep saying the name of the store. While this is true and actually funny, it does not truly fit the same film where the villain is monolithically maniacally evil, down to his ridiculous over-the-top laugh.

As well, the blending of the live-action, puppets, and humans is not inherently problematic, but the execution in this particular movie is sloppy. At some moments, Daffy Duck appears as a three-dimensional animated character and at others, he is clearly two-dimensional. The lack of consistency in how the animated characters are presented is irksome at best. While the movie is no doubt intended for children, the attention to detail is lacking and adult audiences are likely to be disappointed sitting through it. Still, the movie attempts to make overtures to adults with the commentary on Hollywood.

Similarly, the scenes with the Chairman of Acme have dialogue that explores corporate greed and corruption, but they are broken up with the character devolving into evil laughter. Children as also less-likely to get the barrage of references from other Warner Brothers properties. In addition to Batman and animated Warner Bros. films, Looney Tunes: Back In Action has direct spoofs of Scooby-Doo and Doctor Who. The allusions are often not at all subtle, but many of them take a broad knowledge of Warner Bros. properties.

Looney Tunes: Back In Action seems like it would have been the death of the careers of everyone who was involved in it, but I suppose that so few people saw it that it cannot drag them down. I was particularly delighted to see Robert Picardo in the boardroom scenes, but that's just the geek in me. Steve Martin shows a particularly droll side of his talents as the Chairman of Acme and how Warner Bros. got Timothy Dalton to spoof himself so much is a mystery to me. Martin in particular shows an almost singular neglect of his well-developed talents as the Chairman; he is almost as off as he was in The Pink Panther.

But the live-action portions of Looney Tunes: Back In Action tend to hinge upon the acting talents of Brendan Fraser and Jenna Elfman. Fraser seems perfectly comfortable with acting opposite the virtual characters, but more often than not, Elfman is caught looking in the wrong directions and holding virtual objects awkwardly. This is a mix of poor acting and poor animating as some of the problems could have been animated around to actually make her look like she was more comfortable with them. This is not filled with any stellar performances.

As well, the movie is absent any real character development. The problems are simple problems with simple, formulaic resolutions and when there are surprises, they are hardly monumental or character-enriching either for the characters in the movie or for the audience. As a result, much of Looney Tunes: Back In Action seems like a string of random jokes about Warner Bros. owned properties and the self-referential schtick wears thin quickly.

On DVD, Looney Tunes Back In Action features multiple featurettes. They include stunts and a behind-the-scenes featurette. As well, there are deleted scenes - which are generally funny or charming - and the film's theatrical trailer. There is no commentary track, but truly this is not a movie that needs one.

All in all, this is a comedy that seems to want to be ambitious and smart, but sells out to the kid audience to provide obvious slapstick jokes. As a result, it holds together poorly and is not worth even a single viewing, despite having moments of humor.

For other works with Brendan Fraser, please check out my reviews of:
Furry Vengeance
G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra
Crash
Gods And Monsters

2.5/10

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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Triangle: Imzadi II Disappoints Even Loyal Peter David Fans!





The Good: Moments of humor
The Bad: Nothing deep in terms of character, Seems short, Lacks "spark"
The Basics: Triangle: Imzadi II weaves together a love story between Worf and Troi with a pointless Thomas Riker/Romulan Espionage story that falls flat.


Peter David is an author who pretty much lit the world on fire for Star Trek fans when he began writing Star Trek novels, especially the Star Trek: The Next Generation ones. The reason for this was that David has a knack for tying together the various elements of the Star Trek universe. He has been known to take the bottle-episodes from Star Trek and turn ideas and concepts created for their novelty and reintegrate them into a larger Star Trek universe as presented by Star Trek: The Next Generation and the subsequent spin-offs which were more detail-oriented.

As well, Peter David was often called upon to fill in the gaps in the Star Trek universe. One of the big gaps was how the relationship between Commander Worf and Deanna Troi, which was running strong full-steam ahead dissipated between the series finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Worf's appearance on Deep Space Nine in "The Way Of The Warrior." So, it seemed natural for the publishers of the Star Trek novels to turn to Peter David for that story. What is less obvious was that David would turn that story into a sequel to his amazing work Imzadi (reviewed here!).

In Triangle: Imzadi II, Worf and Troi's relationship is progressing in such a way that they are headed to the altar and both are excited about the prospect of sharing their lives together. Worf is ecstatic that Troi is tougher than she originally appeared to him and that she has a clear love of his son, Alexander. Troi is happy that Worf has a more soft side than he shows to anyone else. As their nuptials become imminent, Worf and Troi have to deal with Lwaxana Troi and Commander Riker's place in Deanna Troi's life, which complicate their relationship.

Also complicating their story is the reappearance of Thomas Riker. Riker, a prisoner on a Cardassian prison planet, is sprung by a Romulan spy. Affiliated with Sela, the insidious Romulan daughter of Tasha Yar, Tom begins an agenda which stands to harm William Riker, Troi and Worf!

Sadly, Triangle: Imzadi II lacks all of the brilliance of Peter David's Imzadi. First, because the narrative begins following the death of Worf's wife, Jadzia Dax, the reader knows from the outset that Triangle will simply be the story of how Worf and Troi fail to come together. Set with two time periods ("Then" and "Now"), "Triangle" presents Worf as a melancholy whiner who might be the greatest threat to himself and romance in the known galaxy.

Second, David's brilliance in Imzadi was that he took a relatively minor character, that of Deanna Troi, and made her into a pretty wonderful heroine. Yes, David's Deanna Troi had character and she had a spine and she was interesting to read. In other words, the reader clearly understood why Riker was infatuated with her. David made Troi a character who was more than just about cleavage, which sadly Marina Sirtis seldom had the opportunity to do on the actual television series.

In Triangle, Troi is a ragdoll, tossed between various forces and influences that demand her for their own agenda. She is not strong, she is not impressive, she is little more than a damsel in distress and that is disappointing for those who were fans of Imzadi, Troi or great literature. Triangle is far more formulaic than Imzadi was and it lacks the spark of brilliance that made the first novel truly click.

Moreover, the plots are largely incongruent with one another. The Thomas Riker plot feels largely like filler, like David needed an action story to pad out the romance plot of the primary narrative. Most readers will find this to be unnecessary, save that the a-plot lacks real substance as well. The truly disappointing aspect of the Tom Riker plot is that it comes from Peter David. David seems to have a great appreciation for the Star Trek universe and in the television series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, viewers are told that all of the Maquis were killed. Tom Riker ought not to have been kept alive by the Cardassians after the Dominion took over. There was no purpose. If there were ever an author to stand up and say "yeah, they wasted him," it should have been Peter David.

That said, David's trademark sense of humor is evident throughout Triangle, but it is nowhere near as fresh as it appeared in is early works. For those who love Star Trek: The Next Generation and/or Imzadi, stick with the originals: this book will just disappoint.

For other Star Trek books by, please check out:
I, Q By Peter David and John de Lancie
Star Trek: The Motion Picture By Gene Roddenberry
Star Trek Archives 1: The Best Of Peter David

4/10

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

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




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Worf Gets His Day In "Sins Of the Father!"




The Good: Excellent character development, Good recovery of a stale plot device, Excellent acting
The Bad: Hammy overdramatic moments
The Basics: In the episode that will define Worf's presence and character for over a year, "Sins Of The Father" puts the Enterprise at the Klingon Homeworld to defend Worf's family's honor.


One of the reasons I far prefer Star Trek Deep Space Nine to Star Trek: The Next Generation is that Star Trek Deep Space Nine is a serialized show, which means you have to keep up with the episodes as things that happen this week will affect how the characters are next week. It comes across as more organic and as more adult than episodic television as one must commit to it. In addition, things have consequences. One of the few characters to have a partial serialized plot on Star Trek The Next Generation is Worf; perhaps that's why he fit in so well on Star Trek Deep Space Nine.

Following up on the second season episode "A Matter Of Honor" (reviewed here!), the Enterprise receives Kurn, a Klingon officer who takes over as first officer as part of an exchange program. He begins to ride the crew hard, with the notable exception of Worf. When Worf confronts Kurn, the first officer reveals that he is Worf's younger brother and the purpose of his presence on board it to learn what kind of man Worf is. It seems their father has been charged with conspiring with the Romulans at Khitomer, the station that was destroyed where the child Worf was rescued from. Worf and The Enterprise go to the Klingon Homeworld to answer these charges against Worf's dead father. There they meet K'Mpek, the leader of the Klingon Empire, and Duras, a member of the High Council who has a supreme distaste for the songs of Mogh (Worf and Kurn).

"Sins Of The Father" immerses the viewer in Klingon law and culture such that it almost gets the viewer feeling like they are an exchange student. After years of obscure rituals, as we saw in the second season that Worf would share with Dr. Pulaski, Klingon culture is here being codified and law and tradition are being carefully cultivated. The level of work that went into figuring out the whole Klingon psyche is impressive.

But what makes this episode work as well as it does is that it chooses a great character to play the "long lost brother" card on. Data's demented sibling Lore made for a disappointing "Datalore" (reviewed here!). Here, the entire brotherly aspect is glossed over in favor of examining the legal obligations Worf has in the matter of his father's alleged conspiracy.

And the episode works because of Michael Dorn and Tony Todd. Dorn and Todd play Worf and Kurn, respectively, with an otherworldly detachment that defines the Klingon presence on screen. Instead of feeling like we are watching two men playing aliens, we become captivated with the performances at such a level that it feels like we are watching two aliens. Indeed, we are watching two Klingons, these two actors so convincingly create something unique with their performances.

It's a good thing, too. The episode rests on Worf and Kurn. It's refreshing that they chose to give Worf a continuing storyline and this episode has the most profound consequences his character will endure. It also goes a long way toward establishing the character; Worf develops from a pointless Klingon bridge officer in the series' first season to a vital member of the crew with a unique and compelling arc that will grant him a season finale in the fourth season. That's a huge leap.

But those who are not fans of Star Trek The Next Generation need not fear; this is near the beginning of Worf's arc. This is still accessible to those who haven't been watching. "Sins Of The Father," however, is your last chance to get on the boat. After this, well, there's too much that alludes back to this episode. Fortunately, it's well worth the trip.

[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!]

8.5/10

For other Star Trek episode and film reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

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




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The Next Obvious Step In The Lord Of The Rings TCG: The Two Towers Arrives!





The Good: Some very cool cards (especially rares), New affiliations
The Bad: Serious collectibility issue (foils), Still no Gollum!
The Basics: Despite not being able to make a master set from a booster box, The Two Towers is a strong product worthy of any gamer's time and money!


As I work my way through The Lord Of The Rings Trading Card Game products, I find myself reminded why I enjoyed this game so much. For sure, the obvious reason would be it was based on one of the coolest and biggest movie franchises of all time (it's not like they did a successful Trading Card Game for it before the movies). In my case it was that there was finally a Trading Card Game to come along that I could simply read the directions to and I knew what I was doing. So many CCGs have poorly written rulebooks and even rather smart people might be baffled by how to play after reading the rulebook.

So, when The Two Towers was released, I was eager for the Trading Card Game expansion and, for the most part, it delivers along expectations. There are new affiliations (Rohan, Dunland), Gandalf returned to the game, and the Adventure Path was beefed up with new locations to challenge players. And it was good.

The Two Towers gaming cards continued The Lord Of The Rings TCG game with the The Two Towers Block (the second three sets of The Lord Of The Rings TCG cards, which focused pretty closely on the actions of the movies). This expansion reinvigorated the game by re-establishing all of the main characters as they appeared in The Two Towers. As well, this set marks the appearance of horselords and Southron Raiders in the game, making it a good one for shaking up one's deck. The Starter Decks come with rulebooks and they are pretty much essential to getting started, as well as completing one's set. The booster boxes, though, do not have the Starter Deck exclusive cards, nor the rulebooks. However, Starter Decks for The Two Towers are fairly easy to come by.

Basics/Set Composition

The Two Towers was the fourth set of The Lord Of The Rings Trading Card Game cards created by Decipher to expand the gaming platform to fans of The Lord Of The Rings. Envisioned as a game played by two to four people, players created decks of cards utilizing their own version of the Fellowship and prepared to seed the adventure path with obstacles to thwart other players' Fellowship. For those unfamiliar with the concept, CCGs (or TCGs) are basically a late-teen oriented product designed to capitalize on the youthful desire to play with the acknowledged maturity of the target audience. Players might prefer that I describe the game instead as a strategy game that is like a Role-playing game with cards.

The Two Towers is a 365-card set focusing on characters, location, artifacts, villains and scenarios presented in the second The Lord Of The Rings film. This card set utilizes material from the film, encompassing the entirety of the movie. This allows for a very rich sense of the Middle Earth world to be presented. The set consists of 121 common cards, 121 uncommon cards, 121 rare cards and 2 starter deck exclusive cards, with all of the surviving Fellowship members being granted two cards each - usually a rare and a common or uncommon. For those who might not have been playing The Lord Of The Rings TCG before now, this is a great set to start with as it more or less reboots the game franchise.

The 365 card set features 2 One Ring, 38 Dunland, 17 Dwarven, 30 Elven, 21 Gandalf, 28 Gondor, 80 Isengard, 47 Raider, 37 Rohan, and 25 Shire Affiliation cards, and 40 Site cards. These are generally broken down evenly between Fellowship (your cards you play with) and Minion (cards you set upon your opponent) cards. Within the various affiliations, there are: 2 The One Ring (technically belonging to neither affiliation, it is a unique, powerful and necessary card with its own rules), 7 Ally (cards depicting supporting characters, like Guma and Treebeard), 3 Artifact (cards of rare/unique objects, like Gandalf's Staff or the Palantir Of Orthanc), 40 Companion (cards depicting primary characters and those who may join your customized Fellowship, like Eowyn or Aragorn), 60 Condition (cards illustrating long-term changes to Middle Earth that remain in play more than one turn, like a Fortress Never Fallen or having No Retreat from the Dunland hordes!), 90 Event (cards depicting temporary effects on players, like being given An Honorable Charge or suffering a Flanking Attack), 88 Minion (cards depicting villains used to obstruct your opponent, like Grima or a Southron Archer), 35 Possession (cards depicting objects used to enhance the natural strength or endurance of a character, like Lembas bread or Faramir's Cloak), and 40 Site (cards depicting locations in Middle Earth, they form the "board" for the game).

This set plays out the various events of The Two Towers, so there are no Ringwraith or Moria minions to menace the Fellowship, though there are legions of Uruk-Hai. The booster pack boxes are comprised of thirty-six packs per box with eleven cards per pack. The eleven cards are portioned out with seven common (six in packs that have a foil card), three uncommon, and one rare cards. A foil card replaces a single common in approximately six packs. The foils are simply reprints of the standard cards; there are no cards that are uniquely foils in this set.

Playability

At its most basic level, this is a board game where one constructs the board and pieces out of a selection of cards. The purpose of the game is to survive to the end of the ninth site in the Adventure Path, which (theoretically) indicates the end of the Ring Bearer's quest. The basic idea is to assemble a sixty card deck, lay out the board (Adventure Path) and play against an opponent. The deck is evenly split between Fellowship and Shadow cards, so players ought to have a hand that allows them to play and attempt to thwart their opponent at any given time.

This game uses a "payment" system where cards have a cost. The rulebook recommends something like poker chips or glass beads to establish the twilight pool and wound indicators and I've found small poker chips (not included) work very well for this.

It takes a great deal of time and energy to learn the game, but once one has played a few hands of it, it is a pretty easy concept for an adult to master and the challenge becomes assembling a strong fellowship and accompanying minion deck and being creative (and lucky) about how the cards from one's hand are used.

Rules/Rule Changes

The rulebook for this game is forty pages long and the rules are essentially the same as they were when the set was released with The Fellowship Of The Ring (reviewed here!).

There are no rules changes in The Two Towers. There are, however, three new affiliations. The Dunland (the wild men who ally themselves with Saruman) appear as do the Raiders (the Olifant-riding archers from the South) to oppose the Fellowship player. These are governed by the standard rules for Shadow Players. To beef up the Fellowship, there is the Rohan affiliation which comes into play and the horselords make instantly valuable allies to the Fellowship players.

Highlights

Players, collectors and fans of The Lord Of The Rings franchise will appreciate the image quality of the characters and scenarios from The Two Towers. The The Two Towers set features even more Elves, which is a great way to get ahead in the Archery phase, though it is somewhat balanced by the emerging Raiders affiliation. One of the biggest detractions would have to be the Dunland affiliation; I don't know anyone who likes playing these big, dumb humans who are pretty easily killed. Conversely, the Isengard Affiliation becomes an almost unbeatable powerhouse in this set!

And for the best card of the set, I'm going with 4R103 Treebeard, Earthborn. Despite being Unhasty (which means he acts last), this Treebeard is a powerful Ally who can kick some serious butt in the later portions of the game, when it helps to have something that powerful. He only costs four to play and his special skill is to rescue unbound Hobbits before they are discarded. Because Frodo can get very weak as the game goes on, Treebeard becomes an ideal card to play to continually rescue Sam, who can take up the Ring if your Frodo falls. As a result, this Treebeard can act like a double insurance policy by rescuing your last hope for staying in the game while taking out some of the more powerful adversaries late in the game!

Collectibility

Rares are evenly distributed in the booster packs, making only two starter decks necessary for those collecting a master set, as the Aragorn and Theodin decks each have a single card that cannot be found in the booster packs. Those starter decks remain some of the easiest to find, so completing a master set is not hampered by trying to find those!

These cards popped up in several other products, like The Two Towers Anthology boxed set, "Reflections" and The Two Towers Draft Packs. As a result, these cards have been devalued some because the supply is so high.

However, die-hard, obsessive collectors who want to spend a lifetime going from dealer to dealer on a vain search to complete something will thrill over the foil cards. All 365 cards are reprinted as foil cards and the foil sets are near impossible to complete and seem to be disproportionately less valuable than the master sets of non-foil cards. In other words, while the foil sets might take hundreds to thousands of dollars to complete, dealers seem to only be able to get a couple hundred dollars for them, probably because many collectors didn't go for this gimmick from Decipher.

Overview

The Two Towers is a great way to get into The Lord Of The Rings TCG, providing an easy to learn, compelling and fun game that is generally easy to collect. Players will like the way this game gets shaken up by the new cards, collectors will like the opportunity to get something new. Investors might have to wait a long time to see if this set appreciates, but given its overproduction, it's a fair bet that only the foil set might.

This set culls material from the film The Two Towers, which is reviewed here!

This set was preceded by "Realms Of The Elf-Lords" (reviewed here!) and followed by "Battle Of Helm's Deep" (reviewed here!).

This is a set of The Lord Of The Rings gaming cards that I sell in my online store!  Check out my current inventory of them by clicking here!

6.5/10

For other card reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

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





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Reba McEntire's If You See Him Is A Tougher Sell Than It Ought To Be.






The Good: Good vocals, Energetic instrumental accompaniment, Generally decent song choices
The Bad: Ridiculously short, Songs sound alike.
The Basics: A very average album by Reba McEntire, If You See Him does not have much wrong with it, but also has little that sets it apart.


The advantage of "coming late to the party" in the case of discovering musical artists or performers later in their career than most people is that when one looks at the current body of the artist's work, they can see the ebb and flow of the styles and trends that the artist was exploring easier. As a result, one may look at albums as aberrations in the artist's career or as foreshadowing a direction they would later go in. In the case of Reba McEntire, If You See Him appears to be a pretty clear foreshadowing of Duets, which she would release almost a decade later.

I write this not simply because If You See Him has two duets on it, but rather because the musical style is strongly what one would come to hear on that later album. But more than that, Reba McEntire's albums do have a tendency to go in phases from Classic Country to pop with most of them helping to pioneer - and later capitalize on - the Country-pop craze of the Mid-1990s. If You See Him has an odder sense of balance to it, with songs that are very much Country-rock ("All This Time"), classic Country ("Face To Face," "If You See Him, If You See Her"), and the more common Country-pop ("One Honest Heart," "Lonely Alone"). The irony I am running into here, though, is that with this album, Reba effectively blends the already blurry lines between the various genres, creating an album packed with songs that sound remarkably similar to one another. To wit, having heard Greatest Hits Volume III: I'm A Survivor, long before now, I was somewhat surprised by how few songs from this album were on that; from the sounds of the songs, so many more sounded familiar and my presumption was that I had heard them before.

That said, If You See Him is a very typical Reba McEntire musical experience. With an even dozen songs taking up 45:03, If You See Him is very much a collaborative effort by Reba McEntire and her record company, MCA. McEntire did not write any of the songs on the album and she shares the lead vocals on two tracks with guest performers: Brooks & Dunn on "If You See Him, If You See Her" and Linda Davis on "Face To Face." She does not play any of the musical instruments, but she is a co-producer of the album and selected all of the songs she performed on the album.

Truth be told, I've never been much into Country music, so this whole month has been eye opening to me in many ways. What If You See Him isn't opening my mind to is the idea that Reba McEntire is comfortable with only her Country music audience. Songs like "One Honest Heart," which is electric guitar-driven and pounding with the percussion sounds more like a pop-rock ballad than anything coming out of Country and its folk/bluegrass roots. Instead, many of the songs on If You See Him sound like rock and roll tracks with Reba as a competent vocalist competing with the powerful instrumental accompaniment or very typical pop ballads.

The pop ballads that are mixed in tend to be keyboard-driven and have McEntire sounding more like Celine Dion than herself. Songs like "Invisible" are overproduced and feature predictable swells with the instrumental accompaniment designed to get the most out of the listener's emotional reaction. Somewhere between the two are the more Country-pop songs like "I Wouldn't Know," which has more mellow percussion and includes lighter guitarwork (and the presence of the steel guitar) to balance the vocals. Even so, "I Wouldn't Know" is instrumentally predictable and the song sounds like a pop song, even if it uses the steel guitar (which is not, traditionally, a pop instrument). As well, the song sounds largely like every other song on the album. If You See Him is actually characterized largely by a louder instrumental accompaniment on all of the songs, so McEntire sounds like she is competing with the instruments that are playing behind her.

That said, it's hard to keep the vocals of Reba McEntire down! McEntire is an exceptional vocalist who works in the alto register and on songs like "I'll Give You Something To Miss," she has an energetic quality that has not been duplicated by any other artist in contemporary times. At the same time, she has the ability to be emotive and downright soulful, as she is on "Forever Love" and she plays off Linda Davis with a great ability to present irony in her music on "Face To Face." Reba McEntire fans will, no doubt, be pleased by the vocals on If You See Him, but the truth is that McEntire stays very comfortable in her safe range with this album and having heard nineteen other Reba McEntire albums, it is easy for me to say that she is not presenting anything truly new or unexpected with her vocals on this album.

Even so, the song choices on If You See Him are decent. Like most of McEntire's albums, the songs on If You See Him are largely about love and loss and this album has a number of songs about walking away from bad relationships. As one who is not a fan of Country music as a genre, this album made me come to appreciate the two big solutions Country women give for problems with their men. The first comes up in "Invisible," which is certainly enough to disabuse listeners of the notion that Country women are cold fish. They might value monogamy strongly, but as Reba sings, the solution to being overlooked is often seduction, ". . . tonight in lace and candlelight / She'll prove to him she's not / Invisible" ("Invisible"). It's hard not to like that solution to waning chemistry!

But what caught me was the honesty and solution to "Face To Face." The duet is a musical storysong between a wife and a mistress about their expectations and what happened when they meet. You know the song is not pop (they don't confront the cheating man and make him choose), you know it's not hip-hop (the women don't get into a fistfight or shoot one another), you know it's not rap (there are only two women who have been cheated on and the man's response isn't "I've got eight more I'm stringing along, so what's your problem?!"), and you know it's not Goth-emo (the cheated on women don't kill themselves), because the women size each other up and both decide to leave the cheating guy. It's actually strange and civil to hear the lines "There's no blame here we both end up the same here / A little wiser than we were / There was a time this would have killed me . . . And now that all the spells are broken / The truth's been spoken / My heart has the strength to tell him goodbye" ("Face To Face").

And despite some terribly predictable stronger/longer, tryin'/flyin', lot/not rhymes on "Up And Flying," the album still manages to have some decent poetics at parts. "Lonely Alone" is actually appropriately difficult with its concept of being alone in a relationship and leaving because it's better be alone without someone than be lonely with them. "Lonely Alone" is actually the track that pushed this very firmly into the "recommend" category for me. The bulk of the album's tracks are easy to find on other compilations, but not that perceptive song.

Anyone who likes pop-rock and/or pop-Country will find something to like on If You See Him. It might sound rather indistinct as pop or Country, but it is still a stronger pop album than I've heard lately. And hey, if no one new is going to come along and make decent pop music, why not go back and catch an album you might have missed because it was miscategorized at the time?

The best song is "Face To Face," the low point is the unmemorable "Up And Flying."

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
For My Broken Heart
It's Your Call
Greatest Hits Volume Two
Read My Mind
Starting Over
What If It's You
Greatest Hits Volume III: I'm A Survivor
Room To Breathe
20th Century Masters: Christmas Collection - Best Of Reba

5.5/10

For other music reviews, please be sure to visit my index page for a comprehensive listing of all of my current music reviews!

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


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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Deceptively Flavored, Yancey's Fancy NY Maple Cheddar Takes A Second Try To Love!





The Good: Tastes good, Melts well, Flavor comes out when melted.
The Bad: Not terribly sharp or distinctive, A little pricey
The Basics: Flavorful when melted, Yancey's Fancy NY Maple Cheddar is a good cheese.



It has been my very good fortune to suddenly have a windfall in cheeses compliments of Yancey's Fancy, a magnificent cheese manufacturer located more or less in my neck of the woods (Upstate New York). Because of their generosity, I have had the opportunity to get several bricks of cheese to taste, experiment with and review. And I think it is important to mention that up front for two reasons: 1. I do not want to be accused of bias (especially after the glowing review I gave the XXX Cheddar) and 2. I consider quite carefully what I rate a cheese when the company has been so kind to me.

That said, Yancey's Fancy NY Maple Cheddar Cheese initially disappointed me, but when I heated it up, it became not only a delightful accent cheese, but arguably the ultimate garnish for breakfast sandwiches, omelets, and more. There is a debate in the circles of cheese lovers as to whether or not cheese ought to be used as a garnish or if it ought to always be purely enjoyed. There is no better argument for the former than Yancey's Fancy NY Maple Cheddar.

Basics

Yancey's Fancy is a small cheese company in Upstate New York (where we are actually known for cheese). They specialize in making "artisan cheeses," which are fancier cheeses designed more for enjoyment on their own as opposed to as a garnish of other things, though NY Maple Cheddar seems to buck that trend!

The NY Maple Cheddar Cheese is one of Yancey's Fancy's New York Artisan Cheese, distinguished by its brown wax coating. This is a pasteurized process cheddar which is aged for an undefined number of months (it does not say on the package, but we assume more than six months). As a result, it is a somewhat softer cheddar cheese equivalent to a standard mild cheddar. It is very easy to cut with a cheese knife or cheese plane and it does not fracture like many, sharper, cheddars might. Because this is a fancy cheese, it is a bit more expensive than some of the more common brands and locally we find it at about $9.99/lb. for the NY Maple Cheddar.

Ease Of Preparation

This is cheese, not tapping maple trees for sap in the winter, so preparing the NY Maple Cheddar Cheese is as easy as slicing open the plastic package and removing the brown wax that surrounds the actual cheese. The wax is not at all poisonous, but there is no reason I can find to eat it. Fortunately, it peels off of this soft cheddar very easily. One need only be attentive to the temperature surrounding this cheese as it will melt at higher temperatures. At room temperature, it may sit out and it retains its shape nicely without getting soft in any way that makes it awkward to simply cut and eat pieces of it.

When used on a burger, this melted at a decent speed and was quite good. It handles like a standard cheddar for melting needs. In fact, it melts very quickly in an egg omlette and even when places on top of fried or scrambled eggs for an egg and meat sandwich, this melts quickly.

Taste

The NY Maple Cheddar cheese smells undeniably, deliciously, like maple. This is the essential smell of maple syrup or maple sugar candy. In this way, the cheese prepares the consumer for a delicious, complex flavor unlike any they have ever had.

Unfortunately, on its own, this quickly turns into disappointment. Despite the amazing smell, the cheese is a very bland cheddar flavor. In fact, the more I consumed of the NY Maple Cheddar straight, the more disappointed I became because the taste was not so much analogous to a mild cheddar cheese as it was to a standard American cheese. American cheese shall never be the bastion of cheese flavor and any cheddar would do well to avoid tasting like one.

However, what makes the NY Maple Cheddar complex and almost deceptive is its taste when warmed and melted. Melted, the NY Maple Cheddar takes on a sharper taste and finishes with a sweet, distinctly maple flavored taste. In fact, heated up on anything from a breakfast sandwich to a hamburger, the NY Maple Cheddar becomes a unique flavor that can accent or dominate the dish it is on in the most delightful of ways. When melted, the maple flavor is more than just a smell.

Nutrition

I love cheese and it is hard for me to care about the nutrition of it because it is so delicious I want to eat it regardless of the contents! The ridiculously small recommended serving of this artisan cheese is 1 oz., which the packaging estimates at approximately a one inch cube. Even mild cheddar cheeses seldom net so little consumption in a single sitting!

This is a cheese, so it's not like it is going to have a health food value to it. That said, the recommended serving size has 128 calories, eighty of which are from fat. The NY Maple Cheddar Cheese has no trans fat, 9 grams total fat of which five are saturated fat. That represents 25% of the RDA of saturated fat, so those who use this in recipes will pretty much be damning themselves to a week without any other saturated fats. Still, it can be worth it on a breakfast sandwich with ham! As well, there is 9% of the RDA of cholesterol, 11% of the daily sodium, 25% of one's needed calcium and 5% of your daily Vitamin A in the cheese. There is a negligible amount of carbs (less than three grams) and 6 grams of protein. In other words, this is not the greatest food to try to live on on its own.

Even so, having reviewed a lot of different foods, this is not the worst food in the world by any stretch of the imagination. The ingredients are quite simply cheddar cheese, maple syrup, natural maple flavors and a lone preservative (trisodium citrate). That makes it mostly natural and that is a refreshing change from many mass-produced cheeses. This food is - obviously - a dairy product, but it contains absolutely no alcohol.

Storage/Clean-up

This is a cheese, so some care must be maintained in its handling. Refrigeration is recommended (actually, it doesn't mention that on the package, but it seems like common sense to me) and under cool, dry conditions in its package, our NY Maple Cheddar Cheese would have lasted until early March, 2011 (about nine months). Regardless of what the packaging does or does not say, this is a dairy product and should not be kept at or above room temperature longer than it must.

Because this is a softer cheddar, it does not fracture so clean-up is usually as simple as wiping the blade of whatever one is using to cut the cheese with. If it is melted and ends up on clothing, be sure to consult your fabric's care guide. On its own, Yancey's Fancy NY Maple Cheddar Cheese should not stain any clothing or dishware.

Overall

Yancey's Fancy NY Maple Cheddar is a better ingredient than it is a cheese on its own, but when added to something where it may be melted and accent a food, it is far better. Certainly worth trying, NY Maple Cheddar might not thrill those who love their cheese sharp, but it is a great accent cheese.

For other Yancey’s Fancy cheese reviews, please check out my takes on:
Strawberry Chardonnay Cheddar
XXX Sharp Cheddar
Wasabi Horseradish Cheddar
Champagne Aged Cheddar

6/10

For other food reviews, please check out my index page!

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





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Guns, Violence And Megan Fox's Jiggling Breasts All Sell Jonah Hex As Typical Summer Fare!




The Good: Interesting characters, Generally decent revenge story
The Bad: Nothing terribly new or exciting, Dialogue is mediocre-at-best, SHORT!
The Basics: A hugely disappointing Western-flavored revenge story takes a turn for the mediocre by pulling its punches and having terrible dialogue in Jonah Hex.


For the last few years, we've known it's summer by the arrival on the big screen of Megan Fox and her breasts. For last summer, her cleavage was highlighted thanks to the period-piece Jonah Hex, which is a fairly simple revenge movie that is far more average than it is actually terrible. Those who might have been waiting to see Megan Fox running around in a corset instead of a tanktop, now is your prime opportunity! But don't wait too long; because of near-universal pannings and poor opening weekend grosses, Jonah Hex went out of theaters quickly and the DVD/Blu-Rays are already headed to the discount bins!

That said, Jonah Hex is a mildly creative film based upon the DC graphic novel by the same name. The "mildly creative" comes from the generally-decent effects and use of weaponry that is not period-accurate. It is worth noting right up front that I've not read any of the Jonah Hex graphic novels or comic books, so I went to my viewing of the film very much open-minded. However, after seeing previews and glancing at reviews, I left my expectations low going into it.

Jonah Hex is not absolutely terrible; while it is not good, it ultimately felt a lot more average than actually atrocious. Perhaps my resistance to lousy movies has been seriously lowered in recent days, but I have seen worse films this year than Jonah Hex.

In the mid-1800s, in the U.S. frontier, there is a man with deep facial scars named Jonah Hex. Having once been branded and left for dead by Quentin Turnbull, Jonah Hex is now a bounty hunter who has little regard for people and the ability to speak with the dead. His line of work has made him an enemy of the U.S. government enough times to make him hunted by government agents himself. When Lieutenant Grass encounters Jonah Hex, Jonah is mildly surprised to be offered a clean slate: all prior charges against Jonah Hex dropped . . . if he can stop Quentin Turnbull and his current evil scheme.

Quentin Turnbull wants to take over the world and he is not above trying to raise demons from Hell to try to do it. As he works to put a world-destroying device into play, Jonah Hex, his friend Lilah, and his arsenal built by Smith are set on a collision course to stop him.

With the catchphrase "Revenge Gets Ugly," Jonah Hex seemed like it could be a Western or science fiction reincarnation of Payback, but it falls drastically short of that level of enduring interest, much less greatness. Jonah Hex is plagued by very typical moviemaking problems - especially for films rated PG-13 - but because it falls in with the current crowd of bad movies, it is hard to complain ad nauseam about that. The main problem with Jonah Hex is its lack of scope or ambition. In keeping the movie PG-13, "Jonah Hex" is forced to pull punches and director Jimmy Hayward is forced to scale back most of the things that would actually make the characters more interesting. The movie is PG-13 graphic, but its main protagonist and antagonist walk around like they are mean enough to be in an "R" film. So, when they encounter one another, the result is decidedly less spectacular than if they had actually told a great story.

That lack of ambition comes through on the character and plot levels as well, though the acting is generally decent. The acting in Jonah Hex keeps the reality of the film intact quite well and Jonah Hex, Lilah and Quentin Turnbull all seem place and time specific with a realism that sets one up to be engaged by the movie. As well, the costumes are good (and not just for Megan Fox's cleavage) and because the movie is so ridiculously short, it moves along at quite a quick pace with little distraction from the stated goals of the main characters.

Unfortunately, that is where my ability to equivocate on behalf of the film ends. Virtually every line in the movie is a lame attempt at a melodramatic catchphrase. Moreover, the characters are much more archetypes than they are actual characters after their initial creation. Lilah is a world-hardened prostitute, Jonah Hex is scarred, mean, but has a layer that still appears to be human and Quentin Turnbull is yet another over-the-top villain who wants to rule the world. In very predictable fashion, Turnbull's world-domination plans become sublimated to his overwhelming desire to see Jonah Hex dead, which makes one wonder what school all these stupid supervillains go to where they don't seem to learn that if you dominate the entire world with your hell army, you'll have plenty of resources to kill your old foes! Seriously, learn to delegate villains! As one might expect, Jonah Hex does not adequately flesh out Quentin Turnbull to give him a viable reason for wanting to rule the world.

As for the plot, this is a very typical revenge and hero-in-the-process-of-becoming story with little spark or originality. Again, this makes it more average than truly terrible and while it is disappointing, the film has moments where it looks good.

Josh Brolin and John Malkovich do quite well at physically portraying anti-heroes and villains in Jonah Hex and Quentin Turnbull. Sure, Malkovich is pretty much an obvious choice to cast for any villainous role (he's played a ton of great villains), so Quentin Turnbull is pretty much par for the course Malkovich is known for. Brolin, however, continues to illustrate his range and Jonah Hex is very much unlike any of his previous, timid characters and that makes him a treat to watch even when the writing is as bad as it is in Jonah Hex. And, to be fair to her, Megan Fox is not bad as Lilah; the character is just very much an archetype and cliché as opposed to an actual character.

Ultimately, Jonah Hex disappoints as pretty much every other reviewer has acknowledged and the hopes for a franchise look dim for the studio. But there are vastly worse comic book adaptation films (there are three on the tip of my tongue) and while Jonah Hex might be bad in many parts, it never becomes a campy embarrassment to the whole genre.

For other films based upon DC comic book characters, please check out my reviews of:
The Dark Knight
Wonder Woman
Batman Returns
Watchmen

4.5/10

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

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



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