Saturday, April 30, 2011

DC Universe Online Legends Volume 1 - Alternate Universe DC Adventures Begin!





The Good: VERY engaging storyline, Moments of artwork
The Bad: Character development is nonexistent, Inconsistent artwork.
The Basics: In a darkened future, Lex Luthor marshals the surviving super forces to try to save Earth from Brainiac while the story of how the Justice League fell is revealed in the first volume of DC Online Universe Legends!



For comic book enthusiasts, it is very easy to accept altered realities and variations on the popular universes populated by characters they have fallen in love with. With comic book universes, there is some sense to the idea that alternate universe storylines would occur. Fans of super heroes, science fiction and serialized works are often asked to hold on for long amounts of time to see how the characters develop. Considering that popular characters like Superman and Wonder Woman have been around since the 1940s and characters like the X-Men have been around since the 1960s, readers have a long time to develop attachments to characters and have a sense of patience to see how they develop. And in the meantime, they frequently have flights of fancy with those characters that are not, strictly speaking, canon. Some of the greatest graphic novels fall into this non-canonical place, like Kingdom Come (reviewed here!) or DC Elseworlds books like Wonder Woman: Amazonia (reviewed here!). So, it is utterly unsurprising that DC Comics would make a whole, massive yearlong crossover event out of what is clearly an alternate universe storyline. That storyline is DC Universe Online Legends and Volume 1 is soon-to-be-collected as DC Universe Online Legends - Volume 1.

DC Universe Online Legends is based upon a popular multi-player game and in print form it has been released as individual issues every two weeks through 2011 as a major DC Comics event. As such, DC drafted some of its best talent, most noticeably writers Marv Wolfman and Tony Bedard to write the continuing saga. It is worth noting up front that I have never played the multiplayer game upon which this is based and so this is a very pure review of the graphic novel which compiles issues 1 through 12.

Opening with "Legacy," Lex Luthor manages to kill Superman. As his climactic battle comes to an end, he learns that he has trusted in the wrong force to bring his victory about. Having allied himself with Brainiac, Lex Luthor built Exobytes and Enforcers for Brainiac. Using a suit built on Brainiac's Coulan technology, Lex Luthor discovers himself vulnerable to his ally and when Brainiac turns on him, it is only Black Adam's magic that allows him to escape Brainiac's clutches. Retreating, Luthor calls upon the world's surviving metahumans to regroup with him to save the planet.

Chapter two is "Control," and that finds Lex Luthor, Power Girl, Dr. Fate, Mr. Freeze, Solomon Grundy, Black Canary, Blue Beetle, the Atom, Cheetah and a Chinese hero in Luthor's secret bunker while Brainiac's forces strip the world of useful artifacts and technology. With their time running out, Luthor hatches a plan to defeat Brainiac while Brianiac's Exobytes absorb the DNA and powers of Earth's remaining metahumans. While Luthor watches from a safe distance, Black Canary's team heads to Metropolis to get a scan of Brainiac's ship, Mr. Freeze and Dr. Fate try to get a sample Exobyte and the Atom infiltrates one of Luthor's production facilities where Brainiac's Enforcers are being built. While the Atom goes after the ace in the hole, Luthor recalls how Brainiac duped him and thwarted Superman's first attempt to stop Brainiac's invasion when Brainiac abducted the Daily Planet building in Metropolis as a specimen for calibrating his Exobytes against.

The third chapter, "Betrayal" has Power Girl learning that Lex Luthor has successfully killed Superman. Upon learning that, the frail alliance between the surviving heroes and villains is strained, but Luthor pulls his team together by admitting the truth. With the Atom holding the keys to defeating Luthor once the invasion is over, the team prepares to strike Brainiac. Back in the past, Lois Lane discovers the Swan Building has been split in half and the workers at the Daily Planet stand in fear for what is coming from Brainiac.

In "Strike Force," the Justice League attempts to stop Brainiac following the incursion at Metropolis is explored. Superman passionately tries to marshal the forces to rescue Lois, when Brianiac attacks the Watchtower! While the powerhouses of the JLA are taken out by the Exobytes, in the future, Luthor, the Atom and Black Canary launch an attack on Brainiac's mothership while Brianiac's robots lay waste to the others.

Chapter five, "Three Minutes," the Justice League of America Watchtower is overrun by the Exobytes, forcing the superheroes to withdraw before the asphyxiate. In the future, Luthor leads Black Canary and a wounded Atom into the heart of Brainiac's mothership, where they find the Yellow Lantern rings they need to defeat Brainiac! And Brainiac's ability to compromise Earth's defenses is explored when it is revealed how his forces overran the Watchtower!

The sixth chapter is "Downfall" and it opens with Brainiac using the exploding wreckage of the Watchtower as a weapon to destroy the Justice League! In the process, how Lex Luthor was wounded and became dependent upon the power suit is revealed. In the darkened future, Luthor, Atom and Black Canary load up with their Yellow Lantern rings and go on the offensive, not realizing that Brainiac has some surprises of his own!

Chapter seven, "Meanwhile" fills in the blanks on Batman in the darkened future.  Struck down by the Joker, Batman is left for dead until his remains are rescued by forced loyal to Luthor.  Batman escapes to Superman's Fortress Of Solitude where he concocts a plan to save the future, by sending Exobytes into the past to give humans metahuman powers, so they might resist.  But Luthor has a plan of his own and as Brainiac's forces turn toward Batman, Luthor stands to become Earth's savior!

The “Reconstruction” chapter happens entirely in the backstory time period, when the wounded Lex Luthor is saved by Brainiac. Crippled in the wake of the Watchtower’s destruction, Luthor is made into a cyborg and given access to Brainiac’s trophy room.

In "Anarchy At Arkham," Superman's recklessness begins to show as he becomes more and more upset over Lois missing, raids LexCorp. Live Wire attacks SuperGirl as a test for Brainiac to recalibrate his Exobytes for Kryptonians. Luthor restores the Daily Planet and in the process becomes a hero.

"Facts" finds Superman bitten by a modified Exobyte and worried. With Lois, Perry White and Jimmy Olson showing signs of mutations, Lex Luthor calls out Superman and the Justice League.

"Lost" has Lex Luthor enlisting the altered humans to form a new league - Luthor's Legion - as he discredits Superman. And at the climax, Luthor learns the truth he has only suspected before now about Clark Kent . . .

The volume concludes with Lex Luthor learning Clark Kent's metahuman identity and realizing that his plan may not achieve the goals that he desired.  Knowing Lois Lane will hate him for killing Superman, Lex Luthor works to save Superman, at least from himself.

Right off the bat, DC Online Universe Legends is engaging and it is cleverly written by two people who both know the universe they are playing in and have a sense of irony about it. So, for example, Luthor's escape pod in the first chapter sets up his story as one remarkably similar to that of Superman's exodus from the exploding Krypton. Visually, the gag works and readers who know and love the DC Universe will appreciate that type of parallel. It also sets the story up to be an appropriately epic plotline.

The book moves at a pretty incredible pace, but it is intensely focused on the plot, with pretty much no character development. So, for example, Power Girl falls in line with Luthor, even after realizing he killed Superman. There's no sense of catharsis and the fact that Palmer (the Atom) cedes control to Luthor is somewhat disappointing. Moreover, Lex Luthor does not seem more intelligent in this book, just the guy who has more information than the rest.

The artwork is of variable quality. While Luthor seems more stylized in his power suit, the artwork is consistent enough to make it clear that his left eye is now artificial and the characters are recognizable. But the artwork is occasionally glossed over and is not as deep or impressive as it could be. So, for example, in chapter four when the Justice League moves to deal with the Enforcers, Wonder Woman's costume lacks details and Superman appears more like Superboy in his face.

Unfortunately, what starts as a very engaging read becomes a little less compelling as it progresses.  In chapter seven, a whole load of "heroes" are introduced who have been given super powers through a choice.  This is part of the video games mechanic and the way it pops up in the book feels inorganic.

Ultimately, Volume 1 is two stories, one racing toward the beginning, the other exploring the consequences of Luthor's bad deal with Brainiac. There is enough to get one excited about where the story will go, despite it feeling like exactly what it is: a superhero story.

For other DC Universe graphic novels, please check out my reviews of:
Justice
Identity Crisis
Brightest Day Vol. 1

5/10

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

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


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The Yearly Tribute To Tasha Yar In Season Four Is "Legacy!"




The Good: Interesting story, Good acting, Competent character work
The Bad: Nothing beyond the obsession with a minor character and the limitations of episodic television.
The Basics: A fun enough episode, "Legacy" remembers Tasha Yar by introducing her sister and letting the crew have an adventure with her without bogging it down for non-fans.


Since her death in the first season, Tasha Yar has elicited more attention than any other character on Star Trek The Next Generation. By season four, one might figure that she was such a minor character that she would have been forgotten and we could all get on with our lives. Alas, the writers and producers of Star Trek The Next Generation would not let her rest. The season four tribute to the fallen officer is entitled "Legacy."

"Legacy" finds the Enterprise coming to the rescue of an escape pod that is in orbit of Tasha's home colony. There, the colonists have gone from complete anarchy to gang warfare underneath the remaining city. Unfortunately, the starship arrives too late and the pod crashes and its occupants are captured and held hostage. Then, one of the cadres hails the Enterprise and informs them they may be able to help in their problem. They assign a liaison to the Enterprise: Ishara Yar, Tasha's sister. Ishara boards the Enterprise and strategizes with its officers, leading them on a mission underground where she earns their trust. With Ishara's help, the officers are able to penetrate deeper and gain access to the trapped citizens. But, of course, Ishara is not all she seems.

"Legacy" works, when it does, on the acting of Beth Toussaint, who plays Ishara. Toussant makes Ishara both curious and confused and the unfortunate aspect of her performance is occasionally, it is unclear whether it is the character or the actress who is confused. In a scene with Data, for example, Toussaint stumbles over lines that are intended to be emotive and heavy and instead they come out as clumsy. She more than makes up for it in body language and in Ishara, we get the first in a string of Star Trek characters in a catsuit. Bully for the costuming department!

But the regular characters here suffer as a result of Ishara's presence. Data is unusually gullible, Worf lowers his suspicion and Riker . . . well, Riker is just Riker. Picard is, fortunately, guarded and cautious throughout. But the loss of Tasha years ago here affects the characters and their work and in the end, their development - or lack thereof - is not bad.

The acting of the regulars is fine as well. Brent Spiner plays Data with that strange emotive emotionlessness that he is beginning to get down. That is, he has the ability to say he's not emotional, yet do actions that are the result of great caring. By this point in the series, this dispassionate emotionalism is becoming Data's staple.

Jonathan Frakes does fine as Riker, as well. Opening the episode with a prankster gleam in his eyes, ending it with a sad truth. He plays the paradigm quite well.

In fact, the only real disappointment of the episode is in its necessary form. Because we know this is a one hour show and the characters are all struggling for airtime already, the intelligent viewer will know that Ishara is not going to stick around and thus it is predictable that she has some character flaw to keep from us.

On the plus side, the episode is accessible to all. Despite the allusions to Tasha Yar and her death, all avenues are covered in the episode. This makes for a very easy episode for non-fans of Star Trek The Next Generation to watch. In fact, it's pretty much the run through the halls, shoot them up action one might want for a rainy Sunday. There are several gun battles and tense chases through the underground mazes on the colony. The episode does not resurface the Geordi/Data tension over Tasha Yar. Instead, it's much more straightforward: woman comes, woman fights beside the crew, woman leaves. It just so happens she's the sister of someone who did it before.

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

5.5/10

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

© 2011, 2007, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.



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Rosy Cheeked And Logical, Spock Defines The Average Star Trek Ornament!


The Good: Decent likeness of Mr. Spock, Good balance
The Bad: Overproduced, Expensive
The Basics: A very average ornament, the mass-produced, slightly off-color skin tones and expense of the Mr. Spock ornament keep it from true greatness.


I thought I would start today by addressing something that ought to be obvious about Christmas ornaments: in the end, it is hard not to make an ornament average. After all, most Christmas ornaments are seen once a year and have nothing to do, save hang on a recently-killed tree as decoration. Unlike things like action figures, which are played with, most ornaments have a simple function: hang and look good. I have been evaluating ornaments that are collectible and that does add some additional requirements to an ornament.

One of those things is the collectibility and realism of the sculpt of the ornament. As a result, it is harder to define what makes an "average" collectible ornament. Thus, things like cost do play a factor and, frankly, Paramount (now CBS) Studios charges an arm and a leg for the franchise rights to their products and licensees like Hallmark end up passing that lack of savings on to the customer. As a result, some of the Hallmark ornaments, like Mr. Spock are issued with a seemingly high (and it is) issue price right around $20.00 and those who collect ornaments in general (as opposed to Star Trek memorabilia in specific) might well come away from the shopping feeling like they are getting ripped off. Still, Mr. Spock is a decent ornament and he defines well what makes an average Star Trek personnel ornament, making for an essential baseline review for me.

For those unfamiliar with Mr. Spock, he was the chief science officer and first officer aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise for almost every episode of Star Trek (reviewed here!). Played brilliantly by Leonard Nimoy, Spock became an iconic character in popular culture with his logical demeanor, pointed ears and presence in every episode of the original Star Trek television show. The way he would square off with Dr. McCoy became a high point for many fans, who watched for their interactions. Spock was defined by his unemotional behavior and devotion to logic and reason. So, it makes a lot of sense that Hallmark would make Mr. Spock the second in its series of original Star Trek character ornaments right behind Captain Kirk.

Basics

The "Mr. Spock" recreates well the famed First Officer of the Enterprise in solid plastic. The ornament, released in 1996, is a fair, if average work with realistic detailing, but shading that is a bit off for Spock. Measuring four inches tall (to the top of Spock's head, 4 1/2" to the top of the ornament's metal hook), three and one half inches wide and two and three-quarters inches deep, the Mr. Spock ornament was a decent seller for Hallmark when it originally sold them at $17.95.

The Hallmark "Mr. Spock" ornament is made of a durable plastic and has the Vulcan officer seated at his science console on the bridge. The ornament comes with Spock, his chair, and a section of bridge console, which he has his hands on. All of the pieces of molded together, so there is nothing that will fall off on this ornament. And it looks pretty cool.

Spock is colored correctly with his blue Sciences shirt and the bridge console looks good, as does the chair. Mr. Spock is detailed adequately, for those who are casual fans and those who are just considering this an ornament. Star Trek fans tend to be a bit more demanding, though. Spock has a neutral expression on his face, but the skin tones are clearly human, not with the slight green tinge that would define Spock as a Vulcan. As well, mine has some stray paint in his ear and near his eye. Outside that, though, this is a good likeness and details like the multicolored buttons on the console he his in front of are decent.

Features

As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, Mr. Spock could have a function like a sound chip or light effect, but does not. This is just an ornament, a low-cost (comparatively) option for those who might not want to shell out for the starship series of Star Trek ornaments. This is Spock, attached permanently to the console, all it does is hang. This might be especially disappointing for fans as Leonard Nimoy had recorded a sound bit for the Shuttlecraft Galileo ornament (see link below) and that could have been reused in part to enhance this ornament. Similarly, it would have been cool is the scanner on the console had lit up (as it did in the television series). Having the ornament without any features might disappoint some collectors.

Balance

As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake "Mr. Spock" ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate Star Trek Christmas Tree, the "Mr. Spock" ornament is a pretty necessary one. The ornament has a brass hook loop that comes out of the top of the chair and hangs over Spock's head. This is remarkably stable (surprisingly) and the ornament only sways when it (or the tree) is bumped.

As well, the Mr. Spock ornament is remarkably well balanced; Spock hang level at his seat.

Collectibility

Hallmark Keepsake began delving into the collectibles market in 1991 with Star Trek when it introduced the exceptionally limited edition U.S.S. Enterprise ornament. Since then, they have made ornament replicas of almost all of the major starships from the franchise and when they started on the personnel in 1995, they were quite a bit more mass produced than that first one. The "Mr. Spock" ornament was a moderate success commercially. Between the popularity of this character with fans and the general public, Mr. Spock sold well. Still, there were so many of this ornament produced that he is readily available (still) in the secondary market.

In other words, this is not the best investment piece, but it does seem to satisfy most collectors and people who spent their money on it.

Overview

Fans of the Star Trek franchise, Leonard Nimoy and Mr. Spock are likely to be largely pleased by the Mr. Spock ornament; it is a decent recreation of one of the most lovable characters from one of the classic science fiction television shows of all time. And despite the high cost of the ornament, this lives up to what an ornament is supposed to: depict the character well and hang.

For other Star Trek ornaments of characters, please check out my reviews of:
2010 Legends Of Star TrekCaptain James T. Kirk
2009 Limited Edition Ilia Probe
2005 Khan
1997 Dr. McCoy

6/10

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

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sophie B.'s Solid Start: Tongues And Tails Holds Up Over The Years!




The Good: Musically diverse, Lyrically superlative, Vocally impressive
The Bad: Underdeveloped sound
The Basics: This is a good investment, especially if you like "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover;" a solid album overall, rough on some tracks!


In 1992, Columbia records presented Sophie B. Hawkins and Tongues And Tails after a significant bidding process. It was worth it. Sophie's debut album is a proud showcase of diversity and the album has a quality to it that has not been matched in her following attempts. As one of the more daring voices in the pop-rock field in the 1990s, Hawkins struggled to find a mainstream audience, despite her hit song from this album, "Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover." In fact, she continued to struggle when she tried to sell her next album on the strength of "Right Beside You" (reviewed here!) and struggles to this day to get noticed with albums like Live! The Bad Kitty Board Mix (reviewed here!).

Tongues And Tails stands out as something different. What separates it at first from other pop-rock albums is the diversity of the instruments being used on the tracks. Consider "Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover;" it is a keyboard-driven pop-rock song that has more of an orchestral sound to its opening. The production elements enhance the crescendo that opens the track, sucking the listener in and when Sophie begins to sing, "That old dog has chained you up all right . . ." her voice is amplified by the contrast to the instrumentals, instantly focusing the listener on her vocals. It is a clever hook, but more than a cheap technique, it fits the song. "Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover" is an incredibly poetic and opaque song. The instrumentals and the techniques used to spotlight the vocals add a murky quality to the song that makes it intriguing to the ear.

Hawkins continues the trend of accenting her lyrics on the tracks that follow in very different ways, from speak-singing on "Mysteries We Understand" to singing with almost no musical back-up on "Listen" to creating a flat-out rock and roll sound on "California, Here I Come." As such, Tongues And Tails often comes across as unrefined. Unlike Timbre which was clearly Sophie experimenting with different musical styles and sounds, "Tongues and Tails" sounds more like the learning curve of the artist, as she feels out for her sound and simply tries a whole bunch of different, mostly keyboard-driven, ideas. Sophie takes very few chances on the album, it is surprisingly conservative in terms of number of instruments, given her follow-ups, but certainly an excellent first shot out.

In fact, it's hard to find a more original debut album than this! Unlike the more folk-oriented debut of Sarah McLachlan or the more vocal-jazz origins of Fiona Apple, Sophie B. Hawkins breaks onto the scene trying to make a classic pop-rock album, edging more toward the rock and roll end of the spectrum and setting her apart from most keyboard-driven solo artists. Perhaps now in this time of largely homogenized sound, Tongues And Tails ought to be a standard of originality by which other debuts ought to be judged.

Like the more commercially successful Apple and McLachlan, Hawkins is probably best known for her distinctive lyrics. She is a poet and lyricist and a true musician, writing ten of the eleven tracks on Tongues And Tails. The other track is a cover of Bob Dylan's "I Want You." "I Want You," as reimagined and reinterpreted by Sophie B. Hawkins is a slow, sultry ballad that is wrenching in its emotions. Unlike Dylan's original, up-tempo folksy song that is best described as a jig, Hawkins does justice to the lyrics, truly emoting the desire and longing expressed in Dylan's lines. Hawkins reimagines it and recreates the song with such beauty and anguish that when she sings, "I want you / I want you / I want you so bad . . ." the listener finds it impossible to disbelieve her. Her interpretation of Bob Dylan's "I Want You" is nothing less than genius. In fact, if you've never heard the folk-tempo, rock out as Dylan does it, I recommend you forgo it for the Sophie version. Sophie's version is soulful where Dylan's is poppy, hers blends the imagery to the music where Dylan's original is discontinuous between the sound and the lyrics.

Hawkins's poetry is a little more sophisticated on most tracks, with her lines generally being longer and more expressive and direct. So, for example, on "Before I Walk On Fire," the music cuts out midway through her refrain to accent the determination of the lines, "Before I walk on fire / I want you to look me in the face. / I won't flinch, I won't turn away."

Sophie's lyrics are bold and imaginative from the imagery of "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover" to the fast talking "Mysteries We Understand" to the soaring "We Are One Body." Sophie expresses a diverse range of topics that is anything but teen fare. Her range extends beyond the standard love/loss combination that most artists tackle, though she does love ("Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover," "I Want You," and "Don't Stop Swaying") and loss ("Listen") quite well. She mixes in songs about moving and following one's dreams ("California Here I Come"), the potential of every life ("Savior Child") and the simple need for help, to be held by another ("Carry Me"). Often her songs have memorable opening lines that draw the listener in like, "I love the way life screwed up the way you're looking at me" ("Listen").

However, a number of tracks have an underdeveloped sound or feel or even lyrics to them. One such example is the whispery "Listen" that seems like it could be so much more on just about every level. The whispery sound is paired with lines that don't inspire - or reward - the attention the listener is forced to give them.

Similarly, - lyrically, not in musical accompaniment - the dizzying "Live And Let Love" overdoes the same thing that "Mysteries We Understand" does effectively. It is as if Sophie had an excellent idea to sing about something other than the standards (or make them seem new) and then became stuck in a rut.

All in all it was a pretty impressive start and it's fairly surprising that outside "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover" the album didn't produce a charting single in the US. The strongest track is "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover" (and while there's something to say about putting your best foot forward, on the first album putting the most superior track first doesn't encourage a lot of people to keep listening) and the weak link of the album is "Live And Let Lovve."

For other albums by strong female artists, please visit my reviews of:
Laws Of Illusion - Sarah McLachlan
Blow - Heather Nova
One Cell In The Sea - A Fine Frenzy

7/10

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

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




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White, Light And Average, Coconut Jelly Belly Jelly Beans Are A Solid Flavor!

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




The Good: Tastes good, Nothing bad in it, Environmentally responsible bulk
The Bad: No real nutritional value, Not the strongest flavor ever.
The Basics: A good, but rather average flavor, Coconut flavored Jelly Bellys are tough to get excited about stocking up on!


I think that coconut is one of the standard flavors of jelly beans in the world. For those companies that bother to make flavors for their jelly beans (other than just colors) white seems to be coconut most of the time. Jelly Belly jelly beans, easily the greatest, most flavorful jelly beans in the world, have a coconut flavored jelly bean as well. And, truth be told, it is good, but it is pretty much the industry standard. I like coconut Jelly Bellys, but it is one of the few flavors of Jelly Belly jelly beans that may just be as good as the competition's jelly beans and as a result, the expense and interest in this flavor is somewhat diminished. If coconut is an average flavor, my jelly bean experiences with coconut flavored beans tends to run right around the same, average experience. That holds true even with Jelly Belly jelly beans in this case.

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 Sour Grape, 7-Up, Strawberry Daiquiri, or their signature flavor Buttered Popcorn.

Who needs ten pounds of Coconut flavored Jelly Bellys? I suppose they are ideal for the people who would eat ten pounds of actual coconuts, but would rather not have to go through the effort and expense of cracking that many coconuts up! Anyone who might like Coconut 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

Coconut 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 Coconut and they live up to that well, though it is a pretty subtle flavor to begin with and seems mostly defined in these beans by the aftertaste.

Coconut 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, "Ever carried or cracked ten pounds of coconuts? These cases are much easier!" I suspect that for most people, a ten pound case is a year's supply of these jelly beans.

Coconut flavored Jelly Bellys are remarkably easy to recognize and distinguish from other Jelly Bellys, save the French Vanilla beans. Both Jelly Bellys are opaque white, but the coconut ones have no spots. The French Vanilla beans have tiny black spots (much like Vanilla Bean ice cream does). The Coconut beans are easily distinguished from the other white beans, A&W Cream Soda flavor, by the fact that the Cream Soda beans are translucent white, as opposed to Coconut's opaque white color.

Ease Of Preparation

These are jelly beans, not splitting Coconuts with your bare hands! 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. Then again, one might imagine the box as a giant ten pound coconut and enjoy scooping out the goodness of the coconut that way. Whatever. Eat them however you would enjoy jelly beans!

Taste

Coconut is a good Jelly Belly jelly bean. The beans do not have any sort of strong bouquet, so much of their taste comes from the actual taste, not the scent. They have a creamy, very sugary flavor to begin with and they are reminiscent of coconut flakes that one bakes with, as opposed to actual dry coconut or fresh coconut. In fact, the dry aftertaste of coconuts is entirely lacking from this jelly bean experience.

However, the precise taste of coconut is encapsulated in this Jelly Belly's aftertaste. The flavor of coconut is perfectly preserved in the aftertaste and after being underwhelmed with my first bites of these beans, I always found myself pleased by the kick that they generated after that.

I have noticed that, bean to bean, coconut is one of the more irregular flavors of Jelly Belly Jelly Beans. Some are bursting with flavor - even in the primary contact with the tongue - others have a much more neutral taste that never even pops. Perhaps that is why I am a little more neutral on them than I otherwise might be.

Nutrition

Again, these are jelly beans, so anyone looking to them for nutrition needs to understand they don't even have any of the nutritional properties that actual coconuts would have. 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 . . .). 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, these aren't protected by a hard, hairy shell, after all). I've never had Coconut Jelly Bellys stain anything.

Overall

Coconut Jelly Belly jelly beans are a good, not great, flavor from Jelly Belly. If you have to stock up on them, this is the way to go. If not, it's a fun flavor to pick out and enjoy when eating a full mix of Jelly Bellys.

For other Jelly Belly flavors reviewed by me, please check out:
French Vanilla
Sour Watermelon
Watermelon

5.5/10

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

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




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Return To The Dangerous Place Where The Truth Kills: "The Blessing Way" And "Paper Clip!"





The Good: Good acting, Decent stories, Pacing, Video bonus features
The Bad: Somewhat light on character for my tastes
The Basics: Dark and impressive, "The Blessing Way" and "Paper Clip" put Mulder and Scully on the trail of the conspiracy that is racking up quite a body count!


The truth, if there is an absolute of that concept that can be translated by measly humans limited by their perspective, is out there, we are told by The X-Files, which wisely manages not to suggest where out there they mean. Even so, some episodes of The X-Files are essentially the U.F.O. cover-up conspiracy stories the show is oft-assumed to be about. Such is as it is when The X-Files began its third season with the two parter "The Blessing Way" and "Paper Clip."

Actually, the two parts that open the third season are actually the last two parts to the second season finale, "Anasazi" (reviewed here!) and lacking any "Previously on The X-Files. . ." recaps on the videos, one is left to piece together what happened in that episode if they only watch this tape. There is something strange about starting with an episode where Mulder is presumed dead, a digital tape is referenced, Mulder's father has been killed with Mulder himself implicated in the murder and Scully is about to be fired for breaches in protocol by her superiors at the F.B.I.

In "The Blessing Way," Scully returns to the Navajo reservation in New Mexico to discover that Mulder has been killed and that the agents of the Cigarette-Smoking Man have beaten up everyone they could find in their vain attempt to find the digital tape containing the MJ files. After being stopped by an unmarked helicopter which whisks away her hard copy of the files, Scully returns to Washington, D.C. where an inquiry strips her of her position and puts her on suspension.

Back in New Mexico, Mulder's body is found in a state near death and Albert Holsteen begins the Blessing Way Chant to attempt to heal him. In his delirium, Mulder connects with his dead father and Deep Throat who urge him to return to the land of the living to finish the work he set out to and to find the truths that they worked so hard in life to hide. Scully, on the trail of the truth thanks to Frohike, is given an ominous warning at Bill Mulder's funeral, one which puts her in imminent danger of assassins.

In "Paper Clip," Skinner and Scully are shocked to learn that Mulder is actually alive and back in town and the location of the digital tape is revealed. Pressured by his shadow consortium, the Cigarette-Smoking Man intensifies his search for the digital tape, dispatching Krycek to recover it. When the Lone Gunmen clue Mulder and Scully in on the identity of one of the men in a photograph with Bill Mulder, the F.B.I. agents go in search of Nazi scientist Victor Klemper.

Klemper sends the pair to West Virginia to a subterranean record's storage facility where the agents discover genetic histories of Scully and Samantha Mulder and thousands of others. While Skinner attempts to negotiate with the Cigarette-Smoking Man for Mulder and Scully's safe return to work, the agents are hunted by those who want to keep the truth buried!

"The Blessing Way" is essentially a healing story for Mulder and a setup of Dana Scully's larger character arc for the rest of the season and series. Forced to go through the front door at the Hoover Building, Scully discovers a chip implanted in the soft tissue in the back of her neck, which she soon comes to believe was left there when she was abducted back in "Ascension" (reviewed here!). Its presence and removal in "The Blessing Way" sets off a chain of events that will plague Scully for years.

The thing is, though, this is treated as a b-plot to Mulder's healing story. Mulder is given the will to keep on fighting the shadowy forces of lies and deceit by his dead father who warns Mulder that the truth will force the young man to look at his father differently. That Mulder opts for the truth and the fight for life says much about his character. But most of his part in the episode is quiet, subtle and hardly action packed.

On the other hand, "Paper Clip" is packed with all of the exposition, aliens and U.F.O.'s that fans have waited years to see. Trigger-happy Krycek illustrates he has a backbone, Mulder and Scully run around in the dark, Skinner shows exactly whose side he is on and the Cigarette-Smoking Man's position is revealed to be a lot more tenuous than most might think! "Paper Clip" is a pretty packed episode.

The thing about both episodes that unifies them well - outside the obvious chronological order - is a general sense of Navajo spirituality and a generally decent sense of connectedness between Man and Earth. This is not theologically overbearing, but rather it is utilized for exposition of its own and to illustrate a fairly incredible concept of price, debts and consequences. Mulder is granted his life back through the Blessing Way, but another life is taken (for those keeping score, this is technically three lives for Mulder's as Bill Mulder and the Thinker were killed in "Anasazi" to get this little bloodletting started). The question, then, becomes whether it is all worth it or not.

I'd argue it is because Mulder and now Scully are off searching for a truth they believe must be exposed to right the wrongs of . . . well, world history. Scully manages to press Klemper pretty hard and her encounter with the Well-Manicured Man in both episodes clearly shakes her. Unable to return to work without Skinner's help and told exactly how his men will come for her, Scully's experience with the Well-Manicured Man emboldens her and sets her running for the truth alongside Mulder in a way that they had not been before.

Arguably, Mulder and Scully have never been too far apart in their beliefs; both utilize science to justify their beliefs. Scully has always used more earthbound science while Mulder has more readily made more fanciful hypotheses to prove. They both use the same methodology to prove their beliefs. The thing is, in "The Blessing Way" and "Paper Clip," there is an attention to detail and philosophy that accents the simple plot expositions. As far as details go, the producers were smart enough to include Mulder's gunshot wound (in "Anasazi" he was shot by Scully) and as far as philosophy, this two parter becomes all about defining what the shadowy conspiracy's agenda actually is: to control the future.

Mitch Pileggi gives a great performance as Walter Skinner who finally falls off the fence and firmly into the category of "ally" to Mulder and Scully as he openly defies the wishes of the Cigarette-Smoking Man. Pileggi provides realistic scenes of physical battles as well as pulling off cool and neutral scenes where he impresses the viewer with his ability to portray an Assistant Director in the F.B.I. He balances well the physical and intellectual roles that it takes to make a character like Skinner work.

But nobody does cool like John Neville, who joins the recurring cast as the Well-Manicured Man. Neville might best be known to audiences for his role as the title character in The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen. Here he is completely different. There is no spark of life or adventure in his character on The X-Files. Instead, he plays the part with cold detachment and makes one of the most intriguing villains the show has.

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson leap into the new season with Anderson doing the lion's share of the acting heavy lifting in "The Blessing Way" (Mulder, being wounded, requires Duchovny mostly to lay still for several scenes). Duchovny also gives an unfortunate monologue - a telepathic contact from Mulder to Scully - that seems strangely out of character. As odd as it is to suggest, the scene has Duchovny speaking more like Duchovny than Mulder.

Outside such miniscule details, these two parts get the third season of The X-Files off to a pretty rockin' start!

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

"The Blessing Way" - 9/10
"Paper Clip" - 8.5/10
VHS - 8/10

For other television show and episode reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

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





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Olympic Premium Ceiling Paint: Same Paint, A Little Thicker, Still Worth It!





The Good: Good paint, Excellent color range, Goes on easy, Difficult to clean up, Warranty, No odor
The Bad: Expensive
The Basics: An ideal paint for ceilings or high traffic areas, Olympic Premium Ceiling Paint lives up to a do-it-yourselfer's expectations, despite the expense!


It is hard not to love the way products get repackaged in order to meet different niches. When I abandoned my house a few years back, I did so right after trying to make a home for my partner at the time and we had repainted a room entirely to attempt to make it feel more "ours." She is long gone now and following the move, I fell in love again and my new wife and I have set about making our meager space in the house we share with my mother ours through a bunch of home improvement projects. As a result, we recently repainted our upstairs apartment and to get rid of the white walls, we started with some of the leftover paint from my old house. The thing was, we were using Olympic Premium Interior Latex Satin Paint before we had to get a new can of paint. When we did, we picked up the Olympic Premium Ceiling Paint.

Olympic Premium Ceiling Paint is essentially the identical product to the Olympic Premium Interior Latex paint, save that it is thicker and it is available in different lusters than the simple and direct satin finish paint. Olympic Premium is a high-quality brand and the Olympic Premium Ceiling Paint lives up to the quality of the rest of the brand. More than just worthwhile for the warranty, in painting with my wife, we discovered the Ceiling Paint went on smoother than the regular Interior Latex paint because it was thicker. So, while it takes a little more than the standard paint to coat a roller and get a wall painted, the paint is thicker and seems more solid on walls and ceilings than the regular product we used on our walls to begin with!

Olympic has been making paints since 1938, so between a brand that is recognizable and a retailer that I have a pretty strong impression will still be in business in 50 years, I felt confident buying a gallon of the Olympic Premium Ceiling Paint for our new bedroom. We purchased it at Lowe's and there we found that we could get the Ceiling Paint mixed and colored.

First off, when it came to color selection, this Olympic Premium brand has a wealth of choices. While I'm sure there are color matching machines that will allow this to be tinted in virtually any color, there were (literally) over five hundred color choices available for the ceiling paint that were already in the system a Lowe's. That amount of choices makes it very easy to find a color for virtually any room or surface.

Second, as with other Olympic Premium products, there is a 25 year warranty with the ceiling paint and what differentiates this from other Olympic Premium paints and regular Olympic paints is the thickness of the paint. Having used lesser paints before (and, sadly, since), I can attest that this paint is thicker. In terms anyone can understand, this is more of a sludge than a liquid; more like a tar than water. I likened the Interior Latex paint to syrup; this is even thicker, more like lukewarm tar. This makes it a little more difficult to spread on surfaces, but it does insure that the paint does not drip when one is painting ceilings or walls! This is a great selling point as it means that the paint goes on thicker, coating any surface in one pass. The added cost means that while the product might not go quite so far, it virtually eliminates the need to go back and paint a second coat. Versus the 15 year warranty standard (not premium) interior latex satin paint from Olympic, I would say this went roughly 7/8 as far. Meaning, I got maybe 1/8 a gallon more out of the cheaper stuff in terms of coverage, but I had to do a second coat. This makes the premium paint a better value as I only had to use 1 gallon (and one coat!), as opposed to 2 gallons (or, more honestly 1 1/2 - 1 3/4 gallons) of the cheaper stuff. In this way, despite being a bit thicker than the interior latex paint, the Ceiling Paint actually got the same amount of coverage, though it was still less than the non-premium product.

As someone who is not a professional painter, this product was a great choice for repainting rooms and ceilings. Like many people, I was starting with white walls. My colors ranged from dark blue to a light sky blue. Painting at night, without the benefit of natural light, it was obvious where the paint was covering, even with light colors. The dark colors provide a great contrast, making it obvious and clear where has been painted. When painting the ceiling with light colors (on a stucco ceiling), it was clear where I had painted and that cannot always be said. I'm attributing that to the thickness of the paint. The coverage was clear, thick and it stuck. As well, we had no problem finding a wide variety of colors to choose from for this paint when we purchased it at Lowe's.

As well, painting on the stucco ceiling offered me a great opportunity to observe and comment on the coverage. Rough surfaces like stucco usually require multiple passes in order to fully cover an area. The Olympic Premium Ceiling Paint covered in a single stroke of my roller. One roll forward and surface was painted. Of course, I had to go back to roll the roller through the paint, but every time it was coated, it coated the surface of the ceiling without missing any spots. The coverage was incredible and it spread perfectly.

As well, there was no drippage while I was painting the ceiling. Because the paint is thicker, it acts more like glue, sticking to the surface, especially the ceiling. I tend to coat my roller liberally and as a result, I would have expected drippage, but there was none with the Olympic Premium Ceiling Paint. As well, it was very easy when I was painting the walls, to even out spots where I had been too liberal at the top with covering my roller, so even when wet, the places where too much paint may have initially been applied are obvious. So, if you're a sloppy painter, mistakes may be evened out very easily.

This is a great product for anyone who is doing repainting as it basically requires mixing, pouring, applying to a brush or roller and coating your surface. It worked fine on both primed and unprimed surfaces and coated fully. The can recommends the surface be primed, but I had no difficulties on some unprimed wood. The coverage was as good as on the primed wall. I've used this paint on stucco, sheetrock, plasterwall and wood, with equal results.

As well, there was virtually no odor with this paint. I tend to paint in the evening and by noon the next day, the newly painted walls were dry and there was no smell. Truth be told, the rooms I've been painting have poor ventilation and air circulation and I've had to have them closed off so my cats and dog did not "repaint" after I painted the walls. In less than a day, even under those conditions, the paint dried and the minimal smell dissipated.

This paint comes off rollers and brushes real easy with running water. Like all latex paints, it cleans up with soap and water until it dries, so as long as you don't leave your brush or roller laying around to dry before cleaning it up, it will be very easy to clean your tools up. It is not easy to clean up when droplets fall on surfaces I did not want them on and go unnoticed. So, for example, when I was painting the walls about a week after I painted the ceiling, I got a few very dark drops on the ceiling. Most of the paint came off, but it was impossible for me to get the rest off without stripping off the paint I had painted the prior week. On the plus side, the ceiling paint held up under my angry, frantic scrubbing to try to get the new, wet paint off. Ultimately, I wanted a paint that was durable and my inability to get the paint fully off the ceiling when I splattered it reassured me that this paint is the real deal. It's going to coat, it's going to coat well and it's not going to come off, even when I scrub! That means it might actually last the 25 years it's warrantied for.

The paint is warrantied for 25 years, guaranteed not to chip, wear off or wash off. The Ceiling Paint held up when painter's tape was stuck on it, something other Olympic Premium products I've used have not always done. This paint is expensive, but it seems to work well-enough to justify the price.

This is a great paint for those who are investing in a house and plan to be in it for some time. Between being a great product that is remarkably easy to work with, this paint is sold regularly from a retailer that will be around and is from a company that is well-established and does not appear to be going anywhere. And despite being called Ceiling Paint, it does not clump or drip in any way that is problematic when used on walls, floors or doors. In fact, I tend to recommend this paint for high-traffic areas because experience has shown it does not chip off or wear poorly, making it a good paint for surfaces more active than a ceiling!

For other paint product reviews, please check out my reviews of:
Z Pro 24 Paint Tray
Linzer 6 1/2" Pipe Roller
Shur-Line Teflon Paint Roller Cover

8/10

For other home improvement product 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 Ben I'm Still Waiting On: Ben Affleck Underwhelms With Forces Of Nature



The Good: Occasionally funny, Good beginning
The Bad: Mostly predictable character arcs and plots, Acting, Directing, Pace
The Basics: Wildly inconsistent in characters and especially directing, Forces Of Nature has a middle that is fractured and disproportionately long relative to the quality of the end and the beginning.


So, I was forcing myself to watch another Ben Affleck movie because he was good in Daredevil (reviewed here!) and Dogma and I've been waiting to see him in another movie where he was as good. I was horribly disappointed by Reindeer Games, for one. Forces Of Nature didn't re-establish his street credibility with me.

The simple truth is, Ben Affleck either can't act or can only seem to act one way. If the latter, he's typecast too often and too consistently. That is, his character here is almost identical to the other characters he plays. The quality of an actor is evaluated by how well they do different roles. That is to say, the quality of evaluating an actor is how believably they portray diverse roles. For example, William H. Macy is a great actor. I know it by the fact that I found him believable and great as Sam Donnovan on Sports Night (reviewed here!) and as Donnie Smith in Magnolia (reviewed here!). Are the two characters at all alike? Not one whif. A great actor is one who after seeing a film once, I know the character name and identify the character instead of the actor playing the character.

Forces Of Nature, then is easy enough: Ben Affleck plays a guy named Ben. Ben is on his way to his wedding when, at the bachelor party, his grandfather has a heart attack. This puts him in the unenviable position of leaving New York City on a plane later than he expected. The plane he gets on crashes and he ends up having to find alternate transportation to Savannah. From the airport, he and Sarah take a car, which gets impounded by the police, a train, and a bus in the attempt to get to Savannah.

Sarah is impulsive and reckless and she basically gets Ben into trouble along the way. Ben and Sarah take the supposedly comic journey to try to save themselves and each other. Ben, along the way, encounters everyone in the world who has had a rotten marriage. His experiences with Sarah are basically his questioning marriage at the 9th hour.

Forces Of Nature has a strong beginning and a strong ending. Watching the film, I sat there like this:
Beginning - "I can't believe I was prepared to sit here and not like this. I'm laughing!"
Middle (significantly longer) - "I can't believe it became so formulaic so quickly. How could I have enjoyed the beginning?"
End (Post Stripper Scene) - "Well, this got good again. Maybe the person who directed the beginning and the end was replaced for the middle part."

The truth is, this is a remarkably inconsistent film and not in a good way. The characters are erratic, oscillating between depth and cardboard role. The plot is disturbingly unstable, going from an intriguing beginning to an entirely predictable middle (we know whenever anyone lies about their profession there will be cause to test that lie) to a strangely satisfying ending. The actors vary from the predictable Affleck and Bullock (Sarah) to the diverse Maura Tierney (as Ben's fiance) and the funny Richard Schiff (who plays a bus/real estate manager).

In the final analysis, it's these inconsistencies all around that sink Forces Of Nature. Too bad, too; it had such a good beginning and such a nice end and I truly did want to like it.

For other films with Sandra Bullock, please check out my reviews of:
The Proposal
The Blind Side
Crash
28 Days

3.5/10

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

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



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(Mostly) All The Notes On The Greats Of Cinema: Roger Ebert's Book Of Film.





The Good: Well-written, Well-researched
The Bad: Misleading title, Neglects some important cinematic moments
The Basics: A wide-ranging collections of essays, interviews and commentaries on cinema and Hollywood, Roger Ebert's Book Of Film is a decent read for cinephiles.


There is some irony, I feel, to my comments in the opening to my review of the film Dark City (available here!) where I comment on how Roger Ebert and I seldom see eye to eye. Since I originally wrote that review back in 2001, I have come to appreciate Roger Ebert's commentaries and while he and I don't always see eye to eye on film reviews, he has easily become the film reviewer I respect most (outside myself, of course). No matter how he evaluates a movie, he tends to come to a film from a educated point of view with an objective standard that appeals to my sensibilities as a reviewer. Often, he is less harsh on movies than I am, but lately I have found myself wondering what his DVD collection looks like. After all, once you become a reviewer of films, there are only so many movies you'd want to see over and over and over again and make part of a permanent collection. Yeah, I'd love to see Roger Ebert's library and DVD collection (strangely, I cannot think of an equivalent music reviewer I would be so entranced by the collection of).

Perhaps that feeling is currently redoubled because I have just completed reading Roger Ebert's Book Of Film, a 793 page collection of essays, excerpts and interviews about movies and Hollywood culture. Unlike what the title suggests, Roger Ebert's Book Of Film is not a vast collection of Roger Ebert's thoughts on movies (I'm still a little sore about that). Instead, this is one hundred fourteen essays, diary notes from directors and producers, short stories and interviews from, by and of some of the great minds of American Cinema.

Unfortunately, as a fan of Roger Ebert's reviews and insights, I had been hoping for more Ebert, less variables. Instead, this anthology - edited by Roger Ebert - includes introductions to each article and a lone "interview" with Lee Marvin by Ebert. I put interview in quotes because while Roger Ebert presents an intriguing expose on the private, candid life of Lee Marvin (it's probably great, if I cared at all about Lee Marvin), but there's no evidence that Roger Ebert actually asked Marvin any questions or interacted with him. That's fine, but it's not much of an interview when you just let your subject spout off whatever he or she wants without actually trying to glean some information out of him. That article is otherwise fine, but it does lead the reader to the point of the vast disparities throughout Roger Ebert's Book Of Film; Ebert edits and presents works by vastly different styles and qualities of writers. As a result, the book oscillates between the fascinating and the fictional, the brilliant and the boring.

Divided out into topical sections, Roger Ebert's Book Of Film explores pretty much every aspect of making movies, at least up until 1997, which is a pretty sizable chunk of time. Sections include: "Going to the movies" (thoughts on the cultural institution of attending screenings), "Movie stars," "The Business" (aspects of how Hollywood creates movies from a business perspective), "Sex and scandal" (yes, it's sex in the movies and this includes one of the best essays in the book!), "Early Days" (the establishment of cinema and movies as a cultural institution), "Genres," "Directors," "Writers," "Critics" (notably absent anything by Roger Ebert other than the standard introductions to others' essays), "Technique" (essentially directing school for those who want to learn from Kurosawa and others), "Hollywood" (fiction about Hollywood culture) and "The Greatest Films Of All Time" (with which I strenuously disagree). This is a fairly powerful collection of essays and thoughts on the culture of movies, written by the likes of Terry McMillan, Lauren Bacall, Elmore Leonard, Norman Mailer, Leo Tolstoy, E.M. Forster, Akira Kurosawa, Gore Vidal, Quentin Crisp, David Mamet, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the editors of "Sight And Sound" magazine. Vidal might be the only one to have more than one article in the book.

The essays range in quality dramatically and some of my favorites happen to be the least scholarly. So, for example, John Waters (essentially) closes the book with his "Tour Of L.A." as the title suggests, this is Waters' walk through of Los Angeles and it includes such helpful ideas as, "Once you've checked into Skyways, change into something a little flashier than usual, then step outside your room and glance up at a plane that looks like it could decapitate you. If you're like me and think airplanes are sexy, you might want to plan a romantic picnic on nearby Pershing Drive . . . the closest you can humanly get to the end of the runway . . ." (771). Rich with Waters' voice and sense of irony, the essay closes out well the fiction section of Roger Ebert's Book Of Film and makes for a nice closing after all of the scholarly stuff.

But, again, part of the problem with Roger Ebert's Book Of Film is that not all of the scholarly sections are scholarly. For sure, there is much to be learned in this book and it is truly an incredible resource for researchers on any number of subjects related to cinema. So, for example, I was impressed that Ebert included essays that total over sixty pages on sex in film. In that section, of particular enlightenment is Brendan Gill's essay "Blue Notes."

"Blue Notes," as the title suggests, is an series of commentaries on the culture that sprung up in the early 1970s surrounding porn flicks. Explored in movies in such films as Boogie Nights, there was a time when porn actually crossed ridiculously close into mainstream and as a result, film critics like Brendan Gill wrote about them. For those of us who did not live through this sexually and artistically liberated time, we are left with Gill's observations, like, "The President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, appointed by Johnson, submitted a report to Nixon so little disapproving of pornography and therefore so little to his liking that Nixon immediately rejected it. . . A permissive society makes people like Nixon nervous, because they feel sure of themselves only under conditions of repression" (298-9). Gill evaluates the mainstream culture that refuses to go see blue movies, the difference in audience climates in heterosexual vs. homosexual blue movie houses and even the difference between mainstream lack of acceptance for sex versus its embrace of violence in cinema. His essay is one of the most interesting and insightful for the subject matter in the book.

Sadly, though, this is not consistent throughout the entire book. Honestly, when I first picked up this book, I skipped to some of the essays I thought would interest me more than some of the others. As a result, one of the first I went to was a Truman Capote interview with Marilyn Monroe. As Ebert notes in his introduction to "A Beautiful Child," "Capote's perfect little piece records not only Monroe's personality but also, with a certain objectivity, his own lifetime role of confidant and confessor to beautiful, insecure women" (161). What follows is a meeting at a funeral where Capote and Monroe hang out and he exposes her as anything but a beautiful woman. Monroe's dialogue is peppered with insecurity over the paparazzi, diction that is particularly atrocious (referring to the Queen of England with the infamous "c" word on page 165 is especially eye opening), and the various affairs Monroe was having. It does capture Capote and Monroe's natures, but it's not at all a contribution to any great discussion on cinema or even Hollywood culture.

For that, I found myself strangely disappointed by Roger Ebert's Book Of Film. This is an adequate exploration of many aspects of the industry and the culture, but it does not utilize the time or space to explore some of the greatest moments. There is not even a reference to Terry Gilliam and his battle to get Brazil (reviewed here!) made against the wishes of the studio. This was a public battle that might well be the most telling and open conflict in the war between art and commerce and it is not even a footnote in this collection. Moreover, there is very little on current cinematic endeavors in the smaller cinema. I loved Sam Arkoff's exploration of making camp films in the excerpts from "Flying through Hollywood by the Seat of My Pants" (pages 232 - 236), but for a book published in 1997, it is almost unforgivable that there is not even a line about the contributions of people like Kevin Smith to modern independent cinema with his works like Clerks.

That said, there is enough here to keep most cinephiles happy and reading for days. Probably more useful to researchers looking up specific issues or ideas, Roger Ebert's Book Of Film is worth the read, just not quite what one might expect from the title.

For other books of essays I have reviewed, please check out:
Andrei Codrescu - The Muse Is Always Half-Dressed In New Orleans
Ann Coulter - Godless: The Church Of Liberalism
W.E.B. DuBois - The Souls Of Black Folk

7/10

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

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




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Super-Articulate, Amazingly Detailed, The Star Wars Legacy Collection AT-AT Driver Is Close To Perfect!





The Good: Amazing poseability, Exceptional detailing, Awesome balance, Decent accessories!
The Bad: Disproportionate head sculpt.
The Basics: The Star Wars Legacy Collection AT-AT Driver is an essential Imperial shock troop which can be bought in quantity; so long as one isn't taking the helmets off!


As one might guess from my recent review of the Saga Collection General Veers action figure (here!), for our two-year wedding anniversary, my wife bought me the brand new (2010) AT-AT toy! This was hugely exciting for me and it has inspired me to go back and finally review several integral Star Wars action figures I've been holding onto for a while. Chief among them, now that Veers is reviewed, is the AT-AT Driver from the Legacy Collection. This figure is more articulated than the one that comes with the new AT-AT, which makes it easy to recommend. In fact, the only real problem with this figure comes with the gimmick: the removable helmet. The head beneath is disproportionately small and that is irksome for an otherwise excellent figure.

For those unfamiliar with the AT-AT Driver, they are the Imperial Stormtroopers at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back (reviewed here!) who pilot the four-legged AT-AT walkers during the Battle Of Hoth. The usual white outfit is accented by a gray jumpsuit and support belts. As well, the AT-AT Driver helmet has more color to it than the standard Stormtrooper. The AT-AT Drivers piloted the AT-ATs as they led the Empire to victory over the Rebels on Hoth!

The 4" AT-AT Driver figure is another generic shock troop which may be stocked up on and because this is such a good figure, it is worth doing so.

Basics

The AT-AT Driver figure stands 4" tall to the top of his helmet. He wears the gray outfit and white armor of the Imperial AT-AT pilot. This toy is a great sculpt, save when it has the helmet off. At that point, the AT-AT Driver is revealed to have a pinhead and a set of sideburns that make it look like disco never went out of style. The head looks nothing like Temuera Morrison, who one assumes is supposed to be the subject given the figure's complexion and curly black hair (and the insinuation that all of the troopers in the Empire are now clones), which makes it even more unfortunate that they got the sculpt wrong. But the coloring is also troubling; the lips are colorless and the hair lacks any realistic highlights to it.

That said, the AT-AT Driver is an amazing sculpt otherwise. The figure's jumpsuit includes such realistic details as molded pockets and the armored shoulderpads. The armor on the AT-AT Driver's outfit looks strong and clean, which makes sense given that the AT-AT Driver works in the relatively clean environment of the cockpit of the AT-AT. The coloring details on the AT-AT driver's armor are also pretty wonderful and this looks exactly like the AT-AT Driver's in the pictures (and in the movie).

Accessories

AT-AT Driver is an Imperial stormtrooper and comes only with one accessory: an Imperial blaster! The blaster that the AT-AT Driver comes with is the standard Imperial blaster remolded for the Legacy Collection figures. The 1 1/8" long gun fits in either of AT-AT Driver's hands and looks entirely proportionate. The monotonal black weapon is generic, but looks appropriately mass-produced. The blaster has the little scope molded to it and it looks like an efficient weapon for the trooper.

Like all of the 2009 Legacy Collection figures, the AT-AT Driver features a droid part. The AT-AT Driver features the torso to HK-50, a humanoid droid that looks like a Terminator Endoskeleton. The torso features articulation just under the bust and it has a segmented look that makes it seem almost insectoid.

Playability

The four inch toy line was designed for play and the AT-AT Driver is exceptional in that regard. The AT-AT Driver has great balance and even better poseability, illustrating the latest in molding technology. The AT-AT Driver is articulated at fourteen points, not all of which are simple swivel joints. The AT-AT Driver is articulated at the ankles, knees, groin socket, bust, shoulders, elbows, wrists and head. The head is on a ball-and-socket joint, inhibited only by the helmet's air tubes which connect to the chestpiece control panel. The knees, ankles, shoulders and elbows are all hinge joints on the ball-and-socket, giving them exceptional poseability and playability. The wrists and torso having simple swivel joints do all they truly need to do.

Collectibility

The AT-AT Driver is part of the Legacy Collection with the build-a-droid figure that was released in 2009. The AT-AT Driver is 2009 Legacy Collection figure BD49. The AT-AT Driver was fairly common and demand for it was easily met, though with the release of the new AT-AT, demand is rising again. Given how this is more poseable than the AT-AT driver that comes with the 2010 AT-AT toy, it makes for a great supplemental figure for that playset. It still, however, is not molded in a way that allows it to ride the speeder bike which comes with the AT-AT!

Overview

The AT-AT Driver is an essential Imperial figure and this sculpting is certainly one worth stocking up on to beef up one's Empire . . . so long as you don't intend to do much with the figure while the helmet is off!

For other Legacy Collection figures, please check out my reviews of:
BD17 Princess Leia (Slave Leia)
BD34 Leesub Sirln
BD39 Jawa with Security Droid
BD41 The Utai
BD42 Jeremoch Colton
BD43 Agen Kolar
BD50 Wing Guard
BD52 R2-X2
BD54 Zuckuss
BD55 Snowtrooper

9/10

For other Star Wars toy reviews, please check out my index page by clicking here!

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



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