Thursday, June 30, 2011

And The Children On The Enterprise Say "La La La:" "Imaginary Friend" Fizzles!




The Good: Special effects, Perspective
The Bad: Acting, Lack of character, Somewhat silly plot development
The Basics: When a child meets her imaginary friend, the Enterprise is put in jeopardy.


Innovation was a familiar thing around the set of Star Trek The Next Generation. This series was on the cutting edge of computer animation technology and other special effects. Sometimes, that's all an episode of Star Trek The Next Generation had. "Imaginary Friend" is one of those episodes.

Clara Sutter, a child aboard the Enterprise, has an imaginary friend. As a result of shifting from ship to ship, Clara has come up with Isabella. Isabella suddenly manifests herself when the Enterprise is exploring a strange spatial phenomenon. Isabella begins to manipulate Clara and when the Enterprise comes into real peril, it becomes instantly clear that Isabella is involved.

What "Imaginary Friend" has going for it is the perspective. There have not been any other episodes where the adventures of the starship Enterprise have been experienced through the eyes of a child. And given that there are civilians aboard the Enterprise, it makes sense that this was a perspective that would be explored. Unfortunately, this episode falls flat, even in presenting the Enterprise from a child's perspective.

The problem is that it's too obviously set up. Because we have a character that is a child and who has an imaginary friend, the moment Isabella becomes visible, we know there's something wrong. The episode becomes about Isabella and who and what she is as opposed to Clara's view on the machinations of the Enterprise. Add to that, the sensibilities of the adults in "Imaginary Friend" seem quite dated. Instead of feeling like enlightened parents that are part of the same philosopher caste that is created in Star Trek The Next Generation, (especially in the first few seasons) these feel like 90s parents trying to do their thing on the Enterprise. It's as if there has been no corresponding growth between the human development and parenting in the future.

Another Problem "Imaginary Friend" runs into is the acting. Noley Thornton plays Clara and she seems very overwhelmed by the position. Thornton is a child and here she comes across as a child trying to be an older child. She falls short and often it seems she's struggling around her lines more than anything else. Add to that, Marina Sirtis is given a role that seems to undervalue her acting talents. Sirtis plays Troi as clueless and while she uses her counseling skills, her empathetic abilities are completely neglected in this piece. Her character seems gullible and Sirtis seems to be content to play Troi here as completely charmless.

The only acting that succeeds is from Shay Astar who plays Isabella. Astar is recognizable to audiences today as one of the recurring guest stars on Third Rock From The Sun and she is creepy in "Imaginary Friend." In this episode, she has presence and an instantly recognizable diabolic nature that makes her perfect for the role of manipulating alien. Unfortunately, she's so completely creepy that it becomes difficult to see how Clara is even remotely charmed by her. That is, if my imaginary friend appeared and looked like a psychopath, I would be worried.

Unfortunately, "Imaginary Friend" had the chance to do a unique thing with perspective and it fell flat. There's nothing to recommend this episode to people who are not fans of Star Trek The Next Generation. Add to that, there's little to recommend the episode to people who are fans of science fiction, save the special effects and even those are pretty old now.

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

3.5/10

Want to see how this episode stacks up against others in the franchise? Check out my organized listing by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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The Coruscant Attack Padme Amidala Is One Of The Most Obscure, Best, Padme Figures Yet!



The Good: Decent detailing, Good articulation, Good accessories, Good balance and poseability.
The Bad: Low collectibility, Balance could be better.
The Basics: Of all of the Attack Of The Clones (and other) Padme Amidala figures I've owned or reviewed, the Coruscant Attack one is the best one so far!


It might surprise some of my more regular readers to learn that I have, thus far, only reviewed one Padme Amidala action figure! It's true! That's the Arena Escape Padme from the Attack Of The Clones line and it had a few unfortunate problems which led me to not recommend it. But as I near the end of my Attack Of The Clones action figures, I was pleasantly surprised to rediscover the Coruscant Attack Padme Amidala action figure, which I am able to eagerly endorse.

For those unfamiliar with Padme Amidala, she was seen on Coruscant in Attack Of The Clones (reviewed here!). Arriving on Coruscant for a vote, she dodges an assassination attempt by piloting a second craft to the landing pad. It is her flightsuit from the escort vehicle that is the subject of the Coruscant Attack Padme Amidala!

The 4" Padme Amidala figure from the Attack Of The Clones Collection is the former Queen in her orange, brown and green outfit with a removable helmet that disguises her true identity!

Basics

The Padme Amidala figure stands 3 1/2" tall to the top of her bare head. She is dressed in the brown flightshirt with orange leggings she was seen in briefly at the outset of the film. Most of her drab shirt is covered by a heavier leather-looking green and brown tunic. She has boots, gloves and her tunic ends in a skirt that covers just her butt. This figure is made of hard plastic with a soft plastic skirt which has limited flexibility. This means the figure can be put in a sitting position, though the skirt will resist that. Padme Amidala’s human face is well-sculpted and is entirely recognizable and looks very much like Natalie Portman! Hasbro also gets the character’s hair right by molding in fine lines and having it in bound and braided behind her head, as she did in the movie.

The coloring of the human elements, which is only the face, is very good. While all of the rest of the coloring of the uniform is monotonal - a very clean look for the character - Padme Amidala's face includes slightly pink cheeks and a soft shade of pink for her lips. There is a brown scuff below her chin painted on (at least on mine!) that makes it look like Padme has already been attacked by the bomber. Her eyes are appropriately white, brown and black, so the figure looks better than most. Her hair is molded brown, but has black highlights throughout, giving her a realistic depth and shading to the toy! The rest of the coloring details are adequate. This is a completely clean look for Padme Amidala, though the tunic is primarily green with a brown color brushed on to give it depth and texture. The character's belt is accented with gold and the rest of the figure has a clean coloring to her.

Accessories

Padme Amidala, Republic politician, comes with three custom accessories. She has her helmet, blaster pistol and a radar dish. The helmet is an immaculately-detailed work in both coloring and sculpt. The 3/4" tall soft plastic helmet is a perfect fit for the figure's head and it features a translucent yellow visor section that allows the figure's eyes to be visible through the helmet when it is worn. This keeps the figure from losing the identifiable traits fans might like by having her wear the helmet. The maroon helmet is highlighted with silver ribbing and a gray breathing mask. This looks great and fits the coloring detail of the action figure well.

The figure comes with Padme Amidala’s blaster. The 3/4” long black and gray plastic gun looks exactly like the one Naboo guards use. It features a side-scope and a barrel that is accented with gray-silver paint. This fits either of Padme's hands and looks good there. When not in her hands, it may be attached to her waist as the gun has a tiny peg which is designed to fit into the hole on Padme's waist. My experiences have been that the figure and accessory go together well and stay together nicely once there.

The final accessory for the Coruscant Attack Padme Amidala figure is pretty cool and a nice reference to the brief scene. The figure comes with a radar dish accessory and if one looks closely at the scene where Padme avoids the first assassination attempt, one might see a column radar dish that explodes when the explosion rocks the ship Padme has escorted to Coruscant. As such, the 4 1/4" tall gray and rust-colored radar dish assembly is completely solid and features a dish which rotates up and down as well as swivels on its base 360 degrees! What makes this accessory better-than-the-norm is the special play function to it. The back features a lever tab and when one pushes down on it fast and hard, it swings down to launch the core piece of the radar dish up. That causes the five pieces of the radar dish accessory to explode and it's a neat effect! The core, two sides and top pieces of the radar dish may then be reassembled and attached to the base, which is easy to do and pretty much idiotproof, even if it is not always entirely stable.


Playability

The four inch toy line was designed for play and this Padme Amidala is very good in that regard. Padme Amidala has good balance. She is molded to look like she may stand in a fairly active pose, like she is running, but flatfooted, she mostly falls over. On the plus side, there is a near-flatfooted position that allows the Coruscant Attack Padme Amidala to stand up and in that position, she is generally stable. She balances remarkably well in more exotic poses like kneeling on one knee. But for straightforward standing erect poses, she is one who benefits from having a playset or vehicle which might utilize the peg holes in her feet for stability.

Padme Amidala has some additional play functions, notably, the right arm features a quick-draw action. When the right arm is down, a button on the back of the figure allows the arm to raise and lower, simply by pushing the button in or releasing it!

This Padme Amidala figure is articulated at the shins, knees, groin socket, waist, shoulders, elbows, and neck, making her one of the most articulated figures of this era of Star Wars toy. Most of the joints are simple swivel joints, though the knees are a hinge joint, which - in conjunction with the rotating shins - allows her to kneel well.

Collectibility

Padme Amidala is part of the Attack Of The Clones line that was released in 2002. She is 2002 Attack Of The Clones Collection figure #41. Padme Amidala was fairly common and demand for her was easily met. She is a fair investment, however, because this version of Padme has not been recast and thus the only way to get this outfit is to buy this particular action figure!

Overview

The Attack Of The Clones Padme Amidala is good, but not quite perfect. Her balance is a little off and the facial coloring could be a little richer. But for the most part, this figure is an easy "buy," despite the fact that it was somewhat overproduced.

For other Star Wars: Attack Of The Clones action figures reviewed by me, please check out my reviews of:
#01 Acklay Battle Obi-Wan Kenobi
#02 Arena Escape Padme Amidala
#04 C-3PO
#10 Shaak Ti
#13 Kamino Escape Jango Fett
#18 Zam Wesell Bounty Hunter
#23 Yoda
#26 Luminara Unduli
#27 Count Dooku
#35 Orn Free Taa
#39 Supreme Chancellor Palpatine

8/10

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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Not The Best Pete Seeger, Not A Fan Of Carolyn Hester? Seeger & Hester Flops!


The Good: Good Pete Seeger vocals, Adequate musical accompaniment
The Bad: A little short, Not wild about Carolyn Hester's vocals
The Basics: A poor compilation, Seeger & Hester is a short album that provides poorly produced renditions of Pete Seeger and Carolyn Hester singing traditional folk songs.


When I selected Pete Seeger as my Artist Of The Month, my father right away leapt in with works for me to review. Honestly, I think he was psyched that I might have something in common with him and that after years of growing up complaining about his music, I was giving it a chance. So, when I saw him recently, he piled me up with Pete Seeger albums and tribute and sent me on his way with a smile on his face. Unfortunately, having listened to a lot of Pete Seeger lately, the Pete Seeger and Carolyn Hester compilation (henceforth referred to as Seeger & Hester) is not the most compelling collection of music by Pete Seeger and I've since discovered I am not a fan of Carolyn Hester.

Pete Seeger and Carolyn Hester are American folk artists whose heyday was the 1960s. Seeger & Hester is a compilation which tries to get listeners into both artists by providing a selection of their songs. Unfortunately, the collection is hardly a "best of" of either artist and they are poor representations of some of the songs - like the overbearing back-up (audience) vocalists on Seeger's "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine" sounding strangely zombie-like. And if Carolyn Hester is a great folk artist, this is a poor representation of that as almost all of the songs simply have her as a performer.

With twenty-three songs, occupying fifty-nine minutes, Seeger & Hester is split between twelve performances by Pete Seeger and eleven performances by Carolyn Hester. The artists are poorly represented for their creative talents here, though, as Seeger's dozen are all traditional songs Seeger arranged or outright covers. Most of Hester's performances are the same with Hester arranging songs in the public domain, though she did write "Jamie," which illustrates her writing ability better than anything Seeger has on the album. Both Seeger and Hester perform their own vocals and Seeger plays his banjo or guitar on each track as well. Hester is accompanied by similarly stark instruments (usually a guitar), but the liner notes do not credit her specifically with playing the songs. Neither artist was involved in the production of the album. In other words, neither Pete Seeger nor Carolyn Hester had much in the way of creative control over this compilation.

That said, the album is a lackluster collection of known, easily recognizable folk songs like "I've Been Working On The Railroad," "The Water Is Wide," and "Blue Tail Fly" (Jimmy Cracked Corn) and less recognizable songs like "Boll Weevil" and "Little Pig." There is no social agenda being promoted with this album nor any theme, so the result is an album that has a generic Americana quality to it as Seeger and Hester are largely singing about the American experience, like sharecropping, having faith and scabbing against the unions.

Pete Seeger's vocals are largely his predictable and wonderful tenor. He sings clearly and beautifully on "Boll Weevil" and "Casey Jones." His performance is exactly what one might expect from Pete Seeger; his lines are clear, he articulates wonderfully and he carries the tunes with his voice with minimal musical accompaniment. In fact, the only real divergence from that is on "Black Is The Colour." That song is produced to make it sound like it was recorded from someone listening to it on an old time radio. The song is crackly and it sounds filtered through miles and decades, which does not fit with the production of the rest of the album. Still, Seeger does not provide stories for any of the songs, so his dozen songs are clear and enjoyable.

I wish I could say the same about Carolyn Hester. Hester's vocals are some of the highest soprano vocals I've heard in recent memory and they are terrible. Hester's voice is painful to listen to as the pitch is distracting to bats and she seldom enunciates. As a result, the last half of the album is a musical sludge I dreaded wading through each of the twelve times I listened to the album. Hester's vocals are produced to be clear, but she seems to try to wow her listeners with her pitch as opposed to actually saying anything musical.

Instrumentally, the songs are stark with each artist being accompanied by a single instrument. "Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho" is the most frenetic song on the album, which has Pete Seeger strumming incredibly fast, though with only a minimal tune as a result. Far more impressive is the way he plucks his banjo on "The Fox," which has Seeger singing and playing with speed. Carolyn Hester's guitar accompaniment is more often than not drown out by her high-pitched vocals. What is audible are simple strummings that are designed to accent her vocals, though the production seldom makes that possible.

In all, these are simple folk songs and the album is musically unimpressive with few surprises and little of interest to fans of folk. There is nothing truly unique to this album and Seeger is better represented on almost every other compilation I have heard. The lack of a theme only makes this seem more generic and like a cashgrab to trade on the names Seeger and Hester. As for Carolyn Hester's part of the album, she sounds like generic folk music, save that it is less articulate than any other female folk artist I have ever heard. How does this stack up against her other works? I've no idea; this was my first experience with her works and I truly hope it shall not be repeated.

The best track is "Casey Jones," the entire last half of the album could be lost and there'd be little lost.

For other Pete Seeger albums, please check out my reviews of:
American Industrial Ballads
We Shall Overcome: The Complete Carnegie Hall Concert June 8, 1963
God Bless The Grass
Stories & Songs For Little Children
The Best Of Pete Seeger (Vanguard)
Pete
If I Had A Hammer: Songs Of Hope And Struggle
Folk Songs For Young People
Greatest Hits (Brazilian Import)
American Favorite Ballads, Volume 5

4/10

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

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


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Is "Blueberry Breeze" Just "True Blueberry" Reincarnated? No! A Delightful Blueberry Green Tea!




The Good: Tastes good, Caffeinated, Decent ingredients
The Bad: Not the strongest blueberry flavor
The Basics: Redeeming itself for "True Blueberry," Celestial Seasonings puts forth Blueberry Breeze, a delicious blueberry tea that is more subtle in flavor.


For those who might not follow my tea reviews, I am a huge fan of Celestial Seasonings teas and each year, I take a trip to Celestial Seasonings' factory in Boulder, Colorado. I love that part of my trip home from Las Vegas and last year, I didn't even take the tour at the factory, I just went and bought tea at the shop at the factory. It's a good trip and the gift shop is pretty awesome. The thing is, as Celestial Seasonings reboots it packaging, I've been dreading this year's trip to Boulder. I'm not sure what flavors are still being made, as many of my local distributors have stopped carrying a number of my favorite flavors.

In their place, though, I keep finding new flavors to sample and review. One of my grocery stores has cut back on virtually every Celestial Seasonings flavor, save the green teas. So, when I was craving some new tea yesterday, I picked up a box of Blueberry Breeze green tea and I've been drinking it all day. This is a very flavorful blueberry tea and it blends the flavors of blueberry with green tea leaves quite well.

Originally, I had some trepidation about trying this tea because I had not been wowed by the True Blueberry tea by Celestial Seasonings (reviewed here!). Fortunately, Blueberry Breeze is a sufficiently different tea and one that satisfies where the other disappointed.


Basics

Blueberry Breeze is a tea from Celestial Seasonings. It is a 100% natural green tea that is caffeinated and made to embody the flavor of blueberries. Blueberry Breeze comes in Celestial Seasoning's standard stringless tea bags, which are paired together with easy to separate perforations that allow one to separate the tea bags. When I make pots of tea, I tend to use two bags and leave them connected. A box of Blueberry Breeze comes with ten pairs (20 individual) of tea bags.

Blueberry Breeze is marketed as a blueberry-flavored tea and it lives up to that. The flavor of blueberries, which is easily recognizable to me as I have a blueberry patch in one of my gardens out back, is very real in this tea and it is a wonderful flavor. The flavor is of actual blueberries as opposed to the sanitized, mass produced flavor most people know "blueberry" as these days.

Ease Of Preparation

Blueberry Breeze is a green tea, which means preparation is as easy as almost boiling a pot of water! Green teas, as the directions clearly state, require water that is not quite boiling. Boiling water cooks the tea leaves and ruins the flavor, so water used for green teas like this one must be kept below a full boil. A single tea bag will make the standard 8 oz. coffee mug worth of tea, though reusing the tea bags yields little more than hot water. These tea bags cannot be reused and even credibly call the result "tea." Indeed, the second pots I've tried were incredibly weak, tasting neither like Blueberry nor even the lighter taste of green tea. These bags are one-use only. I tend to make my tea using a 32 oz. steeping tea pot and that works well, though it is impossible to get a decent second pot out of the bags.

To prepare Blueberry Breeze, simply heat up some water, and pour it over the tea bags in a cup, mug or steeping pot. This tea is recommended to take three to five minutes to steep and after a couple cups and pots, I've found that with almost boiling water, the tea is ready at the five minute mark and letting it steep longer does not truly change the results. Letting the tea steep more than six minutes does not net any additional flavor, nor does it denature the flavor of the tea. This is a very balanced tea, tasting both of the blueberries as the dominant flavor and the green tea as the undertone flavor to it.

Taste

Blueberry Breeze has a surprisingly faint bouquet and the scent is vaguely fruity and more generic than the taste. Fortunately, the flavor of the tea is actually blueberry. Unlike many blueberry products, though, the flavor manages to retain an authentic blueberry flavor without the sour nature of blueberries. This is a fine line as there is some tartness to blueberries. However, with Blueberry Breeze, the green tea appears to cut the acidity of the blueberries and make the flavor of the blueberries persist without it.

Blueberry Breeze does have a slight aftertaste to it that is a little sour and a little dry. The dry mouth aftertaste is emblematic of most green teas in my experience and Blueberry Breeze is no better or worse in that regard.

With sugar, Blueberry Breeze becomes sweet while retaining the fruit flavor. It is, however, remarkably easy to overwhelm the tea with sugar and I recommend no more than a teaspoon (not a heaping one) be added to cut any lingering sourness from the taste and aftertaste.

Iced, Blueberry Breeze actually collapses into a remarkably bland tea. The green tea flavor dominates the blueberry and when sugar is added to the tea cold, it only accents the green tea nature more. It is good, but cold, it does not evoke the flavor of blueberries well.

Nutrition

It is somewhat surprising that the dominant flavor of Blueberry Breeze is blueberry, considering that the primary ingredients are: green tea, hibiscus and natural blueberry flavor (with other natural flavors). Actual blueberries are near the bottom of the ingredient list, yet the flavor works so it is very hard to complain! Blueberry Breeze tea is all natural, gluten free, and does contain caffeine. The brand new packaging does not include a caffeine meter to define clearly how much caffeine is in this, but it does seem like it is sufficient to keep one awake..

Were it not for the sugar I add whenever I make pots of Blueberry Breeze, this tea would be devoid of any nutritional value. It contains no calories, fat, sodium, carbohydrates or protein.

Storage/Clean-up

Blueberry Breeze is a green tea, so it comes out much lighter than other teas. As a result, cleanup is rather simple. The mugs and steeping pot easily rinse out. One supposes this tea will stain if it is left on fabrics, so simply do not let the tea cups or mugs linger on light colored materials that might stain!

Blueberry Breeze is easy to clean up after - the tea bags may be disposed in the garbage, or composted if you have a good garden and/or compost pile. One of the nice things about this tea - like most - is that so long as it is kept cool and dry, it can last for a long time and it is easy to clean up.

Overall

While just a little sour, Blueberry Breeze is a delicious tea that manages to retain the flavor of actual blueberries in this tea. It is delicious, mild and a more subtle tea than some, making it ideal for anyone who likes blueberries and tea.

For other tea reviews, please visit my reviews of:
Tangerine Orange Zinger
Red Safari Spice
Cranberry Apple Zinger

7/10

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

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


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Under The Hood Sublimated To Tales Of The Black Freighter: Both Flesh Out The Watchmen World.




The Good: Decent-enough animation, Good acting in Under The Hood, Good stories
The Bad: Expensive, Only tangentially related to Watchmen, A LOT of advertisements.
The Basics: Adequately fleshing out the cinematic Watchmen, the comic from within the comic book Watchmen is now presented as an animated feature, Tales Of The Black Freighter.


The nice thing about getting to the bottom of my backlog of video reviews is that I can finally begin enjoying new DVDs that I've had on the shelf for months and yet not had an opportunity to watch. Principle among those DVDs is the Tales Of The Black Freighter DVD that has been gathering dust on my shelf since it was released. Arguably the reason, atop the other DVDs I had already watched but not yet reviewed, it has taken me so long to take in this DVD was the fact that I loathed the Watchmen Original Motion Comics DVD that was released at the same time (reviewed here!) and the fact that my wife had no interest in watching Tales Of The Black Freighter. I suspect that my partner has not yet forgiven me for subjecting her to the IMAX experience of Watchmen (reviewed here!), so I humored her by not pushing the issue. So, finally, while she was at work today, I had a chance to sit back, pop some pistachios and watch everything that is on the Tales Of The Black Freighter disc I bought months ago.

First of all, it is worth noting that Warner Premiere, which is producing and distributing Tales Of The Black Freighter is trading on the fans of Watchmen and preying upon their desire for completion with naming the DVD Tales Of The Black Freighter. The Under The Hood segment of the DVD, which is advertised simply as a bonus feature to the main program, actually is ten minutes longer than the animated feature. Perhaps this was necessary because Tales Of The Black Freighter was rated "R" and Under The Hood only received a PG rating. Second, it does appear that the content of this disc is on the Watchmen Ultimate Edition DVD and Blu-Ray. This, ultimately, was what turned me to the "not recommend" for this disc.

For those unfamiliar with the Watchmen world, in the original comic and graphic novel Watchmen (reviewed here!), there was a comic book presented within the storyline. As certain events happened in the middle and end of the story, a young man sat on a streetcorner reading a comic book, Tales Of The Black Freighter. This worked - despite being confusingly interpolated between panels of the main story - on an allegorical level and in the quest to keep the cinematic Watchmen under three hours, this was one of the first omissions from the live-action film. However, because fans of Watchmen were no doubt going to kvetch about the absence of Tales Of The Black Freighter, much the way The Lord Of The Rings die-hards continue to complain about the lack of Tom Bombadil in Peter Jackson's films, director Zack Snyder let slip early on that there was an animated feature being produced to correct this oversight.

More than that, fans of the cinematic Watchmen can expect Tales Of The Black Freighter to be melded with the live-action film when it arrives on DVD, as part of the "Ultimate Edition." This, however, is a recipe for disaster. Tales Of The Black Freighter rightly fleshes out the entire world that Watchmen is set in by essentially answering the question, "in a world where super heroes are real, what would comic books be about?" It's an interesting, if geeky, question, and Tales Of The Black Freighter works to do that. Putting the animated feature back into the film - anywhere other than a prologue to prime the audience - is potentially disastrous as the concept works better than the execution. While the movie Watchmen was complex and deep, the diversion to have a comic book told to the audience (Tales Of The Black Freighter) is an unnecessary distraction in an already long and complex film. This would be like having an animated short of Moby Dick placed into The Dark Knight; are there themes that parallel the live action and animated stories? For sure. Is it necessary? Not at all.

So, on its own, Tales Of The Black Freighter works better. It's a good bonus feature, but an unsatisfying addition to a meal. Surprisingly rated "R," the animated feature is a bit gore-filled and not intended for children. More accurately entitled "tale of a survivor of an attack from the Black Freighter," Tales Of The Black Freighter tells a pirate story perfectly translated from the original graphic novel.

Following an attack that destroyed his ship, a sea captain washes ashore to a desert island. There, he becomes fearful that the Black Freighter which obliterated his ship is headed to his home, Davistown. As the bodies of his crew wash to the same island and bloat in the sun, the Captain decides he must do what he can to save his home. He lashes the bodies together and sets back out to sea. On the open water, he fights gulls, dehydration, hallucinations (one of his dead friends begins to speak to him) and a shark attack in his attempt to get home. But returning to Davistown to try to stop the denizens of the Black Freighter, he is driven mad and his homecoming is not what he anticipates it being.

Tales Of The Black Freighter is an interesting story, but the character work is told far more than shown, especially as an animated feature. The Captain provides a voice-over, but the voice-over - from actor Gerard Butler - is delivered in the same rational, reasoned tones throughout, which make no real sense by the end of the episode. As the Captain is driven mad, one suspects he would sound different, but Butler delivers the lines with a consistency that seems to defy the theme of the comic.

Visually, Tales Of The Black Freighter is well-made. The animation is quite good and this is not a hokey performance like the Motion Comics were. There are a few issues - the Captain describes the sky as golden and it is not, for example - but more often than not, the animation crew at Warner Premiere got it right. In fact, they insert some nice visual nods, like a bloodstain on the Captain's improvised mast looking like a Rorschach ink blot!

More worth the Watchmen fan's time, money and attention is the presentation Under The Hood. Fleshing out Stephen McHattie's character Nite Owl, Under The Hood takes the form of a retrospective look at an interview with Hollis Mason (Nite Owl) from the release of his autobiography, Under The Hood. Under The Hood tells the story of the Minutemen, the first group of masked vigilantes working in New York City to fight crime. This allows peripheral characters seen only in the opening credits of the cinematic Watchmen to have their day on screen. Mason discusses the backstory of what drove the women and men who dressed up as costumed heroes to do what they did. The feature is presented as an interview show and has Hollis Mason, Sally Jupiter and Moloch being interviewed. The concept is fun and it is well-executed down to the fact that it looks like it was filmed in the 1970s.

Under The Hood stars Watchmen stars McHattie, Carla Gugino, Matthew Frewer and a cameo from Jeffrey Dean Morgan, as well as a few others from the movie. This is a nice bonus feature and watching it before seeing Watchmen certainly enriches the world of the film appropriately without revealing anything that the film focuses on. Also, the interview show is broken up by advertisements . . . for products by Veidt Enterprises!

Other bonus features on the disc include a featurette on the making of Tales Of The Black Freighter and Under The Hood. Fans desperate to get their Watchmen fix will enjoy the fact that in the behind-the-scenes shots there are snippets of Hollis Mason's demise, which was edited out of the cinematic release. As well, in talking about integrating Tales Of The Black Freighter into the Ultimate Edition of Watchmen, there are scenes featuring the Bernards (the comic book vendor and reader) which are supposed to bridge the live-action into the animated feature which are teased. As well, the DVD has previews for Terminator Salvation (the film and the video game), the new straight-to-DVD Green Lantern feature preview, and previews for the film and video game for Watchmen. As well, the first chapter of the Watchmen Original Motion Comics is provided, but that acts more as a deterrent to purchasing that DVD than an effective sales tool.

Ultimately, this disc is a bunch of glorified DVD bonus features being sold separate from the main feature. Fans lose nothing by not seeing Tales Of The Black Freighter, though most would appreciate Under The Hood. It is not enough to recommend this DVD, especially at the stifling $20+ price tag.

And on the off chance that Watchmen director Zack Snyder is reading this: take it from a loyal fan, the movie is good enough without Tales Of The Black Freighter. Don't ruin what you have by reintegrating this! Every other deleted scene, we'll take, right where they belong. But this animated feature . . . even with its allegories that enrich the main story . . . hold, enough!

For other DC-universe animated DVDs or animated features, please check out my reviews of:
Wonder Woman
Batman: Gotham Knight
The Fantastic Mr. Fox

5/10

For other movie reviews, please be sure to check out my index page on the subject by clicking here!

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

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Is It Working? I'm Honestly Not Sure! The Newpoint HD Antenna Is Problematic!



The Good: Looks all right, Includes necessary components, Does not require power
The Bad: Controls are not intuitive/clear to read, Large footprint, No manual
The Basics: Underwhelming and bulky, the Newpoint 208110 HD Antenna is a device that performs a necessary function . . . poorly.


Remember how the future was supposed to be different? If you're like me, when you were a child, you were promised a technological revolution - probably supported by programs like Star Trek which included a pretty decent, socialist view where people worked for the overall benefit of humanity instead of for cash - that would make all our lives easier and keep us all living freer. The latest incarnation of that promise is with the introduction of digital television, which compelled virtually everyone in the United States to purchase additional equipment (usually manufactured in countries with political agendas and human rights policies very different from our own) just to be able to continue watching television. Earlier this year, my brother used his tax refund to get a new television and the first thing he was dismayed to discover was that he needed to buy additional equipment for it. He went out and bought a Philips Amplified Antenna MANT510 (reviewed here!) and he has been pretty happy with it since.

Of course, I knew he was going to have to buy more equipment to get a signal where we live. Sadly, though, he bought at a better time than I did. Back when I upgraded to HD, I purchased a Sony Bravia HD-TV (reviewed here!) there were very few HD-receivers on the market. As a result, I picked up the only one that was available at the store I bought my Bravia. That unit was the Newpoint 208110 HD Antenna. Ever since I bought the Newpoint 208110, I've been avoiding reviewing it (if you don't have anything nice to say and all . . .) and today when I found it in the database, I figured it was about time to get over that hurdle.

Basics

I've used the Newpoint 208110 Antenna for almost three years now, in two locations, and the fundamental problems with it do not change with the location. This is an inscrutable device that leaves me mystified as to whether or not it is actually functioning, though empirically, I know it is. I now live twenty-five miles outside both Syracuse and Utica, NY and our house gets reception from both cities in the area. The Newpoint 208110 is an antenna intended for use inside to pick up analog and digital television signals.

The Newpoint 208110 HD Antenna is an eyesore that I have to sit atop my sleek Bravia in order to get a reception for my HD-TV. It balances atop my television and it looks awful, but because of where I live and the current inability to wall-mount the Bravia, the 208110 must sit atop my television just so the HD signal will actually be interpreted by my television. The base of the antenna array is 3 1/2" deep, 11 1/2" wide with a height of 3 - 9 1/2". The variable height is because of the inner loop antenna (the UHF receiver); the black plastic base is three inches tall, the full height with the antenna loop is 9 1/2", which is a more useful number if one is trying to figure out if they have room for this receiver. The Newpoint 208110 has two "rabbit ears" antennas and when adjusted for maximum length each one is 3 1/2 feet long. The size of the base and the central antenna make it less-than ideal for wall-mounted televisions, especially the flatscreen high-definition televisions that seek to capitalize on using minimal space and leave less of a footprint. As well, there are no holes on the base or back of this unit to allow for wall mounting, so it is intended to be set next to or atop a television.

The Newpoint 208110 is black with black powdercoated "rabbit ears."

Installation

The Newpoint 208110 is completely intuitive to install. It comes with a four foot coaxial cable, which allows one to hook it directly into the coaxial port on the television. There is only one port on the Newpoint 208100 Antenna, so it is intended for use by those who are only getting signals from the air, as opposed to using it as backup for when the cable is out. One cannot run cable through this antenna array. This unit is not powered by any external power source, so connecting the 208110 is as easy as connecting one cable and setting the unit next to or atop the television. Anyone will be able to figure out how to connect this to their television, it is that easy!

The Newpoint 208110 has a rubber bottom to prevent slippage of the unit.

Function

Here is where my gripes with the Newpoint 208110 begin. There is no display on the unit and the only control is a knob on the right side which twists, but does not seem to do anything. Here's the thing: the Newpoint 208110 works as a basic antenna array because when I plug the cable into my HD-TV, I get a picture and when I remove the cable, the picture disappears from my television. My beef with the Newpoint 208110 is that (in addition to not including a manual to suggest how to adjust the unit) it does not adjust in any noticeable way to better receive the digital signals. Experience with working on my brother's Philips Antenna showed me that the quality of digital images can be affected by aiming a received toward the digital signal source. The 208110 does not allow for anything so refined.

In other words, I plug the unit into my television - and I've done this in two homes miles apart and in many rooms within each house - adjust the rabbit ears and when the 208110 finds a signal, that's it. The signal gain cannot be improved and if the rabbit ears fall out of position, I lose the signal. The dial on the right side does nothing!

Moreover, the unit is not helpful for even giving the user a clue as to how strong the signal they are receiving is. There are no panels or even LCDs which illustrate signal strength. This is a trial-and-error device and it has very limited abilities to get anything other than a basic HD signal.

Overview

There is something insulting about paying thousands of dollars for a top-end HD-television and having to rely on a ten dollar receiver that does not allow one to get the most out of their equipment. This does deliver the basic HD signals that are in the air around it, but it offers no options for enhancing or better collecting those signals, making it almost completely worthless.

For other television-related reviews, please visit my reviews of:
Playstation 3
Sanyo 19" DP19648
SONY RMT-D148A remote

3/10

For other electronics, please check out the listing of my reviews on my index page by clicking here!

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


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Chariots Of Fire Reinforces That It's Better To Be In The Race Than Watching It!



The Good: A decent overall story, Moments of character, DVD bonus features
The Bad: No great acting, Moments of soundtrack, Pacing
The Basics: A strikingly average film, Chariots Of Fire is light on plot, character and acting, so much so it's astonishing such a detailed special edition DVD could be created for it!


There are very few films I have watched that have to do with sports, much less racing. In fact, the only one that comes instantly to mind is Seabiscuit. But as I make my way through the various winners of the Best Picture Oscar, I have been compelled to watch more sports films, a genre I am inherently biased against. Tonight's outing into sports films was Chariots Of Fire. And while I might not be into sports films, I went into the film with as much of an open mind as I could and I was not impressed by this one.

Before the uprising against this humble reviewer begins, it is worth noting that I used to be a runner. I know the anguish of defeat and how nerve-racking it can be to feel chased for minutes on end. I've often said of such sports as track and field that it is far more satisfying and enjoyable to participate in the events than it is to watch them. Watching this film only reinforced that. Chariots Of Fire is based upon both a book and historical events and it is worthwhile to note that this review is solely of the film, not on any of the related works (or the truth).

Opening in London 1978, a man speaking at a funeral begins to recall a bygone era. A Scottish Evangelical named Eric Liddell raises awareness about god while running sprints. Working with his girlfriend, he tries to arrange missionary work in China (where he was born) and he divides his time between god and running. At the same time, Harold Abrahams makes his debut running sat Cambridge and in 1919, the Jewish runner competes to be considered the fastest man in Britain. When Abrahams and Liddell have their first race, Liddell wins and Harold sinks into a funk. He is rescued from his depression by the professional trainer, Sam Mussabini.

After training with Sam, Harold proves himself and both young men end up on Britain's Olympic team in 1924. Concerned about the American runners, Liddell and Abrahams prepare to square off once again. While Harold's running brings him closer to his girlfriend, Eric finds himself in an emotional and moral quandary about what his running is doing to him. As the games progress, both men figure out why they are running.

Chariots Of Fire is a short concept film fleshed out with subplots that never truly develop or never become as compelling as they could be. Harold deals with anti-Semitism at Cambridge, but it is often veiled in the old guard establishment at the college. The entire subplot of Harold wrestling with the dislike of Jews illustrated by the elders is dealt with in one scene after an aside at the beginning of the film. Far more of the film deals with Eric wrestling with his faith. That plot includes seeds, like Liddell lecturing a child who is playing rugby on the sabbath, which ultimately bear plot fruits, Liddell taking on the olympic committee over having to run a heat on the sabbath.

But more of the plots are fractured vignettes that do not develop nearly as well as the overall story. So, while the mirroring romantic plots - the dissolution of Liddell's relationship contrasting with Harold's love getting stronger through the running - are there, they are absent for most of the film. As well, a hurdler for Britain's team is shown training and his arc is mostly missing from the rest of the film. This makes one wonder what the point of his early scene was.

Largely, Chariots Of Fire is a plot-based film and this is why the movie holds up poorly. Without an emotional resonance to either of the film's protagonists, it becomes quite difficult to care what happens in the plot. Because the plots like the anti-Semitism against Abrahams is less-developed, one does not get the feeling he is truly running to prove anything, nor is he running to win the love of his life's affections. Similarly, once Liddell abandons his principle race, his character becomes vastly less important. When Eric is a runner, he fits the story being told well, when he becomes more of a preacher, this is not his film.

In addition to being light on character, none of the actors truly stand out. Outside Sir Ian Holm, who plays Sam, the actors are very white bread in their performances. While their characters might be droll, it is the death knell of the film for the performers to seem similarly bored or boring with playing their parts. By the time Chariots Of Fire was finished, I felt no care, no catharsis and for a film that is supposed to be a timeless story, this was a huge disappointment.

Those who love the conceits of films from the 1980s will appreciate the soundtrack by Vangelis Papathanassiou. The synth-based soundtrack is a wonderful one and it is easy to see how this influenced Ridley Scott with the Tangerine Dream soundtrack for Legend. But on this movie, the soundtrack is far too obtrusive. While the main theme is recognizable and grand, much of the rest of the movie's music - when it does come up - is distractingly out of setting. In other words, for a film about stiff British characters, the music ought to have been more orchestral than modern.

On DVD, Chariots Of Fire is presented with a lavish two-disc version. The second disc includes featurettes on the making of the movie as well as adapting the book to a film. While most of the featurettes are typical for a drama - deleted scenes, casting, conversations with the director - the bonus disc for Chariots Of Fire includes some cool programs from the early 1980s when the film was originally released. This makes it the ultimate edition for fans of this movie. On the principle disc, there is also a commentary track, which offers an additional value to fans.

A slow, fairly dull sports film bogged down with subplots and flashbacks that do not truly develop, Chariots Of Fire is an unremarkable movie. While this is an exceptional DVD presentation of the movie, the movie itself is dominated by characters it is hard to empathize with or care about the fate of. Those who like great drama will find this to be anything but; it is a sports film with limited melodrama centering around nationalism and religion.

[As a winner of the Best Picture Oscar, this is part of my Best Picture Project which is available here! Please check it out!]

For other films with competitions, please check out my takes on:
The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus
Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire 
The Blind Side

5/10

For other movie reviews, please be sure to check out my index page by clicking here!

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

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Inventive And Clever, J. Michael Straczynski Reinvents Wonder Woman, Knowingly Altered, In Wonder Woman: Odyssey - Volume One!



The Good: Great story, Good character development, Generally decent artwork.
The Bad: Underdetailed panels, Shrunken covers, Obvious setup.
The Basics: Wonder Woman gets a retooling when an ancient villain radically alters the timeline, nearly destroying the Amazons, forcing a fugitive Diana to learn how to be a hero!


When it comes to comic book stories, there are few permutations on the norm than I trust less than the "alternate universe" storylines. The entire history and mythos of recognizable and lovable characters will not be eliminated on a whim and asking readers to believe that is utterly ridiculous. In the DC Universe, there are occasional imaginative stories that are clearly labeled as alternate universe ("Elseworlds") stories, like Wonder Woman: Amazonia (reviewed here!). In the current incarnation of Wonder Woman, however, there is another alternate universe storyline going on and it is much more ambitious and specific. The first few issues of this new reboot are now anthologized in Wonder Woman: Odyssey - Volume One.

I have been waiting for this particular Wonder Woman volume for several months, from long before I started working a the comic book shop. I was enthusiastic when I learned that J. Michael Straczynski, who wrote Babylon 5 had taken over the writing of Wonder Woman. Eager to see what the talented writer of engaging serialized stories could do, I sat down and read Wonder Woman: Odyssey - Volume One in a single sitting and thus far, my main disappointment was that all twelve issues of this storyline are not included in a single volume! Volume One compiles Wonder Woman issues 600 - 606 with an entire new look, feel and storyline for the Wonder Woman (Princess Diana character)!

Diana, a young woman, evades a pack of killers who self-destruct when confronted, leaving her to question the masked elders in hiding underground. Unwilling to give her the information she requests, Diana visits the Oracle, who shows her the answer to her most pressing question. To illustrate who she is, the Oracle shows Diana the past, wherein Themiscyra is abandoned by Aphrodite, which allows men to invade Paradise Island. There, Hippolyta sacrifices herself to get the child Diana away and to prevent the secrets of the island and the Amazons from being compromised. Diana decides to hunt the men from the vision, having figured they are the men who are currently hunting down and killing the dispersed Amazons. But en route to Ankara, Diana must sacrifice her search for the truth in order to save a small enclave of Amazons.

In the group of Amazons, Alera (a priestess) is dying. The Amazons flee their position in a hidden temple, which allows Diana to take on the mercenary army hunting them. When the fleeing Amazons discover their guides have been killed, Diana learns that she has abilities her peers do not, seeing the deadly Keres who have been killing in the area and who are invisible to everyone else. The Keres drag Diana's soul to hell and there she must learn to value her own life, a concept she immediately illustrates by trading herself for the besieged Amazons. With that trade, Diana comes face to face with the mercenary Colonel who torched Themiscyra and in the fight that ensues, the puppetmaster of the altered timeline, the Morrigan, is revealed!

What J. Michael Straczynski does so well in Wonder Woman: Odyssey - Volume One is that he tells a story that has actual character development. I was, for example, initially annoyed that the entire Wonder Woman suit was radically redesigned for this book and included a jacket (like Superboy!) that was lost in one of the very first stories of the book. It annoyed me and I asked myself, "why did they bother to include a jacket in the redesign, if Diana was just going to shed it?!" The answer is that this version of Diana is developing and has had a life of at least eighteen years before the first panel of this book existed. In other words, Straczynski has an idea of who Diana has been in her entire life before she knew that the timeline was altered and when the changes occur, even the minor ones needed some physical symbol.

Straczynski almost instantly wins over the fans of Wonder Woman by being straightforward with them. Through the Oracle, Straczynski reveals that this is an alternate Wonder Woman, that this is not the innate Wonder Woman and that her new existence is the result of some monstrous crime to the timeline. That he doesn't insult our intelligence either by erasing the decades of history that came before or try to pass this off as the way Diana/Wonder Woman was intended to be is deeply refreshing. The mission, then, seems reasonable to have the expected resolution of Diana restoring her true history and as the reader reads this volume, we are able to search for clues to discover exactly what was changed and what the effects of those changes have been. Unlike the current DC crossover event, Flashpoint, the writers are not trying to sell the readers on the idea that this is not an altered state for the characters.

Straczynski achieves many of his storytelling goals with some truly beautiful prose. To set up and explain the storyline, Straczynski and cowriter Phil Hester have the Oracle very poetically reveal "When the Gods play music, they play it on the instruments of our bodies, on our past. . . present . . . future. And from time to time, they . . . change the rhythm" (prologue, "Culture Shock"). This is a beautiful sentiment, one which has Straczynski's fingerprints all over it and fortunately for the readers, this level of dialogue and philosophy is maintained throughout the book. While there are fights and they are magnificent, the journey has roots and there is a sense that Diana clings to a moral code, even if she is ruthless in protecting the Amazon refugees.

In addition to a strong sense of character, Diana develops even in this incarnation of Wonder Woman. She recalls her earliest memories fighting against the injustices she encountered when she was raised on Earth. And she feel guilt when Amazons sacrifice themselves to save her, making her both vulnerable and deeply human. Either way, she is easy to empathize with and she does change from who she is initially characterized as. She is spirited and the joy of Wonder Woman: Odyssey - Volume One is largely in watching this version of Diana grow into what we know about her (that she does not yet realize!).

The artwork in Wonder Woman: Odyssey - Volume One is largely good. The colors are universally amazing: vibrant and incredible. There is a good sense of movement both within panels and from panel to panel and Diana's new outfit looks pretty good. The only real drawback is that by Chapter 5, the team of Don Kramer, Eduardo Pansia, and Daniel HDR seem to be tired. Starting in that chapter, there are panels that are sloppy or, more frequently, underdetailed. In the failing panels, Diana looks like an anime character, not a fully-realized and redesigned comic book icon. As well, the covers for the original comic books from this series are presented as keyhole pictures which do not breathe on the page. Fortunately, the painting-quality variant covers are contained in a cover gallery at the end of the book and make this volume worth its price twice over!

Also in this anthology presentation is a write-up on the changes to Wonder Woman and her costume and that is interesting to read. While it is occasionally simple, Wonder Woman: Odyssey - Volume One is mostly the story of a young woman learning her heritage, fighting to protect the remnants of her people and, along the way, shedding a jacket, picking up a lasso and becoming the hero so many know and love, while still leaving enough to keep readers hankering for the concluding chapters in Volume Two!

For other Wonder Woman volumes, please be sure to check out:
Gods And Mortals By George Perez
Who Is Wonder Woman? By Allan Heinberg
The Hiketeia By Greg Rucka

7.5/10

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

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

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"The Perfect Mate:" Sometimes Even Picard Has A Chance At Romance!



The Good: Nice acting, Great character development, Pacing and mood, Ending
The Bad: Simple plot, Unimpressive costuming, Never followed up on.
The Basics: When a woman with extraordinary powers of seduction visits the Enterprise, the men turn to jelly and she turns to Picard . . . in "The Perfect Mate!"


There are few episodes of Star Trek The Next Generation that could be described as "bold." And this isn't one, either. I'm not sure why I started that way, maybe I wanted a hook. But controversial? There are controversial episodes of the series and the resolution to "The Perfect Mate" is something fans of the series still debate. It's too bad the series never had a chance to revisit the threads left in the wake of this piece. There is enough in "The Perfect Mate" to have made a compelling and interesting Star Trek The Next Generation romance movie, but odds are that will not happen now.

When the Enterprise is transporting an ambassador and his cargo to a peace mission, they do the humanitarian thing and rescue a Ferengi ship in distress. The Ferengi soon become more of a problem than they are worth when they disrupt the ambassador's cargo and release an individual from stasis. Her name is Kamala and she is an empathic metamorph, a life form that can read the thoughts of others for a limited time until she bonds with her permanent mate. She is to be married to a planetary leader to seal a peace negotiation. Unfortunately, her flirtatious ways get her in trouble on the Enterprise and she finds herself attracted to Picard as her time of bonding draws closer and closer. Unfortunately for Picard, who does his best to resist her charms, the Ferengi inadvertently wound Kamala's aged mentor and Picard must guide her through the ceremony that will bring peace between two worlds.

Here is a chance to see Picard's fine moral code come into play. He is, in every sense, a gentleman. Given that, he has the desire to respect Kamala's commitment balanced with the idea of trading a sentient life form for peace, using a person to seal a deal. Moreover, Picard is conflicted in that he is seriously attracted to Kamala, but recognizes that she is set to be married to another man. He has an ethical issue and in "The Perfect Mate," even Picard discovers there are no easy answers to the problem.

The ethical issue brilliantly pits the desires of one person against the fate of millions. The conflict Kamala is being used to end in some ways trumps the desires of both Picard and Kamala. The ethical issues are complicated by the indifference the husband-to-be shows in relation to Kamala. The issue becomes is the happiness of two people worth the lives of millions? And is it ethical to sacrifice the happiness of an adult to commit them to service as a bargaining tool? "The Perfect Mate" makes the issue less black and white than our presumptions would like them to be.

But, the plot is simple: woman is to be married off, the Enterprise needs to get her there. It's unsophisticated and does not try to be more than that, with the exception of forcing Picard to finish the negotiations when the Ferengi wound the ambassador who was to deliver Kamala to her husband in the neighboring system. On a similar disappointing note, the costuming of Kamala was less impressive than it could have been, especially her wedding dress. While her daily costume is at least titillating, her wedding dress is dull, traditional and unflattering.

And it's on a figure that is meant to be flattered: Kamala is played by Famke Janssen, who many people know from X-Men (reviewed here!). Janssen's first U.S. acting role, according to the extras in the DVD set, was in "The Perfect Mate." She acquits herself well doing a great deal at being a lot more than simply a fine - if unrealistic - figure to look at. Janssen creates Kamala as a cultured, intelligent and refined woman who it's easy to see why she would be desired by Picard. Janssen has a great ability to change her facial expressions and body language in the scenes prior to the Captain becoming involved that clearly illustrate her character's chameleon ability to become attractive to anyone.

Part of what makes "The Perfect Mate" so appealing is that it is both intelligent and clever. So, for those who want something simple, there are amusing factors like Data (the android) being Kamala's chaperon around the Enterprise. For those who want substance and something to ponder, there is the question of what the right thing for Picard to do is. Therefore, this episode may have broad appeal to many different types of people.

Famke Jansen is not the only actor worth noting in this episode. While Max Grodenchik, who plays Par Lenor here, helps define the Ferengi wonderfully in such a way that it becomes clear why he was cast as Rom on Star Trek Deep Space Nine, a great deal of credit must be given to Patrick Stewart. Stewart does an excellent job of using his facial expressions and body language to complement his wry tone and awkward silences to enhance the feeling that there is a real dilemma in this episode. Stewart sells us on the problem of staying away from Kamala vs. giving her some companionship which she explicitly needs. He does a great job, as well, of seeming completely surprised when he is supposed to, by some of the things Kamala says. There's a very organic sense of realism to Stewart's acting in "The Perfect Mate."

In the end, "The Perfect Mate" could easily have been an episode that just died because of a simple plot. Instead, it keeps the pace fresh with a great balance of humor, conflict and romantic intrigue. There's the sense that "The Perfect Mate" could be a setup episode for a future relationship, but alas, some doors on Star Trek The Next Generation were never opened. While I can certainly respect that, every episode that follows this one that was simply a bad episode - be it off paced, poorly plotted, or lacking in superior acting - I thought could have been replaced with a clever sequel to this one.

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


8/10

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

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


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The Sideshow Abraham Lincoln, A Historic Action Figure That Will Make 3000 People Happy!



The Good: Great sculpt, Decent accessories, Stand, Rarity
The Bad: Balance issues
The Basics: Abraham Lincoln was a great President and he makes for a pretty exceptional Sideshow Collectibles doll.


At my annual Star Trek convention in Maryland a week and a half ago, I found one of the Sideshow Toys President Lincoln dolls, which the dealer was trying to sell, capitalizing on the 200th Birthday of Lincoln. I figured it had to be kismet; I sold my final 12" doll from Monty Python And The Holy Grail for the exact price that would allow me to by the Lincoln doll. So, between having a gift for a historian in my family and having something new to review as part of the write-off, I felt compelled to purchase it.


Basics

The Abraham Lincoln 12" action figure is essentially a doll from Sideshow Toy's Brotherhood Of Arms line. Limited to 3000 pieces, this doll is a masterwork of sculpting and clothing. Standing the full twelve inches tall, the Lincoln doll is an amazing sculpt of President Abraham Lincoln, at least given every photograph and historical document I have seen. This doll bears a strong likeness to Lincoln's visage and the detailing in the face and hands is extraordinary.

Lincoln's body is molded out of hard plastic and is fairly standard for any doll. Considering that only the head and hands are visible, the essential sculpting details are all in the head and this Lincoln lives up perfectly. The hands are detailed so precisely that the doll has molded fingernails (essentially indentations at the tip of each finger, but they fit the bill!) that fit the overall level of detail of the doll. Lincoln is molded such that there is incredible detailing in terms of the hair on the head and beard. Instead of essentially being a painted splotch, the beard is molded into the face, as are the eyebrows, with faint molded lines to indicate a sense of realistic texture.

While the eyes of the Lincoln doll are piercing, but have white pupils, the rest of the details are lifelike realistic! What this means is that the face has darker cheeks than most dolls, which fits the weathered look late Lincoln is portrayed as having. The gaunt cheeks have realistic reddish shading to give depth and realism to this Lincoln doll. Yes, for anyone who has ever seen an image of Abraham Lincoln, this is instantly recognizable and is possibly the closest most people will ever get to looking at Lincoln in realistic flesh tones.

The detailing on the Abraham Lincoln doll from Sideshow is not only present in the face and sculpt, but it extends to the statesman suit Lincoln is wearing. Recreated from famous portraits and photographs, the suit is black cloth for the pants and suitcoat and white cloth for the button-down shirt (which is actually fastened with tiny snaps). The clothing on the Lincoln doll is immaculately detailed with a black tie that appears to be hand-tied around the doll's neck. This figure is coifed perfectly to appear like President Lincoln.

Accessories

Abraham Lincoln, in the Sideshow doll form has great detail, not only in the sculpt and costuming, but in most of its accessories. Lincoln comes with his top hat, a copy of the Gettysburg Address, a theater program and his display stand. The program and Address are essentially little rolls of paper that fit in either of the character's hands. They have tiny writing on them, but only the first lines of the Address are actually legible. These are, sadly, somewhat lame accessories.

What isn't lame is the top hat. The hat is an inch in diameter and an inch and a half tall. The hat fits loosely atop Lincoln's head, but it actually balances surprisingly well. Considering that most people who purchase this doll will not remove it from the package (whatwith it being a collectible) and those who do are likely not to play with it, the way the hat rests atop the figure's head and can fall off is not likely to be much of an issue. After all, when the figure is standing in a balanced position, with the head up, there are no issues with the hat balancing or even vibrations knocking it off (less earthquake level vibrations!). This is an iconic accessory for the action figure and it looks good on the toy.

Finally, the Abraham Lincoln doll comes with a pretty standard doll stand with an Brotherhood Of Arms logo on the base. The base is a four inch in diameter circular plastic disc with a plastic and metal rod (for lack of a better term) that fits into it. The plastic rod fits into the stand and is three inches long. The metal portion, with two prongs, extends up from that with the prongs that fit around Lincoln's waist. The stand holds the figure stable and perfectly supports it from the waist.

Playability

Seriously, who is going to play with an Abraham Lincoln doll? What does one do, have him line dance with the Lee figure? Arm wrestle Grant? Sit in quiet contemplation with the George Washington doll? I don't know. I suspect most people will keep it mint in box as a collectible and the few who take it out are likely to simply stick it on the stand, perhaps get a decent globe to cover it so it does not get dusty. One suspects most people will not play with it.
Those who do remove it from the package will discover that this doll maintains the ridiculously high standards Sideshow Collectibles is known for. The figure has thirty points of articulation with joints at the ankles, knees, groin socket, waist, shoulders, elbows, wrists, and neck with some of the joints having extensive articulation. So, for example, the shoulder socket is a true ball and socket and offers the doll a full range of motion, as well as rotational motion for the entire arm. The truth is, the doll is over-articulated for the figure, especially considering few will actually play with the doll. The figure moves with entirely realistic ranges of motion on all of the limbs and torso movements. Still, the head joint is slightly limited with less of a range of motion than some dolls.

The only real problem with this Abraham Lincoln doll is that the joints are perfectly articulated, but they lack a muscular system. The result is that the joints loosen a bit and the figure tips over relatively easy. The figure does not have have great balance without the stand and tips too easily. Ironically, the costume supports the doll in some places better than the joints do!

Collectibility

Sideshow Collectibles lives up to its name with this Abraham Lincoln figure from the Brotherhood Of Arms line. This doll is strictly limited to 3000 pieces and Sideshow Toys has a strong record of improving the value of toys as investments. This one has skyrocketed this year from its initial issue price in the fifty dollar range due to the bicentennial of his birthday.

Sideshow Collectibles puts extraordinary detailing into the boxes of its toys and the Abraham Lincoln doll is no exception. It comes with a picture window and "cover," like a book cover. Held closed by Velcro, the bookcover box opens and has all sorts of information on Lincoln on the inside. One may also see the toy and all its accessories without removing the figure from its box. Glossy and classy, the box itself is a little work of art, accenting the action figure.

Overall

The Sideshow Collectibles Abraham Lincoln doll, outside the tipping over (without the stand), is a great toy and a wonderful collectible for those looking to commemorate the former President of the United States. And if one has to collect dolls of former presidents, this might well be the best one!

For other doll reviews, please check out my takes on:
Hot Toys 12" The Dark Knight Joker
Tonner Twilight Bella Swan doll
Masterpiece Edition Aurra Sing doll

8.5/10

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

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


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