Wednesday, November 30, 2016

"Invasion!" Continues When Arrow Is Abducted Into A Holodeck!


The Good: Decent performances, Good character journey for Oliver Queen, Special effects
The Bad: Very predictable plot, Where is Firestorm?!
The Basics: Arrow continues the "Invasion!" with an episode that focuses on Oliver Queen and his allies trapped in a Dominator simulation.


When Warner Brothers created a new DC Television Universe, I was not an immediate convert. After all, their more recent attempt was with Smallville and between me not getting the television network it aired upon and having no interest in Superman, I was not overly impressed. As a result, I did not get on board with Arrow. However, given that the DC Television Universe is doing a massive crossover between its four television series', I figured I ought to be sure to catch the Arrow chapter of the crossover at least. The Arrow episode "Invasion!" follows on the heels of The Flash episode "Invasion!" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the Arrow portion of the crossover event without some references as to where The Flash chapter of it concluded.

It is worth noting that I am virtually illiterate in Arrow; all I know about where the show is in its storyline in its fifth season is that Diggle's daughter was transformed into a son as a result of Barry Allen's temporal meddling in "Flashpoint" (reviewed here!) and that for some unknown reason that truly upsets Diggle . . . even though there is no indication there is anything wrong with his son. Thea has retired from being Speedy, but has come out of retirement to deal with the alien invaders, the Dominators . . . and she has some papers from the City Council that Oliver Queen needs to sign. And Green Arrow and John Diggle's attempt to take down the Vigilante nearly got them killed, but The Flash arrived just in time to rescue them from a hail of bullets to tell them about the alien invaders. Thus ends my knowledge of current Arrow before "Invasion!" begins, though from The Flash episode, I know that Oliver Queen, has been abducted along with Sara Lance, Thea, Ray Palmer, and Diggle.

Oliver Queen is running through the woods and arrives back at his home where Laurel Lance is alive and now engaged to him. Queen is actually in the custody of the Dominators, plugged into a virtual reality table. Cisco Ramon arrives with Felicity at the Arrow's command center, where he meets Curtis and two other members of his team. Inside the simulation, Thea gives Oliver an artifact before their parents arrive and Sara experiences a minor glitch when she sees Laurel and she has a canary on an artifact. When Oliver stands up to a mugger, an archer appears and takes the would-be assailant away.

While Cisco and Felicity and the team attempt to hook up Dominator technology to track where the Dominators have taken the others, Oliver Queen and Sara Lance continue to experience glitches within the simulation. Oliver enters the Hood's secret laboratory, where he is confronted by Felicity and The Hood (Diggle). Oliver Queen begins to put together that his life is not quite right and he starts to confront the people from his regular life. The Flash, Supergirl, Mr. Terrific and two others begin a hunt for Laura Washington for the technology she stole in order to find the alien ship. Diggle and Queen meet up in the simulation and both feel that the Smoak Building in Starling City is out of place and they begin to compare notes, with Diggle figuring out that the Dominators exist and are real. While Oliver tries to convince Thea to leave the simulation with him and the others, The Flash and Supergirl incapacitate the technothief.

The Arrow section of "Invasion!" is largely an introspective character study, as opposed to a firm continuation of the Dominator invasion story. Oliver Queen starts to put things together faster than anyone else in "Invasion!" while characters like Sara Lance deliver ironic barbs based on who their characters are in other incarnations of the DC Television Universe ("You're lucky I'm not a trained assassin!"). Queen is essentially falling apart in the simulation, by having the family and love he lost given to him and that is interesting, though it has been done in science fiction a lot. The plot of this segment of "Invasion!" is very much a "distract the heroes by giving them what they most want" simulation, though even as one who is not a viewer of Arrow, this one held up remarkably well.

In fact, when John Diggle notes that the Smoak Building exists in their shared hallucination, it is hard not to suddenly appreciate the writing in the "Invasion!" Crossover event. The Smoak Building was something that Sara Lance and Ray Palmer would have seen in at least one future, so it would have been anomalous in Diggle, Thea and Oliver's reality. Sara Lance quickly asserts her pragmatic nature, which grounds those who are fans of Legends Of Tomorrow, but not Arrow.

Despite the intimate characterizations in "Invasion!," the episode is remarkably accessible once one understands the premise. The performances in "Invasion!" are good, with Stephen Amell giving a solid portrayal of a man who is torn between what he wants and what he knows to be real. Amell has surprisingly good range for his facial expressions in the moody, quiet moments of the episode and his reaction shots to Willa Holland's Thea are brilliantly conflicted.

"Invasion!" becomes its most original for a depressingly short amount of time, when the episode allows Thea to choose to stay in the simulation. For a few moments, Diggle, Palmer, Lance and Oliver Queen prepare to leave without her and the fact that she would knowingly choose to stay within (essentially) The Matrix is an interesting and comparatively original character twist.

The Arrow component of the "Heroes Vs. Aliens" crossover takes a strong, character-centered detour from the main conflict begun in The Flash episode "Invasion!" but it manages to work. The Dominators take until the very final moments of "Invasion!" to be classified as a threat worthy of the massive crossover, but once the episode gets there, it sets the next chapter up well . . . even if it leaves viewers wondering just where the hell Mick Rory and Firestorm are!

For other works with Stephen Amell, please check out my reviews of:
"Out Of Time" - Legends Of Tomorrow
"Star City 2046" - Legends Of Tomorrow
"Pilot, Part 1" - Legends Of Tomorrow
"Legends Of Today" - The Flash
"Rogue Air" - The Flash
"Flash Vs. Arrow" - The Flash
"City Of Heroes" - The Flash
Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham
Injustice: Gods Among Us
The Tracey Fragments

7/10

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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November 2016 End Of The Month Report!

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November was an awesome month for the blog and we had some awesome reviews, articles and hits for the blog. In addition to keeping up with all the latest DC Television Universe projects (except Arrow, I still haven't gotten into that!), the month had big hits from new Netflix television and movie projects, articles analyzing the election results and some big new movies. And, for the first time in a while, we had movement in the Top Ten Of All Time listing!

We have been working to adapt our prior reviews so they have functional links and our new reviews are being released with good new links, so products being reviewed generally have the right products associated with them. We appreciate our readers sticking with us through Amazon reconfiguring, which is likely to be ongoing!

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 November, we updated the index pages every few days, keeping them quite useful to our readers. 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 (at least the ones that render properly!) and purchasing items. We really appreciate all the purchases made through the blog as that keeps us going. As holiday shopping picks up next month, if you're going shopping online, please come through the blog to to it. Thank you so much!

At the end of November 2016, I have reviewed the following:
568 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Fiction
Star Trek Books
Nonfiction
Graphic Novels
Magazines
943 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
3095 - 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!)!
230 - 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
884 - 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
961 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Drinks
Candy
Cereal
Cheese and Meats
Ice Cream
Other Food
258 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
114 - Travel Reviews
Destinations Reviews
Hotels Reviews
201 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
204 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
106 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
60 - Other Product Reviews

The Featured Review For The Month of November is my review of: For The Love Of Spock and my Featured Article is: Shouting In The Casino: The Disingenuous Movement To Abolish The Electoral College!
Check them out!


The month of November was packed with new, highly-read reviews and it is no surprise that almost all of the biggest reviews were new movies and television reviews, with the Rogue One trailer review continuing to hold its own for the month! For November, the Top Ten Reviews of the month were:
10. "Invasion!"- The Flash
9. "Abominations" - Legends Of Tomorrow
8. "Shade"- The Flash
7. "Killer Frost" - The Flash
6. "The Good Samaritan" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
5. Arm & Hammer Truly Radiant Clean Mint toothpaste
4. I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House
3. True Memoirs Of An International Assassin
2. The Burden Of Being Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
1. Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life

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 - 322 reviews
9s - 496 reviews
8s - 960 reviews
7s - 1073 reviews
6s - 994 reviews
5s - 1265 reviews
4s - 939 reviews
3s - 730 reviews
2s - 351 reviews
1s - 234 reviews
0s - 114 reviews
No rating - 127 articles/postings

There was a decent amount of movement this month, including a new addition to the all time Top Ten Reviews! At the end of November 2016, the most popular reviews/articles are:
10. Star Trek Into Darkness
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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Overpriced, But Adorable, The 2016 Frosty Fun For You Ornament Set Surprises!


The Good: Very cute, Excellent sculpt and coloring detailing
The Bad: Incredibly expensive, Snowman is front heavy
The Basics: The 2016 "Frosty Fun For You" mini-ornament set is a fun gift, but way too expensive to bother buying!


There are few companies that come to mind that offer more freebies and premiums for spending money at their stores than Hallmark. While I suspect that the greeting card market is suffering, the ornament market that Hallmark Keepsake has made into a powerful business and a collectible industry seems to be thriving. As a result, fans who spend money at Hallmark stores at key times have a tendency to get freebies and premium ornaments. This year, some Hallmark Keepsake stores had open house events and with the purchase of a certain value and above, buyers at my local Hallmark were given a gift bag. Our gift bag included the 2016 Frosty Fun For You mini-ornament set.

The 2016 Frosty Fun For You mini-ornament set bears a price tag of $17.95 and for two mini-ornaments, that seems terribly expensive.

Basics

The Frosty Fun For You ornament set is a set of two mini-ornaments: a snowman and a penguin.

One of the two mini-ornaments is a snowman with his arms up, with the word "JOY" in front of him. The snowman has a scarf and winter hat and looks very happy. The mini-ornament is 1" tall, 1" wide and 5/8" deep. The snowman has glitter on his body and on the word "Joy," but not on his hat and scarf, so the coloring detail is shockingly precise for such a small ornament!

The penguin mini-ornament in the 2016 Frosty Fun For You set is adorable as it rides an innertube and has a cute blue scarf on its neck! The penguin is 11/16" tall and wide and 1" deep. The penguin is precisely colored to have clear delinieations between its black back, orange feet and white underbelly. The smiling face and open beak are both well-sculpted and precisely colored!

Features

As a Hallmark Keepsake mini-ornament set, "Frosty Fun For You" has neither a light, nor a sound effect. This is just the set of two mini-ornaments on their own with no additional features.

Balance

As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake "Frosty Fun For You" ornaments are to be hung on a Christmas tree. The snowman in the 2016 Frosty Fun For You mini-ornament set has a steel hook loop at the top of its hat. From there, the snowman hangs with a bit of a lean; the "JOY" at the front of the snowman makes it frontheavy. While the penguin is similarly frontheavy when hung from the steel hook loop near the back of the penguin, this is not so much a defect as it makes the penguin appear to be riding downhill on its inner tube!

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!). Within a few years, every major franchise from Star Wars to A Nightmare Before Christmas to Indiana Jones started making Hallmark ornaments. "Frosty Fun For You" is a non-genre ornament. Given the incredibly high release price it is unlikely that this mini-ornament set will appreciate in value. In fact, it is tough to believe that any stock of this ornament that is around at the end of the season and gets clearanced after the holiday would ever reach its release price again, so overpriced is this ornament set.

Overview

Hallmark has suddenly started making mini-ornaments and the high quality of mini-ornament sets like the 2016 Frosty Fun For You is hard to deny. But the cost of sets like the 2016 Frosty Fun For You are hard to justify, undermining their overall worth.

For other non-genre Hallmark ornaments, please check out my reviews of:
2016 On The Night You Were Born
2016 Holiday Celebration Barbie ornament
2015 Heat Miser The Year Without Santa Claus ornament

7/10

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

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Truths Come Out As An Inconvenient "Invasion!" Brings Together The DC Heroes!


The Good: Decent character development, Good performances, Cool effects, Snappy dialogue
The Bad: Moments of predictibility, Does not allow some of the key ideas to truly develop.
The Basics: The Flash properly begins "Invasion!" when the Dominators arrive in Central City and Barry Allen assembles a superteam to try to stop them.


DC Comics have a tendency to create crossover events to sell comic books from a wide range of titles at one time, the thought being that in order to get the whole story, one will have to purchase from across a broad library of titles. The thing is, in order for such crossovers to work and include the full array of characters needed to present the threat as worthy of a team-up of all the various disparate heroes, the conflict usually comes up at times that are not necessarily organic to all of the characters involved. So, for example, when DC Comics did its "Brightest Day" crossover event, Wonder Woman was in the middle of a year-long pocket universe story, which made it entirely inorganic to include the character in any other storylines in the DC Comics universe. As DC Comics properties have been transitioning into television properties, the desire to do crossover events seemed natural, but the first massive crossover event, "Invasion!," is proving to be as difficult and inorganic as the comic book crossovers.

To wit, The Flash episode "Invasion!" properly begins the crossover event which features alien invaders in Central City. The invasion comes abruptly, without any respect for the ongoing plotlines in The Flash, which is fine. However, in order to pull together characters from The Flash, Arrow, Legends Of Tomorrow and (from Earth-38's alien-infested universe) Supergirl, the invasion had to be teased in other properties before it began. As a result, the Legends Of Tomorrow episode "Outlaw Country" (reviewed here!) climaxed with the Waverider crew being called back to Central City, 2016, to help The Flash deal with a crisis that did not yet exist in the narrative (ironically undermining the current season's story, which contains Firestorm getting a message from a future incarnation of Barry Allen, thus eliminating any possibility of menace for The Flash in "Invasion!"). Similarly, throughout the Supergirl episode "Medusa" (reviewed here!), Vibe portals appear at random before The Flash and Cisco appear on Earth-3 to ask for help . . . without detailing what the crisis is that they need Kara Zor-El to assist with.

So, after two exceedingly clunky set-ups, "Invasion!" arrives. "Invasion!" comes on the heels of "Killer Frost" (reviewed here!), which was pretty heavy with character conflict and set up a pretty massive falling out between Barry Allen and Cisco Ramon. It also revealed Alchemy, made Wally West a speedster, brought Dr. Snow back from the brink of being lost as Killer Frost and introduced the new speedster villain Savitar properly. In other words, there was plenty going on in The Flash before its momentum and storyline were broken up by "Invasion!" "Invasion!" does a surprisingly good job of keeping the character momentum of The Flash characters going while assembling the super hero team.

Ten hours before The Flash and Arrow end up pinned down in Star City, Wally West is being tested by Dr. Snow and Cisco Ramon. Iris tries to discourage the team from encouraging Wally West from using his powers. While H.R. attempts to pitch opening S.T.A.R. Labs up for tours, a meteor crashes down in Central City. The Flash quickly discovers that the crashed object is a ship and the aliens within break out. When Lyla arrives from A.R.G.U.S., she tells the S.T.A.R. Labs team about the Dominators and their abductions of humans in the 1950s. Lyla implores the S.T.A.R. Labs team to not try to take on the Dominators alone.

The Flash assembles the team by calling back the Waverider and getting Supergirl and bringing her to Earth-1. Dr. Stein and Jax present Barry with the recording from the future, before the combined team trains against Supergirl. The Dominators abduct the U.S. President, while Wally turns to H.R. to train as a superhero. Drs. Stein and Snow visit Stein's home, where they find his adult daughter, but not his wife. When Cisco finds the recording from the future, Barry is outed and most of the team refuses to go to with him to stop the Dominators. The Dominators, however, lay a trap for the team, which allow the aliens to take control of their minds and turn them against The Flash and Arrow!

Supergirl is used surprisingly organically in "Invasion!" Kara has extensive experience with extraterrestrials and the idea that her people encountered the Dominators is a good detail. "Invasion!" misses a good opportunity for Supergirl to be surprised that the President of the United States on Earth-1 is a man, but otherwise, Kara gels well with the characters in "Invasion!" The continuity is similarly well-executed when Ray Palmer tells Barry about Snart's death.

The conflict between Cisco and Barry continues well in "Invasion!" as does Wally West's desire to develop his super powers. Cisco prioritizes the mission like a professional, but he is unable to sweep aside the consequences of learning the truth about the ramifications in the Flashpoint Tangent in the prior episode. Cisco continues to be distrusting of Barry and when he hears the recording from the Waverider from the future, it is easy for him to move further from Barry's side.

Oddly, Dr. Stein makes the same mistake Barry Allen made after returning to the present from the Flashpoint Tangent; Dr. Snow knows that time has been altered and while Stein turns to her for help in learning about his home life, he does not bother to ask her what she knows. The clues in "Invasion!" are unsatisfying, but it is a case of "simple problem, simple solution" and it is poor characterization for both Stein and Snow that he fails to ask and she fails to volunteer information on what might have changed in Stein's life as a result of Flashpoint. The confusion over the status of Dr. Stein's wife is made inexplicable by Snow's reaction at the end of the visit to his home . . . if she knows something it is ridiculous that she does not tell him what she knows when they are out of earshot of Stein's daughter.

The Dominators are interestingly rendered in "Invasion!" and they are a decent special effect that does the job of creating a menace well worth assembling a super team for. "Invasion!" does a poor job of explaining where the primary villains for The Flash are during the episode. The Dominators arrive, sure, but Alchemy and Savitar sit out the episode as opposed to exploiting the chaos the aliens create.

Crossover events can be tough to pull off, but "Invasion!" starts off the Berlantiverse crossover well, even if it lacks deeper themes and has moments that feel very rushed.

For other works with mind control, please check out my reviews of:
"Flash Vs. Arrow" - The Flash
"Ye Who Enter Here" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"Conspiracy" - Star Trek: The Next Generation

6.5/10

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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Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Bourbon Caramel Chocolate Squares Are Good, But Not Distinctly Flavored!


The Good: Good flavor, Wonderful aroma, Decent quantity, Good ingredients
The Bad: Comparatively expensive, Less distinct flavor for the caramel than one might hope
The Basics: Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Bourbon Caramel chocolate squares are decent, but the bourbon flavor is executed more as an aroma than a fully-developed flavor in the caramel.


As autumn fades to winter and all sorts of new products are released, I find there are a few I am still catching up on. When it comes to chocolates, the last year or two has been dominated by blends of chocolate and caramel and for Ghirardelli, I was surprised to find there was an offering I missed. Girardelli produced Dark Chocolate Bourbon Caramel chocolate squares and given how much my wife loves caramel and how much I love dark chocolate, it seemed like a great fit for us. The Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Bourbon Caramel chocolate squares are good, smell wonderful, but have a less distinct flavor than I might have hoped for. I don't drink alcohol, but the bourbon scent of the Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Bourbon Caramel chocolate squares was potent and inviting, but it did not translate to the flavor of the caramel in any noticeable way. The result is a chocolate caramel blend that is flavorful without completely living up to its promised potential.

Basics

Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Bourbon Caramel chocolate squares are one and a half inch squares of chocolate that are about three-eighths inches thick. Each of the squares comes individually wrapped in a metallic brown-orange (persimmon) wrapper. It is worth noting that while I usually rail against the environmental impact of such things, it is hard to imagine Ghirardelli chocolate squares not wrapped. This keeps each one clean, unmelted and intact.

Each chocolate square is a seamless square that is essentially a chocolate envelope sealing in a caramel filling which is quite yummy. In this form, the 6.3 oz. bag, the individually-wrapped chocolate squares are packaged together in a thick foil paper bag. This size has twelve squares and the thick foil paper bag does little to protect the squares. The bag is not resealable, though this matters very little considering that the chocolate squares do not go bad as they are individually wrapped.

One of these bags tends to run in the $5.00 range. These are not cheap candies!

Ease Of Preparation

These are candy, so preparing them is as simple as opening the bag and then opening one of the foil wrappers around the actual chocolate square one wishes to eat. There is no grand secret to eating Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Bourbon Caramel chocolate squares. I have, for example, garnished ice cream with these squares from time to time. The chocolate flavor is powerful against more bland flavors, like vanilla ice cream!

Taste

The Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Bourbon Caramel squares smell strongly of chocolate and bourbon. The slightly acrid smell from the chocolate is the perfect embodiment of the alcohol! There is nothing in the aroma that insinuates caramel, though the blend of the alcohol scent and the chocolate scent is very inviting!

In the mouth, the Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Bourbon Caramel chocolate squares are sweet and chocolatey. The chocolate is dark and flavorful, without even a hint of being waxy like some mass produced chocolates are. The chocolate is sweeter than many dark chocolates, without the dryness of exceptionally dark chocolates. The caramel is sweet and slightly salty, without hints of a more sophisticated flavor to it. The chocolate overwhelms much of the caramel flavor, though the caramel sweetens the dark chocolate some. The caramel flavor is good, but not overly distinct.

The Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Bourbon Caramel chocolate squares finish dry, as one might expect from a dark chocolate. The mildly bitter flavor does not endure in the mouth for very long after the last of it is consumes.

Nutrition

These are candy, so they are not expected to be overly nutritious. The Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Bourbon Caramel chocolate squares are not nearly as bad as they could be. The primary ingredients are sugar, unsweetened chocolate and corn syrup. There is nothing unpronounable in these candies, though there are a couple of preservatives near the bottom of the ingredient list.

A serving of the Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Bourbon Caramel chocolate squares is considered one square. From a single square, one takes in 70 calories, including 4.5 grams of fat. There is no cholesterol, 15 mg sodium, and 1 gram protein, but no vitamins or minerals (save 4% RDA of Iron) in these chocolate squares. There are 9 grams of carbohydrates in each Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Bourbon Caramel chocolate square.

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 pass over. They are, however, kosher.

Storage/Clean-up

The bags of these Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Bourbon Caramel chocolate squares remain fresh for quite some time. The one my wife bought us for Thanksgiving had a July 31, 2017 expiration date. One assumes that if they are kept in a cool, dry environment they will not melt or go bad. Given that they are individually wrapped in a very sealed package, it is hard to imagine just what it would take for these to go bad outside melting and refreezing.

As for cleanup, I applaud those who actually throw the wrappers away in socially appropriate places, as opposed to litter. 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 chocolate squares melt into most fabrics, they will stain. Getting them to melt is surprisingly easy.

Overall

Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Bourbon Caramel chocolate squares are very good, but if it were not for the dark chocolate coating, the caramel would make them decidedly average. As it is, they are better than most, standard, chocolate caramel treats without truly living up to a well-rounded bourbon and caramel flavor.

For other Ghirardelli chocolate squares reviews, please check out:
Dark Chocolate Blueberry
Mocha
Double Fudge

7/10

For other food and drink reviews, please visit my Food & Drink Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Returns With The Surprisingly Successful "Deals With Our Devils!"


The Good: Decent character development, Good performances, Awesome effects
The Bad: Derivative plot, Lack of larger themes, Obvious seeding
The Basics: "Deals With Our Devils" brings together a number of threads to make a successful Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode!


Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been having an unfortunately forgettable fourth season. The show has yet again shaken up its team and introduced Ghost Rider to the narrative, which has done nothing to make the show charming or interesting. Instead, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has become so derailed by redefining itself and explaining Ghost Rider that the established, main characters have stagnated or been involved with tangent arcs that are hardly compelling. After a few weeks off the air, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. returns with "Deals With Our Devils" and the return of the show comes as the fourth season episode is overshadowed by news that Marvel is developing The Inhumans for television (isn't that pretty much what Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been doing the last two years?!).

"Deals With Our Devils" follows on the events of "The Good Samaritan" (reviewed here!) and the film Doctor Strange (reviewed here!) and the hiatus for Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. could not have come at a worse time. "The Good Samaritan" was a Ghost Rider-heavy episode that put Dr. Morrow with Lucy and has Director Mace now under the thumb of an anti-Inhuman Senator . . . but all of the main characters start "Deals With Our Devils" in an entirely unmemorable limbo. While "Deals With Out Devils" does not reference Doctor Strange explicitly (though it is hard to deny that the chamber Aida works is not the same type of technology as seen in that film), it does appear to be laying some of the framework for The Inhumans.

The S.H.I.E.L.D. team enters Morrow's facility, where Coulson, Reyes and Fitz have disappeared. Eli Morrow illustrates his power by killing agents by simply materializing carbon spines through them. Reviewing the footage, Daisy advocates searching for the lost team members, while Mace advocates cutting the lost members loose. Simmons has been brought to a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility where she is shown an Inhuman in the process of becoming, encased during terrigenesis. May advocates opening the Dark Hold and using it to recover the three lost team members, but Mack is against the idea. Mack opts to go rogue to find the lost team members.

Out of phase with the others, Coulson and Fitz witness May and Mack looking for them. Coulson, Fitz and Reyes leave the facility together and follow the unphased team members. Reyes starts to succumb to the effects of being out of phase because of the Ghost Rider. The Rider takes over Mack and motivates him to go after the Chinatown crew. May brings Dr. Radcliffe the Dark Hold to try to figure out the transdimensional boxes, but he is terrified of using it.

In many ways, "Deals With Our Devils" is the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. version of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Next Phase" (reviewed here!). It is quickly established that Fitz and his team are just out of phase with the main characters and the out-of-phase people work to find a way to communicate with the main crew.

"Deals With Our Devils" affords Agent May a decent role as she quickly realizes that Mace is lying about talking to Simmons early on. She also spends time on her own emotionally talking to herself about her feelings, especially for Coulson and that is a welcome development.

The Simmons subplot might just be a set up for The Inhumans, but it is well executed. Simmons is kind to the person in the terrigenesis cocoon and when she talks to the inanimate person, Elizabeth Henstridge does an amazing job of emoting opposite the prop. Simmons might have a brief role in "Deals With Our Devils," but Henstridge makes the most of her scenes.

Mack becomes the Ghost Rider in "Deals With Our Devils" and that affords a lot of potential for the character in future episodes. At the other end of the spectrum, Aida suddenly becomes a relevant, vibrant character when the Dark Hold comes into play. Aida is outed in "Deals With Our Devils," but her character finally makes sense with the mix of characters Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. currently has.

The conflict between Fitz and Coulson is smartly presented in "Deals With Our Devils."

The special effects in "Deals With Our Devils" are good and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. finally returns to a place where it has some witty barbs and good dialogue to it. There is a cool effect with Morrow creating carbon, both for the walls and as weapons. The Ghost Rider looks awesome in "Deals With Our Devils" and it makes the climax of the episode particularly gripping.

"Deals With Our Devils" is a surprisingly good return for Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., which does a decent job of tying together multiple elements from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While it might have gotten here roughly, "Deals With Our Devils" arrives at an engaging place that is almost enough to restore one's faith in the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.!

For other works with Clark Gregg, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 3
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 2
Brightest Star
Lego Marvel Super-Heroes
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 1
The Avengers
Thor
Iron Man 2
Iron Man
In Good Company
The West Wing
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
State And Main
Sports Night
Magnolia
The Usual Suspects

7.5/10

For other reviews of elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a listing of all those reviews!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Monday, November 28, 2016

Krypton Just Keeps Getting Killed: Supergirl: Volume 4 - Out Of The Past!


The Good: Decent artwork, Good coloring, Good character work
The Bad: Surprisingly basic plots, Reliance on other Kryptonians undermines Kara Zor-El's character
The Basics: Supergirl: Volume 4 - Out Of The Past introduces Cyborg Superman and returns both Brainiac and Krypton to the narrative with mixed results.


As I have become more of a fan of Supergirl - on television and in print - I have started to recognize certain elements and characters as being iconic Supergirl or immensely popular in the Superman and affiliated characters corners of the DC Universe. So, when the Cyborg Superman appeared on Supergirl in "The Darkest Place" (reviewed here!), I was pretty psyched as I recognized the villain Hank Henshaw from (ironically!) the Sinestro Corps War from Green Lantern. The Cyborg Superman is an incredibly complicated and compelling villain in the DC Comics source material. As one going back to the Supergirl corner of the DC Comics universe, I was pretty excited when Cyborg Superman made his debut in Supergirl: Volume 4 - Out Of The Past.

Supergirl: Volume 4 - Out Of The Past continues after the traumatic events Kara Zor-El experienced in Supergirl: Volume 3 – Sanctuary (reviewed here!), but it opens with just enough of a recap to allow readers to feel the narrative is accessible. Unfortunately, Cyborg Superman popping up is far less engaging than it could be - arguably because it pushes a plot that undermines the power and horror of Brainiac - and Supergirl: Volume 4 - Out Of The Past then transitions into a Kryptonian team-up story that once again minimizes Supergirl as a character. The result is a decidedly mixed story.

Two days before she steals the KR-1 and heads into space, Supergirl returns home to see Siobhan and say goodbye. Siobhan is unsympathetic to what Supergirl has gone through recently as she has her own issues going on (including a sewage leak in their shared apartment!). Recognizing that she is dying as a result of her Kryptonite poisoning, Kara leaves Earth and is drawn to I'Noxia where the planet is under attack by a giant alien. Kara saves many lives and then stops the Crix, as part of the manipulations of Delacore. Delacore explains that I'Noxia is essentially a planetary model and he has Supergirl recreate a beloved Kryptonian statue from her memory. When she recognizes that the technology of I'Noxia and its N-10 metal represents a potential to recreate Krypton, the Cyborg Superman appears to ask her for help. He wants Kara to start recreating Krypton with her memories in order to try to spark something that would give him a clue as to his past before he was made into a cyborg.

Cyborg Superman soon turns on Kara, declaring he needs her body for his own to be made whole. I'Noxia recreates all of Supergirl's tormented memories and send them against Kara. When Kara's body succumbs to the Kryptonite poisoning, the Cyborg Superman is able to abduct her and prepares to take her body. But when Brainiac, the Cyborg's creator, arrives at I'Noxia, Cyborg Superman insists on taking control of Kara's body. The Cyborg is revealed to be Zor-El, Kara's father, and as Brainiac mercilessly attacks I'Noxia, Supergirl's consciousness fights to break free of the Collective and Zor-El comes to the painful decision to save his daughter's life. With the newly recreated Cyborg Superman doing battle against Brainiac, Supergirl turns her attention to saving Delacore and I'Noxia.

Supergirl: Volume 4 - Out Of The Past concludes with the crossover "Krypton Returns," which is a different story from the rest of the book. The Oracle is creating a crisis throughout the omniverse and Kara, Kon-El and Kal-El must stop H'El and the Oracle from saving Kypton and wreaking more destruction than if the planet was destroyed. Kara is trapped back in time on Krypton. There, she must defeat H'El again, while Kal-El and Kon-El prepare other points in time for Krypton's destruction. Kon-El has to save Kara from dying at the hands of the Eradicator a week before Argo City is destroyed and Kal-El witnesses his parents preparing to have him!

Supergirl: Volume 4 - Out Of The Past is important in the long arc of Supergirl in that it is another volume in which Kara Zor-El tries to save Krypton, opens her heart and is utterly destroyed emotionally for it. Kara is shocked and poisoned by H'El and when Cyborg Superman spins her a good yarn, she is susceptible to him. It is tough to make a protagonist a dupe and have them continue to be interesting, but Michael Alan Nelson pulls it off for the bulk of Supergirl: Volume 4 - Out Of The Past. Supergirl acknowledges that she is making a mistake again when she recognizes Cyborg Superman for what he is and she goes into the conflict with the clone army pretty well-prepared.

Supergirl continuing to be duped and having to take part in ensuring Krypton's destruction lays the framework well for the subsequent volume, but given that Kara has not fully fallen, it is not entirely satisfying.

What is good is the artwork in Supergirl: Volume 4 - Out Of The Past. The characters look consistently recognizable and there is good use of color for the I'Noxian replicants. Familiar superheroes who are replicated from Kara's memories are colored with faded colors to indicate their status visually and that is executed well.

Ultimately, though, Supergirl: Volume 4 - Out Of The Past is a fairly average graphic novel that progresses the Kara Zor-El's story well, but not in an exceptional way that allows Kara to truly stand on her own.

For other New 52 titles, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Flash: Reverse
Green Lantern: Rise Of The Third Army
Harley Quinn: In The City

5/10

For other graphic novel reviews, be sure to check out my Graphic Novel Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the graphic novel reviews I have written!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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The Invasion Begins As An Afterthought In "Medusa!"


The Good: Good performances, Moments of effects, Character development
The Bad: Predictable plot, Tacked on plot element/rushed plot elements, A few key technical elements.
The Basics: "Medusa" refocuses Supergirl on Kara, Mon-El, J'onn, and Lena Luthor in advance of the big Invasion crossover event!


When Supergirl moved from CBS to The CW, it was almost immediately announced that there would be a four-part crossover event between the four DC Comics television properties on The CW: Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow and Legends Of Tomorrow. The most inherently problematic show to incorporate into any crossover was going to be Supergirl as the first season of the show had a crossover with The Flash, which clearly established that Supergirl occurs on a different Earth in the DC Multiverse than the other three shows. The solution comes in "Medusa" when the four-part Invasion storyline is introduced as Supergirl is recruited to save "our" Earth (Earth-1 in the parlance of The Flash). Ironically, the introduction of the Invasion storyline comes as two afterthoughts, tacked on scenes in Legends Of Tomorrow's "Outlaw Country" (reviewed here!) and then in the climax of "Medusa" on Supergirl. Most of "Medusa" is a self-contained episode entirely unrelated to Earth-1.

"Medusa" picks up right after "The Darkest Place" (reviewed here!), which makes some sense because the Cyborg Superman had just used Kara Zor-El's blood to breath the Fortress Of Solitude and he asked for information on the "Medusa Project." Between that and the way that Kara just learned that Lena Luthor is the daughter of the director of the Cadmus Project and is instantly suspicious of her affiliation with her mother's anti-alien organization, there is a lot of momentum going into "Medusa" from Supergirl's current storyline.

Opening at Thanksgiving, Alex insists the guys not tell Kara that Olsen is The Guardian, when Mon-El come for the family dinner. Eliza recognizes that Mon-El is interested in Kara and before Alex can come out to her mother, a hole in the space time continum opens and closes right over the dinner table. Returning the next day to the DEO, the team tries to figure out how to stop Lillian Luthor and Cadmus. At the alien bar, Mon-El runs afoul of the Cyborg Superman, who plants a bomb at the bar, gassing its guests and killing the aliens inside. Alex decides to bring Eliza in for back-up on figuring out what the alien toxin was, keeping Kara and J'onn in quarantine.

In quarantine, Kara confronts Mon-El about his feelings for her, moments before Mon-El collapses. Kara makes a trip to the Fortress Of Solitude where she learns what Hank Henshaw was after: a bioweapon called Medusa created by Kara's Kryptonian father, Zor-El. When the DEO figures out that L Corp makes an isotope that will allow Cadmus to disseminate the virus throughout National City. When Hank Henshaw attacks L Corp to get the isotope, Supergirl saves Lena and has to tell Lena Luthor the truth about Lillian. When Cadmus moves to release the isotope which will carry the virus to everyone in National City, J'onn steps up to save humanity.

Lena Luthor continues to be characterized as a straightforward and generally good person who actually loathes her mother's agenda. Kara's attempt to get an interview out of her reveals that Lena is deeply uncomfortable by what Lillian Luthor is doing. There is something deeply refreshing in "Medusa" about how Lena appears to be exactly how she has appeared. Supergirl has used a volume of reversals of late that has bordered on the ridiculous. As such, the show has needed to have some sense of grounding to it. Lena Luthor provides that grounding simply by being exactly what she appears to be in the scenes with Lillian Luthor. Lena and Lillian have opposite agendas and Lena's ability to see that her mother does not love her clearly characterizes her as someone unwilling to fall into the traps that Lillian lays.

Lena is characterized as appropriately complex and she has a surprisingly reasonable response to Kara outing Lillian to her. "Medusa" has a lot of outing and Alex's journey in the episode has her getting some resolution with both her mother and Maggie in ways that are incredibly satisfying scenes. Kara having to come clean to Mon-El about her father's creation of Medusa is well-executed by Melissa Benoist.

"Medusa" opens with a classic Superman-style problem, which has Alex, Olsen and Schott talking about Olsen being the Guardian within earshot of Kara. As well, the writers create a problem that is not clearly solved within the episode. The Medusa virus is a virus that targets all non-Kryptonian aliens. While it makes sense that Mon-El would not be affected as seriously, as Daxomites have a common physiology with Kryptonians, it makes no sense that humans are not affected by the Medusa virus. Humans would be aliens to Kryptonians and their virus should be laying waste to humans and non-Kryptonian aliens alike.

J'onn J'onnz's transformation into a White Martian continues in "Medusa" and the moment he has to confess what is happening to him to Kara is preceded by one of the episode's most impressive and horrifying special effects sequences. His personal arc in "Medusa" is compelling and heroic, exactly what one would expect of the Martian Manhunter.

"Medusa" is undermined by its climax. In an episode that is filled with people being emotionally honest with one another and confronting the difficult truths, the way Kara lies to Mon-El at the end is exceptionally disappointing. Fortunately, the Alex and Maggie scene quickly blunts that. But then there is the crossover aspect that also feels incredibly tacked on to "Medusa."

On the balance, though, "Medusa" is a solid episode of Supergirl that continues to promote decent values of tolerance and acceptance with characters who are engaging to watch.

For other crossover episodes, please visit my reviews of:
"Flash Vs. Arrow" - The Flash
"Legends Of Today" - The Flash
"The Birthright, Part I" - Star Trek: The Next Generation

7.5/10

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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Hill's Science Diet Grain Free Adult Cat Food Is An Expensive Disappointment!


The Good: Nutritious
The Bad: Very expensive, Small pieces have minimal dental benefits for cats, My cats are largely indifferent to it.
The Basics: Hill's Science Diet Grain Free Adult Cat Food is not my cats' favorite food, which makes it a much tougher sell given how expensive it is!


I am not one to pass up a good deal. There is a store nearby that sells great products comparatively inexpensively, but they don't like products to linger there. So, often times, when they get in a shipment and overstock on something, they will discount the product even more. So it was for me one day when I walked and and saw they had a cart full of two-pound bags of Hill's Science Diet Grain Free Adult cat food. It wasn't expiring any time soon, it had nothing wrong with it, but the store had gotten so much in and it wasn't selling fast enough for them to be happy about it, so they decided to dump it. So, when I saw that the bags of quality cat food that were originally being sold at $7.99 were being blown out at $1.24/ea., I decided to buy them all and stock up for my cats.

This was a bit of a mistake, as it turns out, because after a month of feeding my cats the Hill's Science Diet Grain Free Adult Cat Food, I am forced to acknowledge that none of my cats actually love the food. Hill's Science Diet Grain Free Adult Cat Food might be the first cat food in a long, long time that my cats consume when it is in their bowl, but never gorge themselve on and never empty their bowls . . . even when they are only presented with the minimum daily servings for their weights. Given that Evie is still growing (she's just a year old, which was the minimum age for this food), that even she is not overly enamored with the Hill's Science Diet Grain Free Adult Cat Food is somewhat frustrating.

At least I got it cheap.

Basics

Hill's Science Diet Grain Free Adult Cat Food is a cat food formulated for adult cats. The Hill's Science Diet Grain Free Adult Cat Food regularly comes in a two pound heavy plastic bag that is resealable with a Velcro seal at the top and our discount store started at $7.99, so I can only imagine how expensive it is out in the real world! As someone who cannot generally afford such things, the fact that my cats are not over-the-moon about the Hill's Science Diet Grain Free Adult Cat Food makes it very frustrating that it would usually cost so very much.

The Hill's Science Diet Grain Free Adult Cat Food comes in hard pieces are surprisingly homogeneous 3/8" in diameter discs that are 1/8" thick. These tiny morsels are reminiscent of red blood cells in shape (though they are hard, brown and much larger!) and are so small that only Evie of our three cats actually bothers to chew them. I have watched both Elim and Timber lap up and swallow them whole when they have only one piece in their mouth!

Ease Of Preparation

Hill's Science Diet Grain Free Adult Cat Food is a hard cat food that comes in a small bag, so preparation only involves opening the bag and measuring out the proper serving size for your cat, as determined by its weight. Timber and Elim get about 5/8 of a cup of the Hill's Science Diet Grain Free Adult Cat Food per day (as they are both about ten pounds each) and Evie gets a 1/3 cup serving. When properly fed those servings, none of the cats actually finishes their food in a day since giving them Hill's Science Diet Grain Free Adult Cat Food exclusively.

Elim, Evie And Timber’s Reactions

The Hill's Science Diet Grain Free Adult Cat Food smells strongly of chicken. The meaty smell that bursts out of the bag when it is opened it strong and significant. It was very clear from the smell that real meat was the first ingredient of the Hill's Science Diet Grain Free Adult Cat Food.

However, outside the first time my cats were fed Hill's Science Diet Grain Free Adult Cat Food, the smell did not appear to do anything for them. The smell brought all three cats running the day I brought all of the bags home and opened one, but never before has the luster of a new food so quickly faded for the cats for a food they would eat. I have had cats that avoid cat foods - especially Elim. But Elim will eat the Hill's Science Diet Grain Free Adult Cat Food, so it is not a waste. But, Elim, Evie and Timber showed no preference toward the Hill's Science Diet Grain Free Adult Cat Food. In testing the three cats with different combinations of three and four bowls of various dry cat foods set out at the same time, none ever chose the Hill's Science Diet Grain Free Adult Cat Food. In fact, with only three bowls out, Timber would respectfully wait for one of the other cats to finish eating from their bowl, rather than consume the Hill's Science Diet Grain Free Adult Cat Food.

All three will eat the Hill's Science Diet Grain Free Adult Cat Food when it is the only option before them, but none seek it out and choose it above any other cat food they are given the chance to eat.

Nutrition

The Grain Free Adult Beyond Cat Food is a pretty nutritious cat food. The guaranteed analysis of it indicates that it has a minimum of 29% crude protein and 19% crude fat. With no more than 3.5% crude fiber and 9% moisture, this is a food that is balanced. This food also has notable amounts of Taurine (at least .2%), Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids, Phosphorus, and Vitamin E. Always have adequate water near your cat’s feeding area!

As well, those who are concerned about what goes into their pets will be pleased by how this is a mostly natural cat food this is, despite the bulk of the ingredients being added vitamins and minerals. The main ingredients are chicken, potatoes, and yellow peas.

Overview

Hill's Science Diet Grain Free Adult Cat Food is good if it can be found at a steal of a deal, but my cats would have been happier with almost anything else I brought home!

For other cat foods, please visit my reviews of:
Purina ONE Purposeful Nutrition Tender Selects Blend Cat Food
Iams Premium Protection Mature Cat Food
Fancy Feast Medleys White Meat Chicken Primavera With Garden Veggies & Greens Pate Cat Food

3.5/10

For other cat products, please be sure to visit my Pet Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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HAPPY BIRTHDAY Mary Elizabeth Winstead! We Check Out The Underrated A.C.O.D.!


The Good: Decent performances, Interesting characters, Realistic character arcs, Some very funny lines
The Bad: Somewhat predictable plot, Spread thin on analysis
The Basics: A.C.O.D. is an engaging and very funny exploration of the effects marriage and divorce have had on U.S. culture.


It seems that almost every day that a celebrity death is announced of a beloved actor, musical artist or director (I have no idea how to write a tribute to Fritz Weaver!) and it is hard to escape the conclusion that 2016 has just flat-out sucked in that regard. Rather than focus on the endless parade of celebrity deaths today, though, I thought I would try to celebrate something good. As it turns out, today is Mary Elizabeth Winstead's birthday (Happy Birthday!!!!) and I just finished watching the film A.C.O.D., an underrated independent comedy in which Winstead has a disturbingly under-credited role.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead is an actress on the rise who has slowly been getting more and more featured roles in works as directors come to understand that she has range and impressive acting abilities. She recently led the cast of 10 Cloverfield Lane (reviewed here!) and it is tough to believe that there could be a young actress who could so effectively steal the spotlight from John Goodman, but Mary Elizabeth Winstead does it! A.C.O.D. features Winstead in the supporting role of Lauren, the girlfriend of the protagonist and while there are problems with Lauren in the film, none of them have to do with how Mary Elizabeth Winstead performs the character. From the way that Lauren is introduced - with a deadpan mockery of Carter intended to freak him out - to her character never explicitly saying on-screen that her parents' long marriage intimidates her (a subtext which Winstead acts the hell out of throughout the film!), a surprising number of issued in A.C.O.D. and the way its themes are executed surround Lauren. And yet, Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays the part that was written incredibly well and continues to draw the eye with her on-screen presence.

Carter is in his thirties, a survivor of his parents' rather brutal divorce and the various remarriages that gave him a presence in assorted blended families growing up. After successfully keeping his parents completely apart for twenty years, his younger brother Trey decides to get married and Trey wants both Hugh and Melissa at the wedding. After approaching his mother and his father, Carter discovers exactly what he suspected remains true: Hugh and Melissa still have so much animosity and fury between them that they cannot be in the same place together without destroying the event. To try to figure out a way to make Trey's wedding wish come true, Carter turns to Dr. Judith, a woman he thought was his therapist during the divorce. But Dr. Judith was a researcher and Carter's time with her was fodder for her book C.O.D. (Children Of Divorce). Carter tracks down the bestselling book on divorce and reads it, quickly recognizing which character in the book was him.

Attempting to reject Dr. Judith's character analysis of his faults, Carter manipulated Hugh and Michelle into meeting in a public place to discuss Trey's wedding and bury the hatchet enough so they might be civil to one another for the event. Carter's peacekeeping gesture backfires, however, when Hugh and Melissa begin having an affair on their respective spouses with one another. His life in a tailspin, Carter tries desperately to protect Trey and his step-parents from the truth, keep his business afloat and his relationship solid, all the while Dr. Judith hounds him for follow-up research for a sequel to her original book.

A.C.O.D. is a surprisingly underrated comedy that hits most of the right notes with its hilarious lines and uncomfortable moments that make humor out of people treating one another badly. Opening with Hugh and Melissa screaming at one another through Carter's ninth birthday party at the beach house, A.C.O.D. makes an art form out of realistic uncomfortable incidents. The film is complicated and smart even as it evokes grimmaces, most notably in a scene where Carter's family sits down for a meet and greet with Kieko's (the bride's) family and Carter starts to assert himself.

Adam Scott plays Carter in A.C.O.D. and the film continues to showcase that the actor has genuine range. Long before it is made explicit, Scott plays Carter as a man desperately attempting to keep things together, Carter is a man acting like everything is okay and that he has overcome his childhood modeling. An actor playing a character who is (unconsciously) acting himself is a difficult part to pull off, but Scott does so. Just as Mary Elizabeth Winstead infuses the scene outside her parents' anniversary dinner with subtext for what is going through Lauren's head, Scott infuses key scenes with miniscule physical tells that indicate his character is still wrestling with the past on a daily basis.

A.C.O.D. is one of those films that can be used by those who have been through such things as a way to enlighten those not in-the-know to a condition, but for adult children of incredibly messy and acrimonious divorces, A.C.O.D. is more predictable than it is revelatory. Dr. Judith is a user, Carter is the negotiator he is pegged in the book for being and Melissa is an embittered ex-wife who feels like she settled when the man she wanted in her life turned out to be a cheating jerk. Cycles repeat; characters who think they are aware of all of their button issues fall into bling spots. And cycles repeat. Watching A.C.O.D. together highlighted the predictibility of such things for survivors when my wife shouted out "flying monkeys!" when Gary (Melissa's new husband) tries to give Trey a check for the wedding. Survivors who are metaconscious will see much of what happens in A.C.O.D. coming.

Despite that, A.C.O.D. is very funny and makes some important statements. The cast - main and supporting - is amazing, though the parts are definitely skewed toward giving veteran actors like Richard Jenkins (Hugh), Catherine O'Hara (Melissa) and Jane Lynch (Dr. Judith) more to play with than some of the younger cast. Clark Duke, for example, is given incredibly little to play with and Amy Poehler's supporting role is given important hints of depth but not enough time to grow and develop on-screen as a truly compelling character.

Ultimately, A.C.O.D. is a solid, if occasionally unsettling, film that is well worth watching and successfully tackles its subject matter with realism and humor.

For other works with Adam Scott, please visit my reviews of:
My Blind Brother
Friends With Kids
Piranha 3D
Leap Year
Step Brothers
Star Trek: First Contact

7/10

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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