Sunday, July 31, 2016

July 2016 End Of The Month Report!

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In July, I finally began to get back to it! It's a slow return to blogging for me, but one I am excited about. As it is, the blog is rededicated to my reviews of projects and products I am actually interested in! No more reviewing out of obligation for me! (Though there is still the possibility I'll eventually go back and watch/review Agent Carter Season 2!). While I have yet to get into the full swing of Summer Blockbuster Season this year, July did include at least one blockbuster review and a review of the new Netflix exclusive show Stranger Things (and the blog was one of the first places to post a review of the full season!). Regardless, coming out of political primary season, the blog is in a great place to produce some wonderful reviews once again!

This month, we picked up two new followers on 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 slowly growing our readership, 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 July, we only had to update the index pages a couple of times. The primary Index Page, is usually updated daily and 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 and feel free to use that as it is a much more useful and organized index to the reviews I've written!

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. As back-to-school spending begins, if you're going shopping online, please come through the blog to to it. Thank you so much!

At the end of July 2016, I have reviewed the following:
543 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Fiction
Star Trek Books
Nonfiction
Graphic Novels
Magazines
921 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
2971 - 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!)!
226 - 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
849 - 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
926 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Drinks
Candy
Cereal
Cheese and Meats
Ice Cream
Other Food
246 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
114 - Travel Reviews
Destinations Reviews
Hotels Reviews
193 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
197 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
102 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
56 - Other Product Reviews

The Featured Reviews For The Month of July are my reviews of: Star Trek Beyond and my article An Open Letter To Donald Trump: You Won, Go Home.!
Check them out!


The month of July was, predictably given how few new reviews we wrote, dominated by prior reviews, though the month's biggest review was from a new Netflix series! For July, the Top Ten Reviews of the month were:
10. Rick And Morty - Season 1
9. Bound
8. Star Trek Beyond
7. Expelled
6. The Worst Ten Episodes Of Star Trek
5. Quaker Oatmeal Squares With A Hint Of Brown Sugar Cereal
4. The Legends Of Star Trek Ensign Pavel Chekov Hallmark Ornament
3. The Top Ten Episodes Of Frasier
2. The Top Ten Episodes Of Star Trek: Voyager
1. Stranger Things - Season 1

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 - 319 reviews
9s - 480 reviews
8s - 928 reviews
7s - 1034 reviews
6s - 958 reviews
5s - 1221 reviews
4s - 902 reviews
3s - 701 reviews
2s - 332 reviews
1s - 220 reviews
0s - 108 reviews
No rating - 119 articles/postings

There was a decent amount of movement this month and FINALLY there is some movement in the all time Top Ten Reviews! At the end of July 2016, the most popular reviews/articles are:
10. Beautiful Creatures
9. Safe Haven
8. Oz The Great And Powerful
7. The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bone
6. Iron Man 3
5. Warm Bodies
4. Tyler Perry's Temptation
3. Now You See Me
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!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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A Painfully Simple Idea Is Dragged Out Far Too Long For Legends Of Tomorrow Season 1!


The Good: Special effects, Moments of character, One or two performances
The Bad: Ridiculous overall plot, Poor character development, Some mediocre performances
The Basics: After a remarkably promising pilot episode, Legends Of Tomorrow spends its first season listlessly circling its central plot.


I am a big fan of serialized television, so it is always disappointing to me when I find myself religiously watching a serialized show that is poorly constructed. Sadly, for as excited as I was about the latest spin-off in the DC Television Universe, Legends Of Tomorrow, the first season of the show is an unfortunate mess. The basic premise of Legends Of Tomorrow is that heroes in the same universe as Arrow and The Flash are tasked with traveling through time to thwart an immortal villain. The idea is a neat one and the pilot episode introduced a plot with a lot of promise.

Unfortunately, that promise is not truly realized in the first season.

The fundamental problem with the first season of Legends Of Tomorrow is that the first season is overly complicated and establishes a concept that is unnaturally convoluted. In fact, after a solid set up on The Flash with "Legends Of Today" (reviewed here!) and its second part on Arrow, the central conflict of Legends Of Tomorrow is hobbled by a "simple problem, simple solution" issue. While the first episode of Legends Of Tomorrow tries to scientifically explain the immortality of villain Vandal Savage and the reincarnation of Kendra Saunders and Carter Hall, it acknowledges that the team Rip Hunter has assembled has - more or less - already defeated Vandal Savage once.

Following their victory over Vandal Savage, most of the heroes who thwarted Savage have gone their separate ways. Ray Palmer, Firestorm (Dr. Martin Stein and Jefferson Jackson), Sara Lance, Hawkman and Hawkwoman (Carter Hall and Kendra Saunders), Leonard Snart and Mick Rory, are abducted by the time traveler Rip Hunter, who shows them a terrible vision of the future. In the future, Vandal Savage has come to power and enslaved the entire world, in the process killing Rip Hunter's wife and child. Hunter asks the people he has found to come with him through time and space to locate and defeat Vandal Savage before he can rise to power. Despite the initial setback of realizing that the team Hunter has assembled is based on their lack of impact to the timeline, the eight comrades join Hunter on his timeship, the Waverider.

The Waverider is repeatedly attacked by the temporal bounty hunter Chronos and its crew is wounded by Vandal Savage. The ship is damaged and hijacked in the future and a mission to the past results in three of the crew being stranded in the 1950s! When Hunter's mission nears success, he draws the ire of the Time Masters that he formerly served and, in addition to trying to stop Savage, has to rescue younger versions of his heroes and save them from a bounty hunter even more fierce than Chronos!

The moment Rip Hunter returns to the past to assemble his team, the first season has a simple quest: find out how to effectively kill Vandal Savage and then find Vandal Savage to execute him. By the end of the first episode, the Legends are in possession of an artifact (a dagger) that would enable the team to kill Vandal Savage. But the problem is, the rest of the season is utterly ridiculous: simple problem, simple solution. Six of the eight Legends killed Vandal Savage on Arrow: to solve their problem, all they need to do is wait for their team (and The Flash and Arrow) leave the site of their victory over Vandal Savage and witness him reconstituting and destroy him when he is vulnerable. Their presence would have kept Malcom Merlyn from stealing Savage's remains and however Savage would have resurrected, he would be easily killed (or his remains captured by Palmer and destroyed). Minimal temporal impact, easy victory that saves Rip Hunter's family and a mission that does not significantly endanger the team; anything beyond that is ridiculously complicated.

Sadly, no one within Legends Of Tomorrow comes to this ridiculously simple solution to ridding the universe of Vandal Savage. In fact, after the first episode, none of the heroes Rip Hunter brought together substantively recall their victory over Savage. That makes the Legends unforgivably dim.

The essential characters in the first season of Legends Of Tomorrow are:

Rip Hunter - A former Time Master and captain of the Waverider, he grieves the loss of his wife and child at the hands of Vandal Savage. He assembles a team to try to kill Vandal Savage before Savage can rise to power and kill his family. His attempts to change the timeline uncover a massive temporal conspiracy and put his entire crew in jeopardy repeatedly,

Dr. Martin Stein - A genius who helped create the Firestorm Matrix and is the brains behind Firestorm, he is enchanted by the idea of traveling through time. Unfortunately for him, several of the missions put his past and his marriage in jeopardy. He is also put at risk when Jax is mutated and he is captured by Savage's forces, separating him from his other half,

Ray Palmer - Another genius, he is the inventor of a miniaturization suit and helps fight with the team as the superhero the Atom. When he and Kendra are stranded in the 1950s, they begin to truly fall in love and he is emotionally devastated by the way Kendra continues to pine for Carter,

Kendra Saunders - The latest reincarnation of Hawkgirl (Hawkwoman), she is just beginning to get used to the idea that she and Carter Hall reincarnate in various eras after Savage kills them. When Carter is lost early in the mission, she mournes and, despite advice from a different version of herself on a mission to the past, she finds herself falling in love with Dr. Palmer. She might be the only individual who can kill Vandal Savage,

Carter Hall - The current reincarnation of Hawkman, he trains Kendra until Vandal Savage apparently kills him,

Jefferson Jackson - The young man who is now the other half of Firestorm, it is his body that Dr. Stein essentially pilots. In the 1950s, he is transformed into a terrible creature. He acts as the mechanic on the Waverider,

Sara Lance - Taking up the mantle of White Canary, she begins the mission still unsettled by her recent resurrection. She is an expert in martial arts and a trained assassin. She flirts with Snart, but seems most interested in a young woman the crew meets in the 1950s. Hunter enlisted her for his team because of her willingness and ability to kill people, though she worries that might make her a monster,

Leonard Snart - The master thief who was recently broken out of Iron Heights in Central City, Hunter enlists Captain Cold because of his ability to steal anything. He is determined to kill Savage and he tries to profit off the adventures of the Waverider. He works to keep Rory in line and feels guilty when he has to choose between his lifelong partner and the success of the mission.

Mick Rory - Heat Wave, he is Snart's partner in crime. While it initially appears that Hunter brought Rory aboard because of his willingness to do violence, when he continues to endanger the crew, the truth comes out. When the truth is exposed, Rory and Snart must choose how they can best survive the mission,

Chronos - The time traveling bounty hunter, he appears moments after Rip Hunter first does and begins hunting the crew and the Waverider. He damages the Waverider and hunts the crew through time. To stop him, the crew of the Waverider has to capture him and in doing so, they learn about other temporal bounty hunters who are charged with stopping Hunter and the crew,

and Vandal Savage - A megalomaniacal dictator from ancient Egypt, he was made immortal by a comet that crashed. Tied to Carter and Kendra, he becomes more powerful each time he kills the pair. Once in love with Kendra, he has killed each of them over two hundred times and now he quietly amasses power and weapons over the course of history until he takes over the world in the future. The influence of the Legends leads him to experiment and develop technologies that threaten the future.

In the first season of Legends Of Tomorrow, the characters only minimally develop. The season is so plot-heavy that the characters are only paid lip service to genuine development. Dr. Stein was very well-established in The Flash and he is given a rather forced conflict with Ray Palmer. Sara Lance starts to develop before she is completely reverts to her assassin nature and while that could be compelling, her arc is almost exactly mirrored by the Mick Rory arc . . . down to how simply her conditioning is broken. Kendra Saunders goes from being strong and independent on The Flash and Arrow to completely buying what Carter is selling . . . to the point that she ruins the most genuine relationship of the season.

The show's unique character, Rip Hunter, is surprisingly cool, though he is single-minded in his determination to stop Vandal Savage. Savage is presented, sadly, as a remarkably monolithic adversary and it is only late in the season that he gets a twist that forces his character in a slightly different direction.

While the characters in the first season of Legends Of Tomorrow might be occasionally unexciting or simplistic, a few of the performances are truly impressive. Victor Garber and Wentworth Miller give predictably amazing performances; their acting is well-established as wonderful and in the first season of Legends Of Tomorrow they easily play within their established ranges. The big surprises on the performance front in the first season of Legends Of Tomorrow come from Arthur Darvill and Brandon Routh. Routh is anything but bland as he plays Ray Palmer as excited at the potential of being heroic and when he plays hurt by losing Kendra as his love.

Similarly, Arthur Darvill gained popularity on Doctor Who and on that show, he played something of a milquetoast. As Rip Hunter, in the first season of Legends Of Tomorrow, Darvill is able to show a far greater range than he did on Doctor Who. Darvill makes Hunter into a legitimate hero and he steals almost every scene he is in!

Most of the special effects in the first season of Legends Of Tomorrow are impressive and while some of the battles get repetitive, they look amazing!

Unfortunately, the issues with the first season overwhelm the positive aspects of the season. The concept of the show is so simple that the sixteen episode season meanders so far away from the point that it becomes difficult to rewatch with any enthusiasm.

For a better understanding of exactly what is in this season, please visit my reviews of each of the episodes at:
"Pilot, Part I"
"Pilot, Part II"
"Blood Ties"
"White Knights"
"Fail-Safe"
"Star City 2046"
"Marooned"
"Night Of The Hawk"
"Left Behind"
"Progeny"
"The Magnificent Eight"
"Last Refuge"
"Leviathan"
"River Of Time"
"Destiny"
"Legendary"

For other works from the 2015 – 2016 television season, please check out my reviews of:
Jessica Jones - Season 1
Daredevil - Season 2
House Of Cards - Season 4
Doctor Who - Season 9

3.5/10

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

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Interesting, But Expensive, Cryptozoic's Justice League Trading Cards Are Still Neat!


The Good: Good concept, Nice artwork, Some wonderful/creative bonus cards, No redemption cards!
The Bad: Some truly craptastic sketch cards, Virtually impossible to collect
The Basics: Despite being more expensive and having some lousy sketch artwork, Cryptozoic’s Justice League card set is worth collecting!


This week is a pretty DC-intensive week for me, whatwith finally catching up on some of my television and movie reviews and the imminent release of Suicide Squad this week. I'm starting the series of DC Comics-based reviews with a look at the brand new DC Comics Justice League trading cards from Cryptozoic. The Justice League cards illustrate well how Cryptozoic is evolving its product lines, by trying to capitalize on previous, successful, aspects of sets, while eliminating at least one element that made the set difficult for collectors to complete. While the Justice League cards are incredibly similar in their composition and collectibility to last year's Super-Villains trading cards, Cryptozoic learned from that prior set that the gold parallel set was a non-starter with collectors and eliminated it from the new set. Unfortunately, Cryptozoic enacted a price hike on their products at the wholesale level, so collectors will pay more for the Justice League trading cards . . . but get less than they did for the less-expensive Super-Villains set. That is pretty lousy.

That said, what is in the Justice League set is pretty decent and makes for a generally worthwhile set.

Basics/ Set Composition

The DC Comics Justice League trading cards were originally released in boxes with twenty-four packs, packs containing five cards each. Completely assembled, Justice League consists of 699 cards, but there are only four possible "master" sets that would contain 411 trading cards. While the set is heavy on incarnations of the Justice League from the New 52 reboot of the DC Comics universe, the Justice League cards include the Justice League Europe (from the 1990s), Justice League Task Force and the classic, Golden Age, Justice Society Of America in the set. Properly assembled, the set features sixty-three common cards and at least 348 bonus cards (which is the most reasonable way to count and include the unique printing plates cards) (all but eight of the cards are available in the boxes of Justice League cards).

Common Cards

Justice League is a 63 card set that features seven different incarnations of the Justice League and other major, mainstream DC Comics heroic teams. The common set is made up of seven nine-card murals, featuring artwork by Xermanico, who made the paintings for the seven murals. Xermanico's work features wonderful renditions of iconic characters like Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman, Black Canary, The Flash, and various Green Lanterns, as well as decent likenesses of the more obscure characters in the various Leagues, like Crimson Fox, Andrew Bennett and August General In Iron.

The common set looks wonderful, so long as one puts the nine cards in order so they are oriented correctly in a trading card sheet. The seven painting murals look similar to one another in form, with the teams in a general action shot, looking like they are ascending to the sky or descending onto criminals, depending on the team.

The writing for Justice League set is simplistic, but enough to help newbies differentiate between the eras and individuals on the cards. In addition to a small blurb about the character on the front, the backs of each common card lists the names of each character on the front of the card and the team to which they belong.

Chase Cards

The Justice League set features a quite a few more bonus cards than common cards, which is normal for trading card sets these days. Justice League set features, in the most practical way of assessing such things, 348 chase cards (though there are actually 636 bonus cards in the set) which range from simple foil parallel cards to significantly rare sketch cards to the 384 unique printing plates. In the packs, collectors can find 340 (or 628) of the 348 (or 636) bonus cards. The chase card breakdown includes: 6 Retro, 9 Madame Xanadu Tarot, 9 Model Sheet, 9 All-Star Comics Cover, 96 foil parallel cards, 9 Classic Batman TV On Cryptomium, 9 boxtopper cards, 6 Patch cards, 3 Totally Fabricated, 88 sketch cards (of various types) and 384 printing plates (though the most practical way to count them would probably be the 96 - one for each card front, regardless of the plate color). The most basic chase card set found in the packs are the foil parallel cards. The parallel cards replicate the common cards, Retro cards, Tarot cards, Model Sheet cards, and All-Star Comics cover cards but with mirrored accents. Fortunately, unlike the Super-Villains cards, the silver foil versions of the common cards are full-foil cards, so whites become silver and many of the common cards that are heavy in yellow are printed as gold foil cards! The bonus cards have backgrounds that are full foil and some of them - most notably the Retro cards - truly pop as a result of the foil reprint. The backs of the foil parallel cards are identical to the common cards, so when going through the packs, one has to look at the front of each card. It takes a whole case to assemble a complete set of 96 foil parallel cards.

Each box has a full common card set and the boxes also tended to have complete sets of Retro, Madame Xanadu Tarot, Model Sheet, and All-Star Comics cover cards. The Retro cards feature artwork reminiscent of promotional materials from the Super Friends television show for the main six Justice League characters, with beautiful solid-color backfrounds. These are nostalgia-inducing trading cards bound to appeal to those who grew up on Justice League cartoons from the 1980s. The Model Sheet cards are nine cards, each featuring a main character with a front and back reference and color blocks, as if they were sheets for the cartoon series. These, too, are very retro in their appearance and the backs reflect how iconic the characters from that incarnation of the Justice League truly were. The Madame Xanadu Taro cards are an interesting concept, but given how Justice League Dark failed to resonate with readers, the subject concept is a bit obscure. The nine cards have somewhat simplistic renderings of major DC Comics heroes with tarot card text, reminiscent of the major event/character cards in a tarot deck. So, Martian Manhunter (for example) appears in the set as The Alien. This might be the only real chase set dud by concept. The All-Star Comics cover cards feature the actual cover art from nine of the earliest comic books to feature the Justice Society Of America.

One per box was one of nine Batman Classic TV Series Cryptomium Reissue card. Cryptozoic replicated classic Batman TV series cards on their thicker Cryptomium foil cardstock and they remade the campy into cool and collectible cards. The foil and bright color cards make for a surprisingly distinctive chase, even if the text on the back is a bit boring (the backs simply state that it is a replica of a classic trading card, as opposed to replicating whatever text was on those original classic trading cards.

One per box is an oversized blank variant cover boxtopper. Each of the boxtoppers comes sealed in its own toploader and while the concept is cool - variant covers are awesome - Cryptozoic was basically mimicking its content from Super-Villains. As a result, these largely white covers basically feature the name of the primary comic book on it and, let's face it, a white card with "Wonder Woman" or "Aquaman" written on it at the top is hardly a compelling trading card.

The Totally Fabricated cards are a “hit or miss” concept card for fans of the DC Universe heroes. Costume cards are very popular trading cards these days and as the subjects of Justice League set are comic book characters, there would seem to be no costume cards that could be produced for the set. Cryptozoic did not let that stop them. Instead, they produced the “Totally Fabricated” bonus cards and Justice League set has three such cards in the boxes and packs. Found one in every 192 packs, Justice League set features admittedly fake fabric swatches (not really) from the costumes of Zatanna (no fishnets that I've seen!), Hawkman (awesome foil card!) and Firestorm. The Totally Fabricated cards are a neat idea and they are executed incredibly well, especially the foil-material Hawkman's card. Cryptozoic, to its credit, did not overproduce the Totally Fabricated cards, though the concept seems pretty played out at this point.

In addition to the Totally Fabricated cards, there are six patch cards that replicate the symbols of six New 52 Justice League heroes (no Batman, but there is are Aquaman and Cyborg patches!). The six patch cards were found about three per case and are like costume cards. This is a neat idea that is familiar now to fans of many varied genre-themed trading cards and Cryptozoic continues the tradition well in Justice League set.

Justice League set is fleshed out with eighty-eight sketch cards of heroes of the DC Universe. The sketch cards are produced by more than seventy different artists in four different configurations and each one is absolutely unique, so assembling a master set requires one to track down one from each type from each artist. Cryptozoic, very nicely, included a full guide to which artists produced which of the four types of sketch cards. The Justice League set includes traditional sketch cards, Tarot sketch cards, oversized Tarot sketch cards (which appear to be the rarest, found only one in every three or four cases!) and Hall Of Justice die-cut sketch cards. The quality of the sketch cards varies greatly between fine-art quality colored sketches and cartoonish, animated versions of the significant DC Comics heroes. The very first card I pulled was an absolutely terrible rendition of Frankenstein (Agent Of S.H.A.D.E.), but I pulled two Wonder Woman sketches that where absolutely immaculate! The Tarot variations, to their credit, feature entirely recognizable main characters, which is nice as the standard sketch I pulled of Crimson Fox forced me to look the character up to identify! The oversized Tarot sketch cards were produced by some of the best artists and I've not seen as many duds for those ultra-rare sketches. There are also Hall Of Justice sketch cards found one per case. The die-cut cards are in the shape of the Justice League's Headquarters and feature drawings of heroes or (sometimes, entire teams!) as well. The die-cut sketch cards are an intriguing idea, but more than with the prior DC Comics set, it seems like artists found the die-cut cards stifling to work with and turned them on their sides to render the characters, which makes the gimmick seem . . . more like a gimmick than a piece of quality artwork.

To assemble a true master set, collectors usually want one of each card. While sketch cards are absolutely unique, the concept that most collectors go with is needing one from each artist to complete a set. Unfortunately, with Justice League set, there are 384 Printing Plate cards. Unlike sets like Rittenhouse Archives's progressive printers proof sets from things like their Women Of Star Trek: Voyager set (reviewed here!) where the card manufacturer used the proof cards that insured the printing process worked and made them available to collectors, Cryptozoic broke up the actual printing plates - Black, Blue, Magenta and Yellow - and inserted them in packs (one per case). No one collector can ever assemble a complete, true master set of Justice League cards with the printing plate cards, so it might be germane to consider that one printing plate from each card (regardless of its color variant) might be used to make as complete a set as possible. It is hard to love the collectibility of a set where only four people can ever assemble a true master set by those standards!

Non-Box/Pack Cards

No matter how many packs or boxes of Justice League cards one opens, there are eight cards collectors will never find there. Non-Sports Update Magazine released seven different promotional cards for the Justice League set. Unlike prior sets, six of the promotional cards replicate chase cards, which makes them more inherently valuable than most Cryptozoic promotional cards!

The other card that cannot be found in any of the boxes or packs is the Green Arrow Totally Fabricated card. That card is only found in the binders of Justice League cards. Having only eight cards that cannot be found in the cases is actually pretty decent for collectors.

Overall

While, as a collector, I tend to loathe sets that are impossible to make master sets from, Cryptozoic's Justice League set is one of the better sets to include things like printing plates. As a fan of the DC Universe, there is a lot to love in the Justice League set . . . it's unfortunate that Cryptozoic charged so much for the otherwise cool cards!

This is a set of trading cards I sell in my online store! Please check out my current inventory of these cards at Justice League Inventory Page!

For other DC Comics-based trading card sets reviewed by me, please check out:
Super-Villains
Epic Battles
The Women Of Legend
The New 52

6.5/10

For other card reviews, please visit my Card Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Star Trek Beyond: Not The Worst Piece Of Crap In Science Fiction Action Flicks . . .


The Good: Decent special effects/direction, Moments of character and acting
The Bad: Thoroughly banal action sequences, Dull plot, Overused Star Trek conceits without a powerful ethical dilemma.
The Basics: For the 50th Anniversary of the Star Trek franchise, Star Trek Beyond continues the trend of transforming the franchise into one dominated by action adventure as opposed to cerebral science fiction.


I cannot recall being less excited for a Star Trek film than I was in advance of Star Trek Beyond. In 2009, when Star Trek (reviewed here!) was released, I swept away the months of trepidation I had about the film when I landed tickets months in advance of its release to a preview screening and was suddenly reassured that J.J. Abrams was not utterly destroying all I loved about the Star Trek franchise. Then came Star Trek Into Darkness (reviewed here!) and lightning not only did not strike twice, but the film dashed the hopes that the rebooted Star Trek universe might be intelligently and cleverly redirected, as opposed to playing to the cheap action adventure aspects that every special effects-driven blockbuster goes for. From the very first preview trailer of Star Trek Beyond, my hopes were dashed that for the 50th anniversary of my beloved science fiction franchise the writers and producers would create something worthy of the franchise name. Truth be told, my expectations were lowered the moment Simon Pegg was brought in to rewrite the script for Star Trek Beyond to make the film less "Trek-y." Paramount's goal for Star Trek Beyond was to make the film into a billion dollar-grossing movie . . . which, from a creative perspective, is a pretty lousy goal.

So, when I sat down to Star Trek Beyond, my expectations were appropriately low and I was prepared for a dumb action adventure film prioritizing flash over substance . . . and there were only a couple moments in the film that confounded those lower expectations. Star Trek Beyond is dominated by its action-adventure elements, minimizing the more cerebral elements. The result is a film that pays lip service to Star Trek and has many moments where it looks good, but it lacks depth and most of its most (potentially) emotional moments are moved beyond so fast that they lack impact.

The Enterprise has an unsuccessful diplomatic mission to an alien planet in the third year of its five-year mission. When the lifeforms Kirk is negotiating with reject the artifact he brought as a gift, the Enterprise leaves their planet and heads to a new Federation starbase on the edge of explored space. While at the Starbase, Spock learns that Ambassador Spock has died and Kirk is offered a very different career direction by the ranking StarFleet officer in the sector. Shortly after the Enterprise arrives, an alien escape pod arrives, carrying Kalara. Kalara tells the Federation that her ship was destroyed and its crew is stranded on a planet inside a nearby nebula. Kirk and the Enterprise are assigned to find the planet and rescue Kalara's crew, but when they arrive at the planet, they are attacked by a swarm of ships which destroy the Enterprise.

The attack on the Enterprise was perpetrated by Krall, who invaded the Enterprise to recover the artifact that Kirk attempted to give to the Teenaxi. Kirk, however, manages to stop Krall from getting the artifact, though he is unable to prevent his crew from being captured by Krall and his drones. With the Enterprise crew stranded on different parts of Krall's world, most of them captured and at his mercy, Kirk must figure out how to save his crew. Kirk quickly realizes that Kalara set the Enterprise up for capture and he and Chekov work to stop her, while Uhura tries to learn what Krall wants and witnesses his murderous power. Elsewhere on the planet, Dr. McCoy works to save Spock's life, as he was injured in the evacuation of the Enterprise. But Scotty lucks out more than the rest of the Enterprise crew, as he stumbles upon a woman who managed to escape from Krall and needs the engineer's help in restoring the ship she found. Together, Scott and Jaylah work to reunite the Enterprise's senior officers and rescue the rest of the crew from Krall. Krall, by tormenting Uhura and Sulu, manages to find the artifact he is looking for and he turns his attention to destroying the starbase outside the nebula.

What Star Trek Beyond does well is use its ensemble. For all the great things about the original Star Trek, it was not an ensemble piece. It was very much Captain Kirk and Spock's story, with an occasional subplot for McCoy and a peppering of episodes that gave Scotty a more significant role than normal. Star Trek Beyond gives all seven of the characters generally considered "key" Trek characters something to do. Sadly for the late Anton Yelchin, Chekov is given the least to do and he spends most of Star Trek Beyond acting as Kirk's sidekick and then Scotty's assistant.

Similarly, on the thematic front, Star Trek Beyond provides a single monologue from Jaylah that is almost Star Trek deep. Jaylah tells Scotty about Manas and Krall and it is a thinly-veiled Holocaust allegory, much the way "A Private Little War" (reviewed here!) provided an allegory for Star Trek viewers of the Vietnam War and the problems of Cold War escalation in a hot war theater.

Sadly, Star Trek Beyond glosses over its complex elements and most of its big character moments. Jaylah's monologue is brief and is a pretext to get her and Kirk into a big action sequence. Star Trek Beyond is at its worst when it prioritizes special effects (which are, admittedly, good) and action sequences over the allegory, cerebral elements and moments of genuine character development.

Star Trek Beyond has minimal character moments that are interesting or well-developed. Captain Kirk celebrates a quiet birthday with Bones and his sense of disillusionment reflects a poor redirection of Kirk for the reboot universe. Kirk was excited about the idea of a five year mission at the climax of Star Trek Into Darkness, but at the outset of Star Trek Beyond, he is bored and listless. And, given that he begins with a fairly exciting mission of his own, his discontent in the subsequent scene feels terribly forced.

In a similar fashion, Spock's character seems like a mess. In the Prime Star Trek Universe, it took Spock until Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (reviewed here!) for him to become well-rounded and believe that logic was only the beginning and that emotion could be useful to him. While the destruction of Vulcan and the death of Amanda obviously redirected Spock's life, that he would cry out in pain and cry openly are horribly out of character, as opposed to feeling like actual character development.

As for the villain, Star Trek Beyond has one of the least-inspired adversaries in the form of Krall. Krall is given a backstory, long after viewers have stopped caring and an explanation for his actions that is not entirely sensible in the way it is constructed and presented. More than that, Krall becomes a terrible excuse for Star Trek Beyond to devolve into the familiar format of a "kill the villain" story that viewers have seen far, far, too many times before. In fact, at a key moment at the climax of the film, it appears like Star Trek Beyond might defy that paradigm and offer the villain a chance at redemption, but it fails to pay that off in a satisfying way.

Director Justin Lin prioritizes action and flash over any real substance in Star Trek Beyond and the extended scene of the destruction of the Enterprise is a perfect example of that. For someone who claims to love the Star Trek franchise, Star Trek Beyond falls short on some essential concepts, not the least of which is that it is hard to see how the story would have occurred in the Prime Star Trek Universe. The events of Star Trek (the reboot film) essentially made the reboot universe smaller; starships were decimated, the Klingon Empire was virtually obliterated (losing 47 ships to Nero's vessel is a profound blow!) and Kirk's five-year mission seems like it would be beginning far earlier than it did in the Prime Universe (which makes sense given that in the Prime Universe, Spock had more than a decade serving under Pike on the Enterprise). So, the nebula in Star Trek Beyond seems like it would have been well within the sphere of potential exploration of the Federation in the original Star Trek . . . and the backstory for Krall would have existed within the Prime Universe. My point in this is that the "wholly original" story set in the Star Trek multiverse creates troubling questions for sensibility of how it could fit. In the Prime Universe, did the Federation just never stumble upon Krall in the nebula? Krall never destroyed the Enterprise in the Prime Universe, so are we to believe that within the core of the Federation planets, there exists this massive, baited, time bomb that never went off? That is a bit hard to swallow for die-hard Trekkers.

Ultimately, Star Trek Beyond is not all that fans might have feared when it was announced that the director was best known for his work in the Fast & Furious franchise. Justin Lin directs an action film, but assuming that Lin directed the script that was handed to him, he is hard to lay all the blame upon. Pegg might have beefed up his own part in the film, but one suspects there will come a time when the other writers reveal what they had created and it is hard to believe that it would not have had a more authentic Trek feel than the product that was delivered.

For other works with Idris Elba, please visit my reviews of:
The Avengers: Age Of Ultron
Thor: The Dark World
Pacific Rim
Prometheus
Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance
Thor
28 Weeks Later

4.5/10

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

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Saturday, July 23, 2016

If It Weren't For The Expense, AvoDerm Duck Recipe Adult Dog Food Would Be Perfect!


The Good: Myah loves it, Great ingredients, Very nutritious, Smells good!
The Bad: Very expensive!
The Basics: Myah loves AvoDerm Duck Recipe adult dog food . . . my wallet does not!


Every now and then, I manage to get in a product that is absolutely wonderful, but the price makes it exceptionally difficult to recommend to readers. Today, the product that easily fits into that category is the AvoDerm Duck Recipe dog food. My senior Siberian Husky, Myah, is a huge fan of AvoDerm Duck Recipe dog food and when I went to buy it in bulk, I discovered just how oppressively expensive it is. As one who is thrifty, it is tough to recommend to readers . . . except when one absolutely needs to spoil their dog.

AvoDerm Duck Recipe dog food is a food that prides itself on having quality ingredients and providing a wide array of nutritional benefits and Myah loves it in a way that she seldom shows a preference for a dog food.

Basics

A daily serving of AvoDerm Duck Recipe dog food is two and a half to three and a half cups for a big dog like Myah, so a twenty-two pound bag should have lasted us a month, but it fell a few days short of that, especially after Myah finished blowing out her coat for the summer and we realized just how thin she had become over the winter. Each piece of AvoDerm Duck Recipe dog food is a brown sphere (slightly flattened) that is very mealy in its texture and quite hard. They are approximately 1/2" in diameter. Myah eats these up to a dozen pieces at a time!

Ease Of Preparation

As a dry dog food, preparation of AvoDerm Duck Recipe dog food is as easy as opening a bag and measuring out the pellets inside. There is no further prep needed.

Myah’s Reaction

Myah absolutely loves this food. The food smells meaty and salty and the moment the bag rustles, Myah hops up for some. Myah is able to smell the AvoDerm Duck Recipe dog food, because when it is poured into her bowl, it sounds like other dog foods, but she rushes right over for it! We tested this by alternating this food with another one and when the AvoDerm was in her bowl, she eagerly went for her bowl, while she was neutral to the other one when it was put in the same bowl at the same time on other days!

The Duck Recipe food left Myah’s breath smelling good, albeit meaty, though she seldom has bad breath when eating traditional dog foods.

Nutrition

AvoDerm Duck Recipe dog food is made primarily of duck, duck meal, and garbanzo beans, only a few of the ingredients are natural before the list turns into a chemistry equation. After “kelp meal,” the Duck Recipe is a virtual vitamin pill. According to the guaranteed analysis, AvoDerm Duck Recipe dog food has at least 25% crude protein, 16% crude fat, but no more than 6% crude fiber and 10% moisture. As a dry dog food, it is highly recommended that you have adequate water available for your dog when serving it AvoDerm Duck Recipe dog food.

Overall

AvoDerm Duck Recipe dog food is one that Myah loves, but it is a tough sell given how pricey it is!

For other dog food reviews, please be sure to check out:
Diamond Naturals Beef Meal And Rice Formula dog food
Nature’s Variety Prairie Chicken Meal & Brown Rice Medley
Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Trout, Salmon Meal & Whitefish Formula Dog Food

7.5/10

For other pet product reviews, please check out my Pet Review Index Page for an organized listing of the pet product reviews I’ve written!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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R.I.P. Garry Marshall: Mother's Day Is An Unremarkable End To A Brilliant Career


The Good: Acting and directing are fine
The Bad: No memorable characters, Thematically monolithic, Lack of zest or cleverness
The Basics: In a subpar dramedy about mothers, characters are mashed together unmemorably in what became an unfortunate final film for director Garry Marshall.


During my month sabbatical, I missed writing tributes to all of the significant individuals who died, most notably, actor Anton Yelchin. As, possibly, the end of that Rule Of Three, Garry Marshall died a few days ago and I could not let his death pass without viewing some of his works. Garry Marshall effectively launched the screen careers of two of my favorite actors: Robin Williams and Anne Hathaway. Without Marshall, Williams would have remained one of my very favorite stand-up comics and while Anne Hathaway probably would have become a superstar in her own right, based upon her talent, but it helped when she was given the starring role in Marshall's adaptation The Princess Diaries (reviewed here!). In the last few years, the comedic writer in Garry Marshall had surrendered to masterful director . . . who was, sadly, rehashing the same film over and over again. Marshall's final film, Mother's Day is essentially Marshall's final reworking of his prior film Valentine's Day (reviewed here!).

Unfortunately, Mother's Day capped off Marshall's initially creative career with yet another attempt to create a box office success by throwing together as many a-list Hollywood actors in a character-packed film that ties together loosely-related characters in a narrative that is more about the surprise of how it comes together than about anything else. Mother's Day mashes together Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson, and the omnipresent Hector Elizondo, with a surprising number of new, younger, actors to flesh out a story of families in Atlanta coming together in the week before Mother's Day.

Opening with Sandy, who is surprised when her ex-husband is in her house with their child and his friends, she is told by Henry that he needs to talk to her. Sandy's inkling that he might want to reunite with her is dashed when he tells her he eloped, with a vastly younger woman. Jesse and her sister Gabi are living a lie from their estranged mother. Gabi is a lesbian who never came out to her parents and Jesse married Russell, whose family is from India, who her mother despised when they were still in contact. Widower Bradley has two daughters and he runs a gym, while Miranda prioritized career over having children.

Gabi and Jesse's lives become vastly more complicated when their redneck parents arrive as a surprise and they have to come clean with them. Sandy, freaking out about her ex-husband's new wife and the way Tina has inserted herself into her children's lives, freaks out in front of Bradley at the supermarket and Bradley - who is concerned about the boy his daughter is dating - notices her at his gym. When a girl approaches Miranda at a book signing and tells her she is her daughter, Miranda's life is turned upside down as well.

Mother's Day is one of those unfortunate films that lacks a spark. Works that Marshall wrote tended to have a sense of patter to them; humor and realism that were distinct. Mother's Day is a troublingly flat film. In fact, having just finished watching the film, there was not a single line I could recall or that I remember laughing at. This is especially troubling, as interspersed through some of the stories are sets from a comedy competition. When the stand-up comics in a film fail to illicit a laugh, that is not a good sign.

One of the fundamental problems with Mother's Day is that the movie is overstuffed. The entire plotline with Zack Zim, his bride-to-be and her sudden relationship with Miranda, is both cluttered and unnecessary. It is also the source of the film's most problematic lines. For sure, Mother's Day is a film that is exactly what it appears to be; a celebration of women who choose to be mothers. But, for a movie that is filled with a wide variety of characters, it lacks any complexity or subtlety. The racists encounter their grandchildren and can't hate them they way they have estranged their daughters, the mother who is protective of her children is a good influence on the single father and the young man idolizes his wife-to-be because, as a mother "she knows" . . . everything about their child. Mother's Day plays into the narcissism surrounding motherhood, as opposed to ever challenging it. The film's least-attached character, Miranda, is still a productive member of society - she prioritized career and is respectable, even though she gave up her daughter.

My point here is that mothers are idolized in Mother's Day in a way that is not universally-relatable, at least this day in age.

Mother's Day lacks memorable characters, but the performances are fine and Garry Marshall managed to get decent performances out of the young, unestablished members of the cast. But the movie is not engaging or held together in any compelling way. Instead, the performers do adequate jobs of representing the parts they were given, but those roles are not inherently interesting to watch or return to. That makes for a sad coda to a brilliant career for Garry Marshall.

For other works featuring Jennifer Aniston, please visit my reviews of:
Horrible Bosses 2
She's Funny That Way
Life Of Crime
We're The Millers
Wanderlust
Horrible Bosses
Just Go With It
The Bounty Hunter
The Switch
Love Happens
He's Just Not That Into You
30 Rock - Season 3
Friends With Money
Rumor Has It . . .
Friends
Office Space

2/10

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

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Liam Neeson As Han Solo: Why The 2016 The Force Awakens Han Solo Ornament Flops!


The Good: Good balance, Some of the coloring details
The Bad: Light on facial detailing, Poor coloring details, Expensive
The Basics: The Han Solo ornament from The Force Awakens is a tremendous disappointment and a poor tribute to the legendary character.


Before Star Wars: The Force Awakens hit theaters last year, many fans were miffed at how Mark Hamill's role of Luke Skywalker was left out of the advertising materials. Harrison Ford's reprisal of Han Solo became a key component of the advertising campaign and, after the fans saw the film it became pretty clear why that was the case. This year, Hallmark immortalized the incarnation of Han Solo who appeared in The Force Awakens and, sadly, it is one of their less successful renditions of the character. In a nutshell, the 2016 Han Solo ornament is plagued by a facial sculpt that more closely resembles Liam Neeson than it does Harrison Ford.

The new Han Solo ornament is the twentieth in the series of character ornaments from Star Wars. Fans of the Star Wars Saga know who Han Solo is and have the potential to recognize him in ornament form from The Force Awakens by his costume and gray hair. Having allied with Finn, Han Solo finds himself once again fighting for the Rebellion in The Force Awakens (reviewed here!). Hallmark captures Han Solo with a blaster in his hand, in the process of drawing the weapon!

This is an overpriced, simplistically-rendered Star Wars ornament with no bells and whistles, which is a tough sell for its key demographic of hard-core Star Wars fans.

Basics

The Han Solo ornament recreates the aged smuggler in solid plastic. The ornament, released in 2016, is the smuggler holding a blaster in his right hand. As a result, most of Han Solo's body is the character in his indistinct outfit from The Force Awakens, with only his head being truly distinctive to the character. Hallmark charged $15.95 originally for this ornament and it is selling very few pieces at that price. Han Solo is in the same scale as the other ornaments of people from the Star Wars films. This character ornament is four and one-eighth inches tall, two inches wide and one inch deep.

The Hallmark Han Solo ornament is made of a durable plastic and has him holding a blaster in his right hand, just out of its holster. His feet are arranged in a solid stance, as if he is prepared for attacks coming from any direction. Han Solo's outfit from The Force Awakens is hardly as distinctive as his smuggler's outfit or even his Hoth outfit, making it an odd choice for an ornament. The sculpt of the blaster Han Solo is holding is more detailed than the facial sculpt for the ornament.

Han Solo is detailed generically in the body and in the accessory. Unfortunately, Han Solo looks virtually nothing like he did in the movie. The skin tones are monotonal and the eyes lack the depth of Ford's eyes. In fact, this character looks more like an animated version of Han Solo than a recreation of the live-action character. The sculpt looks more like the head of Liam Neeson than it does Harrison Ford. On the coloring details, the ornament is monotonal in the skin, shirt and pants, but has depth and shading for the grays in the hair and the browns and black on the boots.

Features

As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, Han Solo could have a function like a sound chip or light effect, but does not. This is just an ornament, a low-cost (comparatively) option for those who might not want to shell out for the ship or diorama series' of Star Wars ornaments. This is Han Solo simply hangs. Han Solo's gun may not be removed from his hands.

Balance

As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake Han Solo ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate Star Wars Christmas Tree, the Han Solo is very much a luxury; this version of Han Solo was hardly an essential character. The ornament has a brass hook loop embedded into the top center, slightly back, of the character's skull. From that hook, the Han Solo ornament hangs well balanced. It is impressive and the ornament sways when rocked, but otherwise hangs stable in the right position!

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!) and the more common Millennium Falcon ornament from the Star Wars line. Since then, they have branched out into other popular franchises like Star Wars and The Wizard Of Oz. The Han Solo ornament is very common and one suspects more will sell on clearance after the holiday is over. At this point in the Star Wars ornament collections, the primary characters have all been done and the popular secondary characters are being explored, as well as alternate versions of principle characters.

This is not a great investment piece and it is unlikely to appreciate for some time, if at all.

Overview

The Han Solo ornament is a poor one; it is a mediocre rendition of an un-iconic version of the essential Star Wars character. As a result, most fans will be underwhelmed by the ornament and not feel the need to add it to their collections.

For other Hallmark ornaments of Star Wars characters, please check out my reviews of:
2015 Captain Phasma The Force Awakens
2015 Kylo Ren The Force Awakens
2015 C-3PO and R2-D2
2015 Admiral Ackbar (Limited Edition)
2014 Yoda Peekbuster Ornament
2014 Imperial Scout Trooper
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

2.5/10

For other ornament reviews, please be sure to visit my Ornament Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Mood Unfolds Into Slushy Substance: Stranger Things Season One Fizzles.


The Good: Mood, Most of the acting, General concept
The Bad: Not exceptional on character development, Plot-centered, Derivative
The Basics: Stranger Things is marginally interesting, but hardly enduring or exceptional television.


In its quest to create cutting-edge television entertainment, Netflix has surged forward with production of a number of projects. In fact, it seems like almost every week now, there is a new Netflix film or television season being released. Only a few days ago, I saw the first preview trailer for the first season of Stranger Things and now that the eight-episode season has premiered, it is hard to watch the season and feel like Netflix is choosing quantity now in the classic argument of quantity versus quality. With vastly more programs than are being produced by HBO, Showtime, or obscure networks like Starz, Netflix makes a conscious business decision each time it produces something new, as opposed to continuing a season of a previously-established work. It was not long into the first season of Stranger Things that I started to feel like Netflix could have better used their resources to continue the story begun in Sense8 Season One (reviewed here!).

Stranger Things might instantly draw comparisons to the film Super 8 (reviewed here!), due to its setting in the early 1980s, its predominantly young cast, and its scientific/supernatural elements, but it owes great homages to The X-Files (reviewed here!) and Fringe (reviewed here!). The Winona Ryder vehicle was created by a team of people who loved The X-Files for its government conspiracy ideas and Fringe for its normalized exploration of an alternate universe. Unfortunately for fans of the works that Stranger Things is derivative of, the first season lacks characters and character dynamics as interesting as Mulder and Scully . . . or the Bishop family. Instead, the science fiction mystery that is pieced together over the course of eight episodes is plot-heavy and mood-intensive in a way that fails to fully invest the viewer. Viewers are likely to stick with the season more to find out what the hell is going on, rather than because they actually care about the characters involved.

Opening in the early 1980s in Hawkins, Indiana, where a Department Of Energy worker meets an untimely, unreported, gruesome death, four middle school boys get together for a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. At the end of it, three of the boys leave the gathering and one of them disappears completely. Joyce Byers wakes up the next morning and cannot find her son, Will and her other son, Jonathan, does not know where he is, either. Joyce contacts Police Chief Jim Hopper, who treats the missing person's case by the numbers. But as Will's friends Mike Wheeler, Dustin and Lucas look for Will on their own, the trio of boys discovers a traumatized girl who is fleeing agents from the government facility in town.

While Mike hides the girl, Eleven, in his basement, Joyce begins to experiences seemingly supernatural visitations in her house. She quickly realizes that the mysterious lights and sounds in her home are Will attempting to contact her and she brings her suspicions to Hopper. Hopper's initial skepticism dissolves, though, when another government agency arrives in Hawkins and claims jurisdiction over what appears to be Will's corpse, which they pull out of the local quarry. When Hopper discovers the corpse is a synthetic, he begins to suspect a larger conspiracy. Eleven, meanwhile, begins to exhibit telekinetic powers and tries to convince the boys that Will is still alive as she is pursued by the government agents. As Joyce tries to communicate with Will, the citizens of Hawkins are hunted by a creature from the place where Will has been taken and Hopper, Joyce, and others in the know have to figure out how to save the town and get Will back!

Stranger Things Season One sets up a number of tropes, scenarios and concepts over the first two episodes, then spends the remaining six episodes tying them together and explaining them. The result is a season that is plot and concept-heavy and while the show generally comes together well, it is executed using characters that are virtually impossible to care about or be invested in. The mystery of Eleven (Elle) is simplistic and the show belabors costumes, props, and dialogue to set it in a very specific time and place as opposed to intimately exploring Joyce's grief and sense of being jerked around by the otherworldly contact from Will. The episodes are fleshed out with subplots of teenage romance and bullying that create a well-rounded setting, but dilute the horror of the otherworldly predator and the effects of the rips in space on the small town.

Despite the rather large cast of characters, Season One of Stranger Things has few characters of real depth and sophistication. The primary characters in the first season are:

Joyce Byers - A distraught mother living paycheck to paycheck when her young son, Will, disappears. After she receives disturbing phone calls which make her believe Will is still alive, she becomes obsessed with finding Will and bringing him back from the horrifying place he has been transported to,

Jim Hopper - The hard-drinking, smoking police Chief in Hawkins, Indiana, he has encountered nothing particularly extraordinary in his tenure as Chief. Years ago, his daughter died and he has not had a particularly stable life since. When Will goes missing, he organizes the town to search for the missing boy, but is quickly clued into a secret conspiracy from the Department Of Energy facility in town when a body appears in a place he already investigated. Hopper starts to put together the pieces of the conspiracy surrounding sudden surprising deaths and disappearances in Hawkins and their relationship to the facility in Hawkins,

Mike Wheeler - A geeky boy who is bullied at the middle school he attends, he is good friends with Will, Dustin and Lucas. When Will disappears and the trio discovers Eleven, he sneaks the girl into the basement of his parent's house. He is protective of Eleven and he soon realizes that her powers were developed with a high psychological price to the girl,

Eleven - A traumatized girl with 011 tattooed on her arm, she sneaks into a diner in Hawkins, before he has to go on the run from the men pursuing her again. Running into the woods near Will's house, she encounters Mike and his friends. She develops a love for Eggo waffles and tries to explain to Mike and his friends where she believes Will is. As the boys hunt for Will, her telekinetic powers begin to develop and she starts to remember the experiments performed on her by Dr. Brenner and how they relate to the town's current problems,

Nancy Wheeler - Mike's older sister, she studies and gets good grades, but is attracted to the high school jock, Steve. She is best friends with Barb and when Steve's parents go out of town, she uses Barb as a chaperone. But, when Barb disappears and Jonathan Byers has some clues into what might have taken her away, she begins to develop a friendship with him. As she searches for her lost friend, she becomes deeply intertwined with Jonathan Byers, his younger brother, and becomes more of badass in the process,

Jonathan Byers - An outsider who works hard and has a passion for photography, he was working the night his brother Will did not return home. He starts hunting for Will and reaches out to his estranged father in the process, but when some of his photos of Nancy and Barb enrage Steve and his friends, he is bullied. But Nancy reaches out to him for help and soon the pair are arming up to find the predator from the place Will has disappeared to,

and Dr. Martin Brenner - A somewhat monolithic adversary, he is part of the military base that is using the Department Of Energy as a cover for his experiments in Hawkins. He essentially raised Eleven as he experimented upon her from the time of her conception. In the process of his experiments, he inadvertently created many of the problems overrunning Hawkins.

While Stranger Things is dominated by a young cast in its first season, the show is almost completely stolen by actor David Harbour. The Newsroom was the work of Harbour's I was most familiar with prior to watching the first season of Stranger Things and as Chief Jim Hopper, he illustrates a far greater range and depth than he did as Elliot Hirsch. Harbour might look at various points in Stranger Things like Michael C. Hall or Jack Nicholas and the big surprise of the season is how he is able to perform on that level. Harbour starts the season playing Hopper as disgruntled and somewhat monolithic, but fleshes him out in almost every scene as a man still coping with his sense of loss. Harbour makes Hopper into someone who is not a simple womanizer and he is able to use his more subtle facial acting to perfectly sell the idea that Hopper is smart enough to observe things like the lack of rain on the government's video footage and question the state of reality in Hawkins. Harbour perfectly dominates every scene he is in.

The rest of Stranger Things is well-portrayed by Winona Ryder (Joyce), Finn Wolfhard (Mike), Natalia Dyer (Nancy), and Charlie Heaton (Jonathan). Matthew Modine is pretty much wasted as Dr. Brenner - the role is monolithic and does not require him to use even a fraction of his established range. Millie Bobby Brown is the breakout performer as Eleven and her emotive, complex performance plays off Modine's simplistic one. As well, Brown manages to cover the generally mediocre portrayals of the other child actors in the ensemble.

Stranger Things utilizes its special effects well in its first season. The show has fun retro-style credits and a soundtrack that clearly places the show in the time period, without ever overwhelming the unfolding mystery.

But, the sense of mood is one of the few superlative elements of the first season of Stranger Things and it is terribly inconsistent. The creepy moments are almost entirely overwhelmed in the early episodes by long stretches of boring teenage melodrama. While there are moments that are evocative of Twin Peaks (reviewed here!), the show lacks the character quirks and overall complexity of its obvious influences. Unlike something like Netflix's Sense8, where viewers had a lot to go back for multiple times and had a lot to anticipate for the second season, Stranger Things is simplistic enough in the first season that attentive viewers will catch - and, sadly, too often predict - everything, making it entertaining for one viewing, but hardly worth coming back for after one is done.

For other Netflix exclusive seasons, please check out my reviews of:
Arrested Development - Season Four
The Clone Wars - Season Six
House Of Cards - Season 4
Jessica Jones - Season 1
Orange Is The New Black - Season 3
Daredevil - Season 1
Grace And Frankie - Season 1
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Season 1

4.5/10

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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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