Thursday, September 30, 2010

Baez Covers Dylan With A Voice And Presentation That (Mostly) Improves On The Source Material!

The Good: Great songs, Great voice, Some beautiful performances
The Bad: Some musical mismatches, Nothing not available elsewhere
The Basics: A compilation that resurrects Baez's early covers of Bob Dylan-written tracks offers satisfaction to anyone who likes folk-rock music!

I've periodically go on a Bob Dylan kick. Some time ago, I came to realize that for all the songs I had heard covered that were Dylan tracks, I knew very few of his songs as presented by the artist himself. Indeed, growing up as a child of a lover of folk-rock music I heard surprisingly little of Bob Dylan's original songs as presented by him. Instead, most of the songs I heard that were Dylan tracks were probably the coversongs performed by Joan Baez. It is for people like me - or anyone who wants a woman's take on Dylan's lyrics - that the Baez Sings Dylan compilation was made for!

With twenty tracks totaling over seventy-three minutes of music, Baez Sings Dylan is a collection of songs written by Bob Dylan that Joan Baez covers. These tracks are culled from four Joan Baez albums from the 1960s and there is nothing that is unique to this album that fans of Joan Baez who have her early works would not already have. Instead, this album seems to be marketed to fans of the works of Bob Dylan who want to hear what Baez did with his work. As a result, there is nothing extraordinary or audacious that is presented from the lens of perspective - like some of the recent live covers Baez has produced. Instead, this is vintage "Baez does Dylan" work that is compiled for fans of Dylan.

That is not to say the album is in any way bad! Truth be told, my experiences with Baez albums thus far has only been with her collection Ring Them Bells (click here for that review!). On that album, there were a few live covers of Dylan tracks. Here, many of the songs are well-produced classics that define Joan Baez as a folk-rock star of some talent and emotive ability.

For those unfamiliar with Joan Baez, her history with Dylan is well-documented in the liner notes to the album, Baez Sings Dylan presents Joan Baez as an American folk singer with a beautiful alto voice and a pair of lungs on her that is able to hold notes like few artists before or sings. So, for example, on the album's first track, "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" illustrates wonderfully her ability to sing melodically long notes that are mournful and sustained. She has an impressive voice that is able to articulate high, low, fast and slower tempo. She illustrates this range on this album over the many tracks.

On "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," Baez presents one of the most impressive explorations of her tonal range as she lifts into soprano territory and then plunges to lower notes without ever sounding atonal. Instead, she is magnificent with an effortless quality that seems to allow her to transcend the notes to make musical expression that is truly emotive.

Nowhere is her ability to emote more clear than on "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right." Baez sings the song with a rousing sense of determination and anger borne of love when she climaxes with "You just kinda wasted my precious time" ("Don't Think Twice, It's All Right") that easily holds its own against Dylan's masterful version.

But there are several tracks where Joan Baez covers Dylan's original tracks in a way that he strong feminine vocal presence enhances the lyrics and music. So, for example, on "It Ain't Me Babe," Baez sings the song with a real sucker punch. She opens sweetly, singing the opening stanza with a portrayal of feminine innocence listing off all the qualities that her lover wants from her. And then, when the listener is drawn in with her charm and flirtatious wit, she bellows "It ain't me babe / It ain't me you're looking for" ("It Ain't Me Babe")! Her version seems strangely less cruel than Dylan's original or as the lyrics might belie. Instead, she is a woman harassed by a guy who just wants, wants, wants and this is the necessary shove-off. That is something Dylan could not pull off in his original!

There are tracks I have not heard Dylan perform (I'm still picking up his older albums to review), but Baez makes some of those songs interesting. So, for example, she sings "I Pity The Poor Immigrant" as a story-song that resonates as a working-class folk lament and it stands up well without any comparison. It's just a decent song performed well by a strong performer.

It is worth noting that most of the tracks are musically understated. Indeed, Baez does what I've not heard Dylan do on any of his albums when she performs "Tears Of Rage" a cappella. It's amazing to hear Baez present a song with the only instrument being her voice. She has a beautiful and compelling voice and she sings the track with a haunting sense of defiance that perfectly expresses the emotions behind the lyrics. It's a beautiful and stunning presentation and she does it wonderfully!

On most tracks, Baez is accompanied by a simple guitar, which she plays (and quite well). As a result, there is a musical starkness to many of the tracks that accents Baez's vocal talents and emphasizes the message of the lyrics she is singing. This works out quite well for Baez, but it does leave the listener somewhat unimpressed by the instrumental accompaniment on the album. Baez does mix it up fairly well, though, with such things as a chorus joining her for "I Shall Be Released."

This is not to say Baez always gets it right. With "Love Is Just A Four Letter Word, " Baez presents a song that is sad with an emotionally-broken narrator as an upbeat guitar-strumming ironic ditty and it just sounds terrible to the ear and heart. Instead of being wrenching and truly embodying loss, it comes across as hokey and dated. That is an exception to the rule, but one of the tracks I was most looking forward to hearing - "One Too Many Mornings" - is similarly brutalized on this album.

But for the most part, this is a solid album of well-written Bob Dylan tracks featuring Baez's unique sound and some of her own style and flair added in.

For other strong female artists, please check out my reviews of:
One Cell In The Sea - A Fine Frenzy
Left Of The Middle - Natalie Imbruglia
The Honesty Room - Dar Williams


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

© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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Quality Ingredients Do Not Make A Bland Tea Better: Dilmah Ceylon Green Tea Disappoints.

The Good: Good ingredients
The Bad: Watery taste, Extraneous tea waste, Uninspired bulking
The Basics: A disappointing green tea, Dilmah Ceylon Green tea is virtually flavorless and not worth stocking up on.

Those who know my tea reviews know that environmental responsibility is very important to me. Even more important, though, is taste and a tea that does not taste good never gets high marks from me. Sadly, that is where I find Dilmah Ceylon Green Tea. This tea is so weak it is little more than hot water in nice packaging and it was a huge disappointment for me.


Dilmah Ceylon Green Tea natural green tea is a very basic tea-flavored from Dilmah and it is a rather bland tea at that. The tea comes individually wrapped in the box of twenty bags, each tea bag with its own string and paper tab, which is terribly unfriendly to the environment for a company trading on fair trade practices. The twenty bag box is generally found inexpensively and the bulking of six boxes simply puts a cellophane wrap around the standard Dilmah boxes.

Dilmah tea is a basic green tea designed to give the drinker the flavor of a very basic green tea and it is a surprisingly weak presentation of that.

Ease of Preparation

Dilmah tea is a remarkably easy tea to prepare. This tea requires one to open the box, remove the plastic/foil-wrapped tea bag, unwrap that, unwind the string from around the tea bag and then set it into the teapot. Dilmah tea is very easy to prepare. One need only place the tea bag in a mug or a steeping pot and pour near-boiling water over it. Let the steaming beverage steep for two minutes and the tea is ready. For my first pot, I let it steep the full two minutes to get the full flavor from it. That was weak, so I started letting my pots steep longer and I discovered that this did not make the tea significantly stronger.

For those who are tea bag misers, a second cup made by reusing the same tea bag resulted in a mug of tea that was, at best, a quarter strong as the first cup. The second steeping also resulted in a tea which was much more watery and that made it impossible to effectively reuse.


The aroma of Dilmah Ceylon Green tea is very bland and this is the first clue for consumers that the tea will be extraordinarily weak. Oddly, the smell of this tea is more like that of chamomile tea (with an almost rice scent to it) than green tea.

The taste is similarly weak. After five minutes of steeping, Dilmah Ceylon Green tea tastes like virtually every other brand's basic green tea diluted beyond recognition. The hot tea smells faintly of tea leaves, but when one tastes it, the dominant flavor is still water, the water one brews it in. At least it does not have much of an aftertaste, though there is a slightly grassy aftertaste after one swallows.

With a teaspoon of sugar, Dilmah Ceylon Green tea becomes sweet, but is more flavored by the sugar than the tea. Similarly, even milk overwhelms the tea flavoring of Dilmah Ceylon Green tea.

Cold and unsweetened, Dilmah Ceylon Green tea is dry, but similarly flavorless.


The ingredients to Ceylon Green tea are rather simple as Dilmah Ceylon Green is a simple green tea. The fact that this tea is so mild compared to other teas where the only ingredients are natural green tea leaves me fairly mystified.

In terms of nutrition, this tea is devoid of it. One 8 oz. mug of this tea provides nothing of nutritional value to the drinker. There are no calories (save what one adds from sugar, which I recommend), no fat, sodium, or protein. There are mild amounts of caffeine, but this is not a tea which will wake one up! One should not attempt to live on Dilmah Ceylon Green tea alone!


Because of the various layers of packaging, tea appears to stay fresh for quite some time. So long as it is kept dry, this tea has a decent shelf life. As far as cleaning up, one need only rinse out the steeping pot or mug to prevent it from staining. The tea bags may be tossed easily enough. For those - like me - who compost their old tea bags, it is important to remove the staple and string with the little paper tab before composting this. That's an annoying extra step, especially after years of Celestial Seasonings teas!

As for the tea itself, this is a surprisingly light tea, even for a green tea, and I would recommend cleaning up any spills on lighter fabrics as soon after they happen as possible. This does look like it might stain doilies!


Sadly, Dilmah Ceylon Green tea is not a tea worth stocking up on as its flavor, despite coming from fair trade sources, is not much more than flavored water.

For other teas, please check out my reviews of:
Twinings Herbal Revive Blackcurrants, Ginseng and Tahitian Vanilla tea
Celestial Seasonings Tropic Of Strawberry
Stash Earl Grey


For other beverage reviews, please check out my index page!

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

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Doing More Than Just Encouraging Fans, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse Delivers!

The Good: Decent acting, character development, special effects, Sense that story is going somewhere, DVD/Blu-Ray bonus features
The Bad: A lot feels very familiar.
The Basics: The next installment in The Twilight Saga, Eclipse progresses the stories and relationships from the earlier films and is entertaining for viewers from teenagers up.

Series’ become tougher and tougher for non-fans the longer the series persists. Those who are not embedded in a phenomenon tend to be looking for something that builds on the prior installments while still giving viewers something that feels new, if not entirely familiar. So, for example, with Twilight (click here for review!) the pressure on filmmakers was to please fans and get an audience who had not read any of the books intrigued in the story and characters. With New Moon (click here for review!) the pressure was to retain the audience and not simply repeat the teen melodrama aspects and allow the audience to feel like the story was actually going somewhere. They largely succeeded. With Eclipse, the third installment in the Twilight Saga, the stakes are raised, especially for those who are not already glued to the series.

For that audience, the fear has to be that Eclipse will simply be a repetition of the two prior installments and will be more teen melodrama than anything else. After all, in The Twilight Saga, there is a romance to vampires and werewolves and much of Kristen Stewart’s acting involves alternately looking moon-eyed and falling down. With Eclipse, the formula is broken and the film fearlessly illustrates what it only implied in New Moon, that most vampires are actually angry and quite evil. While New Moon had the carnage off-screen, Eclipse illustrates it and the conflict becomes more than just a teenage “I love him,” “no, I love the other guy,” “no, I love the first guy more” story. And it is bound to be well-received by the fans. It was well-received by this non-fan.

Bella Swan and Edward Cullen have made it through their Senior year of high school and as their relationship is deepening, Bella is applying to colleges. They realize they have slightly different views on both marriage and Bella being turned into a vampire, their own conflicts are enhanced by Charlie wanting Bella to spend more time with Jacob than with Edward. But in nearby Seattle, Washington, there have been killings which Jacob knows are the work of vampires. Bella, despite Edward’s dislike of Jacob, continues to visit Jacob and Jacob’s werewolf clan moves to deal with the vampires, while Jacob becomes more protective of his best friend. When Edward and the Cullens are given proof that the problems in Seattle are the works of vampires, Alice sees the menace coming to Forks and the Cullens are forced to flee.

With an army of vampires descending upon Forks, Bella, Edward and Jacob flee in order to protect Bella as she appears to be the target of the rage of the vampires. With the newborn attack imminent, the Cullen family joins forces with the werewolves in order to prevent the slaughter of humans and the exposure of both supernatural communities.

The nicest thing about Eclipse is that while the characters seem largely the same in the film, the plot has an almost constant sense of movement and the film feels like it is going somewhere. And where it goes is worth the wait. The key to who is behind the army of vampires and why makes perfect sense and the emotional resonance carries back to the final scene of Twilight, which works for those who have seen the prior installments. For those who have not seen Twilight, the motivations for Victoria are repeated enough so that she seems like a reasonable villain. Newbie viewers are more likely to be lost by the appearance of Jane and the Volturi than Victoria and her arc.

On the subject of Victoria, Bryce Dallas Howard steps into the role beautifully and while fans might miss Rachel Lefevre, Howard does a good job of playing Victoria as both harsh and wounded. In fact, I didn’t even notice the recasting until the credits, that is how flawlessly Howard assumes the looks and mannerisms of Victoria as characterized by Lefevre.

On the character front, Eclipse does a decent job of progressing Bella, Edward and Jacob, though it narrowly misses recreating the sense of watching the same ridiculous love triangle in the prior film. The movie works in this regard because it leaves the characters with a much more firm sense of who each of the principles are and what direction they are headed in. Bella manages to swoon more for Edward and the resulting decisions she makes feel much more organic than simply having to choose between the two lead hunks. The result is that Eclipse replays better than New Moon for those who are not looking at the series for the teenage romance aspect.

As far as performances go, Ashley Greene continues to steal her scenes as Alice Cullen, the vampire who is able to see the future (except when it is most useful). Fortunately, her vision is explained and explored more in this movie, as is Jasper’s twitchiness. Jackson Rathbone has played Jasper as twitchy and dark and in Eclipse he is given the chance to steal a scene or two for more than just chill factor. He portrays Jasper in a more adult fashion and when Jasper begins to take a leadership role in the planning of the combat, it is Rathbone’s performance which sells it.

The leading men do what they have done before, so there are no surprises from Robert Pattinson (Edward), Taylor Lautner (Jacob), Billy Burke (Charlie, Bella’s father) or Peter Facinelli (Carlisle Cullen). Facinelli deserves a special note in that his role as the Cullen patriarch is given more importance in Eclipse and Facinelli makes good use of the screentime. His trick is to both provide a level of consistency and to make quiet scenes where Carlisle provides deeply human wisdom seem inhuman and Facinelli nails it.

Kristen Stewart continues to do a decent job of balancing Bella’s role as damsel in distress and normal teenage girl. In Eclipse, the role is a bit more physical for her and she seems up to the task. Waifish girls everywhere have a new role model in Stewart’s Swan and she plays off Pattinson well, so at the very least the film portrays a very real sense of sexual chemistry.

Finally, while New Moon had some morph effects which were not ideal (notably with werewolf transformations), Eclipse has the kinks worked out. The special effects are amazing – especially the new effect that gets around blood and gore related to werewolves slaughtering vampires! - and adult audiences are likely only to be disappointed in that they do not go far enough. The climactic battle has startlingly little blood for a conflict of its magnitude and those looking at this for an adult sense of realism are likely to be a little let down. The lack of blood is actually well portrayed and the fracturing of limbs is pretty awesome!

But those looking for something new to swoon about in Forks, Washington, where vampires and werewolves are real and they are all interested in teenagers, Eclipse is something to rave about.

And there is more to rave about with the two-disc DVD and Blu-Ray presentation of the film. There, Eclipse is loaded with two commentary tracks as well as a small number of deleted scenes which flesh out key moments of the movie. There is also another six-part featurette on the making of Eclipse, which fits with prior Twilight Saga DVD releases. As well, there are music videos for songs featured in the movie and on the Eclipse soundtrack. In other words, there is plenty to enjoy!

For other Twilight Saga merchandise or works, please check out my reviews of:
Twilight trading cards
The Short Second Life Of Bree Tanner (novella) By Stephanie Meyer
“Edward And Bella” Hallmark Ornament


For other movie reviews, please check out my index page!

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

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Perfection Robbed By Power, Or Lack Thereof, The LaserJet 1200 Printer

The Good: Quick, Good crisply printed pages, Quiet
The Basics: Despite a disturbing design flaw that I'll continue to kvetch about until I get a new printer, an all-around wonderful printer for heavy use.

When I first wrote about my (at that time new) HP Laserjet 1200, I was still in mourning for my HP Laserjet 6P. If you have a chance, go read my raving lunatic review of that product and if you can find a refurbished one, buy it; it will be in your best advantage.

Being a novelist, it's more than a little important that I have a functional printer at my disposal, so when the old 6P's fixer bar shredded after four years of printing out manuscripts of daunting size, I was immediately out for a new printer. My search yielded the HP LaserJet 1200.

On the plus side, this printer had exactly what I was looking for: a laser printer with a bottomfeed paper feeding system; I've only had unpleasant experiences with topfeeders or backloaders, so this is important to me. Since I purchased it last year, I've not had a single paper jam and I've printed 14,446 pages. I'd say that's a good start! Having used the printer now for eight years (its eight year anniversary was two days ago, as it turns out!) and having printed 486,198 pages on the printer, I can credibly write about its durability! I get a paper jam about once in every two thousand pages now, but that is not bad after almost a decade of use!

In fact, one of the most pleasant aspects of this printer thus far is the length of life on the starter cartridge. I was amazed how long it lasted; for 4000+ pages on a starter cartridge, that's wonderful! Add to that not a single paper jam and I'm a happy camper!

Okay, I'm not a computer geek, I don't know a thing about networking or anything like that, so if you're looking for pros, the best I can tell you is it prints a LOT, it prints it very well, and it prints your pages, or mine at least, very quickly. The set up was very easy; everything was directly stated in the directions and the computer did all of the software adjusting to make the printer work, which was mighty nice of it.

Being not a computer person, perhaps I'm missing some of the novelty of progress, but the LaserJet 1200 has me seriously cheesed. It's not a huge thing, but it's big enough for me to complain about it for a while and not give this product a perfect score. I'm still baffled by the stupidity of the engineers who designed this printer and thought it was a step up the evolutionary ladder:

There is no power switch on this printer!

Of all the asinine design problems, it strikes me that someone, fairly early in the process, would have said, "Duhh, Davie, we's need us a power switch!" But alas, no one at HP considered the advantage of equipping the 1200 with a simple on/off switch. This leaves you with one of two options: you may leave it on constantly (which results in an almost indistinguishable background noise for several minutes until it goes into a power saving mode that emits no sound) or you can unplug the printer from your powerstrip.

I was tempted to take a third option; returning the printer to the store. Actually, I did return my first 1200 because it had a problem with its fixer bar (I was, apparently, cursed for a time in the printer world). I've never once had problems with my new one and I wrote it off right away as a freak problem, not indicative of the series.

However, the lack of a power switch is annoying. Not being “The Simpsons”’ satirical computer user in body type, I can say it's sufficiently annoying for thin people to have to bend down to plug in the printer every time one wishes to use it. I imagine it could be even more annoying if one was, err . . . well, a stereotypical computer programmer. Then again, hard core programmers are probably smart enough to have their powerstrips within easy reach so they don't have to bend down to do plug related stuff.

Anyway, for an idea of how very annoying this aspect of the printer is spend a week of turning your current printer on and off by plugging and unplugging it. Add to that the extra annoyance of forgetting to unplug the machine when it's in its silent powersaving mode. If anyone from HP is reading this and you've fixed this problem, I'd be mighty grateful if you'd send me a new printer.

The beauty of the HP 1200 LaserJet is that when I plug it in, the power comes on, I hit "print" on my computer and blank pieces of paper suddenly appear with writing. It's a printer for Toast's sake?! There's not much more to it. It prints. It does so reliably and for that I think this is a worthwhile product.

Outside the seriously annoying flaw of the lack of a power button, which - to a layperson - seemed like a fairly obvious problem as far as problems with making something goes, this printer is wonderful and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Well, except maybe a 6P.

For other computer equipment, please check out my reviews of:
Microsoft D66 Optical Mouse
iPad (64 GB)
iPod Nano (5th Generation)


For other computer hardware reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2010, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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Very Funny, But Starting To Crack, 30 Rock Season Three Is A Good DVD Set.

The Good: Funny, Decent enough character development, Good bonus features.
The Bad: Reliance on guest stars, Lighter on bonus features than I'd like.
The Basics: Arguably one of the great workplace comedies of the last few years, 30 Rock begins to feel strangely repetitive in the third season, especially in its reliance on guest actors.

My wife has fallen in love with 30 Rock. That means in very short order the last few weeks, we have watched 30 Rock Season 1 (click here for my review!) and 30 Rock Season 2 (and if you click here, it will take you to my review!) on DVD and it is of little surprise to anyone that I went out of my way to make sure I got in 30 Rock Season 3 as soon as we could. We made it through the three-disc set in the course of two days, so that can tell you the push we had to watch new (to us) episodes. And while she absolutely loves the show and the season, in the third season of 30 Rock, I began to feel too often that I was seeing something I had seen before. Don't get me wrong: 30 Rock is still truly wonderful serialized comedy, but in the third season, some of the more intriguing characters are minimized (the potential of Twofer from the first season has been completely lost by this one) and the leads have begun to settle into more familiar ruts, er, roles.

That said, there is no good reason I can find not to pick up 30 Rock Season Three (unless one is waiting for it to go off the air and for the inevitable “Complete Series” pack that will come then). The show is still the funniest thing on television and it is often the most clever, despite having some annoyingly melodramatic moments or times when the characters develop more into caricatures of themselves. In fact, one of the most disturbing aspects of the DVD presentation of 30 Rock Season 3 comes when it shows one of the actors to be close to one of his character's less positive traits. And in that, the bonus feature (in this case, a table read of one of the episodes) is more painful to watch than anything. Because the show is serialized, it helps to have seen “Season 2” because the finale to the second season sets up important character conflicts that are otherwise baffling to the new viewers.

In the third season of 30 Rock, Jack returns to NBC confident and energized, having gotten out of his government job through means he refuses to speak of. At NBC, Jack begins to work his way back up the corporate ladder though quick promotions from the mailroom on up. But when he realizes that Devon is going to sink GE, he has to make a power play to replace Don Geiss’s heir-apparent. Several floors up from Jack’s job in the mail room, Liz Lemon pushes for the chance to adopt children. Unfortunately, her attempt to woo the woman from the adoption agency goes poorly, until she is knocked on the head and Liz has the chance for a do-over!

The season progresses with Jenna and Tracy conducting an experiment to see who has it tougher: a black man or a white woman. When Don Geiss awakens from his coma, Jack has his chance to ascend once more and Liz Lemon learns that she was actually the school bully by attending her class reunion. Unfortunately, Jack’s problems soon multiply when he inadvertently (or was it? . .. ) runs over his mother and he begins to fall for his Puerto Rican home healthcare worker. As Tracy becomes obsessed with becoming an astronaut, Liz Lemon’s past as a phone chatline worker is exposed and she takes a big step to avoid cutbacks at T.G.S. Sadly for her, Liz’s attempts to help everyone on the show keep their jobs gets her landed in sexual harassment counseling!

In the third season of 30 Rock, the show relies less upon cutaway gags and stays almost ridiculously focused on Jack and Liz, with Tracy and then Jenna picking up the slack. Pete is an almost complete nonentity this season and outside two b-plots, Frank seldom gets airtime or the great one-liners he had in the prior two years. Moreover, the show is becoming increasingly concerned with the romantic relationships of Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy and less on the workplace antics of the "T.G.S. With Tracy Jordan." This has the effect of transforming the show into a much more standard sitcom.

As well, because the relationships of Jack and Elysia and Liz Lemon and the men she dates (including Gavin Couture, a suave recluse), are becoming more and more the focus of the show, the series takes on a more melodramatic quality than it possessed before. But because the romantic entanglements are all with guest stars or recurring guest stars, the question is far more often "how will they break up?" as opposed to "How long is this likely to last?" Liz Lemon dates a sophisticated guy whom she basically stalks and goes through a nightmarish time with his angry young daughter. Jack, surprisingly, is more monogamous with Elysia, though late in the season we learn a shocking fact about their relationship.

Like most of the best shows, 30 Rock is about characters and in the third season, the primary characters are:

Liz Lemon - Thrilled to see Jack back at the building, she tries to support most of his machinations which will put him back in power. She falls for a recluse and then accidentally roofies the man she is interested in after stealing his mail. She has a chance meeting with Oprah (or does she?) whom she tries to use to use to mediate between Tracy and Jenna and she begins to see her own shot at real stardom when she comes up with a character for Jenna that has a memorable catchphrase ("That's a dealbreaker"),

Tracy Jordan - Having made three hundred million dollars off his new porn video game, he is crazier than ever. His contract comes up and Jack fears how he might renegotiate it, but everyone is surprised when he tries to become an astronaut instead. When Dr. Spaceman worries he might have adult onset diabetes, Kenneth tries to scare him into taking better care of himself,

Jenna - Irked at Tracy for not giving her a cut of the video game money (considering she did voice acting for it), she falls into Liz's attempt to use "Oprah" to fix their problems. She has a bad hair day, sleeps with Frank and tries to get into the Night Court reunion as her prior werewolf lawyer character. She tries to nab Liz's star with the "Dealbreaker" sketch, but discovers she does not think as fast on her feet as Liz Lemon does,

Kenneth - The page is given a chance to shoot a Night Court finale when Tracy splurges on him. He once more helps Jack with his machinations involving Devin and he tries to scare Tracy with the Hill Witch when it looks like Tracy might have diabetes,

Frank - After a night of male bonding with Jack, he cleans up, decides to go back to school to become a lawyer and is thrust back into the writer's room when his mother sabotages his attempt with Jack,

Pete - He shows up to deliver a line or two. He is relegated to a supporting character this season with no major plotlines,

and Jack Donaghy - He rapidly works his way out of the mailroom to save GE again, but the recession hits the company hard when the Asian financial market collapses and Tracy Jordan gives panic advice on Larry King Live. As a result, cutbacks need to be made and he hires a hatchet man to do it. Meanwhile, he develops a love for his mother's home healthcare worker and discovers that his father who abandoned his mother probably wasn't his father at all!

By this point, the characters on 30 Rock are pretty well-established and there is little truly surprising that comes from them except in the form of dialogue. The actors, notably Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin, now are perfectly comfortable in their roles and they tend to play them without any new spark or zest. So, for example, Tina Fey plumbs no new emotional or comedic depths as Liz Lemon this season and Alec Baldwin had nowhere to truly refine the deadpan deliveries which make Jack one of the most wonderful coots on television. In fact, the only superlative acting in the third season by a regular cast member comes when Alec Baldwin plays opposite himself as a Mexican soap opera star who plays a villainous character.

As a result of the actors and characters being so well-established, the solution 30 Rock has gone with to keep things fresh in the third season is a bevy of guest stars. In fact, each new episode in the third season is pretty much a vehicle for the guest star and the show tends to be much more focused on the guest star interacting with the primary cast than developing the characters beyond where they have been. Still, it is a pleasure to see Megan Mullaley, Oprah, Steve Martin, Alan Alda, three members of the Night Court cast and the bevy of musical artists who show up for the finale to perform "Kidney Now!"

On DVD, there is little extra that viewers get beyond what they get seeing 30 Rock on television. There are a few commentary tracks, which are funny and/or informative. There is a table read for an episode which is alarming in that Tracy Morgan seems to be having real difficulty getting around his lines. Still, the table read is pretty wonderful to hear what jokes didn't make the final episode. There are two whole featurettes on the making of the song "Kidney Now" and they are informative and impressive for the behind-the-scenes information they contain, as well as candid shots of some of the most impressive names in music today. There are a few deleted scenes as well, though none of them seem indispensable.

Ultimately, 30 Rock Season Three is funny, but it doesn't pop the way earlier seasons did and it seems far too much like a vehicle for guest talents than actually highlighting the powers of the cast and characters on the show. Even so, it's still better than most television these days and worth picking up for those who love comedy that can actually make one laugh out loud.

For other comedies, please check out my reviews of:
Sports Night
Family Guy Presents: Partial Terms Of Endearment

For other television reviews, please go to the index page!

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

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A Layman's Guide To The Villains of Batman Through A Break From Arkham Asylum With Knightfall Volume One: Broken Bat!

The Good: Clever concept, Especially strong execution of plot, Decent characters, Good artwork, Good dialogue
The Bad: References events that precede this series, No issue cover galleries or series advertisements
The Basics: In the early 90s, Batman's greatest villains were released by a new and powerful enemy named Bane and Batman's quest to get them back into Arkham puts him in jeopardy.

[As I move my massive library of reviews into my new blog, I occasionally find one that I don’t want to alter much because I love the flavor of the original language. As I re-read my Knightfall Volume 1 review, I felt that way. So, despite the fact that I have fallen for the film The Dark Knight and read and reviewed a lot of graphic novels, including a brand new guide on how to read the Blackest Night saga (click here for that!), I wanted to maintain the original feel of this review. I hope you enjoy it!]

Back in the days when I used to read comic books (actually, I was such a geek, I only read the Star Trek comics!), I was intrigued for a while by Batman. I never picked up Batman comics, but I was intrigued by them. The truth is, I didn't care much about the Batman comics (I liked Tim Burton's Batman and LOVED Batman Returns, but one day in one of my Star Trek comics, there was an advertisement. The advertisement was for the beginning of a Batman comic series called Knightfall and the ad said it all: All of Batman's enemies are released from Arkham Asylum and he has to hunt them down. The ads had great artwork and the thing that continued to intrigue me as the ads continued throughout my comics was the running thread that Batman was getting more and more exhausted. I like superheroes who are not invincible. Those ads stuck with me and recently, when I was replacing a number of books, I stumbled upon the collected Knightfall series in a trade paperback (actually three) and I decided I had to have them. In Knightfall, Part One: Broken Bat I've finally seen what was backing all of those compelling advertisements.

Bane, a dangerous brute whose motivations are largely unknown - though he has an apparent vendetta against Batman - arrives in Gotham City with his henchman with a rather ingenious plan. Bane's lackeys knock off the local armory and deliver Gotham's military arsenal to . . . Arkham Asylum, the local mental institution. Arkham is the residence of all of the psychopathic killers Batman has put away over the years. Enemies as recognizable as The Joker, Scarecrow and Two-Face are unleashed on the city, along with more obscure enemies such as Killer Croc, Firefly, Amygdala and Zsasz.

Batman begins to push himself to the limits of his endurance over the few days that follow. He makes some quick victories, capturing the Mad Hatter and Amygdala almost immediately. Bane himself takes out one of the villains and Batman proceeds to confront the notorious (though completely obscure to anyone but a Batman fan) serial killer Zsasz. That confrontation is critical as it seriously weakens Batman both physically and emotionally. It also distracts Batman from some of the most notorious killers in his past and while Batman is stuck cleaning up the little messes, Scarecrow and the Joker team up and kidnap the mayor. Refusing Robin's help, Batman works past exhaustion as he becomes the prey Bane has come to destroy.

You certainly don't have to be a Batman fan to get a kick out of this story. This is like the Greatest Hits of Batman all in one place and as someone who had not read a single Batman comic before this graphic novel, I have to say it was remarkably accessible.

No one knows the prejudice against comic books like a novelist. I generally don't consider comics a real legitimate form of writing or art, but Knightfall is turning me around. Sitting down and reading this graphic novel opened me to the reality of what good writing (in comic books) can do; it allows the imagination to create without wasting words on the ridiculous. It occurred to me, about halfway through Broken Bat, that this would be especially boring or silly as a novel because there was so much fighting. To read "Batman lashed out as Amygdala put his full weight into a crushing blow" would get tiresome as the book continued. Instead, because the battles are illustrated, the words that are printed on the page are all of the essential things that cannot be seen; what is said, heard and any relevant backstory or movement off page.

And what surprised me, again, about the quality of this volume was in the illustrations. Not because these are pretty pictures or fine art, but rather that those charged with producing this story have an impressive attention to detail. As a result, almost every panel is expressive, with characters emoting genuine (and appropriate) emotions for their circumstances. And the team involved here is so clever that looking at panels with Batman and the lines are sharp and strong, at the book progresses, the jawlines curve more as Batman becomes exhausted. It's details like that that are brilliant.

What attracted me to Batman (of all comics) was this: 1. He's just a man and 2. His main weapon is cunning. He needs to outsmart his enemy and to do that, he analyzes information and creates defenses (gadgets) to save himself.

In Knightfall, he does some of that, mostly in the form of saving himself from toxins from the likes of Poison Ivy and approaching Firefly with a suit that is fireproof, but it is not as extensive as I anticipated. Then again, the situation here is rather dire for Batman. The psychopaths who are released from Arkham are the most dangerous characters in the Batman series, so the body count begins to rack up pretty quickly. As a result, much of Broken Bat is spent simply meting out justice in the form of stopping the villains who use brute force with Batman using brute force in return.

There is a clever aspect to this whole design and that is in the form of Bane. Bane seems to have no extensive powers, he's just a mountain of a man who responds to everything by punching, smashing and destroying. His tactic is to wear Batman out and then kill him. What better way to do that than to physically exhaust Batman on those who are inferior to him?

This is essentially a death by a thousand blows and writers Doug Moench and Chuck Dixon wisely keep the action focused on the cumulative effect of these attacks. Batman becomes short-tempered from lack of sleep, lashing out at Robin. Moreover, the villains have some clever aspects to them as well; Scarecrow and the Joker team up and basically synergize their evil and the Riddler - the lone villain Robin is left to deal with - resolves his conflict in the most simple way possible (actually, I was amused quite a bit by the Riddler's reaction to Robin).

My point here is that I understand the prejudice against comic books and while Broken Bat does not solve all of the problems with comic books, this is an impressive collection and it's clearly - based on the psychological aspects and attention to strategy as well as the level of violence and the discussions of what all that violence means - intended for an adult audience. And, for the most part, it's satisfying.

What is problematic are the references to what comes before Broken Bat. Two characters are present in this volume that are relatively new. Jean-Paul, who also goes by Azrael, is an associate of Batman and he spends his presence in Broken Bat sitting it out while Batman does his thing, with Robin keeping him updated. He seems to be an adversary turned ally (as I understand it, there was an Azrael series shortly before Knightfall to set up his role in this). The other big addition is Bane. Bane utilizes a poison for his tremendous strength and it is alluded that Bane has been on his way for a little while. Apparently, he nearly killed Killer Croc - whose vengeance for that becomes a motivator for him - and he tested his poison on the Riddler, making the Riddler temporarily into a ridiculously strong brute. These basically are mentioned in passing to connote that even before Knightfall, Bruce Wayne and Batman are exhausted.

As well, at one point in the book, a female superhero pops up to dispatch some thugs for a few panels (it's so short that skimming through now for a page reference I could not find her!). Is it enough to detract from a good read? No. Most of it can be figured out by the clever reader. And for those who are only familiar with Batman from the movies, there is a lot to enjoy here; characters like Two-Face are evident escaping from Arkham, but are not captured in Broken Bat.

This is likely to be enjoyed by anyone who likes a good action-adventure story and the climax is impressive. It's not likely to be enjoyed by those who can't read something just for fun. This is fun and in the weirdest way, it becomes so engrossing with the characters that it gets the blood pumping. Seriously. This is a hunt and the hunter is preyed upon by villains horrible, lame and powerful. But it's entertaining and it's a great read for a rainy afternoon when you want something exciting and quick to read.

Note to DC Comics: Whoever created that ad campaign ought to be promoted. It may have taken over a decade, but I bought this!

For other graphic novel reviews, please check out my takes on:
Wonder Woman The Circle
Lost Girls


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

© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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War Games Claim The Enterprise In "A Taste Of Armageddon!"

The Good: Interesting concept, Moments of acting
The Bad: Plot-heavy with limited character development.
The Basics: When a great idea combines with mediocre (at best) execution, Star Trek provides "A Taste Of Armageddon!"

In the list of memorable Star Trek" episodes, there are several which never seem to make the list and almost as many where they hype exceeds the reality. One of the ones that falls into the former category would almost certainly have to be "A Taste Of Armageddon," a continuation of Star Trek's parade of episodes railing on subservience to science and technology. Oddly enough for a series where virtually every problem is solve by Spock bouncing ideas off the ship's computer and making his deductions accordingly, in the twenty-two episodes that precede this one, five of them have involved negative aspects of technology (not counting one where war almost breaks out as a result of a technological breakthrough) and two more could easily be added to that list if one includes medical technology. For some reason, Star Trek tends to characterize technology as overbearing, controlling and a subtle menace, as opposed to helpful and beneficial. In "A Taste Of Armageddon," people don't kill, technology does!

The U.S.S. Enterprise is transporting Ambassador Robert Fox to Eminiar VII to negotiate a peace between that planet and Vandikar when it is warned by the head of Eminiar VII to stay away. Fox insists and Kirk and a team beam down to find out what is going on from the head of state, Anan 7. Anan 7 confirms that a long and brutal war has been going on between Eminiar VII and Vandikar, though Spock can find no evidence of planetary destruction. When the Enterprise is targeted and marked as destroyed, Anan 7 announces that the war takes place as a series of war games, with targets "destroyed" by each side. To keep the two planets from being destroyed, the citizens simply kill themselves to represent the casualties. And now that the Enterprise has been "eliminated," Anan 7 expects Kirk to order his crew down to the disintegration chambers to die!

"A Taste Of Armageddon" requires one giant leap to make it plausible and once one has suspended their disbelief for it, it's a fine, if understated, episode. The plot is ridiculously simple: Enterprise is targeted, man wants Kirk to order everyone down to planet to kill themselves, Kirk refuses, he and his team are imprisoned, ingenious jailbreak, resolution. In order to make any of this believable, we have to believe that the entire populations of Eminiar VII and Vandikar would value their properties and planets over their very lives. It seems like a big stretch and, unfortunately, the episode does not present the idea in a way that makes it seem any more credible.

Indeed, the characters the Enterprise crew encounter, like Mea 3, a woman whose life is saved when Kirk intervenes, all seem generally flat and somewhat unbelievable. Barbara Babcock, who plays Mea 3 plays her with a mix of childlike innocence and bored stupidity, making the character seem flat and chattle-like. This does not serve the episode all that well when it is so plot and theme-heavy to have those who are a part of it seem more bored by it than realistic.

When the whole point of your episode is to send a message that life is more precious than property and that peace, while essential, should not be bartered for at the cost of those lives, it helps to have characters involved who are portrayed as worth saving. After all, on some level it undermines the argument that this system of warfare is truly terrible when the people are willing to go along with it and they're boring anyway.

But beyond that, the episode just seems simple. There is no great leap of character development that occurs in this work, Captain Kirk and Spock are their usual heroic self, the adversaries are principled in their own special way and there is an overall kind of "ho-hum" feeling to the episode upon multiple viewings.

This is in large part because of Ambassador Robert Fox. In addition to technology, the producers of Star Trek seemed to have a real thing against politicians. Ambassadors, political figures of import and officers who rank higher than Captain Kirk are all treated as remarkable jerks in the series and "A Taste Of Armageddon" is no exception. Fox is bossy, demanding and buffoonish in a way that undermines his believability as a man who would bring peace anywhere, much less two war torn planets!

Gene Lyons plays Ambassador Fox and he portrays him as monolithically annoying, whereas David Oppatoshu manages to make Anan 7 seem much more multifaceted. Oppatoshu plays Anan 7 with a sense of regret, a reluctant leader forced to make the tough choices and there is a very real sensibility in his performance, even if his character is somewhat simple.

But it's a tough sell to anyone who doesn't like straight out science fiction. It's a good concept, but it's not enough to fill up a fifty-one minute episode and the result is an incarceration detour that kills some time and feels like it is. The regulars, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy most notably, give solid, standard performances that do not overly stand out in the larger collection of their works.

In other words, this is a good episode, but it's not the best and there are more worthy episodes for your time and attention.

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


For other Star Trek reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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A Very Basic R2 Unit, R2-X2 Still Has One Surprise In Store For Toy Enthusiasts!

The Good: Good sculpt, Good articulation, Good playability.
The Bad: Price seems high for such a small figure
The Basics: Painfully average, R2-X2 is a standard R2 unit for the new Legacy Collection of "Star Wars" figures.

On a recent trip home from Michigan with my wife, I was in a Star Wars toy buying mood. I had a little bit of extra cash from my job, we had had a great time traveling and most of the major chains of stores seemed to have been discounting the Star Wars toys from the Legacy Collection with the Droid Factory parts. This was especially exciting for me as this was a series of figures I had largely neglected getting. I had not been terribly impressed with some of the recent Legacy Collection figures, like the recast Jawa (click here for my review of that!). As well, I specifically avoided a number of the new The Empire Strikes Back figures because on the back of many of their cards were pictures of R2-X2 and I figured it must be a hard-to-find droid which would limit the ability to complete the one droid (HK-50). So, when we stepped into an Ohio store and found several R2-X2s on the pegs near others from that wave of Legacy Collection, at discounted prices, I knew it was my time to get into that series!

For those unfamiliar with R2-X2, this is not a surprise at all. R2-X2 is not a character, it was a background droid seen for a moment at the end of A New Hope (click here for my review of the film!). R2-X2 is an R2 unit (like the heroic R2-D2) that is green and white instead of blue and white and it was loaded into an X-wing fighter for the climactic Death Star assault in A New Hope.

Yes, they're up to doing background droids. Still, Hasbro does just enough to make this diminutive droid worth buying.


The R2-X2 figure is well-detailed, which is to be expected as it is the same mold as the Legacy Collection R2-D2 figure. The little droid stands 2 1/2" tall as an action figure, which made me feel there should have been more than the one figure in the pack! R2-X2 was released in 2009 as part of Hasbro's Legacy Collection with the Droid Factory bonus. The droid is cast in fairly soft plastic for the legs, hard plastic for the barrel of the droid.

This toy is a fairly impressive sculpt; for a character that was seen ridiculously briefly, this looks just like the picture on the package! The head is good and it features all of the appropriate rings and panels of an R2 unit. R2-X2 is cast in solid dark green and it looks distinctly like the briefly-seen droid. It features detailing on the legs including the molded wires or hoses on the feet which represent an extraordinary attention to detail for such an action figure.


R2-X2 comes with no accessories that go with the actual figure.

This figure was part of the "Droid Factory" line of the Legacy Collection figures and the basic premise was that for every six figures you bought, you'd get a seventh which would be assembled from parts in each of the six toys in the collection. R2-X2 comes with right leg of the HK-50 droid. This is a skeletal humanoid droid (which reminds me of a Terminator!) and the leg is articulated at both the knee and the ankle!


The four inch toy line was designed for play and the R2-X2 is quite good in that regard. This Legacy Collection figure has impressive balance! Flatfooted, this is a very balanced toy and it is hard to tip the R2-X2 over. R2-X2 comes with only six points of articulation, but they are pretty much all one may expect from an R2 unit. There are joints at the ankles (all three), shoulders (if that's what one calls the top of an R2 unit's legs where they attach to the barrel) and head.

And for whatever improbable poses one might find where he will not remain standing, there are playsets with foot pegs which fit into the holes in either of the R2-X2's feet.

Rather neatly, R2-X2's middle leg ascends and descends by turning the droid's head around. To lower it fully, one twists the head clockwise until it clicks and to raise it one turns it counterclockwise. This is a neat playable aspect and, as far as I know, is unique to R2-X2. As well, the bottom of each of the feat has a tiny wheel in it, so the R2-X2 figure may roll along with realistic astromech droid realism!


R2-X2 is part of the 2009 Legacy Collection four-inch series, a series of Star Wars action figures that was not incredibly common and this is the only version of R2-X2 to date. Truthfully, though, most fans aren't looking for more R2 units and odds are this one sells as well as it does simply because people are looking for the additional droid part.

R2-X2 is BD52 in the Legacy Collection.


R2-X2 is a fine little figure for fans fleshing out the entire Star Wars universe, but it is not extraordinary. It does, however, represent about all one can do with an R2 droid figure.

For other Star Wars figures, please check out my reviews of:
Legacy Collection BD50 Wing Guard
Power Of The Force 12" Lando Calrissian


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

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

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The Poor Pet Shop Boys Single "New York City Boy" Reincarnates The Village People!

The Good: Good dance sound
The Bad: Ridiculously short, Poor use of the medium, Not the best Pet Shop Boys song.
The Basics: A disappointing one-track single, "New York City Boy" is not a great Pet Shop Boys song, nor worth shelling out for.

In my month of studying the Pet Shop Boys, I managed to get in a lot of music, which was pretty surprising to me. I reviewed albums like Discography and singles like "How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously?" I found a lot to like. Sadly, "New York City Boy" was not one of the singles I enjoyed. My wife, who has put up with the monthlong study had been caught humming some of the songs occasionally. Still, I know there were many more moments when she turned to me, almost angrily and asked, “What, are they working with the Village People now?!” The big moment like that came at the beginning of the Pet Shop Boys song “New York City Boy” which is one of the singles that was released to promote the album Nightlife.

Interestingly enough, there is only one version of the “New York City Boy” single which has only the title track on it and that was the radio-release single. Unfortunately, for those who are Pet Shop Boys fans, that version of “New York City Boy” is not even the full version! For both true audiophiles and fans of the Pet Shop Boys, there are far better versions of the single available for purchase. The only people who will actually need the radio-release single are the die-hard collectors of ALL things Pet Shop Boys.

With only a single track occupying 3:20 on a single c.d., “New York City Boy” for the radio-release single is about two minutes shorter than the album cut of the song. It is very much a Pet Shop Boys song, though, as it was written by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe and the duo share a production credit on the song. Outside the opening sample, Tennant provides all of the lead vocals and Chris Lowe takes care of the keyboard and drum programming.

Unfortunately, “New York City Boy” is very much a typical, inane dance-pop track. The song is percussion-driven and with the opening sample with a men's chorus, it sounds very much like a Village People song. The keyboards are sublimated to the percussion and the vocals and as a result, this sounds like a song to dance or exercise to. It does not resonate and after the first few spinnings, its tune is almost entirely lost in a haze of percussion and Tennant's vocals.

As for the vocals, Neil Tennant provides his trademark smooth sound and on “New York City Boys,” he sing-speaks the lyrics more than anything else. One of the lower register songs in his repertoire, “New York City Boys” is more of a chant than a song.

Sadly, it's not much of a song from the lyrics either. This is a musical storysong which is one of the less impressive lyrical outings from the Pet Shop Boys. With lines like “The street is amazing / The hoochies unreal / Check out all the hardware / At the latest deal / Hear a song / That's the bomb / If you don't get the mix / It's got eighty-six / You feel the deal is real / You're in New York City / New York City boy / You'll never have a bored day / 'Cause you're a New York City Boy / Where Seventh Avenue meets Broadway” the Pet Shop Boys don't even seem to be trying for anything other than silly dance pop. The rhyme scheme is predictable and fairly droll and the lyrics are not so much a story as they are a walk through a rhyming dictionary.

“New York City Boy” lacks the sense of experience or the sense of commentary that most Pet Shop Boys songs possess. Combined with the way this single underuses the medium which has so much more potential capacity, it is easy to avoid the one-track single of “New York City Boy.”

For other Pet Shop Boys works, please check out my reviews of:
How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously? (single)
Discography: The Complete Singles


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

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

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A Flavorful Tea, Twinings Herbal Revive Blackcurrants, Ginseng, And Tahitian Vanilla Is Good.

The Good: Decent aroma, Tastes good
The Bad: Dry aftertaste, Not as invigorating as it promises.
The Basics: A very good herbal tea, Twinings Herbal Revive Blackcurrants, Ginseng, and Tahitian Vanilla is worth stocking up on, despite the extra tea garbage.

In the world of tea, there are many variables I consider when deciding to recommend a product or not. One of the criteria I have only recently been able to truly expand on in the last few months since I finished the Celestial Seasonings tea line, which is comparing teas I try now to other teas from other companies. To date, I have not tried any other teas quite like Twinings Herbal Revive Blackcurrants, Ginseng, and Tahitian Vanilla tea

Herbal Revive Blackcurrants, Ginseng, and Tahitian Vanilla is a good tea with a complex flavor unlike any other herbal (or black) tea I have ever tried. The fact that the resulting flavor actually tastes good was more than enough for me to recommend the tea, as well as stocking up on it!


Herbal Revive Blackcurrants, Ginseng, and Tahitian Vanilla Tea is an herbal tea from Twinings of London. Herbal teas are not, ironically, made using tea leaves and as a result tend to have slightly different properties from traditional teas, though both are brewed drinks and herbal teas tend to be naturally caffeine free. Twinings has Herbal Revive Blackcurrants, Ginseng, and Tahitian Vanilla tea available year round and it is part of the new Herbal Revive line, so how long it is available will likely be determined by how long the "herbal" and "organic" fad last.

Herbal Revive Blackcurrants, Ginseng, and Tahitian Vanilla comes in Twinings' standard tea bags, which are individually plastic sealed, paper wrapped and have a five inch string. A box of Herbal Revive Blackcurrants, Ginseng, and Tahitian Vanilla tea comes with 20 individual paper-wrapped tea bags. For the bulk pack of six, the twenty teabag boxes are then cellophaned together.

Ease Of Preparation

As an herbal tea, Herbal Revive Blackcurrants, Ginseng, and Tahitian Vanilla is ridiculously easy to prepare. A single tea bag will make the standard 8 oz. coffee mug worth of tea and could be reused and make a second cup of Herbal Revive Blackcurrants, Ginseng, and Tahitian Vanilla with a fair loss of flavor. Still, this is a good tea for those who like to reuse tea bags. The second cup often comes out only a little less strong than the first (5/8 - 3/4 as strong), provided the first steeping was not over the recommended time. I tend to make my tea using a 32 oz. steeping tea pot and that works well, though in this method, the second brewing is - at worst - about 5/8 strength.

To prepare Herbal Revive Blackcurrants, Ginseng, and Tahitian Vanilla tea, bring a pot of water to a boil and pour it over the tea bags. This tea takes only three to five minutes to steep according to the directions. In my experience, it gets no stronger after five minutes and as a rather strong tea, it does not truly need to be stronger than it naturally is.


Herbal Revive Blackcurrants, Ginseng, and Tahitian Vanilla tea has a powerful and delicious floral and fruity aroma. The tea is blessed with a wonderful mix of fruit and spiced scents that actually result in the tea smelling like a cherry orchard in bloom. The scent is not of cherries, but of fruit blossoms and the way the scent opens up the nose and invites itself in is quite nice.

The taste, however, is somewhat more problematic. The Blackcurrants, Ginseng, and Tahitian Vanilla tea has a strong fruit flavor which is most like cherries (one assumes these are the blackcurrants) and the floral scent reminds one of rosewater when it comes to the taste. However, like many teas, this seems to define the vanilla taste through a strong, dry aftertaste and that is a bit off-putting to the tastebuds.

With a teaspoon of sugar, Herbal Revive Blackcurrants, Ginseng, and Tahitian Vanilla tea is less driven by the dry aftertaste and it is a delightful, surprisingly robust beverage for an herbal tea. In fact, I served a pot of this to some friends and most were surprised to learn it was an herbal tea, not a black tea. Sugar definitely makes it more palatable.

Milk does not enhance the flavor of this tea and drinking it cold unfortunately leaves the consumer wanting something more to drink that might actually satisfy their thirst.


The Blackcurrants, Ginseng, and Tahitian Vanilla tea has all-natural ingredients which sound more like a flower garden than a beverage! With ingredients like hibiscus, natural blackcurrant flavour, and orange peel, there is nothing bad in this tea.

In terms of nutrition, this tea is devoid of it. One 8 oz. mug of this tea provides nothing of nutritional value to the drinker. There are no calories (save what one adds from sugar, which I recommend), no fat, sodium, or protein. There is also no caffeine, because of the all-natural ingredients. The tea promises to enliven the drinker, but I found it to be less of a wake-up beverage than a decent midday treat.


Herbal Revive Blackcurrants, Ginseng, and Tahitian Vanilla tea is very easy to clean up after, provided one does not get it on fabric. The tea bags may be disposed in the garbage, or composted if you have a good garden and/or compost pile. If composting, though, one must remove the paper tag, staple and string, which is just a tedious extra step. The tea itself will stain a mug a faint red if it is left there for days on end, but otherwise may be cleaned up easily by rinsing out the vessel.

Herbal Revive Blackcurrants, Ginseng, and Tahitian Vanilla is a rather dark purple tea and as a result, it will stain any light fabrics it comes in contact with. As a result, it is highly recommended that one not let it linger on anything they wish to protect and not have stained. It may be cleaned off if the spill is caught quickly, but if it lingers, it is not at all easy to wash out of clothes, linens or other fabrics.


Twinings Herbal Revive Blackcurrants, Ginseng, and Tahitian Vanilla is a very good herbal tea with a robust taste that is unique, though it does not energize the way Twinings claims it might.

For other tea reviews, please check out my takes on:
Yogi Berry Detox Tea
Stash Earl Grey tea
Celestial Seasonings Tropic Of Strawberry tea


For other food and drink reviews, please check out my index page!

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

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Gross And Absolutely Hilarious: Big Trucks, Big Guns Zombieland Is Fun!

The Good: Generally good character work, Awesome (gross!) effects, Good acting, Fun plot
The Bad: Characters still make very stupid mistakes!
The Basics: Funny and full of gore, Zombieland is a surprisingly fresh zombie film!

It is a very rare thing for me to go to a horror movie and enjoy it. It is an even more rare thing for me to take my wife to a screening of a horror film and have her smiling and having a good time still when we come out. And yet, when we went to a screening of Zombieland together, that is exactly what happened. In fact, my wife has seen the film twice now and I think she is angling to have it added to our permanent collection. I suspect her enjoyment of the movie has com, in part, from the fact that Zombieland has been horribly misrepresented in its advertisements as a horror film. Make no mistake: Zombieland is one of the goriest, most graphically violent films I've seen (and enjoyed) from 2009. But it is a comedy before it is a horror and while there are scary moments, they are vastly outnumbered by the beats that are just gory or are actually laugh-out-loud funny.

Zombieland follows on a recent cinematic rebirth in the interest in zombie movies sparked by the success of 28 Days Later/28 Weeks Later and the more broadly popular (and arguably less zombie-focused) I Am Legend. And amidst a ton of zombie movie remakes and films simply adapting popular undead literature, Zombieland arrives as a welcome original work. It is sharp, funny, and while the characters make some truly lame mistakes that put them in peril, it is generally populated by smart characters who have a realistic sensibility of where and when they are. And, in my current tradition of hating voiceovers, Zombieland actually uses voiceovers (and on-screen notations) remarkably effectively for both humor and viewer education.

Columbus, so nicknamed because of where he is headed, is a young man who has survived the viral outbreak that created zombies out of most humans through a list of rules. Keeping fit through cardio exercises, alive through always buckling up and being cunning about where and when he uses a bathroom, Columbus has been on the road when he encounters another human uninfected by the virus, Tallahassee. Tallahassee is a psychopathic man who lives by his wits and his exceptional arsenal of weapons. Obsessed with finding a Twinkie, Tallahassee agrees to take Columbus in his beefed up SUV to increase their chances of survival. Tallahassee's obsession with finding one of the remaining Twinkies on the planet puts both in peril when they stop at a grocery store and are taken hostage by two young women, whom they nickname Wichita and Little Rock.

After being swindled by Wichita and Little Rock, the men find another ride and a new arsenal of weapons and they set out west toward the Pacific Playland, which is where the women were headed. After finding their latest trap, the quartet decides to head out together. And when they make it to California, they find themselves in the least likely accommodations, getting closer. Only, when Little Rock and Wichita head out from the sanctuary must Columbus violate his rule ("Don't Be A Hero!") to rescue the young woman he has fallen for.

Zombieland is surprisingly funny, a fact which is almost lost on viewers as the opening credits roll. The opening credit sequence, a slow-motion montage of carnage that is stylistically similar to the opening of Watchmen, illustrates the zombie rampage, though it has some laughs (most notably the stripper chasing the client of the strip club. And the jokes are not often mixed with the graphic gore, so Zombieland becomes very easy to watch. Most of the humor is verbal ("Don't get stingy with the bullets" and "You almost knocked over your alcohol with your big knife") and there is a peculiar wit to the characters in Zombieland that makes it engaging.

The gore in the film is excessive and my squeamish partner clung to me at various points, but more often than not - usually when zombies were sinking their teeth into extras and pulling out veins that looked like spaghetti - she was whispering "That looks so fake" to me. This made the horror in the film completely disarmed and much easier to watch as a result. She is right; outside the moments where 406 (Columbus's neighbor at the outbreak of the plague) hobbles toward him on a stump of an ankle, the film is not disturbingly graphic.

Still, though, Zombieland is robbed of anything remotely near perfection by two things. The first is that the pathogen is never clearly defined. Columbus references that the infection began from someone eating bad meat, but the spread of the virus is implied to be airborn or bloodborn at times. The speed and virulence of it - the United States has collapsed two weeks after the outbreak - seems to imply airborn or a ridiculously virulent airborn variety. That the virus might be only contagious by bite (implied in the scene that introduces Little Rock) makes far less sense given the speed of the virus. Because it is not clear, it is hard to buy some of the scenes where Tallahassee is eagerly chopping up zombies at close range.

As well, Zombieland is populated by four surprisingly smart characters who do some ridiculously stupid things. When Wichita reaches her destination she does a predictably stupid thing which puts all four of the characters in serious peril. More than that, the group finds a real sanctuary in the home of Bill Murray, but they move on based upon old goals. That the characters do not truly grow enough to illustrate a clear understanding of the perilous world they are in is troublesome.

But what works beautifully is the overall narrative; Columbus is a realistic and sensible character and watching him take the steps necessary to survive is entertaining. Columbus is ably performed by Jesse Eisenberg and he plays a young man (which he is) very well. He has great ticks and eye movements as an overly-cautious obsessive compulsive survivor and he works. Here he establishes well a credibility to later play the genius protagonist in The Social Network. As well, he plays off Emma Stone (Wichita) and Abigail Breslin (Little Rock) remarkably well.

But it is Woody Harrelson who steals the film, especially in scenes he is paired with Bill Murray for. Harrelson has no hint of his hapless character from Cheers. Instead, he plays Tallahassee as smart and dangerous and he pulls the role off perfectly. He plays Tallahassee with a realistic intelligence, but also manages to carry the few moments the survivalist shows he has heart. He makes Zombieland cool, where Eisenberg holds most of the film's humor.

Anyone who likes comedy and can stomach gore will find a lot to enjoy in Zombieland. It is gross, but it doesn't let up with the humor, even in the later moments of peril. It is stylish and cool and very entertaining. And as a public service, stick with it through the credits; there is a bonus scene (blooper) at the end of the credits.

For other horror or comedies that blend genres, please check out my reviews of:
Robert A. Heinlein's The Puppet Masters
Shutter Island
The Land Of The Lost


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

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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