Saturday, December 31, 2011

Parrot Sketch Not Included, A Monty Python "Best Of"/Documentary!

The Good: Generally funny and mildly informative
The Bad: Included (on DVD) on Monty Python Live!, Doesn't replay particularly well.
The Basics: A disappointing clip show more than a documentary, Parrot Sketch Not Included has Steve Martin introducing clips from Monty Python's Flying Circus.

I loathe clipshows, especially for network television shows. In fact, one of the most serious detractions to any season of Friends was that while the actors were being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars an episode, there would, inevitably, be a clipshow once per season which did not give fans anything truly new. While Monty Python’s Flying Circus was never network television (at least, not in the United States), the documentary Parrot Sketch Not Included - 20 Years Of Monty Python is little more than a clip show.

Fans of Monty Python’s Flying Circus will likely recognize almost all of the sketches which are included in Parrot Sketch Not Included. This is a twenty-year retrospective "documentary" hosted by Steve Martin. The documentary is in quotes because while there is a little information in this hour-long program about how Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin formed the Monty Python troupe and began doing sketch comedy together, more of the program is examples of those sketches, in the form of twenty "best" sketches from the television series.

Parrot Sketch Not Included has Steve Martin introducing such well-known Monty Python sketches as "How Not To Be Seen" (wherein people called, stand up and are shot until they learn how to stay hidden), "Patient Abuse" (wherein a nurse stabs patients while the doctor makes them fill out excessive paperwork), and "Spam" (where a diner serves only food including Spam in it). In addition to the original sketches, Steve Martin tells viewers about "Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus," the German-reshot episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and a clip from one of those episodes is included. While it is mildly amusing to see "The Lumberjack Song," "Raymond Luxury Yacht," and "The Spanish Inquisition" out of context, some of them actually work better with the rich comedy that surrounds them in the original episodes.

On VHS, at least, there is nothing special on Parrot Sketch Not Included that one does not get from seeing the original episodes. For example, the sketch that was written and filmed for this (which includes Graham Chapman's last appearance before his death) is not included as this is the original broadcast program without any bonus features. Too much is missing for die-hard fans and casual viewers are more likely to want more. In that case, And Now For Something Completely Different offers more, though is essentially the same concept: the "Best Of" sketches from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

As well, the entire documentary appears on the DVD presentation of Monty Python Live! so those fans who cannot live without this will find it a much better value to pick it up that way. For the rest of us, it's just a clip show and we can live without it.

For other documentaries, please check out my reviews of:
Michael Moore Hates America
Super Size Me
Bowling For Columbine


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

© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn Reboots Hal Jordan Exceptionally Well!

The Good: Decent story, Good character elements, Generally decent artwork
The Bad: Somewhat limited plot, Artwork lacks real depth and shading
The Basics: Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn tells the origin story of Hal Jordan as Green Lantern in a very classic-feeling story that prepares readers well for what comes after.

As my Daredevil Year comes to an end, I am faced with a somewhat awkward confession. While the year started out big for me with Daredevil books arriving rapidly, I quickly exhausted all that my library could get in for me. Truth be told, I got a little bored with Daredevil. So, when I lost my job at the comic book shop and that whole avenue to free study of the Man Without Fear was cut off, I turned to my local library and looked through what they could get in for me. As it turns out, it was a lot of Green Lantern! Ironically, as I prepare for my Flash Year (yes, I am now leaking next year’s comic book franchise I intend to study!), I might have just passed the point where I read more Green Lantern books this year than Daredevil! Further irony in this comes from the fact that the book that is throwing me over is Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn, which notes on the back that Green Lantern was the original Man Without Fear.

Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn is the origin story of Hal Jordan as Green Lantern. Told for the 30th Anniversary of Green Lantern, Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn includes many elements that were later used in the film Green Lantern (reviewed here!). But what is arguably more interesting about Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn is to read what was left out of the film that is in this book. Hal Jordan’s drinking problem – which does not seem like it would be a dated element – is included in Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn and that adds an extra layer to the character that is somewhat incomprehensible the producers left out of the film!

Hal Jordan is a test pilot for Ferris Aviation when he is benched for reckless flying. He goes out with his brother and best friend and the group gets drunk. While driving them home, Hal’s car smashes into a bright yellow sign. He awakens in the hospital and soon learns that his best friend is now paralyzed. Before Jordan can truly react, he is pulled out of the hospital by a glowing green light. The light takes him to Abin Sur, a dying alien with a green power ring who fills him in on just enough of the ring’s powers to get him by. Abin Sur dies and his power ring is transferred to Hal Jordan.

Slowly, Hal begins to discover the ring’s powers as he wills things into existence to save his life and aid his friends. Almost immediately, Jordan is attacked by a giant yellow robotic construct who calls itself Legion. Desperate to survive after discovering that Legion is destroying everywhere he used the ring, Jordan takes on Legion. In the process, Hal’s best friend is killed and Hal sets off a nuclear bomb to try to stop him. Hal then is taken to Oa where he begins to train to be a proper Green Lantern. Unfortunately, Legion was not destroyed by Hal and as its goal was to find the Guardians, it uses Hal Jordan’s trip to Oa to begin its merciless revenge!

Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn is a decent origin story and anyone who wants to get into Green Lantern will find it a great way to start the franchise. There are some oddities, like the inclusion of the yellow weakness. Retroactively explained much later in a much better fashion, the Green Lanterns in Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn are unable to harm Legion because its armor is made out of a yellow metal. This seems somewhat ridiculous, but it is a conceit that one may buy just enough at this point.

What is a little harder to accept is the artwork. Penciller M.D. Bright did a generally good job with Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn. The characters, for the most part, look good. Abin Sur could have been rendered in a fashion that made him appear more alien, but Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn truly suffers on the coloring front. The book is not presented with particularly vibrant colors, so characters like Abin Sur looks just like a miscolored person as opposed to a truly individual alien life form.

Still, Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn is a good basic six-issue origin story that gets readers into Hal Jordan’s character arc. Knowing where the arc goes, it is easy to say that this is a pretty cool beginning and well worth the read, even if it is a little simplistic.

For other Green Lantern stories, please check out my reviews of:
Green Lantern: Willworld
Green Lantern: Rebirth
Green Lantern Corps: Rise Of The Alpha-Lanterns


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

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Roswell: Solved At Last! "Little Green Men" Is Fun Star Trek: Deep Space Nine!

The Good: Great idea, funny, nice acting, character development
The Bad: Somewhat silly resolution to the episode
The Basics: When Quark, Rom and Nog end up on Earth in 1947, human history has the potential to be irrevocably changed.

In 1947, rumors abounded in Roswell, New Mexico that a UFO had crashed and been recovered by the US Military. That's common knowledge. In Star Trek lore, this accident is finally explained: it was the Ferengi! In "Little Green Men," this is fully explored.

When Nog needs to report to Earth to begin his training at StarFleet Academy, Quark decides to transport him there in his new shuttle, compliments of Cousin Gaila. The gift seems too good to be true to Quark and it actually is: when the Quark's Treasure tries to come out of warp (slow down), the system fails and it appears the ship will crash. Rom, along for the ride, manages to save the ship, but in the process, the Ferengi lose consciousness. They awaken on Earth in 1947 where it seems they are doomed. As soon as Quark is able to get his universal translator back on-line, he becomes convinced that the destructive nature of humans of the time can be exploited and he decides to stay on Earth and do just that.

"Little Green Men" is, in the end, a comedy and it's well executed as such. The Ferengi usually get the episodes that are intended to be humorous and this episode is no exception. Almost from the beginning, we know this episode will be funny, with Nog noting that Captain Sisko looks an awful lot like Gabriel Bell (believe me, it's funny if you've seen "Past Tense, Part I and II). It gets even better when the Ferengi arrive in the past and they interact with the humans who are so different from themselves.

This episode was a good idea and it is executed rather well. It manages to keep the characters central to the events. More than simply a "let's put the Ferengi in Roswell in 1947" episode, this becomes "If it were the Ferengi, what would they have done and why?" episode. And that works quite well. Quark's natural greed and cunning come into play and are sensibly used.

In fact, much of the episode hinges on Quark's character. His ambition and desire to exploit make his place in "Little Green Men" essential. It also means that his failure to complete his desired task must, by necessity be the result of an external force and it's refreshing that it does come from someone other than himself. Here Quark is most true to himself and his own capitalist ideals and it's refreshing to see that unbridled here.

Armin Shimerman makes this episode fly. Shimerman has the opportunity to explore the unbridled greed of Quark. Armin has had the chance to play Quark as devious but never as openly vicious and exploitative as here. Shimerman rises to the occasion infusing Quark with great facial expressions and a professional sense of comic timing.

Even if one has never seen Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, there is a lot to enjoy in this episode. It's basically a comedy and for anyone who knows the mythos of the Roswell Incident will find this take on it funny. It has a great sense of how people in the late 40s acted and spoke and as a result the contrast with the 24th Century Ferengi is hilarious. While the Ferengi subplot is a major one, this is not an essential episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

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


For other Star Trek episode, movie and DVD set reviews, please click here to visit my index page!

© 2011, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Not As Cool As It Ought To Be, The 2011 Cyclon Centurion Battlestar Galactica Hallmark Ornament Is A Tough Sell!

The Good: Good sculpt, Decent sound effect
The Bad: No light effect, Very weak sound effect, Backheavy, Seems expensive.
The Basics: While Battlestar Galactica fans may flock to Hallmark to buy up the Cylon Centurion ornaments, general ornament enthusiasts are likely to be a little less wowed by this one.

Right off the bat, it is worth noting that I have yet to get into the new Battlestar Galactica craze. I know that it is out there, but I am one of those people who will not buy an entire series on DVD or Blu-Ray without seeing it first. Given that I do not have cable, I doubt this will change in the foreseeable future. So, my memories of Battlestar Galactica come mostly from my childhood when the show was more campy than cool. It was, however, enough for me to recall the basics and know enough to recognize the classic Cylons. So, when Hallmark released their Cylon Centurion ornament for the 2011 holiday season, I was excited to provide a pretty objective analysis of it.

For those unfamiliar with Cylon Centurion, this is a silver and black mechanized warrior who is out to destroy humanity in the Battlestar Galactica franchise. Reminiscent of the Star Wars stormtroopers, save in silver shiny armor, the Cylons were armed and deadly and they hounded the surviving humans in Battlestar Galactica. The Cylon Centurion is the squad leader of the Cylons.

Hallmark released the Cylon Centurion ornament with little fanfare in October 2011 and features the Cylon Centurion on a base that allows it to have a sound function.


The Cylon Centurion ornament faithfully recreates the black and silver soldier on a black base. The Cylon Centurion is well-molded and looks like the robot it is supposed to. The Hallmark Cylon Centurion ornament is made of solid black and silver plastic that features the silver soldier with its black skirt-like cape and a blaster which the Centurion is holding in a two-handed grip. This ornament does not have the date stamped or painted on it. Instead, the date is faintly molded into the very bottom of the platform the Cylon Centurion is standing on as part of the copyright information. This ornament is powered by very small watch batteries (included!) which allow the sound effect to be activated.

The Cylon Centurion is detailed very well, which makes some sense because the Cylon Centurion is supposed to have a very manufactured look to it. The robot soldier is 4 1/2” tall, 2 3/4“ wide and 2 1/16” deep. This makes it one of the bigger ornaments this season from Hallmark and it is fairly reasonably priced at $19.95 (less now that the holiday has passed!).

The Cylon Centurion stands upon a base that has the Battlestar Galactica title in the appropriate typeface across the front. I found myself a little less impressed by this detail. Hallmark could have molded the name in and accented it with paint, but it appears to basically be silkscreened on and that seems like it might wear off much easier than other ornaments.


As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, the Cylon Centurion could have a light and sound function. Fans of the Cylons are likely to be disappointed that the Cylon Centurion only has a sound function. I’m not usually one to gripe about this sort of thing, but the Cylon Centurion’s eyes are supposed to be lasers or something that glows red and it looks at an angle like Hallmark did get the visor red colored. Unfortunately, it does not light up.

However, a button on the front left side of the Cylon Centurion’s base does activate the sound function. When pressed, the battery-operated ornament begins to speak. The voice chip plays one of four soundclips from the television show wherein the Cylon menaces humanity. I’m fine with the sound clip not featuring anything about Christmas. However, the volume on this ornament was uncharacteristically low, making it less impressive than it ought to be, even with four quotes. The Cylon Centurion ornament is powered by watch-sized batteries, which are included with the ornament!


As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake Cylon Centurion ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. For those creating the ultimate science fiction Christmas Tree, the Cylon Centurion ornament is a fair addition. The ornament has the standard steel hook loop embedded into the top center of the Cylon Centurion’s head, which is the most stable point on the ornament. Unfortunately, because of the way the Centurion is cast with the skirt and legs (and presumably some of the electronics for the sound clips) the ornament is a little backheavy. I found I could not adjust it in any way that did not have a fifteen to twenty degree pitch from the back up. Fortunately, this works better as a desk ornament because of the stable base, for those who want a Cylon Centurion the whole year round!


Hallmark Keepsake began delving into the collectibles market in 1991 with Star Trek when it introduced the exceptionally limited edition U.S.S. Enterprise ornament (reviewed here!). Since then, they have made ornament replicas from virtually every major franchise, including retro television shows like Battlestar Galactica, Cheers (but not Frasier!), and Star Trek. The Cylon Centurion ornament appears to have been slightly overproduced as I have found several since the after-Christmas sales began. I suspect either demand was low because the television series has been off the air or that Battlestar Galactica fans are more discriminating about their swag. Either way, this may be found now comparatively inexpensively and I suspect it will take a while before it appreciates in value.


Fans of the Battlestar Galactica franchise, Cylons and Hallmark ornaments in general might want to get this ornament on the cheap while they can find it. It is not a bad ornament, but it feels like it could have been so much more.

For other 2011 Hallmark genre ornaments, please check out my reviews of:
CLU’s Light Cycle Tron: Legacy ornament
Green Lantern ornament
Slave I Star Wars ornament


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

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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The Album That Spawned The Spin-offs, Foiled By Blue October Still Rocks.

The Good: Generally good lyrics, Decent, independent sound
The Bad: There are more complete versions on the market.
The Basics: Holding up after - literally - at least fifty listens, Foiled is a smart rock and roll album that illustrates talent lyrically, vocally and in its instrumental accompaniment.

One of the nice things about being married for me has to be how I keep discovering new and different things and how my wife and I are able to share things we like with one another. In my case, because my wife moved from Michigan to live with me in Upstate New York, it has meant me being exposed to a great number of her musical artists and movies (they provide her with a sense of consistency and an emotional tether to where she came from and her past). One of the most-played new-to-me artists is Blue October and for the last year, my wife has had Foiled in pretty consistent rotation when I haven't dominated the c.d. player. And over the course of the year, I've come to truly enjoy the album.

At the same time, I am hesitant to overrate something because simple repetition has numbed me to it. As well, there are many alternate versions to Foiled and I have to imagine that there is some merit to them, so because my partner and I have been listening to the “bare bones” edition of the album, I do feel a little cheated. In addition to versions that have additional tracks, there are remix albums which include the basic disc with a whole bonus disc and I am actually hoping to get such a thing in hand for enjoyment and review soon. That said, Foiled has been the consistent rock and roll soundtrack of the past year of my life, through all my Artists Of The Month, when my wife and I have been driving around or hanging out, it is what she puts on. And it is decent rock and roll with a fairly masculine sound, even if many of the lyrics are not the stereotypical masculine ideal.

With a dozen songs occupying 53:56 on c.d., Foiled is very much the musical vision of Blue October. It is the album that spawned the mainstream hit “Hate Me,” which is presented in an extended version on the album. All of the songs are written by members of Blue October and they provide all of the primary vocals as well. The group plays their own instruments and I was surprised (because on Approaching Normal it was not the case) lead singer and head writer Justin Furstenfeld also is credited as a co-producer on the album. In other words, the members of the band have quite a bit of creative control over the sound on the album; this is very much the musical vision they had for their album.

And that vision is a generally hard rock sound that contrasts with surprisingly sensitive vocals and lyrics. As a result, Blue October sounds like no one else on Foiled and it becomes a welcome change from the hip-hop and country which have taken over Top 40 stations and the monotony of rockers past their heyday and new screamers who seem to dominate the rock and roll stations. Blue October is what pop-rock would be doing if the genre were still considered mainstream. It is musically rich and includes samples (the “Hey Justin!” that is looped and altered over the piano playing at the end of “Hate Me” is fairly innovative, if not incredibly musical), but is largely the work of musicians playing instruments as opposed to programmers mixing sounds on a board.

In that regard, Blue October is a quintet that mixes guitar, bass and drums with heavy keyboards/pianos on many songs. On “Let It Go,” they are quiet and melancholy with a strong sense of crushing ennui, in large part because of the muted guitars being drown out by deeper bass and pianos. But more than a typical keyboard-driven band, Blue October pushes the electric guitars on “Drilled A Wire Through My Cheek.” They balance them well on “Congratulations” and that's an excellent example of how the band has a musically rich sound which is not like anyone else creating music today (indeed, I have a hard time comparing them to anyone else I have ever heard). Unfortunately, those who have not heard Foiled before might well be put off by the guitar-heavy opening, “You Make Me Smile,” which sounds like very typical rock and roll.

Vocally, Foiled is powered mostly by the vocals of Justin Furstenfeld. The lead singer has a smooth voice which dominates each track, save “Congratulations.” On that song, he is accompanied by Imogen Heap (her album, Ellipse, was reviewed here!) and the feminine voice added to the mix shakes up the sound of the album well. Furstenfeld is generally articulate and the speed at which he delivers the lyrics on "Overweight" is actually impressive, especially that he makes the lyrics understood. The album is pretty consistently angst-filled and on Foiled, the song "Drilled A Wire Through My Cheek" is less the exception than the rule. "X Amounts Of Words," for example, has a more techno beat to it, but it is still connoting a sense of loss and emptiness in its lyrics, vocal presentation and the instrumentation than most pop-rock songs.

Lyrically, one of the most refreshing aspect of Foiled is that not all the best songs were the radio hits. Instead, the band takes its creative juices and invest them in creating an album which is diverse and packed with decent songs. While "Drilled A Wire Through My Cheek" may be dark and repetitive, it works so well because it is unsettling and lines like "I use a wallet for your mouth / So when you bite you will not bleed / I drilled a wire through my cheek / And let it down and out my sleeve" are universally disturbing. While I've never been a fan of songs that are screamed in front of electric guitars, that one works!

As well, the song "Congratulations" becomes one of the best breakup anthems in years and it is unsettling in a quieter, more melodic way. That has a very simple sense of poetry in its lines "My words they don't come out right / But I'll try to say I'm happy for you / I think I'm going to take that drive / I want to give you something / I've been wanting to give to you for years / My heart’s / My heart, my pain won't cover up / You left me. . ." ("Congratulations"). Still, anyone who has been abandoned and hurt can undoubtedly relate to the song and that gives it a strength most pop-rock songs today do not possess.

Generally, the album has a decent sense of poetics, even when it is repetitive. "Hate Me" is simple and repetitive, but it is decent because it expresses a strong emotion well. Similarly, the poetics of "I assemble all the sand that cover wedding beaches / To build a castle so your mom would have a place to stay / Behind the water slide and down the hill where heaven reaches / Land and time is left to float away (yeah) / So rest assured I have the key to every opening / To every wishing well that's deep enough to dream (dream) / I want to show you just how fascinating kissing is / When earth collides with all the space between (yeah)" ("Sound Of Pulling Heaven Down") possesses beautiful, if horrifying imagery. It is easy to hear why the band is so successful as a result.

But even after four years on the market, what is wonderful about Foiled is that it still sounds fresh and diverse and it is easy to listen to and enjoy. Anyone who likes rock and roll that is more than just a simple guitar, bass and drum band will find something to enjoy on "Foiled;" I'd even bet they would find a lot to enjoy.

The best song is "Congratulations," the low point is the less memorable "Let It Go."

For other male bands, please visit my reviews of:
Dig Out Your Soul - Oasis
A Rush Of Blood To The Head - Coldplay
By The Way - Red Hot Chili Peppers


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

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Delightful And Light, Coconut Jelly Belly Jelly Bean Dips Are A Nice Addition To Their Line!

The Good: Tastes very good, Nothing bad in them
The Bad: The dark chocolate is not that dark, Expensive.
The Basics: The Coconut Chocolate Jelly Bean Dips are a wonderful substitute for chocolate-covered coconut shavings!

Those regular readers of mine who have come to rely upon my Jelly Belly jelly bean reviews know that I have been out of action for a few weeks! Yes, in the pre-holiday season, my Jelly Belly reviews ground to a halt for one very simple reason: I was out of Jelly Belly jelly beans! There are remarkably few flavors from Jelly Belly that I had not found and reviewed, so for a time, I was done. Finished. There were no more amazing Jelly Belly flavors for me to try.

It was tragic, truly. Fortunately, my amazing wife told me not to bug the fine folks at the Jelly Belly corporation for those last few flavors of Jelly Bellys I needed. The last time we traveled through Pennsylvania, we stopped at the Erie Jelly Belly store and she did some holiday shopping well in advance of the holidays! The first of the new-to-me (and still finding their way to many markets) flavor is the Coconut Jelly Belly Jelly Bean Dips!

For those who might never have had Jelly Belly jelly beans, these are easily the best jelly beans on the planet, packing a lot of flavor into a very small size. Unlike most jelly beans which are only vaguely flavored and are more based on colors, Jelly Belly jelly beans have a wide variety of actual flavors, like their superlative Limited Edition Candy Cane, the BeanBoozled Assortment, Strawberry Banana Smoothie, or their signature flavor Buttered Popcorn.


Coconut is a flavor of Jelly Belly Jelly Bean Dips jelly beans. The Jelly Bean Dips jelly beans are approximately one-half inch long by one-quarter inch wide and they are roughly bean-shaped. These are marginally bigger than the usual Jelly Belly jelly beans by only a few millimeters due to the chocolate shell. These Jelly Bean Dips are Coconut (reviewed here!) Jelly Bellys with a chocolate coating.

Coconut flavored Jelly Belly Dips Jelly Bellys are currently available in either 2.8 oz. plastic packages which are terrible for the environment or the ten pound bulk boxes most of us appreciate. The bulk box provides a less severe environmental impact as well as a more economical way to get the Dips!

Coconut flavored Jelly Bean Dips Jelly Bellys are impossible to recognize from other Dips flavors as the six currently-available Dips flavors are all coated in chocolate and thus look more or less alike. The Coconut flavor are dipped in dark chocolate, so they are a darker shade of brown than milk chocolate products like the average chocolate-coated raisin.

Ease Of Preparation

These are jelly beans, not cracking open a coconut and discovering chocolate inside! Preparing them is as easy as opening the packet or box, and popping the beans into your mouth. In the case of the stiff plastic bag, which is not resealable, the jelly beans may be consumed all at once or over several days with no adverse effects to the freshness. The bulk box can be opened and as long as the bag in the box is sealed, they remain fresh and delicious.


The scent of the Coconut Jelly Bean Dips is one of the few Jelly Bean Dips where the fruit flavor truly comes through. Opening the package of Coconut Dips, I was bowled over by the fresh, distinct aroma of coconuts! The scent was strong and appropriately light, but instantly evocative of coconut. I was a little surprised because the aroma of dark chocolate was pretty well sublimated to the coconut. Fortunately, this scent truly was a good hint of deliciousness to come!

The Coconut Chocolate Dips are just what the scent promises. First, there is a dark chocolate flavor that is distinct. This is a sweeter dark chocolate than most, so those who love dark chocolate exclusively might be a little disappointed by the slightly sweeter flavor of the chocolate, especially as it is combined with a very soft chocolate, instead of the distinctive dry texture most dark chocolate lovers expect of their dark chocolate. But then, that weak dark chocolate melts away and before it is fully gone, there is the creamy, slightly nutty flavor of the coconut jelly bean inside!

The real magic of the Coconut Jelly Bean Dips is that the coconut flavor never makes it to a dominant position in the flavor palate. Instead, this jelly bean accents and sweetens the chocolate enough to remind one of a chocolate covered coconut slice that is quite incredible!


Again, these are jelly beans, so anyone expecting them to provide the health benefits of even actual coconuts will be unpleasantly surprised. Jelly Bean Dips are not a legitimate source of nutrition. As a chocolate-covered sugary snack they are loaded with calories (150 in the 40 bean serving) and no real nutrients.

Unlike most Jelly Belly jelly beans, Jelly Bean Dips do have a little fat (4 grams per serving) and no protein. For those who have to worry about Vegan compliance, these are not Vegan compliant despite not containing gelatin! They have beeswax and, more importantly, milk fat, which eliminates them from consideration for Vegans, though milk-consuming vegetarians ought to be fine with them. The main ingredients are corn syrup, dark chocolate and sugar, so it's not like this is an all-natural food, but they could be far, far worse.


Jelly Bean Dips jelly beans have a shelf life of over one year and because they come in an individual sealed package, they retain their freshness. Kept in a cool, dry place, the beans retain their flavor perfectly. The package I received on Christmas would have expired in March 2012 had I been able to resist eating them all.

As for cleanup, unless one allows the Jelly Belly to get hot to the point that the chocolate coating on the bean melts, the beans do not bleed or denature, so there is usually no cleanup necessary, not even washing one's hands after eating them (though basic hygiene rules suggest it's a good idea to wash your hands anyway before eating them!). I've never had Coconut Jelly Belly Jelly Bean Dips stain anything.


Coconut Jelly Bean Dips Jelly Bellys are a decent chocolate-covered snack, though I recommend them more as part of a Dips assortment than on their own. They are light and accurately coconut flavored, but they just are not quite as exciting as some of the other Dips flavors.

For other Jelly Belly flavors reviewed by me, please check out:
Apple Pie A La Mode
Cherry Passionfruit
Mint Mint Chocolate Chip


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

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

"Episode 7:" Must-See Twin Peaks, The First Season Goes Out With A Bang! GREAT Finale!

The Good: Everything, seriously a perfect hour of television, a solid 10: acting, character, plot, & mood!
The Bad: None, nothing, not a bad moment in it!
The Basics: In a perfect season finale "Episode 7" ties up many loose ends building throughout the season and ignites several new plotlines!

[IMPORTANT NOTE: As I proceed through the episodes of Twin Peaks with reviews, it is absolutely impossible to discuss some of the episodes without revealing some of the surprises I will work hard to keep while reviewing earlier episodes. No matter how careful I am, it is impossible to write about some of the later episodes without letting slip that some of the characters were (ultimately) not the killer of Laura Palmer or killed, etc. I shall do my best to minimize that, but given how serialized Twin Peaks is, it is almost impossible to do even a minimal plot summary without some nuggets slipping out. These reviews may be ideal for fans of the series who are sitting down to watch individual episodes and want to have a guide as to which episode did what, because Twin Peaks episodes do not have names, just episode numbers!]

The purpose of a season finale, many will argue, is to pack the houses for the next season's premiere. Sure, you want to tell a good story, you might have some things to resolve that should be cleared up, but for any series where there's even a question of renewal, it's all about going out on such a note that the next season will open big. It's about creating great cliff-hangers and leaving the viewer wanting more. Occasionally, this backfires completely, like when VR.5 (reviewed here!) made a compelling and series-altering season finale only to not be renewed for another season. Fans still wonder what became of Sydney Bloom. I suspect that had Twin Peaks not had a second season, there would have been riots; that's how incredible "Episode 7," the first season finale, is.

"Episode 7" begins as part of the same long night that dominated the latter half of "Episode 6" (reviewed here!) so those who missed that episode will be completely lost when this one begins.

At One-Eyed Jacks, Agent Cooper is on a winning streak and when Jacques Renault arrives, he begins to play at Renault's table. When the time comes, Cooper takes Renault aside and tips him with the broken poker chip found at one of the crime scenes. Playing off Renault's boorish stupidity, Cooper learns of the last hours of Laura Palmer and he becomes convinced that Renault or his sidekick Leo was directly involved in Laura's murder. While Sheriff Truman and his deputies are taking down Renault, Leo Johnson makes his move on Shelly, leaving her to burn in the Packard Mill which he is burning down.

But the night does not turn out the way Leo wants it to when he goes to exact revenge on Bobby Briggs for having an affair with Shelly. Nor does it turn out the way Dr. Jacoby thought it would when he followed who he thought was Laura Palmer and he ends up beaten and left for dead. Nor does the night turn out as expected for Audrey Horne who begins her first night in One Eyed Jack's bordello only to receive the worst possible client she could get. Nor do things work out the way Catherine expects when she receives a late-night summons to the Mill and finds Shelly there, bound, moments before the fire begins. And Andy's heroism in helping bring down Renault is a high that does not last as Lucy reveals her big secret to him. And Big Ed's excitement over apprehending Renault is dashed when he returns home. And Renault's night goes from bad to worse when Leland Palmer learns that the drug-runner may be his daughter's murderer.

And as all of the plot lines rise to a climax and a fire erupts in Twin Peaks, the night takes an abrupt turn for Agent Cooper.

Damn. The first time I finished watching "Episode 7," all I could say was "Damn!" That's some damn fine television.

The thing about "Episode 7" that makes it so incredible is that while it sounds remarkably plot intensive - and indeed, a lot happens in this episode! - all of the action is character-driven. Nadine makes a choice based on her feeling distraught over the rejection of her silent drape-runner idea, Leland's anger toward Renault and the resulting actions stem from his season-long agony over the loss of his daughter, and Leo's vengeance is all about his reacting to betrayal.

And the writer and director of "Episode 7" is incredibly savvy with the level of detail the characters employ. One of the most perceptive character moments is also one of the simplest. Finding Shelly in the mill, tied up, Catherine approaches, unbinds her mouth and asks - with no small bit of annoyance - who she is. And of course Catherine would have no idea who Shelly is, they come from completely different plotlines, er, parts of Twin Peaks. Catherine, more mature and able, is very different from the young Shelly Johnson and there's no reason the two would know one another and reminding viewers of that in such a simple and direct way is brilliant.

"Episode 7" might seem more complicated than necessary to some, with elements like Bobby Briggs framing James Hurley by putting cocaine in his motorcycle's gas tank, but the episode even brings that back to a place where it makes sense. And James is exonerated in a simple fashion largely because his good-guy persona has been credible all along.

This is an especially violent episode of Twin Peaks, but it is not gratuitous or senseless. I've likened several of the episodes that precede this one to a game; "Episode 7" is a lightening round of moves with most of the cast of primary characters ending up in serious jeopardy at one point or another throughout the episode. Twin Peaks has always been a dangerous place (as far as intrigue goes anyway) and this is the night that all of the potentials that have been building become realized and the end will leave the viewer in agony wanting the next episode to begin!

Part of the reason for this is that even with its massive cast, "Episode 7" is an incredible display of acting talent by each and every member of the cast. Richard Beymer is able to take Benjamin Horne from scheming and conniving to absolutely delighted with full credibility as the Icelanders sign off on Ghostwood. Piper Laurie plays Catherine as cool and methodical in a way that makes the viewer understand how she has become so very powerful to get where she is in this series. And Machden Amick is able to play truly terrified in a way that is agonizing to watch.

The whole cast contributes and it is the usually the unsung performers who have their moment in the sun alongside those who have dominated prior episodes. Eric Da Re is vicious as Leo, but he has a moment that turns all of that. Ray Wise is able to play Leland Palmer as doing something other than crying and portraying a broken man. And Wendy Robie who plays Nadine gets her golden moment in a bit where she must convey tremendous amounts of emotion without speaking and with only one eye visible. And she is absolutely incredible.

This is not to say that the principle performers are slouching. Michael Ontkean is handles his duties as sidekick well, portraying Truman as a man who has an unflinching bond growing with Agent Cooper. Harry Goaz is wonderful as Deputy Andy taking him from the elation of being a hero to being crushed by Lucy's response to it. He and Wendy Robbie play off one another perfectly to maintain the relationship of the characters.

But, as is often the case, most of the episode focuses on Kyle MacLachlan's Dale Cooper, so he has to perform. And MacLachlan delivers. He plays Cooper with a great confidence in the One-Eyed Jacks scenes and there is a moment as Cooper is listening to Jacques story about Laura's predilections when MacLachlan plays Cooper hiding his revulsion that is absolutely masterful. Cooper must keep a poker face, of course and MacLachlan plays keeping up the poker face in a way that it is believable that it would convince Renault, yet he clearly indicates to the audience that all his restraint is going into not grabbing Renault right there!

This is the type of episode that everyone who complains about how bad television is should watch. Yes, there is a lot of bad television out there, but when done right, television programs can absolutely rock and "Episode 7" is a powerhouse. This is a must-see for anyone who likes drama, surreal horror, suspense and/or high comedy. Okay, if you like only comedy, you might not be grabbed by this violent, action-filled dramatically tense episode, but it's hard to imagine a better episode to teach on the merits of drama than this episode!

A flawless hour of television, even if it won't be understood by those who have not followed the journey up to this point!

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Twin Peaks - The Complete First Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the groundbreaking debut season reviewed here!
or check out the entire series, available in the Gold Box Definitive edition, reviewed here!

For other seasons that had great finales or other great season finales, check out my reviews of:
Millennium - Season 2
“The Best Of Both Worlds”
Carnivale - Season 1


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

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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When Visiting The Meramec Caverns, The Comfort Inn In Sullivan, Missouri Is Not Bad.

Comfort Inn

The Good: Good breakfast, Decent room size, Generally clean, Public internet, Very friendly staff.
The Bad: Public areas have stains, Pool over-chlorinated
The Basics: A good hotel, but not extraordinary, the Comfort Inn Sullivan is a good place to stay near the Meramec Caverns in Missouri.

As my annual trip to Las Vegas, Nevada is now underway, I have begun the fun of stocking up on travel experiences to review! This year's journey to the West involves fixing some problems in Michigan for my partner, then cracking down to Missouri for the Meramec Caverns (reviewed here!) before a sustained drive to Las Vegas for our convention. As I've pretty much milked her Michigan home for reviews, I now find us three days into our trip, waking up together at the Comfort Inn in Sullivan, Missouri.

I made reservations a few days back for the Comfort Inn in Sullivan and I was lucky to get a room. Staying on a Saturday into a Sunday, the hotel was sold-out and given the popularity of the nearby Meramec Caverns, it is easy to see why. This is a part of Missouri where there are few main roads and many hills. In other words, there are very few options. Fortunately for my partner and I, my favorite chain has a presence in this area.


The Comfort Inn Sullivan, MO210 (in the Choice Hotel numbering system, a good number to have if making a reservation on the phone, etc.), is located at 736 South Service Road West in Sullivan, Missouri. This is right off exit 225 on Interstate 44, which is the only major interstate through this part of Missouri. This is only five miles south of the Meramec Caverns, which is the biggest attraction in this part of Missouri. It is a bit out of the way for St. Louis visitors, but for those looking for an overnight in the Midwest, this is an excellent location for a stay near the local attraction. Mapquest provides solid directions when the address was input.

The Comfort Inn Sullivan has two entrances, right off Service Road and another by going through a convoluted series of parking lots if one misses the first right onto Service Road. Because the three-story Comfort Inn is the highest building in the area, it is very easy to find and navigate by sight from the Interstate exit. The hotel has only fifty-nine rooms, though, so parking is limited pretty much just to hotel guests and the lot barely holds sixty cars. The parking lot wraps around three of the four sides of the hotel. There are no grounds to speak of; it is essentially in what appears to be, a hotel to stay at in the middle of more or less nowhere. Our view was out onto the parking lot and the fast food joints next door. The Comfort Inn Sullivan is a three-story hotel and it was not next to anything we could see, save restaurants, a park or cemetery (my partner and I debated this, but did not investigate closer) and the interstate.

The Comfort Inn Sullivan almost looks like an office building, though it is not unsightly. This is designed to be a place to crash. Rooms here are designed for comfort, but it is not a resort-type location. We checked in on a Saturday night and were greeted by a very helpful (if somewhat overworked) clerk. There were no rooms to utilize our free upgrade for, so we stayed in a room with a king bed - the entire hotel is nonsmoking. The room ran $76.00 after the taxes for a night, which seems to be a great rate for this area considering how few places there are and the demand from the Caverns.

Room Size

Upon entering the hotel, I had to wait for a clerk to return to the desk, given that he was off running an errand for another guest. He was accommodating and friendly, but it was clear with the hotel packed he was being run ragged. Check-in was very quick, despite the wait from the clerk and there were no problems with us getting the exact room we had reserved.

As for our room, we found ourselves pleasantly surprised after a day on the road to arrive at the Comfort Inn Sullivan. The room was a bit longer and wider than some we had stayed in recently and it immediately made us feel safe and invited. Measuring twenty-nine feet deep by thirteen and a half feet wide, the room included a king-sized bed, a giant closet with mirrored doors when one walks in (enhancing the feel of space in the room), a desk and a full bathroom with shower/tub, toilet and sink. The room felt large and inviting and it was well-lit, once the high efficiency bulbs actually lit up (we had to throw the switch several times before this happened).


The atmosphere at the Comfort Inn Sullivan was generally good, but not overwhelmingly . . . anything. The staff was remarkably friendly, but the cream-colored walls in the room made it seem a little dimmer than other rooms we've stayed in. As far as cleanliness goes, all of the major things were clean, but there were some issues. We had a nonsmoking room, as always and it smelled perfectly smoke free. There was no evidence or trace of scent that would have indicated it had ever had a cigarette smoked in it. Indeed, the entire hotel smelled good, save near the pool which smelled very chlorine like.

Every time I enter a new hotel room, I flush the toilet (past experience has proven this is an excellent thing to check out right away!) and the Comfort Inn Sullivan easily passed the first flush test with no difficulties. However, it seems the toilet is a bit low-flow and might require two flushes to clear the bowl. Water pressure in the shower was nothing to write home about, but the shower head was a nice one with three settings allowing some spray variation, which is nice.

The wallpaper in the room was tasteful and none of the wallpaper or paint was peeling. However, the rugs throughout the hotel looked a little darker and stained and walls in the public areas were similarly dingy, as if they had been dusted with a wet cloth. There were smears in as few public places, like the stairwells, but generally, the hotel felt clean.


The Comfort Inn Sullivan has a pretty decent package working for it for a hotel in the Choice Hotel system. In every room there were the standard coffee packets, lotion, shampoo and conditioner, along with an air conditioning unit and the usual bars of soap. There were also tea bags with the coffee as well and that was a nice touch!

The friendly staff (including the morning breakfast nook workers) was consistent and kind and there was a 24 hour coffee and tea service. The tea service had two different flavors of tea and there are packets of sugar, sugar substitute and powdered creamer. In addition to the coffee from the room, there was coffee in the lobby with tea and hot cocoa packets, insuring that the guest need never go thirsty.

The free continental breakfast at the Comfort Inn Sullivan was one of the better ones I have had at a Comfort Inn. This hotel was emphasizing the hot food options, with the trademark Belgian waffles that the Choice Hotels are known for. In addition to fresh made Belgian waffles (there were two stations!), there were eggs, sausage patties, biscuits and country gravy! The hot foods were kept hot with hotplates and there is a microwave to heat up anything that cools (our room had a microwave and refrigerator as well!). There were three types of prepackaged GM cold cereals, milk, and apple and orange juice from carafes. There were pre-sliced plain bagels and white bread for toasting as well as cream cheese and margarine for condiments. As well, there were minimuffins and four types of danish. This was a good spread and we were surprised that they even had a few yogurts!

There was an indoor pool and we did go swimming for a change (it's something we've gotten into a habit of). It is very shallow and the hot tub that is next to it has almost the same level of chlorine the pool itself has. The indoor pool was plagued by higher than usual chlorine or chlorine alternative and the whole pool area smelled chemically as a result.

There is also a free high speed internet in every room, though the traveler must provide their own computer. This is one of the last hotels I've been to in a while, though, that has a high speed terminal in the lobby, though it is terrible for privacy given its orientation. The television has sixty-nine cable television stations (I swear we only watched the Weather Channel that night!).

While we were eating breakfast, the hot food ran out and the staff quickly arrived upon mention of this to refill it. Regardless of the general mediocrity of the rest of the hotel, the staff truly makes this one shine.


The Comfort Inn Sullivan might well be the best chain hotel in the Sullivan, Missouri area, but relative to all hotels everywhere, it is simply average. Even so, there is a small-town feel to the hotel and the staff there is consistently friendly and helpful, making one feel quite welcome.

For other reviews of destinations in Missouri, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Comfort Inn Warrenton, MO
Comfort Inn Worlds Of Fun Kansas City, MO
Quality Inn & Suites Historic Saint Charles, MO


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

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

Friday, December 30, 2011

A Wonderful Tale Of Struggle, The Pursuit Of Happyness Is Tough To Recommend As Entertainment.

The Good: Good characters, Decent acting, Good story, Decent DVD bonus features
The Bad: Mood is oppressive
The Basics: A strong human drama about the struggle of a poor man to better himself while taking care of his child, The Pursuit Of Happyness is a wonderful movie.

In watching many, many films, I am beginning to appreciate what it means to watch films for enjoyment. I am also able to differentiate between movies that are great and difficult to watch, like The Soloist and films that are so uncomfortable as to be less-than-great, like The House Of Sand And Fog. So, when I sat down and watched The Pursuit Of Happyness, I was acutely aware that while it was difficult and awkward to watch in many points, I was still watching a wonderful film. Even so, The Pursuit Of Happyness is such a long journey to get to such a minimal catharsis that I find it difficult to consider a perfect film, or even one I would be excited about seeing again.

In fact, as someone who has been poor for years, The Pursuit Of Happyness is no great revelation on how life is in capitalist America. As one who has struggled with running small businesses and paying bills, The Pursuit Of Happyness is hardly entertaining or enlightening. While I watched the film and it is one of my wife's favorites, it is one that is a tougher sell for my permanent collection. This film is based upon the life of Chris Gardner and as my usual caveat, my review is solely of the film and what is presented in it.

Chris Garner is working in San Francisco where he is months behind on the rent and is having difficulty selling his advanced medical scanners to doctors there. Having sunk his entire life savings into the venture, he is falling behind and relying on his partner, Linda. Doing his best to raise his son, Christopher, Chris divides his time between his sales and trying to find the next thing for him. His direction in life soon takes focus when he gets an interview at Dean Witter. But attempting to become a stockbroker means a six-month unpaid internship and while Chris wants it, he does not know how to keep juggling everything.

Linda abandons Chris and her son for a job opportunity in New York City as Chris begins his internship. When that happens, Chris clings to taking care of Christopher and he networks to try to make the most of his internship. Moving out of the apartment, then getting evicted from a local motel, the pair whittles away all they have while Chris works hard to prove himself at Dean Witter. But when the two find themselves unable to stay in a shelter for a night, things look truly dire for them.

What makes The Pursuit Of Happyness at all extraordinary is the level of character presented in it. Chris Garner is a character it is very easy to empathize with. Chris clearly loves Christopher and he makes all manner of sacrifices for him. But the relief from the overwhelming oppression of the mood of the movie comes when Chris is able to be creative with his son. Forced to stay with his son in the bathroom of a subway station, Chris makes the experience a creative one by convincing Christopher that they've gone back in time and they are surrounded by dinosaurs.

The Pursuit Of Happyness actually has moments of charm and moments when it is not entirely depressing. The movie features one of the best-ever job interviews ever when Chris tries to impress his potential Dean Witter employer by solving a Rubix Cube puzzle for him after hounding him for weeks. The tension in the scene is exciting and entertaining.

Unfortunately, scenes like that are the exception to the rule in this film. Most of the movie is filled with moments where Chris is struggling. The film is preoccupied with Chris suffering as all he clings to is taken away from him. Instead of things getting better, after Chris takes the internship the situation gets dire. Chris is abandoned, his money is taken from him through bad loans and parking tickets that he is forced (abruptly) to pay, and his relationship with Christopher becomes strained. This is a long way to go for the point and all it truly does is make one want to rally against the forces of capitalism that prioritize businesses like Dean Witter over the human element.

The Pursuit Of Happyness features wonderful acting by Will Smith and this has Smith almost devoid of his comedic tendencies. Instead, this is Will Smith at his dramatically most convincing. As his character suffers, the viewer feels it well. Smith plays frustrated, lost and desperately poor. He does an exceptional job of playing a man struggling, down to body language that makes him seem constantly stressed. As well, in the scenes that require it, Will Smith is articulate and convincing in his character's ambition. The final moments of the movie have truly amazing acting by Will Smith as well.

Will Smith plays opposite his son Jaden Christopher Syre Smith and the two make a credible on-screen family. Jaden does well looking affectionately at Will Smith and while this is not great acting, the kid pulls it off credibly. The family seems realistic and Jaden makes the suffering of his character work as well as his father does. As well, Jaden and Will Smith play off Thandie Newton, who plays Linda, beautifully and the three make a credible on-screen family.

On DVD, The Pursuit Of Happyness comes loaded with as many bonus features as a typical drama has. In addition to a commentary track with director Gabriele Muccino, there is a featurette that includes an interview with the actual Chris Gardner. As well, there is a music viceo, a featurette on the Rubik's Cube and another one on the relationship between the Smiths on camera and off. As well, there is a featurette on the director's perspective on adapting Gardner's story. This is pretty thorough set of bonus features.

But ultimately, The Pursuit Of Happyness is a depressing movie that I enjoyed and because my partner has it on her shelf, we will watch it again. But it is not the best film I've ever seen and there are other depressing movies that have more of a catharsis than this one.

For other works with Will Smith, please check out my reviews of:
I Am Legend
Men In Black II
Men In Black

9/10 (N)

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

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Compelling Adventure Beyond A "Kill The Villain" Story Is Green Lantern: Willworld

The Good: Interesting story, Decent plot and character progression, Genuine surrealism
The Bad: The artwork is not as compelling as it could be.
The Basics: Green Lantern: Willworld creates a retro Hal Jordan story that is surprisingly engaging and worth reading!

There is a recurring gripe with me when I review Star Trek movies (the Star Trek movie franchise is considered here!), which is that after a certain point, all of the Star Trek films after Wrath Of Khan with the exception of The Voyage Home degenerate into simple “kill the villain” stories. Whatever highbrow beginning the movie starts with, it wanders into a parody of intellectualism as it becomes like whatever the prior Star Trek movie was. I write that at the outset of my review of Green Lantern: Willworld because I spent the entire graphic novel waiting for that sort of thing to happen. The Green Lantern franchise as I have encountered it in the last few months is pretty much a consistent collection of epic battles across the universe. It’s a violent cosmos, the DC Universe!

My local library has a habit of getting me in books I have never heard of, especially graphic novels that might occur outside the cannon or be limited one-shots. Like Wonder Woman: The Hieketia (reviewed here!), Green Lantern: Willworld is a story that takes place in a nebulous time and space in the overall Hal Jordan timeline. In fact, without ruining the end, there is no better way to describe it than that, though it is fair to say that Green Lantern: Willworld has a very retro feel to it. Unfortunately, it also has a fairly retro look to it as well.

Even so, Green Lantern: Willworld has a lot going for it in that it is imaginative, clever and tells a story that does not become a ridiculous repetition of every other Green Lantern book.

Hal Jordan awakens as a cowboy on a desert plain, riding a four-legged purple beast he calls Trigger. He has no memory of who or what he is, so he is instantly disoriented. He is met by a driver who wounds Trigger, forcing Jordan to kill the beast as a humanitarian act. In killing Trigger, a panel opens and a mini-Trigger pops out to accompany Hal and Mu-Fon to the Land Of Odd. As its name suggests, the Land Of Odd is a surreal place with floating heads, vastly different alien races and monsters blending into one another.

Jordan is not at his hotel there long before he meets with an Angel, Glance, who slowly begins to guide him. As time and space seem utterly without reason, Hal finds himself confused. His confusion begins to end when he becomes convinced he must find Mairwand and he learns that Mairwand has been abducted. Traveling from the Land Of Odd to Nowhere Land, Jordan slowly begins to recall both his power and his memory. As the realm he finds himself in falls under the darkness of the Whirlwind, Hal Jordan struggles to overcome all of the obstacles that challenge him!

Green Lantern: Willworld is a surprisingly cool book. The story progresses amazingly well. It is very clear, almost from the beginning, that Hal Jordan is in some form of other world or parallel existence. Green Lantern: Willworld does not try to insult the viewer by obscuring that, in fact just the opposite. Green Lantern: Willworld continues to escalate the weird in an attempt to truly explore the nature of imagination and the power of creativity. In the book’s final chapter, Hal Jordan encounters Mairwand in a form that surprises him and makes so much of the book make sense.

In fact, far from the letdown when the revelations do begin to flow in Green Lantern: Willworld, the reader is given a greater appreciation for the weirdness they have been experiencing. In fact, author J.M. DeMatteis captures perfectly the childlike sense of wonder in the universe and a sense of . . . well, that would be giving it away. Sufficed to say, for the first time in a long, long time when reading an Elseworld or alternate universe scenario, I was not disappointed by the resolution here!

What is a little more problematic in Green Lantern: Willworld is the artwork. Artist Seth Fisher has an amazingly difficult task with penciling Green Lantern: Willworld and he rises to the challenge well. The panels are packed with interesting creatures and character. I felt like I had seen some of the weirder things in Anime before this book, but much of the form looks good. Hal Jordan, alas, does not look terribly distinctive. Instead, he looks unfortunately generic and stands out on most pages solely as the lone human. While this makes it easy to follow Green Lantern: Willworld, it does not serve the complex, imaginative story as well as it ought to.

What Green Lantern: Willworld lacks is the coloring power to match the images and the story’s intensity. Instead, the colors throughout Green Lantern: Willworld are almost universally washed-out, as if they were done with watercolors. This serves to mute the impact of most of the panels and while it might connote that the entire book is simply a dream, it just seems like it is less vibrant as it ought to be and for a story that is clever on so many levels, it is very disappointing in this regard.

That is now quite enough to drag down Green Lantern: Willworld, though it does make me feel like it is not using the medium as well as it ought to be. With that in mind, this is one of the earliest comic books I actually recommend and was happy I read!

For other Green Lantern volumes, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
Green Lantern Featuring Green Arrow – Volume 1
Green Lantern Rebirth
Brightest Day: Green Lantern


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

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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“Starship Down” Makes The Argument That What The Enterprise Needs, The Defiant Does Not

The Good: Character work, Special effects, Acting
The Bad: Plot, Pacing
The Basics: When the Defiant is crippled in battle, the crew is separated from one another and forced to try to save the ship without aid in “Starship Down.”

In Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s fifth season, there was a desire to strengthen the characters on the show and an episode was contrived where various characters would be put in a position that forced growth upon them. The episode was called "Disaster" and it had the desired effect, the Enterprise was crippled and the characters were focused on the entire time and they were forced to develop. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which is always character intensive, inexplicably decided to replicate the episode. Perhaps even more troublesome; the series did it twice, on the station in "Civil Defense" and now aboard the Defiant in "Starship Down."

While the Defiant is conducting negotiations with the Karema in the Gamma Quadrant, it is attacked by the Jem'Hadar. Caught off-guard and determined to protect the Karema ship, the Defiant is taken into a nearby gas giant. Severely crippled, the Defiant finds itself in dire straits: Captain Sisko is seriously wounded with only Kira to keep him conscious on the destroyed bridge, Dax and Bashir are trapped in a turbolift below decks where it seems they will freeze to death, Worf is put in command in engineering and Quark and the Karema businessman Orinthar are stuck in the mess hall when a Jem'Hadar torpedo lodges itself in the wall and could detonate at any point.

The real problem with "Starship Down" is its sheer lack of necessity. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine does not need an episode that focuses all on character; it does that almost every single week. So, the plot feels a bit contrived. It's like fishing for a speech in Congress; people are talking all of the time there, you don't have to troll for it. A "character episode" of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is a regular occurrence.

Add to that, the pace in "Starship Down" seems a bit off. That is, this is a situation that ought to feel very tense; the ship is crippled, the people are separated and wounded and there are still ships out there ready to attack. Given that, we ought to have some feeling of menace and be worried for our heroes. But the episode never gets into stride, never getting tense enough for us to buy.

What it lacks in tension and mood, it more than makes up for in character substance. In a strangely easy to watch segment, Kira surrenders to failure and actually opts to pray for Captain Sisko because she has no other alternatives. While as a general statement, this might be disturbing, it fits Kira's character and it reinforces beyond all other indications that she IS an outsider and not used to this type of situation. Put Kira in a mountain cave and she can lead an attack or defense, put her on a starship and she is somewhat less competent.

Worf's experience in dealing with engineers is decent, but seems overstated. Expecting that Worf has never had to order around engineers is not quite as bad as forcing the viewer to suspend our disbelief to the point of accepting that after thirty years among humans, Data had never heard "guts" used as a euphemism for intuition, but it seems somewhat unlikely. Then again, Worf has worked in engineering ("Lonely Among Us" from Star Trek: The Next Generation) and commanded in security, but not explicitly commanded in engineering before.

The best moments of character come in the scenes between Quark and Orinthar. Here Quark has a chance to successfully do what it is he's supposed to be able to do well. That is, we see him wheeling and dealing and it's refreshing to see Quark be convincing in a business manner in a way we've never been privy to before. Quark actually uses the opportunity of the disaster to illustrate a point to Orinthar and as a result, we have a sense of his finesse that has been lacking in the usual episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. There's a wonderful bit of explicit illustration of the cunning and conniving that Quark supposedly has that makes him worth Odo's attention for all of these years.

The acting here comes through given that many of the scenes are so very focused on the characters. Even the extras in "Starship Down" seem to have been cast well, especially the Defiant engineers. They use their facial expressions well to captivate their disappointment, frustration and whimsy. They are a great contrast to Michael Dorn who does not use his face for emoting in this episode. Instead, Dorn relies almost entirely on his voice for his presentation and that works well, too.

Alexander Siddig and Terry Farrell deserve credit for their performances, though they do not have a lot in terms of airtime. Still, they manage to very convincingly play their characters freezing to death and asphyxiating. Similarly, Nana Visitor gives a frustrated performance that at the very least convinces the viewer of Captain Sisko's jeopardy.

But in the end, "Starship Down" proves that if you pay for decent guest actors, you'll get great results. James Cromwell plays Orinthar opposite Armin Shimerman's Quark. As a result, the pair plays off one another very well, with two of the most professional actors given the chance to really dive into their characters. Cromwell makes a great Karema.

"Starship Down" is likely to be enjoyed more by people who were not fans of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or any of the Star Trek series' because it is more likely to seem new and different as opposed to something that has been done before. Either way, the viewer gets a better-than-average episode of television that focuses very tightly on characters trapped in situations working desperately to get out of them. While this episode does mark the finale to the quasi-romantic relationship between Dax and Bashir, it is not a part of the essential Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

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

For other works featuring James Cromwell, please visit my reviews of:
The West Wing - Season 6
Six Feet Under
L.A. Confidential
Star Trek: First Contact
"The Birthright, Part 1"
"The Hunted"


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© 2011, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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