Friday, October 31, 2014

October 2014 End Of The Month Report!

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October was a BIG month for the blog! Coming off our vacation, we had a lot of wonderful new foods to review, as well a few big movie reviews, Hallmark ornament reviews, and the new episodes of The Flash (which we’re happy to now be reviewing episode by episode!), Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Doctor Who! In addition to some very popular reviews of new products, we were excited to learn that some of our reviews actually made it in front of their artists (Nikki Yanofsky, for example!). We’re hoping to use the momentum going into November for a big month as Oscar Pandering Season and Christmas shopping pick up!

This was our best month of the year so far, both by hits and productivity!

This month, we picked up a few new followers through Twitter, but no new subscribers. We are always trying to get people to become regular readers and subscribe, so if you enjoy what you're reading, please subscribe by clicking on the right side of the blog to get updates with each posting. As well, if you read a review that really affects you, be sure to "share" it! PLEASE share a link to the blog, not the content of the article; this keeps people coming to the site and, hopefully, liking what they find once they are here! We're hoping to continue to grow our readership this year, so sharing and subscribing to the blog is an important way you can help! If you’re subscribing, please tell your friends about the blog!

In October, the index pages were updated very regularly, which made for a nice change over some of the prior months! The primary Index Page, which we try to update daily, lets you know what the featured review is and has an up-to-the-day tally of how many reviews have been reviewed in each category! Check it out!

If you enjoy the reviews, please consider clicking on the links in the reviews and purchasing items. We really appreciate all the purchases made through the blog as that keeps us going. Thank you so much! Thanks so much to all of the shoppers who have been spending during the early autumn and going through the blog to do so! As we enter holiday shopping time, if you have shopping to do online, please consider doing it through the blog to show your support for us!

At the end of October 2014, I have reviewed the following:
511 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Fiction
Star Trek Books
Nonfiction
Graphic Novels
Magazines
878 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
2639 - Movie and Television Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Movies By Rating (Best Movie to Worst)
Movies In Alphabetical Order
Best Picture Oscar Winner Film Reviews
Television Reviews
The Star Trek Review Index Page (All Star Trek Reviews In Order)!
The Star Trek Review Index Page (All Star Trek Reviews From The Best Of The Franchise To The Worst!)!
The Doctor Who Review Index Page (All Doctor Who Reviews In Order)!
The Doctor Who Review Index Page (All Doctor Who Reviews From The Best Of The Franchise To The Worst!)!
210 - Trading and Gaming Card Reviews
Gaming Cards Reviews
Star Trek Gaming Cards Reviews
Star Wars Gaming Cards Reviews
The Lord Of The Rings Trading Card Game Reviews
Other Gaming Cards Reviews
Trading Cards Reviews
763 - Toy and Christmas Ornament Reviews
with specialized pages for:
Ornament Reviews
Star Trek Toys
Star Wars Toys
Lord Of The Rings Toys
Buffy The Vampire Slayer/Angel Toys
Comic Book, Movie, Television Toys
Plush and Other Toys
819 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Drinks
Candy
Cereal
Cheese and Meats
Ice Cream
Other Food
218 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
109 - Travel Reviews
Destinations Reviews
Hotels Reviews
170 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
179 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
94 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
38 - Other Product Reviews

The Featured Review For The Month of October is for Little Secret - Nikki Yanofsky!
Check it out!


The month of October had a lot of movement within the month and was dominated by reviews of new movies (and marks the first month since MAY that Neighbors (reviewed here!) has not made the list!) and a few great articles that have been holding on! For October, the Top Ten Reviews of the month were:
10. Dracula Untold
9. ”A Hen In The Wolf House” - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
8. ”Making Friends And Influencing People” - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
7. ”Heavy Is The Head” - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
6. The Top Ten Episodes Of Frasier
5. Horns
4. 2014 Olaf Frozen Hallmark ornament
3. The Top Ten Episodes Of Star Trek: Voyager
2. 10,000 Days
1. The Best Of Me

I pride myself on being an exceptionally fair reviewer, but one who is very discriminating. I believe that most reviewers are far too biased toward both what is current and toward unduly praising things. I tend to believe most things actually are average and they ought to follows something around a Bell Curve. Mine is a little lopsided, but not as lopsided as most reviewers I know (who would probably have peak numbers between ten and seven)!

For my reviews, the current count is:
10s - 299 reviews
9s - 431 reviews
8s - 835 reviews
7s - 933 reviews
6s - 848 reviews
5s - 1111 reviews
4s - 815 reviews
3s - 645 reviews
2s - 293 reviews
1s - 200 reviews
0s - 92 reviews
No rating - 75 articles/postings

There was a decent amount of movement this month, but there were no new entries into the Top Ten. At the end of October 2014, the most popular reviews/articles continue to be:
10. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
9. Safe Haven
8. Oz The Great And Powerful
7. The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bone
6. Warm Bodies
5. Iron Man 3
4. Now You See Me
3. Tyler Perry's Temptation
2. The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug
1. Man Of Steel

Thank you again, so much, for reading! Please share links to the blog with friends and spread the word!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Good, Not Great, Coffee Makes Starbucks French Roast A Little Pricier Than Its Quality Warrants!


The Good: Well-caffeinated, Tastes good initially
The Bad: Expensive, Watery aftertaste
The Basics: Starbucks French Roast Coffee is good, but not one of their best blends for home use, largely because some creamers can overwhelm the flavor of this coffee!


Having found a few Starbucks coffee brews from their whole bean collection that I like, I recently found myself in the market for more Starbucks coffee. As one who loves dark roasts, I decided to try the Starbucks French Roast. While this blend is good, it is not as robust as several lower-priced French Roasts and dark blends I have tried and reviewed and that made it far less of a value than it ought to have been. As a result, the French Roast became a much tougher coffee to recommend than it ought to have been.

The French Roast blend seemed to have a one-two punch on the flavor front, but the follow up to the initial full flavor was anything but satisfying. The result is a blend that feels like it is trading more on the Starbucks name than living up to a higher quality standard.

Basics

Based on the success of Starbucks, a chain of coffee shops, Starbucks began selling its coffee in supermarkets and other stores. We found the French Roast in a 40 oz. bag and that lasted a full month in my coffee-drinking household.

The French Roast Blend is a less aromatic blend that woke us up with its flavor more than its scent, as it is a caffeinated blend. This is intended to be a bold coffee and it hits that about half the time.

Ease Of Preparation

French Roast Coffee is remarkably easy to prepare, no advanced culinary degrees necessary! First, open the bag. Starbucks French Roast Coffee is vacuum sealed when first purchased, so when it is opened, the bag will likely plump up a little. As a whole bean coffee, it needs to be ground and I used my Cuisinart Supreme Grind (reviewed here!) on its finest setting to grind the beans. Once that is done, measure out one heaping tablespoon for every two cups of water in your coffee maker. French Roast Coffee is intended for automatic (drip or percolating) coffee makers. This is NOT an instant coffee. As a result, it needs to be brewed and I use a Hamilton Beach machine (reviewed here!) with a Crucial coffee permanent filter (reviewed here!).

Consult your coffee maker's instructions for how to brew the coffee. However, as far as the basics go, you'll need a coffee filter, which you put the French Roast Coffee in and then brew through your coffee maker. As long as the bag is kept closed in an airtight container, it seems to remain fresh.

Taste

The Starbucks French Roast smells, predictably, like coffee. The coffee scent is not particularly potent and not at all unpleasant. It does, however, smell invitingly like coffee.

In the mouth, the French Roast is appropriately bitter and starts with a very strong coffee flavor. This blend is a darker roast and for the first time in a long time, when I tried it, I was hit by the burst of flavor – like five concentrated cups of a weaker coffee blend – but then it finished watery. This French Roast was like a coffee suffering from multiple personality disorder; one sip was strong and forceful and by the swallow it was weak and watery.

With creamer, the coffee flavor is almost entirely sublimated to the sweetener. Despite the forcefulness of the coffee on its own, even simple creamers seem to overwhelm the coffee flavor of the Starbucks French Roast. On the plus side, creamers do seem to eliminate the watery secondary flavor of this coffee.

On its own, the Starbucks French Roast has almost no aftertaste, which is uncommon for a dark roast coffee blend. With creamer, the coffee retains a sweet aftertaste for about a minute after one is done consuming it.

Nutrition

This is coffee, not something that appears on the nutrition pyramid! Starbucks French Roast Coffee does not contribute anything to one's daily recommended allowance of anything. In fact, the bag does not have any ingredients, so I am forced to assume all that is in this blend is coffee beans, which would fit what it tastes like.

This is a caffeinated blend and it feels like it! This has enough caffeine to help wake one up in the morning or give them a decent mid-afternoon boost. Because it is a caffeinated coffee, it appears to not have undergone any of the chemical processes that sometimes cause complications in decaffeinated coffees.

Storage/Clean-up

French Roast Coffee ought to be stored sealed in its bag with the top firmly closed. Coffee is known to absorb flavors of food nearby it, so keeping the top tightly closed is highly recommended. There are different schools of thought on refrigerating open coffee and I have a very clean refrigerator with a lot of ways to segregate coffee, so I tend to come down on the side of refrigerate it. The container makes no recommendations in that regard.

After brewing, coffee grounds ought to be disposed of. These grounds may be thrown in the trash when used or put in a compost pile, if available. Coffee grounds make great compost and these grounds are no exception.

Overall

Starbucks French Roast Coffee seems like it would be a slam dunk, but the flavor does not hold. There are other blends from Starbucks that are more consistent and robust; there are other brands that produce French Roast blends with the same weakness as Starbucks and they charge less for them. That makes the French Roast an easier to pass up coffee for fans of strong coffee than it could have been.

For other Starbucks coffee reviews, please visit my reviews of:
Starbucks Espresso Roast Coffee
Starbucks Discoveries Vanilla Latte
Starbucks Via Colombia coffee

5/10

For other drink reviews, please check out my Beverage Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Thursday, October 30, 2014

On Its Own, “Boom Town” Is Subtle Doctor Who!


The Good: Good mood, Decent acting, Moments of character
The Bad: Light on plot
The Basics: “Boom Town” sees the return of the Slitheen for a somewhat comical episode of Doctor Who that nets an important device leading into the first season finale.


Sometimes, there are better episodes of television in the context of the season or series they are a part of, as opposed to on their own. In Doctor Who, there are several episodes that have essential aspects in the larger context of the seasonlong arc that are somewhat unremarkable episodes. “Boom Town” is one of those episodes. Just like “Rules Of Acquisition” (reviewed here!) in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had the appearance of being an unassuming Ferengi episode of little consequence, but was the first mention of The Dominion and essential for that, “Boom Town” is actually essential to both Doctor Who and Torchwood. In addition to referencing the Cardiff rift that was first mentioned in “The Unquiet Dead” (reviewed here!), “Boom Town” reveals the Heart Of The TARDIS and the tribophysical waveform macro-kinetic extrapolator (the pan-dimensional surfboard), both of which are incredibly important in the season one finale and beyond. These little details actually make “Boom Town” an essential Doctor Who episode, masquerading as a bottle episode.

What “Boom Town” does exceptionally well is make an apparently mundane episode with a very limited plot into an episode packed with character elements that truly develop the four main characters who are presented in the episode. The Doctor is illustrated to be an intensely ethical and incredibly morally-complex character in “Boom Town.” Captain Jack Harkness’s character is developed further as he is revealed to be a natural leader. In fact, his reasoning and tactical skills are so ingrained that he has to be stopped in order to defer to The Doctor (and why he actually defers to The Doctor is something of a mystery). Rose, whose love for The Doctor seems to be obvious at this point and who has gotten some reciprocation on that affection, tries her best to reconnect with Mickey and discovers that avenue truly is closed to her. Mickey, for his part, becomes a more viable character in “Boom Town” by revealing that he is not just waiting around for Rose and he is actually hurt by the way she has abandoned him to fly off into time and space with The Doctor.

Six months after the Slitheen attempted to invade Earth, one of the inspectors from London arrives in Cardiff to try to warn the new Lord Mayor of Cardiff about problems with the planned nuclear power plant in Cardiff. Mr. Cleaver lets Lord Mayor Margaret know about the issues with the Blaidd Drwg nuclear power plant project and she reveals herself to be a Slitheen when she kills him. Shortly thereafter, The Doctor, Rose, and Captain Jack Harkness arrive in Cardiff where they intend to recharge the TARDIS using energy from the rift that runs below the city. While Mickey reconnects with the group (and is jealous of Jack), The Doctor sees a picture of Margaret in the local paper and the team goes to capture her. After foiling Margaret’s escape attempt, Harkness and The Doctor realize that the Slitheen is in possession of a pan-dimensional surfboard, which will allow her to escape Earth after the Blaidd Drwg nuclear plant explodes and frees the energy from the Cardiff rift.

Margaret reveals that the Slitheen have been tried in abstention on Raxacoricofallapatorius and that she faces the death sentence should The Doctor actually extradite her there. While Rose and Mickey begin to reconnect (until Mickey reveals he is dating another young woman from the shop Rose used to work at), The Doctor grants Blond’s (Margaret’s Slitheen identity) last wish, for a meal out. After she tries multiple times to kill The Doctor, she tries to explain to him how horrible the death penalty is on Raxacoricofallapatorius. When Blond erupts the rift to attempt to escape, The Doctor must decide whether to stop her and condemn her to death or give her the chance to choose to reform and accept the consequences of her previous actions.

“Boom Town” is a follow up to the two-part “Aliens Of London” (reviewed here!) and “World War Three” (reviewed here!), but it stands on its own fairly well even for those who might not have seen those two episodes. The return of the Slitheen Margaret seems to largely be to present the emotional and ethical dilemma that The Doctor faces in “Boom Town” as opposed to anything innately cool about the Slitheen or Margaret. Even so, the use of Margaret makes for better continuity and provides a minor emotional tether to earlier episodes.

The ethical dilemma in “Boom Town” is a fairly common one in science fiction. The Star Trek franchise has done many episodes where the question of extraditing a prisoner, knowing they will be killed, brainwashed or otherwise altered motivates the protagonists to rethink doing the legally-mandated thing. “Boom Town” asks similar questions well by taking an unlikable antagonist whose quest to destroy the Earth for profit was barely foiled and slowly making her sympathetic. Even after Blond kills Mr. Cleaver, she spares the life of Cathy, a reporter who is digging into the story of the Blaidd Drwg nuclear plant’s “curse.” Even though both The Doctor and Blond minimize that act of compassion, it is still an act of compassion and cultural contamination that has developed from Blond wearing her Margaret Blain skinsuit for too long.

The acting in “Boom Town” is fine, with the best performances coming from guest stars Noel Clarke and Annette Badland. Clarke presents Mickey with an undertone of anger that makes Mickey seem both very real and suddenly potentially menacing. For moments, it seems like Mickey could become an antagonist and Clarke does a good job of making the usually milquetoast Mickey into an edgier character. Similarly, Badland takes a character who has largely been used as comic relief and makes her into an articulate, emotionally-realized alien. For all those who complain about how lame the Slitheen costumes were, there is a moment when the rubber-suit alien emotes well and the voiceover from Badland sells the moment.

“Boom Town” also finally makes explicit the quiet menace that has been building the entire season of “Bad Wolf.” Of course, that is a prime example of something within the episode that works far, far better in the context of the entire first season than on its own. In “Boom Town,” The Doctor shrugs and dismisses “Bad Wolf” after he notices it and Rose seems troubled by it; that thread is picked up in the finale, though and that helps make the season’s climax come from a more ordered place than seem like a random leap.

Ultimately, “Boom Town” is entertaining, but simple and it works far better as a thread in the larger tapestry of Doctor Who than on its own.

For other works with somewhat ridiculous invaders, be sure to check out my reviews of:
The World’s End
“False Profits” - Star Trek: Voyager
“Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” - The X-Files

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sole season with the Ninth Doctor here!
Thanks!]

8/10

For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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If You Think They’ve Done It Before . . . The 2014 Star Wars Scout Trooper Ornament!


The Good: Decent coloring, Generally good sculpt, Good balance, Inexpensive enough
The Bad: Low collectible value, Weird stance choice, Base issue
The Basics: The 2014 Star Wars Scout Trooper ornament is one of the less inspired character ornaments Hallmark has produced.


For the last eighteen years, Star Wars fans have been treated to character ornaments of the beloved characters from the Star Wars franchise. Between the standard ornaments in the series and the limited edition ones that have alternately pleased and driven the fans crazy, the territory has pretty well been mined. Until the new movies come out, there is a pretty good argument to be made that Hallmark has hit all of the essential characters. The argument is perhaps made best by this year’s ornament: the subject of this year’s Star Wars character ornament is the Scout Trooper. When you start getting into faceless Imperial troopers whose costumes were only featured in one of the six movies and billing it as the character ornament of the year, it is a tougher sell than any of the characters that have recognizable actors associated with them. Ironically, 2013 was the anniversary of Return Of The Jedi and the Scout Trooper was not produced for that event, instead it was held over until this year as the main Star Wars character ornament.

Fans of the Star Wars Saga will recall the Scout Trooper as the specialized stormtroopers seen on Endor in Return Of The Jedi (reviewed here!). The armored Stormtrooper has the special helmet, leggings and arm protection that is less armored to help the Scout Trooper get around on its speeder bike. The Scout Troopers were essential to the film’s speeder bike chase, but were otherwise filling the same niche as the Stormtroopers on Endor.

It is Scout Trooper, his specialized Scout Trooper blaster pistol in his hand, that is the subject of the 2014 Scout Trooper ornament!

Basics

The Scout Trooper ornament recreates the lightly armored specialized Endor Stormtrooper in solid plastic. The ornament, released in 2014, features just the character with his distinctive pistol raised, walking on the forest floor of Endor. The Scout Trooper is cast in an action pose, his weapon at the ready and his knees slightly bent, as If he were in mid-turn when the sculptor caught him and said “freeze!” The Scout Trooper ornament is 4 1/2" tall, 2 3/8" wide and 1 1/2" deep. Hallmark charged $17.95 for the ornament originally and that makes it one of the most affordable Star Wars ornaments in recent years, though it does represent a price hike over prior character ornaments. This is the eighteenth common-release character ornament from the Star Wars ornament line!

The Hallmark Scout Trooper ornament is made of a durable plastic and has him holding his pistol, in his right hand, half-raised. The ornament is molded with a decent amount of detailing. In addition to the usual cool molded details like the ribbing on the armor’s midsection and the flaps on the pouches on his outfit, the ornament features realistic wrinkling on the boots, which indicate the lines of force for the twisting character inside the costume! The ornament has the character’s distinct helmet molded perfectly, so the character – despite being somewhat obscure – is entirely recognizable. Unfortunately, the attention to detail (or the ability to render it well) did not translate to the ground upon which the Scout Trooper is walking. The ground is realistically dimpled to look dirty and rocky, but the rocks on the ground look added, with noticeable seams where the rocks come out of the base.

The coloring on the Scout Trooper is exceptional, though the Scout Trooper is a fairly easy character to get right in that regard. The character’s costume is simply black and white, so it is pretty hard to get the ornament wrong. That said, Hallmark deserves a lot of credit for bothering to get the detailing right; the Scout Trooper features dirt and wear on the boots, which make the character look like he was part of a real environment and saw action. Instead of being a ridiculous “clean” version of the character, Hallmark made the Scout Trooper look realistic and good with the weathering aspect!

Features

As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, Scout Trooper could have a sound chip or light effect, but he has neither. This is one of the basic ornament releases from Hallmark, without any frills.

Balance

As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake Scout Trooper ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. For those creating the ultimate Star Wars Christmas Tree, the Scout Trooper is very much an extravagance, as opposed to a must-have character. This ornament has a brass hook loop embedded on the back, center, of the character’s helmet. From there, this action-posed ornament hangs with good balance, keeping the ground level, though the ornament rocks very easily.

Collectibility

Hallmark Keepsake began delving into the collectibles market in 1991 with Star Trek when it introduced the exceptionally limited edition original U.S.S. Enterprise ornament (reviewed here!). Since then, they have branched out into other popular franchises like Star Wars and The Wizard Of Oz. The Scout Trooper ornament is not at all limited and has not appreciated in the secondary market yet, nor is there any good reason why it would, given how obscure the subject of the ornament is. There should be plenty of this ornament available at clearance prices after the holiday!

Overview

Like most Star Wars ornaments, the Scout Trooper has nothing to do with the Christmas holiday, but even die-hard Star Wars fans are not clamoring for this ornament. It is adequate, but Hallmark might have done better to either tease a character from the new films or gone with one of the lingering important characters from the Saga that they had not yet done as the subject of the ornament. For what it is, though, the Scout Trooper is fine.

For other Hallmark ornaments of Star Wars characters, please check out my reviews of:
2013 Jango Fett
2013 Wicket And Teebo
2013 Lego Yoda
2013 Boushh Limited Edition
2012 Lego Imperial Stormtrooper
2012 Sith Apprentice Darth Maul
2012 General Grievous
2012 Momaw Nadon Limited Edition
2011/2012 Lego Darth Vader
2011 Jedi Master Yoda
2011 Bossk Limited Edition ornament
2010 Lando Calrissian Limited Edition ornament
2010 Luke Skywalker X-Wing Pilot
2010 Boba Fett and Han Solo in Carbonite mini-ornament set
2009 Greedo Limited Edition ornament
2009 Han Solo As Stormtrooper
2008 Emperor Palpatine ornament
2005 Slave Leia ornament
2000 Darth Maul
1999 Max Rebo Band mini-ornament set
1998 Princess Leia

6/10

For other holiday ornaments, please check out my Ornament Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Living Up To Its Potential, “Going Rogue” Starts To Assemble The Flash’s Supervillains!


The Good: Most of the character work is good, Excellent acting, Cool special effects sequences
The Bad: Problematic science, Soap Operatic elements
The Basics: “Going Rogue” begins to assemble familiar and badass villains to plague The Flash while still being hampered by some of the typical CW soap operatic conceits.


I think it is pretty fair to say that anyone who loves the comic book series The Flash, who decided to give the television series a chance has been eagerly waiting for the episode “Going Rogue.” “Going Rogue” had been teased as the episode that would bring Flash villain Captain Cold into the DC television universe. Coming off the lackluster “Things You Can’t Outrun” (reviewed here!), the stakes were raised for “Going Rogue.” For the most part, “Going Rogue” lives up to the hopes fans have for it, though it reveals some of the serious issues with the network upon which The Flash is airing.

The Flash is a show that airs on The CW, a network whose target demographic is young, hip, teenagers who respond to society’s classical conditioning, as opposed to those who might defy it. Unlike HBO, which targets intellectuals or CBS, which classically has an older demographic, the CW, in addition to being the television network for Warner Brothers Studios (which is the studio that DC Entertainment works with) is packed with programs whose strategy is to entertain with stereotypically good-looking characters, while selling beauty products and fast food during the commercial breaks. The point with this semi-rant is this: the bulk of programs on The CW are soap operas for teenagers and as such, they feature characters with contrived, melodramatic character conflicts that are far less age appropriate than they should be. In “Going Rogue,” this is a problem because all that detracts from the main plot are the CW conceits: soap operatic elements that are not realistic for the characters who are supposedly adults and the near-constant reminders that Arrow is also on the CW, for your viewing pleasure.

Yes, as The Flash continues to find its footing, “Going Rogue” brings Felicity Smoak from Arrow to the show. While not entirely inaccessible to those who have not seen the two second-season episodes of Arrow which featured Grant Gustin as Barry Allen, “Going Rogue” acts as a de facto sequel with a character arc that assumes a deeper relationship between Felicity and Barry than the episode contains. The frequent references to Oliver Queen, Starling City, and Arrow might tie together the DC television universe well, but Felicity’s references sound much more like less-than-subtle advertising for Arrow. The thing is, “Going Rogue” could have managed a more clever sense of crossover by actually developing a substantive relationship between Barry and Felicity, but. . . they’re regulars on different shows, so it’s not meant to be (there are no real in-story/in-universe reasons for them not to develop more of a relationship than they do here).

At the flip side is a decent, adult, story which makes “Going Rogue” engaging and compelling. That is the plotline that focuses on Leonard Snart and his rise in Central City to be Captain Cold!

While Barry Allen is working with his S.T.A.R. Labs team to test his newfound speed abilities, Leonard Snart leads a team of robbers who are trying to steal the Kahndaq Dynasty Diamond from the armored car in which it is being transported. Snart uses a liquid nitrogen gun to break into the armored car, but one of his team members panics and shoots one of the guards. That act of violence draws the Flash to the scene of the crime and Barry Allen makes the choice to save the officer instead of capturing Snart and his crew. As Barry entertains the visiting scientist Felicity Smoak, Eddie tries to get Detective West to like him, now that the fact that he is dating West’s daughter has come to light. Leonard Snart upgrades his weapon with the help of a thief from S.T.A.R. Labs and when he tests it, the truth comes out: Cisco created the freeze gun.

With Dr. Wells furious at Cisco, Cisco tries to explain why he created the weapon (to stop Barry Allen if he turned out to be an evil metahuman). As Leonard Snart moves in on the Kahndaq Dynasty Diamond at the Central City Museum, Iris and Eddie go on a double date with Barry and Felicity. But Snart going after the diamond disrupts the date and leaves Barry wounded. By the time Cisco is able to track his weapon and Leonard Snart, Snart has the diamond and Joe’s life is once again in jeopardy!

“Going Rogue” works, when it does, when it focuses on the sensible and the smart. Leonard Snart is an intelligent adversary; he has timed out police responses to local banks and his encounter with the Flash in “Going Rogue” does not break him, it causes him to step up his game. Snart adapts to the Flash and he refuses to be cowed by him or his team. Instead, he holds his own and begins to establish himself as a credible leader of the Central City underworld. Snart is ably played by Wentworth Miller and more than any of the props in the episode, Miller makes Snart rock with his perfect scowl, which is emblematic of the character from the comic book.

The double date scene in “Going Rogue” is fun and it manages to undermine the rest of the episode with its quality. Iris and Eddie have a decent relationship and Barry and Felicity have great chemistry and common interests. But the way the four of them interact in “Going Rogue” is reasonable and adultlike, which makes sense because all of the characters are supposed to be adults.

“Going Rogue” also manages to get away from the ridiculous generic dislike Joe has for Eddie and Iris dating. In prior episodes, Joe West’s dislike of Iris and Eddie dating was a generic dislike that seemed to only be based in an antiquated notion that lacks basic respect for Iris’s age-appropriate ability to choose her own lover. In “Going Rogue,” Joe pushes Eddie away and he explains his anger to Iris. Iris and Eddie dating adds a layer of consideration to Joe’s already complicated life that is irksome for a professional partnership. He does not want to have to balance saving his daughter’s boyfriend’s life over “taking the shot” (metaphorically) against criminals. That is sensible and adult, as opposed to the characterization of his anger in earlier episodes. Sadly, the episode creates a contrived and somewhat obvious event (much like Joe suddenly turning around on Barry’s childhood story the moment he first witnesses the Flash) that turns Joe around on the Eddie/Iris relationship.

Dr. Wells makes no real character sense in “Going Rogue.” Basic temporal mechanics dictates that Dr. Wells ought to be unsurprised by any conflict Barry faces; he knows Barry will live for another thirty years as The Flash. So, his anger at Cisco for creating the cold gun makes no rational sense – he knows Captain Cold will not kill him even before Cold’s career begins! For a man who is trying to keep a secret identity, uncontrolled anger seems like a pretty bad Achilles heel and the fact that his anger makes less sense than Cisco’s very reasonable explanation for creating the gun makes Wells seem even more irrational.

It is that sort of detail that is troubling in “Going Rogue” and the way Barry Allen starts saving people in the episode starts to raise questions about the physics and mechanics of The Flash. Barry Allen’s body was altered by the lightning and the particle acceleration accident, but the show has not yet created a reason for how he can hold onto others while engaging the Speed Force. There is no reason yet that explains how Barry Allen could run a wounded cop to the hospital without the force smashing every bone in his body. But that type of scientific problem flies in the face of more basic physics. Leonard Snart and his crew manage to escape the first time on a long, straight, open road. While they are getting away, Barry runs a wounded man to the (presumably) nearest hospital. Barry Allen’s top speed (so far) has been measured at seven hundred miles per hour. But even if Barry had to run backward to protect the wounded officer from particulate matter in the air hitting him at super-speeds, how the nearest hospital in Central City is so far away that Barry would be unable to deposit the wounded person and then run back to the long, straight, road and see where the villains are going does not make rational sense. In a similar way, “Going Rogue” has a thief who Cisco explains is part of the janitorial staff . . . given that S.T.A.R. Labs is now three people working in one small section of a giant, abandoned building, there is no reason (or revenue stream) for a janitorial staff!

Fortunately, “Going Rogue” addresses the common problem with Rogues in the Flash corner of the DC Universe. Leonard Snart is not a metahuman and his ability to combat the Flash comes from a gadget. The gadget remains in his custody and in this encounter, Allen is not fast or skilled enough to apprehend Snart. But the mechanism by which Snart keeps his weapon and the nature of the weapon are intelligently derived.

What also keeps the episode living up to expectations – whatwith the minutiae bugging the viewer the longer they consider “Going Rogue” – are the performances. Jesse L. Martin, Wentworth Miller and Rick Cosnett bring adult gravitas to their roles and step up the sense of menace and humanity in the episode. Emily Bett Rickards and Grant Gustin have great on-screen chemistry as Felicity and Barry. Carlos Valdes manages to infuse Cisco’s potentially expository position in the episode with enough flair and reason to make Cisco seem like the most rational guy on the team. Cisco is right; all of the other metahumans have been villainous – there was no reasonable expectation that Barry would be a good guy or would remain one as he explored his powers. Developing the cold gun was sensible and Valdes sells the explanation so well that it makes Tom Cavanagh’s reaction as Dr. Wells seem ridiculously irrational and over-the-top.

So, despite the advertising nature of bringing Felicity to the episode, the introduction of Leonard Snart to The Flash is as good as we might have hoped; as the hero is struggling to establish himself, he is making some enemies who endure and who now know of his existence and will adapt to his presence in their city!

For other works with Jesse L. Martin, please check out my reviews of:
Rent
Ally McBeal - Season 2
The X-Files - Season 6

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into The Flash - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season here!
Thanks!]

7/10

For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Oscillating Between Boring And Unsettling, Annie Lennox’s Nostalgia Is An Underwhelming Cover Album!


The Good: Amazing vocals, Intriguing song selection for Annie Lennox
The Bad: Musically boring, Unimaginative covers, Short
The Basics: Annie Lennox gives a cover album of American jazz songs that fails to make any her own . . . except one which is just unsettling!


Back when Annie Lennox began her solo career, I felt a bit awkward; I have a great appreciation for artists over performers, but I found myself enjoying her album of cover songs, Medusa (reviewed here!) over the original works she created for Diva (reviewed here!). Now, more than twenty years after Lennox went solo, she has released Nostalgia, a new album of cover songs. Lennox made an interesting choice with the subject of her cover songs: American jazz standards, most of which were popularized by Ray Charles, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and similar performers. Unfortunately, the audaciousness of Lennox’s song selection ends the intrigue with Nostalgia.

The key to any album of cover songs is the way a performer or artist makes the songs their own. Artists tend to write their own music and lyrics, so when they choose to cover songs written by other people, they should do so with some sense of flair or originality. Marilyn Manson seemed to realize that when the group did a cover of The Eurythmics’s (Annie Lennox’s band in the early 1980s) “Sweet Dreams” as a creepy, nightmarish dirge as opposed to an up-tempo, synth-driven pop song. Unfortunately, on Nostalgia, Annie Lennox shows no such originality. Instead, Lennox goes for a “literal” interpretation of the songs she covers on Nostalgia. The disappointment that creates cannot be understated; Lennox has an uncommon creativity and a flair for the quirky and dramatic. On Nostalgia, she simply sings a bunch of songs like any number of torch singers without making any so distinct as to make the listener sit up and say “wow!”

With a dozen tracks clocking out at just over forty-three minutes, Nostalgia features songs that are very familiar to American audiences. Songs like “Georgia On My Mind,” “I Put A Spell On You,” and “The Nearness Of You” are played by Annie Lennox on Nostalgia, in her beautiful and distinctive voice. The album showcases none of Lennox’s creative talents as she sings the songs as so many artists have done before. In fact, if one were listening to Ray Charles singing “Georgia On My Mind” and said, “I wonder what it would sound like if Annie Lennox sang the song” and popped in Nostalgia, her version would be exactly what one expected.

Nostalgia is not bad, but it is almost entirely so obvious. Annie Lennox has an amazing voice and she showcases it on Nostalgia. But despite alternating between a soaring soprano and moments of gravelly beauty in her vocals, Lennox gives listeners nothing that she has not given them on her other albums.

The lone exception to the issue that plagues Nostalgia is Annie Lennox’s take on “You Belong To Me.” Every other version of “You Belong To Me” that I have heard has the singer alternating between melancholy and heartfelt, the result being a ballad that is usually heartwrenching and sad for the way the love expressed in the song is either being recalled or slipping out of the musical protagonists’s grasp. On Nostalgia, Lennox does a different take on the song; she takes the lines and presents them in possibly the most direct and literal way. There is something terrifying and possessive about the way Lennox sings “You Belong To Me” in a slightly more up-tempo way than anyone else has performed it (at least, that I’ve heard!).

Unfortunately, the very standard way that Lennox performs every other song on Nostalgia makes for an album that is more mundane than extraordinary. The songs have a minor feeling of intrigue given that they are largely American songs being presented by a British singer, but the intrigue wears off with each listen. Nostalgia is a very basic vocal album and what isn’t dull and standard is just creepy. The result is an album that might be the least impressive outing by an amazing artist.

The best track is “I Cover The Waterfront,” the low point is the unsettling performance of “You Belong To Me.”

For other new music, please check out my reviews of:
Little Secret - Nikki Yanofsky
Title (EP) – Meghan Trainor
Shine On - Sarah McLachlan

4/10

For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for a complete, organized listing of all my music reviews!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Inevitable Ward Episode Is “A Fractured House!”


The Good: Decent character development, Good performances, Good plot development, Quips/humor
The Bad: Still a little plot-heavy
The Basics: “A Fractured House” puts Grant Ward and his brother in the spotlight in one of the better episodes of the series!


Ever since Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. turned a corner with the first season episode “Nothing Personal” (reviewed here!) and made Grant Ward an enemy of S.H.I.E.L.D., but kept actor Brett Dalton as part of the regular cast of the show, it was pretty obvious that he would become the focus of a future episode. As the second season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. progressed, Ward has been peppered through the early episodes, stuck in a S.H.I.E.L.D. jail cell and the recurring nature of his character did not make great use of him. As a result, the fact that he remained in the cast meant that Brett Dalton would be getting a spotlight role. “A Fractured House” is the episode that gives him the shot to shine.

Fortunately, “A Fractured House” manages to give Brett Ward a decent part to play. Grant Ward and his backstory have been featured very little in the series so far; “A Fractured House” is arguably his best episode of the series so far. Continuing the story begun in “A Hen In The Wolfhouse” (reviewed here!), which made Bobbi Morse a member of Coulson’s S.H.I.E.L.D. team and saw the return of Simmons to the fold, “A Fractured House” has H.Y.D.R.A. stepping up its game and making an all-out war on S.H.I.E.L.D. . . . using governments around the world to do their dirty work. In the process, Ward’s family is fleshed out and Ward and Brett Dalton get to move out of the confines of the prison and the previously-established role.

Brigadier General Talbott is giving a speech to the United Nations when an assault force breaks in and attempts to kill him. The assailants claim to be S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives, though Coulson knows none of the operatives were his and Bobbi Morse recognizes the leader of the H.Y.D.R.A. cell that attacked the U.N. Talbott is working with Senator Christian Ward, who is Grant Ward’s sadistic older brother. Senator Ward starts mouthing off about how dangerous S.H.I.E.L.D. is and he tries to marshal world leaders to step up against the spy organization. Coulson allows Skye to interrogate Grant in the S.H.I.E.L.D. cell and Coulson learns that the Senator does not know where Grant is or where his true affiliation lay.

When Bobbi, May and Hunter make contact with the arm’s manufacturer who made the weapon used to attack the U.N., Coulson visits the Senator. When H.Y.D.R.A. lets all of its affiliates know that Bobbi is a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Hunter has to rescue her. As Coulson confronts the Senator, Skye uses the opportunity to get whatever information she can from Ward about her father. But when Coulson strikes a deal with the Senator, H.Y.D.R.A. targets Beckers, grandson of the man who designed H.Y.D.R.A. weapons for Red Skull! In rerouting the protection for Beckers, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s vulnerabilities are exposed and Coulson takes some serious losses!

“A Fractured House” is a decent “he said/he said” episode that raises the tension by pitting the two Ward’s stories against one another. As the episode progresses, which Ward is lying more adds real dramatic tension. What could be a troublingly plot-centered episode wherein spies get burned over and over again manages to save itself by inserting enough character development to be interesting. In fact, the episode’s writers, Rafe Judkins and Lauren LeFranc, manage to write the first episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. in a year that feels like a Joss Whedon production! The blending of character development, decent performances and quips/subtle humorous moments plays out to make a solidly entertaining episode!

Of the new characters introduced this season, Lance Hunter is easily the least interesting to be added to the mix. Hunter is a mercenary who is ably played by Nick Blood, who is not given much to do with the generic semi-antagonistic character. Hunter is not Spike and given that Skye is still a pretty random agent in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., he is filling a niche that is not one that was needing to be filled. Still, in “A Fractured House,” Hunter is given good banter, more of a backstory and a few kick-ass moments in the episode. Nick Blood and Adrianne Palicki (Bobbi Morse) play off one another perfectly to be a credible formerly married couple and that makes the episode work nicely.

The character struggle in “A Fractured House” extends delightfully into the last moments of the episode. Not dropping the ball with the return of Simmons to the fold, Simmons has to wrestle with the consequences of abandoning her team. Simmons witnesses just how bad Fitz’s mental health has become and the reassuring aspect of the episode is that her return does not mean the death of Henry Simmons’ Mac. Mac has been a stabilizing influence on Fitz and he has managed to be a pretty good friend to the wounded scientist. Simmons gets the chance to see that and Mac does possibly the coolest tell-off ever without exhibiting anger. “A Fractured House” plays well Fitz’s frustration, through Mac gives voice to the passion he had for Simmons and allows Simmons to reveal credibly her feelings of guilt.

“A Fractured House” is a crowded episode on the character front, but it works wonderfully. Instead of appearing silly, Simmons threatens Ward and actress Elizabeth Henstridge completely lands the key moment. Appropriately, Brett Dalton manages to dominate the episode even though he is not given the most air time in “A Fractured House.” Far from being the bland, white bread character who appeared early in the first season, Dalton is cold, menacing and strangely compelling in “A Fractured House.” “A Fractured House” only truly works because Dalton and Tim DeKay (who plays Senator Ward) both have to appear credible in their accusations against one another and both present their characters with enough force of character to be entirely believable. Clark Gregg’s key moments as Agent Coulson in “A Fractured House” boil down to him judging the Wards and his choice is well-reasoned.

While the “twist” at the end of “A Fractured House” is anything but twisty, the episode manages to be one of the best-rendered, most well-rounded character pieces of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. while still managing to have some awesome kick-ass moments!

For other works with Tim DeKay, please visit my reviews of:
Get Smart
Carnivale
Sports Night

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - The Complete Second Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophomore season here!
Thanks!]

7/10

For other television reviews, please check out my Movie And Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Lindt Strawberries & Cream Lindor Truffles Don’t Land The Fruit Flavor!


The Good: Good bulk options, Generally decent ingredients
The Bad: Does not taste like strawberries at all
The Basics: Despite the amazing aroma, the Lindt Strawberries & Cream Lindor truffles fall flat on the flavor front.


As I continue to write reviews based upon my amazing vacation to the Mall Of America (reviewed here!), I have been pleasantly struck by how very few “misses” there were in all of the things that my wife and I picked up. Unfortunately, the Lindt Strawberries & Cream lindor truffles were one of the few products I picked up on my vacation that did not land with me. As much as I love most of the Lindt Lindor Truffle line, the Strawberries & Cream do not possess the promised flavor and that makes for a disappointing confection.

Basics

Lindt Lindor Strawberries & Cream truffles are one of the newest chocolate truffles from the Swiss chocolatiers Lindt & Sprungli and their U.S.-based subsidiary. Each truffle is a one inch sphere of white chocolate with a shell about an eighth of an inch thick. This shell covers a thick pink supposedly strawberry flavored ganache ball inside and that center ball is a softer substance than the outer coating. Each of the truffles comes individually wrapped in a light pink foil wrapper, which is very easy to distinguish from other Lindt Lindor truffles. While I usually rail against the environmental impact of individually-wrapped candies, it is hard to imagine Lindt Lindor truffles not wrapped. This keeps each one clean, unmelted and intact.

Each Lindor Truffle is a sphere with a seam at the hemisphere that is essentially a white chocolate globe with pink spots sealing in a soft creamy ball inside. Currently sold individually (at approximately $.75/ea), by the pound or in various-sized packs outside the Lindt retail stores, Strawberries & Cream Lindor truffles are priced on par with the rest of their non-exclusive truffle flavors.

Ease of Preparation

These are candy, so preparing them is as simple as unwrapping the foil wrapper around the actual chocolate truffles. There is no special way to unwrap or eat Lindt Lindor Strawberries & Cream truffles; it's not like growing organic strawberries and milking your own cow to make your own cream!

Taste

Opening the wrapper from the Strawberries & Cream truffles, the strong, familiar scent of strawberries bursts forth. This is an entirely delightful, sweet scent that is instantly recognizable to anyone who loves strawberries!

The white chocolate coating of the Strawberries & Cream truffles is thick, sweet and creamy without truly being waxy at all. The strength of the white chocolate overwhelms even the hint of fruit flavor. The center is sweet and creamy without any real strawberry flavor. Blended with the white chocolate coating, the fruit flavor is entirely eliminated, making the scent more of a tease than a taste.

The Strawberries & Cream lindor truffles leaves no aftertaste in the mouth, which is nice.

Nutrition

The Strawberries & Cream Lindt Lindor truffles are candy, so it is tough to look at these for something nutritious and then blame them for not being healthy. Lindt Lindor truffles are made of good ingredients, which is probably why they are so expensive. The primary ingredients are sugar, vegetable oil and cocoa butter. There is nothing unpronounable in these candies, which is something I have come to expect from Lindt.

A serving of the Lindt Lindor Strawberries & Cream truffles is one truffle. From a single truffle, one consumes 80 calories, 6 grams of fat. There are nineteen milligrams of Sodium, but no cholesterol in these truffles. This flavor is also devoid of any vitamins. There is, however, one gram of protein in each truffle.

Honestly, these are candy and anyone looking to them for actual nutrition needs to get a reality check. These are not Vegan-compliant, nor are they recommended for anyone with a nut allergy as they are produced on the same equipment that peanuts (and tree nuts) pass over. They are, not marked as kosher, nor gluten-free.

Storage/Clean-up

The Lindt Lindor Strawberries & Cream truffles remain fresh for quite some time. However, they ought to be kept in a cool environment between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Kept in such an environment, the truffles we bought a month ago would have lasted until next year, but they won't because my wife likes them quite a bit more than I did!

As for cleanup, throw the wrappers in the garbage and that is all of the cleanup needed! Outside that, there is no real cleanup needed, unless one is eating them in a hot environment. In that case, it is likely one would need to wash their hands. If these truffles melt into most fabrics, they will stain. For that style of clean-up, be sure to consult a fabric guide for whatever you stained.

Overall

The Lindt Strawberries & Cream Lindor Truffles are mediocre at best. Those who truly love the combination of fruit and chocolate flavors will be unimpressed by how the strawberry flavor does not assert itself well enough to counter the white chocolate “cream” aspect of these truffles.

For other Lindt treats, please check out my reviews of:
Lindt Coconut Lindor Truffles
Cappuccino Lindt Lindor Truffles
Lindt Excellence Chili Chocolate Squares

4/10

For other food reviews, please check out my Food Review Index Page!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Great Message, Abysmal Execution When Doctor Who Goes “In The Forest Of The Night!”


The Good: Admirable moral
The Bad: Terrible concept, No real character development, Erratic special effects, Utterly unremarkable performances
The Basics: Arguably the worst episode of Doctor Who in quite some time, “In The Forest Of The Night” is an awful execution of an intriguing environmental and psychological message.


One of the keys to making Doctor Who work is that the Doctor has to be smarter than the audience. The Doctor must be written in such a way that his epiphanies are revelations; he has to be a step ahead of the viewers. Unfortunately, “In The Forest Of The Night” is written as a plot and moral-based episode where The Doctor is almost an incidental character and the elements of the story are thrown together so haphazardly that it is surprising the episode ever managed to get produced.

At varying points, “In The Forest Of The Night” oscillates between being a second-rate, Doctor Who take on Once Upon A Time (season 1 is reviewed here!) and a thematic partner to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Force Of Nature” (reviewed here!). Unfortunately, “In The Forest Of The Night” makes the viewer ask, above all, why the hell can’t contemporary science fiction writers string together a compelling pro-environment narrative?! With “In The Forest Of The Night,” Doctor Who tries to make a statement on the importance of trees and the value of nature, but it utilizes such ridiculous conceits that in order to make it work it makes nonsense out of other episodes in the franchise.

A little girl is running through the forest to the TARDIS, where The Doctor lets her in. She is Maebh and she tells The Doctor that Miss Oswald sent her. Upon leaving a sleepover at the Natural History Museum, Danny Pink and Clara Oswald – and their students – discover that London has been overrun with trees. The appearance of trees all over is a worldwide phenomenon and in London, crews are being dispatched to burn the trees down to clear paths. As Clara and her students make their way to Trafalgar Square where the TARDIS is parked, the Doctor tries to study the phenomenon.

In the process, Clara’s students note that the trees are actually new (they have only one ring) and Maebh’s homework from the future reveals that a massive solar flare is about to hit the Earth. Maebh runs off and the Doctor and Clara chase her and protect her from the wolves that have fled the zoo. The sudden appearance of the trees seems to be related to Maebh and her ability to communicate with beings that only she is able to perceive.

It’s hard not to discuss just how bad “In The Forest Of The Night” is without revealing spoilers. The truth is, the episode is terrible in a way that plumbs a new low for Doctor Who. In order for the mysterious, magical protectors of the Earth that the episode introduces to make sense, “The End Of The World” (reviewed here!) has to be completely disregarded (after all “Earth Classic” would have its saviors and could not be eliminated without the saviors trying again the same tactic they take in “In The Forest Of The Night”). But then there are the non-spoiler aspects of “In The Forest Of The Night” that are just rotten.

“In The Forest Of The Night” is such a thinly plotted episode built up around such a simplistic concept that the episode has to include multiple, pointless running sequences of Maebh running a la Little Red Riding Hood through the forest. The episode includes a witless, utterly pointless, unexplained and unsatisfying subplot centering around Maebh’s lost sister who has been missing for a year. The episode also asks us to believe that Danny Pink would rather die than leave the children under his care to the mercy of the forest . . . but that (at least twice) he did not notice Maebh was missing.

The plot-centered episode is very unsatisfying on a character level. The Doctor is not the smartest person in the room (or the forest); the viewer is. Clara is well behind the curve and her random lines that spark The Doctor’s sudden epiphanies are ridiculous in their simplicity. Maebh is not clearly-defined enough to be a decent supporting character. Danny Pink’s moments of honorable values are undermined by his bland acceptance of Clara’s exposed lies to him. Danny made himself clear several episodes ago, but in “In The Forest Of The Night,” he has to reiterate that he does not care what the truth is, he just needs the truth from Clara. So, why has Clara been lying to him for the past few episodes and why does Danny Pink just accept that she has been lying to him?! The episode does not satisfactorily address that; it simply acknowledges that Pink has caught Clara lying and he accepts that.

There is nothing compelling in the performances in “In The Forest Of The Night.” Peter Capaldi’s quips fall flat and Jenna Coleman seems bored with Clara throughout the episode. Samuel Anderson does not even make Danny Pink appear protective of the children that are supposedly worth his character’s life.

Even the special effects in “In The Forest Of The Night” are wonky enough to be embarrassing. The computer generated tiger, for example, undermines the momentary humor derived by Maebh sensibly opening the gate as opposed to scaling the fence she faces. The result is an episode where the moral does not save the episode from its own ridiculous execution, making for a Doctor Who episode that is very easy to pass by.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Eighth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season of Peter Capaldi as The Doctor here!
Thanks!]

0/10

For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Monday, October 27, 2014

Why The Judge Fails.


The Good: Adequate performances
The Bad: Very predictable plot and character arcs, Nothing stellar on the acting front, Contrived romantic subplots
The Basics: The Judge suffers more from the fact that we’ve seen it all before . . . as opposed to the fact that the previews showed the entire flick.


Lately when I find myself bitching about Oscar Pandering Season, I find myself making the consistent argument that this time of year is just shameless for the studios’ attempts to get awards nominations by releasing their “star” films as close to the nominating time as possible. In recent years, this process has become so transparent that many of the studios release their September through December offerings on the festival circuit to build the hype for their Oscar hype films. The Judge is one of those films; it did very well on the film festival circuit and seems to be the darling of critics everywhere now that it has been released theatrically.

I, for one, am at a loss as to why.

Having seen the preview trailers for The Judge for the last six months in front of various movies, I was shocked by Warner Brothers. In addition to making The Judge an obvious attempt to garner award nominations by playing to the festivals and then having a wide theatrical release during Oscar Pandering Season, Warner Brothers made a preview trailer that shows almost the entire film. Seriously; Warner Brothers not only thinks that viewers are so stupid now that if they do not see their Oscarbait proximate to nomination time, but if they don’t show the entire movie in the trailer, people won’t even bother with the full film! Unfortunately, in the case of The Judge there is a self-defeating aspect to this approach; more than any other film this year, watching the trailer to The Judge is watching the full substance of the film. The only aspects not included in the trailer are the subplots involving Dale Palmer (who either autistic or mentally retarded, it is not clear) and the actual verdict to the trial. As insulting as it may seem, the two hour, twenty minute film is rather thoroughly reduced to a two minute trailer and the “extended” version does not actually add anything of substance.

But the reason for Warner Brothers’s approach is actually fairly clear when one watches The Judge. The family drama is one that virtually everyone has seen before. Even before the trailers gut the film of its big moments, viewers have seen The Judge. We’ve seen the estranged son return to the family only to find some value there (in fact, last year at Oscar Pandering Season, there were several films like that!), we’ve seen the obvious legal drama films, and we’ve even seen Robert Downey Jr. playing the apparently callous lawyer with a heart of gold. Seriously, Ally McBeal (reviewed here!) was huge; we’ve seen every element in The Judge before. Why did Warner Brother think that making this film would be Oscar-worthy news? (And why are so many critics falling for it?)

Hank Palmer is a Chicago lawyer who is successful and cold, getting apparently guilty people off without remorse by using legal technicalities. As he is about to get the verdict on a case he might just lose, he gets a phone call from his brother telling him that his mother has died. Leaving his estranged wife and daughter behind, Hank heads to his home town of Carlinville, Indiana. There, he finds his father (the Judge Palmer) on the bench, but he is unable to remember the name of his bailiff (who has been working for him for twenty years). Hank’s siblings are a little cold to him, mostly for the fact that he abandoned the family years before. But Hank’s older brother warms to him when Hank stops a bar fight before it begins by talking to the would-be assailants. After the funeral, the Judge remains distant to Hank and Hank gives up on his relationship with his father once again.

But right before his plane will take him away, Hank gets another phone call and learns that his father is being questioned by the police for a vehicular homicide that occurred while Hank and his brothers were out at the bar. Despite his father rejecting his help, Hank intervenes with the police and sits in when Judge Palmer meets with his part-time lawyer, C.P. Hank stays in town when the prosecution hires a special prosecutor from out of town. With C.P. recusing himself, Hank takes over the case. Despite his father’s desire to let the truth win out, Hank starts to build a defense using his familiar tactics. In the search for the truth about how Blackwell died, Hank begins to learn more about his father and the two begin to accept one another for who they are.

The Judge is packed with problems, the most significant of which is how the narrative is diluted. A few years ago, there was a wonderful episode of Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip (reviewed here!), where the writing staff leaves and on their way out the door, the one remaining writer/executive producer gives a note to the departing writer for his new project. He advises him to avoid using voiceovers (good advice always, as far as I am concerned!) and give the hero a sidekick to talk to. This, he argues, will allow him to get a lot of the exposition out of the way in the form of dialogue. Ever since seeing that, I’ve kept an eye on peripheral characters in television shows and movies and I am shocked by how many works have illegitimate characters; The Judge is one such work.

The Judge includes Hank’s daughter, Lauren, and Hank’s ex-girlfriend, Samantha, and both serve much more the purposes of plot exposition than they enhance the characters. Lauren becomes a tool by which Hank is able to make explicit references to the causes for the fall-out between himself and the Judge. It is not enough that Hank and his father have a terrible relationship; Hank has to explain why and the only “outsider” in the film is Hank’s daughter, so she becomes an expository tool and it is pretty obvious if one knows what to look for (not the least of which is that the performers seem to have minimal emotional connection!).

In a similar fashion, Vera Farmiga’s Samantha becomes a tool to explain the backstory of the Blackwells and how they relate to the Palmers. The case against the Judge is fraught with history and Samantha becomes the conduit by which the animosity of the Blackwells is fully explained. The characters of Samantha and Lauren dilute and explain the narrative and they do so in an unfortunately obvious way.

These flesh out an otherwise mundane legal and family drama. Is the acting good? Yes, but it falls well within the established ranges of all the performers; will we see something new from Robert Downey Jr.? No, we’ve seen cocky and hurt from him before. Will we see anything new from Robert Duvall? No, we’ve seen him cranky, angry and somewhat emotional in roles before. Will any of the supporting cast – Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio, Billy Bob Thornton, Dax Shepard – surprise or amaze us? No; this is very much a film that gets the most out of the money being spent on Robert Downy Jr. and Robert Duvall.

The result is a bland, low-side-of-average film that is not surprising or even adequate; The Judge is certainly not award-worthy.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
To Write Love On Her Arms
Expelled
Annie
Comet
Dragons Of Camelot
Horrible Bosses 2
10,000 Days
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
Interstellar
The Mule
Hit By Lightning
Horns
Stonehearst Asylum
John Wick
Listen Up Philip
The Best Of Me
Dracula Untold
The Equalizer
The Maze Runner
This Is Where I Leave You
The Giver

4/10

For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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