Saturday, March 31, 2012

March 2012 End Of The Month Update!

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We had a record breaking month of hits here at the blog!! Thank you all so much for helping to make the blog that much more popular!

For the second month in a row, there was tremendous movement within the Top 10 reviews of all time! In addition to having a review jump up to my second most-read review of all time, we managed to pull in the most hits of any month since the blog started a year and a half ago! In fact, March's hits account for more than 10% of the blog's all-time traffic! This is very exciting for us.

Conversely, we lost two regular subscribers. :( This is disappointing and while we love having slews of random readers, we'd like to build our subscribing reader base. Anyone with ideas, please feel free to comment!

In March, we were able to keep the Index Pages up and updated the entire month, making for a very dynamic website. The primary Index Page, which is now updated daily, lets you know what the featured review is and has an up-to-the-day tally of how many reviews have been reviewed in each category!

If you enjoy the reviews, please consider clicking on the links in the reviews and purchasing items. By purchasing items through the links on the blog, you sponsor my ability to continue reviewing. Thank you so much for that support!

At the end of March, I have reviewed the following:
337 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Graphic Novels
468 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
1461 - Movie and Television Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Movies By Rating (Best Movie to Worst)
Movies In Alphabetical Order
Best Picture Film Reviews
Television Reviews
The Star Trek Review Index Page (All Star Trek Reviews In Order)!
148 - Trading and Gaming Card Reviews
430 - Toy and Christmas Ornament Reviews
430 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
NEW! Cereal
Other Food
99 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
94 - Travel Reviews
87 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
107 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
69 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
14 - Other Product Reviews

My featured review for March is my review of Cadbury Chocolate Creme Eggs! Check it out!

For March, the Top Ten Reviews were my reviews of:
10. Fringe - Season 3
9. NECA's The Hunger Games trading cards
8. Dr. Seuss's The Lorax
7. 21 Jump Street
6. John Carter
5. Project X
4. Wrath Of The Titans
3. Friends - Season 6
2. Mirror Mirror
1. The Hunger Games

I pride myself on being an exceptionally fair reviewer, but one who is very discriminating. I believe that most reviewers are far too biased toward both what is current and toward unduly praising things. I tend to believe most things actually are average and they ought to follows something around a Bell Curve. Mine is a little lopsided, but not as lopsided as most reviewers I know (who would probably have peak numbers between ten and seven!

For my reviews, the current count is:
10s - 236 reviews
9s - 277 reviews
8s - 481 reviews
7s - 506 reviews
6s - 447 reviews
5s - 621 reviews
4s - 429 reviews
3s - 356 reviews
2s - 150 reviews
1s - 104 reviews
0s - 59 reviews
No rating - 10 articles/postings

And, if you haven't checked out the top reviews of all time, at the end of March, the most popular reviews/articles I have written are:
10. Ghost Rider
9. He's Just Not That Into You
8. 2011 Harry Potter "Fleeing The Fiendfyre" Hallmark Ornament
7. The Star Wars Saga on Blu-Ray
6. Anne Hathaway For Wonder Woman!
5. Friends With Benefits
4. Project X
3. Breaking Dawn, Part 1
2. The Hunger Games
1. Star Trek: Machinations Of Doomsday

Thank you again, so much, for reading! Please share links to the blog with friends and spread the word!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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Another Season Of Great Humor: The Kids In The Hall Season Two!

The Good: Funny, Well-acted, Interesting characters, Decent DVD bonuses
The Bad: Some loss of punch, Price
The Basics: With a quick wit and amazingly funny writing, the second season of The Kids In The Hall delivers humor that is sustained after years on the shelf.

Sophomore seasons of most shows are the make-or-break season for a series. It's easy to come out of the gate strong and blow people away with a show that is different, intriguing and ground breaking. This is almost doubly true of sketch comedy shows. Indeed, sketch comedy shows seem to have a higher rate of degradation, especially as the seasons progress. The Kids In The Hall may be the only successful sketch comedy show to endure its entire run with all of the original participants (Monty Python fans, before you start crawling up my butt, recall that John Cleese left in the last season!). Yet, here in the second season of The Kids In The Hall, the show is already beginning to illustrate the strain of maintaining the critically high standards that make for great sketch comedy.

The second season of The Kids In The Hall is twenty-episodes of twenty-two minute compilations of various offbeat comedy skits. In this season, the five-man group recalls such memorable first season characters as the Headcrusher and Cabbage Head, and creates wonderful new characters and recurring sketches like Simon and Hecubus and "It's a Fact!" This season marks the introduction of the fan-favorite (though not mine) character of the Chicken Lady. Like most sketch comedy, it is hard to describe the show as a season, when it truly is a collection of skits. Here, however, are some of the prime selling points of season two:

1. "The Doctor" - Sadly, the first episode of the second season has arguably the best sketch with "The Doctor" a short dissertation by a blood-soaked medical professional admitting just how lousy he is as a doctor. The wide-eyed enthusiasm with which Dave Foley speaks is disturbing and hilarious. Quite possibly one of the funniest monologues of all time (right up there with "Politicians: An Apology" from Monty Python's Flying Circus).

2. "Guess Your Weight" - In this sketch a carnival entertainer is set with the task of guessing a person's weight and their ability to read all other aspects of the person's life is quite humorous. As he jostles his victim, he describes the man's poor love life, horrible childhood, etc. and the glee with which he does so is quite amusing.

3. "Scott's Not Gay" - Wherein resident homosexual cast member Scott Thompson comes out of the closet and into heterosexuality in a biting satire of what is expected of celebrities who are in and out of the closet.

4. "I Can't Play Piano" - Another Dave Foley bit of genius where a lounge singer gouges our ears with his revelation (again, enthusiastic, it's always enthusiastically with Dave Foley) that he has no musical abilities whatsoever. Very funny.

and 5. "Simon and Hecubus" - An hilarious look at worshiping satan as a Master and Servant try to entertain a crowd. This is the first of this pair's recurring appearances and it's originality illustrates well how the The Kids In The Hall have not lost much going into their second season.

Now, I know this might be somewhat confusing, me saying one moment how difficult the second season of a show can be and how the The Kids In The Hall are starting to show their signs of fading, but then say they aren't fading much. Allow me to clarify. Second seasons are difficult, especially in sketch comedy, because you have to prove the first season was not just a fluke. There are signs that the "Kids" are fading here in the second season; the Headcrusher bits which were wearing thin by the end of the first season are tired in the second and the Cabbage Head bits are just awful in the second season as well. Gone, too, are one of the funniest little bits, "Thirty Helens Agree."

But these little cracks are patched (in good order) by a slew of new, equally interesting characters, like Simon and Hecubus, Bruce McCulloch's feminist, and the "Touch Paul Bellini" contest. One or two of the new additions, like the Chicken Lady, appear in the second season for the first time and already feel like it's an old trick. But the "It's a Fact" segments and "Cops" sketches fit in perfectly. In short, the weakness of the second season is when the Kids In the Hall try to provide recognizable, already liked characters, as opposed to forging ahead with newer, more extravagant characters.

The strength of The Kids In The Hall is in the troupe's writing and acting ability. Dave Foley is hilarious in his roles that he often infuses with such energy and vigor as to make them instantly likable. Kevin McDonald has a way of altering his voice throughout his sketches so as to appear as the hyperbole of the everyman in the funniest possible ways. Mark McKinney is a master of deadpan humor and he plays off Scott Thompson's expressive genius perfectly.

The second season is the one where Bruce McCulloch comes into his own. In this season Bruce livens up with more vibrant, memorable characters like his militant feminist and his subtle-childlike performance of the recurring annoying child. McCulloch strikes an excellent balance in this season between wonderful physical comedy and his presentation of hilarious lines.

The Kids In The Hall remains one of the strongest sketch comedy ensembles ever assembled and in the second season it is easy to see why. Pushing the envelope forward with racy humor and an irreverence toward every subject, even after over a decade since airing, these episodes are more outrageous than most of the things on Saturday Night Live or Mad TV. A must for anyone who loves comedy, especially sketch comedy.

For other stand-up and irreverent comedy, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Strangers With Candy
Totally Committed - Jeff Foxworthy
Dress To Kill - Eddie Izzard


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

© 2012, 2005 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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A Rival With Monty Python For Greatest Sketch Comedy Of The Century: The Kids In The Hall Season One!

The Good: Funny! Great comedic talent, Funny sketch comedy, Interesting bonuses
The Bad: As with all sketch comedy, some sketches flop.
The Basics: A surprisingly tight, well-written, well-conceived collection of sketch comedy from five men who have a knack for observing the weirdest bits of human nature comes to DVD with The Kids In The Hall Season One.

Sketch comedy, that is to say humor that uses short skits among a troupe of comics, is difficult to sustain. Saturday Night Live illustrates how difficult it can be every few years when the cast hits a low point and the talents who are on are consistently shooting blanks. From Lorne Michael, the man who brought the world Saturday Night Live comes a troupe that rivals Monty Python in raw talent and comic audacity. The Kids In the Hall first season contains some of the best, most edgy works of the HBO comedy show, with twenty complete episodes, the special and the Best of Season 1 all in one nice boxed set.

The Kids In the Hall is made up of five men who play out all sorts of ridiculous ideas for our amusement. Examples of sketches include the man with the cabbage for a head, a homosexual night club performer comparing genitals and ethnicities and drawing conclusions on both, two dull men who believe nobody likes them (so they decide to hang themselves outside the house of the person who declines their loan request), a man who looks through his fingers at distant people and pretends to crush their heads with his thumb and forefinger, and a man who does a monologue about how he is comfortable with menstruation.

Okay, it's pretty ridiculous to try to describe comic sketches. It's almost impossible to try to sell someone on this type of humor. Why? It is something that needs to be experienced, for one. The Kids In The Hall play off non-sequitors; they put two unlike things together and play with it for a few minutes, then they move onto an entirely different sequence where they try something else. More often than not, this group succeeds.

The reason that this DVD set is worth your money, outside being downright hilarious, is that it holds up remarkably well over time. Like Monty Python, the Kids In the Hall avoid topical humor of the day. So, instead of political jokes and humor that relies on knowing current celebrities of when the show was made, The Kids In the Hall make broader statements and poke fun at longer ranging political and social ideas. In short, because the Kids In the Hall are not making fun of current events, these sketches do not seem dated. They are still quite funny today.

The Kids In the Hall is comprised of five geniuses, most of whom would be familiar to those who enjoy movies and television today. Bruce McCulloch has an amazing ability to play young people, Kevin McDonald is a genius with body language and ridiculous voices and has guest starred on That 70’s Show, and Mark McKinney went from this sketch comedy group to Saturday Night Live.

Scott Thompson, the openly gay member of the troupe, is easily the most edgy. Thompson's performances in this set is what largely makes it appropriate only for adults. He is amazing at delivering absurd, acerbic and often offensive lines while maintaining a very calm facade. He went on to play in The Larry Sanders Show.

But perhaps the most successful since the end of The Kids In The Hall is David Foley, who was the star of NBC's Newsradio and Disney's A Bug's Life. Foley is also the most expressive and diverse member of the The Kids In The Hall, expanding many of his roles with a great variety of range and depth. He has the impressive ability to appear cheerful while discussing horrible things and absolutely depressed within seconds. He is a true comic genius and it is easy to see why he has had such a career after this show.

That is not to say that any of these people are not geniuses, they all are experts at comedy and this boxed set goes a long way to illustrating why they are going to be considered timeless and great beyond the limited audience that has already seen them on television. However, as I said previously, it's difficult to do a review on a DVD set, no matter how great, on a series of sketch comedy routines.

Perhaps the best function of this review would be to inform people that the Kids In the Hall are out on DVD, as it seems they are not well-advertised outside the Kids In the Hall website and many major retailers are not yet stocking this title. HEY, The KIDS IN THE HALL ARE OUT ON DVD!!!!!! GO BUY IT!


For other comedy series’, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Da Ali G Show
Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip


For other television reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the television episodes and boxed sets I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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"Inquisition" Finds Doctor Bashir On The Wrong End Of An Intelligence Investigation!

The Good: Character development, Acting, Direction
The Bad: Somewhat overdone plot technique
The Basics: When Doctor Bashir is detained by StarFleet Intelligence, he finds himself surprisingly alone in a terrible situation.

One of the truly wonderful elements of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is the fact that almost every significant episode is followed-up on later in the series. As a result, few important events happen in a vacuum and the show builds characters whose actions actually have consequences. In the case of Doctor Bashir, much was made in the sixth season about the character changes that resulted from “Doctor Bashir, I Presume” (reviewed here!). What the writers of the episode “Inquisition” were smart enough to do was refocus the character on the missing weeks that preceded that episode. Before “Doctor Bashir, I Presume,” it was revealed in “In Purgatory’s Shadow” (reviewed here!) that Doctor Bashir had been held captive by the Dominion for months. “Inquisition” attempts to look at what might have happened in those months and it turns into a very engrossing character study of Julian Bashir.

“Inquisition” is difficult to write a no-spoilers review of because the purpose of the episode is to reveal a new (to the viewer) organization. That revelation, however, does not come until the last act and I’ve opted to not spoil it, even in reviewing an episode that is over a decade old! That said, “Inquisition” only truly falls down in that the narrative technique is a bit obvious to genre fans.

Doctor Bashir is headed to Casperia Prime after setting O’Brien’s kayaking injury when he awakens very tired for his trip to discover that he is not going. Deputy Director Sloan from StarFleet Intelligence arrives on the station to lock it down for a suspected security violation. Bashir is interviewed by Sloan, who is very casual and friendly, so Bashir thinks little of it. He returns to his quarters where he suspects someone has been going through his possessions and where his breakfast order arrives (only it is the wrong one, he is given Worf’s gagh!). O’Brien manages to get a message to Bashir, warning him to watch out.

The Chief’s message is timely; Bashir is taken back to meet with Sloan moments later. The next conversation is hardly civil. Instead, Sloan accuses Bashir of being a sleeper agent for the Dominion. Casting doubt with his fellow officers and confining him to the brig, Sloan has a viable theory that Bashir was intended to escape the Dominion internment camp so he could be activated later. Though Sisko takes up Bashir’s cause, a jailbreak of Bashir by Dominion forces make things look quite grim for the doctor.

Sloan asks an amazingly good question, as well as provides a theory that bugged a lot of viewers of the episodes involving Dr. Bashir’s experience at the internment camp. Because Bashir was gone for so very long, it is hard for viewers to imagine that they know all about his experience. In fact, unlike something like Captain Picard being tortured in Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “Chain Of Command, Part II” (reviewed here!), there are no scenes that show analysis of the experience Bashir had (save O’Brien making the offhanded remark that the replacement Bashir was much more friendly than the real one). So, when Sloan begins to postulate that Doctor Bashir was broken by the Dominion and reprogrammed to be a super spy, it’s an intriguing hypothesis.

Moreover, Sloan’s position allows him to ask several questions that have likely been bugging viewers for quite some time. It is Sloan who points out that there was no good reason for the Dominion to leave the Runabout in orbit of the internment camp . . . unless they wanted Bashir, Worf, Martok and Garak to escape. And Sloan rightly points out that it was pretty irresponsible to give untrained civilians deeply classified strategic information, like Bashir provided to the genetically-enhanced visitors in “Statistical Probabilities” (reviewed here!). Fortunately, while the minute errors in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine are called attention to, “Inquisition” goes somewhere productive with the exploration of the plot inconsistencies.

Fortunately, Doctor Bashir is a ridiculously smart character. Even though the viewer is likely to figure out something is wrong with Sloan and the situation well before Bashir does, the clues Bashir uses to outsmart Sloan make for an episode that is entertaining time and time again. Bashir is smart and, as Sisko points out, has made several troubling decisions in his career. This makes Bashir a logical target for StarFleet Intelligence, which makes the whole scenario a sensible one whose reality the viewer may (mostly) buy into. Unfortunately, the sophisticated genre viewer will know something is wrong with the reality of the episode the moment Bashir wakes up tired.

That said, “Inquisition” makes a decent character study of Doctor Bashir and it expands the Star Trek universe well when the organization that Sloan truly represents is uncovered. While many Star Trek purists loathe the idea of Sloan’s organization, I fall in the same camp as Odo, who says that it just makes basic sense. Barring that, I like the idea specifically for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, because the overwhelming theme of the series is that “dreams die.” Gene Rodenberry had an amazing, idealistic vision with Star Trek that was fully realized in the early seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I hardly find it contradictory that viewers could both love that vision and enjoy watching it collapse. “Inquisition” is a significant part of tearing apart the idyllic façade of the Star Trek universe.

Much of the episode hinges on the performances of Alexander Siddig and William Sadler. Both Sadler – who was cast for the episode when producers originally considered Martin Sheen for the role! – and Siddig El Fadil have the ability to play willful and strong and that makes much of “Inquisition” a pleasure to watch. It is fun to watch two people argue about something the viewer cares about (in this case Star Trek: Deep Space Nine continuity and Dr. Bashir) when the argument is well-presented. In “Inquisition,” Siddig El Fadil is also able to do a great job of appearing confused enough for realism and determined enough to make the viewer want to believe. He plays well off Jeffrey Combs, whose brief appearance as Weyoun is almost enough to make viewers question Bashir’s sanity!

In the end, though, “Inquisition” is a simple episode and it introduces a new element to the Star Trek universe and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine storyline that enhances the feeling that the characters (specifically Bashir, in this case) will have something to do and new directions to develop in even after the final episode. I like that and it makes “Inquisition” worth returning to.

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


For other Star Trek reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Another Year, Another Fett Promotion, But The Boba Fett (Prototype Armor) Figure Is Actually Cool!

The Good: Collectible value, Neat accessories, Very cool look, Great balance and articulation.
The Bad: Actually . . . none that I can find!
The Basics: What seemed like a potentially ridiculous promotional figure, the Vintage Collection mail-away promotional Boba Fett (Prototype Armor) is actually a perfect concept figure!

These days, it takes a lot for me to get excited about a concept figure, especially from the Star Wars toy line. After last year’s retro Boba Fett Mail-Away figure, I was very hesitant to mail away this year for the Boba Fett (Prototype Armor) figure. Now that mine has arrived, I am actually thrilled by it, enough that I am keeping it in my permanent collection!

As this is a concept figure, it is unsurprising most people would be unfamiliar with the prototype armor version of Boba Fett. When the actor in the Boba Fett costume originally arrived on the set of The Empire Strikes Back (reviewed here!), the character was something of an advanced stormtrooper. As a result, the first promotional shots of Boba Fett actually had the character in all-white armor that had minimal detailing.

The latest 4" Mail-Away Vintage Collection Boba Fett presents that white-armored Fett as an action figure for fans and it is very cool. As a result, fans who sent in the six required UPCs and their $6.99 were rewarded with a figure that looks very cool, has great playability and accessories and makes for an intriguing conversation piece.


The Mail-Away Boba Fett (Prototype Armor) figure stands 3 5/8" tall to the top of his helmet. This appears to be the Vintage Collection Boba Fett action figure recolored. The sculpt of the Mail-Away Boba Fett (Prototype Armor) is, therefore, amazing. The figure is molded with an incredible amount of detailing. This Boba Fett (Prototype Armor) figure features the molded breastplate cast into the figure which mimics the shape of the actual character's armor. Similarly, the wrists are outfitted with things like the grappling wire launcher or flamethrower. And the legs have pouch pockets molded onto them. The helmet has both the antenna and a dent molded right into the forehead! This figure even has the low-hanging belt holster and the tubes that come off the gloves molded into it! Presumably, those tubes make the character’s flamethrower work!

As cool as the sculpt is the coloring of the Boba Fett (Prototype Armor). The Boba Fett (Prototype Armor) figure looks a lot like an AT-AT Driver in terms of coloring. He has a gray jumpsuit over which is his white armor. The helmet and breast panel are accented with what appear to be lights or controls nand stand out with their vivid blue and red colors against the white of the armor. On the arms, the figure’s flamethrower and grappling gun are black to offset the white gauntlets. For a figure who is based only on a photo reference, Hasbro went out of their way to create a distinctive and realistic armored bounty hunter!


Boba Fett (Prototype Armor) is a great bounty hunter and because of that, he only comes with three accessories: his backpack and his blasters. Boba Fett's blaster are two identical 1 1/8" long thin, flat guns unique to this figure. Each gun fits in either of Fett’s hands and one may fit in the holster on the figure’s right thigh at any time. The black plastic weapon is accented by sliver on the barrel and red at the back trigger. Because the guns are so distinct, they fit this otherwise unique figure well.

The backpack is a white version of the standard Boba Fett jetpack. It plugs easily into the hole in the Boba Fett figure’s back. The jetpack is white with a few black accents and small blue dots around key areas that are reminiscent of lights. This version of the jetpack matches the look and feel of the rest of the action figure.


The four inch toy line was designed for play and Boba Fett (Prototype Armor) is absolutely perfect in that regard. Flatfooted, Fett can be posed in a ton of poses, even outlandish ones. The Boba Fett (Prototype Armor) figure easily stands unaided. He does have the holes in his feet (and, I discovered, a 2005 copyright date on the back of his left leg) which allow him to stand on playsets.

The Mail-Away Boba Fett (Prototype Armor) is also incredible in the articulation department. This Boba Fett (Prototype Armor) has an awesome only fourteen points of articulation. They are mostly hinged ball and socket joints, which provides an incredible range of motion. This Boba Fett has joints at the ankles, knees, groin socket, elbows, wrists, waist, shoulders and head. There is also articulation of the antenna on the helmet, which swings down over the eye visor in the helmet!


The Mail-Away Boba Fett (Prototype Armor) is part of the Vintage Collection line that was released in 2011 and was only available through the mail-in promotion. The ability to get them at $6.99 + UPCs has since ended and now the secondary market is being flooded with this awesome figure. I suspect the price will continue to rise through 2012, given that this is a really neat figure once one takes it out of the package. Given how it was not especially limited, though, I am betting the value of the mail-away figure tops out around $50.


The Mail-Away Boba Fett (Prototype Armor) figure is a pretty wonderful investment, as well as a very cool playable figure that is well worth finding on the secondary market. Odds are, you’ll wish you had mailed away for it when it was less expensive!

For other Vintage Collection figures, please check out my reviews of:
VCP03 Boba Fett
VC01 Dengar
VC05 AT-AT Commander
VC10 4-LOM
VC11 (Twin Pod) Cloud Car Pilot
VC22 Admiral Ackbar
VC37 Super Battle Droid
VC41 Commander Gree
VC46 AT-RT Driver
VC48 Weequay Skiff Master
VC49 Fi-Ek Sirch
VC53 Bom Vimdin
VC65 TIE Fighter Pilot
VC82 Daultay Dofine
VC85 Quinlan Vos
VC86 Darth Maul


For other Star Wars toy reviews, please check out my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Mid-'80's Schmaltz Leaves Me Indifferent With James Taylor's That’s Why I’m Here!

The Good: Decent vocals, A few good lyrics
The Bad: Boring, produced instrumentals, Short
The Basics: Very average James Taylor, That’s Why I’m Here is surprisingly bland and overproduced when it is not being repetitive and dull.

Sometimes, I hit ruts of very average works. This includes where I am falling on James Taylor's 1985 album That’s Why I’m Here, which I have been listening to for the last two days. Truth be told, I'm looking forward to moving on after this album; James Taylor seems to have some innate talents, but his works - in bulk - ultimately end up as fairly tiresome and I'm ready for some musical variety again! Without being insulting; and I've never endeavored to be while reviewing James Taylor, Taylor's works seem to act as something of a chameleon for Taylor in regards to style. In his early works, his songs are vocally driven folk-rock with the whole "one man and a guitar" thing that defined a lot of popular music in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Then, in the seventies, eighties and nineties, Taylor seemed to become obsessed with adding more production elements to his music, as was the style of the times and while it might have worked as part of the day when they were released, listening to some of those albums - like That’s Why I’m Here - now there is a very dated quality to the sound. Even now, as Taylor seems to help define the adult contemporary niche, it seems he is doing more original work than he did in the mid-80s.

With twelve songs, clocking out at 39:55, That’s Why I’m Here is arguably one of the least James Taylor-influenced albums of his that I have reviewed to date. On the writing front, Taylor wrote eight of the songs (to be fair, one of those is a twenty-five second instrumental reprise of the first track) and the other four are not even co-written by Taylor. He has cover songs from Livingston Taylor ("Going Around One More Time"), Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart ("My Romance"), Norman Betty and Charles Harden ("Everyday"), and Burt Bacharach and Hal David ("The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"). I had only heard of Bacharach and David before this album, though "Everyday" seems to be on a number of the James Taylor compilations I have listened to.

James Taylor provides all of the primary vocals, though he is not credited with them on all of the songs. As well, according to the liner notes, Taylor did not provide any of the instrumental performances on this album. He surrounds himself with notable vocalists and instrumentalists, like Joni Mitchell, Don Henley, Graham Nash and David Sanborn, but he is not credited with even one guitar performance in the credits. At best, Taylor is given a co-producer's credit so it is hard to argue that Taylor did not create the album he wanted to with That’s Why I’m Here.

Largely, That’s Why I’m Here is mellow and overproduced and simply boring. The tracks which made this album successful in its day are "Only One," "Everyday" and - from what I hear - "Only A Dream In Rio." The title track pops up on some of Taylor's compilation albums, which is somewhat appropriate as it is possibly Taylor's most self-referential song. In fact, if anything perhaps that is why the album is so boring: the overall feeling is "this is James Taylor!" as opposed to "This is what James Taylor has to say . . ."

This comes through in a lot of the writing, for starters. The songs mix from being directly about James Taylor (“That’s Why I’m Here”) to storysongs about those peripherally in Taylor's (or his musical protagonist alter ego's) life ("Limousine Driver," "Mona") to just plain standards ("The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"). There are fewer universal storysongs on this album or songs that are just about emotions, which tend to balance the specific songs on other albums better than this one does. Songs like "Mona" just seem tired in the writing department with lines like "Life's good friends are hard to find / And now one of mine is dead / And things I should have said to her / I shall say to you instead / Mona Mona / So much of you to love / Too much of you to take care of / Mona Mona / You got too big to keep / And too damn old to eat." When you're singing to your dead animal, it's a tough sell to a wide audience. Had the song stuck to a human subject (or not a cannibalistic protagonist, I suppose) it might have work, had Taylor also focused on the emotion of guilt for failing to say things when they still mattered, "Mona" could work. But regret over the things you never said to an animal you might have considered eating at some point . . . that's just schmaltz!

And Taylor is pretty much a master of schmaltz, that over-the-top sappy earnest emotive quality that is just too cheesy to be real. This is disappointing coming from an artist who actually has the ability to articulate complex ideas with a pretty impressive array of diction at his disposal. Instead, he comes up with songs that are repetitive and over-the-top obvious, like "Only One." Sure, it sounds good when Taylor sings "There's only one road before me / Too many turns in the way / Thousands of things to do today / Millions of moments I must admit / But only one only one / You are my only one you are my only one . . ." ("Only One") but the rhyme scheme is obvious and it gets only real quickly. Moreover, it is too simplistic for the notion it is describing; commitment and fidelity deserve a more complicated rhyme scheme than rhyming "one" with "one" over and over again.

It's not all bad and, in fact, Taylor does have one of his very best songs on That’s Why I’m Here. "Song For You Far Away" might well be the best song about loss Taylor ever did after "Fire And Rain." Anyone who is experiencing distance from or loss of a loved one can completely understand the loneliness Taylor describes as "Sitting here all alone / Is bringing it on again I'm gone again / Sitting here thinking of you / Is driving it home again / This is a song for you far away so far away . . ." ("Song For You Far Away"). As well, the song is one of the least produced and has an earnest quality to it that is heartwrenching, which is exactly what one wants from a song about loss and abandonment and distance.

This stands in direct contrast to most of the rest of the album. "Turn Away" is an upbeat pop-rock number that is terribly overproduced and strangely percussion-driven for a James Taylor track. Any number of the songs on this album are banal and directly "pop" in a way that makes them hold up poorly over multiple listens. Songs like That’s Why I’m Here, "Only One," and "Only A Dream In Rio" utilize a lot of instruments and backing vocals that overwhelm Taylor's own vocals more often than accent any of his points.

Taylor's vocals are generally good, but they do not stretch his range. As a result, songs like "Going Around One More Time" are immediately recognizable as James Taylor even though it was never a single. He is safely within his range, articulate but a very obvious, smooth vocal style that is exactly what we have heard from him before. Songs like "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" are not reinterpreted in any new ways that make it his own and "My Romance" sounds like a Christmas carol!

The result is an album that is very mid-1980s in most of the most boring and obvious ways. Because all of the best songs on this album do appear on compilations Taylor has produced, it makes it very easy to recommend not picking this one up. That’s Why I’m Here is not bad in a way that one wants to strongly denounce it, but it is not good in a way that one wants to recommend buying it either. It's just remarkably average.

The best track is "Song For You Far Away," the low point is "Mona."

For other James Taylor albums, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
James Taylor And The Original Flying Machine
James Taylor
Sweet Baby James
Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon
One Man Dog
Greatest Hits
Never Die Young
New Moon Shine
James Taylor Live
Greatest Hits 2
Appalachian Journey (with Yo-Yo Ma)
October Road
The Best Of James Taylor
One Man Band


For other music reviews, please be sure to check out my Music Review Index Page for other music reviews I have written!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Friday, March 30, 2012

Our Friday Night Tradition Had A Much Rockier Start Than I Would Have Guessed: Monk - Season One

The Good: Interesting cases, Moments of humor, Performances!
The Bad: Narrative style, Unlikable characters, Not as funny as it became.
The Basics: Monk Season One is much more of a detective show than a comedy, which was a bit off-putting to a fan who came to the series late.

Not very long ago, my wife and I started watching Psych together on DVD (season four is reviewed here!). The more we went through the series, the more my wife lamented how much she missed watching Monk. As if the local gods of television heard her, one of our local broadcast channels began playing Monk in syndication on Friday nights. Watching Monk has rapidly become a Friday night tradition for her and I. But here at the outset of my Monk reviews, I must make two confessions. First, I still like Psych better. Second, because we started with episodes where Natalie was Monk’s assistant, I find I like her quite a bit more than Sharona. In fact, I am not a fan of Sharona. As a result, I was not entirely grabbed by the first season of Monk.

In fact, Monk Season One is a debut season that leaves me surprised that the show was ever picked up for anything beyond the first season. Monk falls into a category of television shows that I am not traditionally bowled over by. Like Bones, House, Pushing Daisies and many other shows, Monk is a ridiculously simple concept that has a lot of plot repetition. In this case, the simple concept is “obsessive-compulsive police detective” and the season is largely episodic in nature. As a result, former Detective Adrian Monk does not grow, develop and learn. Instead, he simply experiences the next case and the next one after that. That does not mean it is bad, but as one who likes serialized television and characters who grow and change, formula shows tend not to impress me.

Before a pile-on of comments begins, watching Monk at the beginning, there are some serious problems with the show. The first is that the show is not funny. While Adrian Monk is quirky, he often comes across as insensitive or just mean and Sharona comes across as a terrible healthcare worker. While Monk is certainly demanding, Sharona does not seem well-suited to the job of being sympathetic. Instead, she pushes Monk and Monk seems more belligerent than emotionally damaged.

As well, the formulaic nature of the episodes in the first season of Monk works against the show as well. Each episode of Monk is a murder mystery but in the first season, the perpetrator of the crime is usually revealed in the episode’s teaser. As a result, the mysteries are more about how Monk figures out how the killer murdered their victim, as opposed to who actually did the crime. This works (when it does) when the viewer cares about the protagonist, but because so many of the characters are uninteresting or unlikable, it is hard to care about the process by which Monk solves a case. Throughout the first season, I found myself screaming at the television, “Tell – insert name here – Monk suffers from OCD!” So many problems and misunderstandings in the first season could have been avoided simply by having Sharona tell people that (usually when she hands Monk a wipe after he shakes someone’s hand).

In the first season of Monk, former detective Adrian Monk is brought in to help the San Francisco Police Department, under Captain Leland Stottlemeyer, solve the murder of a mayoral candidate’s bodyguard. When a psychic finds a dead body in a car, Monk and Sharona are called in, as they are when the loathsome Dale The Whale commissions a murder from his bed. Stottlemeyer calls on Monk when one of his friends is accused of murder and Monk seems right at home when he is committed to an asylum after blacking out and entering Trudy’s (his murdered wife) old house.

Other cases have Monk matching wits with a murderer whose alibi is that he was running a heavily-monitored race and one where a billionaire seems to get his thrills by mugging people for show when he gets shot himself! A normal vacation with Sharona and her son turns into an investigation when Sharona’s son, Benji witnesses a murder. Monk also matches wits with a killer who uses an earthquake to try to get away with murder, saves Willie Nelson from jail and tries to solve a murder while on his first airplane flight!

The first season of Monk establishes the characters, but it does not develop them very well at all. For instance, almost nothing is known about Lieutenant Disher after the first season. He is Stottlemeyer’s right hand, but he does not seem particularly insightful, intelligent or even competent. While he is young, it seems odd that he would have risen to the rank of lieutenant without illustrating some initiative and intelligence of his own. Instead, he does what Stottlemeyer tells him and he usually just pals around as a recurring support character. Even Stottlemeyer lacks a strong sense of presence in the first season. He does not have an absolute trust for Monk and he does not have any distinct traits that make him interesting to watch. Even the fact that Sharona has a child seems only thrown in to enhance her otherwise un-noteworthy character.

To be fair, Tony Shaloub is excellent as Monk, even in the beginning. He seems to have a grasp on balancing a character who is both incredibly intelligent and essentially crippled from his psychological issues. Shaloub plays Monk a serious and troublingly deficient in the first season, as opposed to funny. So, for example, when Shaloub faces off against Alan Arkin’s Dale Biederbeck, the episode has a sinister undertone. Shaloub plays Monk as consistently on edge in the episode and that level of performance makes the first season bearable, if not wonderful.

On DVD, Monk Season one comes with minimal bonus features. There are a few commentary tracks and featurettes on the making of the show and season recaps, but nothing one cannot live without. Monk is clearly a show that got better (much better!) with age, but I’d opt for skipping the first season and picking the show up when it gets more refined.

For other shows that have somewhat formulaic natures, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Boston Legal


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

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Virgil's Cream Soda Is A Healthy (And Expensive) Soda Option!

The Good: Easily the very best tasting cream soda I can ever recall having, Not as unhealthy as most sodas.
The Bad: Expensive, No real nutritional benefits.
The Basics: Virgil’s Cream Soda is a very satisfying all natural soda that almost completely justifies its expense on the taste alone!

For those who might not follow my many reviews, I am on a health kick of late and my wife and I work to improve our health. I also do not drink alcohol, so that is why my review index of beverages has so many tea reviews. But I like more than tea and cocoa and (now, especially) health drinks. So when my wife and I did an Oscar celebration this year, I opted for a return to my old love, cream soda. Being on a health kick, I was happy when I discovered Virgil’s Cream Soda. Perhaps the best endorsement I can give is that since trying a bottle for the Oscars, my wife and I have picked up a four pack, both of the regular Cream Soda and the Black Cherry Cream Soda Virgil’s makes!

Virgil’s Cream Soda is an all-natural, no preservative soda that is micro brewed. I was psyched about it because it contained no sodium and that is not the case with virtually any major soft drink company’s product. At almost $2/bottle where I live, though, Virgil’s is a tough sell for a cheapskate like me.


Virgil’s Cream Soda is an all-natural soda and my wife and I found it locally in the organic section of the upper crust grocery store near where we live. East 12 oz. glass bottle houses the pale tan liquid. The bottles look good, though I noticed that a few of mine have lopsided labels, which only seems to confirm the fact that this beverage is not mass manufactured as some huge enterprise.

The 12 oz. bottle is a single serving of Virgil’s Cream Soda and it is very easy to drink it down in a single sitting.

Ease Of Preparation

Virgil’s Cream Soda is a liquid in a clear 12 oz. bottle. Preparation is as easy as opening the bottle by popping the bottle cap off and drinking the liquid inside. I recommend refrigerating the bottle first as its full flavor potential is reached by having it cool.


Virgil's Cream Soda smells very much like vanilla. It has a light, french vanilla scent and it is very inviting to anyone who loves cream soda.

As one who loves cream soda, the taste of Virgil's Cream Soda is surprisingly pleasant. I love cream soda, but every one I had before this was dry, slightly salty in the aftertaste and left me without a quenched thirst. While the carbonation in it cuts some of the sweetness of the cream soda, this does not taste either dry or even slightly salty. Instead, Virgil's Cream Soda is the most pure vanilla-flavored soda that I have ever had. This is like a liquid creamsicle . . . without even a hint of fruit flavor to it.


As a soda, one might expect this to have many unpronounceable ingredients. However, Virgil’s Cream Soda is made primarily of purified carbonated water, unbleached cane sugar, and carmelized unrefined cane sugar. There are no unpronounceable ingredients in this and Virgil’s seems committed to providing ingredients that address every possible ethical or dietary constraint!

Nutritionally, Virgil’s Cream Soda is not enough to live off of, but it is good. In addition to being gluten free, Virgil’s Cream Soda has a whopping 42 grams of sugar. With 160 calories per serving, it is astounding that there is not a single gram of sodium in this. Virgil’s Cream Soda has no fat, nor any other nutrients.


Virgil’s Cream Soda comes in a glass bottle and there is no clear expiration date on the bottle. There is what appears to be a batch code (if it’s not, then this soda would expire on the twelfth of December, 2020). We bought it fresh in a place with good foot traffic, so I know it was fresh.

This drink is a translucent tan color, but if it gets on very light fabrics it will certainly stain them. Consult a care guide for your clothes, though I suspect even light clothes will be able to wash the soda right out. As well, the drink wipes off surfaces easily with a cloth, assuming they are impermeable.


Virgil’s Cream Soda is well worth hunting down, despite the expense. It is flavorful, not as bad for you as other sodas and it promotes good stewardship of the Earth and its corporations (with all those all-natural, carefully-created ingredients). For those who can pay a little bit more for health and ethics, Virgil’s Cream Soda is an investment that pays off in delicious taste!

For other prepared beverages, please check out my reviews of:
The Simpsons Duff Energy Drink
Bolthouse Farms 100% All Natural Carrot Juice
O.N.E. Active Cranberry Grapefruit Coconut Water


For other food and drink reviews, please visit my Food Review Index Page for a complete listing of all the foods I have reviewed!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Moby Dick As An Eccentric Comedy: The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

The Good: Moments of humor, Well-Acted, Quirky parody
The Bad: PACING!, Unoriginal characters, Pacing.
The Basics: A disappointing directoral follow-up to The Royal Tenenbaums finds Wes Anderson putting Bill Murray and a boatload of misfits out to sea to fight a shark, pirates and awkward silences.

Let me open by saying that I loved the movie The Royal Tenenbaums, which was written and directed by Wes Anderson. That movie was clever, well orchestrated, funny and tragic. And at the end of the day, despite a moment of two of slowness, it was entertaining. Thus, I dismissed all of the critical press I had read about Wes Anderson's new film The Life Aquatic. I figured the reviewers were wrong, that someone who made the highly entertaining The Royal Tenenbaums could not fall so far so fast.

I was wrong.

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou is not a bad movie, not by a long shot. But it is not worthy of your time and attention either. If you have not seen The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou is likely to compel you to. If you see this movie and want to see an even better one, The Royal Tenenbaums awaits. If you see this movie and hate it, go watch The Royal Tenenbaums, it is a lot better.

Why? The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou is like The Royal Tenenbaums - LITE. Anderson, writing here with Noah Baumbach, takes the quirky character types he skillfully wove together in The Royal Tenenbaums and creates a similarly zany atmosphere. As well, Anderson directs with an amazing sense of soundtrack and movement (when there is movement). But gone is the interpersonal empathy, the compelling humanization that makes us care about the characters. Instead, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou feels like a shadow of a movie we have seen before and leaves us disappointed.

Steve Zissou, a noted documentary maker, presents his latest magnum opus, a diving expedition that does horribly wrong when his partner is killed by a shark off camera. Depressed at the loss and the direction his life is heading, Zissou gets his film crew together to go in search of the shark that killed his partner.

Zissou is accompanied by a protective assistant named Klaus Daimler, financed by his somewhat estranged wife Eleanor and interviewed by a young, pregnant reporter named Jane. Also on his expedition is Ned Plimpton, a young man who Steve believes may be his son by a relationship he had many many years ago. Also along is a bond stooge, a Portugese-singing David Bowie cover artist, and a rival oceanographer.

The characters are certainly interesting, but they feel familiar, like Wes Anderson has put together another eclectic ensemble that speaks and acts in a way very similar to an eclectic group he put together before. Zissou is interesting, as are most of the people around him, but not interesting enough in a different way to carry the attention of the viewer.

My last heads up is to the costume designer. The costume designer put a hat on Seu Jorge in a scene where Zissou's crew is fighting pirates that makes the scene. In fact, the movie has moments that are wonderfully funny, but those parts are not sustained.

In fact, they are broken up by long stretches of people talking. Slowly. The real reason The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou fails is that it fails to capture the audience with a belief that it is going anywhere. It does not feel like it is going anywhere and when it starts to move, it is going slowly and then it keeps going slowly and when it looks like it might pick up, there is a long scene where people speak filled with a lot of meaningful pauses, then a lot of waiting and then we just stop caring. Then the movie picks up, and is fast for an incident, then there's some talking, a significant scene that moves along nicely, then the movie is over. Except that it keeps going on.

The speed at which events happen is agonizingly slow. It is difficult to watch and the singlemost reason I will not subject myself to this movie again. Who will like The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou? People who have not seen The Royal Tenenbaums. Is Bill Murray good in the movie? Yes. Can you live without seeing his performance here? Absolutely. Because at the end of the day, the writing to sustain this movie as something new and different and vital is just not there and 118 minutes of The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou feels at least twice that long.

In a bad way.

For other works by Wes Anderson, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Darjeeling Limited
The Squid And The Whale
The Royal Tenenbaums
Bottle Rocket


For other movie reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the films I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2005 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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A Very Average Northeastern City, Syracuse, NY Has Little To Offer Non-residents

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The Good: Generally low crime rate, Generally clean, Affordable cost of living
The Bad: No real sights to see or do
The Basics: Stiflingly average, Syracuse, New York is a good place to live, but a dull place to visit.

I have been living near Syracuse, New York for over a decade now and it only now occurred to me to review the city. Almost simultaneously with that idea came the thought to my mind that there is little to recommend about Syracuse. The place is safe and comfortable, generally clean, but it is remarkably lacking in history, significance and anything truly unique to do. We are a very average northeastern city with little distinct and in truth the college (Syracuse University) dominates the city. We are a test market for new products and the standard of living here is pretty good, but the setting, the people, the sights are all remarkably average. This is a city near everything good, but it is more a transit point than a destination.


Syracuse, New York is located in pretty much the geographical center of Upstate New York. When I write "Upstate New York," I'm referring to actual Upstate New York, not the definition of denizens of New York City (for whom anything beyond the subway lines is considered Upstate). There is an entire state outside of New York City and Syracuse, New York is a part of that. Syracuse is located at a very convenient location mid-state at the juncture of Interstates 81 and 90. 81 is a major north-south arterial from Canada down to Washington, D.C. 90 is a major East-west interstate that goes from Boston out to Seattle! Syracuse has six exits off 90 and several off 81, making it very easy to find for travelers.

Syracuse is located just an hour southwest of the Adirondack Mountains and while the city has an urban vibe to it, it is surrounded by farmland, horse ranches and undeveloped hills covered with trees. Fifteen to twenty minutes from virtually any point in Syracuse will find a visitor out in nature, away from the city proper.

Syracuse has a temperate climate, though lake effect from Lake Ontario keeps the city cooler than some of the outlying areas. In the winter, average temperatures range in the 20 degree Fahrenheit range and we get pounded with some of New York State's greatest quantities of snow each winter (we have a race with Buffalo each year to see who gets more). We average several feet of snow in the winter, but because we know it is coming, the plows are almost always out early and in force. In the summer, our average temperatures are in the mid-80s and throughout the Spring and Fall, we have a lot of rainfall. This makes the flowers grow well and home gardens are especially popular around Syracuse and the suburbs. In the fall, we are a destination for leafers.

Ease Of Local Transport/Parking

Syracuse is easy for drivers to get around, though there is little rhyme or reason to the arrangement of the city. While many city locations are designed in a grid pattern, Syracuse appears to have been assembled using a Rorschach ink blot as the blueprint. Still, almost all of the streets have two lanes, there are very few one-way streets and pedestrian traffic is only high near Syracuse University. Rush hour traffic is minimal on the major arterials and the worst I've ever heard of is a one hour delay for travelers coming through the State Fairgrounds during fireworks! Generally, though, the average workday involves no more than fifteen minutes of slow traffic transit, which might be why the air is so clean around Syracuse.

On-street parking used to be easily available everywhere save the campus district, but in recent years, local legislators have turned to parking to raise revenue and now there are almost no places in Syracuse, save business parking lots, where parking is free. Metered parking dominates most Syracuse streets now and there are paid parking lots as well.


By and large, Syracuse is a college town and as such, the campus district downtown is packed with hotels, some of which are multistory national chains that are packed only for graduation weekend. Outside the campus district, the hotels become more sparse, but virtually all of the national chains are represented. The average hotel room off-season runs in the $50 range and in high travel times $75 - $100/room. The thing is, it is hard to discuss accommodations in Syracuse with much in the way of specifics; hotels go out of business or change hands with disturbing frequency here.

The prime example of this is the historic Hotel Syracuse in downtown Syracuse. Every few months for the last few years, it has been sold, then forced into bankruptcy and then sold again. Luxury hotels are not, apparently, a viable business in Syracuse. Similarly, on the outskirts of Syracuse, I know of at least one locally-owned hotel which teamed up with a national chain, upgraded as demanded in order to meet the chain's standards, then dumped the chain when the licensing requirements became too prohibitive. It was, apparently, more economically viable to run without the brand-name association here.

The point of all of this is that if one is not staying with friends or family when they visit Syracuse, I'd highly recommend checking your reservation up to the day of arrival to make sure the hotel is still in business and honoring the old reservations.


Here is where I usually fill up a review with loads of fun activities to recommend a place. Alas, though, in the case of Syracuse, I'm coming up dry. Syracuse is a fine place to live, but we tend to make our own entertainment here. When it comes to things to see or do, there is very little.

What I can say that is positive are these things: 1. We are a test market for new products and movies. As a result, those looking for places to get movie screenings and try the latest products from Keebler and the like, Syracuse becomes a great place to live. 2. We have Green Lakes State Park (reviewed here!), which is one of the most beautiful places on the entire planet. and 3. We have a college sports team that seems ridiculously popular. Actually, we have two, but they are both called the Orangemen, so football and basketball season pretty much blend together for those who do not care about sports and only hear them peripherally.

Syracuse also has the New York State Fairgrounds, so every year for two weeks in summer the city is inundated with visitors from all over the state who are coming for the state fair. The New York State Fair draws popular musical artists, like Britney Spears, Kid Rock, Def Leppard and country acts that I don't even remember now. Outside that, the city is pretty spartan when it comes to concerts or anything remotely cultural. There is a theater which has plays sporadically, usually after they fall out of the Toronto market.

Outside that, Syracuse is a place where people work, work, and work and when they want to do something fun, they abandon Syracuse for other places. My ex- informed my current partner that the city has a very active Goth population, but that's not my scene.


I love to eat and Syracuse has some very reasonably-priced places to eat. Our most famous local restaurant is the Dinosaur Barbecue, which is a very popular rib joint, especially with the biker crowd. Also in downtown Syracuse is a wonderful Japanese Tea House which serves only tea and it is a nice place to escape to for a few hours with friends to sit, drink and be merry. Also downtown are a slew of bars, but as I don't drink, there are none I could or would recommend. Dinosaur is our most recognizable name and the best surprise is the Japanese Tea House.

That said, there are two delightful surprises in Syracuse for the open-minded diners. The Retreat is a bar and grill which has some of the best American food one will ever taste. In the heart of Liverpool (one of the Syracuse suburbs), it makes the best salads, burgers and fries anyone coming to Syracuse is likely to find. And for ethnic food, the Little Thai House is an amazing find right near the Shoppingtown Mall. The meals there are delicious and the prices are quite reasonable.

And if you travel like me, which is to say cautiously, there are the usual chains of fastfood restaurants. Syracuse is populated by Dunkin' Donuts (reviewed here!), Panera Bread (reviewed here!), Pizza Hut (reviewed here!) and Arby's franchises. There are the usual McDonalds, Burger King and Taco Bell franchises as well.

As for the trendy, hip places to go, I plead ignorance. College towns with their drinking clientele, overpriced fried foods and loud music stopped interesting me well over a decade ago. However, Syracuse has a wonderful free resource for visitors in the Syracuse New Times (reviewed here!) which can be found at virtually any hotel in the area. That informs visitors of all of the happening places each and every week and they have everything from the latest visiting musical acts to weekly drink specials listed!


Syracuse has become an epicenter for generic shopping in the form of two malls (three if one counts the mall in Clay, which is adjacent to Syracuse). We no longer have little cute boutiques, instead the bulk of the shopping here is done in strip malls or the two malls, Shoppingtown or Carousel. Shoppingtown has turned into a virtual ghosttown in the shadow of Carousel Mall, which is being remade as the world's largest mall, DestiNY USA. This lame attempt to cash in on the shopping market has been a sporadic endeavor which is in the works now (construction resumed this summer when the contractors realized the gimmick for the mall was going to be that it was a green mall, outfitted with its own windmill park generating electricity from wind power). The thing is, Carousel was built on swamp land and was sinking and DestiNY is being built atop it with no real gimmicks or draws other than the sheer size of the mall, so we'll see how long it lasts.

In other words, the shopping that might be done in Syracuse is pretty much the same shopping that could be done anywhere else in the United States.


Syracuse, New York is a very average college city with few opportunities for those starting out and little to recommend it to travelers.

For other places to visit, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Salem, MA
Aquarium Of Niagara – Niagara Falls, NY
Turning Stone Casino Resort – Vernon, NY


For other travel reviews, please visit my Travel Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the travel-related reviews I have written.

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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