Friday, August 31, 2012

August 2012 End Of The Month Update

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I went into August with one certainty; there were no new movies coming out that would make for blowout reviews, so I was going to load as many reviews into the blog as possible. I also knew rather early in the month that the end of the month would mean a move to Michigan and that I would lose a serious chunk of reviewing time! And yet . . . August became the second best month of the blog (if I hadn’t lost so many days, I am confident, it would have topped May for the best month yet). Even so, for a month with no breakout reviews and no movement in the Top Ten reviews of all time, we had a great month!

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In August, we were able to keep the Index Pages up and updated the entire month, save for the period immediately before and immediately after the move, 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! Check it out!

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 this last month - you really helped!

At the end of August, I have reviewed the following:
381 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Star Trek Books
Graphic Novels
601 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
1810 - Movie and Television Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Movies By Rating (Best Movie to Worst)
Movies In Alphabetical Order
Best Picture Oscar Winner 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!)!
160 - 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
546 - Toy and Christmas Ornament Reviews
531 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Cheese and Meats
Ice Cream
Other Food
127 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
106 - Travel Reviews
Destinations Reviews
Hotels Reviews
107 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
115 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
80 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
21 - Other Product Reviews

My featured review for August comes from my preparation to move and is: Barska AX11224 Biometric Safe! Check it out!

For August, the Top Ten Reviews were my reviews of:
10. The Odd Life Of Timothy Green
9. Entertainment Weekly
8. ”Before And After” - Star Trek: Voyager
7. ”Real Life” - Star Trek: Voyager
6. ”Coda” - Star Trek: Voyager
5. The Flash: Crossfire By Geoff Johns
4. Once Upon A Time - Season 1
3. How I Met Your Mother - Season 1
2. 2012 Iron Man The Avengers ornament
1. Sparkle

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 - 248 reviews
9s - 344 reviews
8s - 591 reviews
7s - 635 reviews
6s - 561 reviews
5s - 771 reviews
4s - 523 reviews
3s - 446 reviews
2s - 192 reviews
1s - 123 reviews
0s - 67 reviews
No rating - 23 articles/postings

And, if you haven't checked out the top reviews of all time, at the end of August, 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

(For those who are interested in such things, The Avengers is very close to overtaking The Hunger Games! If you’re a fan, read the review of the one you’d rather see in 3rd!)
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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It's Hard To Care About Another Strung Out Druggie In Half Nelson.

The Good: Moments of acting, Moments of character
The Bad: Virtually no plot, Oppressive mood, Nothing special on DVD
The Basics: Long, ponderous and uncathartic, Half Nelson is yet another drama where the viewer is supposed to empathize with a pathetic druggie. I didn't.

Did you ever watch one of those movies that virtually everyone is praising and simply sit back and say "Who cares?!" I certainly felt the isolation of being the only one in my immediate circle of friends to react that way to Napoleon Dynamite (reviewed here!). And after weeks of hearing how great Ryan Gosling was in Half Nelson, the first film I would see the actor in, I finally picked the film up on DVD and gave it a spin. Yeah, I'm back at that same place, with that same question again.

Dan Dunne is a junior high school teacher who is teaching social studies in an economically depressed inner city school district. He is addicted to crack cocaine and while he spends his days trying to inspire students with lectures on the nature of change, he spends his nights in a rut doing coke. When one of his students, a basketball player named Drey, catches him using drugs, the two form an unlikely friendship made more complicated by the fact that one of Drey's former father figures knows of Dan's drug habit. This guts Dan's moral authority to try to steer Drey right and she becomes wary of Dan as his habit gets worse. While Dan sinks further into addiction, the school's principal pressures him to use the text book and fly right, threatening his job along with everything else.

Dan is a pretty miserable character and he is played by Ryan Gosling with a slow, almost dimwitted glaze that instantly makes the viewer wonder why the middle school hired him in the first place. Indeed, the viewer wonders how Dan made it through college to become a teacher. And for those of us who care about such things as characters and have a desire to understand such things, we come to wonder what got Dan into drugs at all. After all, something got him started, something escalated him into the downward spiral where Half Nelson begins. But we are not privileged to that information.

The problem is, lacking it makes it difficult to care. In reality, it's easy to care about a drug-addled person without knowing their life's story, but if we are watching one person's struggle with drugs as a form of supposed entertainment, the least it could do would be to make sense. There should be something that drives us to the character, that makes us either want to empathize with him or else at least understand him or her. Writer Anna Boden and writer-director Ryan Fleck seem to disagree and the result is a shocking lack of character for the principle who dominates the screen.

Conversely, Drey makes a great deal of sense. Neglected by her overworking mother, she latches onto strong male figures in an attempt to fill the void left by her absent father. We get that. Drey's character is consistent and while she wanders a bit too close to the things she supposedly disdains for comfort, the viewer is willing to forgive the conceit. Drey buries her life in school work - where Dan tries to inspire her - and her basketball. Beyond that, she's just a kid.

The problem with Half Nelson is that Drey's storyline makes sense and works, but it is Dan who dominates the film. As a result, he begins to senselessly womanize and throw his life away as the drug addiction takes more and more of his sense of reality away from him. But the truth is, we don't care. Dan is not a particularly brilliant educator who seems to have a lot to offer his students. Instead, he continues to teach the same lesson over and over again with his students presenting reports on the nature of change in the world. The students seem quite able to look the information up on their own to fit Dan's thesis of change as a constant.

But basically, Dan continues to descend and the viewer isn't given enough about him to genuinely care whether he lives or dies. There's no real catharsis to Half Nelson and while I could stomach that in a story with a well-defined character who was interesting, here it just seems like a pointless exercise in cinematic experimentation. Dan's got a seemingly decent life, craps it up with drugs, it goes downhill . . .see ya. That's Half Nelson.

It's pretty sad when the most exciting moment of the film for me was the appearance of Deborah Rush on screen. Long after I had stopped caring at all about Dan - or even Drey -, the protagonist goes home to visit his family for dinner and his mother is played by Deborah Rush. Rush played Jeri Blank's mother in Strangers With Candy (reviewed here!). After over an hour of foot-dragging and boredom even the appearance of a supporting actress on a show I didn't truly enjoy was enough for me to sit up, smile and say, "She was on something marginally better than this!"

That's pretty sad.

Perhaps as sad is the fact that Shareeka Epps, who played Drey easily steals every scene she is in away from Ryan Gosling. I say this is say because Epps is playing a promising young student and basketball player. Given her aptitude for the film's lines, one assumes she is a promising young person, so how much acting she is actually called upon to do here is in serious question. Director Ryan Fleck could easily have said, "Read the script, then act like a junior high school student" and that would have worked for the role.

Presuming Ryan Gosling is not now, nor has ever been, a coked up junior high school teacher, one would expect his performance to require some seriously great acting that would constantly draw our attention. Instead, he is understated and, well, boring as Dan. For sure, he's playing a man whose life is in the toilet and going down the drain, but Gosling adds nothing to the performance to make us care about the pathetic character he is playing. Instead, the viewer sits, waits it out and vows never to watch the film again. Of course, given how the character is coked out and mellow, perhaps the flaws are within the character and Gosling is giving an amazing performance. There are more interesting drug-addled people to watch in Boogie Nights (reviewed here!) or Magnolia (reviewed here!); and in those films, the actors - Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, and Melora Walters - give great performances that I can easily recognize as being different from anything else they have done. Not so with Gosling in Half Nelson.

On DVD, the movie contains a boring commentary with a bunch of people - like the director - speaking in pretentious terms about why they made the choices they did. There are also deleted scenes which were fortunately excised from this film and prevented it from being even longer. Sure, it's only 106 minutes, but it feels at least six times as long.

So, there's the hype for Half Nelson and Ryan Gosling, but if you don't find slow, dull, repetitive outings of a druggie circling the bowl entertaining, then you might want to avoid this flick. I wish I had.

For other works with Ryan Gosling, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Idea Of March
Crazy, Stupid, Love.
The Notebook


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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World Without A Superman Is A Boring, Self-Referential, Ultimately Pointless Reaction To The Death Of Superman Event!

The Good: A sensible progression of the Superman corner of the DC universe, Good moments that explore grief.
The Bad: Casts far too wide a net, Lack of focus, Requires intimate knowledge of many ongoing subplots, Ultimately goes nowhere, No superlative artwork.
The Basics: The most tedious graphic novel I have suffered through in a long time, World Without A Superman realistically presents all the varied elements in Metrolpolis grieving the death of Superman.

I have become a bit of a fan of the graphic novel medium. When done well, the graphic novel can tell an amazing, deep, and very rich story without falling into prose that is revealing, pedantic or inarticulate. But, as someone who is highly literate, I am very able to acknowledge that there are a lot of bad graphic novels out there. In fact, most graphic novels aren’t even graphic novels, they are trade anthologies of comic books that were previously released in single issue form. And, alas, many comic books live down to their reputations. World Without A Superman is a trade paperback anthology that lives down to some of the worst expectations of what comic books can be.

World Without A Superman is the immediate follow-up to The Death Of Superman (reviewed here!). World Without A Superman chronicles the mourning period between the death of Superman, the rise of four people and beings who take up the mantle of Superman and the inevitable return of the original Superman character. In retrospect, World Without A Superman probably appears even more silly than it ever did at the time because the resurrection and return of Superman was not, at the point this was released, a foregone conclusion. Instead, World Without A Superman treats the death of Superman as if it were real and final (while laying enough clues as to it being a near-death experience) to at least take itself seriously.

World Without A Superman illustrates how messy and complex a storyline can be when it has endured for decades and has an incredible number of subplots and characters to service. In fact, the problem with World Without A Superman is not that it is too ambitious, it is instead that it has too much to do, so it does none of it particularly well. Instead of being an intimate portrait of Lois Lane’s grief, World Without A Superman, following the funeral and internment of Superman’s body, becomes a complicated rigmarole of exceptionally minor characters and organizations scrambling for their own self-interest around Metropolis.

As someone utterly unfamiliar with the Superman corner of the DC Universe – I believe this is the third or fourth Superman title I have read and reviewed - World Without A Superman is almost entirely inaccessible and calls upon so many events and characters from before either this book or the prior one as to make more of a mess than tell a coherent story. The net result is that the only character that really has any development is Lois Lane and what grief she is able to explore is quickly pushed aside to service other characters and plot threads that do not have any sense of character engagement.

Some of the many plotlines/characters in World Without A Superman, following the confirmation that Superman is dead and having a funeral for him include:

Lex Luthor revitalizes Supergirl, who was damaged in the attack that killed Superman and Doomsday. Following that, he uses Supergirl to run missions for him. Following transforming one of the parks in Metropolis into a mausoleum for Superman, Lex Luthor is as shocked as others when the Cadmus Project beats him to robbing the grave. Supergirl investigates the disappearance of the body and ends up in a fight with the genetic mutants of Underworld, trying to save a cop who is underground as well,

Ma and Pa Kent and Lana Lang come to Metropolis for the funeral, which they do not actually attend. While Lois worries about the Kents, the Kents fear that Lois may crack under the grief of losing both Clark and Superman. Upon returning to Smallville, Pa Kent begins to suffer dementia until he collapses,

The kid whose house was destroyed in the Death Of Superman story feels guilt and journey’s to Metropolis, where he runs into Jimmy Olson and Bibbo. Bibbo keeps popping up, talking like Popeye, to try to keep the streets of Metropolis civil following Superman’s death,

Inspector Henderson of the Metropolis Police Department resurfaces to bug Gangbuster, who is making the choice as to whether or not to take up the outfit again. Henderson’s presence starts off a pissing match between Metropolis PD, the Federal Government, and the Cadmus Project about where Superman’s body belongs,

Guardian starts patrolling the streets of Metropolis, until he is brought back to the Cadmus Project by the scientists there. One clones the Guardian and uses the clone to try to steal a digital representation of Superman’s DNA. This leads to a ridiculous chase with young clones of Cadmus leaders who talk like they are from the 1940s,

Sadly, that interaction is not nearly as bad as the journey into Underworld that Lois makes to find the source of flooding when Cadmus Project charges go off underneath Superman’s monument. Filled with giant creatures and homeless people the journey goes nowhere and seems only to happen to showcase the weird art and characters of the location,

And then, after Lois uncovers that Superman’s body has been moved to Cadmus, she enlists an unlikely ally to get it back.

With so much going on, the book never quite lands. World Without A Superman reads like a sloppy writer’s pitch where everyone in a single writer’s room had a different plotline they were working on in their own different Superman comic book and with their stories abruptly cut off, they had to figure out how their disparate part of the Superman world fit into the story. Frankly, the Underworld plotline – and the divergence with Waverider – feel like filler and only add confusing elements to a book that lacks a cohesive story or voice.

The less said about the “Newsboys,” the better.

The artwork in World Without A Superman is nothing to write home about; most of it looks more like a comic strip than what one expects from a comic book. There is a distinct lack of detail and the colors are nowhere near as rich or vibrant as fans of the medium are used to these days.

As one who is not vested in the series or characters, World Without A Superman was an utter waste of time for me. I would have been at least as well off if someone had just told me, “Superman died, characters whined, he came back” without actually trudging through the stories associated with it. You need not make the same mistake. World Without A Superman may easily be passed by.

For other books that focus on Superman, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Kingdom Come - Alex Ross
Sacrifice - Greg Rucka
The Black Ring - Paul Cornell and Pete Woods


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

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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The Doctor’s Lessons With Family Are Not Quite Enough To Carry “Real Life.”

The Good: Great idea, Interesting character moments, Decent acting
The Bad: Somewhat ridiculous notions (like 1950s values still being an ideal in the 24th Century)
The Basics: The Doctor makes his own holographic family and suffers the consequences of alterations that make them more headstrong and realistic.

The Doctor was long my favorite character on Star Trek: Voyager and as the character evolved, the experiments the writers and producers did with him had varying levels of success. Some of the ideas actually worked well, like the Doctor getting his mobile holo-emitter in “Future’s End, Part II” (reviewed here!). Others were good ideas that were too simplistic to carry an entire episode and as result, they fell a bit flat. “Real Life” is one of the latter type episodes.

“Real Life” finds the Doctor experimenting with family life and after he creates a ridiculously ideal one, he gets a far more realistic one created for him. It’s a very simple idea and to flesh out the full forty-three minutes of the episode, “Real Life” includes a full subplot involving a scientific phenomenon of the week – subspace eddies – and a smartly relevant character arc that continues to move B’Elanna Torres and Tom Paris closer romantically. While any of the three elements work on their own, none of them is truly strong enough to carry their own episode and the result is that while “Real Life” has a pretty necessary idea for the Doctor’s character arc, it has a pretty jumbled execution that does not quite work.

Shortly after the Doctor begins a simulation to create a family, the U.S.S. Voyager travels into peaceful territory where they discover a benevolent scientific outpost wiped out. As Voyager investigates, the Doctor has Torres and Kes visit his family program. Over a single dinner, Torres gets increasingly upset with how the Doctor (going by Kenneth for his simulation) has created a wife and two children who are entirely idealistic. Frustrated with how they do not embody anything realistic to her, Torres gets the Doctor’s permission to alter the program.

The result is the Doctor walks in a chaotic family where his rebellious son, Jeffrey blares music, his wife is speaking at the Bolian embassy and not staying home to cook dinner, and his whiny daughter Belle wants his attention to find her mallet for music practice.

“Real Life” is, in no way, a terrible episode, but it is one that fails to find and keep a solid focus. While the Doctor is affected by his faux-life in the Holodeck, Tom Paris gets lost exploring the astral eddy. As Paris tries to find his way out and Voyager tries to find a way to use the energy from the astral eddy to gain additional power and be able to use the replicators more.

Within the holodeck program, “Real Life” looks unfortunately goofy, ironically not in the 1950’s-esque family design. The Klingons in “Real Life” who are influencing Kenneth’s son Jeffrey look far more like Kazon than Klingons. Yes, it is a matter of hair design, but the Klingons look somewhat ridiculous.

“Real Life” takes a turn for the appropriately tragic in the holodeck simulation, which makes for a reasonable reason why the Doctor would shut the program down by the end of the episode. Unfortunately, the writers of “Real Life” fall into one of the traps that too many of the Star Trek writers do, which is applying 20th Century medical standards to the 24th Century. When Kenneth tells his wife that the brain is still a largely mysterious organ, it is utterly ridiculous given that in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (reviewed here!) the brain is, in fact, not a mystery.

The episode may be one of the neglected tragedies of Star Trek: Voyager and whenever I consider the episode, it is hard not to think that Torres is a bit of a jerk. Torres is right to point out to the Doctor that the program is an unfortunate ideal that is not giving him the actual experiences he wants to have. But the parameters she puts into the program seem designed to end in tragedy and that is simply not fair and it’s certainly not nice to her friend.

On the character front, though, the effect the Doctor’s family has on him is a profound one and as Paris points out to him, the realism of the experience can give the Doctor a real sense of perspective. This allows Robert Picardo to show off his acting chops in a way that uses the actor in a way that goes well beyond his usual comedic brilliance. Playing opposite him, Robert Duncan McNeill actually delivers one of the best monologues of his career on Star Trek: Voyager when he has to talk to the Doctor about what it means to have a family. This leads from one great speech to one of Picardo’s most powerful dramatic performances as he has to deliver a series of tough and impassioned lines to a guest actress and he sells the viewer on the full weight and history of the characters in a way that is a real tear-jerker.

While the episode ends powerfully and makes for an experience that ultimately gets a fairly strong “recommend” from me, objectively, “Real Life” is a tougher sell in that its many elements become cluttered and do not add up to a solid storyline that engrosses the viewer for the full duration of the episode. Jeri Taylor seems to have done the best she could with the ambitious idea, but it just wasn’t enough for a full episode and the elements that supplement it are hardly as satisfying as one might want.

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


Check out how this episode stacks up against others by visiting my Star Trek Review Index Page!

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

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I’m Not Sure What Makes Him An “Apprentice” Here, But The 2012 Sith Apprentice Darth Maul Ornament Is All Right!

The Good: Decent coloring, Generally good sculpt, Good balance, Inexpensive enough
The Bad: Head is disproportionately large, Utterly unnecessary
The Basics: The 2012, Sith Apprentice Darth Maul ornament exploits Star Wars fans yet again for the holiday season!

I have to say that there is something nice about being a fan of a franchise in decline. In addition to owning a prop now from my favorite show of all time, I get to watch as my subculture within the science fiction geek subculture is no longer the most exploited. No, that honor certainly goes to Star Wars geeks now! For the last sixteen years, Hallmark has released a standard character ornament from the Star Wars franchise as part of their regular release. They also tend to have exclusives, like this year’s San Diego Comic Con two-pack of Zuckuss and 4-LOM and the limited edition Momaw Nadon ornament. But the other character ornament each year has, traditionally, been a standard release that has followed a regular numbering system (this year’s, #16 is General Grievous). But, as if to say they no longer care to be subtle about milking Star Wars fans of their hard-earned dollars, Hallmark is releasing yet another Star Wars character ornament. That is in addition to the exclusives, the standard character ornament, the yearly diorama ornament, and the yearly space ship ornament.

This year’s bonus, just for the hell of it, ornament is Sith Apprentice Darth Maul. Sith Apprentice Darth Maul is an utterly unnecessary ornament as the 2000 Darth Maul ornaments are still exceptionally easy to find and are virtually identical to the 2012 release. In fact, the fundamental difference in the two ornaments is that the new Darth Maul ornament has him holding his lightsaber in his right hand, as opposed to his left. The rest of his stance is virtually identical to the earlier (numbered) release. So, sorry, Star Wars fans: Hallmark sees your fat wallets and hopes you won’t notice.

Fans of the Star Wars Prequels will easily recall Darth Maul as the primary antagonist to the Jedi in The Phantom Menace (reviewed here!). The nasty looking alien Sith who cuts down one Jedi before being dispatched pretty easily has remained popular with fans for years.

It is Sith Apprentice Darth Maul, standing with his two-handed lightsaber at the ready that is the subject of the 2012 Sith Apprentice Darth Maul ornament!


The Sith Apprentice Darth Maul ornament recreates the tattooed and horned alien in solid plastic. The ornament, released in 2012, features just the character with his trademark lightsaber. Sith Apprentice Darth Maul is cast in an action pose, his weapon at the ready and his outfit billowing behind him. This Sith Apprentice Darth Maul ornament is 3 1/2" tall, 5" wide and 2 5/8" deep. Hallmark charged $14.95 for the ornament originally and that makes it one of the most affordable Star Wars ornaments in recent years.

The Hallmark Sith Apprentice Darth Maul ornament is made of a durable plastic and has him holding his lightsaber. The ornament is molded with a decent amount of detailing. In addition to the usual cool molded details like the horns on his face, I was especially impressed by how much case sculptor Valerie Shanks put into the lightsaber. It is contoured and etched with precision to look entirely realistic. As well, details like molding on the boots exhibit a level of care and attention that is impressive. Oddly, though, the head seems slightly large in comparison to the shoulders and hands, making the overall ornament feel slightly off.

Conversely, the coloring details are immaculate. The red and black portions of the face are presented with perfect delineations and no color bleed. The outfit is a clean black and the boots are glossy, which offsets them nicely (and realistically), making them appear to be leather in contrast with the cloth appearance of the ornament’s tunic.


As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, Sith Apprentice Darth Maul could have a sound chip or light effect, but he has neither. This is one of the basic ornament releases from Hallmark, without any frills.


As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake Sith Apprentice Darth Maul ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate Star Wars Christmas Tree, Sith Apprentice Darth Maul would have been essential, had it not already been done more than a decade ago! This ornament has a brass hook loop embedded on the back, center, between his shoulder blades. From there, this action-posed ornament hangs with exceptionally good balance.


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 one!). Since then, they have branched out into other popular franchises like Star Wars and The Wizard Of Oz. The Sith Apprentice Darth Maul ornament is not at all limited and has not appreciated in the secondary market yet, nor is there any good reason why it would; it truly is so close to the 2000 Darth Maul ornament that one has to seriously wonder how Hallmark expected Star Wars fans to overlook that! There should be plenty of this ornament available at clearance prices after the holiday!


Like most Star Wars ornaments, the Sith Apprentice Darth Maul has nothing to do with the Christmas holiday, but die-hard fans so far have been more neutral to this ornament. Objectively, it is a wonderful ornament on its own, but in context of the ornament franchise Hallmark has built, this is a stunning disappointment and an obvious cashgrab.

For other Hallmark ornaments of Star Wars characters, please check out my reviews of:
2012 General Grievous
2012 Momaw Nadon Limited Edition
2011 Jedi Master Yoda
2011 Bossk Limited Edition ornament
2010 Lando Calrissian Limited Edition ornament
2010 Luke Skywalker X-Wing Pilot
2010 Boba Fett and Han Solo in Carbonite mini-ornament set
2009 Greedo Limited Edition ornament
2009 Han Solo As Stormtrooper
2008 Emperor Palpatine ornament
2005 Slave Leia ornament
1999 Max Rebo Band mini-ornament set


For other holiday ornaments, please check out the index page!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Something Different, But Not Different Enough: K By Kula Shaker

The Good: Interesting sound, Some fun songs, Pleasant to listen to.
The Bad: Several predictable rhymes, Repetitive.
The Basics: Despite some intriguing instrumentals, Kula Shaker's debut, K, is fairly standard pop music and not worth the investment.

I think the biggest and best reason to pick up an album that looks to have a different ethnic bent to it is to listen to something different. Yes, as un-PC as it might be to suggest, one of the nice things about picking up a disc from someone from a different country, possessing a clearly different heritage or skin color is that one is likely to hear something other than the same banal pop, rap or country one listens to on one's chosen radio station. The multicultural cover with heavy Indian overtones for Kula Shaker's K, invites those with the desire to hear something different to buy the c.d. based on that impression. It's only inside the liner notes that the band is revealed to be fairly white, British band.

Kula Shaker's K, their debut album, is basically british pop with an Indian flavor to it. So, the short version of this review is that if you're looking for a truly different cultural experience, well, you can't judge a c.d. by its cover that way. There is, however, enough to this disc to make it different from most of the musical flotsam that permeates the airwaves these days.

The best thing K has going for it is its sound. Unlike the standard "guitar, bass, piano, drum" band that define much of popular music, Kula Shaker on K adds the tamboura, tabla, and mellotron to the mix. The quartet clearly studied the music of India to add a sound that is reminiscent of the Beatles' tunes, post-India visit. On some of their songs, like "Tattva" and "Govinda," Kula Shaker achieves an ethnic Indian pop sound that sets the group apart from anyone else making music. They have a quasi-psychedelic, fluid sound that one could imagine belly dancing to.

The problem is, that's two tracks out of thirteen. The remaining songs are mostly a standard pop sound. They oscillate between the unpleasantly rambunctious "303" which could be any band's generic pop song and the mildly image-creating "Smart Dogs." It is ironic, though, that an album I selected in hopes of having a very different musical experience would yield its best track in one of the most standard rock tunes I've heard in quite some time. "Grateful When You're Dead" is a pretty peppy view of how terrible life is and how death will be a welcome release. It has a catchy tune, it's fun and it's the type of song I crank up when I'm having a terrible day. I drive along, smiling and singing this song.

But even that is an anomaly on the album. So many of the songs have predictable rhyme schemes. For example, on "Start All Over," it's no surprise that the line "'Cause I know if it's real" is rhymed with "make it real, make me feel." "Real/feel," "lie/fly," and "end/send" are typical rhymes that one hears frequently in popular music and so they all feel standard on this album. There are no pleasant verbal surprises, save hearing what one assumes is Hindi on "Govinda" and "Tattva." There are no moments when my expectations were truly defied by the lyrics.

In short, no brilliance, nothing terribly different from what I'd heard before. I'm certain there are other artists who blend a diverse array of instruments with their daring lyrics to make a pleasant listening experience. Kula Shaker is not that group. At least, not on K.

The best track is "Grateful When You're Dead," and the worst is the inane "303."

For other albums that are not at all mainstream, please check out my reviews of:
Playing The Angel - Depeche Mode
Real Gone - Tom Waits
Addison Road - Addison Road


For other music reviews, please visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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Hit Or Miss Snacking: CK Snacks Yummmmy Butter Flavor Popcorn Hits Only About Half The Time!

The Good: Some tastes good, Entirely inexpensive
The Bad: Most of my bag was utterly bland, Unfortunately fatty for popcorn!
The Basics: Yummmmy Butter Flavor Popcorn from CK Snacks is good at best, but most of the bag I bought was sadly devoid of flavor.

Every now and then, I find myself very glad when I sample more of a product before writing my review of it. In the case of CK Snacks’ Yummmmy Butter Flavor Popcorn - a snack I bought on clearance at Big Lots when my wife and I visited nearby Gaylord while she showed me the area and our cat, Gollum, insisted I try sooner as opposed to later (by opening the bag for me) – I find myself very glad I ate more before continuing my review. The reason is simple: the initial pieces of popcorn in the bag were vastly more flavorful than the ones even a handful down! The result is a much less satisfying snack than I would have originally thought.


Yummmmy Butter Flavor Popcorn from CK Snacks, is pre-popped and flavored popcorn. CK Snacks has marketed their popcorn as an alternative to Smartfood and honestly this is my first time finding the product, as well as trying it. Yummmmy Butter Flavor Popcorn from CK Snacks comes in a 4.5 oz. bag. Inside the bag, the popcorn is exactly what one might expect of popcorn. It is popped, light and fluffy and distinctly yellow in color.

Ease Of Preparation

CK Snacks Yummmmy Butter Flavor Popcorn is simple to enjoy; all you need do it open the bag and remove the popcorn from it! There is no trick to eating Yummmmy Butter Flavor Popcorn; this is a snack that is ready to go from the bag to the mouth.


CK Snacks’s Yummmmy Butter Flavor Popcorn smells like exactly what one might hope; fresh made movie-theater style buttered popcorn. It smells buttery and salty and warm. The scent is inviting and makes opening the bag anything but a letdown.

Unfortunately, beyond that, this is a much tougher sell to a food lover. Most of the kernels taste like plain, unadulterated popcorn, with a slightly soggier than usual texture. About one in ten handfuls or individual kernels of popped popcorn I tried actually tasted slightly buttery and salty, but the bulk of the pieces taste just like regular, though somewhat soggy, popcorn.


Yummmmy Butter Flavor Popcorn is a basic popcorn with some preservatives. Given that the ingredients are mostly popcorn, soybean oil, and salt, it might surprise salty snack eaters to learn how fatty this snack is.

Each two and a half cup (one ounce) serving of CK Snacks Yummmmy Butter Flavor Popcorn has 150 calories, seventy of which come from fat. There are also 2 grams of dietary fiber. While there are 8 grams of fat and 2 grams of protein, there is an irksome 270 mg of sodium, which represents 11% of one's RDA of sodium, but that is not entirely surprising. There are a smattering of minerals, but nothing significant. There is a dietary note that the Yummmmy Butter Flavor Popcorn includes milk ingredients, which prevents them from being Vegan compliant at the very least. This snack is, however, gluten free and seems like it might be kosher, though it is not marked as either.


Kept in the bag, CK Snacks Yummmmy Butter Flavor Popcorn will remain fresh for an indeterminate amount of time; our bag had an expiration date of September 17, 2012, which is probably why it was being clearance. As long as the bag is resealed, one suspects the popcorn will last for a few days before getting stale.

Cleanup is simple as well. Yummmmy Butter Flavor Popcorn from CK Snacks is a dry food and thus leaves little mess behind. Because this is slightly oily, though, it occasionally leaves a residue. Simply wash your hands, throw out the bag and cleanup is done!


CK Snacks Yummmmy Butter Flavor Popcorn is a poor snack, not because it is so inexpensive, but because it is so unhealthy and does not consistently deliver on the taste front.

For salty snacks, check out my reviews of:
Popcorn, Indiana Aged White Cheddar Popcorn
Andy Capp's Cheddar Fries
Totino's Pepperoni Pizza Chips


For other food and drink reviews, please visit my Food Review Index Page!

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

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Crusade - The Complete Series: Utterly Average Science Fiction Blah.

The Good: Moments of concept and character, DVD bonus features are fine.
The Bad: Awkward acting, Inconsistent character elements, Generally predictable plots, Soundtrack
The Basics: A surprisingly dismal outing in the Babylon 5 universe, Crusade dies a quick death, after wasting thirteen hours of our life.

Before I (potentially) start cheesing people off left and right who might be fans of Crusade, it is worth noting that I am a big fan of Babylon 5. It is one of the series' that has taken a prominent spot in my permanent location and I have positively reviewed the entire series here. In fact, I so enjoyed Babylon 5 that when given the chance to check out the first season of Jeremiah (reviewed here!), I enthusiastically did. Now, years later, I have gotten my hands on Crusade, the first spin-off to Babylon 5 and . . .

Yuck. Just yuck. I know, this is not the most professional term a reviewer might use when describing the quality of a television show but . . . yuck. I stand by my yuck. If anything, I was biased going into Crusade and I made a nightly event of watching the episodes. I was psyched, in part, because I had recently met Tracy Scoggins at a convention and after several days of sitting next to her and chatting, I felt it was time to pick up some other work of hers. Crusade seemed like such a good idea, especially considering it had been years since I had sat down and watched Babylon 5: A Call To Arms, the final film in the Babylon 5: The Movies boxed set (reviewed here!). It helps to see that movie before one sits down and endures Crusade, a thirteen episode television series that was designed to flesh out the galaxy of Babylon 5 and provide a whole new adventure for five years. Prematurely canceled (at least in terms of storyline), Crusade remains an unfinished work and when the opportunities have risen for J. Michael Straczynski to bring some closure to the story, he has not bothered. I can understand; it's hard to get excited about this one.

With Earth under quarantine from the Drakh plague, Earthdome sends its best ship - the Excalibur - into the galaxy on a mission to find a cure. The Excalibur is staffed by a maverick captain named Gideon who has racked up an extensive list of first contact encounters that seems to make him ideal for exploration with this particular mission guiding him and his crew. Gideon is accompanied by a thief, a technomage, an irate archaeologist, and his main crew, which includes a telepathic first officer. With the crew assembled and their mission clear, the Excalibur heads out into the galaxy.

There they discover aliens that take possession of their bodies, technophobes, and an ancient resting place for honored dead. Exploring the galaxy uncovers no shortage of dead civilizations and while exploring for a cure to the plague, the crew of the Excalibur encounters paranoid aliens, religious fundamentalists and PR agents who insist on changing the uniforms so the folks back home have more hope. The ship and crew frequently come under attack or learn about the presence of powerful races that have all died horribly, foreshadowing the fate of Earth if the crew fails in their mission.

Crusade is a fairly ambitious idea, but it is one that fans will have a real difficult time getting excited about, for several reasons. The first is that the viewer knows from the opening frames of the first episode - when the stakes are laid out - that Earth will not die. The entire population will not be eradicated by the Drakh. We know this not because it is too ambitious a premise, but because episodes of Babylon 5, most notably the fourth season's finale, illustrate future events on Earth. So, the viewer knows that the plague is going to be cured; it is simply a matter of how and when.

Second, anyone who does an even preliminary examination of this series will quickly learn that it is in no way complete. This DVD set does not include A Call To Arms, necessitating the purchase of another boxed set just to understand the plot, ship capabilities and to be introduced to the characters of Dureena Nafeel and Galen.

Third, the ambitious idea that motivates Crusade makes little sense and is for a concept that is hardly cinematic. Have you ever wondered why there are no television series' that spend years in a medical community performing trial and error experiments with the goal being to eliminate a virus? It's not great television. Trial fails, trial fails, trial fails, trial fails, trial succeeds, the series ends. Without delving into a melodrama to support such a concept, the television show's idea alone cannot sustain itself as an entertaining premise. But more than that, the overall concept: exploring the galaxy to search for a cure, makes little overall sense. The virus was released by the Drakh, it stands to reason they have stockpiles of the plague somewhere. But the show does not confront the Drakh so directly. Ironically, this also guts the point of what is ultimately the series finale because that episode's premise (running an experiment to actually find the plague virus) makes little sense. For sure, the viewer can understand and accept the idea, but rather than risking lives to see how it spreads, wouldn't it have been just as easy to invade Drakh space, steal their sample and find the virus that way? After all, one of the principle members of the Excalibur crew is a thief!

Finally, the crossover characters from Babylon 5 tend to be treated remarkably blandly. Captain Lochley and Babylon 5 make appearances in multiple episodes (remarkably few considering actress Tracy Scoggins receives second billing right below Gary Cole!), but her role is much more that of a fish-out-of-water and the arc between her and Gideon is surprisingly obvious and she is hardly given enough to do to justify her presence in the episodes.

Rather strangely, Crusade has a remarkably inconsistent crew, even for a young series. Gideon, naturally, is in all of the episodes, but Galen flits in and out, as do Dureena and Max. Dr. Chambers similarly bounces between being one of the lead characters and being relegated to a complete nonentity.

Even though the series is rather limited and the characters seem to appear and disappear for stretches throughout, it is handy to know who the principles are. In Crusade, the main characters are:

Captain Matthew Gideon - A cold, risk-taking commander of the most powerful ship in the Interstellar Alliance, he was once abandoned in space and rescued by Galen. Devoted to saving Earth, he has agreed to scour the galaxy looking for clues that might lead him to a cure for the emerging plague. He has a strange relationship with an entity kept in a box in his quarters, which might be a parasite or an ancient race,

Lieutenant John Matheson - A telepath who survived the Telepath War, he is open about his abilities and more or less restricted from using them. Matheson saves the crew by projecting images into the minds of invading aliens to disarm them, but otherwise serves as a support to the captain when Gideon leaves the ship,

Dr. Sarah Chambers - the ship's physician and an adept research scientist, she and Eilerson clash frequently, though they come to find merit in one another,

Max Eilerson - An expert in communications and archaeology, Eilerson works for Interplanetary Expeditions. Sarcastic and deeply gifted, Eilerson is a grudging member of the crew and often puts profit before the welfare of the ship,

Galen - A technomage (one who uses technology to simulate the effects of magic) of great skill, he once rescued a dying Gideon. Now, he joins the captain and Excalibur on its mission whenever he feels like it and he and Dureena strike up an intriguing friendship based on the fact that both are the only members left of their kind,

Dureena Nafeel - a thief and a powerfully intuitive member of the crew, she seeks to learn Galen's ways, largely because she wishes to extract revenge upon the Drakh,

and Captain Elizabeth Lochley - she shows up from time to time, like when the Excalibur docks at Babylon 5. Despite not wanting to get into any form of serious relationship, she and Gideon clash, until they realize their passions for one another are not merely aggressive.

The characters seem to have their moments, but with such a small cast of characters, it quickly becomes a weird collection of undertows that compel them to pair off. Gideon and Lochley, Galen and Dureena and Eilerson and Chambers all develop friendships with a strong romantic undertone or (in the case of the captain and Lochley) an actual romance. Strangely, for such a small group of characters, they are presented in such a way that it is difficult to care about them. For example, there is never a moment when Matheson is in any jeopardy such that the viewer actually cares whether the character lives or dies.

As for the acting, there is quite a range there as well. Marjean Holden isn't given much to wow the audience with and if she is attempting to, she fails. Far too often, she seems like she's uncomfortable in the setting or mouthing the technobabble. Similarly, Daniel Dae Kim, who is usually one of my favorites, manages to portray Matheson surprisingly blandly.

Scoggins, David Allen Brooks, Peter Woodward and Carrie Dobro each give their best in their roles as Lochley, Eilerson, Galen, and Dureena, respectively. Galen and Dureena are instantly interesting characters and Woodward and Dobro (who both appeared in A Call To Arms) flesh them out well in Crusade.

Gary Cole stars as Matthew Gideon and unfortunately, this is not the best part he has ever had. In fact, while his character on the fifth and sixth seasons of The West Wing (reviewed here!) was often criticized as boring, Cole never actually played the character that way. On Crusade, he is more listless than cerebral, more bland than contemplative and more dull than driven. Cole has the ability to be charismatic and intriguing and he fails rather significantly at that in the role of Gideon. Instead, watching him episode after episode becomes more and more painful, even to fans of the franchise!

Even more painful is the soundtrack. Evan H. Chen provides a distracting electronica soundtrack that is often at odds with the visual sensibilities of the series.

But more than that, Crusade feels like it is distracted from its own mission, like when it takes a break for the penultimate episode to do a spoof of The X-Files. On DVD, Crusade looks good and includes a commentary track on two of the episodes. As well, there are two featurettes, one on the making of Crusade and one on how the Excalibur was designed. None of these bonus features are worth enough to bump the series up into the territory where I could recommend it.

Fans of Babylon 5 seem to be split on this show: I came to it psyched about the concept and ready for something new and instead I found a wandering, listless, very obviously science fiction series. At least, now that I've seen it, I'll know any allusions to it in subsequent Babylon 5 universe productions, but I'll be even more happy that I can save some shelf space when I get rid of this.

For other works with Daniel Dae Kim, please visit my reviews of:
Spider-Man 2


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

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

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Exceptional Cleaning Power And A (Mostly) True Scent Make Suave Professionals (For) Men Deep Clean Peppermint Shampoo A Must-Buy!

The Good: Inexpensive, Great scent, Wonderful cleaning power, Good ingredients.
The Bad: Slight interference in the scent that prevents it from being completely true, No accompanying conditioner!
The Basics: A wonderful shampoo, Suave Professionals Men Deep Clean Peppermint Shampoo is well worth buying!

I am, I am certain it is obvious to my regular readers, a cheapskate when it comes to health and beauty products. I want to look clean (good is really dependent upon the day!) and as a result, I tend to gravitate toward brands like Suave and VO5. Lately, I’ve been enjoying exploring new products and scents a little bit more, so I’m willing to pay a little bit more to try some of the new, premium, products from the inexpensive brands. One of the ones I was most eager for was the Suave Professionals Men Deep Clean Peppermint Shampoo.

Since moving to Michigan, I have needed to work to keep my hair clean; unpacking boxes and the moving truck is seriously sweaty work and Myah has been enjoying exploring the nearby pine forest, so sap in hair has become a real syndrome for me! And yet, switching to Suave Professionals Men Deep Clean Peppermint Shampoo has actually, genuinely (unfathomably!) kept my hair clean. Despite the increased physical role and environmental changes, Suave Professionals Men' Deep Clean Peppermint Shampoo has come through to keep my hair clean, manageable and smelling great!

Deep Clean Peppermint shampoo by Suave Professionals Men has effectively wowed me. Truth be told, I was prepared to be wowed when I first opened the bottle and the shampoo smelled so good and, as far as useage, I was thrilled with it from the first use when it cut through sweat and grease in my hair and replaced it with clean hair (and scalp) that smelled great. This shampoo is inexpensive, smells wonderful, leaves no residue and leaves my hair clean and light. It is one of the best shampoos I have ever used and it makes it very easy to recommend it.

Suave has been expanding its line of inexpensive shampoos and conditioners and has been entering new shampoos to the market in their "Suave Professionals Men" line, which is intended to compete with higher priced shampoos that use all-natural ingredients. In most markets in the United States, Suave Professionals Men shampoos and conditioners may be found on sale for $1.99 - $2.49 for a 12.6 fl. oz. bottle. Deep Clean Peppermint shampoo is one of the first outings in the Suave Professionals Men line which explicitly tries to compete with American Crew (which, believe it or not, I had never heard of until I picked up this bottle). The 12.6 fl. oz. bottle is a flattened tube bottle with a flip-top lid that is easy enough to open with one hand. Because it is not contoured extensively, the bottle gets slippery when wet. Even so, the bottle is very stable when one gets down to the last of its contents, it is quite easy to get the rest of the product out of the bottle.

The lid is a standard flip-top lid and even when the bottle is wet, there ought to be no problem with using one's thumb to flip the top. Despite the fact that Suave's Deep Clean Peppermint shampoo uses a pressure ring to hold the cap on, there is little chance of flipping the whole cap off the bottle. As a result, Deep Clean Peppermint is easy to dispense and store with little waste or risk of accidents.

Inside the bottle is the Deep Clean Peppermint shampoo and it is a completely translucent gel. This shampoo has good leg and is more viscous than watery. The scent is an intriguing scent which is exactly what the shampoo promises it to be. This smells like peppermint. However, the more I used it, the more I noticed an additional scent in the smell palate and it reminded me of a cologne. That muskier scent prevents the shampoo from being a true, perfect, peppermint scent and while it is not bad, it is distracting to me as a lover of pure mint.

When in the shower and one's nostrils are opened by the steam (I tend to like very hot showers) this shampoo diffuses exceptionally well. Thus, in the shower, one has showers that smell of a peppermint factory. The scent is very rich, classic and clear!

When it comes to use, this is a simple shampoo and one need only flip the lid and dispense a small amount into the palm of the hand before applying it to the hair. The Deep Clean Peppermint shampoo requires only about a quarter-sized dollop to clean a full head of hair. This lathered up remarkably well, which meant I could get away with using less of it. I have long hair and as a result, shampoo can be an annoying expense when the shampoo I am using does not lather up and clean well.

In the case of the Deep Clean Peppermint, it lathers up wonderfully, such that a quarter-sized dollop can easily stretch to coat a very full head of hair, like mine. Used judiciously thus, the 14.5 oz. bottle may easily last a full month with daily hair washings. This makes its value a little greater than some shampoos I've recently tested and a pleasure to use.

And, quite simply, as a shampoo, it works. Hair comes out looking and feeling cleaner after its use than before. I think the most objective test for a shampoo is to see if hair is cleaner using the shampoo vs. rinsing your hair with water alone and for the basic functioning of a shampoo the Deep Clean Peppermint shampoo lived up to that basic litmus test.

I tend to like shampoos that leave my hair smelling delightful, like whatever scent they have lured me in with. Given that, Deep Clean Peppermint shampoo was a pleasant surprise. My hair comes out light and manageable and after twenty hours, both my wife and I were able to find the scent still lingering there (though not when I was unpacking the Uhaul in the sun!). My hair was not weighed down with any grease or residue and the scent was not at all overbearing, but my hair had the faint peppermint scent and was quite clean.

Deep Clean Peppermint Shampoo has no discernible conditioning properties. There is, alas, NOT a separate conditioner that has the same scent. As it stands, Deep Clean Peppermint works fine as a day to day shampoo that will clean your hair and it leaves a bold scent in the hair, even if one needs to stick their nose right in to get it. On the plus side, with hair this clean, it is hard not to want to stick your nose right in!

For those looking for an affordable option with professional results, Suave Professionals Men provides with their Deep Clean Peppermint Shampoo, which smells strongly of mint and lightly of a masculine cologne.

For other mint-scented personal cleaners, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Suave Limited Edition Peppermint Shimmer Body Wash
Bath & Body Works Sassy Strawberry Mint 3-in-1
VO5 Vanilla Mint Tea Shampoo


For other haircare products, please check out my index page!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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The Return Of The Jim Carey Comedy, Sort Of . . . Fun With Dick And Jane

The Good: Decent story, Interesting characters, Moments of humor
The Bad: Radically inconsistent tone, Fairly typical acting, Jim Carey's standard
The Basics: When Dick loses his awesome job and the local economy tanks, Dick and Jane lose everything they have built, snap and begin to retake their lives through robbery.

Back when I was in high school, Jim Carey comedy movies were the big thing. He was racking up box office receipts with such comedic gems as The Mask, Ace Ventura, Pet Detective, and other movies I refused on principle to see. Having to make a snap decision on what movies to get out of the library to review yesterday, I ended up grabbing Fun With Dick And Jane, which features Jim Carey returning with typically "Jim Carey" style antics, which include throwing himself around, making bizarre facial expressions and, in this case, a parody musical number in an elevator. But Fun With Dick And Jane, which turns out to be a remake of a 1977 movie, is not a typical Jim Carey movie, or considering the directions he's headed in now, perhaps "traditional" Jim Carey movie would be better. This is not a traditional Jim Carey movie, it is dark and real and exploring themes many of us commoners live with.

Dick Harper is happily married with his wife Jane, living in suburbia, generally happy with his life and his fabulous job. When he earns a huge promotion, Dick is able to convince his wife to quit her hellish job and the two make big plans. The next day, literally, the company Dick works for collapses completely and within three months, the Harpers are destitute. Furious about losing everything, having played the game like good Americans, Dick sets out to take back his life. With Jane's help, the two begin to rob their way back into the upper class (sorry, but a $650,000 house is NOT middle class!) and when the time is right, they figure out the biggest score that will keep them set for life.

What works about Fun With Dick And Jane, a largely un-fun movie, is that it finally tackles some real problems people face in a way that we face them. Dick and Jane continue to lose and despite all his best efforts, Dick cannot land a job, much less an interview. When people in positions of authority talk about the economy and opportunities in the United States, they often speak as if the nation is tripping over itself to benefit the common citizens, that no matter where one goes in the US, there are opportunities to use the talents one has or has trained for just waiting for someone to apply. Reality is different and in many parts of the country, those tools we use to get ahead - i.e. a college education - can impede getting a job (manufacturing jobs and simple service jobs will often not look at resumes with college education because those people are "overqualified" for their jobs and they assume they will simply leave when something better comes along) and Fun With Dick And Jane is the first movie I've seen to actually show that. Dick's frustration over getting knocked off the truck of migrant workers ("We should report that guy!") is one of the most clever and real exhortations of the problems workers face in the United States.

And Fun With Dick And Jane devastatingly, if subtly, and correctly links the acquisition of material wealth with happiness. Dick and Jane are only romantic with one another when their financial problems are not overwhelming. They barely touch one another during Dick's unemployed phase and that's especially clever of the writers and director Dean Parisot. We tell children - and ourselves - "Money can't buy you love," but anyone who has been unemployed or underemployed and tried to meet a romantic partner or make a romantic connection will tell you in the United States, we judge one another terribly on employment and income rather than personality and ideology.

What makes Fun With Dick And Jane watchable is that after the agonizing destruction of Dick and Jane's lives - which is difficult to watch, especially for those who live with such struggles in reality - the movie becomes the ultimate working class fantasy, taking from those who have to live the way they do. Anyone who is a poor worker will tell you that it's baffling that CEOs in the US can make an unlimited amount of money off the backs of the workers (in some countries, that is capped, where the CEO cannot make more than 24 times the lowest paid employee). In Fun With Dick And Jane, the viewers are treated to watching the execution of the fantasy as Dick and Jane take off banks (federally insured) and the super rich who have humiliated or exploited them (used them to achieve their status). It's refreshing and enjoyable to watch.

Of course, if you've never been so poor as to look at your monthly bills and say "I'll have to rob a bank this month in order to pay all these," then perhaps Fun With Dick And Jane would be more disturbing than enjoyable.

What does not work as well as it could are some of the Jim Carey antics. There is physical comedy - a bored Dick vaulting around his house - and the musical number by Dick in the elevator on his way up to the fifty-fourth floor that seem out of place in the movie. Much of the humor is more cerebral, like thanking Kenneth Lay and Arthur Anderson at the end of the movie. When I noted that the movie clocks in at exactly 90 minutes, this began to make sense; the script needed some filler in order to make the minimum recommended movie time. It's a sad way to use that time, but we'll let it slide.

In some ways, Fun With Dick And Jane is the movie that Friends With Money (reviewed here!) aspired to be. Dick and Jane lose almost everything and the disconnect with reality and their dreams creates a very real frustration. Unlike Jennifer Aniston's character in Friends With Money, for whom poverty does not seem materially evident, Dick and Jane LOSE their gains in order to keep what little they have. There are consequences for the loss of their jobs in material possessions and social status.

Fun With Dick And Jane might not always be fun or consistently a comedy or a dark social piece, but it ends the balance being worthwhile and worth a watch. And for those who have read my critique of Carey as chameleon actor, Fun With Dick And Jane finds him continuing his Billy Campbell impression from Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind.

For other works with Tea Leoni, please visit my reviews of:
Tower Heist
The Family Man


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

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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