Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Buffy's Less Than Happy Birthday Starts With A "Surprise" And Then The Loss Of "Innocence."


The Good: Characters moments, Acting, Humor, Suspense, Much of the plot, Serialization
The Bad: Bits of predictability in the plot
The Basics: When Buffy has a birthday that involves trying to thwart an attempt to reunite the parts of an invincible soldier, she and Angel change their relationship, with disastrous consequences!


Buffy The Vampire Slayer is one of those franchises that was huge for its time and then died a quick, hard death, much like The X-Files. Sadly, the aftermarket for both series' has not supported the show like, for example, Star Trek fans keep the franchise alive. Instead, since Buffy The Vampire Slayer and its sister series, Angel left the airwaves, the fanbase has gradually dissipated and moved on to other programs and movies for enjoyment and the sense of community that they once found there. The disappointing aspect to this, of course, is that as Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel find a new audience in syndication and then people buy the DVDs, there is less of a community to keep that alive with discussions or such.

And "Surprise" and "Innocence" are two episodes that spark serious discussions among fans. These are two essential episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and they basically create the framework by which Angel makes sense as a real and viable character. Back in the episode "Angel" (reviewed here!) Buffy learned that Angel was a vampire and we know what sets him apart is that he has a soul. "Innocence," especially, establishes why Angel is the way he is and the true extent of his curse is revealed.

In "Surprise," Buffy has a birthday! Getting a year older leads her to thinking about responsibility and her love for Angel. Her birthday is progressing with a strangely morbid sense to it when she receives an odd gift; a disembodied arm. The arm, she and Giles quickly realize is part of the latest scheme concocted by Drusilla and the wounded Spike to bring chaos to Sunnydale. The current minion, who they are working to reassemble, is the Judge, a giant blue demon who was once defeated and crated up because it could not be killed by any weapon forged. Drusilla and Spike hope to reassemble the Judge to give them an invincible soldier and in the process of trying to defeat them, Angel and Buffy change the terms of their relationship.

In "Innocence," Angel runs off into the night, transformed back into his soulless vampire alter-ego, Angelus. With the Judge assembled, but in a weakened state where it cannot simply mow down legions of people without touching them, Buffy, Giles and the gang table saving Angel - who joins Drusilla and Spike - and work to defeat the Judge before it reaches full power. At the same time, Jenny Calendar reveals the nature of Angel's curse.

"Surprise" and "Innocence" work quite naturally together on a video because they are a two-parter. The conclusion to "Surprise" leads right into "Innocence" and the character action that takes place is one that grows Buffy further into adulthood. As well, it becomes the perfect way to describe the curse Angel suffers from. For those not in the know, I shall endeavor not to ruin it, however, Angel's curse is related to his feeling love for Buffy and that threatens his soul.

This works wonderfully on both a literal level - Angel turning to Angelus as a result of Buffy - and a metaphoric level - the fear most young women have that the one they love might well turn out to be a jerk or a monster. Buffy The Vampire Slayer often works best when it works on both levels - otherwise it might be pretty easily written off as a campy science fiction comedy - and "Surprise" and "Innocence" are possibly two of the best episodes for that, confronting with metaphor fears about aging and love.

As well, Willow has a decent subplot as she learns of the relationship between Cordelia and Xander, giving her and Buffy something to commiserate about. Through much of the series, Buffy and Willow's relationship is one of convenience for Buffy with little genuine emotional connection that illustrates why Willow would have anything to do with the Slayer, but in "Innocence," they actually have a very normal and human bond to explore.

And that's where Buffy The Vampire Slayer works best, like all serialized television; on the character front. Sure, the plot is fairly straightforward: obstacle must be overcome. Why we care to watch and why we bother to purchase the video has to do with caring about the characters. Xander, for example, calls back to the events in "Halloween," when his costume turned him into a soldier. As it turns out, he has the full memories as skills of being a soldier as a result and in "Innocence," he uses that skill set for the first (of several) times in the series to make himself useful.

And while there is wonderful interaction between Jenny Calendar and Giles, these shows are very much about Buffy and Angel. Buffy and Angel have been building a romance and they have been tenuous in so many ways up until "Surprise," so when they decide to open up to true love, this is a big step. The episode plays that decision out with a strong sense of realism and class, making it seem believable as they set aside their reservations.

It helps that Sarah Michelle Gellar and David Boreanaz, who play Buffy and Angel, respectively, have great on-screen chemistry. When the series started, there was an aloof quality to Boreanaz and Gellar's performance reflected something of a sense that he was just a generic, good-looking guy being thrown in Buffy's way. By this point in the series, the two play off one another well and scenes in "Surprise" and "Innocence" have a great deal of trust illustrated between the two performers. It pays off as the result on screen is one of the best performances between the two in the entire series. Gellar plays Buffy with a vulnerability and a strength that she does not always get to show when she plays Buffy as a somewhat scattered protagonist.

Boreanaz, though, gets the chance to really explore his acting abilities as he transforms from the sensitive and decent Angel into the maniacal and twisted Angelus. As Angelus, Boreanaz takes on both an entirely different personality and way of speaking, but a whole looser body language as well. Boreanaz sells the viewer on Angel's transformation even without saying a word. He's wonderful in the role and he makes "Innocence," especially, worth watching.

It is also worth noting that Juliet Landau gives a creepy performance as the insane Drusilla in both episodes. Brian Thompson, perhaps best known to genre fans as the shapeshifting alien bounty hunter from The X-Files, has an auspicious outing as the Judge.

Anyone who likes fun dramedies with a serious undertone to be found will find value in "Surprise" and "Innocence" and they are certainly part of the essential Buffy The Vampire Slayer, if for no other reason than the true nature of the curse Angel suffers is finally explored. Anyone who has a problem with either science fiction or television that is not dreary and overly serious may not enjoy these. But the dialogue is fast and often funnier than the circumstances in this set and it works beautifully.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Buffy The Vampire Slayer - The Complete Second Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the premiere season here!
or the complete series is available here!
Thanks!]

"Surprise" - 8/10
"Innocence" - 9/10
VHS - 8/10

For other television 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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Truly Shameless Hardware Reviews: The APC Back-UPS ES350 UPS System Is Another Winner!


The Good: Battery back up works, Surge protection appears to work, Reset function, Supposed warranty
The Bad: Plug spacing is inadequate
The Basics: With its wonderful battery backup function, this surge protector is wonderful for all computer equipment!


Lately, I've been venturing out of my usual media areas and reviewing things in the computer and electronics sections and this has honestly been a real challenge for me at times. With my reviews of such things as the MonsterPower PowerProtect AV600 (reviewed here!), I've been discovering just how much one may write about something as simple as a power cord. Today, I set out to evaluate my APC Back-UPS ES350 Battery Backup and surge protector. Considering that I have had two of these and they have been around my house longer than my AV600, I figured I ought to have more to write about it.

I have been protecting my computer and at least as important, my monitor (reviewed here!) on the ES350 for three years now and I am pleased to say that whenever I need a new battery backup, it will almost certainly be another ES350. The nice thing is that occasionally, APC will offer rebates on the ES350 and that makes it even more affordable!

The basics begin with the simple: battery back-up is a system by which computer components connected to it are able to run for a limited time during a power outage. This is essentially a big, bulky surge protector connected to a giant battery. When powered up and operating properly, components plugged into the battery back-up will survive electrical incidents involving surges (see the caveat below!!!) and will operate when the power goes out for a limited time. This is a six outlet battery backup, with the two rows of three sockets on opposite sides of the top of the ES350. All six outlets feature a grounding socket and the safety-constructed slots for safety plugs. For those unfamiliar with most modern appliances (in the last ten years or so), most three prong and especially two prong plugs come with the left prong slightly larger than the right prong so there becomes only one proper and safe way to plug devices in. This prevents electrocutions and destruction of computer components. This is less of an issue with computer components as most every computer component is a three pronged plug and all six of the sockets on the ES350 are three pronged - grounded - sockets.

The six outlets are situated on the top of the just under eleven inch long by seven inch wide base of the battery backup. This bulky accessory is three and a half inches tall, so when plugs are plugged in, this is not a space-saving device. In order to operate it without plug cords getting bent, this needs a bit of space (two to three inches) above the top of the battery backup. The plugs are arranged evenly spaced within the latter six inches (from the cord) of the ES350.

On the issue of the plug spacing, this leads to two important problems with the ES350. Only three of the six sockets are actually connected to the surge protecting function. When the power goes out, all six sockets may be utilized, but only three will protect against surges. Given the unpredictability of power outages and the sudden resurgence of power to a home, this is a huge liability. However, the other half of this apparent problem is this: it's highly unlikely one would have active devices in all six plugs when the device is engaged. I tend to use the three non-surge plugs only for devices that I use sporadically. So, for example, I do not keep my scanner (reviewed here!) plugged in. Moreover, because my Laserjet 1200 printer (reviewed here!) does not have a power switch, I do not keep that plugged in either. When I use them, I plug them in and they tend to go into the plugs that are not protected for surges. Whenever I've lost power while scanning or printing, the first thing I've done is pulled those plugs.

I couldn't plug the scanner into the surge-protector sockets even if I wanted to. That is the second problem with the ES350. When my computer and monitor are plugged in, there is not enough space to plug in the scanner plug. The difference is that the scanner has one of the big, bulky square plugs that takes up a lot of space. My printer does not have the bulky plug and that can be plugged into the third surge protected socket, but so long as the computer and monitor are protected - which they ought to be - the scanner cannot be protected against surges. With the scanner plugged in, I lose the use of the socket next to it, which is annoying.

The cable for the ES350 is six feet long and ends in a three pronged plug that connects into the wall at an angle. I understand this is supposed to save space, but it still looks funny, unless your outlet is offset by a forty-five degree angle. This function only truly makes sense when one is plugging the ES350 into the same socket as something with a more intrusive cord. This allows the cable to drape to the side of the socket and other cords as opposed to sticking straight out. This is not a key selling point for me, but might come in handy for those who have crowded outlets or are plugging into places that are hard to reach.

There is also a jack for the telephone line. You know how when they power goes out, your telephone will often still work? That's because telephone lines carry power as well and those lines power the telephones. Like electrical lines, telephone lines can have erratic surges especially during storms. Those surges can destroy computer components and telephone equipment. The ES350 eliminates that problem by surge protecting the telephone power line that is run through it! This is a remarkably clever and convenient function of the ES350 and one that APC does not capitalize on enough.

The ES350 Battery Backup plugs easily into the wall and is turned on with the press of a button. There is an LED above the button to clearly indicate when the power is on. When turned on, the unit beeps as well to let the user know it is working. According to the paperwork on this, the battery back-up works for about one and a half minutes with components plugged into every socket. I have gotten ten minutes out of the ES350 with just the computer and monitor plugged in when the power has gone out. This is an exercise in annoyance, though, as the device beeps constantly when it is running devices on the battery power. Indeed, it beeps whenever power is out. Sometimes the first way I know I've lost power is by hearing my ES350 beeping from the basement!

But the battery back up works! It has protected my computer components and whenever I have exhausted the battery, I simply unplug it from the wall and turn it off (otherwise it would keep beeping until it fully ran out of power). When power is restored, I unplug everything from the ES350, plug it back into the wall and turn it on. This resets the surge protection function so my equipment is once again protected.

As a side note, I once decided that the ES350 would be great for protecting my microwave, as surges have killed previous microwaves of mine. So, for a while I had my microwave (reviewed here!) plugged into an ES350. This brilliant idea - the ES350 DID protect the microwave from the erratic power surges surrounding my power outages - was trumped only by my decision to try to microwave something during an outage. This battery back up does not - repeat NOT - support power-intensive devices like a microwave. Enough said on that, I think.

The other nice thing about the ES350 is that whenever I leave my house, I am confident my computer components will be fine and I do not need to unplug them. Having witnessed how much it takes to cause the ES350 to need to be reset (indeed, it's only needed it after intense storms when the battery backup function has been exhausted) I have never worried about returning home to find my computer components damaged. That level of confidence is great and quite reassuring. That's what we pay surge protectors and battery backup devices for!

This battery backup has a $50,000 equipment replacement or repair warranty, which I have never had to exercise, which is valid for two years. Presumably, if my system gets fried and it can be shown to be a result of a failure of the ES350 from normal use, everything plugged into it will be replaced or repaired up to a value of $50,000. So, while a microwave might not be protected, the computer and monitor are protected by both the device and its warranty.

This is certainly a better-than-average battery backup and it does a wonderful job protecting all computer components!

For other power-related reviews, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Hi-Capacity AC Adapter For Acer 5532
DLO Power Bug
CB-5L Charger

8.5/10

For other electronics reviews, please click here to visit my index page!

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

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Oh Where Were You Then, Victor Garber? And How Did Legally Blonde Happen?!


The Good: Moments of humor, Acting
The Bad: Contrived plot, Overbearing soundtrack, Lack of character development, Look, Obviousness, Most humor, Details
The Basics: Mildly entertaining, Legally Blonde is a one-trick pony that gets redundant on reiterating all blondes aren't idiots. Well, duh!


It's hard to expect much of a film like Legally Blonde when one reads the plot summary on the back of the video and the plot seems like such teen fare. In fact, one doesn't get more teen oriented than the Hollywood beautiful young woman going off to prove herself against the odds. So, when I sat down to Legally Blonde I knew I'd have to suspend my disbelief and some of my better judgment if I was to even enjoy the film.

It wasn't enough.

The truth is, it's possible still to put out a film like this that I won't pan. This one, however, did not do it.

Elle Woods is a California socialite who was president of her sorority and is expecting to be proposed to by her boyfriend. By the sheer amount of set-up, we know that her boyfriend, Warner, is going to dump her instead. And he does. He says she's not serious enough. So, Elle ups and gets into Harvard Law School to show him that she is serious. The moment Elle meets the other Hollywood handsome man, Emmett, we know that the story is one of "those" stories. It's one of those stories where Elle will apply herself, work hard, prove herself, and in the process realize that she's too good for Guy A and end up with Guy B.

Surprise, the films like this that I don't pan are the ones that surprise me, that I don't call in the first few moments. This one, well, I was dead on. The factor that felt especially insulting to me was the lack of deviation from that formula. There were no attempts to alter that formula, no surprises. There was no moment that I smiled because something unexpected happened.

That's not to say the film is without humor. It has its moments. They are few and far between. Most of them are obvious gags that the average twelve year old would catch before they appeared. A perfect example of this is when Emmett's new fiance, Vivian, invites Elle to a party when Elle overhears her talking to another person. She tells Elle it's a costume party. Being that Vivian's characterization is vindictive and cruel, we know Elle is going to dress up and be the only one in a costume at the party. Well, that's precisely how it happens.

While the pace of the film is even, the soundtrack is not. Perhaps it is the hallmark of a teen-oriented film; the soundtrack breaks out in the most insipid pop music at various points in the movie. It tends to be more distracting than refreshing. It tends to have the feeling of, "we have some time to kill, let's distract everyone from that fact with some music." And sure enough, the film clocks in at 96 minutes.

The look is completely oriented toward younger people or those who feed into the notion of the Hollywood ideal of beauty. Reese Witherspoon is thin, blonde and while she plays the character well, everyone around her is equally unrealistically beautiful. This is one of those films where I watch and I'm screaming for someone who looks like someone I might see on the street to appear. They don't; this is a beautiful people film.

I will compliment the acting. Reese Witherspoon plays Elle well, Luke Wilson is surprisingly good in the obvious role of Emmett. Supporting players Victor Garber (from television's Alias) and Holland Taylor (The Practice) are wonderful for the roles that are written. Victor plays Callahan and near the end of the film, his character takes a turn for the sleazy that allows Elle to fulfill her character arc and it didn't read right. I saw it coming from the opening of that scene, but it still didn't fit.

The real killer for my suspension of disbelief is in the details. This film is lacking in details. It's a sweeping attempt to say "All blondes aren't dumb!" The thing is, in order to create that, the character needs to support that. Elle has ambition and possibly talent, but for a college student with a 4.0, it's completely unrealistic that she would appear for her first day of class unprepared. I can even suspend my disbelief to allow for Elle sneaking her dog into everywhere she goes, but even that seems pointless; there are several shots throughout the film where the dog is focused on randomly, as if just to say "the dog is also in this scene."

The truth is, I think we, as a society have moved past this. It takes a teen to be caught up in such obvious prejudices as "all blondes are dumb" or such. It is an unnecessary fight and films like Legally Blonde seem all the more pointless for trying to make it into a real issue. The problem with Legally Blonde is while it attempts to dispel one obvious prejudice, it reinforces others. All people who attend Harvard are not rich snobs, all West Coast people don't say "like" every other sentence and not all wealthy people are superficial or sexually predatory.

It's a shame that the acting in this film was so good; while I watched it, I could think of nothing other than how I didn't think anyone ought to endure such an obvious piece. Still, there are worse movies . . .

For other works with Reese Witherspoon, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Monsters Vs. Aliens
Four Christmases
Friends - Season 6

3/10

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

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

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"Little Bird" An Annie Lennox Single That Failed To Soar.


The Good: Song is not bad. . ., Collectible value
The Bad: Poor use of medium, Some predictable rhymes, Poor replayability
The Basics: A tremendously disappointing radio single, the one-track version of “Little Bird” is a collector’s item more than a worthwhile musical experience.


Readers of my many reviews know that I am biased against the c.d. single as a medium. There is something insulting about paying for a disc with eighty minutes capacity and only getting four minutes of music on it! It is especially hard for me to pan c.d. singles from artists whose work I otherwise enjoy. And yet, the c.d. single of “Little Bird” is hardly one of Annie Lennox’s best outings. In fact, there is a halfway decent version, but this is not it. The one-track version was the version given to radio stations and dance clubs to use for airplay. Unlike the commercially-available c.d. the one-track only has the album cut of “Little Bird” and it is a thoroughly underwhelming musical outing.

“Little Bird” was the final single released from Annie Lennox’s solo outing, Diva and to the artist’s credit, it was written by Lennox. Lennox also provides the lead vocals on the song, though she was not involved in the production.

“Little Bird” is a keyboard driven dance track which instantly evokes memories of Lennox’s band The Eurythmics. Set against a pounding drum machine and deep bass chords on the keyboards, “Little Bird” quickly becomes an energetic single which uses Lennox’s voice as a counter balance to the pace and orchestral depth of the music. The song has a singsong dance-pop tune which does not significantly develop into anything musically rich. Instead, the song is notable for its powerful opening chords before it fizzles into a very generic dance beat and collection of “move to it” synth noises.

Vocally, Annie Lennox is appropriately amazing on “Little Bird.” First, she presents her lines with a clear soprano voice which is exceptional. Lennox has one of the most distinctive voices in the business and on “Little Bird,” she is high, fast and emotive. Competing against such rich instrumental accompaniment, one of the real surprises of “Little Bird” is how clear Lennox is able to sing. This, however, is one of the songs by Annie Lennox where every line can be clearly understood and it is easy to find oneself singing along to it.

Sadly, though, it is also one of Annie Lennox’s less inspired songs, which is probably why the single flopped in the U.S. outside of dance clubs. With lines like “But my my I feel so low / My my where do I go? / My my what do I know? / My my we reap what we sow / They always said that you knew best / But this little bird's fallen out of that nest now / I've got a feeling that it might have been blessed / So I've just got to put these wings to test” “Little Bird” is hardly the most original song in terms of rhymes or even statement.

In fact, the only reason to pick up the one-track version is because one is an Annie Lennox collectibles enthusiast. Beyond that, the disc is overpriced and underwhelming. The song is available far less expensively on Diva or Lennox’s Collection which had all of her singles. There is no good reason I could find to spend on this!

For other singles reviews, please check out my takes on:
Cool - Gwen Stefani
Nowhere To Go - Melissa Etheridge
Right Beside You - Sophie B. Hawkins


3/10

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

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

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The Final Star Of The Series Gets An Episode At Last In "Emergence"


The Good: Interesting plot, Decent acting
The Bad: No character development, Philosophical sellout
The Basics: When the U.S.S. Enterprise begins to exhibit signs of intelligence, an episode that could be brilliant gives up and goes for the standard.


As the series Star Trek The Next Generation wound down, the producers tried to tie up as many loose ends and character arcs as they could. While they never tried to explain what happened to Dr. Pulaski, by this point (three episodes from the end), the show had wrapped up a lot of stories, including those of Alexander and Wesley Crusher. Now, the producers decided to take a side trip and give an episode of the show to the only star who had not yet had an episode devoted to it: the Enterprise.

As the Enterprise is going about its mission, it suddenly begins to malfunction. On the holodeck, various programs begin to mix together, causing those there to be caught in a surreal experience. As Data, Worf and Troi try to determine the cause of the problems, they end up fleeing for their lives. It soon becomes evident that the U.S.S. Enterprise, the starship itself, has developed a consciousness and is trying to evolve.

The episode is called "Emergence" and it seems like it may actually be daring for a little while, taking over The Matrix territory well before The Matrix was ever conceived. The question that this episode tries to raise is: If we create intelligent machines, why wouldn't they evolve? And what are our obligations to them as they do?

The question is an intriguing one, but the answer this episode provides is less than satisfying. While the ship defends itself from the biological entities attempting to stop it (in dialog somewhat reminiscent of Star Trek The Motion Picture), the people aboard seem to have little moralizing about what they are doing.

The problematic aspect of this episode is that it portrays the use of creating intelligent computers as roughly equivalent to creating a slave race. This is a compelling idea and one that would be worthy of exploration. After all, how could we - as humans - create a slave race to exploit? It's unconscionable and inhuman. Instead of actually grappling with that idea, though, the episode escapes it by discovering that the Enterprise itself is not responsible for the evolution. It's cowardice like that, cheaping out when the going gets really hairy that makes Star Trek The Next Generation hold up less well on reflection than it did in its initial run.

What "Emergence" does nicely (other than copping out at the ending) is create an intriguing surreal vision to keep the viewers interested. On the holodeck, Data, Troi and Worf find themselves on a train where the passengers are headed to New Vertiform City. The train is something out of the Old West and the passengers are an eclectic mix of holodeck characters ranging from a Black Knight to a gold digger. As the artificial life form evolves and begins to fail, the holodeck scenario becomes much weirder and it's intriguing enough to keep us watching.

What keeps the show together outside the surreal imagery is the acting. This is an episode that illustrates well that Star Trek The Next Generation can be an ensemble piece. Here we see Brent Spiner, Michael Dorn, Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis each getting about the same amount of airtime and all putting in good - even if not groundbreaking - performances. Given how much the final episode forces the actors to act as different incarnations of their characters, "Emergence" is the last chance for these four actors to play as their actual characters they have spent the last seven years establishing.

Unfortunately, this episode has almost no character work. This is a science fiction episode that does not attempt to go beyond that. It skirts the philosophical and does not dig into the meat of the issue that could make this episode great and change the entire series. It is not likely to be enjoyed by anyone other than a fan of hard science fiction or surrealism. Fans of Star Trek The Next Generation may enjoy that the Enterprise, the least likely "character" of the series finally gets an episode.

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

6/10

For other Star Trek episodes and movies, click here to visit my index page of just Star Trek reviews!

© 2011, 2007, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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Are The Mini-Mates The Worst Toy Ever? Star Trek's Dr. McCoy Makes That Case!


The Good: Well, it doesn't take up much space . . .
The Bad: Small, Does not look anything like the subject, Low playability, Low collectibility, Pointless.
The Basics: PA Distribution jumps into the minimate craze with a pathetic interpretation of Dr. McCoy that not even a die-hard fan would want in their collection!


Sometimes, as a dealer in Star Trek merchandise and as a collector, I come across something that I look at, shake my head and say "What were they thinking?!" I did this when I came across the first minimates and I did a much more extreme version of it when I found the Star Trek line-up of the strangely popular toys. After months of sitting on this, it's time to look into this ridiculous phenomenon and I begin with ripping apart the pointless, terrible Dr. McCoy minimate by PA Distribution (Art Asylum and Diamond Select toys, who now share the Star Trek toy licensing line).

For those unfamiliar with the minimates concept, remember playing with Legos? You know how they eventually had people for the Legos? Well, minimates are a slightly larger (two inches tall as opposed to just one and a quarter) and a bit more articulate, but just about as good as far as their look.

Honestly, I'm not sure how I'll stretch my disdain for this product into a full-length review. After all, I have no idea who the intended market for this product is. Dr. McCoy, beloved chief surgeon of the starship Enterprise is immortalized in plastic as a minimate (usually in a two-pack with Scotty). The two pack is $6.50, making them affordable, but these are still seriously overpriced. This figure looks campy and just plain stupid and it has small parts (the tricorder that is slung over his shoulder) making it not ideal for young children who might not otherwise notice just how lame the toy is.

But, back to the beginning. The Dr. McCoy minimate is a two inch tall piece of plastic that vaguely resembles Dr. McCoy. DeForest Kelley, who played Dr. McCoy died some years ago and one may only guess what his thought would have been to see this little lego-like figure that could be virtually any blueshirt from the original Star Trek. The blockish figure comes with the tricorder - slung over his shoulder - and a communicator. The communicator is quite small - only about a third of an inch long - so it seems like it wouldn't be much of a choking hazard for young children, but I'm not one who would risk it to find out. Given how easily it falls out of McCoy's hand, I wouldn't recommend keeping it around little kids!

The figure is articulated, I have to give PA that; the head, shoulders, elbows, wrists, waist, knees and thigh-socket are all articulated. Given, however, the way the feet are essentially little blocks, the leg articulation does little as far as poseability of the figure. It needs to be stood flatfooted in order to remain up and as a result, the knee and thigh articulation is a bit of a waste.

Which leads to the question of playability. I don't get the point of this figure. Sure, you can pose Dr. McCoy to look like he's running (don't drop him too many times; my figure was chipped after he fell about seven times from a shelf onto a tile floor) or move his arms, but the scale is prohibitive for playing with others and the poseability is pretty rotten for simply displaying. As far as a toy goes, this basically seems like an ideal toy for a young child to pick up, pop in their mouth and get lodged there as a result of the limb articulation.

Which leads to the toy as a collectible. The best collectibles remind the buyer of the subject of the collectible. The best collectible toys rock because of the realism to the likeness of the character they are supposed to represent and articulation. Quite simply, the best collectible toys are the most striking likenesses of the characters they represent for collectors and great articulation for those who bother to take it out of the pack for play enthusiasts or those who want to actually display their figures.

The Dr. McCoy minimate has neither. First, the toy looks nothing like Dr. McCoy. The scale is too small and the generic expression on the same cylindrical head as every other minimate lacks any real definition that would define the character. Sure, the face is scowling, but I've seen jack-o'-lanterns with scowls that more closely resembled a likeness of Dr. McCoy. In short, this is a dud for the likeness department and were it not for description of the figure as "Dr. McCoy" and the coloring, it would be a pretty safe bet to guess that this was a figure of Mr. Sulu. Yes, that's how unlike this likeness is! And the big hair look is just terrible!

And while the figure is articulated at twelve points, much of that articulation is pointless and cannot be used to pose the toy for displays in intriguing fashions. The hands do not hold the accessories and that, too, limits the playability of the toy.

You know, as a professional writer, it pains me that the best I can come up with to write about this toy is "This is a lame toy." But the truth is, it is. It's not fun, it's not collectible, it's not interesting and when the minimate craze passes, Dr. McCoy is going to be one of the first in the junkheap!

Man, this is a lame toy.

For other original Star Trek toys, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
Playmates limited edition Dr. McCoy in dress uniform action figure
Toy Factory Scotty plush
Swashbuckling Sulu and Chekov minimates 2-pack

0/10

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

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

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Celine Dion's Sellout Album Arrives When Chrysler Sponsors One Heart *Shudder*


The Good: Some catchy tunes/good beats
The Bad: Terrible vocals, Annoying sound, Overproduced, Duration
The Basics: A creative, intellectual and commercial flop, Chrysler's big dance album for Celine Dion, One Heart has nothing to recommend it.


Every now and then, I encounter an album from an artist or performer that completely guts any respect I might have ever had for them. The example that always comes easiest to my mind is Jewel's album 0304, which was the album where Jewel mortgaged her folk roots for the dance genre. The album shows none of Jewel's emotional depth and it is marred by overproduction which obscures her actual talents as a singer-songwriter. It was her sellout album in my book and one of the worst albums I've ever heard. So, when I popped in Celine Dion's One Heart, I had a pretty firm comparative analogy.

One Heart is Celine Dion's sellout album in the same way as Jewel's 0304. Replacing Dion's actual voice is an overproduced, mechanized version of her sound. She is backed by drum loops and overbearing synths, produced to overwhelm her vocals, instead of letting her voice lead the songs. Replacing the familiar, slow ballads of Celine Dion are upbeat dance tracks that continue Celine Dion's obsession with songs about love with a completely different sound than any of her full albums has had before. In other words, on One Heart, Celine Dion sounds like anyone but.

This album is pure pop and seems designed to capitalize more on current trends (or the trends of 2003 when it was initially released) than it is the talents of Celine Dion. Dion opens the album with two dance tracks, then moves into a light pop song where she sounds more like Jann Arden than herself. But even by the time "Faith" - the third track - comes along, the listener is already turned off to the album. I attribute this to the inane sound of the first two tracks and the use of the word "ironical"* in "Love Is All We Need." Some things one just cannot come back from.

One of those things is trying to reinvent yourself as a dance-pop star when your target audience is fans of Barbra Streisand. While the Streisand audience is likely to take Dion back as soon as she releases something with some semblance of maturity (I suspect most of her target audience did not make it to her familiar-sounding, though ridiculously lyricked "In His Touch"), the thing many of us are likely to be more wary of is Celine Dion selling herself to a corporate sponsor. The main single from One Heart was the album opener, "I Drove All Night" which was used as a jingle for Chrysler. I understand almost all artists (but not The Doors!) will get corporate benefactors and sell their music as jingles, but it is disturbing when the sponsorship creates the album and not the other way around. In other words, when an artist uses their work to help a company it is one thing, when a company uses an artist to promote themselves, it is entirely another. One Heart, with its inclusion of the Chrysler corporate logo right into the packaging and notes in the liner (as well as pictures of Celine Dion in a car from one of the commercial shoots), represents the execution of the latter idea and the result continues to drain whatever creative influence Celine Dion might have had over her album from it.

With fourteen songs, clocking out at a measly 54:17, One Heart was Celine Dion's last new album before Chrysler housed her in Las Vegas for three years to perform nightly for them. The album has Celine Dion singing and at moments, her vocals are recognizable. But on songs like One Heart and "Stand By Your Side," her vocals are produced such that her natural voice is almost completely obscured and unrecognizable. The backing vocals on "Stand By Your Side" are so overwhelming that Dion is more often the accompaniment to her backers! This is not uncommon in today's music (Beyonce and Christina Aguillera do it, for example), but when one is paying for Celine Dion, we'd like Celine Dion's voice. Alas, we get that only on one track ("In His Touch") in an unmarred way where the production elements do not ruin her voice.

This is unfortunate because the one thing Celine Dion has going for her as a performer or anything resembling an artist is her voice. Celine Dion does not write any of her own material, she does not play any instruments and she turns production over to so many different people that her albums seem to be the buckshot approach from every known hitmaker in the business. That tradition is continued on One Heart, where once again Celine Dion does not write any of her own songs and whole teams are brought in to produce her songs. She does not play any instruments, but to be fair to her growth as an artist and performer, she is credited with her own background vocals on "Forget Me Not."

The unfortunate aspect of One Heart is how little there is to write about it because it is so monolithic in its delivery. This is one of the most sedate, traditional pop albums I've ever heard and the biggest departure from the innate talents of Celine Dion yet. Thematically, Celine Dion returns to singing almost exclusively about love and relationships. She adds more Gospel-themed songs into One Heart with songs like "Faith" and "In His Touch," but she guts the emotional resonance of them by including them on the same album that she has "Coulda Woulda Shoulda." Note to Celine Dion: whenever you try to sound either tough or ethnic, it just does not work for you! Dion even returns to her French Canadian roots with "Je T'aime Encore."

But even for a stylistic departure from her familiar ballads, One Heart is creatively underwhelming. "Sorry For Love (2003 Version)" is a remix of a song she had on the album before this and it is not a huge creative leap from the original. But even in the familiar-sounding songs like "Have You Ever Been In Love," One Heart is underwhelming. That song, for example, was written by five writers and the best imagery lines they could come up with were "Have you ever been in love / You could touch the moonlight / When your heart is shooting stars / You're holding heaven in your arms" ("Have You Ever Been In Love"). This is pretty overdone imagery and Dion and her team of writers say nothing different with it.

Of course, saying something is better when it is said in a way that it can be understood. "Reveal" is almost entirely unintelligible as Dion is overwhelmed by the programmed drums and guitars. Celine Dion has a pretty dainty sound at times and it does not work when her voice is competing with heavy-bass production elements. The result is unfortunate dance tracks where Dion screeches out things like "What we do in privacy / Make a woman out of me / When you're close it feels so right / You and I reveal tonight" ("Reveal") and the only reason why more listeners aren't scratching their heads ("reveal" as a euphemism for "make love?!") is that her vocals are so lost amid the instrumental accompaniment that they are lost.

I could pick each song apart thus, but the album is pretty cohesive in its terribleness**. Each bad track is followed by another one which somehow manages to be worse than the one before it. Celine Dion has a real dud on her hands with One Heart and one may only hope that she either blamed it on her corporate sponsors*** or the teams that put her material in front of her. I suppose the only real advantage of not having much creative control over an endeavor is that it's easy to deflect the blame.

"I Drove All Night" is a catchy pop number and the least bad song on the album and while the rest of the album is bad, none are quite as gut-churning nauseating as "Coulda Woulda Shoulda."

For other works by Celine Dion, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Celine Dion
The Colour Of My Love
Falling Into You
Let's Talk About Love
The Collector's Series, Volume 1
A New Day Has Come
These Are Special Times

1/10

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

* an actual word and grammatically correct here!
** not an actual word, but it ought to be.
*** seriously, Chrysler helped pay the bill in exchange for using "I Drove All Night."****
**** That's an unfounded accusation on my part, but this album has all the artistic flair of an auto assembly line.

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

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Strong And Flavorful, All That Brings Down Land O' Lakes Cocoa Classics Classic Dark Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix Is The Packaging!


The Good: Great, distinctive taste, Easy to prepare
The Bad: Environmental impact of packaging
The Basics: Lovers of Dark Chocolate will have finally found their drink with Land O' Lakes' Classic Dark hot cocoa; I know I have!


One of these days, Land O' Lakes will get it perfect. Now, for the first time ever, I know when that will be. Land O' Lakes will have a perfect product when it makes a large canister of its Cocoa Classics Classic Dark Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix. So, yes, for those of you who have absolutely no care for the environmental impact of such things, that means that Classic Dark is otherwise a perfect hot chocolate drink.

It is worth noting, though, that Classic Dark is not a thirst-quenching chocolate. This is understandable, just as one must hope that for a beverage claiming to embody the flavor of dark chocolate that it is not a terribly sweet drink. This is not, though around room temperature, the drink becomes less abrasive to the tastebuds and is more like what one might think of for an expensive hot chocolate beverage. But for the most part, Classic Dark is the dreams answered for many fans of dark chocolate who have been stuck drinking milk chocolate hot chocolate for years.

Basics

The Classic Dark hot cocoa mix is part of the Land O' Lakes Cocoa Classics premium hot cocoa line. The mix comes in a 1 1/4 oz. sealed foil package and is a pretty delicious mix. Each 1 1/4 oz. packet is a single serving and these bear a relatively high price tag virtually everywhere I have found them of approximately three for two dollars. For a single mug of cocoa, this is expensive when compared to other make-at-home products, but about on par with getting a cocoa at a place like Caribou Coffee.

Ease Of Preparation

The Cocoa Classics Classic Dark hot cocoa mix is ridiculously simple to make. Having been given a packet for Christmas (see how far behind I am on getting to things around here to review?!), it is evident that this has a decent shelf life, as the expiration date recommended using the packet before March 12, 2012. Because it is sealed and has some artificial preservatives in is, this is likely to last virtually forever unopened. A single serving is the packet and six oz. of water. There is no measuring of the product involved!

As a result, preparation is ridiculously simple. The top of the envelope has a perforated edge and one need simply tear open the top, which is quite easy, and pour the contents of the packet into a mug that is at least eight ounces large. Then, simply pour hot water, near boiling, over the powder and stir. Stir the powder until there are no blobs of chocolate powder visible in the water nor resistance from the bottom. The beverage will have a dark brown color to it and will be uniformly smooth.

Taste

Classic Dark has a very distinctive aroma. That aroma is the precise scent of brownies made with baker's chocolate baking in the oven. The scent is rich and full and it opens the consumer's nostrils up. That smell is one that is unlike weaker milk chocolate hot chocolates. With those, one might doubt what they are about to drink. With Classic Dark; the scent is clear - you are about to drink something chocolate flavored!

And there it is. As the fluid washes over the tongue, there is the dry, bold flavor of dark chocolate. This is not a thirst quencher and it is not especially sweet. Instead, this is the cocoa for those who like coffee, but want a flavor that is good, not just overwhelmingly bold (this is what distinguishes it from the unpleasant taste of Ghirardelli's Mocha Chocolate hot chocolate, reviewed here!). Instead, this is a satisfying drink in that it is the closest to liquid dark chocolate I have tasted and it tastes like 60% dark chocolate, with a slightly sweeter taste coming as the beverage cools, but before it hits room temperature.

This cocoa does have an aftertaste as well and that is simply a dry flavor that fills the mouth.

Nutrition

Land O' Lakes Cocoa Classics are hot cocoa mix and therefore not the most nutritious things in the known world, though the Classic Dark flavor could be far less nutritious than it is. Classic Dark hot cocoa has a few ingredients that cannot be easily identified. The primary ingredients are sugar, non-dairy creamer and cocoa. Because of the nonfat dry milk near the bottom of the ingredient list, it is not vegan compliant. Oddly, for a drink that is so dry and not sweet, sugar is the first ingredient.

And it is high in sugars. In each cup of Classic Dark Cocoa Classics, there are 140 calories, forty-five of which are from fat. There are 4 grams of saturated fat, so while one might be tempted to curl up and enjoy this while resting, they are likely to pay for it later on! While there is no cholesterol, a consumer gets 5% of their recommended daily allowance of salt out of a single packet of this beverage! There is a little protein, but not enough to live off this. In other words, this product is not a nutritious food product.

This product contains soy and milk and because there are no notations on it, one must assume it is not Kosher or gluten-free.

Storage/Cleanup

So long as one leaves the Classic Dark Cocoa Classic powder in its packet, it ought to stay usable. Given that it has an expiration date over a year away, one assumes it will last quite a while and dissolve appropriately when one attempts to use it. The packets, for those of us who consider the environmental impact of such things, are terribly wasteful and expensive. The foil/plastic wrappers are not recyclable anywhere I've been.

Cleanup is very easy as well. If the product spills while dumping it into the mug, simply wipe it up or brush it up with a dry or damp cloth. If it has already been reconstituted with water into hot cocoa, simply wipe it up. Light fabrics are likely to stain if this gets on them, in which case consult your fabric care guide to clean it up.

Overall

Land O' Lakes Cocoa Classics are expensive for what one gets, though the Classic Dark hot cocoa is worth every penny. This is the best chocolate flavored hot cocoa I have had and if Land O' Lakes ever repackages it outside the single serving envelopes, that would be a perfect product!

For other Land O' Lakes hot chocolate drinks, please visit my reviews of:
French Vanilla & Chocolate cocoa
Arctic White
Raspberry And Chocolate Cocoa
Mint And Chocolate Cocoa
Land O'Lakes Chocolate Supreme
Land O' Lakes Chocolate & Caramel Cocoa

9/10

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

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

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Signs Pointing Away From Another Viewing!


The Good: Moments of acting
The Bad: Poor direction, Ridiculous characters, Disappointing plot, Utter lack of mood
The Basics: A disappointing science fiction piece that wants to be a drama and suspense, Signs instead results in being silly and boring.


Saturday night, I was given the choice of which DVD my friends and I were going to watch and I opted against The Emperor's New Clothes and Bloodwork and instead chose Signs. Upon sitting through Signs, I feel I should have chosen Ian Holm's The Emperor's New Clothes.

In this disappointing film, former priest Graham Hess, a family man who is harassed by a local yahoo, finds a strange phenomenon in his corn field. Several stalks of corn are bent in an intriguing manner that - from above - is clearly a sign meant to be seen from above. As Hess works on holding his family together, the world is plagued by hundreds of similar crop phenomenon which is soon followed by alien ships which soon come to tear humanity apart.

Some want to praise M. Night Shyamalan for creating a film that asks ethical questions while making the viewer wonder what is truly going on. In actuality, those people are overstating this film; it is essentially the same science fiction standard that has existed since the 1950s when we had War Of The Worlds and other similar films. The problem here is that there is no similar element of fear or uniqueness.

Instead, the only element that is different is that Graham Hess is a former priest and he has had a six month ethical dilemma since his wife died somewhat violently. Only viewers who want to suspend their disbelief completely will find this compelling. Hess, as written and portrayed, is one of the least accurate or compelling religious figures ever brought to the screen. Allow me to explain.

Hess has fallen out of the Church since his wife died. It sounds like a good idea, save that modern priests are compelled, as part of the education of a priest, to do a tour in a medical facility. Thus, ALL priests encounter death as a matter of professional training. So, his wife dying, even with the seemingly random way it occurs, should not be enough to shake this man's faith so fundamentally.

Add to that, this man is supposed to be a priest. Why then does he willingly and willfully chop off the fingers of one of the aliens? It's not in self-defense, as there is a solid door between the two at the time. Add to that, given the opportunity to attempt to deal with the extraterrestrial invaders peacefully, he orders his brother to bash the creature's head in.

These problems are indicative of the lack of sense that happens as a matter of course in Signs. And we're not talking minor problems. In a key flashback scene where Hess is told he has a few minutes left with his wife before she certainly dies, he WALKS over to her, as opposed to RUNNING like any normal, loving, compassionate husband.

Similar lacks of simple obvious intelligence happens at the very end. When someone discovers what will turn the alien invaders, the radio does not say what it was. Considering how important a detail it is, it's unrealistic that it would be omitted. Moreover, the rather unoriginal nemesis of the aliens (see Alien Nation, for example) makes their choice of attacking Earth flat out idiotic. Basically, the alien invasion in Signs is about as sensible as us launching an attack on Jupiter.

Beyond the utter impractical nature of the film, the characters are entirely unrealistic and unlikable. Outside the police officer, Paski, none actually captivate us and make us believe they are real. Take Graham Hess's brother, Merrill. While on the surface it seems nice that he would come to live with his brother following his sister-in-law's death, it makes little sense because it does not seem apparent that he DOES anything there, nor that he left anything behind. So, it feels too convenient that he is there and it feels inorganic.

Graham Hess's children, Morgan and Bo, are similarly uninspired. All aspects of their character, like Morgan's asthma and Bo's drinking of water, serve only to be a part of the plot and do not seem to have any identity outside furthering the plot.

On the acting front, no one shines here. Mel Gibson seems unimpressive as Graham, adding nothing to the role and not making him have any presence. Similarly, Joaquin Phoenix could have been replaced by any muscular man in a tight t-shirt. The best acting here comes from Cherry Jones as Officer Paski, though, to be fair, Rory Caulkin holds his own as Morgan. The problem is, Morgan is used almost entirely to present exposition for forwarding the plot.

Finally, Signs fails because is fails to capture a suspenseful mood and it is desperately trying. M. Night Shyamalan milks scenes far beyond when they are interesting in an attempt to create suspense, by holding shots too long, keeping the aliens quick and blurry and similar cheap techniques.

This is essentially a bad 1950s style alien invasion story that fails to be interesting or suspenseful because it is too glaringly obviously trying to be something more than it is. Ideal for a night when you're with your friends and you want to sit around tearing a film to pieces for its inane content. If they do a Mystery Science Theater 3000 of this flick, I might go see it. Otherwise, I'll just do my own if I am ever subjected to this again.

For other alien invasion works, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Battle Los Angeles
Invasion
Transformers: Dark Of The Moon

2/10

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

© 2011, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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A Trip To A Pathetic Zoo: Zoolander Doesn't Impress Me!



The Good: Moments of humor, David Bowie cameo
The Bad: Lame characters, Idiotic plot, Utter lack of decent acting
The Basics: A pathetic mockery of slave labor and a pointless male modeling industry, Zoolander puts dimwitted model Derek Zoolander in a precarious position of being brainwashed to kill.


[Note: Three times is not a charm. This morning, to cleanse our palates after watching "Citizen Kane" (reviewed here!), my wife and I watched "Zoolander" again. This was my third time watching it and we picked it off her shelf because while reviewing "True Blood" Season 3 (that's here!), I learned that one of her favorite actors from the show - Alexander Skarsgard - was in "Zoolander." So we watched it again. Yes, he's in it. No, it does not make the movie better. I stand by my original review, which I wrote almost a decade ago now! Enjoy!]

I don't think I realized how terrible Zoolander was until I watched all of the extras on the DVD. If one wishes to, one may watch the VH1 Fashion Awards sketches Ben Stiller did in which he originated the character of Derek Zoolander. Between those two sketches and the trailer for the film, the entire movie is presented.

Zoolander follows the dimwitted male model Derek Zoolander, as he loses his established success in the modeling world to a new, grungier-looking male model, Hansel. Zoolander becomes the target of an international fashion industry conspiracy to kill the liberal Prime Minister of Malaysia. Betrayed by his agent, Maury, to the infamous Mugatu, Zoolander is brainwashed to become an assassin with the Prime Minister as his target. And the only one who can figure all of this out is investigative reporter Matilda Jefferies.

The laundry list of problems with Zoolander begins with the problem of trying to take a pair of five minute skits and extending them into a feature length film. I watched the sketches and laughed. All of the best jokes in the Zoolander were from the two Fashion Award skits. And that's just plain pathetic. It's a tough thing to realize that the best moments of humor were done before the film ever began.

It's even more unconscionable that those going through the effort of making this film would not develop it with the goal to expand on the skits, rather than anchor the film with the jokes that were already out there.

The high point of the movie was easily the surprise cameo by David Bowie who appears as himself to judge a runway contest between Hansel and Zoolander. It takes the viewer out of the film and allows us a moment of genuine humor.

But even the David Bowie cameo is indicative of the problems of Zoolander. Too many of the characters are actors either doing rolls they have already done or actors playing themselves. Jerry Stiller, for example, plays Maury Ballstein is acting almost identically to his portrayal of George Costanza's father in Seinfeld. It's disturbing that no one bothered to utilize his talents as an actor, instead forcing him to recycle another character he played.

Similarly, Will Ferrell is used in an excessively disappointing manner. Ferrell does not act as Mugatu. Instead, he's playing Will Ferrell. Ferrell is a screwball comedian and his acting talents either are not used or are used poorly as the outtakes where he flubs lines are almost identical to his performances in the film. They are also identical to his performance in Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back. Therefore, he's not acting. That's not to say he's not funny, but he's not doing anything he hasn't done in anything else he has ever done.

Even Ben Stiller fails to deliver after the first five minutes of the film. Alas, he can't sustain the complete idiot that Zoolander appears to be. And he can't sustain the idiocy that is this film.

The parody of fashion models is a one trick pony. That is, once you've played the "male model is an idiot" card, it's played. Zoolander attempts to make the same joke over and over again. Within fifteen minutes into the film, the same joke is repeated no less than a dozen times. It's simply not funny after a point.

Zoolander is an idiotic attempt to extend two skits into a feature film wherein a prejudice against male models is played out with a ridiculous plot involving genuine social issues being mocked. The issue of Malaysian slave labor funding a pointless American fashion industry is made fun of, but never intelligently addressed. It's insulting that Zoolander uses this forum to even mention it.

For other works with Will Ferrell, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
The Other Guys
Step Brothers
Family Guy - Season 4

3/10

For other movie reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

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

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It's The Bland Conditioning The Bland - VO5 Honeydew Smoothie Moisture Milks Moisturizing Conditioner


The Good: Moisturizes hair, Smells good, Inexpensive
The Bad: Smell does not endure, Tough to rinse out, Does not give significant body
The Basics: This perfectly average conditioner disappoints as it only adequately preserves hair as opposed to truly revitalizing and conditioning it.


When it comes to health, beauty and personal care products that I review that I generally do not like, the only reason they usually come in groups is because I've purchased them at the same time. So, it makes some sense that when I purchased the VO5 Moisture Milks Honeydew Smoothie shampoo (reviewed here!), I purchased the corresponding VO5 Moisture Milks Honeydew Smoothie Moisturizing Conditioner as well. While the shampoo was underwhelming and fairly bad, I found the conditioner to be slightly better, though not worthwhile enough to recommend . . . at least not in tandem with the shampoo this is supposed to go along with. It might actually work better with other shampoos, but in combination with its mated shampoo, this conditioner underwhelms.

Honeydew Smoothie Moisturizing Conditioner is part of the Moisture Milks line of VO5 hair care products, shampoos and conditioners that have soy milk protein that supposedly helps revitalize dry and damaged hair and protect it from the elements. It comes in a 15 fl. oz. plastic bottle and has an opaque minty green color. In most retail outlets, it may be found for $1.00 when on sale. VO5 has a strong reputation (well deserved) for providing inexpensive hair care options and the Moisture Milks line seems to be their attempt to capitalize on the niche market that surrounds such trendy things as organics, soy milk, etc. in hair care products.

The bottle is a simple soft plastic bottle with a hard plastic flip top lid. I've discovered that this bottle slips quite easily out of one's hands, especially if they have either shampoo or conditioner still on one's hands. Fortunately, when this happens, the bottle does not split or crack. The top can crack if it's dropped too often, but most people are not as clumsy as me, I suppose. The flip top bottle is very easy to open with one hand if need be. It may, similarly, be closed easily with just a thumb.

Despite the fact that it does not say it on the bottle, the Honeydew Smoothie Moisturizing Conditioner is a dry to normal conditioner (at least that was my experience). In the winter, I tend to a fire and also am often outdoors in the wind and cold. This takes my normal hair and often strips it back to dry. I get split ends more in the winter under these conditions than at other times of the year.

The Honeydew Smoothie conditioner did a fair job of preventing some of the damage I am accustomed to suffering through this time of the year. The bottle claims that the rich formula will result in two times stronger hair, but I found that even when applied generously and thoroughly, at best the conditioned held the line as opposed to truly revitalizing my hair.

I have long hair and in order to get enough of this conditioner to adequately coat my full head of hair, it took at least two dollops of conditioner, half-dollar sized each. This is a lot of conditioner and the problem I soon ran into was that while the shampoo lathered up (eventually), conditioner, this one included, generally does not. Instead, this conditioner requires almost four times as much product to cover the same area as the shampoo. This means that as far as usage goes, the $1.00 value shampoo and the $1.00 value conditioner just became a $5.00 hair care regimen, though that's not bad considering it can be stretched to last approximately two months.

The real problem is that the results are merely adequate. Unlike many conditioners that actually add volume, shine and bounce to hair, the Moisture Milks Honeydew Smoothie moisturizing conditioner merely prevented split ends and drying after about a week's use. There was a mild improvement in hair shine (luster), but nothing in the way of body.

Like most conditioners, this requires a thorough rinsing in order to get it all out. I discovered very early on that this is not something that may be rushed with this product as it becomes a very heavy wet/waxy coating when it is not properly rinsed out. This is problematic for those who are on-the-go and eager to get out of the shower (especially if one has a lot of hair and doing a proper washing means finishing up as the hot water runs out!).

So, on the conditioning end, this is - at best - adequate. It lives up on the most basic conditioning functions, but it is not much of a moisturizer or bodybuilder. This is the most subtle conditioner I've encountered that still actually works. It might only be ideal for maintaining low maintenance hair. Indeed, shorter hair where body and luster are not as important, this conditioner may well meet the needs of the person using it. But for longer hair, hair that is exposed to many elements, this is not the ideal product for.

Neither is it the ideal product for those who want to lock the scent of honeydew into their hair. Indeed, perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this product is how wonderful it smells in the bottle versus how little it leaves the hair smelling that way after it is applied. Instead, the scent of honeydew melon fades by the time the hair is fully dried. One of my favorite shampoos I've used had a scent where the overt scent faded, but if one were to bring their hair to their nose, it still smelled gorgeous of the scent of the shampoo/conditioner. Not so with this product. Within two hours of washing and conditioning with the Moisture Milks Honeydew Smoothie, the scent is irrevocably gone.

At least it smells good while being applied; not all products may say that. And, it sort-of works, not all products can say that. Unfortunately, for the amount of product to make it adequate, there must be others that will do more for the same price.

For other VO5 conditioner reviews, please visit my commentaries on:
Vanilla Mint Tea Tea Therapy
Split-Ends conditioner
Passion Fruit Smoothie conditioner
Blackberry Sage conditioner

5/10

For other health and beauty reviews, please be sure to check out my index page for a complete listing by clicking here!

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

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