Tuesday, July 31, 2012

July 2012 End Of The Month Update

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In an astonishing move for a month when there were no breakout reviews until the very last week, we managed to have our SECOND best month of the blog yet! I credit this both to the many timely reviews of the new Hallmark Christmas ornament line and the fact that we’ve started picking up more subscribers certainly help!

The last day of the month, we managed to get some movement in the Top Ten Reviews of all time! Before that, we had a great month and are going into August (traditionally one of the worst months of the year for reviews) very strong!

If you're thinking of subscribing, please do! We are always trying to get people to become regular readers and subscribe. As well, if you read a review that really affects you, be sure to "share" it! PLEASE share a link to the blog, not the content of the article; this keeps people coming to the site and, hopefully, liking what they find once they are here! We're really looking to grow our readership, so sharing and subscribing to the blog is an important way you can help! If you’re subscribing, please tell your friends about the blog!

In July, 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! BIG “Thank you!” to all of the people who supported me last month - you really helped!

At the end of July, I have reviewed the following:
373 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Star Trek Books!
Graphic Novels
550 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
1733 - 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)!
The Star Trek Review Index Page (All Star Trek Reviews From The Best Of The Franchise To The Worst!)!
158 - Trading and Gaming Card Reviews
Gaming Cards Reviews
Star Trek Gaming Cards Reviews
Star Wars Gaming Cards Reviews
The Lord Of The Rings Trading Card Game Reviews
Other Gaming Cards Reviews
Trading Cards Reviews
523 - Toy and Christmas Ornament Reviews
506 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Cheese and Meats
Other Food
122 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
106 - Travel Reviews
Destinations Reviews
Hotels Reviews
103 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
111 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
77 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
21 - Other Product Reviews

My featured review for July was real tough to pluck out, but ultimately I went with the two big new musical releases I reviewed: The Crossing - Sophie B. Hawkins and The Idler Wheel - Fiona Apple! Check it out!

For July, the Top Ten Reviews were my reviews of:
10. The Avengers
9. On Stranger Tides Pirates Of The Caribbean ornament
8. Edward And Bella's Wedding Twilight Ornament
7. The Amazing Spider-Man
6. Batman The Dark Knight Rises ornament
5. Wanderlust
4. Thor The Avengers ornament
3. The Watch
2. The Dark Knight Rises
1. Total Recall (2012)

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 - 245 reviews
9s - 331 reviews
8s - 562 reviews
7s - 603 reviews
6s - 535 reviews
5s - 724 reviews
4s - 496 reviews
3s - 421 reviews
2s - 183 reviews
1s - 119 reviews
0s - 66 reviews
No rating - 22 articles/postings

And, if you haven't checked out the top reviews of all time, at the end of July, the most popular reviews/articles I have written are:
10. Men In Black 3
9. Project X
8. Total Recall (2012)
7. Breaking Dawn, Part 1
6. Snow White And The Huntsman
5. The Amazing Spider-Man!
4. The Avengers
3. The Hunger Games
2. Star Trek: Machinations Of Doomsday
1. Prometheus

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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Hallmark Makes A Perfect Ornament With The 2012 Catwoman Batman Ornament!

The Good: Collectible, Well-balanced, Good casting of the character, Decent coloring detail, Inexpensive
The Bad: No special features
The Basics: Well-balanced and cool, Hallmark hits perfection again with the 2012 Catwoman ornament!

Not long ago, I finally found a perfect Hallmark ornament for 2012 in the Star Wars TIE Interceptor ornament (reviewed here!) and for those who are looking for a simpler ornament but want perfection, it is the Batman franchise that delivers the next perfect ornament of the season! While my wife rolled her eyes at seeing the Catwoman ornament, claiming it was just a cheap ploy related to the release of The Dark Knight Rises (reviewed here!), but I recognized the pose as an iconic image of Catwoman from The New 52. And Catwoman, with her whip flailing around her makes for a very cool ornament.


The Catwoman ornament recreates the cool, sexy cat burgler in solid plastic. The ornament, released in 2012, is an amazing recreation of the female character who has pretty incredible popularity. She is mostly covered by her tight bodysuit, with only her face exposed. Catwoman is posed looking like she is leaping through the air, perhaps while snatching at one last valuable to steal! The ornament, like the character, is dominated by black and the ornament is very cool in how it mixes matte black for most of the outfit (making it look like leather) and glossy on her boots. The Catwoman ornament is appropriately detailed on the face, eyes and lips, though.

Hallmark insisted on $14.95 for the ornament originally and it is a steal at that price. For an ornament without any sound chip or light function, this still feels like a value given the quality and intricacy of the ornament. The Catwoman ornament is 4 1/2" tall, 4 1/4" wide and 2” deep and she looks great from her goggles to her boots. The Hallmark Catwoman ornament is made of a durable plastic and has her with one hand on her whip and another reaching out. Her legs are in a leaping pose, knees bent and feet back.

Catwoman is detailed exceptionally in the body and on the costume. Catwoman looks like she does in the comics from the red lipstick to her exceptionally detailed eyes. Hallmark took a lot of care in decorating the Catwoman ornament and they succeeded. Her whip is perfectly in proportion and looks amazingly molded. The detailing is exceptional for such a thin piece of molded plastic.


As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, Catwoman 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 those who might not want to shell out for the more expensive ornaments. This Catwoman simply hangs.


As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake Catwoman ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate DC Universe Christmas Tree, Catwoman is becoming more and more essential; hell, she had her own movie and has appeared in two Batman films! In fact, DC Universe villains have been underrepresented, which might be why this one is selling as well as it is! The ornament has a brass hook loop embedded behind her shoulderblades. From that hook, the Catwoman ornament hangs perfectly balanced. It is impressive and the ornament sways when rocked, but otherwise sits stable in the right position!


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 (click here for my review of that!). Since then, Hallmark has gotten into every major franchise from Disney to The Simpsons to the DC Comics universe. The Catwoman ornament is fairly common, but with the popularity of The Dark Knight Rises and the quality of the ornament, I would l not be surprised if it sold out fairly fast. This is one of the Hallmark ornaments this year I am betting on a sell-out, so unless one wants to pay a premium, they might want to pick it up while they can!


Catwoman is an exceptionally detailed ornament that is priced right to please! Well worth picking up!

For other DC Universe superhero Hallmark ornaments, please check out my reviews of:
2012 "Beware My Power" Green Lantern ornament
2012 The Dark Knight Rises
2011 Batman Takes Flight
2011 Green Lantern
2010 Limited Edition Harley Quinn
2009 Wonder Woman ornament


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

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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I Return To My Reviews As Kes Faces A Dilemma Named "Tuvix"

The Good: Well acted, Mildly original concept, Decent moral dilemmas
The Bad: Predictable and obvious to fans of the genre
The Basics: When Neelix and Tuvok become joined as one being, the viewer is presented with an interesting life and choice dilemma.

Every now and then, the writers or producers of shows in the Star Trek franchise change the name of an episode late in the game. The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Time Squared" (reviewed here!) is still often mislabeled "Time To The Second" by TV Guide. It's rare I remember such things, but when the episode "Symbiogenesis" was changed to "Tuvix," I remember being disappointed. Star Trek: Voyager had dumbed down from an intriguing title to the obvious. That's somewhat emblematic of the problem with "Tuvix."

When Tuvok and Neelix beam up from an alien planet carrying a new, rare flower, the two are merged by the transporter into a single lifeform. The awkward, part Talaxian, part Vulcan takes on the name Tuvix and begins to interact with the crew of the USS Voyager. Captain Janeway finds herself in the awkward role-reversal of mentor to half her mentor and Kes finds herself in the awkward position of trying to continue a relationship with a man who is the combination of both her lover and her mentor.

Tuvix, for his part, soon becomes an invaluable member of the crew as a cook and tactical officer, though many of the crew are unsure how to respond to this entity that is not Tuvok and not Neelix. This becomes of vital concern when Ensign Kim and The Doctor figure out how to separate the two from one another. Tuvix begins to plead for his unique life and the crew finds themselves in an ethical bind.

This episode represents one of the last true chances Janeway has to make a strong ethical dilemma that is not in any way tied to Seven of Nine (the former Borg character that enters in Season 4). Recently in the second season, Janeway has been forced to rule on issues of life and death, like in "Death Wish" (reviewed here!) and "Tuvix" represents much the same dilemma between free will and the obligations of the individual.

On a straight plot level, "Tuvix" represents a rather banal twist on a Star Trek standard. Ever since early in the first season of Star Trek when Captain Kirk was split by the transporter into two beings (the good and the evil or the aggressive and the weak, depending on perspective), Star Trek has had a "thing" about splitting recognizable characters into two versions of themselves. "Tuvix" takes the opposite tact in an attempt to be original by combining Tuvok and Neelix. Sadly, this comes well after Odo and Dax were combined over on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the episode "Facets" (reviewed here!), so this potentially original episode smacks of derivations like so many of the episodes of Star Trek: Voyager.

Why is this worth your time, then? First off, Tuvix is an interesting enough character. The blending of the unlikely combination of Neelix and Tuvok - two characters who are otherwise foils of one another - creates a character that is impressive enough to dominate the viewer's attention for the full episode. Far less silly than Neelix, Tuvix becomes a joyful reinterpretation of Tuvok and the interactions between Tuvix and Janeway and Tuvix and Kes become dramatically tense.

On the character level, Tuvix is more than a simple statement to the viewer where we have yet another argument in the Star Trek pantheon for the value of life. No, Tuvix becomes convincing in his own right combining the reason of Tuvok with the passion of Neelix as he pleads for his right to exist and not simply end up as an ended experiment. It's too bad, in some ways, how this episode resolves itself as the outcome is both obvious and disappointing on a character level. Tuvix stirs up a character who has been swept under the rug and one who is just goofy.

Tuvix is brilliantly acted by Tom Wright, the actor who electrified the third season of NYPD Blue in the episode "The Blackboard Jungle.” Wright proves his ability to act with a reserved, very Vulcan, quality that is lightyears from his angry, passionate character of Kwazi on NYPD Blue. Wright has a bearing to him that instantly brings him credibility, eliminating the doubts that his Tuvix character is not genuine or legitimate. Indeed, Wright appears to have studied the mannerisms of both Tim Russ (Tuvok) and Ethan Philips (Neelix) to play the role. There's not a hint of the silly Neelix when Tuvix is passionately arguing with Janeway for his right to exist, a credit to Wright.

And both Jennifer Lein (Kes) and Kate Mulgrew (Captain Janeway) play off Wright perfectly. Mulgrew is passionate and expressive giving a performance that is utterly believable as she fights for the return of her beloved mentor. Lein is faced with the acting challenge that twists her character in knots and the viewer instantly empathizes with Kes as a result of her performance. Lein insinuates a quiet desperation into Kes as the character wrestles with becoming attached to Tuvix or wanting only to have Neelix and Tuvok returned to her in their more useful capacities.

So, all that truly suffers in Tuvix is a derivative concept and plot execution. This is par for the course with Star Trek: Voyager and this aspect is mitigated some by the interesting character and the focus on the dilemma that follows his existence. Instead of becoming preoccupied with the science that created the unified being Tuvix, the show focuses on what it means that he exists and now that he has experiences neither Tuvok nor Neelix had, what does reversing the process (splitting the one character back into two) mean ethically. That's a nice twist and it offers solid entertainment value to anyone who is a fan of science fiction and likes a decent character study.

There might be just enough for general fans of character studies to enjoy "Tuvix," though the technobabble may be a bit much. It certainly remains one of the few Star Trek: Voyager episodes worth returning to.

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


For other Star Trek reviews, be sure to check out my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Hard Not To Like "The Women Of Star Trek In Motion," Even With The Size Issue!

The Good: Interesting concept and gimmicks, Great chase cards, Decent solution to problems with box size.
The Bad: Card size, Expansion sets are a little annoying, Some problematically dark cards.
The Basics: A great set of trading cards - if you can even find the boxes any more! - "The Women Of Star Trek In Motion" still satisfies!

When Rittenhouse Archives was establishing itself, Fleer/SkyBox still owned the license rights to Star Trek to make trading cards and that company began to move away from the non-sports card market and as a result, they began to show less interest in creating a quality product than they had in their heyday. Paramount exacted a few restrictions on Cherendoff, the head of Rittenhouse Archives, on the first sets while the trading card license was still at SkyBox, but soon Rittenhouse Archives had its first set with "Star Trek In Motion" (reviewed here!). Soon after, they followed it up with "The Women Of Star Trek In Motion."

This second set was quite a bit more successful than the first set and solved a number of problems that the earlier set had. The "The Women Of Star Trek In Motion" set was a tough sell to card collectors at the time as the cards were not the standard size and most fans were not sure that Rittenhouse would not be a fly-by-night company. Now, with almost ten years passed and hundreds of card sets from some of the most popular franchises on the market - including Star Trek - Rittenhouse Archives has assuaged any doubt that they are here to stay. As well, the concept of "The Women Of Star Trek In Motion" made for an easier sell than the first Rittenhouse release because it focused on the women. Women in science fiction are the safest bet for virtually any collectible: women tend to identify with them as positive role models (at least the ones from the Star Trek franchise) and men lust after them as sex symbols. Either way, it's one of the easiest ways to part fans and collectors from their cash!

Basics/Set Composition

"The Women Of Star Trek In Motion" is a set of lenticular trading cards, cards where the images move! Every card in the common set and most of the chase sets has images that move using state-of-the-art card technology. Each card is actually made of thick plastic with ripples on the front. The back has a paper stuck to the plastic and the paper is actually made up of tiny lines. Thus, as one tilts the card, the light passes through the ripples on the front of the card and makes the image move. This is not an unsophisticated process and the images includes some rather full range-of-motion movements, like Lwaxana Troi removing her veil on card 19 or Intendant Kira striding down a corridor on card 24.

The thing is, the cards are all three and a half by five and one quarter inches. Some of the bonus cards are oversized non-motion cards measuring five by seven inches (like the DeForest Kelley Tribute cards in Star Trek In Motion!). The standard trading card is 2 1/2" by 3 1/2". We understand that this awkward large size was the result of the licensing agreement that allowed Rittenhouse to begin while SkyBox still had the trading card license, but these cards are still a little cumbersome, though nowhere near as bad as the original set had been.

Properly assembled, the "The Women Of Star Trek In Motion" set consists of one hundred twenty cards. The set is made up of thirty-two common cards and eighty-eight bonus cards, only thirty-nine of which are available in the actual boxes of "The Women Of Star Trek In Motion" cards. Boxes of these cards consist of twenty-four packs with three cards per pack. As well, each box had a separate "bonus" card section, which featured a sound card and an oversized autograph card and three Archive Portrait cards.

Common Cards

The common card set consists of thirty-two lenticular cards. These oversized cards were made with an impressive assortment of women from throughout the Star Trek franchise. At the time, there were the four television series's and the movies. This set does an amazing job of getting most all of the vital women from throughout the franchise included in the common set. The fronts each have a single moving image of the woman from Star Trek with the back describing the woman and how she fit into the franchise. The writing is interesting, but nothing extraordinary.

Rittenhouse rather nicely utilized different images on the back of each card to accompany the writing. The edges of these cards are remarkably easy to fray as part of the process by which they were cut and as a result, it is not uncommon to open packs of "The Women Of Star Trek In Motion" cards and find that they have little scratches on either side. What qualifies these cards as mint is also the subject of debate among many fans and collectors.

Rittenhouse Archives chose some great images and shots to use for this set. All of the vital women from the franchise (as it was when the set was released) are there: Uhura and Chapel from Star Trek, Troi and Dr. Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Kira and both Daxes from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Captain Janeway and Seven Of Nine from Star Trek: Voyager. As well, a number of significant and recognizable guest starring women show up in this set from Andrea and Vina the Orion Slave woman to the Duras Sisters and Saavik to Leeta and Kai Winn and Seska. Both Borg Queens are present in the set as are the Mirror universe versions of Uhura and Kira! The concept - motion cards - is an interesting one, but this set is rather expensive for a thirty-two card set, but it's worth it.

Still, in the common set there are some serious problems and it comes down to image choices. The set works best on cards like #13 of Lieutenant Ilia, where the card is bright and the image and motion are clear. Unfortunately, cards like #2 of B'Elanna Torres and #24 of the Mirror Kira are so dark the images are almost worthless. This problem is even worse on some of the chase cards.

Chase Cards

Breaking even on boxes has often come down to the bonus cards that are in each box. That makes it very easy to break even or make a profit on these cards, making it one of the strongest enduring sets for investors on the market. In "The Women Of Star Trek In Motion" there was a bonus card pack at the bottom of each box. There were several different bonus cards in this set: Heroines, Villainesses, Sound cards, Silver and Gold Archive Portrait and Autograph cards.

The Heroine and Villainess cards were inserted one in every four packs, so in the average box one pulled a complete set of each of the four Heroine and four Villainess cards. These were simply more motion cards of the best women on either side of the divide. As a result, there were different shots of Janeway, Jadzia, Uhura and Seven Of Nine and four new motion cards of Intendant Kira, the Borg Queen, the full-Borg Seven Of Nine and the Duras Sisters. The Villainess set is problematically comprised of almost impossible to see images that do not clearly portray their subjects. The darkness of the images is problematic. Otherwise, it is a decent concept, despite the emphasis on breasts, er, Seven Of Nine.

Then there were the sound cards. These cards were the same size as the others, but also were a quarter-inch thick (which is why they were placed at the bottom of each box, as opposed to in packs). Actually, these were six of the common, Heroine, or Villainess cards stuck to a book-like back. The card included a sound chip which played about thirty-seconds worth of sound from the episode depicted on the front of the card. When one opens the trading card, the sound chip was activated and some of them were pretty wonderful. For example, S2 has the dialogue from Worf and Dax after making love at the end of "Looking For Par'Mach In All The Wrong Places." Similarly, S6 has dialogue between Uhura and Sulu on taking risks from "Mirror, Mirror."

Every box had three Archive Collection oversized cards of each of the main women. Each one was limited to 999 in the Silver Archive Collection set and these are great for getting autographed by the celebrities on them! All of the main Women are present as well as secondary characters like Kes, Leeta and Tasha Yar! There were sixteen silver Archive Collection cards.

As well, there was a similar set with giant, unmoving images of the women of Star Trek, a set of Gold Archive Collection cards. These 5 X7 cards featuring giant images of Jadzia Dax, Kathryn Janeway, Seven Of Nine and Lieutenant Uhura replaced one of the Silver Archive Collection cards in about one in every six boxes, making them exceptionally limited! The Gold Archive Collection cards were limited to 500 of each and were also individually numbered on the front of each card.

Finally, each box had an autograph card. The autograph cards were rather evenly dispersed and with only five autographs, it might well be the easiest set to complete. When the set was released, this was the only place to get a Denise Crosby autograph on a trading card! Sherry Jackson (Andrea), Arlene Martel (T'Pring), Alice Krige (Borg Queen), and Terry Farrell (Jadzia Dax) also signed for this set. The autograph cards are also 5 X 7 cards with full bleed images, making for wonderful large signatures.

Non-Box/Pack Cards

Ironically, the bulk of the bonus cards cannot be found in the packs or boxes! First, the promotional cards for this set were extraordinarily limited. There were thirty-two, one for each common card. The promotional card set is easily differentiated from common cards by their backs. The back of the promotional cards are white without any pictures. They say "The Women Of Star Trek In Motion" Promotional Card. There are 500 of each promo card, but it remains a difficult set of promotional cards to complete.

As well, there is a casetopper sound card featuring a clip from "Dark Frontier" with the Borg Queen and Seven Of Nine talking with one another. This was only available in the full cases. As well, there was the sound card that was included in the factory-created binder, which was sold separately. The binder is nice and includes enough sheets to hold the common set of "Star Trek In Motion" cards. The sound card exclusive to the binder is one of Captain Janeway giving a little speech.

The other fifteen cards were exclusive sets that were mail-away expansions to the Archive Collection set. There were three sets of five limited edition cards that were each limited to 999 of each card, like the Silver Archive Collection Cards. One was only available in the United Kingdom and it was an expansion of Women Of Star Trek Voyager cards and it remains very difficult to find in the secondary market, despite how common it is. As well, there was a Seven Of Nine expansion set which was pretty rapidly gobbled up in the secondary market upon its release.

The last set is also the least sensible. Trying to capitalize on the popularity of the UPN wrestling crossover, "Tsunkatse," from Star Trek: Voyager, there is a five card expansion set from that episode. This set is easily the weakest as there are two great shots of Seven Of Nine from the episode in the set, two of The Rock's character and one that has Seven with her back turned facing off against the Pendari Champion. As a result, it is not even mostly women of Star Trek!


Still, this is an amazing set that manages to impress fans and collectors to this day. It's a nice idea and the execution set up a great model for collectibility, enduring value and decent product. It's too bad Rittenhouse so quickly abandoned that model. It was nice to be able to get a master set of cards by purchasing two cases! In fact, because so many people saw the value in the many parts of this set, it is one of the hardest to find boxes for anymore!

This set culls images from:
Star Trek
Star Trek: The Next Generation
The Star Trek Movies
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
and Star Trek: Voyager


For other card reviews, be sure to visit my trading card review page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Yes, 0304 Truly Is Jewel's Sellout Album: Inane Dance Themes Gut Jewel's Integrity

The Good: A few catchy beats/lines
The Bad: Music is homogeneously bad, Lyrics are the dumbest Jewel has ever written,Voice is produced over.
The Basics: Repetitive, poorly-written and with music whose sole purpose seems to be getting people to dance (energetically) 0304 truly is Jewel's sellout album and one of the worst albums I've ever heard!

As I near the end of my sojourn through the musical works of Jewel (Jewel Kilcher), I hit the album I openly admit I prejudged based on its first single. When Jewel released her song "Intuition," many of us cringed and judging by how I am the first to review this album after it being on the market for five years, I suspect that cringe went through Jewel's loyal fanbase and rather than negatively review one of her albums, they just hoped people might quietly forget it. Too bad: I suffered through four listens to 0304 (I couldn't even make it to my usual eight!) and if "Intuition" might make the loyal fans of the folk sound of Jewel's pop-rock cringe, the album would positively mortify them.

0304 is, quite simply, a terrible album and not only because Jewel abandons her quiet, girlish poetry in favor of dance beats, much the way Sophie B. Hawkins turned away from her guitar for synths on Wilderness (reviewed here!). No, here the problem is that Jewel abandons any sensibility she has toward any of the initial quality she presented as an artist on her debut Pieces Of You and afterward. In other words, the fundamental problem with 0304 is that Jewel's natural voice is produced over, her lyrics are simply dumb and the instrumentals that accompany her sound like they were made from a computer programmed only to get people to dance.

The thing about going into an experience with even a little bit of prejudice is that often we overcompensate against the way we think we are biased. "Intuition," for all that I loathe about it, is actually one of the better songs on 0304. So, yeah, this is a pretty terrible album and "sellout" is a pretty mild word to apply to this auditory mess.

From the first beats that open "Stand," it is hard to argue that 0304, for all of its problems is not the work of Jewel. With fourteen songs - I am liberally calling these tunes "songs," in the case of many of them "chants" might be more appropriate - clocking in at 53:42, 0304 is Jewel's album. Every song was written by Jewel with music co-written by Jewel and either Lester A.. Mendez, Anthony Bell, Guy Chambers or Rick Nowels. They generally all sound alike - dance-pop beats dominating - so her co-writers either are all experimenting the exactly the same way or Jewel had a lot of influence in the sound of each song. Moreover, Jewel takes a co-producer credit, so she clearly had quite a bit of creative control (despite admitting in the liner notes that she allowed "America" to be censored some). Jewel has given up even the pretense of playing any of her music, though. She is not even credited with clapping on "Yes U Can."

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of 0304 is that in the liner notes, Jewel claims that this album represents more of the songs she's wanted to produce for years. That being the case, it seems that her articulate poetry with a surprisingly high level of diction that defined her early albums was simply a facade hiding a twelve year-old girl's internet dumbspeak, as evidenced by titles that cannot even be spelled out in an adult fashion: "Run 2 U," "2 Find U," "Yes U Can," etc.

Normally, I don't relish the citations I make from lyrics because I have to figure out what lyrics say the most about a given album and that often takes some time and care to select. With 0304, it's a virtual shooting gallery for me! There are so many targets to fire at, I'm having trouble narrowing them down. The crux of this album is that the lyrics are predictable, utilize the most inane rhyme schemes and on the one exception where the lines actually have some meaning, they are buried by dance-pop beats and synthesizer noises.

From the first time I heard "Intuition," I knew one of the potential problems with Jewel going over to the Dance Side would be that the lyrics lacked some of her trademark intelligence. It was probably because she started with that first single to make the obvious plays from one line to another, like "In a world of postmodern fad / What's good now is bad" ("Intuition"). Wow, good and bad being set against one another, this is a surprise, what about light and dark? The album is crushed by lyrics that are universally unsurprising, save perhaps that in the especially inane "2 Find U," she refers to her love interest as "Hey u!" Wow, there's some serious intimacy that deserves the devotions of "Do not walk away / Let's choose love, come on / [shudder] What do u say? / Hey, u / Know that I would spend / My whole life all over again / 2 find u" ("2 Find U"). In other words, it is hard to take what little message there is on 0304 seriously because it is phrased using the most standard paradigms and lines.

The only thing even worse than Jewel's spelling on 0304 is the predictability of the lines. "Intuition," at its very best, impressed me for its use of the word "intuition," which does not so much rhyme with . . .well, anything. My hope going into 0304 was that perhaps for all of its dance sound that was rumored to be the big musical shift for Jewel, at least there might be some clever lines that surprised me. From the opening lines of "Walk in a corner shop / See a shoplifting cop / See the old lady with a gun / See the hero try 2 run / Nothing is what is seems, I mean / It's not all dirty, but it's not all clean . . . Mothers weep, children sleep / So much violence ends in silence / It's a shame there's no one 2 blame" ("Stand") the album presents rhymes that look like the words were assembled from some sort of Dr. Seuss Thesaurus (where words are not connected by similar meanings, but rather how they rhyme with one another). By the time the album gets to "Yes U Can," one suspects the listener would be numbed to dumb, but wow, Jewel tops herself with a song that appears to be all about dance-club skanks. And here, the image of Jewel as the quiet, good-girl folk-artist dies a quick and gruesome death. Sadly, it seems that the worst, dumbest lyrics are also the most repeated on 0304 and "Yes U Can" is just inane in a sweaty dance-club way in the way the repetition numbs the listener to the complete stupidity spewing forth from Jewel's mouth.

The problem is that the album is not universally stupid, but Jewel either is allowed to be treated as dumb or she assumes her audience is. When "America," another terribly repetitive song, comes up, it seems that Jewel actually has something to say. She rails with a social conscious with observations like "Everywhere I go, seems like Bush is on TV / We shed blood in the name of liberty . . . We are trying in America / We're spying in America / Getting high in America . . ." ("America") that, despite repeating many of the sentiments and concepts from "Stand," appear to have something to say. It is too bad that the instrumentals completely overpower the lyrics with bass and keyboards. Her message gets lost under the music. It is especially disturbing that she admits in the liner notes that lyrics were changed for fear of litigation, acknowledging that she is being censored. In the vernacular of the clubbers who might appreciate this album: Dude, where's your spine?!

Vocally, Jewel's new "style" is unforgivable. Her natural voice - one of her definitive assets - is produced over to be bland and limited in its range. On "Stand" she sounds almost computerized and when listening to "Becoming," I found myself having flashbacks to the Merril Bainbridge album The Garden! Indeed, only on "Haunted" does Jewel reveal anything remotely like her ability and natural voice and that song is strangely unmemorable among the overproduced tracks that define 0304.

Sadly, the bulk of the album sounds like "Sweet Temptation" where Jewel's voice has been shifted and altered by production elements to make her sound more mechanical, less human and less natural. Her voice is obscured, altered and computer-shifted throughout the album so it seldom sounds like she is there alone. Yes, 0304 might be the Jewel Of Borg Dance Celebration Album.*

As for the music, it's catchy but repetitive and utterly forgettable. It's all about hooks and the melodies are dancable but they mix poorly with the lines and it sounds nothing like anything of substance. Instead, it's pretty much the most inane synth, drum, bass-driven dance-pop one could imagine.

Yeah, even when I suspended my expectations, this album disappointed. It's just terrible. It's terrible in a way that most of us who saw Jewel as a savior from the Blonde Revolution teens (Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Mandy Moore) are surprised that she would stoop to. And if this is what she wanted to create all along . . . well, that's just sad.

The best track is "Fragile Heart" based on the lyrics alone, the worst of this abysmal pop-dance album is "Yes U Can," which is pretty much the anthem for dumb clubbing anonymous sex acts.

*(if you get the reference, give yourself a gold star).

For other Jewel albums, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Pieces Of You
Joy: A Holiday Celebration
This Way


For other music reviews, be sure to visit my Music Review Index Page!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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The More I Consider Breyers Blasts! Waffle Cone With Hershey’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips “Frozen Dairy Dessert” (Ice Cream), The More I Like It!

The Good: Delicious, Not entirely un-nutritious, Reasonably priced
The Bad: Not as flavorful for the number of things in the ice cream.
The Basics: The Breyers Blasts Waffle Cone with Hershey’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips Ice Cream is dominated by caramel flavoring, which turns out to be delightful indeed.

Now that I have started reviewing ice creams – Starbucks Coffee Signature Hot Chocolate ice cream is reviewed here! – I am discovering they can be an interesting challenge, especially for ice creams that have additional additives, as opposed to simply having a single flavor for the ice cream itself. I’ve, traditionally, liked ice creams like that: chocolate chip cookie dough, Panda Tracks, and pretty much anything by Ben & Jerry’s. When I used to make ice cream, I would do all sorts of additives, from simple ice creams like cookies & cream to my magnum opus: coconut chocolate malt with malted milk balls! So the Breyers Blasts! “frozen dairy dessert” (ice cream) seemed like a natural line for me to enjoy. When I found the Waffle Cone with Hershey’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips on clearance at the local grocery store, I did not hesitate before picking it up!

The Breyers Blasts’s Waffle Cone with Hershey’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips Ice Cream is a simple ice cream with multiple additives, from a caramel swirl to cracked up pieces of waffle cone and mini chocolate chips.


Breyers Blasts ice cream comes in a typical half gallon container. The Waffle Cone with Hershey’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips Ice Cream is a chunky ice cream: the basic ice cream mixed with caramel, waffle cone pieces and a fair amount of chocolate chips. While I had many bites that didn’t have any chocolate chips, none of the ice cream lacked caramel. The waffle cone pieces were few and far between, so it was very rare to get bites that had the whole flavor palate in them.

At (locally) $5.99 a half gallon, the Breyers Blasts! ice cream is an affordable, mid-range ice cream. That I found it on clearance for $2.99 was a steal!

Ease Of Preparation

The Waffle Cone with Hershey’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips Ice Cream is a loaded ice cream. As an ice cream, preparation is ridiculously simple: one need only open the top of the container, scoop out a half cup and consume! There is no trick to preparing or eating the Waffle Cone with Hershey’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips Ice Cream.


The Waffle Cone with Hershey’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips Ice Cream smells entirely like caramel. The scent is very full and the rest of the ice cream additives do not emit any scent like the caramel does.

In the mouth, the vanilla ice cream carries the flavor of the caramel perfectly. The caramel permeates the vanilla ice cream, even away from the swirls in the ice cream. The flavor is augmented by chunks of waffle cone, which does not change the taste significantly. Instead, it adds a crunchy texture that is actually very intriguing in the mouth. In a similar fashion, the chocolate chips add a hard texture that does not enrich the flavor significantly. The caramel flavoring completely overwhelms the chocolate of the chocolate chips. Even as the ice cream warms, I noticed no significant change in the flavor; the chocolate from the chocolate chips only influences the ice cream flavor in bites loaded with disproportionate numbers of chocolate chips. More often than not, this tastes like a vanilla and caramel ice cream, very sweet, with minimal undertones of chocolate from the chocolate chips.

Ironically, the chocolate chips seem to assert themselves an aftertaste and once the sweetness of the caramel dissipated, the chocolate flavor lingered in the mouth.


The Breyers Blasts Waffle Cone with Hershey’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips Ice Cream is a fairly light ice cream with heavy additives. The half gallon represents represents eight half-cup servings. In the half-cup serving, there are 140 calories, 40 of which are from fat. The four and a half grams of fat represent 7% of the RDA of fat, with 18% of one’s RDA of saturated fat coming in the 3.5 grams of saturated fat in this ice cream. One serving has 10 mg of cholesterol (that’s 3% of the RDA!) and 85 mg of Sodium (4% RDA). The only other real nutrient is two grams of protein, though there is also 8% of the RDA of Calcium in the Waffle Cone with Hershey’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips Ice Cream.

Breyers Blasts has decent ingredients, too. Made primarily of Milk, caramel swirl, and sugar, the Waffle Cone with Hershey’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips is not, technically, an ice cream, though it sure mimics one well! There is nothing unpronounceable in the ingredients list.


Breyers Blasts ice cream is both a frozen and a dairy product, so it is pretty obvious that it must be kept frozen in order to remain viable. Kept frozen it remains fresh for months (my half gallon had an expiration date of June 7, 2013, which made it even more baffling why it would be clearanced now).

The Waffle Cone with Hershey’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips ice cream is fairly light, but the caramel swirl is sticky and will stain. As well, when the ice cream melts and gets onto fabrics, it will require one to wash it right out. On nonporous surfaces, the ice cream wipes off exceptionally easily.


The Breyers Blasts Waffle Cone with Hershey’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips ice cream is enjoyable and not entirely unhealthy, making it an easy ice cream to recommend!

For other sweet treats, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Ghirardelli Luxe Milk Almond chocolate bar
Godiva Mint Chocolate Chip In Dark Chocolate Truffle Bar
5th Avenue


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

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Monday, July 30, 2012

Is The Expendables The Ultimate “Guy Movie?” Depends On Who The “Guys” Are . . .

The Good: It’s always nice to see Charisma Carpenter getting work . . ., Well-assembled violence
The Bad: Pointless, Light on character, Lots of mumbled lines, Overbearing rock soundtrack (when it is present).
The Basics: Opening myself up to a testosterone-filled action flick, I still find myself pretty unimpressed with The Expendables.

I try to keep my horizons open. I’m not so keen on only watching and reviewing movies that are well within my comfort zone. So, figuring I might get the opportunity to check out an advanced screening of The Expendables 2, I figured I should check out The Expendables. I had actually seen no previews for The Expendables, but its beefy, mostly male cast was not one that especially appealed to me.

The biggest, most pleasant surprise for me, came in the first few minutes of the film. During the opening credits, the name Charisma Carpenter came up and that made me happy. Carpenter was one of the bright spots of the television series Angel (reviewed here!) and as far as I am concerned it’s always nice to see her getting work. Given she was only in about four minutes of The Expendables, it was not enough to save the film.

Following a mission to rescue hostages from a group of Somali pirates, Lee Christmas returns to his woman to discover she is with another guy. Barney Ross, the leader of the suicide squad known as the Expendables, gets a series of jobs and he opts for the most difficult one, which is mission to the Gulf island of Vilena. Assigned (and threatened) by “Mr. Church,” Ross and Christmas scout the island to see if it is worth committing his team to the mission. There they witness the local gangster with his own private army roughing up the locals.

After a narrow escape, Ross decides to take the mission, which seems to be to stop the American coke grower, James Munroe and his private army. But Ross and his team are going up against one of their own; Gunnar, who wigged out during the Somalia mission gives Munroe intel on the members of Ross’s team. The plot is a thin excuse to blow things up, shoot people apart and whack a lot of people in hand to hand combat.

The Expendables is not exactly full of great dialogue. Much of the most intelligible dialogue are good ole’ boy verbal jabs between members of the team. Most of the dialogue is growled out or mumbled through. Some of the most clear lines have little or nothing to do with the rest of the film, like Yin Yang complaining he needs more money for a family no one in the group knew he had or another member complaining about his ears.

There is very little character in The Expendables, but it’s not That Type Of Film. While Ross spends the first portion of the film counseling Christmas on how to move past Lacy and the leader of the the villains – Munroe – gets schooled by his puppet general in the importance of allowing him to keep his dignity (at least in front of the men), much of the philosophy is rapidly sublimated to long action sequences with gun battles, growling and hand-to-hand combat.

The character front is actually filled out better on the villain front. Munroe is smart and vicious and he’s basically thrilled to be a warlord of his own little island. He seems to understand how to command using brutality and that makes sense given that he is supposed to be former CIA. Roberts, as always, is articulate and efficient, his character seems reasonably in control for most of the film.

On the plus side, for a film so full of testosterone, it is surprisingly not misogynistic. Christmas beats the hell out of Lacy’s boyfriend when he gives her a shiner. And despite gawking at their contact on the island, Ross and Christmas don’t just dive for her for cheap and obvious sex. While the torture of General Garza’s daughter Sandra might seem misogynistic, there is ample evidence that the meatheads abusing her have absolutely no regard for life, male or female, and their willingness to torment her has nothing to do with the fact that she is a woman.

Ultimately, The Expendables is what one might expect, a Mission: Impossible where subtlety and technology is replaced with brute force and big honkin’ weaponry. The movie might appeal to big, manly men who might wish to have the unfettered ability to kick some ass, but for those looking for a sensible, well-assembled film, The Expendables will only leave them wanting.

For other works with Eric Roberts, check out my reviews of:
The Dark Knight


For other film reviews, be sure to visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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

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The Turnaround on U Turn, Oliver Stone's Directing School Art Project

The Good: Some decent acting, Moments of character/intrigue
The Bad: Stone's directoral toying, Terrible characters, Feels long
The Basics: With violent, mean and unredeemably bad characters, U Turn tells a story of a man trapped in a backwater town that Oliver Stone sloppily creates.

When I was in college, possibly when I saw The Usual Suspects (reviewed here!) in the theater, I saw a preview for Oliver Stone's U Turn. Ever since then, it has been on my list to see and I was thrilled to find it on DVD (albeit a no-frills version) and I was excited to sit down and watch this movie. If anything, I was biased toward it from the previews I barely remembered. As the movie stretched on and on, the anticipation faded and the reality sunk in; there's a reason U Turn is almost never mentioned with Stone's classic works JFK and Natural Born Killers.

Bobby Cooper is driving through Arizona en route to paying off a gambling debt that has already cost him two fingers when the radiator tube in his car's engine ruptures and he is forced to get it repaired. In the desert, he finds the small town of Superior and a crazy hick mechanic named Darrell. While Darrell is repairing Bobby's car, he goes into the town where he encounters Grace. Grace is nice enough, recognizes his flirting and brings him back to her house. Bobby is attacked by her husband, Jake, who then approaches Bobby with a proposition; he'll give him money to kill Grace, a proposition Bobby rejects. Unfortunately for Bobby, he's at the site of a stick-up and the money he's carrying to pay off his debts gets shot up by a store owner who kills the robbers. As Bobby is tossed between Darrell and a psychopath named TNT, attracted to Grace and avoiding the law in the form of Sheriff Potter, he finds himself desperate to get out of Superior and in need of money he does not have.

U Turn has a number of elements that seem to set it up for greatness. It has a respected director (Oliver Stone), it has a decent cast that includes Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Jennifer Lopez (remember when she was primarily an actress?), and Billy Bob Thornton. It has characters that are, at the very least, intriguing. It even has some truly brilliant lines. The problem is, almost none of them all come together at the same time.

Possibly the best moment - and this is in the trailer, so it's not revealing anything too big - is when Bobby, played perfectly in the scene by Sean Penn, turns to Darrell - played with gruesome perversity by Billy Bob Thornton - and with uncharacteristic wit says, "Forty thousand people die each day, how come you're not one of them?" Now that's an insult! Penn delivers the line well, to the right character at the right moment. It's a nice moment of cinematic quality that is not necessarily indicative of the rest of the film.

Bobby owes people money and they've lopped off some of his fingers so from the moment Bobby comes into the picture, the viewer knows we're not dealing with the morally upstanding citizens of the world. Writer John Ridley does not keep the viewer waiting long, with Darrell being the first character the very impatient Bobby encounters. Whatever sympathy we have for Darrell who is immediately insulted by Bobby, fades with his shifty ways and underlying meanness (to say nothing of his rotted smile).

In short, U Turn features a cast of almost entirely unlikable characters. Superior, Arizona is populated by rogues, killers and psychopaths who bully, bribe and sex their ways through life. And it gets old pretty quick. Unlike a movie like Payback (reviewed here!) where the viewer roots for the antihero because they have been, in some way, wronged and has some redeeming quality to them, U Turn has no such luck.

Throughout this movie, characters tell Bobby that they see within him the killer instinct, the ability to kill, something he claims he has never done before arriving at Superior. The thing is, whether they see it or not, Bobby's sense of desperation leads him to exercise what he's never seen within him before. It's that kind of weak characterization where there's no integrity that turns the viewer off to empathizing with him. Instead, the viewer shrugs and says, "Don't care what's coming to him now."

Even the abused Grace has moments where the viewer thinks her character might be redeemable. Alas, Ridley and director Oliver Stone mortgage that by making Grace even more shifty than her abusive husband Jake. To his credit, Stone chose well to cast Jennifer Lopez as Grace and Nick Nolte as Jake. Nolte is appropriately menacing as Jake and almost every moment he's on screen makes the viewer's skin crawl. Similarly, Powers Boothe is decent as Sheriff Potter.

What's unredeemable is Stone's directing. Stone plays with the camera like a film school student, cheapening almost every vital moment of the film by using camera techniques. A good (or great) director figures out how to use the medium to effectively tell the story they want. While I applaud experimentation, Stone's camera experiments fail to illuminate the story or more importantly the characters in U Turn. Instead, the abrupt clips are distracting, sloppy and annoying.

Whatever potential the rogues gallery of U Turn had of surviving the unlikability of the characters and the somewhat predictable (or standard) criminal underworld plot is mortgaged by Stone's direction which sinks this film out of being watchable. At least now, it's off my list. If it's on yours, you might want to take it off before you, too, are disappointed.

For other works by Oliver Stone, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Wall Street
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps


For other film reviews, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Jack Sneaks A Peak At A Generally Cool Ornament!

The Good: Decent balance, Generally cute, Good sculpt, Good coloring
The Bad: Light effect is underwhelming and thus the ornament seems expensive.
The Basics: “Jack Sneaks A Peek” finds Jack Skellington looking behind the Christmas Tree!

It has been so long since I last saw The Nightmare Before Christmas that I almost think it is time for me to give it another shake and see if I like it this time! Despite having not seen it in some time, I do tend to make an effort to review the annual The Nightmare Before Christmas Hallmark ornament, like the 2009 “Welcome To Christmastown” ornament (reviewed here!) and the 2011 “A Snowy Surprise” ornament (reviewed here!). For 2012, that ornament is the Jack Sneaks A Peek ornament.

For those unfamiliar with The Nightmare Before Christmas (click here for my full review of the movie!) Jack Skellington, a denizen of Halloweentown finds himself transported to Christmastown in a bizarre turn of events and there the spirit of Christmas (or, at least, an obsession with Santa Claus) reaches Jack. It is Jack opening the portal to Christmastown, embedded in a stump that is the subject of "Jack Sneaks A Peek." To add extra value to this ornament, Hallmark provided the "Jack Sneaks A Peek" ornament with a simple bright white light effect.


The "Jack Sneaks A Peek" ornament recreates Jack Skellington as he eagerly pulls on the handle on the Christmas tree door. The ornament includes the Jack, the stump/ground, and the tree. The ornament, released in 2012, is as authentic as it can be considering it is based upon an animated work for the source material. Because everything in A Nightmare Before Christmas is colored in simple solid colors (without human shading or details), the ornament appropriately does not have any coloring depth or shading to it.

Still, Hallmark clearly made an effort on the "Jack Sneaks A Peek" ornament and almost everything about the ornament looks good and functions well. Jack Skellington has adequate detailing in his eyes and in his spindly legs and jacket. The stump even has appropriate age lines. Measuring 3 3/4" tall, 2 ¾” wide, and 2” deep, the "Jack Sneaks A Peek" ornament is a fairly substantial ornament, but even with the light feature, given how very basic it actually is, it seems a little pricier.

The Hallmark "Jack Sneaks A Peek" ornament is made of a durable plastic, but because it has very thin pieces, like Skellington’s legs and arms, it seems a bit more brittle than other Hallmark ornaments. This ornament remains fairly easy to find at Hallmark stores, so there is no reason (yet) to look for it in the secondary market, despite the fact that A Nightmare Before Christmas is pretty popular. This ornament features a cord to power the light effect and is one of the few that does that instead of utilizing batteries.


As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, "Jack Sneaks A Peek" has a light effect, but no sound effect. Whenever the light cord is plugged into a strand of Christmas lights (you must remove the bulb first), the bright white light from the crack behind the Christmas tree (which helps to indicate that this is a doorway to somewhere magical) lights up. I was utterly unimpressed with this. The light effect is not so bright as to create a real blinding stream, so one is left with a mediocre sense of illumination that merely lights up the hollow stump. That’s a big disappointment. This is a rather simplistic effect and because most fans of The Nightmare Before Christmas are comparatively younger, odds are they will want more from this ornament than just that.


As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake "Jack Sneaks A Peek" ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate Christmas Tree for The Nightmare Before Christmas, the "Jack Sneaks A Peek" ornament is a decent addition and arguably one of the most appropriately Christmas-themed ornaments from the line. The ornament has the standard brass hook loop embedded into the top center of the stump. This is fairly obvious and necessary for the ornament.

The placement of the loop makes this a perfectly balanced ornament, which is surprising given how tall it is and how complicated the figure on it looks. Nevertheless, it hangs with the flat floor upon which Jack stands perfectly parallel to the floor!


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 (click here for my review!). Within a few years, virtually every major studio with a marketable property jumped on the bandwagon and began merchandising Christmas ornaments, including A Nightmare Before Christmas. "Jack Sneaks A Peek" was the only A Nightmare Before Christmas ornament released in 2012 and fans seemed to like it, though it is quite common. Even so, this ornament appears to be more than adequately produced and is not likely to be a great investment piece.


Despite not precisely recalling the moment that is the source material for the “Jack Sneaks A Peek” ornament, the new Hallmark The Nightmare Before Christmas ornament truly holds up for ornament collectors and Tim Burton fans!

For other 2012 genre Christmas ornaments, please check out my reviews of:
On Stranger Tides Pirates Of The Caribbean ornament
Edward And Bella’s Wedding Twilight ornament
The Final Battle Harry Potter ornament


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

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Wrapping Up Extras With The Same As Before: The Extra Special Series Finale Falls Flat.

The Good: Moments of humor
The Bad: Nothing different on the character or acting fronts, No DVD bonus features, Predictable plot.
The Basics: In a disappointing cap to an already repetitive series, the adventures of Andy Millman close with him rejecting the fame and popularity he once sought.

Extras is a television series that premiered on HBO in the United States and was a joint production between the BBC and the cable film/original series channel. I watched and reviewed both seasons of the show and found it to be generally enjoyable, if a bit repetitive. Often, the protagonist - Andy Millman - is acting on a set, lies and/or becomes involved in a lie with his friend Maggie, whose own dimness seems to put her into awkward places, which keeps him from achieving his goals of becoming a world famous actor with lines. When last seen, Millman was working on his fabulously successful but critically panned sitcom "When The Whistle Blows."

So, when I had the opportunity to pick up Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale, a movie designed to cap off the series, I thought I'd check it out. After all, it couldn't be all that bad - especially as it was nominated for several Emmy Awards a few weeks back - and it would finish the show off for me. The problem with The Extra Special Series Finale is that it is nothing new. But that problem is pretty much the death knell of any potential the little film had.

Six months before he ends up on "Celebrity Survivor" in the UK, Andy Millman is stumbling his way through his catch phrase-packed series "When The Whistle Blows." When the producers insist on doing a Christmas episode, shortly after Andy is approached by an ambitious agent who sees his potential, he abruptly ends the series. Free after three seasons of the show, Andy is ecstatic and eager to compete with his old rival, Greg, who is now getting legitimate films opposite Clive Owens.

Soon, though, Andy discovers that the steady gig paid the bills and that the work that seemed beneath him before - like appearing on Doctor Who - might not be so bad. Frustrated, Andy lashes out at everyone left in his life. This includes Maggie, who has begun emulating his sense of having standards to the point of walking off a set when Owens wanted to throw dung at her as part of her role as a medieval prostitute. As a result, Maggie ends up scrubbing toilets and living in a tiny apartment, estranged from even her critical best friend.

Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale is packed with all of the standard Extras jokes. There is a guest star on the set of a production - in this case Clive Owens - who acts like a pompous asst. Andy gets frustrated with Darren, his agent, who does nothing for him or his career. Andy tries to have Maggie lie for him - in this case to an interviewer, who he wants to impress with a bogus call from Ridley Scott and asks Maggie to pretend to be his personal assistant - and this ends up terribly backfiring on him. In other words, this is all of the same humor the viewer has already seen in virtually every episode of Extras. We get it, what else have you got?!

At least as troubling, there is a disconnect between the last episodes of Extras and The Extra Special Series Finale. Andy challenged Darren to get Robert di Nero for a sit down or else he would fire his useless agent. What happened, then, between the last scenes of the series and the opening of this little film is up in the air in a way that is simply sloppy storytelling. I'm not saying that the viewer needed to see the exact results of that meeting, but how Andy continued to do his crappy television series that he hated after having made such a challenge, makes the fans who are most likely to enjoy this film wonder.

This is essentially "A Christmas Carol" recast for Extras, but it makes a bit less sense than that. For example, Andy's character has never been particularly impulsive. So why he fires Darren before confirming that the new agent can get him work of the caliber he is looking for is somewhat mystifying. But the net result of the set-up of the plot is that the viewer has a strong idea of where the movie is going from the first few minutes and as a result, we wait for it to end more than enjoy the attempt at resolution. No, not even that; we're bored by the direction the resolution is likely to take long before it gets there.

Ricky Gervais, who plays Millman returns to the role with a sense of bored readiness. There is no additional spark to the piece and his performance is one that is hard to judge in as much as his character is so miserable he becomes boring and irksome to watch. This, then, is either an incredibly performed bit by Gervais or it indicates a pretty miserable condition for the actor. The reason this is hard to judge is because the acting is consistent with all of the other episodes of the series and as a result, consistency is all he brings to this performance. It is clearly Ricky Gervais as Andy Millman.

Similarly, Ashley Jensen, who appears now on Ugly Betty plays Maggie with a consistent idiocy that viewers expect from the character. There is nothing added to her performance in this that makes the viewer sit up and say "Wow, Jensen is an amazing actress!" Similarly, Stephen Merchant is performing - at best - what we have already seen from him.

On DVD, The Extra Special Series Finale has no bonus features. One wonders why they bother with a menu when all that is offered on the menu is the choice of playing the movie or the subtitles. Outside that, the eighty-four minute movie is devoid of extras and on one hand this is a good thing; I didn't need to rewatch the movie to evaluate the quality of the bonus features!

So, what is the point of The Extra Special Series Finale? I suppose it is to offer a more concrete ending to Extras than was left at the end of the second season of the show. Is it worth it to fans? I don't think so. It's not as funny or edgy and if you've read the plot synopsis, you learn the essential thing that a fan would want to know: Millman escapes his "When The Whistle Blows" hell. Beyond that, it's all redundant and blah.

For other movies that cleared up loose ends from television shows, please check out my reviews of:
Homicide: The Movie
Star Trek: Generations


For other television reviews, be sure to check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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