Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Perfect Lando! The Original Trilogy Collection Jabba’s Sail Barge Lando Calrissian Is The Ultimate Skiff Guard Lando Action Figure!

The Good: Great sculpt and coloring, Good poseability, Decent collectible value, Great accessories
The Bad: None that I could find!.
The Basics: The supporting alien from Return Of The Jedi, the Jabba's Sail Barge Lando Calrissian is an exceptional figure!

There are only so many figures of Lando Calrissian that the toy manufacturers can be expected to make. In fact, common wisdom is that – outside any concept figures – there would only be an Empire Strikes BackLando, like the Power Of The Jedi Lando Calrissian figure (reviewed here!), and Return Of The Jedi renderings of Lando Calrissian as a Skiff Guard and as a General at the film’s climax. In 2004, Hasbro earned the right to never again have to make a Skiff Guard Lando Calrissian with its Jabba’s Sail Barge Lando Calrissian. Damn hinge joints! Hasbro got Lando perfectly right with great accessories with simple swivel joints. In fact, the only possible improvement to this sculpt would have been knee and ankle articulation, but I cannot lower my rating on this action figure; it is just that cool!

For those unfamiliar with Lando Calrissian, he was the traitorous smuggler who allowed Han Solo to get captured on Bespin before switching sides. As an act of redemption, he infiltrated Jabba The Hutt's court in Return Of The Jedi (reviewed here!) in order to recover Han Solo. Disguised as a Skiff Guard, Lando became invaluable in rescuing Han Solo and helping Luke to destroy Jabba's Sail Barge.

The 4" Lando Calrissian figure is damn near perfect and features Lando in his Tatooine armor.


The Jabba's Sail Barge Lando Calrissian is a great sculpting of the unlikely hero from Return Of The Jedi. Here, he is cast in his Palace armor that looks appropriately assembled and weathered. The figure stands " tall and he looks very much like Billy Dee Williams! The figure is made entirely of hard plastic, save the “skirt” on the shirt, which is made of flexible plastic.

This toy is an incredible sculpt, looking precisely like Lando Calrissian from the Tatooine scenes of Return Of The Jedi. His armor includes shoulder pads, a big ‘80’s belt and pants that look like they could be ruffled by a desert wind. Lando Calrissian’s face is molded to look presicely like that of Billy Dee Williams and Hasbro got it just right. Even better, his hair, underneath the removable helmet, is textured with a realism that makes it look like Lando has hair, not some weird black plate on his skull!

As for the coloring details, the Jabba's Sail Barge Lando Calrissian looks absolutely amazing! This Lando Calrissian has realistic depth and shading to his skin tones and his clothes look exactly like they do in the movie. The coloring details are precise and the figure’s “loincloth”-like skirt even has enough shading details on it to make it look weathered! This is an immaculate, precisely-colored action figure!


The Lando Calrissian is a well-armed scoundrel alien, especially for a Skiff Guard. This version of Lando Calrissian includes three accessories, in addition to the base. Lando comes with a blaster pistol, a vibro-ax and his Skiff Guard helmet. The Skiff Guard helmet is a 3/4” long by 5/8” tall replica of the helmet Lando was first seen wearing at the beginning of Return Of The Jedi. His is an immaculately detailed accessory that matches the shading and coloring of the rest of the figure. In fact, the wear marks on the top of the helmet make it look a little more weathered than Lando’s pants! The helmet is notable for a chin strap with teeth that effectively acts as a mask. This is very well detailed for the figure with each tiny off-white bone looking realistic! Like the one in the movie, the chin strap is flexible, so Lando may make his trademarked reveal even with the action figure!

Lando comes with a distinctive Tatooine blaster pistol. The pistol is a thin 3/4” long firearm with a scope and an emitter at the end of the barrel. Like the one seen in the movie, ever so briefly, Lando’s blaster is all black and the surface detailing is impressive for a weapon as small as this accessory is. The blaster fits perfectly in Lando’s right hand or in the holster on Lando’s right hip!

The Jabba’s Palace Lando also comes with a vibro-ax accessory. The 3 1/4” Vibro-ax is cast entirely in black plastic. It bears little resemblance to the cumbersome accessory that was packaged with the Power Of The Force sculpting of the Skiff Guard Lando! This is perfectly in proportion with Lando and while it lacks some of the coloring details of the weapon Lando held in the movie, it has all of the surface details molded into it.

The Original Trilogy Collection figures come with stands, including the Lando Calrissian. This stand is the standard 2 1/2" by 1 3/4" gunmetal colored plastic stand which was universal to most of the figures in the 2004 figure line. Lando Calrissian comes with two tabs and two slots so the stand may be attached to other stands in the assortment. The stand has a single peg to fit in either of the holes in the bottom of Lando Calrissian's feet. On the base, Lando Calrissian is appropriately solid.


The four inch toy line was designed for play and Lando Calrissian is most impressive in that regard. The figure is wonderfully articulated and has excellent balance when off his stand. Lando Calrissian has great articulation and the figure is designed look efficient and mobile and he is! As part of the Original Trilogy Collection, Lando Calrissian represents a significant step up in terms of figure articulation compared to what had come before. This Lando Calrissian figure easily becomes the ultimate Lando Calrissian in terms of sculpt with its ten points of articulation!

Lando Calrissian has joints at the groin socket, shoulders, elbows, wrists, neck, and waist. All of the joints are simple swivel joints and all work well. The “skirt” does not inhibit Lando’s articulation at the leg joint!


The Jabba's Sail Barge Lando Calrissian is part of the 2004 Original Trilogy Collection four-inch series, a series of Star Wars action figures that was not very common at all, but largely recast figures that had been previously released by Kenner. Hasbro sought to improve the old figures by having a greater attention to detail, coloring and accessory detail and proportion. Lando Calrissian was one of the recasts and one of the best, most vital figures of the assortment. Released as Original Trilogy Collection figure #07, this figure is a good idea for those creating an ultimate collection of supplemental characters. It is hard to imagine how this figure might be improved upon, save with more leg articulation.


The Jabba's Sail Barge Lando Calrissian is an vast step up over other Lando figures produced before. While Hasbro could release another Lando in the Jabba’s Palace outfit, I’d advise against it. The company has perfection here, adding more articulation could render a less perfect figure and cause problems that do not exist with this more simple, awesome toy!

For other 2004 Star Wars Original Trilogy action figures, please check out my reviews of:
#006 Tatooine Transaction R1-G4
#09 Jabba's Sail Barge J'Quille
#10 Jabba's Sail Barge Tanus Spijek
Deluxe Hoth Attack Wampa with Hoth Cave


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

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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The Hartz Angry Birds Flyer Dog Toy Gets Dogs And Their Owners Playing!

The Good: Soft so it does not hurt dogs, Durable for play, Easy to clean, Fun
The Bad: Squeaker is very difficult to activate
The Basics: My wife and I eagerly engaged Myah with the Hartz Angry Birds Flyer Dog Toy and had some mixed results.

As I reach the end of the box of products that Hartz provided me for review, I come to the Hartz Angry Birds Flyer dog toy. This was the product that, when I saw it in the box, I was most excited about playing with Myah with. The Hartz Angry Birds Flyer is basically a glorified Frisbee for dogs, but I instantly though it was cool when I saw it. Unfortunately, while my wife and I played with it with Myah, it was a dog toy that was very hard to keep Myah engaged with.

The Angry Birds Flyer is a 10” in diameter disk that has plush faces in the center. The outer ring is stiff, but flexible and by the sense of touch it implies a wire beneath the polyester surface. The surface of the Flyer is rougher than most the Hartz Angry Birds plush products, reminding one of burlap. Myah did not seem to mind the way the Flyer felt. In fact, she eagerly pulled the Flyer out of her toy box and began jerking it around in her mouth. When she did that, we figured it was a good time to take her outside and do our product testing with her.

The Angry Birds Flyer is red on one side, puke green on the other. The red side is the iconic red Angry Bird and it features a bright yellow beak. The eyes for the bird are silkscreened on, as opposed to embroidered. One suspects with extensive play, these will eventually wear off, but after a few hours of play, they have not chipped or degraded yet! The green side of the Flyer is the malicious pig that captures the birds in the Angry Birds game. It has a lighter green snout that has nostrils silkscreened on it as well as bright white eyes.

My wife and I took Myah outside and began tossing the Flyer between us, with Myah in the middle. She was instantly eager to chase the Flyer and we let her catch it several times and intercept it (just knocking it down) a few additional times. After the first fifteen minutes, though, Myah was done with it. No amount of coaxing would get her to play with us. That did not stop my wife and I from continuing to play with the Flyer.

We were tossing the Flyer between us for half an hour before we discovered the squeaker! The Flyer does have a Squeaker that is activated by pressing the red bird’s forehead. The squeaker is arguably the best protected squeaker of any dog toy I have ever encountered. While this is great for durability, it is unfortunately bad for play. I write that because while we were able to entice Myah into playing for a minute after we found the squeaker, that was it. Myah batted down the Flyer and began leaping upon it. Even with her thirty-five pound frame jumping on the Flyer and smacking at it, she was not able to set off the squeaker once. After that, she lost interest in it.

The Flyer is a well-made toy, though. In tossing the Angry Birds Flyer between us after Myah had given up, my wife and I had a lot of fun. We also discovered that the Flyer is very well made for big dogs. Myah began sniffing around while my wife and I played and in the process, my wife beaned Myah once in the side with the Flyer. The Angry Birds Flyer is flexible enough that Myah barely reacted to having it (accidentally) tossed into her side. That level of durability and cushioning is impressive.

Also cool is that the Angry Birds Flyer is very easy to clean. As an indoor/outdoor toy intended for a dog to bite at, this Flyer could get dirty fast. My wife and I were playing with Myah outside on a day after it had rained two days prior. Between dog saliva and mud, our Flyer should have been filthy, but it washed off very fast and was dry within six hours!

I was tempted, I’ll admit, to knock this toy up to a 6/10. The toy has great playability and durability, which are exceptionally important for dog toys for large dogs. I couldn’t justify the theoretical, though; in actuality, Myah was not consistently engaged by the Hartz Angry Birds Flyer dog toy, making it a tougher sell than it should be.

For other Hartz animal products, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Hartz Angry Birds Plush Ball With Sound Chip Dog Toy
Hartz Quackers Dog Toy
Hartz Angry Birds Running Bird Cat Toy


For other pet product reviews, please check out my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Perhaps Like Star Trek Movies, Seal Hits On The Even Numbers: Seal II

The Good: Exceptional voice, Good poetic lyrics, Decent Music
The Bad: One or two unremarkable tracks, Why can't Seal name an album?!
The Basics: With wonderful vocals and instrumentals, Seal's second eponymous album (Seal or II) has some of his strongest work, including some surprising greats he never charted with.

Some days ago, I was writing a review and I decided I would no longer recommend any album from an artist who has a Best of album when the best tracks on an album were already on the Best of album. Seal's second album, eponymous like the first album, but commonly known as Seal II, is in no danger of that. Having now listened to the four primary albums (Seal, II, Hu manbe in g, and IV), I'm contemplating picking up Seal's Greatest Hits. One of the few arguments against making that purchase is the strength of II.

With only eleven tracks, clocking in at barely over 50 minutes, II is perhaps the most hit-loaded of Seal's album outside the Greatest Hits. "Kiss From A Rose" arguably made more money than Batman Forever (after all the lawsuits were settled anyway), and is inarguably a better artistic work. "Kiss From A Rose" also won Seal Grammy Awards and worldwide acclaim. II features "Kiss From A Rose" as well as the radio-represented singles "Prayer For The Dying" and "Don't Cry," which I was surprised to learn did not perform terribly well on the charts.

Unlike Seal's debut Seal, II establishes this artist as a vocal sensation as opposed to relying on the synthesizers and funk sound instrumentals to sell him and his work. The result is somewhat less experimental, but more consistent and of a higher overall caliber. Unlike the endeavor that immediately followed, Hu manbe in g, the songs are distinctive enough that track to track, this is an album that holds up well and does not merely hypnotize the listener in one unending loop.

What that means is that II is a musical journey from track to track and while the tracks have a generally more orchestral sound to them (a la "Kiss From A Rose" and "Don't Cry"), the music is mixed in with dance tracks ("I'm Alive"), straight rock and roll ("Bring It On") and a duet with Joni Mitchell ("If I Could"). The general feel and sound of II is a very soulful pop-rock. The strength of Seal's vocals where he sings in an articulate, controlled bellow make his sound definitive and reminiscent of what many associate with gospel music or soul. Indeed, in "I'm Alive" he references some obvious Christian imagery (blood on the cross).

As I mentioned, I would not recommend this album if all of the best songs were on the Greatest Hits. While the later compilation has "Prayer For The Dying," "Don't Cry," and of course, "Kiss From A Rose," it does not have "Dreaming In Metaphors," a powerful and smart track that comes near the beginning of the album. It's far too rare that a musical artist actually explores psychology in their music, but Seal appears to do that with his cry of "Why must we dream in metaphors / Why are we holding on to / Something we couldn't understand . . ."

Like the majority of Seal's works, II is arguably the executed vision of Seal as the artist. Seal wrote or co-wrote all eleven tracks, so the lines he sings are largely his own. Similarly, the music was written by Seal, indicating that this is the sound Seal wanted to present. Seal is listed as a musician on the album, but it is not made clear what instrument he is playing (arguably he played some guitars on the work). While he is not given any form of production credit, he has created a body of work on II that arguably encapsulates his vision and the emotions and ideas that he wants to express.

And what is it he is trying to express? He expressed a desire for understanding the world around him and to connect with something more. In short, he - without preaching any one religion explicitly - is calling for a renewed, new spirituality. As he sings "I'm crossing that bridge / With lessons I've learned / I'm playing with fire / But not getting burned / I may not know what you're going through / But time is the space between me and you / . . . 'Cause life carries on . . ." ("Prayer For The Dying") it's difficult not to see that this is a man who has some strong sense of place, time and the consequences of life experience.

This is a remarkably strong album for all audiences, though the level of vocal sophistication and depth of emotions expressed will likely be appreciated more by adults. Seal does not devote a lot of time on making his music catchy and none of the songs has a real "hook." Instead, his smooth vocals articulate stories of genuine universal emotion. This is a dense album and while it is highly contemplative, it is not depressing. Mellow is probably the best word for the majority of the tracks.

And while "Kiss From A Rose" endures well beyond the movie for which it was written, it is an easy gate into II. If you enjoyed the melodic power of that single, II offers a lot to you as a listener. If nothing else, this album illustrates that the creative vocal and lyrical talents that created that song were not a fluke, but rather the tip of a genuine talent's potential.

The music nicely uses atypical instruments, like the full orchestra sound on "Kiss From A Rose." The only place I found this at all bothersome was the opening to "Fast Changes" that starts with light woodwinds and just fell flat with its rhymes and sounds compared to the relative quality of the other tracks.

Otherwise, if one needed to get a Seal album, it's hard to leap right to the Greatest Hits when the best track on II is the articulate, poetic imagery of "Dreaming In Metaphors." "Fast Changes" is the weak link in the album.

For other works by Seal, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
“Crazy” (single)
Hu manbe in g
Seal IV


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

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Stash Chai Spice Black Tea Is A Real Winner With Sugar Or Milk!

The Good: Amazing aroma, Great taste especially with sugar, Easy to prepare, Caffeinated
The Bad: Extraneous tea garbage, Smells more flavorful than it initially tastes
The Basics: A very flavorful caffeinated tea, Stash's Premium Chai Spice Black tea truly comes alive when sugar is added!

Some time ago, I reviewed the Stash Chai Spice Decaf Tea (click here for review!) and while I enjoyed it, I did not think it lived up to its potential. So, I picked up the Stash Chai Spice Black tea to see if it offered a more robust flavor for those of us who love tea. It does, but it smells a bit better than it tastes, which is a little disappointing.


Chai Spice Black is a tea from Stash. It is a tea that has caffeine and is a fairly strong black tea. Chai Spice Black comes in Stash's standard individually-wrapped tea bags, means that each tea bag has a wax papery envelope it is sealed in for freshness. Each tea bag has a five-inch string with a little paper tab at the end, which is quite a bit more waste than I like from a tea bag. When I make pots of tea, I tend to use two bags and making a steeping pot of Chai Spice Black reminds me of why I like the easy environmentalism of Celestial Seasonings' stringless bags. A box of Chai Spice Black comes with 20 individually-wrapped tea bags.

Chai Spice Black is marketed as a chai spiced tea and it does a good job at that by being loaded with spices which instantly overwhelm the nose and prepare the consumer for a delightful tea experience.

Ease of Preparation

Chai Spice Black is a black tea, which means preparation is as easy as boiling a pot of water! Chai Spice Black, as the directions clearly state, require water that is boiling. A single tea bag will make the standard 7 oz. coffee mug worth of tea, though reusing the tea bags yields a mug full which is about 3/4 strength. It was only when reusing the teabag (or when the tea was cold) I found the tea to have a dry aftertaste.

To prepare Chai Spice Black, simply boil up some water, and pour it over the tea bags in a cup, mug or steeping pot. This tea is recommended to take three to five minutes to steep and with boiling water, the tea was ready at the three minute mark and letting it steep longer does not truly change the results. Letting the tea steep more than five minutes does not net any additional flavor, nor does it denature the flavor of the tea. However, after brewing for five minutes, trying to reuse the teabag is likely to net the consumer a much weaker second cup or pot.


Coming out of the package, Chai Spice Black has one of the most delicious and potent cinnamon and chai scents of any tea I have ever had. Once brewed, the tea smells like potpourri with its wide array of spiced smells. Anyone familiar with nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon will instantly discover those scents wafting up from their mug or steeping pot and the potency of this tea is exceptional. One of the elements that instantly sets the Chai Spice Black apart from the decaf version of the same tea is that the Spiced Black has a stronger clove scent to it.

Chai Spice Black tea is a flavorful blend which is an easy pick-me-up with a taste that is heavy on a variety of spices. This Chai Spice Black overpowers the consumer with black tea flavors. This is a tea that has no hint of a watery aftertaste; it smells like cinnamon, clove and nutmeg and it tastes like tea. In fact, one of the few drawbacks of this tea is that it smells more flavorful that it actually tastes. While the aroma is robust and interesting, the black tea flavor dominates most of the taste to weaken the sense of intrigue the beverage hints at with its scent.

With a teaspoon of sugar, Chai Spice Black the spices come alive! This is an odd tea in that making it sweeter actually lessens the tea flavor and allows he clove and cinnamon flavors to finally overtake the tea flavor. That makes this a suddenly amazing beverage. With milk, the spices come out even more, though there is a slightly muted aftertaste to the tea that way.

Cold, Chai Spice Black is dry and loses some of the flavor, so this is definitely a tea that is better piping hot!


That Stash’s Chai Spice Black is flavorful and heavily spiced makes sense and the ingredients list reflects that. The primary ingredients are: blended black teas, ginger root and cinnamon. Chai Spice Black tea is all natural, contains caffeine and is not marked as Kosher.

Were it not for the sugar I add whenever I make Chai Spice Black, this tea would be devoid of any nutritional value. It contains no calories, fat, sodium, carbohydrates or protein.


Stash's Chai Spice Black is a fairly dark black tea. As a result, cleanup is rather simple, save on fabrics. The mugs and steeping pot easily rinse out. This tea will stain if it is left on fabrics, so simply do not let the tea cups or mugs linger on light colored materials that might stain!

Chai Spice Black is easy to clean up after - the tea bags may be disposed in the garbage, or composted if you have a good garden and/or compost pile. One of the nice things about this tea - like most - is that so long as it is kept cool and dry, it can last for a long time and it is easy to clean up. However, like all Stash teas, there is extra waste from the strings, paper tabs and individual wrappings around each bag.


Stash Chai Spice Black is a flavorful, all-natural tea that is likely to satisfy anyone who likes their tea strong, slightly sweet and very spicy!

For other Stash teas, please check out my reviews of:
Stash Peach Black tea
Stash Double Bergamot Earl Grey
Stash Coconut Mango Ooloong


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

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Dentist Humor And Dead Bodies: The Whole Nine Yards

The Good: Frequently funny, Intriguing characters, Generally well-acted
The Bad: Predictable plot twists, Disturbing supporting performances
The Basics: In a fun flick, a dentist and a mobster look out for one another when everyone else in their lives wants to kill them.

There are several combinations of unlikely characters that make for good storytelling. The butcher and the vegan come right to mind, though I'm sure I've never seen a film featuring two characters with those affiliations working together. Far more frequently, the combinations are more like the police officer and the criminal as an odd couple. Here, we have the dentist and the hit man. What has the world come to?

Oz is a simple dentist with the worst nag of a wife in cinema since Princess Leia. Sophie and her mother live with Oz for no reason that is fathomable other than so they won't have to go out and get a job. Oz returns home from work one day to discover that his new neighbor is a hitman and when he reveals it to Sophie, she sends him to Chicago to get a finder's fee on the bounty on Jimmy's life. Oz plays the unwilling accomplice, for he likes Jimmy Tudeski as a person. In Chicago, Oz sleeps with Jimmy's wife and meets Frankie, a bodyguard for the mobster Jimmy ratted on. Oz returns home in a load of trouble and fearing for his life.

And rightfully so, for his assistant, Jill, was hired by Sophie to kill him. But she doesn't. See the pattern? The Whole Nine Yards is filled with reluctant hitmen, people who don't want to kill others. Jimmy and Jill like Oz and don't want to kill him, Oz doesn't want to see Jimmy dead and Cynthia, Jimmy's wife, doesn't want to die. But the film has quite the body count for a movie where no one wants to kill anyone. Go figure.

The thing is, the plot is one of the most transparent I've ever seen. Not so much in what is going to happen next, but more in the supposed twists in the film. Sophie is such an unlikable character in the first few minutes of the film that you know if there is any justice in the universe, she will get something bad in the end. Similarly, the attempts at reversals are all dull and predictable. The moment Frankie Figs appears, we know he's not after Jimmy, when Jill insists on meeting Jimmy, we know she's not a simple dental assistant. And the moment bodies begin to fall, we know the skills of the dentist will come into play.

The only thing worse than the predictable plot and character twists are some of the performances. Rosanna Arquette is outrageously loathsome as Sophie, giving the vile wife no stage presence. She feels flat and dispassionate. Similarly, Matthew Perry plays Oz as Chandler (his character from Friends) in suburbia. That is, there's no deviation in his performance between the two roles. It's disappointing. That's not to say it's bad completely; I like Chandler. But, it's not the sign of good acting to take two roles so close and play them as interchangeable.

Conversely, Michael Clarke Duncan gives a great performance as Frankie Figs. As well, Amanda Peet has great presence and range as Jill. Furthermore, she's easy to look at, a technique of using the actress that plays directly into the film.

Bruce Willis, however, outdoes himself. He's charming and funny as Jimmy Tudeski in a way that he hasn't been since Moonlighting. He's very sharp and he gives layers to Jimmy that work. It's refreshing to see a comedic character with different facets. Sometimes it's a facial expression, but more often than not, there is a change in the tone of Willis' voice that defines Jimmy's moods. And that's genius.

Ultimately, the most disturbing aspect of The Whole Nine Yards is in the characters. Why Oz is with Sophie at all is never thoroughly or acceptably explained. It's hard to pity Oz when we know he made a choice to be with Sophie and he makes a continual choice to stay with her. Add to that that the infidelity he has with Jimmy's wife, while enjoyable to watch for the way it re-energizes his character, it makes little sense when one steps back from it. Why would Oz stay with Sophie so long and be so miserable, yet throw it away on the next real good looking woman he comes across?

Who knows? Maybe that's attraction. In the end, The Whole Nine Yards is a fun film that perhaps ought not to be taken too seriously. Then again, it does feature a dentist . . .

For other works featuring Bruce Willis, please be sure to check out:
Friends - Season 6
The Story Of Us
12 Monkeys
The Verdict


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

© 2011, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Own A Borg Head, Make A Statement About Your (No-Longer-Inner) Geek!

The Good: Well detailed, Looks good, Light
The Bad: Somewhat pointless, Not limited enough, Organic eye is poorly represented
The Basics: Despite the lack of a detailed organic eye, this Borg bust limited edition prop replica sets out to do what it's designed to do well.

For those who might not follow my reviews, I am a huge fan of Star Trek. The franchise is arguably the best science fiction franchise since it began, despite its sub-par incarnations Star Trek: Voyager and Enterprise. As well, I have been known to sell Star Trek merchandise, specifically the trading cards and plates. I recently came into possession of a Borg Bust prop replica and decided it was time to review it.

For those unfamiliar with the franchise, the Borg are a race of beings that are cyborgs - half organic, half mechanical - that were first introduced in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Q-Who?" (reviewed here! ). In order to accommodate the pace and visual demands of a film, the Borg received a significant make-over for the film Star Trek: First Contact (reviewed here!). It was the new-look Borg that persisted in every incarnation that followed, namely Star Trek: Voyager and Enterprise. The Borg Bust Limited Edition Prop is a Star Trek: First Contact Borg head, released to give fans of the Borg a chance to own something close to a prop in their own home.

This is just plain silly. Now, usually, I like silly and I love Star Trek, but some of the prop replicas make me wonder what Paramount licensing was truly thinking. This bust is limited to 2500 pieces, which is not a lot for the worldwide Star Trek fan base, but far too much for the section of the fan base willing to shell out hundreds of dollars for a prop replica (fans have illustrated an enthusiasm for shelling out thousands, tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands for the best Star Trek props from on-set at auction). In other words, while there might be millions of Star Trek fans in the world, there are far less collectors and far less collectors of prop replicas and far less who could afford - in money or space - to have a serious collection of busts like this one.

The Borg Bust is an impressive piece, measuring twenty inches tall from the bottom of the base to the top of the tube protruding from the top of the Borg's head. It is fourteen inches wide at its widest point on the base and ten inches deep from the back of the base to the front (though the nose and eye implant come out almost as far). For something so bulky, it is remarkably light, as it is made out of fiberglass. It's actually a little lighter - without its packaging - than ten pounds. It is remarkably stable, so despite the lightness of the piece it is well balanced such that it will not fall over easily. Between my cats and a decent wind, the Borg bust has never even wobbled.

The Borg bust is the head of a generic Borg, which is fine because the Borg are a pretty generic race, given their nature and their relentless pursuit to assimilate alien technologies. There are three tubes that connect the "skin" to the cybernetic devices like the eye piece and the implant in the neck. The subdermal mottling differentiates this as a Star Trek: First Contact (or after) Borg as it was then that they began using nanoprobes to assimilate crewmembers. The neat effect of the skin mottling makes the bust shockingly lifelike. But easily as cool, the tears in the flesh on the Borg's face and neck where the cybernetic components break up through the skin are remarkably detailed and incredibly creepy.

This is an unsettling piece and it looks terrific the detail that comes at the juncture between the skin and the metallic implants. The neck implant - which looks like the tube is bursting out of the neck and attaching to the eye piece - is ghastly and wonderful. The eye implant is remarkably detailed and likely to give fans an appreciation of just how much work goes into every prop on the series. After all, the detailing of the relief and sutures near the skin will never appear on most people's screens, yet the art department made it so detailed that if they could get close, fans truly could see that level of detail. That is pretty awesome.

If this Borg were on screen, about all anyone would truly notice would be the red LED for the laser beam eye and the holographic eye piece, given how fast Borg move on and off screen in most of their shots. The side-mounted red light that would indicate the laser scanner for the Borg does not light up and the holographic eye is not backlit either. In order to truly appreciate the Borg bust, then, one needs to stick it in a room that is either well lit or has focus lights on the piece because otherwise, the cybernetic eye is simply a dull, vaguely mirrored piece.

The airbrushing to detail the shoulder armor for the Borg bust is extraordinary. It's clear the make-up department went through a lot of effort with this piece to give it a somewhat weathered look and the sense that it is not just monotonally black. The highlights add depth when the Borg are on screen and on the prop, it does the same thing from a middle distance. The look is very realistic and it's pretty incredible how much time and attention went into the replica.

Add to that, the skin sheen. In Star Trek: First Contact, the specifications for a Borg ship are given and the temperature for the Borg environment provided is quite hot (apparently they don't have any realistic energy concerns). As a result, humans often sweat in their environment and the Borg walk around with a light sheen to them. This prop replica has a wonderful, subtle glaze that gives the skin a lifelike quality as far as sense of texture goes and it appears as if the skin would be slightly clammy. It's a brilliant touch and it lends a realism to the piece that is wonderful.

But that leads us to the huge problem with the Borg Bust Prop Replica: the organic eye. The Borg's left eye (right side when facing the bust) is assimilated and covered with the mechanical components of the Borg. The Borg's right eye, which ought to be an organic eye is instead a lifeless socket, filled in with a half-dome of fiberglass. Arguably the reason for this is that on the Borg props that this is a replica of, the organic eye would be a component of the actor and was not part of the make-up department's province. That argument falls apart, though with the Borg.

The Borg are constructed on the set of whichever Star Trek series they are on by combining mechanical props with an actor's face. The skin has make-up on it, but that's all; the Borg are nor like a Halloween mask made of latex fitting over the face of an actor. The moment the Borg bust prop replica was conceived as a project to make a limited edition collectible, the marketing department was talking about replicating something that was never fully a prop; the actor's head! Because all of the skin components (perhaps sixty percent of the surface area of this bust) are all a fabrication for the bust, creating an organic eye would not be betraying the sense of what is or is not real about the Borg head as a prop replica. In other words, the idea that making an organic-looking eye for the Borg bust prop replica would betray the authenticity of the prop replica is bogus because the skin replicated was never a part of the original "prop" either - it was part of an actor's face.

The only other argument for not creating the living eye of the Borg for this replica is that it would be near-impossible to create an eye that both looked realistic and had a deadness to it that evoked the lifeless, automaton nature of the Borg. Given the incredible detailing on this piece otherwise, I find it hard to believe Michael Westmore and his talented people couldn't have found the right balance. It appears they simply did not try and that is a disappointment.

The limited edition prop replica comes with a certificate of authenticity signed by Westmore and that's a nice touch. But the individual number just seems somewhat silly as 2500 is not incredibly limited for a piece like this (most fans will not have the available space to properly display it) and I'm not quite sure what the point of the warranty on it is (which has almost certainly expired as these are only available in the secondary market now).

For those unfamiliar with the concept, the prop replicas are like museum piece and this is a nice, generally well-made one. This bust does not light up, move or do tricks. It's the best opportunity the common fan will have to getting something like what was used on the set of Star Trek: First Contact at a reasonable price and for those who want that sort of thing, it's hard to come up with a better gift than this.

But ultimately, it is bulky and the lack of the one eye truly bothers me. I find it almost impossible to recommend even to fans of the Borg. The piece is well made, to be sure, but it's too common to be a true Star Trek collectible and too esoteric to fit most collections, making it an awkward gift. Moreover, the secondary market has illustrated that these do not hold their value well and this bust is often available for less than $100. Still, it seems like that is too much for such a ridiculous - though qualitatively decent - object.

For other Borg-related merchandise or cool Star Trek merchandise, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
2000 Borg Cube Hallmark Ornament
Playmates Locutus Of Borg action figure
Corgi 40th Anniversary Klingon Bird Of Prey


For other toy and gift reviews, please click here to visit my index page!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Campy, Delightful And Hopeful: Wonder Woman Season 1 Is Still Worthwhile!

The Good: Good characters, Decent acting, Moments of plot, Liberal values
The Bad: Often campy, Melodramatic deliveries, Often predictable plots, Light on DVD bonus features.
The Basics: The first season of Wonder Woman is unintentionally funny too often, but is still surprisingly worthwhile!

As my loyal readers of my reviews know, 2010 was my Wonder Woman Year, a year in which I did everything I could to read everything pertaining to Wonder Woman that I could. I read a bunch of graphic novels, inspected Wonder Woman toys and even watched the animated feature Wonder Woman (reviewed here!). But despite the pressure to produce on my new blog, I was still delighted when I received the late-70s television series Wonder Woman on DVD. The first season of Wonder Woman was somewhat incongruent with the rest of the series, but still had some real merits. Objectively, though, Wonder Woman is only slightly better than average and the first season strays too far into the camp field. Even so, Wonder Woman does not fall so hard into that field to be considered on the hokey level as Batman.

Wonder Woman is an hour long drama set in the 1940s and follows Princess Diana of Paradise Island. The first season is comprised of a dozen episodes and the pilot, which establish the comic book heroine as a viable television franchise. Indeed, it is almost shocking how Wonder Woman has not been followed up on cinematically or on television since. The truth is that Wonder Woman may be dated, but it is fun, tells a decent hero story and has a protagonist who is not just remarkably easy on the eyes, but is substantive in every meaningful way.

For those unfamiliar with the story of Wonder Woman, the television show reboots the mythology of the comic book character starting with Steve Trevor, a pilot in World War II. While flying to fight the Germans, his plane is shot down by a Nazi over Paradise Island, an island whose population is entirely women. While the Queen determines that Trevor does not pose a threat to the Amazon way of life, she decides to deport Steve back where he came from. For that, a contest is demanded and the winner of the challenges is the Queen’s disguised daughter, Diana. Diana then makes the trip to the United States where her provocative outfit garners her stares, but she is able to return Steve Trevor to a hospital. After a brief stint as an entertainer deflecting bullets with her enchanted bracelets, Diana takes on the alter ego of Diana Prince and works as Steve Trevor’s assistant at the War Department.

From her desk in the War Department, Diana Prince is able to monitor significant events and intervene as Wonder Woman in order to stop Nazi subterfuge, save Steve Trevor from Nazi attacks, Etta Candy from donuts and General Blankenship from humiliation. Over the course of the first season, Diana excuses herself from missions so Wonder Woman can thwart a Nazi spy working at the War Department, use her powers to make a trained killer gorilla docile and help an honest rancher feed the American soldiers by stopping a cattle smuggling ring. Wonder Woman is also visited by her precocious younger sister and has to rescue Paradise Island from a Nazi invasion! Wonder Woman also has to thwart an alien invasion when an advanced race decides to pass judgment on humanity based on how they treat one another and extraterrestrial visitors!

Wonder Woman is the quintessential feminist super hero (or heroine). She uses reason more often than her fists (arguably why a Wonder Woman film has been so long delayed; to be true to the character would not have a big battle, but rather Wonder Woman talking her enemies out of their actions) and her super powers in the television series are fairly limited. Her powers are derived, in part, from a power belt and allow her super speed, super strength and some measure of accelerated healing (she never stays down very long!). In addition, Wonder Woman is outfitted with two essential tools. The first is her lasso of truth, which is not explicitly a divinely created tool in this season and her bracelets. Wonder Woman’s bracelets are made of an indestructible metal which allows her to deflect bullets with them and which become the target of Nazi intrigue.

Unlike the comic book version of Wonder Woman, the character of Wonder Woman in this season of the show is not psychologically fully realized or a truly strong and independent woman. Instead, she spends the first season mooning over Steve Trevor from her yeoman’s desk and she only plays at professionalism until the men’s backs are turned. Then, she seems content to gossip with Etta Candy. Etta Candy is almost exactly like her comic book incarnation with her obsession with food and her own undying love for Steve Trevor. On its own, Wonder Woman Season 1 seems to have equal parts female stereotype and feminism realized.

Wonder Woman is a great character to poke fun at gender inequality and the first season of Wonder Woman has no problem doing that. The fact that the show was set in the 1940s gave it license to disguise contemporary (late 1970s) feminist issues into the plots with some safety. Wonder Woman speaks openly about equality and the strength of women. She frequently uses the failures of her enemies to esteem her skills to their own disadvantage. She is clever, funny and smart in a way that few female protagonists have ever been illustrated. And yes, Lynda Carter looks like a million bucks in the Wonder Woman outfit (in the interest of full disclosure, Carter as Wonder Woman might have been my very first crush as a kid and I still remember her Mabeline lipstick commercials from around the same time). That said, the show is far more than just the outfit and the twirling that was used to fade Diana Prince in her uniform into Wonder Woman and her . . . costume. The show promotes progressive values.

Even so, the special effects are remarkably low budget and they are often cheated due to the lack of CGI (it hadn’t even been conceived when these episodes aired!). Wonder Woman stops trucks with her bare hands, deflects bullets using remarkably good squib work and leaps off buildings with some (I’m assuming) wire tricks that look great while she is jumping down and incredibly silly when she leaps up. Still, the show does not fall into a lot of the ridiculous early-80s conceits, like the television series V (reviewed here!) did with things like hubcaps constantly flying off cars.

As for the acting, Richard Eastham and Beatrice Colen do fine in the supporting roles of Blankenship and Candy, respectively. The problem they have as actors is that they are written to be archetypes, mostly designed to deliver exposition for the audience. They do this perfectly well, but without any distinction that allows them to do more than deliver melodramatic exposition.

Somewhat better off is Lyle Waggoner as Steve Trevor. Waggoner has both the acting chops to pull off the serious role of Trevor. Waggoner has to credibly be a war hero and he does that quite well. He has a serious side that plays well and he delivers his lines, even the ones with military jargon without having to fall back on his looks. Waggoner is more than just a sidekick and the risk Wonder Woman initially takes is having him open the show. Considering he carries the opening before Diana is introduced, there is a lot to be impressed with from his acting!

But it all rests on Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman and Diana Prince. Carter is able to play Wonder Woman as an often hapless heroine, baffled by the actions of men around her and the way that humans treat one another. The danger of her initially naïve and idealistic performance is that when Wonder Woman has to present serious ideals and stern warnings that she will not be taken seriously. That is not the case, though. Instead, she manages to play strong and stern with her eyes and body language with an equally convincing control of her body language.

On DVD, Wonder Woman Season 1 comes with minimal bonus features. There is a season retrospective and a discussion on how the series came to be produced. There is also a commentary track on the pilot episode which has the executive producer and Lynda Cater describing the project. The bonus features are all right, but fans are likely to want more.

Still, the first DVD set of Wonder Woman is enough to give fans a visual treat that is smart and funny, even if it is a bit dated and occasionally silly.

For other Wonder Woman reviews, please check out my takes on:
Contagion By Gail Simone
Circe action figure
Mythos By Carol Lay


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

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Michael Moore Depresses Another Viewer With SiCKO, A Worthwhile Documentary (We Wish Wasn't)!

The Good: Generally well-presented, Funny, Heartwrenching, Good DVD bonuses
The Bad: Doesn't nail a few key arguments he begins
The Basics: SiCKO takes on the dismal state of the United States insurance system by simply exploring it and contrasting it with nations that have universal health care.

It's no secret to those who read my reviews that I generally like Michael Moore and his cinematic works. Fahrenheit 9/11 remains possibly the best documentary I have ever seen on film. The truth is, I feel like a bad liberal; I did not go see his follow-up, SiCKO when it was out in the theaters. To be fair to my bleeding heart, it did not come within twenty miles of the backwoods where I live, but I could have made more of an effort to get out and find where it was playing. So, when it appeared on DVD, I did rush out to pick it up and give it a pretty thorough spin.

Wow. Dang.

With SiCKO, Moore takes on the United States system of health care, with insurance companies being motivated by profit instead of care. His objective is achieved most effectively by simply presenting other models of health care, universal health care, in Great Britain, France, Canada and Cuba. Moore simply presents the other systems, with little commentary, and allows the disparities in care speak for themselves.

SiCKO is not about the uninsured, which is perhaps the most deceptively harsh aspect of the film. Opening the film with two people who had to pay out of pocket for medical procedures like reattaching fingers and seeing doctors, Moore quickly dispenses with the uninsured in the United States the same way the government does; he declares he is not going to deal with them. This makes his argument incredibly effective as all of the cases that follow are people who have insurance and ought to - one thinks - be covered for their ailments and conditions.

Over the course of two hours, Moore documents the pathetic state of health care in the United States by illustrating how people in the United States who are insured are kept from receiving health care. He interviews people who had insurance who were denied payments, like a woman who was in a car accident and was taken, unconscious, from the site of the accident to the hospital in an ambulance whose ride was not covered by the insurance company because it was not preapproved. He interviews people from the industry who know how things work because they are the executors of the will of the insurance companies; screeners who keep people from getting insurance and investigators whose sole job it is to comb through records of those who have claims paid out to find ways to get the money back or to knock those insured people off their plans.

Perhaps the most damning moment in the film is also the most subtle. In a clip from a Congressional hearing on health care, a medical professional admits that when she denied care and that resulted in a death, she was promoted and never held accountable. What is even more damning about the clip than her testimony is this; the seats are not filled on the panel. No reviewer I've read has noted that at a major Congressional inquiry of health care in the United States where a medical worker admits their promotions were based on denying claims and killing a patient the Congressional panel couldn't even be bothered to show up with its full attendance! The clip clearly illustrates the apathy of Congressional members or the way they were bought off in a way that the rest of the film does not.

It's astonishing and heartbreaking.

The rest of the film simply illustrates working models of universal health care systems and the level of care that patients receive in them as well as the type of compensation doctors receive. Moore simply debunks all of the rumors surrounding universal health care and the nations that have it by showing what works about them. I recall feeling some outrage recently when I read Ralph Reed's book Politically Incorrect: The Emerging Faith Factor In American Politics (reviewed here!) when he proudly wrote about the Christian Coalition exerting its influence to squash the efforts to create universal health care in the United States. Watching SiCKO is enough to make me want to go kick him in the shins (and I'm a pacifist!); hearing the stories of death, agony and disfigurement of Americans is terrible when one considers that something - even a system that initially fails - is better than nothing. As someone who was swept aside by Moore and the government (I'm entirely uninsured, so there's my bias, I suppose) watching a film like SiCKO is depressing beyond reason.

But the thing is, it's not as depressing as it ought to be. Michael Moore, who the conservative elements want to decry as a rabble-rouser and the ultimate evil, pulls his punches severely in SiCKO. Moore opens the door to the profits of health care companies by flashing the salaries of many of the CEOs of health insurance companies on screen, but he doesn't nail it home. He does not illustrate overall profits of the health insurance companies or the accumulated wealth of the CEOs. Moreover, he fails to tie such concepts to the concepts he does illustrate, like how much the health care industry donates to the campaigns of U.S. Congresspeople. So, for example, Moore fails to explore the idea that the billions of dollars made by the insurance companies and the millions of dollars they pay their CEOs and pay into campaigns for electing officials obscure the real numbers; the salaries and campaign contributions are expenses which are taken out of the profits; which means that the cash value of the industry is vastly higher than it initially appears.

So, while SiCKO might create a healthy outrage in the United States about the dismal state of our healthcare and the insurance industry, the film could easily have been more inflammatory and still been as informative and truthful. The other serious problem with the film is that Moore opens the door to arguments that he does not follow up on. The most notable of these is how the nations that have universal health care pay for it. When exploring France, Moore quips that they pay for the health care because the country is "drowning in taxes," which is the mantra used by the elements in the U.S. government to keep the nation from developing our own health care plan. The problem is, Moore does not debunk that; he makes the comment, but does not illustrate what the tax burden is. So, he presents a doctor living in London (for example) who makes approximately $200,000 a year, but he does not get into what kind of taxes he pays.

In some ways, I suppose, the argument may not need to be made. Moore observes through his interviewees that Great Britain, following World War II instituted universal health care because if there was money to kill people, there ought to be money to save them. And that's one of the moments that works amazingly well in the film.

As well as potentially outraging viewers, SiCKO is bound to enlighten and entertain viewers. When Moore packs up Americans to go to Cuba to try to get health care at Guantanamo Bay, the film cuts to a message about Homeland Security not allowing them to show how they actually got to Cuba. It's actually a very funny cutaway and it comes at a point in the film when it seems like the movie will be oppressively serious, without any flavor. Indeed, it comes at a moment shortly after the September 11 attacks are mentioned and I groaned, fearing the film would take an irrelevant turn as Bowling For Columbine did when it referenced the attacks. Instead, Moore rightly mixes humor and the simple exposure that those who are revered one moment are silently set aside at another. Today's heroes are tomorrow's line item budget veto. And Moore illustrates that he thinks that is wrong and quietly debunks the entire idea that the U.S. cannot afford universal health care by illustrating that the detainees at Guantanamo Bay receive it.

Indeed, this is another area Moore simply does not explore. Health care is not treated as a matter of national security; the military treats detainees, but no similar program exists for the general populace. If it seems I am spending so much time on what Moore neglects, it is because the film is a very effective documentary. It documents. It documents the state of insurance companies and the alternatives in universal health care. And it does that remarkably well and with little postulating and less commentary. Moore lets the facts speak for themselves.

SiCKO on DVD has some interesting featurettes, most notably the ones that focus on actions taken as a result of the film. Moore travels to Washington, D.C. with some of the people featured in the film to help lobby for H.R. 676, a bill that would provide universal health care in the United States. The featurettes are interesting and offer only a little bit of repetition for what is already in the film, utilizing the medium well.

The only question now is, will it be effective? If you haven't seen it, it's time to. And it is time to act, before another life is lost because it was more profitable than saving it.

For other documentaries by Michael Moore, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Capitalism: A Love Story
Fahrenheit 9/11
Bowling For Columbine
The Big One
Roger & Me


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

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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What Withholding Is Right For You: Depends, Do You Want Money Now Or Later?

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The Bottom Line Withholding higher is good if you have a problem saving on your own.

As tax day shall be coming around again here in the U.S., I've been thinking about personal finance a lot. Withholding for taxes is something I'm particularly thinking of and I believe I have hit upon the magic way to discuss it for people who are confused by taxes and the terminology.

What is withholding? Withholding is how much money you have taken out of your paychecks in order to prepay your taxes. The theory behind withholding is that you earn your money and a special account you have absolutely no access to is established to save money for your yearly tax bills. Yes, that's bills plural because you have Federal and State taxes and as such, you can (and probably should) establish withholding standards for each.

Withholding is based on a formula that the governments use to calculate how much money should be taken out of your paycheck so you pay your fair share based on the number of dependents you claim on your annual tax returns. In figuring out your withholding, your exemptions (usually the number of people in your household, including dependents and you who will be claimed on the same tax return) are used to calculate what specific percentage should be used to save for your taxes. Workers may withhold the maximum percentage (claiming no one is exempt) through a "0" exemption and the most the government calculations claim should be necessary will be taken out.

It's a good theory and most of the times it works. In my experience, living in New York State, having claimed "0" exemptions my entire adult life, I have never had to pay a tax bill and I have always received some money back from the Federal government. However, in New York State, tax rates change and sometimes the government calculations are off. After one year when I actually had to pay state taxes because not enough was withheld, I had to adjust my State withholding to have an additional (set dollar amount) taken out of each paycheck.

Why withhold? I withhold for two reasons. First, it is very hard for me to save. If money comes in, I spend it. Withholding at a high rate allows me to keep my finances with a level of security that is the income tax equivalent of "out of sight, out of mind." In other words, because I do not receive the money in, I don't count on it. I also never end up with a big tax bill at the end of the year, which is a distinct advantage for me.

In fact, every year as an adult that I have worked with legitimate paying jobs, withholding at a high rate, I have ended up with a big, fat, refund check (on the order of thousands of dollars). You know how I mentioned I have trouble saving? Well, through withholding, I get the magic of saving untouchable money without the temptation of it. And two out of the last four years when I did work legitimate jobs, I was able to afford lavish trips to New York City as a result of my refund checks. As a result, withholding at a high rate and even higher than the government formulas can be a way to save for big expenses without feeling like one is doing that.

Who might this not work as well for? Bigger families with more mouths to feed might find this a very problematic way to save. Indeed, it's tough to go with the "out of sight, out of mind" saving through withholding method when you have five kids who all need new shoes before the next school week. For you, cash on hand to spend might be a good idea, but you're likely to have to be realistic about family trips, then, too (you probably aren't going on them). Also, for government financial aid the gross income is often looked at, not the income after withholding. As a result, social services could be denied to working poor families who over-withhold and leave those people to starve.

But, basically, if you don't like the prospect of a big tax bill you have to come up with the money to pay (if you have trouble saving for things you want, it's pretty tough to save up to pay a tax bill you probably don't want!) claim "0" exemptions and have $5, $10, or $25 additional dollars taken out each paycheck and enjoy a yearly bonus for you and your spouse!

© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Defending The Security System On Deep Space Nine: "Civil Defense"

The Good: Good acting, Nice character development, Wild special effects
The Bad: Unoriginal plot
The Basics: While very similar in plot to a prior episode in the Star Trek library, "Civil Defense" succeeds at using the actors and characters well enough to support itself.

The penultimate unoriginal Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode in a string of episodes that were easily viewed as reworkings of previous episodes is "Civil Defense." Before this, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had "Second Skin" which was an impressively different reworking of Star Trek The Next Generation's "Face Of The Enemy" and "The Abandoned" which was essentially "Charlie X" from Star Trek remade. After "Meridian" - the episode that follows - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine returns to highly original programming which does what it does very well. "Civil Defense," however, clearly harkens the viewer back to the Star Trek The Next Generation episode "Disaster."

While working in a near-abandoned section of Deep Space Nine, Chief O'Brien and Jake Sisko trip an old Cardassian security program. Suddenly locked out from the rest of the station, the computer becomes convinced there is a Bajoran worker rebellion in progress and when Major Kira and Dax in Ops are unable to provide the correct codes to override the system the situation escalates. Within a short time, the crew is cut off from one another, the automated security system is firing at all non-Cardassians and the entire station's compliment is on the verge of being killed. To make matters worse, Gul Dukat arrives in response to his own computerized emergency distress signal to demand that the station be returned to the Cardassians.

What makes "Civil Defense" a worthwhile remake episode in the end is that it does not simply feel like a cheap reworking of "Disaster." Instead of focusing on the various calamities around the station, the solutions employed on each level are what the episode is truly about. So Jake Sisko becomes responsible for getting his father and O'Brien out of the now-dangerous ore processing center, Kira's administrative personality is pushed back in order to deal with a threat more like the former terrorist she is, Garak reveals minor details about his computer clearance as he moves throughout the station, and Odo and Quark, fearing death, provide comic relief by reminiscing about Quark's criminal activities.

The point is that like "Disaster," "Civil Defense" works best in the moments when the characters are interacting, especially the ones who are not used to interacting with one another. Jake Sisko is put in a very different role as O'Brien's assistant. The real pleasure - and the reason to come back to this episode over and over again - is the tense relationship between Garak and Gul Dukat. Here we finally learn the source of their conflict and it's a wonderful crumb into Garak's past.

What stands out even more than the wonderful special effect of the automated security system that kills people in Ops is the acting. Cirroc Lofton rises to the occasion as Jake, caught in a crisis that makes very realistic the important character choice that is forthcoming. He plays Jake wonderfully as less certain than his StarFleet father. Instead, he is a realistic anchor in a story with a lot of menace. In a way, Lofton plays Jake as the ordinary man forced to do the extraordinary in a tight spot.

In the command center plot, Nana Visitor and Marc Alaimo infuse their characters with confusion and pomp, respectively. Visitor plays Kira wonderfully with desperation and frustration that is very genuine for her character. Alaimo makes Dukat both pompous and disappointed which works very well when circumstances fall out of his favor. The real scene stealer here is Andrew Robinson, who makes Garak desperate, angry and observant all at once. It goes beyond the words in the script in his case; he delivers some of the most simple lines with a passion that belays all of those underlying feelings.

In the end, "Civil Defense" has little to offer the non-fan, outside of a fairly taut emergency/disaster-type thriller where for forty minutes we're on edge wondering if all our people are going to survive the episode. Those who don't know Star Trek: Deep Space Nine will find the pace too slow to be an effective thriller, whatwith all of the character development. While just about every episode with Dukat is part of the essential Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, this one manages to not be. But that's all right; there's enough to entertain and "Civil Defense" does that just well enough to make us feel like we've gotten our money's worth, as opposed to fed a recycled dish.

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


For other Star Trek episode reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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The 2011 Prima Ballerina Barbie Hallmark Ornament Is A Decent Christmas Ornament!

The Good: Good sculpt, Vivid coloring, Decent balance
The Bad: Dull, No flexibility, Hair coloring is a little off.
The Basics: For 2011, Hallmark Keepsake presented the Prima Ballerina Barbie Hallmark ornament and had a fairly decent Barbie ornament.

As we move ever-closer toward Christmas, I thought that I would continue reviewing Hallmark Christmas ornaments, especially ones outside my usual ballywick. That brought me back to Barbie Christmas ornaments and the Prima Ballerina Barbie Ornament. Barbie Christmas ornaments are nothing new to me. I have reviewed the Barbie Debut Ornament (reviewed here!) and the Enchanted Evening Barbie Hallmark Ornament (reviewed here!) and neither were impressive to me. The Prima Ballerina Barbie ornament from 2011 changes my feelings about Hallmark's Barbie ornament line!

For those unfamiliar with them, Barbie dolls have been a leading trademarked doll (and model for unrealistic female bodytypes!) from Mattel for over sixty years. Hallmark Keepsake picked up the Barbie license in order to produce Christmas ornaments and Prima Ballerina Barbie is one of twelve Barbie ornaments produced for 2011!


The Prima Ballerina Barbie ornament recreates the Prima Ballerina Barbie doll with Barbie up on her toes in toeshoes. The ornament features the recognizable visage of Barbie with her blonde hair pulled back in a bun, much like Cinderella. This Barbie is uncharacteristically not wearing make-up! The ornament has Barbie wearing a simple white tutu with flared skirt. The skirt is webbed, white and made of nylon. This Barbie ornament is 4 1/2" tall by 2 1/4" wide and deep because of the skirt.

The Hallmark Prima Ballerina Barbie ornament is made of a durable plastic outside the nylon skirt and has the feminine icon standing alone, holding her left hand over her head. Her one-piece is colored bright white and silver-gray accents along her stomach and bust. She is wearing white toeshoes and a tiara. This Barbie is distinctive in that she has great depth and shading on her skin tones in her face. Her hair is a little less impressive, though Hallmark clearly tried to have ornament look more realistic with different colors to the hair. The Prima Ballerina Barbie ornament I picked up for review had yellow hair with odd mustard yellow and brown highlights that clashed with the main color.


As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, Prima Ballerina Barbie could have a function like a sound chip or light effect, but does not. This is just an ornament, a low-cost (comparatively) option for fans of Barbie. I think it's disappointing that Prima Ballerina Barbie does not have any articulation to her limbs. It was well within the abilities of Hallmark to make the ornament articulated at least at the shoulders or neck, but they opted for a boring statue look for the ornament and that disappoints some.


As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake Prima Ballerina Barbie ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate Barbie Christmas Tree, the Prima Ballerina Barbie ornament is a great addition. The ornament has the standard brass hook loop embedded into the top back of the character's head, behind the tiara. From there, one hangs the ornament and this Barbie ornament is perfectly balanced! Unlike the doll itself, which is almost impossible to get to stand up, the Prima Ballerina Barbie ornament has great balance and hangs perfectly!


Hallmark Keepsake began delving into the collectibles market in 1991 with Star Trek when it introduced the exceptionally limited edition original U.S.S. Enterprise ornament (reviewed here!). Since then, they have branched out into every major franchise from Barbie to Gone With The Wind to Twilight. The Prima Ballerina Barbie ornament is selling surprisingly coldly, despite the fact thay it is one of the better in the Barbie ornament line. I imagine this one will be one of the easiest Barbie ornaments to find on the secondary market, especially after the Christmas holiday.


Fans of the Barbie franchise are likely to get a kick out of the Prima Ballerina Barbie ornament. The coloring on the hair may be a little off and the skirt looks a little goofy, but the sculpt and skin and costume coloring is pretty wonderful. This is a decent buy for anyone who likes Barbie dolls or Hallmark ornaments.

For other 2011 ornament reviews of characters, please check out my reviews of:
Bella, Edward And Jacob Twilight ornament
Rapunzel Tangled ornament
"Almost A Kiss" Gone With The Wind 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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