Friday, May 31, 2013

May 2013 End Of The Month Report

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After a very slow start and exceptionally low productivity (work and preparations for my wife’s birthday ate up so much of my time this month!), the Blog rallied at the end of the month! Near the end of the month, we had a tremendous boost including the very best single day of the blog (we had more hits on May 29th than we did for the first two months of the blog combined!) and we almost duplicated that success today! The result is that May became the best month of hits for the blog so far and we outstripped the prior top month by several thousand hits here at the end! Very cool!

With Summer Blockbuster Season upon us, we have to hope that it keeps getting better!

This month at W.L. Swarts Reviews The Universe, there were three additions to the Top Ten Of All Time and a lot of movement in some of the others in the Top Ten and around them! This month, we put special emphasis on movie and television reviews, when we actually had the time to review, in addition to the new cinematic releases! Thanks for all the "likes" for those posts! As predicted, that meant that one of my favorite reviews, the concept piece on Star Trek: Machinations Of Doomsday did fall out of the Top Ten Of All Time listing!

Last month, we picked up a new subscriber! Thanks so much! We're thrilled to have more regular readers and we hope very much to keep growing that! We are always trying to get people to become regular readers and subscribe, so if you enjoy what you're reading, please subscribe by clicking on the right side of the blog to get updates with each posting. 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 this year, 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 May, the index pages were updated sporadically. Sorry about that, but with my new rhythm, I should be much more regular in June! The primary Index Page, which we try to update 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. Despite having so many more hits this month, revenues were down from those clicking through the links and making purchases. We really appreciate all the purchases made through the blog as that keeps us going. Thank you so much! By purchasing items through the links on the blog, you sponsor my ability to continue reviewing. Summer is a very slow time for online shopping through blogs, but I have a number of very cool annual events coming up that could use your support, from Summer Blockbuster Season to the Hallmark Ornament Release (which nets dozens of reviews and is a popular feature of this blog!). Please check out our sponsored links and thank you so much for that support!

At the end of May, I have reviewed the following:
450 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Star Trek Books
Graphic Novels
792 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
2266 - 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!)!
194 - 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
659 - Toy and Christmas Ornament Reviews
with specialized pages for:
Ornament Reviews
Star Trek Toys
Star Wars Toys
Lord Of The Rings Toys
Buffy The Vampire Slayer/Angel Toys
Comic Book, Movie, Television Toys
Plush and Other Toys
675 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Cheese and Meats
Ice Cream
Other Food
188 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
107 - Travel Reviews
Destinations Reviews
Hotels Reviews
144 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
155 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
88 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
28 - Other Product Reviews

The Featured Review For The Month for May is: Game Of Thrones Season Two!
Check it out!

The month of May had a lot of movement within the month and from some interesting prior reviews that made the list. For May, the Top Ten Reviews of the month were:
10. Star Trek: Machinations Of Doomsday< 9. Arrested Development - Season 4
8. Finish Quantum Powerball Dishwashing Blocks
7. The Top Ten Episodes Of Star Trek: Voyager
6. Superman Returns
5. The Dark Night Rises
4. Iron Man 3
3. Star Trek Into Darkness
2. Man Of Steel
1. Now You See Me

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 - 278 reviews
9s - 395 reviews
8s - 721 reviews
7s - 808 reviews
6s - 727 reviews
5s - 965 reviews
4s - 683 reviews
3s - 555 reviews
2s - 248 reviews
1s - 167 reviews
0s - 84 reviews
No rating - 43 articles/postings

There was a decent amount of movement this month, despite only one new entry into the Top Ten, and at the end of May, the most popular reviews/articles I have written are:
10. Prometheus
9. Star Trek Into Darkness
8. Man Of Steel
7. Beautiful Creatures
6. Iron Man 3
5. Now You See Me
4. Safe Haven
3. Oz The Great And Powerful
2. Warm Bodies
1. Tyler Perry's Temptation

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

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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More Political, More Outrageous, And So Much More Of The Same With Drawn Together - Season Two!

The Good: Very funny, Decent animation
The Bad: Low replayability, A great number of similar jokes as the first season, Not really more significant than its entertainment value
The Basics: The second season of Drawn Together is, outside pushing the envelope toward more audacious jokes is pretty much more of the same from the first season.

Whatwith having better access to all sorts of shows that I only had a casual interest in or a real interest, but no real ability to keep up on them, I am catching up on all sorts of shows now. One of them is Drawn Together. Having enjoyed the first season of Drawn Together (reviewed here!), I was very eager to pick up Drawn Together Season Two. Unfortunately, the concept of Drawn Together is a pretty limited one and the cracks are showing in full in Season Two. So, like many limited concept comedies, Drawn Together goes toward being more vulgar (which I’m fine with), edgier, and a bit more political (which I like as well). Drawn Together is very much like season one, save that it pushes the boundaries of good taste faster and farther than the first season.

Surviving the climactic walk-out from the first season, the animated characters of the Drawn Together house find that they are unable to live in the real world. They are not getting jobs or promotions based on appearing on reality television and they return to the Drawn Together House. There, they are tasked with picking new housemates for the ones that died in the crash. After getting rid of the replacement (who is essentially a Nazi against Wooldoor’s people), the house returns to normal with episodic adventures that play off the character type each of the house’s residents represents.

Princess Clara continues to be a racist, naïve recreation of a Disney Princess. In Season Two, there is a bit of incest with her father thrown in for good measure and given that she takes up stripping to impress him, the show takes a turn for the disturbing with her character. Captain Hero takes on Wooldoor as a sidekick, discovers his parents are still alive, and has a gay fling with Xandir by creating an alternate identity for himself. Foxxy uncovers a quest to keep blacks from passing the SAT’s and goes for her detective license before reuniting with the band she used to be a part of. When her bandmates are almost killed, she exploits their situation by going solo and having a one hit. Spanky the pig marries Xandir for the health care benefits, but otherwise just sits around making sarcastic quips.

Wooldoor gets more airtime when he creates lifesaving entities with his masturbatory spawn. He also shoplifts and becomes Captain Hero’s sidekick briefly. Xandir has a gay fling with Captain Hero and comes out of the closet to his parents. Toots does very little outside cutting herself and her housemates become convinced that she has Alzheimer’s. Ling-Ling evolves and has an arranged series of fights. There is a self-referential bit where Entertainment Weekly decides they loathe the Drawn Together show.

In its second season, Drawn Together is more of the familiar formula that has animated characters swearing, screwing and struggling to maintain their place as reality television stars. The second season tries to flesh out the lesser-used characters in the series while still giving the very popular Princess Clara sufficient airtime. In that way, the show succeeds.

But, for the most part, Season Two of Drawn Together feels like a show aware that it is a very limited concept and the writers shot most of their wad on the first season. The humor, despite using a more extensive vocabulary, is essentially what one might expect from the first season and is astonishingly predictable within the established formula.

Drawn Together Season Two is not bad, but it is more obvious than it is impressive and that is a severe detraction to the fifteen episode set on its own.

For other animated works, please check out my reviews of:
Invader Zim
The Clone Wars - Season 3
Star Trek: The Animated Series


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

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Effective, But Lacking In A Strong Or Intriguing Scent: Simply Rain Is An Underwhelming Anti-Bacterial Hand Gel!

The Good: Appears to work, Easy to apply
The Bad: Price/size, Smell is fairly indistinct
The Basics: Simply Rain Anti-bacterial Hand Gel smells mediocre in the bottle, but is almost scentless when out, making for a poor pocketbac for those who have a strong association with scents.

For the price, any product from Bath & Body Work is pretty much obligated in my mind to smell incredible. After all, all that separates most of the Bath & Body Works products from one another is the scent of the particular product. In the case of Simply Rain Anti-Bacterial Hand Gel, the scent is not at all impressive, making me think of it as very much overpriced compared to other Anti-Bacterial Hand Gels.

For those who are unfamiliar with the recent trend in personal hygiene, Anti-Bacterial Hand Gels are like liquid soap. You drop a few drops of a gel onto your hands, then rub your hands together and the gel evaporates, killing bacteria on your hands. Also, it has the tendency to clean off mild amounts of dirt. It's a convenient way to clean your hands and keep them sterile while on the run or around a lot of sick people. Or when you're not around water or when you're trying to interact with people you don't want to get sick, which is why a lot of hospitals are using these now.

Honestly, anti-bacterial hand gels are genius. They are wonderful when one is at the movie theater and sees how people treat their bodies, they are likely to use them excessively. I could come up with literally a thousand places and times I've used anti-bacterial hand gels. Anti-bacterial hand gels are essentially biological weapons against bacteria that are convenient, easy to use and basically make living in a first world country a real treat.

Simply Rain scented anti-bacterial hand gel from Bath & Body Works smells like dish soap in the bottle and nothing outside the bottle! This 1 oz. PocketBac plastic bottle holds a fluid that smells initially like Dawn Dish Soap. It is a clean scent, but one that I only find myself associating with cleaning products, nothing more. When on the hands, this anti-bacterial hand gel smells like nothing at all. The lack of a strong (or any) scent puts it on par with the most basic and inexpensive anti-bacterial hand gels, like Purelle.

Simply Rain anti-bacterial hand gel comes in a pocketbac bottle for $1.50, $.99 on sale. The fluid is translucent light blue without any microbeads in it.

The bottle is a rhombus shape that fits in the hand rather easily. The flip-top lid makes it easy to open and close the bottle with one hand. This is especially convenient because if you believe you need to sterilize your hands, odds are you will not want to touch many things until you've done. The ability to manipulate the bottle with one hand while getting the product out is a good selling point.

The bottle recommends a dime-sized drop to sterilize one's hands. That seemed to work for me and when applying this gel.

Simply Rain anti-bacterial hand gel does not dry out the skin, but it does nothing exceptional for the skin as far as making it smell good, making it impossible to recommend.

For other Bath & Body Works anti-bacterial hand gels, please visit my reviews of:
Fresh Lavender
Winter Spice & Vanilla
Candy Cane Bliss
Cranberry Harvest
Creamy Pumpkin
Fresh Picked Strawberries
Eucalyptus Mint
Warm Apple Cider
Scary Cats (Black Cherry)


For other health and beauty reviews, please check out my Health And Beauty Product Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Ending Charmless, The Hangover Part III Resolves The Franchise On A Downbeat.

The Good: The acting is fine, The action elements work.
The Bad: Not at all funny, Characters get substantially dumber than in previous versions, Does not feel fresh or original in any way.
The Basics: With The Hangover Part III, the franchise comes to an unremarkable, unfunny, action-adventure end.

My instinct when The Hangover Part III was released was to suggest that Jeffrey Tambor was having a very good month. After all, with Netflix releasing the long-awaited fourth season of Arrested Development (reviewed here!) and the cinematic release of The Hangover Part III, Jeffrey Tambor’s star is once more in a prominent position. But, fans burned through the new Arrested Development in hours and Tambor is in, at best, two minutes of The Hangover Part III. In fact, it is the abrupt death of his character, Alan’s father, that sets off the road trip that is the centerpiece of the Hangover franchise adventures.

The Hangover Part III promises viewers it is the end to the story of Phil, Stu, Alan, and (to a much lesser extent) Doug (and a much more significant extent Mr. Chow) that was begun in The Hangover (reviewed here!) and continued in a clunky way with The Hangover Part 2 (reviewed here!). While The Hangover Part III goes to great lengths to try to convince the viewer that The Hangover was the first part in an intended trilogy instead of a runaway summer comedy hit that was then exploited for two mediocre sequels, the relationship between the third film and its predecessors is much more flimsy than fans might want to admit.

First and foremost, in order to make the various conceits of The Hangover Part III work, much of the characterization established in The Hangover had to be thrown out. That is to say that The Hangover was essentially the story of three guys who are roofied, lose a night of their life and spend the subsequent day(s) desperately trying to assemble the clues to piece together what the hell happened to them so they can take responsibility for their actions and recover their lost friend. It’s basically two smart guys and an idiot thrown into a bad situation and acting as detectives in order to find a missing friend . . . with hilarious results. In The Hangover Part III, Phil (especially) and Stu lose most of their innate intelligence in order for their characters to abide by the conceits which allow them to be exploited by the villainous Mr. Chow. In fact, the moment Marshall, who was alluded to in a throwaway line in The Hangover presents the story of gold that was split up and stolen from him, the film heads in painfully obvious directions. If your audience is smarter than the characters and sees the villain’s plan immediately, it undermines the interest one is able to keep in the movie. Sadly, that is exactly what happens with The Hangover Part III.

Opening in Thailand, Mr. Chow makes a daring escape from prison. After killing a giraffe he just bought and causing a nightmare for his father, Alan is reunited with his “wolfpack” for his father’s funeral. Following the funeral, Doug convinces Stu and Phil to help him get Alan to a mental health facility in Arizona. Unfortunately, en route, they are hijacked by Black Doug’s employer, Marshall. Marshall is hunting for Chow, who stole some $21million dollars in gold from him years prior. Marshall keeps Doug as collateral and he tasks Stu, Phil and Alan with finding Mr. Chow. As it happens, Chow recently texted Alan and the trio finds him easily enough.

With Doug’s life in the balance, Chow tells the trio that he needs them to break into his old house to get the gold he stole from Marshall and the three do so . . . until the most obvious double-cross in the world. Set up by Chow, Phil, Alan, and Stu witness Marshall’s brutality and know that he is serious about killing their friend Doug. Tracking Phil’s phone back to Las Vegas, Alan hits on a pawn shop owner and Stu calls in a favor from Jade to track Chow to Caesars. There, the men confront Chow and chase him around Las Vegas with the goal of capturing him and delivering him to Marshall.

There is a noticeable change of tone in The Hangover Part III, certainly as it relates to The Hangover (the truth is The Hangover Part 2 was so forgettable that I cannot make comparisons now, years after its initial release); The Hangover Part III is largely not funny and for most of the film, it does not even try. Instead, this is a remarkably straightforward action movie with the occasional flat-falling joke thrown in. Given how the movie meanders back to Las Vegas and devotes time and attention to the characters getting excited about “Black Doug,” Jade, and the now not-baby “Carlos,” The Hangover Part III stands poorly on its own and instead strives to remind the viewer of the superior film they enjoyed years before. At its best, The Hangover Part III is a series of loosely held together allusions to The Hangover without (until the mid-credits scene) the usual everybody is drugged and wakes up to discover horrible things have happened conceit. Instead, The Hangover Part III is a remarkably straightforward hostage negotiation action adventure movie in many ways. It just happens that the main antagonist is a bit ridiculous.

What is not ridiculous is Marshall, played with usual greatness by John Goodman. Goodman manages to steal the few scenes he is in and add a real sense of menace (albeit somewhat predictable in the reversals he both initiates and is subject to) to The Hangover Part III. Goodman’s Marshall provides the film’s ticking clock and it is far more compelling than simply “man might be late for his own wedding.”

The rest of the acting is fine. Melissa McCarthy’s somewhat understated role as Cassie plays off the more familiar role of Alan well. McCarthy and Zach Galifianakis have decent on-screen chemistry. The others – Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Ken Jeong – reprise their roles well, but give the viewer nothing we have not already seen before. And given that The Hangover Part III is supposed to be Alan’s big emotional journey, Galifianakis is a bit underwhelming, but it is hard to blame him for it. After all, it is not Galifianakis’s fault that he does not repeatedly deliver lines about Alan being in mourning for his father. Instead, after the set-up and a casual reference to it in two subsequent scenes, the death of the most important person in Alan’s life has no resonating effect on the character. So, Galifianakis plays the role of Alan as he always has and he manages not to infuse the character with so much growth that we feel like we are watching It’s Kind Of A Funny Story (reviewed here!) again.

Ultimately, The Hangover Part III is an homage to itself and it succeeds in concluding the franchise in a very different, if humorless, way: may it rest in peace.

For other works featuring Melissa McCarthy, please check out my reviews of:
The Heat
Identity Thief
This Is 40
Gilmore Girls
White Oleander
Charlie's Angels


Check out how this movie stacks up against others I have reviewed by visiting my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Thursday, May 30, 2013

So Many Great Actors Fail To Impress In The Big Wedding!

The Good: Moments of performance
The Bad: Predictable plot, Droll character arcs, Much of the direction and acting, Jokes and dramatic moments alike fall flat.
The Basics: Despite having an Oscarbait cast, The Big Wedding gives women and adults nothing substantial to watch this Summer Blockbuster Season.

I cannot think of a film in recent memory where I was so uninvested in how the film’s characters and plotlines would reach a resolution as with The Big Wedding. The last few years, as Summer Blockbuster Season has loomed, many of the smaller or more substantive production companies try to release counterprogramming to the big special effects-driven movies. They go after a mature audience and women with films like last year’s Hope Springs (reviewed here!). This year, Lionsgate tried to get into that niche right out of the gate with The Big Wedding.

They failed.

The Big Wedding is intended to be a family comedy with the usual tearjerker moments, but the film directed by its co-writer (or co-adapter, as it appears to have been based upon a French film) Justin Zackham is so thoroughly obvious and banal that most of the surprises are anything but and both the humor and dramatic moments fall painfully flat. The Big Wedding reminded me of a limited season television series The Big Day, which was also about a family gathering for a wedding and all of the mayhem that ensues. The difference is that that summer television show had a less well-known cast, but used all the players exceptionally well. The Big Wedding hopes the viewer will be blown away by the presence of Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, Robin Williams, Amanda Seyfried, and (I suppose) Katherine Heigl and Topher Grace that they won’t notice how poorly those performers are being used. Out of the bunch, only Susan Sarandon is given the chance to truly blow the audience away and she does in a single scene where her character, Bebe, does not say a word, but witnesses Don (her longterm boyfriend) and Ellie (her best friend, from whom she stole Don away years before, breaking up their marriage) having a moment where their chemistry is evident and Sarandon emotes so much with her face that one has to feel sorry for Bebe.

But, alas, one moment and one decent line (which, I swear, I have already forgotten, but it comes near the end of the movie) are not enough to make a flick worth watching and The Big Wedding falls into exactly that trap.

Alejandro, the adopted son of Don and Ellie, is getting married to his virtual nonentity of a girlfriend, Missy. So, the families are converging on Don and Bebe’s, despite there being a lot of tension in the family. Lyla’s marriage is falling apart and she is estrange from her father, Don. Lyla is feeling sick from something entirely obvious that her sexually unfulfilled doctor brother, Jared, investigates for her on their way to their parent’s house. Ellie, arriving early, lets herself in and comes across her good friend and her ex-husband and feels out of place. When Alejandro arrives, he breaks some bad news to his parents; his biological mother, Madonna, who has been invited to the wedding, thinks divorce is the greatest sin imaginable.

Rather than telling her to stuff it, in America we have divorce and the family is not as Super Catholic as she is, everyone decides to bend over backwards for the woman who gave Alejandro up for adoption. This means that Bebe, who has been like a mother to Alejandro, bows out (though she soon resurfaces as part of the catering staff for the wedding) and Don and Ellie pretend for Madonna that they are still married. At the same time, Jared hits very heavily on Alejandro’s biological sister and Lyla whines about the past as Ellie comes to the realizations that she truly is over Don.

The Big Wedding is just, unfortunately, stupid. We’ve seen all the clichés in movies in recent years. The whole “exes hook up” thing was done much better in It’s Complicated (reviewed here!) and the elements of addition featuring prominently at a wedding was Rachel Getting Married (reviewed here!) in a nutshell. But, any film that belabors a woman with marital issues getting queasy constantly and then acts like it is a huge revelation that the character is pregnant is just insulting. I swear, Katherine Heigl’s Lyla is the last one to figure out she’s pregnant.

What The Big Wedding has outside belabored exposition and a painfully ridiculous plot that would be a farce if only it were funny, so it is just mind-numbingly pathetic as it is here as (at best) a dramedy, is an impressive cast. Unfortunately, the cast is not used very well at all. Amanda Seyfried plays Missy (the bride) and she makes so little impression in this role that one wonders why she chose to do it at all. That’s okay because, despite being Latino, Alejandro (played by Ben Barnes) is such a white bread character that the two fit one another perfectly. Robin Williams’ role as the Catholic Priest Father Moinighan would have been audacious . . . if only Justin Zackham had produced the film fifteen years ago. As it stands, though, the ironic casting and usage of Williams as a Priest is a flat retreading of what Kevin Smith did with George Carlin (to much better effect) in Dogma (reviewed here!).

Topher Grace is fine as Jared, Katherine Heigl might as well be going for her Razzie as Lyla (you can always count on Heigl for doing that dumbstruck expression once per film, much like how Ben Affleck used to cry once per movie, and she doesn’t disappoint for the miniscule niche audience that still finds that charming or original), and the powerhouse casting of Robert De Niro, Susan Sarandon and Diane Keaton results in three performers constantly straining to do interesting things with their listless characters. Sarandon gets her moment and De Niro reminds us that he can perform when Don gets drunk, but Keaton’s part is unfortunately interchangeable with so many others she has had over the years . . . except here her character comes to an obvious conclusion she seemed to come into the film with.

The Big Wedding is not worth watching; not on the big screen, not on DVD when it comes out and not even when it is on network television edited for content and bloated with commercials. It is one of the surest racehorses for next year’s Razzies . . . if only the pundits even remember it exists at that time.

For other works with Topher Grace, please check out my reviews of:
Valentine's Day
Spider-Man 3
In Good Company


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

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Continued Descent Of The Star Trek Franchise: Enterprise Season 2

The Good: Slightly more serialized
The Bad: Continues to gut established Star Trek lore, terrible acting, lousy characters
The Basics: As the NX-01 plods along gutting Star Trek lore, the stale dialogue and lack of originality makes the viewer want to vomit.

It is only a few moments into the second season premiere of Enterprise that the viewer recalls why they detested the first season (reviewed here!) so much; one of the characters begins to speak. From the opening moments of the season premiere to the closing moments of the season finale, Enterprise - The Complete Second Season is a collection of stiff acting that desperately tries to cover the terrible dialogue written for the characters.

Opening where season one left off, the Enterprise NX-01 is essentially captured by the Suliban while Captain Archer is trapped in the future with Daniels and a ruined library. Fortunately, using technology older than Captain Pike's laser pistol, Archer is able to (inexplicably) contact the past and get rescued. Of course the ship gets retaken and the Enterprise continues its witless wanderings through the 22nd century galaxy.

This season is comprised of twenty-six episodes that puts the Enterprise wandering through the Milky Way gutting the canon of Star Trek by having the crew encounter the Romulans (who, to be fair, they never see), the Borg (just plain terrible as far as ideas go), and the Tholians. Throughout the season, a thread is planted with the Klingons who have it out for Archer in the form of Duras, an annoying Klingon bent on killing the Captain. The Duras plot leads to all sorts of situations that undermine the established Star Trek lore, like Captain Archer ending up on the prison asteroid Rura Penthe (see Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, reviewed here!).

But even more revealing, season two of Enterprise illustrates fully how dry the writers well is in the Star Trek establishment. Before I explain that, allow me to clarify: there are a LOT of talented writers in the Star Trek franchise and a decent number of individuals who can write a knockout Star Trek episode. The problem here is that the producers are not using them. The writers working on this series are so inbred in their styles and lack of imagination that they have no real new ideas to present. I suppose this should have been obvious by the lower number of crewmembers on Enterprise (Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager both had nine principle characters they rotated through, Enterprise has seven).

Regardless, the writing here is terrible and it is, unfortunately, nothing new for the series or the franchise. "The Breach" tells a story with Dr. Phlox that is remarkably similar to the vastly superior Star Trek: Voyager episode "Jetrel" (reviewed here!) and a later Star Trek: Voyager episode, "Nothing Human." Similarly, the Borg episode, "Regeneration" is just plain terrible, not making a lick of sense following the events of Star Trek: First Contact (reviewed here!) and the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Drone" (reviewed here!).

The executive producers and writers do not seem to care about what they are doing with this series. The show is still called Enterprise this season, as the producers tried to distance themselves - foolishly on one hand, fortunately on the other - from Star Trek. Ultimately, the effect is watching a show and getting the feeling that the writers and producers could not get a show of their own. They lack talent and imagination enough to successfully sell their own show to a network, so they glom on to an established, successful franchise and then do what they want with it.

Enterprise is the co-opting of the Star Trek franchise the way the Religious Right has co-opted Christianity; they bluster along in conflict to the established word, declaring their way is the only way.

Enterprise focuses on seven principle characters and here is how the second season finds them:

Captain Jonathan Archer - Having been returned to his present, Archer continues to be a tool in the Temporal War set in the distant future. He borrows a page from Jim Kirk's book and gets into a season-long feud with the Klingons,

T'Pol - Still running around with intended sex appeal, the Vulcan first officer pouts and is prejudiced against humans while running into faux Vulcan mysticism,

"Trip" Tucker - The Chief Engineer shows up this season and fights, bullies and otherwise lives down to almost every stereotype of a Southerner in his relations to other characters,

Malcolm Reed - The security chief fights off, among other things, the Borg using weapons that shouldn't have any effect. Not bad. Otherwise, he doesn't really grow as a character,

Hoshi Sato - Continues to baffle to viewer with why she's along other than to make the cast more diverse (which is reason enough, I suppose, but character would be better). Occasionally, she translates something and makes herself useful. Otherwise, they just have her freaking out,

Ensign Mayweather - Sit at the helm like a good boy. Good boy. At least they bring his family around for an episode so he has one where they try to do something with his character,

and Dr. Phlox - This reincarnation, or preincarnation, of Neelix is fun to watch but lacks real substance.

I wish to close my review by apologizing to the cast of Enterprise. What I just wrote about your characters could come across as cruel (sorry, especially, to you Anthony Montgomery - that's Mayweather); it's not your fault. You showed up to work each day, you did your job but the characters you were given to portray were flat, stereotypical, dull or otherwise wooden and uninspired. I'm sure you did the best you could.

I don't know who would like Enterprise - The Complete Second Season, but it's not going to be me or any other fan of the Star Trek franchise.

For a more detailed look at the episodes in this season, please visit my reviews of each episode in the set at:
Shockwave, Part 2
Carbon Creek
Dead Stop
A Night In Sickbay
The Seventh
The Communicator
Vanishing Point
Precious Cargo
The Catwalk
Cease Fire
Future Tense
The Crossing
The Breach
First Flight
The Expanse


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

© 2013, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Post-Birthday Review #1: Ludo Arrives In Opposite Day Scale!

The Good: Cute, Well-made, Decent rendering, Collectible value
The Bad: Does not stand, Comparatively expensive, Not in scale
The Basics: A super cute plush of Ludo from Labyrinth, the Toy Vault 8" plush Ludo is worth picking up, even if it is far from perfect!

Yesterday was my wife’s 25th birthday and as a concept giftgiving experience, I gave her twenty-five gifts. It was quite an undertaking and a few of the gifts had to be reworked for time or budget reasons. So, when I was planning the whole event, I was looking for gifts that would illustrate my understanding of my wife, her dreams, and the things she likes, in addition to getting her things I knew she wanted. For most of her life, her favorite movie has been Labyrinth (reviewed here!) and given that a few years ago I had a successful gift in getting her the Toy Vault plush Worm (reviewed here!), when I stumbled upon the follow-up plush Ludo, I knew it would be perfect for my wife’s birthday celebration.

It was. It was one of the few items I picked up for her that she did not even know existed and given how she already placed it in a prominent position in our bedroom, I think I hit the mark. The amusing thing about the two plush outings from Toy Vault is that Ludo is very small and The Worm is very big, which is the opposite of how their characters appear in the film Labyrinth! The Worm is at about 2:1 scale and Ludo is about 1:8 scale! Regardless, this is a fun little plush that is sure to amuse fans of Labyrinth!

The 8" plush Ludo toy is made and sold through Toy Vault. I have only found this collectible plush online, so I know that they were not massively produced and remain a highly sought-after toy for those fans who actually know they exist!


Toy Vault makes plush toys based on various characters from various media and Ludo is only the second product by them I have bought. This stuffed toys are designed to look cute and resemble the character of Ludo from Labyrinth and it lives up quite well, despite not having shaddy fur and being much, much smaller than the character seen in the film. Ludo from Labyrinth is a brown and orange colored beast with descending horns sticking out of the sides of its head and a perpetual frown coming from his severe underbite. Ludo has small round plastic marble-like eyes that are glossy and are mounted on unfortunately cheap looking felt pieces that serve as his eye sockets.

The stuffed toy is, appropriately, a biped, but it is virtually impossible to get this 8” tall guy to actually stand on his two feet. Still, Toy Works made an obvious effort to get the shape and detailing of Ludo right. He has three distinct fingers on each hand and three toes on each foot (sewn to segregate the toes as opposed to cut that way like the fingers) and his big floppy ears and horns are quite cute. Ludo’s face is smoother felt while the main body, arms and legs are furry, so he looks (mostly) like the picture on the big cardboard tag.

Fans of Labyrinth are bound to be amused by the cute factor this plus has, even if the face is far less of a realistic rendering of the character than The Worm was. Ludo from Toy Works is composed primarily of polyester fibers..


Ludo, given that he is based upon a cute life-sized costume or puppet from an early 1980’s fantasy movie, does not have much that he could be accessorized with. He comes with just his tag that tells those unfamiliar with the toy what he is.


Ludo is not much for play, especially considering he does not stand up on his own. Outside the small, hard eyes, this is a kid-safe toy. Small children will not be able to get their mouth around the eyes and older fans will not want to try. Ideally, this works just fine as a display piece, prop or something to hug from the Labyrinth (whatwith David Bowie not being readily available)!


Tow Works toys are much more limited than plush toys from major manufacturers. Ludo has never been widely available (many fans do not yet know he exists!), so his price is already going up. Given Toy Vault’s history of producing limited toys, getting Ludo now while he is less expensive is better than paying the eventual collectible prices.


Ludo is very cute and right now is pretty affordable. The danger of this little guy, however is that fans will start demanding a life-sized Ludo and one can only imagine how expensive that would be! For now and for those of us perpetually on a budget, the 8” Ludo is a fun way to accessorize one’s Labyrinth collection!

For other plush toys, please check out my reviews of:
Invader Zim Germy Gir Plush
Banpresto Koopa Troopa from Super Mario Brothers
Sore Throat Giant Microbes


For other toy reviews, please check out my index page on the subject for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Curfew That Wakes The Listener Up To The Indigo Girls

The Good: Good vocals, Decent lyrics, Good music, Live sound suits the Indigo Girls, Album Length
The Bad: Stories between vocals do not have adequate volume, Some lyrics/music are sub-par
The Basics: A decent collection of live performances on two discs gives the listener a lot of material presented with an intimate acoustic concert sound that compliments the lyrics well.

I have not, historically, enjoyed albums by the Indigo Girls so far. I've reviewed Shaming Of The Sun (reviewed here!) and Come On Now Social (reviewed here!) and I enjoyed neither. I've pressed on because I'm convinced that there must be something to them. It brings to mind the classic joke where two people are having dinner at a restaurant and one says, "The food here is terrible!" to which the other responds, "Yeah, but at least the portions are huge!"

With the Indigo Girls's double album 1200 Curfews, the portions are indeed large and I'm pleased to say that overall, I enjoyed the set. With twenty-seven (mostly) live tracks spread over two very full discs, 1200 Curfews is an impressive musical experience that gives a lot of value to the listener. Unlike the prior studio albums I've listened to, on this set, the Indigo Girls have a fresh, very alive sound to them. Amy Ray and Emily Saliers give wonderful vocals throughout, making it - at the very least - a pleasant album to listen to.

The thing about 1200 Curfews is that it's the first live album in a long time that I've listened to that I felt captured a truly live concert feel. I've heard "Galileo" and "Least Complicated" before and these versions are nothing like their studio counterparts, at least in terms of polish and production. That freshness - able possibly because the songs were culled from different live performances - is refreshing and different.

Perhaps that's what Indigo Girls excels at; performing. Their studio albums have been underwhelming and the only thing that I immediately had a problem with on these two discs were the stories. I like hearing stories about songs from artists I respect - though they seldom hold up over multiple listens of an album. On a few tracks, like "Galileo" and "Power of Two," the vocalists tell a story about the song they are about to perform. Relative to the sound quality and volume level, these interstitials are seriously downgraded, meaning one has to crank up their stereo or miss the story (and remember to turn it back down as soon as the music plays!).

Indigo Girls present more of a folk presentation on this outing than on their studio albums and I found I enjoy that more than the polished pop-rock take on some of their songs on the albums. So, for example, "Power of Two" is presented with quiet acoustic guitars and the vocals of Ray and Saliers, with nothing else. This has the feel of a very intimate venue and that puts focus on the lyrics, without any distractions.

And Saliers and Ray can write! Of the twenty-seven tracks, Amy Ray wrote ten, Saliers wrote ten and the others are written by other artists. The Indigo Girls also provide their interpretations of Joni Mitchell's "River," Bob Dylan's classic "Tangled Up In Blue," and Neil Young's "Down By The River." As well, the standard "Midnight Train To Georgia" is presented and I have to say, their soft vocals resonate better than the Ray Charles version!

The nice thing about the lyrics of the Indigo Girls is that they do more than simply sing about love or loss. A number of their songs present social messages. For example, on their song "Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee" - written by Buffy Sainte-Marie and presented on disc 1 live and disc 2 as a studio cut - they sing about the problematic aspects of the reality of policies toward the Natives. They open the song brilliantly with, "Indian legislation's on the desk of a do right congresssman / Now he don't know much about the issues, so he picks up the phone / And asks the advice of the senator out in indian country, / A darling of the energy companies who are ripping off / What's left of the reservation." That's powerful stuff that you don't hear on the Top 40 stations!

Moreover, they broaden their message by simply making wonderful poems set to music. In a tribute to Virginia Woolf, Emily Saliers writes, ". . . They'll sweat in their hopelessness / In the rage we're all the same / The men of anger and the women of the page . . ." It's beautiful and poetic.

Saliers and Ray sing the songs with a delightful acoustic sound to every track on these discs, making a very homogenous sound. There are no songs where there are excessive instrumentations either. The pair manage to keep the album sounding fresh with just their guitars.

In all, this might be the best set for those who are not fans of the Indigo Girls. I suspect this set would be enjoyed by most anyone who likes folk-rock music and a strong feminine vocal presentation. The best tracks are "Virginia Woolf" (disc 1) and "Galileo" (disc 2) and the weakest tracks are "World Falls" (disc 1) and "Chickenman" (disc 2).

For other live albums by former Artist Of The Month artists, be sure to check out my reviews of:
“Jackie’s Strength” (single) – Tori Amos
Beginnings - Shania Twain
Break Every Rule - Tina Turner


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

© 2013, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Mediocre Cereal, Post Honey Bunches Of Oats Banana And Blueberry Fruit Blends (Mostly) Flops.

The Good: Fairly nutritious, Affordable
The Bad: Not the most distinctive taste, Nothing superlative, Not distinctly flavored or flavored much like the fruit it is supposed to.
The Basics: Post Honey Bunches Of Oats Crispy Banana Flakes & Crunchy Blueberry Granola Fruit Blends cereal is disappointing for anyone who likes either of those flavors.

When it comes to cereal, I have been eating healthier lately. My wife and I have a tendency to eat healthy and fruity of late, so we’ve actually had a lot of Post cereals. Lately, I’ve been trying the line of Honey Bunches Of Oats cereals. Tonight, I find myself considering Honey Bunches Of Oats Crispy Banana Flakes & Crunchy Blueberry Granola Fruit Blends cereal. This falls on the heels of my reviewing the Crispy Peach Flakes & Crunchy Raspberry Granola Fruit Blends (reviewed here!). Unfortunately, the Banana and Blueberry Fruit Blends cereal is less impressive than the prior one I tried.

Honey Bunches Of Oats Crispy Banana Flakes & Crunchy Blueberry Granola Fruit Blends cereal is a flake-based cereal with tiny, less flavorful additives than the traditional Honey Bunches Of Oats. Sadly, it does not taste like either of the fruits it is supposed to.


Post Honey Bunches Of Oats Crispy Banana Flakes & Crunchy Blueberry Granola Fruit Blends cereal is a relatively new cereal with flakes of corn. It looks like a very typical collection of flakes, most about 1/2” to 3/4” in two directions, thin and textured, with most of the small flakes being slightly curved. Honey Bunches Of Oats cereal now comes in several different varieties, designed to give dieters more variety while they lose weight.

The standard box of Honey Bunches Of Oats Crispy Banana Flakes & Crunchy Blueberry Granola Fruit Blends cereal is 14.5 oz. That represents approximately fourteen servings and I was able to get a little over twelve servings and a generous helping of crumbs and cereal dust out of the box I bought. In addition to having traditional flakes that have a light sheen from honey, Crispy Banana Flakes & Crunchy Blueberry Granola Fruit Blends cereal features a smattering of oats.

Ease Of Preparation

Honey Bunches Of Oats Crispy Banana Flakes & Crunchy Blueberry Granola Fruit Blends cereal is a breakfast cereal, so this is one of the low-impact breakfast options as far as preparation goes! Simply open the box of Honey Bunches Of Oats Crispy Banana Flakes & Crunchy Blueberry Granola Fruit Blends cereal, pour out 3/4 cup (I’ve taken to using a measuring cup) and add 1/2 cup of milk to it. I have discovered, as part of getting healthy, that one of the biggest challenges one might have with breakfast cereal is actually eating the serving size recommended by the manufacturer. Given that I have been monitoring my intake for several weeks now, I am now able to enjoy only 3/4 cup of Honey Bunches Of Oats Crispy Banana Flakes & Crunchy Blueberry Granola Fruit Blends cereal in a sitting, though it is not as filling as some other cereals I have had.

For the purposes of my reviews, and my regular consumption, I only use skim milk (fat free) milk with cereal.


The Fruit Blends cereal smells strongly of blueberries. This is a cereal that is very fruity in its aroma and it is distinctly blueberry scented.

On their own, the flakes taste entirely like corn. Despite the cereal’s promise that these are banana flavored, they bear none of that flavor while dry. The granola clusters are sweet and vaguely fruity, but neither blueberry, nor banana flavored. It does not help that they are so small in comparison to the flakes so the flakes completely overwhelm the flavor of the granola.

With milk, this Fruit Blends cereal is sweet and the banana flavor comes to the forefront of the palate. The alleged blueberry flavor is entirely absent outside the scent, but the cereal comes to taste like banana and corn flakes within seconds. The milk becomes banana flavored as well and it is almost surprising how flavorful this cereal is given that bananas are not the most flavorful fruit in the world!

This cereal has a nutty aftertaste, but not a particularly dry or enduring one.


Post Honey Bunches Of Oats Crispy Banana Flakes & Crunchy Blueberry Granola Fruit Blends cereal is pretty nutritious on its own and with skim milk. Made primarily of corn, whole grain wheat, and whole grain rolled oats, there is nothing unpronounceable in Honey Bunches Of Oats Crispy Banana Flakes & Crunchy Blueberry Granola Fruit Blends cereal. Given that there is a separate listing of vitamins and minerals, I suspect that Honey Bunches Of Oats Crispy Banana Flakes & Crunchy Blueberry Granola Fruit Blends cereal is one of those cereals where the nutrients are then sprayed onto the cereal, making it important to drink the milk with this cereal in order to get all of the nutritional benefits out of it.

A single serving of Post Honey Bunches Of Oats Crispy Banana Flakes & Crunchy Blueberry Granola Fruit Blends cereal is 30 grams, 3/4 cup. In that serving, there are 120 calories, with 15 calories coming from fat. There is no saturated fat in this cereal, nor is there any cholesterol. With only 135 mg of sodium and a gram of dietary fiber, this is a good dietary choice for those striving to improve heart health. With two grams of protein and 55mg potassium, Crispy Banana Flakes & Crunchy Blueberry Granola Fruit Blends is healthy enough. On its own, this cereal has significant percentages of seven vitamins and minerals.


Honey Bunches Of Oats Crispy Banana Flakes & Crunchy Blueberry Granola Fruit Blends is a cereal, so as long as it is kept sealed in its box, it ought to remain fresh for quite some time. The box of Honey Bunches Of Oats Crispy Banana Flakes & Crunchy Blueberry Granola Fruit Blends cereal we purchased on April 15, 2013 had an expiration date of June 10, 2013, so it is not the most enduring cereal on the market. Obviously, when you are done pouring the cereal from the box, fold down the plastic inner wrap to help maintain the cereal’s freshness.

Cleaning up after Honey Bunches Of Oats Crispy Banana Flakes & Crunchy Blueberry Granola Fruit Blends cereal is simple as well. Simply brush away crumbs left by it and you are done! It is that simple! This is a cereal that does not even discolor the milk added to it!


Honey Bunches Of Oats Crispy Banana Flakes & Crunchy Blueberry Granola Fruit Blends cereal is not at all fruity in its flavor, which is disappointing given that it is a key selling point of this cereal.

For other breakfast cereals, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
Fiber One Honey Squares
Kellogg's Krave Double Chocolate
Cap'N Crunch's Limited Edition Christmas Crunch


For other food reviews, please visit my Food Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the food reviews I have written!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Summer Blockbuster Season’s Big Legitimate Hit Is Made With Man Of Steel!

The Good: Character, Most of the performances, Special effects
The Bad: Plot progression is painfully predictable.
The Basics: A complete reboot of Superman, Man Of Steel presents a more angsty version of Clark Kent and Kal-El and a bigger threat to Earth in his first real adventure.

I am not a fan of Superman. The character spent decades as a monolithic ideal who evolved from an ultra-powerful man who helped cats out of trees into a blandly virtuous, virtually invincible fighter for peace, justice, the “American Way” and the protection of Earth. In recent years, the Superman comic books have moved away from the absolutism that defined the character, but he’s not been placed in a situation like Wonder Woman where to save the world from an unstoppable killing machine, a human being has to die, like Wonder Woman did in The OMAC Project (reviewed here!). So, the idea of the new reboot of the Superman cinematic franchise with Man Of Steel had no inherent draw to me and, if anything, I was biased against it.

First, I felt bad for Bryan Singer and Brandon Routh. For all of the problems with Superman Returns (reviewed here!), Routh’s performance was not the reason the film failed. Routh took the blame much like Eric Bana did for Hulk (reviewed here!). And after seeing Immortals (reviewed here!), I was not convinced Henry Cavill was the one to take up the role of Clark Kent/Superman. But, with Man Of Steel he lands it and the film works becoming a surprisingly compelling super hero film that ups the stakes for the DC (cinematic) universe and gives viewers a smarter superhero film than they have seen in some time.

As an environmental calamity sweeps over the ancient planet Krypton, the infamous General Zod seizes the opportunity for a political coup. Opposing his political action, but agreeing with his desire to save the Kryptonian people, the scientist, Jor-El, makes a final bid to save the genetic coding of the planned Kryptonians. Sending his newborn son, Kal-El - the first naturally born Kryptonian in generations - off-planet, Jor-El seeks to save the Kryptonian genome. With his political revolution ending in failure, Zod and his forces are sentenced to a sleep prison in the phantom zone where they survive the destruction of Krypton.

Meanwhile, on Earth Kal-El grows up as the son of Jonathan and Martha Kent. Raised to be virtuous, kind, and giving, Jonathan also raised his adopted son to be cautious and not reveal his extraordinary abilities – like amazing strength and speed. Despite some incidents, like saving a bus load of children from an accident as a youth, Clark Kent (as Kal-El goes by in his life “passing” as a human) gets by. In his young adulthood, though, he begins to feel isolated and he starts to avoid people in order to not have his incredible abilities discovered. His journey of self discovery brings him to an abandoned craft frozen beneath a glacier that was also from Krypton. There, under the tutalege of a holographic version of his father he learns of his Kryptonian heritage.

In exploring his abilities, Kal-El comes to the attention of the U.S. military and Lois Lane, intrepid reporter from Metropolis. The curiosity about his nature, though, quickly is trumped when an alien invasion force arrives. Led by General Zod, Jor-El’s enemy, the Kryptonian force comes for Kal-El and when Zod’s forces begin laying waste to Earth, Kal-El decides to step up and become humanity’s savior.

Having recently watched the 1970’s Superman (reviewed here!), it is worth noting that Man Of Steel distances itself well from that vision of Superman. Man Of Steel is darker and works to fit Clark Kent into more of a real world than a fantastic or cinematic rendition of our world (though everyone looks Hollywood beautiful in Man Of Steel). Thus, Man Of Steel sacrifices much of the charm of Christopher Reeves’s Superman in favor of an outsider protagonist who is caught between using his powers to help people and struggling to avoid persecution that his alien nature will bring from the xenophobic and fearful humans (who could desperately use his help).

The biggest tone change is the lack of humor in Man Of Steel. This Clark Kent is not an “aww shucks” farm boy, he’s a guy who has methodically covered his tracks to avoid making a splash until normal human incident after normal human incident conspires to reveal his true nature (by him using his extraordinary and inhuman abilities to help other people). Man Of Steel has a few amusing lines, but for the most part, it is a much more stark, character-driven piece with a protagonist who is far more consciously created as an outsider than prior renditions (at least cinematically) of Superman have been. This, naturally, is expected of the director of Watchmen (reviewed here!) and Zack Snyder’s trend for delivering characters who face overwhelming odds and making smarter-than-average super hero films remains unchallenged.

Significant in Man Of Steel is the tone. The set-up for Clark Kent and coming to terms with his identity as Kal-El is appropriately belabored and conflicted, drawn out until General Zod returns to the narrative. But when Zod arrives at Earth, the film takes a somewhat troubling turn toward the familiar. Man Of Steel was delayed from a planned release last year and while the studio’s reason might be that they wanted to get the effects (especially 3-D conversion) right, it is not long into Zod’s reign of terror that loyal viewers of DC-based films will suspect that they did not want viewers to start noting the plot comparisons (the whole “under siege” plot) with The Dark Knight Rises (reviewed here!). And as one of the few fans of the cinematic Green Lantern (reviewed here!), the whole DC Universe problem with Man Of Steel is certainly the lack of presence of the space cops of the galaxy. After all, prior incarnations which had Clark Kent as the sole surviving Kryptonian did not exactly warrant the presence of the interstellar police force, but in Man Of Steel, Zod and his allies come in force with an invasion plan and weapons which seem like they would fall pretty safely under the purview of the Green Lantern Corps . . .

. . . so, Man Of Steel is plotted like a super hero origin story. That’s fine, it is what it is. The character front has Man Of Steel making a fresh take on the familiar elements of the Superman story and it makes Kal-El’s alien nature – something which the graphic novels have only focused on in the past few decades as a source of conflict with the more refined version of Lex Luthor – an issue that is presented in an unfortunately realistic way. Yes, human beings are not the most accepting race and Jonathan Kent is proven right for urging his son to be cautious in his exposing himself to humans. Human xenophobia and fear is a predominate theme in Man Of Steel (much like fear was in Batman Begins) and writers David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan do a decent job of making the film about more than just an alien with incredible abilities and, instead, about broader themes about the state of humanity and how we treat one another. Fortunately, Clark Kent’s ethics prevent him from simply imposing growth on our backwards planet – a point which is driven home when General Zod and his soldiers come to extort humanity and destroy the masses who cannot reasonably stand in his way.

On the acting front, I wanted to start my commentary of Man Of Steel with the note that my longstanding disdain of Russell Crowe’s narrow acting range does not prevent me from openly acknowledging that he takes the role of Jor-El (who comparatively has exceptionally little screentime) and makes him empathetic and seem like a father deeply torn between having the life he wants (with his family) and trying to protect his son and his planet. Crowe is decent for the part of Jor-El and his performance makes the mentoring that Jor-El provides his son seem like more than banal exposition or bland moralizing and actually seem inspiring.

The supporting cast in Man Of Steel is fleshed out well. Like Crowe, Kevin Costner is given the role of Jonathan Kent, which could have been presented as campy or over-the-top and Costner delivers subtle and restrained. Michael Shannon’s General Zod is powerful in voice and posture, even if the character is incredibly monolithic and utterly unsympathetic and Richard Schiff and Christopher Meloni make their roles as Dr. Emil Hamilton and Colonel Hardy seem like quite a bit more than background characters. Schiff and Meloni embody their characters in such a way that makes them seem like their entire existence does not revolve around Kal-El, like they were living in a world before his appearance and they have other things going on besides him and the plot of Man Of Steel. I like the sense that such comparatively minor characters have an identity that is not simply built around the one story. Laurence Fishburne is characteristically great as Lois Lane’s boss at The Daily Planet, Perry White.

That brings us to Amy Adams. Adams plays Lois Lane in Man Of Steel and she brings all the pluck and determination fans of the Superman franchise would expect from Lois Lane. More importantly, Adams has great on-screen chemistry with the film’s star Henry Cavill.

Henry Cavill is more than just a pair of toned pectoral muscles and abs that won’t quit as Kal-El. Just as Christopher Reeve brought a wholesome and obviously kind disposition to his version of Clark Kent, Cavill is able to portray conflict and uncertainty well . . . then change it up plausibly with powerful and unafraid. At his best, Henry Cavill uses his eyes to emote and express the idea that Kal-El is terrified of what the people in the world will do to him, while knowing that he could change everything. His scenes opposite Michael Shannon’s Zod give him the chance to both show of physical strength and spout noble aphorisms.

On the effects front, Man Of Steel is good, but not (pardon the pun) super. I cannot speak to the 3-D, but the standard CG effects look great, though many of the attack sequences happen at a speed that does not allow the viewer to appreciate them or the consequences of them. So, for example, the shots of Kal-El’s cape when he is in his Kryptonian suits looks real (Snyder and his effects team got the effects right) and the digital models of Cavill when he is flying look like they are in the real world as well. But at the other end of the spectrum, characters moving with super speed are basically a blink of an eye and buildings fall and ships fire without enough time to truly appreciate the level of special effects devastation as the scenes are occurring. Snyder owes a great debt to Firefly (reviewed here!) for the style with the camerawork blending with the effects and at times it is nauseating, but in general the effects are decent.

Despite the issues where Man Of Steel is plotted like a familiar super hero origin story, the film feels fresher than most and is not only solidly entertaining, it makes a decent commentary on the human and alien here on Earth.

For other live-action DC superhero works, please check out my reviews of:
The Dark Knight Trilogy
Jonah Hex
Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology 1989 - 1997
Wonder Woman


For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the film reviews I have written.

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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