Saturday, August 31, 2013

August 2013 End Of The Month Report!

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So, I took most of August off. I remained active with writing a script for a motion picture, which means I’m bound to spend some time in September editing and trying to sell the work. What time I spent in August blogging was surprisingly frustrating. My review of The Mortal Instruments: The City Of Bones was plagiarized by a number of sites, which really brought me down (I hate getting litigious on other sites, but I do it!). So, August had lower production, but still ended up as my third best month of the blog!

With Summer Blockbuster Season at an end and a ton of ornament reviews forthcoming, we’re going into the September slump strong!

This month at W.L. Swarts Reviews The Universe, there was one addition to the Top Ten Of All Time! This month, we put special emphasis on Hallmark ornaments, new True Blood episodes, and Summer Blockbusters in theaters and forthcoming. Thanks for all the "likes" for those posts, as well as all of the new hits on older reviews!

Last month, we picked up one new subscriber and hopefully next month we’ll see more! 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 growing 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 August, the index pages were very regularly! 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. 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 August, I have reviewed the following:
460 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Star Trek Books
Graphic Novels
815 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
2344 - 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!)!
198 - 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
684 - 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
698 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Cheese and Meats
Ice Cream
Other Food
195 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
107 - Travel Reviews
Destinations Reviews
Hotels Reviews
152 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
161 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
90 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
31 - Other Product Reviews

The Featured Review For The Month for August is the review of the 2013 Descending Upon Gotham City Batman Hallmark ornament!
Check it out!

The month of August had a lot of movement within the month and from some interesting prior reviews that made the list. For August, the Top Ten Reviews of the month were:
10. ”Dead Meat” - True Blood
9. ”Life Matters” - True Blood
8. Lovelace
7. Orange Is The New Black - Season 1
6. The Top Ten Episodes Of Frasier
5. R.I.P.D.
4. Compulsion
3. The Top Ten Episodes Of Star Trek: Voyager
2. The Lifeguard
1. The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bone

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 - 282 reviews
9s - 404 reviews
8s - 749 reviews
7s - 834 reviews
6s - 748 reviews
5s - 998 reviews
4s - 714 reviews
3s - 581 reviews
2s - 253 reviews
1s - 177 reviews
0s - 85 reviews
No rating - 50 articles/postings

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

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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Exciting The Skin And The Nose: The Body Shop Pink Grapefruit Body Butter Works!

The Good: Good smell, Decent protectant/moisturizing properties, Feels great on the skin
The Bad: Pricy.
The Basics: An exciting body butter, Pink Grapefruit Body Butter smells great and moisturizes well for the price!

As the month comes to a close, I’m back with a whole new bevy of reviews! Having just finished my latest script, I am thrilled to return to blogging to review all sorts of movies, television shows and other products I have experienced in the interim. Today, that starts with an amazing product I’ve been using pretty constantly since I left to focus on my writing!

That product is Pink Grapefruit Body Butter from The Body Shop. Pink Grapefruit Body Butter is a wonderful-smelling product which does exactly what it promises in that it moisturizes skin and leaves it smelling great. In fact, this is such a good product that it almost overcomes the expense of the product!

Pink Grapefruit Body Butter from The Body Shop is designed for normal skin. I have normal skin, as it appears that it takes quite a bit for my skin to break out in hives or rashes and is generally well-moisturized. In fact, the driest skin on my body is in the obvious areas; feet, knees and elbows. Not usually inclined to use a product like this on a daily basis, it has been more of a lark for me having some available to me. I've been using it steadily on those three areas as well as my hands for general moisturizing and after a few days, the access to my wife’s body butter has left my feet perfectly well moisturized. My feet had been cracked and dry, but now the skin there is soft and supple.

As with other body butters, a body butter is a somewhat greasy, near-solid cream (like a pomade) that comes in a disc-like container (like shoe polish) that is designed to protect and/or moisturize skin. Unscrewing the top of the container gives the user ample access to the body butter and this is a very easy product to get out of its container and use. As well, this does seem to go rather far. I've used other containers for months and the last few days with Pink Grapefruit Body Butter has left not even a dent in the container. I feel good about that as these have been in the $20.00 range for a 6.75 oz. container, which makes it impossible for me to call this product cheap!

The Pink Grapefruit body butter smells like grapefruit. This is the energizing scent that one expects from anything pink grapefruit. The scent is tangy and recognizably citrusy. The aroma is strong and distinct, instantly recognizable to anyone who likes grapefruit. The scent effervesces well and remains on the skin for several minutes after use.

I have discovered the scent of pink grapefruit remains on the skin – everywhere but my feet - for about three hours. The scent remains clear and delicious-smelling for the duration of its presence on the skin. The smell never turns into anything generic and citrusy, so it remains strongly and rightly grapefruit. That is a nice change from many of the other body butters from The Body Shop.

Pink Grapefruit Body Butter actually works. This body butter does an excellent job of moisturizing skin that is dried out. As a married person, I have learned the importance of keeping my feet soft, so I was pleased to discover how well the Pink Grapefruit Body Butter softens the skin. This is an excellent moisturizer. The body butter moisturized and reinvigorated my skin on my feet, knees and elbows quite well. As well, given all of the typing I do, it was nice to have a moisturizer that kept my fingers and hands soft and supple.

But the cost, not the expense, seemed a bit high. This product goes on greasy and leaves a sensation of being coated. When I've applied it, I've felt coated (something I don't feel with, say Vaseline Intensive Care lotion). While there is no actual film left (I've tested with papers at various points after applying the product), I have a sensation that begs to differ with reality when using this body butter, at least for the first five minutes after application.

The body butter is recommended for maintaining skin moisture in addition to restoring skin to a normal moisture level when it has been dried out. So, for example, body butter is recommended for application after taking a shower (the body usually dehydrates some after acclimating to a long shower or bath) to keep moisture in the skin. Here, the purpose is self-defeating as the body butter makes one feel less clean after getting clean in the shower. Who lathers up in a slimy, greasy-feeling product in order to feel clean after scrubbing off dirt and grime? This Body Butter actually energizes the skin and invigorates the user much like a shower itself does!

I've also noticed that this particular body butter melts. I left it in my car - I took it on a day trip - and the light pink container heated up and melted the product. It resolidified when brought inside and left for a day in a cool, dark area, but it seems like this is a liability if it is being carried around by someone in a handbag or such. While this product is not recommended for areas like the lips, I discovered (by accident) that this has a very inoffensive taste. The flavor is more dry and buttery than the sweet it smells like. It is, however, a little sour.

Pink Grapefruit Body Butter from the Body Shop is a wonderful product and well worth the price and stocking up on!

For other The Body Shop body butters, please check out my reviews of:
Papaya Body Butter
Passion Fruit Body Butter
Strawberry Body Butter


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

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Lost In A Women’s Prison: Mixed Feelings On Orange Is The New Black Season One!

The Good: Acting, Moments of character growth and development.
The Bad: Unsympathetic characters, Soap opera moments, Predictability.
The Basics: Jenji Kohan continues her record of oddly misanthropic female characters with Orange Is The New Black Season One, a season that gets better as it goes along!

Netflix has managed, this very year, to become a real power in original television programming. With big Emmy nominations for the fourth season of Arrested Development (reviewed here!) and the American version of House Of Cards (season one is now reviewed here!), Netflix managed to trump the major established networks and cable networks to become a suddenly legitimate power in entertainment. So, when I started hearing buzz about Orange Is The New Black, I decided to give it a shot. My wife and I sat down and did a marathon of the thirteen episodes of the first season of Orange Is The New Black. Ironically, I was mildly excited about the show and my wife was utterly indifferent, but in the course of watching the show, we reversed our opinions and she came to absolutely love the first season and I found myself indifferent (though, I shall admit up front that the show gets better as it goes along).

Orange Is The New Black is the latest creation by Weeds creator Jenji Kohan and I am convinced I would have enjoyed the first season of Orange Is The New Black had I never seen Weeds. In fact, fans of Weeds will note a number of similarities between the two shows, especially with the seventh season’s beginning (reviewed here!). The thing is, given how self-absorbed and destructive her protagonists (Nancy Botwin and Piper Chapman, not to mention Orange Is The New Black’s Alex Voss) are, Jenji Kohan might well be the most misogynistic writer working on television today. While I absolutely loathed Nancy Botwin – and the acting of Mary-Louise Parker – Taylor Schilling actually impressed me as Piper Chapman on Orange Is The New Black and while other characters talk about her as a user, Piper never seems quite as bad as Nancy Botwin.

Orange Is The New Black is a dramedy, leaning more toward the dramatic side, focusing on Piper Chapman, a yuppie WASP whose past catches up with her abruptly shortly after she gets engaged to Larry Bloom. She is incarcerated at Litchfield Maximum Security Prison in New York where she finds her life and mental health challenged by herself, her ex-lover, and other inmates. Structurally, in its first season, Orange Is The New Black bears a startling resemblance to Lost (reviewed here!), where the island is replaced with a prison. The resemblance includes character flashbacks to illustrate how many of the inmates wound up in Litchfield (the similarity is so uncanny that at least one secondary character is featured solely for an episode when she is killed!), but the “hook” for Orange Is The New Black is nowhere near as strong as the one for Lost (and the show begins with a far less pleasant beginning).

Piper Chapman surrenders herself to Litchfield Correctional Facility the morning after her pregnant best friend (and business partner) and fiancé throw a going away party for her. Arriving at prison, she soon finds procedural obstacles (not having commissary money immediately means that she has to make footware for the shower out of maxi pads to avoid getting foot fungus) and predictable character conflicts. Despite feeling a crippling sense of isolation, she is aided by the senior prison guard, Sam Healy, who recognizes her as being both better off than most of the inmates and the victim of some serious bad luck (Piper carried a bag full of drug money ten years prior, a crime that had a statute of limitations of twelve years!).

When Piper discovers that the woman she ran the money for, Alex Voss, is at Litchfield with her, she goes out of her way to avoid Voss, who was her lover at the time. On the outside, Larry Bloom (Piper’s fiancé) struggles to launch his writing career and Piper’s best friend, Polly struggles to get their emerging business off the ground while Piper is in prison. To make her life easier, Larry tells Piper that Alex had nothing to do with her incarceration (though it is a lie; Alex named Piper to get a reduced sentence), which opens Piper up to a friendship with Alex. Alex and Piper’s friendship troubles Sam Healy who not only has Piper condemned to Solitary, but tells Larry about Alex and Piper hooking up (which, ironically, they had not done when Sam called Larry!). As Piper’s life spins out of control, she tries to rely upon both Larry and Alex, but feels distance from Larry following his appearance on an NPR radio show that causes Piper friction around the prison. In the wake of the radio show, Alex finds herself on the outs with both Larry and Alex and the target of a crazed Evangelical who blames Piper for her nervous breakdown.

The plot of Orange Is The New Black utilizes a number of soap opera conceits in its first season. Larry and Alex lie to Piper repeatedly and some of the big moments of the season are supposed to be when their various truths come out, but because the lies are so big and so obvious, their revelations seem more formulaic and predictable, as opposed to truly audacious or surprising. So, too, is the inevitable sexual relationship between Piper and Alex. The conceit of having both of the women locked up in the same facility was virtually begging for the reunion, so despite the circumstances of their lovemaking, the moment it happens is less great character development and more the result of preordained structure.

What makes the beginning of the first season of Orange Is The New Black bearable are the supporting characters. Strong and intriguing individuals like Red (played with absolute brilliance by Kate Mulgrew) and Sophia Burset, who is a transgendered inmate, make it much easier to stick with the banal drama of Piper Chapman until the series picks up with the murderous “Pennsatucky” in the latter half of the season. Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett is an Evangelical Christian fundamentalist who has been incarcerated for killing an abortion doctor. Inside Litchfield, she has garnered a following and when she gets Piper thrown into solitary using Healy, Piper and Alex get revenge through pranks that reveal just how mentally unbalances Doggett is.

Orange Is The New Black has a decent collection of characters and in the first season, the primary characters include:

Piper Chapman – A young thirtysomething, she surrenders to Litchfield when her ten year-old crime of (once) getting drug money around Customs comes back to haunt her. Her fiance’s father was her lawyer and advised her to plea out. Inside prison, she tries to lay low and fly right, but she is almost immediately the object of affection for a prisoner who seems dangerously unbalanced and declares that Chapman is now her wife. When lets the woman down and moves into a bunkroom with an older inmate (in the black dormitory), Piper manages to keep her distance from Alex. After reconciling with Red, accidentally stealing a screwdriver and reconnecting with her ex-lover, Piper finds herself truly alone in the world,

Larry Bloom – Piper’s fiancé who starts her incarceration very supportive. A friend of Piper’s slacker brother, Larry tries to get a piece into print. When he manages to get a relationship column into The New York Times, he reveals secrets about Alex’s fellow prisoners and the conditions inside Litchfield. After a radio program that makes things even worse for her, Larry comes unspooled and jumps between trying to marry Piper right away and dumping her entirely,

Alex Voss – A convicted drug runner, she manipulates circumstances so Piper is incarcerated at Litchfield. Annoyed by how Piper is keeping her distance, she slowly comes around after Piper asks her for forgiveness. Alex, however, sees Piper for who she is and – despite getting romantically involved with her again – refuses to truly trust her,

Red – A Russian mob wife, she runs the kitchen. When Piper insults the cooking on her first day, Red starts starving her out. But when Piper makes her a salve for her ailing back, she comes around. Red acts as a mother to her kitchen staff. While she manages to get ingredients she needs smuggled in, she refuses to do anything with drugs. That puts her at odds with the guard, Mendez, with whom she goes to war,

Miss Claudette – Piper’s roommate who may be a murderer who avenged the abuse of one of her cleaning girls. She has long been in love with the boy who helped her get acclimated when she was brought to the U.S. She is stern and clean and has a ray of light that finally leads her to consider filing an appeal,

Nicky Nichols – One of Piper’s first friends, she was a druggie and has been having a relationship with Morello. When Morello decides to be faithful to her fiancé, Nicky turns to Alex,

Daya – An inmate who comes in at the same time as Piper, she has a flirtatious relationship with John Bennett. When their illicit romance turns serious, they find themselves in real trouble when Bennett gets her pregnant,

John Bennett – A war veteran, he is a benevolent guard. Despite how illegal it is, he finds himself attracted to Daya, resists her mother’s advances, and struggles to keep professional otherwise. He is missing part of his leg, though not from an obvious cause,

George “Pornstache” Mendez – The most corrupt guard on the block, he gets drugs into Litchfield. He tries to use Red’s produce smuggler as a way to get drugs into the prison, which sets off a nasty series of events,

and Sam Healy – The senior guard, he seems instantly sympathetic as a somewhat sad man with a mail-order Russian bride who clearly loathes him. He tries taking Piper under his wing, but soon is lead to misinterpret her actions as conflicting with his personal morals. As events spin out of control in Litchfield, he crumbles and puts many people’s lives in jeopardy.

Orange Is The New Black may be plagued by plot and structural conceit issues, but it has amazing acting and generally interesting characters who have real depth to them. On the acting front, Taylor Schilling makes much more of an impression as Piper Chapman than she did in The Lucky One (reviewed here!). In fact, Schilling is sympathetic as Piper early on and she plays the horrors of human alienation remarkably well right off the bat.

Orange Is The New Black has an amazing supporting cast as well. Laura Prepon, Natasha Lyonne, Pablo Schreiber, Dascha Polanco, and Laverne Cox all present characters with serious depth and subtlety to them. None of their characters would be nearly as viable or realistic without the amazing performers playing them. Sadly, Jason Biggs gives the viewer nothing new or substantial as Larry Bloom.

The show’s acting, however, is ruled by the performances of Kate Mulgrew and Michael Harney. Kate Mulgrew illustrates all of the talent she possessed but was seldom capitalized upon in Star Trek: Voyager (reviewed here!). Playing the Russian cook, Red, Mulgrew is powerful and deeply human. Harney plays Sam Healy and the role is unlike anything he has ever played before. Harney has the long arc that allows him to give shading and realistic unveiling of Healy. Instantly sympathetic, Harney makes Healy smart and intuitive, but slowly unravels him from the stress of running Litchfield. Harney plays with sadness in his eyes and a weariness to his body language that is completely convincing.

Even though the acting is amazing and the characters are interesting, Orange Is The New Black is too tough a sell in its first season to get a recommendation from me. Yeah, I’m interested to see where it is going, but I find myself hoping that where the show journeys is more interesting and original than where it has been.

For other works featuring Michael Harney, please visit my reviews of:
NYPD Blue - Season Four
NYPD Blue - Season Three
NYPD Blue - Season Two
NYPD Blue - Season One
“Honor Among Thieves” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine


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

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Great Concept, Overkill Execution: Uncle Sam!

The Good: Amazing artwork, Great concept
The Bad: Thematically overbearing
The Basics: Uncle Sam might look good and have some awesome ideas, but it is so repetitive, oppressive, and thematically uncomplicated as to make for an ultimately poor read.

As a fan of some of the works of Alex Ross, I decided to make an effort to read the other books by him that I had not yet tracked down. In the case of the works of Alex Ross, I only learned about Uncle Sam through the book about Ross’s artwork, Mythology: The Art Of Alex Ross (reviewed here!) and after so much time, I decided it was time to read it. As a liberal, I was excited about Uncle Sam. From the artwork and the foreword, I was pumped for the short trade paperback anthology.

Uncle Sam was originally written as a two comic book release and is now anthologized in a single paperback or hardcover volume. The book was written by Steve Darnall and features the artwork of Alex Ross. Ross made the beautiful painted books Kingdom Come (reviewed here!) and Justice (reviewed here!), the latter of which remains my favorite graphic novel of all time. So, given how high the bar was set for the projects that Alex Ross has worked on, it was reasonable that I would be excited about Uncle Sam.

So, it was that much more of a letdown when it turned out to be a colossal waste of time.

Uncle Sam might be for some people – the so-called patriots who think they know what America stands for but champion war and unbridled capitalism – but for the enlightened and educated, Uncle Sam is just cripplingly slow and intensely repetitive.

Uncle Sam follows an old man who is struggling to remember who he is. His mind is filled with political slogans and sound bytes and as he wanders the street – his boots get stolen early on – and around him are all the signs of urban decay. The man keeps slipping in and out of the present, falling back in time to the past and various essential incidents in American History. The man was a part of massacres of the native American Indians, the abolitionist movement, the fight for women’s rights and a ton of other key moments in the formation of America. But then he witnesses the corruption of government, the destruction of the economy and all of the ways that the ideals of the nation are twisted into something disturbing. He finds the pseudo-patriotic doppelganger of himself and gets into a psychological battle with it, attempting to assert the values of America.

The artwork in Uncle Sam is predictably amazing. Like Alex Ross’s other works, the book features panels that are painting-quality and the book looks great. The coloring and artwork is impressive.

Unfortunately, the book is thematically oppressive and repetitive to the point of being pointless. The reader will get the point of the book within the first ten pages and the book does not get better or more diverse after that. Early in the book, there is a wonderful story that features the lines, "And slowly, over many years, the people realized they were not citizens. They were not members of a community. They were clocking in and punching out and killing time. They were employees. . . I walk past a nation that's covered in equal parts of dirt and despair." It is an incredible and powerful moment and substory within the book. And the book does not get better after that. Moreover, the book just keeps repeating the same idea.

Capitalism has undermined democracy in the United States. As an anticapitalist, I get it. Uncle Sam is obvious and it just beats that theme to death. Given that there is so much space to the book after it makes its point, it becomes painful to muddle through. Sadly, this was not the inspired work I might have hoped.

For other standalone graphic novels, please check out my reviews of:
Watchmen By Alan Moore
Fray By Joss Whedon
The Hiketeia By Greg Rucka


For other book reviews, please visit my Graphic Novel Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Well, That Was Predictable: Why I Hate “Regeneration”

The Good: General concept is not absolutely terrible, Good special effects
The Bad: No character development, Lackluster acting, Horrible continuity
The Basics: “Regeneration” follows up on the Borg from Star Trek: First Contact and makes such a mess it is virtually impossible to take the episode seriously.

Poor Brannon Braga. Brannon Braga was a writer for Star Trek: The Next Generation who wowed the show runners and took over as an executive producer late in the run on Star Trek: Voyager. While, as a writer, he might have proven quickly to be a one-trick pony, as a producer and co-creator of Enterprise he added to his reputation as a guy who didn’t really give a damn about Mealticket, er, Star Trek and he set out to remake the Star Trek universe in his image. It was a colossal failure and Star Trek has been limping as a franchise ever since. Given the lack of success Braga’s subsequent television projects have had, one is either tempted to blame the demise of the Trek franchise on Braga or be impressed that it lasted as long as it did when he held the reins.

Unfortunately, even as Brannon Braga said “fuck you!” to decades of Star Trek continuity and worked to remake Star Trek as he saw fit, he did a surprisingly good job of maintaining continuity within his own little Bragaverse. As one of the co-writers of Star Trek: First Contact (reviewed here!), there was some sense to “Regeneration,” which returned the Borg from Star Trek: First Contact to the forefront. “Regeneration” is built on a somewhat ridiculous premise, which is that the Enterprise-D did not scan Earth after the destruction of the Borg Queen’s sphere for debris. Picard, who was very concerned about polluting the timeline, apparently left a pretty extensive amount of debris in the Arctic before returning to the 24th Century. Unfortunately, “Regeneration” pretty much undermines all of the subsequent interactions between StarFleet and the Borg and is an episode whose analysis is largely a string of continuity issues in the larger Star Trek universe.

StarFleet sends a science expedition to the Arctic where they discover corpses and debris from the Borg ship that crashed there almost a hundred years before. In thawing out and studying the Borg Corpses, the scientists accidentally reanimate them. The reanimated Borg begin assimilating scientists and they hijack a cargo transport. From there, the Borg attack a Tarkalean cargo ship.

The Enterprise is sent to intercept the rapidly transforming Borg ship and in trying to rescue the Tarkaleans, Dr. Phlox discovers the Borg nanoprobes. When the Borgified Tarkalean attacks Phlox, they flee the Enterprise and start heading toward Borg space. As Phlox tries to resist the nanoprobes taking over his body, Reed begins modifying the phase pistols to shoot through the Borg personal shields.

Where to start with the ridiculousness? First, Archer recalls Zephram Cochrane talking about the Borg and time travel during a college commencement ceremony in his later years. This makes either Zephram Cochrane into either one of history’s greatest villains (by not more coherently detailing who and what the Borg were so future generations could be prepared) or every subsequent StarFleet person who claimed Cochrane was their hero a liar in that they missed one of Cochrane’s most important speeches (especially after the Borg were encountered in the 24th Century).

But, as far as high-minded time-travel concepts go, “Regeneration” hits a precarious new low. If the Borg survived the destruction of the Borg Queen’s Sphere and they sent a signal to the Delta Quadrant, the Federation had two hundred years to prepare for an invasion, not the year and a half they thought in “The Best Of Both Worlds” (reviewed here!). But equally important, if the events of “Regeneration” occurred, StarFleet officers and certainly StarFleet historians would be briefed on the mission. At this point, hundreds of StarFleet officers have (albeit ridiculously) been assimilated by the Borg. How is it none of them are students of history who know about the Borg’s mission in the 22nd Century? This is worth asking because by now it seems like one of the assimilated humans from the 24th Century would know how the Borg were defeated in the 22nd Century and before the Borg ever attacked Earth in Star Trek: First Contact all of the drones would have had the technical knowledge and strategy to avoid losing the same way.

Any way one cuts it, the Borg from the 24th Century should have no problem cutting through any race from the 22nd Century in the Alpha Quadrant. The inability of contemporary technology to defeat future Borg was already addressed in the Star Trek: Voyager episode “Drone” (reviewed here!), but apparently neglected when “Regeneration” was pitched. The Borg in “Regeneration” should have easily been able to adapt 22nd Century technology into 24th Century technology and created a beacon that would arrive in Borg space in the Delta Quadrant significantly faster than two hundred years.

In fact, the only thing “Regeneration” does it reasonably create a premise for the Hansens (Seven Of Nine’s human parents) to have heard of the Borg and go out looking for them. As I mentioned; Braga has a way of looking out for his own interests.

Continuing on the laundry lists of serious continuity problems, the Borg nanoprobes should have been fast acting on all of the aliens encountered in the episode. The idea that Dr. Phlox found a cure for nanoprobe technology in the 22nd Century is utterly ridiculous in that the EMH on Voyager was programmed with the sum of all Federation medical knowledge; if Phlox had found a cure to Borg nanoprobes, the EMH would have known about it because what possible reason could Phlox have for not sharing his notes on stopping Borg technology?!

Unremarkable with the acting, devoid of character development, “Regeneration” is a virtual shitstorm of bad concepts that once again undermines the once terrifying menace that was the Borg.

The three biggest gaffes in “Regeneration:”
3. T’Pol characterizes Zephram Cochrane as a drunk, but all accounts from everyone in Star Trek: First Contact had him pegged as a hero. In fact, the Zephram Cochrane subplot of Star Trek: First Contact is, by and large, the story of a man who was turning a corner. Given his historic accomplishments, it makes far more sense that humans would have whitewashed his personal history fast, especially with the way they compete with Vulcans to get into space,
2. Phlox references the Bynars. The Bynars were a relatively recently discovered race in “11001001” (reviewed here!) which was the only episode they were featured in. They should be so far from the core of the Federation that even the Denobulans have not yet encountered them,
1. If the Federation encountered the 24th Century version of the Borg in the 22nd Century, there is simply no way they should have been able to hold them off with their limited technology.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Enterprise - The Complete Second Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophmore season here!


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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About As Good As They’ll Get: The 2013 Lego Yoda Star Wars Ornament!

The Good: Looks like it is supposed to, Good balance, Good head detailing.
The Bad: Overpriced, Ridiculous subject, Overly large for the subject.
The Basics:Despite looking like the Lego version of Yoda, Hallmark’s 2013 Lego Star Wars ornament still has some serious problems.

There is something to be said for reviewing objects solely based on what they are with no comparison to others of the same type. In the case of the Lego Star Wars ornament line, the Lego Yoda ornament Hallmark might have received a higher rating had I not seen how the Lego Yoda is the same size (technically larger) than the two prior Lego Star Wars ornaments. This Lego Yoda might look a bit ridiculous, but it does look like the Lego version of Yoda.

The Lego Yoda ornament is the third in the series of character ornaments from Lego Star Wars. Fans of the Star Wars Legos and, perhaps as important, the Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga video game (reviewed here!), will easily recognize the Lego variation on the classic Yoda. Hallmark captures the Yoda, in Lego form, with his little Lego lightsaber in his hand, standing on a Lego-style base!

This is a very typical, very average Star Wars ornament with no bells and whistles, but given that it is based on a video game, based on a toy, based on the movies, it is really only for the serious die-hard collectors of Star Wars merchandise.


The Lego Yoda ornament recreates the Lego Jedi in solid plastic on a black and gray plastic Lego block base. The ornament, released in 2013, is the younger version of Yoda holding a green lightsaber in his right hand, or socket, given how rounded the hands on Lego characters are. Hallmark managed to get $14.95 originally for this ornament and it is selling slowly locally, which might well mean it is not catching on with collectors (the prior two were locally available well after Christmas at clearance prices). This character ornament is 3 7/8" tall, 2 1/2” wide and 2 1/2” deep. Given that the ornament was designed for fans, this is an ornament that appeals to collectors, though I suspect it is not nailing it with either of its target demographics. It is not detailed and realistic the way most Star Wars fans like their collectibles and it is not small enough or versatile enough to actually appeal to fans of Lego block toys.

The Hallmark Lego Yoda ornament is made of a durable plastic and has him holding a bright yellow-green lightsaber in his right hand. His feet are arranged in a solid stance, attached as they are to a Lego block base. This is a very simplified sculpt of a Lego Yoda, but the essential parts are there: the green skin, giant ears and eyes and the Lego-style open hands.

The Lego Yoda ornament is also detailed with the coloring to back up the sculpt. The front panel is made to look like a classic Lego toy sticker, but it is painted on, which is a nice touch. Unfortunately, the Lego Yoda is a pretty basic character and so there is not much that can be done in terms of detailing, so Hallmark does not need to try to add depth, shading or anything else to the color palate to get this ornament right. However, both the molding and the coloring added to the character’s hair on this ornament is actually pretty cool. In addition, Yoda’s brow ridges are nicely molded into the head.

Unfortunately, the ornament does not have any articulation to it, so fans who want to turn the head or move the arms will be disappointed.


As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, the Lego Yoda could have a function like a sound chip or light effect, but does not. This is just an ornament, a low-cost (comparatively) option for those who might not want to shell out for the ship or diorama series' of Star Wars ornaments. This Lego Yoda simply hangs.


As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake Lego Yoda ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate Star Wars Christmas Tree, the Lego Yoda is very much a luxury; this whole concept is more ridiculous than realistic, so this is very much a “luxury” ornament for the serious die-hard fans. The ornament has a metal hook loop embedded into the top center of the character's head. From that hook, the Lego Yoda ornament hangs perfectly level. Somehow, Hallmark managed to prevent the ornament from being frontheavy despite the lightsaber in the right hand.


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 that review!). Since then, they have branched out into other popular franchises like Star Wars and The Wizard Of Oz. The Lego Yoda ornament is very common and one suspects more will sell on clearance after the holiday is over.

This is not a great investment piece and it is unlikely to appreciate for quite some time, if ever.


The Lego Yoda ornament is a better continuation of the Lego Star Wars than the previous Lego Star Wars ornaments. Given how Hallmark has not been exploiting the Lego line for any other major Lego properties, the Lego Yoda ornament is just as likely to make Star Wars fans feel milked for cash as opposed to truly thrilled.

For other Hallmark ornaments of Star Wars characters, please check out my reviews of:
2013 Boushh Limited Edition
2012 Lego Imperial Stormtrooper
2012 Sith Apprentice Darth Maul
2012 General Grievous
2012 Momaw Nadon Limited Edition
2011/2012 Lego Darth Vader
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
2000 Darth Maul
1999 Max Rebo Band mini-ornament set
1998 Princess Leia


For other ornament reviews, please be sure to visit my Ornament Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Friday, August 16, 2013

A Blend Of Recognizable Greats And Forgettable Hits: Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II!

The Good: Some wonderful lyrics, Great voice, Decent sound
The Bad: Could be longer for my tastes, Some forgettable early songs
The Basics: Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II by Billy Joel may be one of the bestselling albums of all time, but it does not age as well as one might hope.

I think that some might be daunted to review one of the best-selling albums of all time, but I’m not one of those people. Instead, when I selected Billy Joel as my next male artist to immerse myself in the works of (yeah, that’s some spectacular grammar!), I actually had no idea that his compilation album set Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II was (at last count) the third best-selling certified album of all time (it turns out there’s an asterisk on that – this set is tied with two other albums for third). In listening to Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II, the first thing that struck me was how forgettable some of the early works of Billy Joel truly are. Given that I grew up in the 1980s, the album becomes more and more relevant late on the first disc and throughout the second disc, but it is hard for me not to think that had this been Volumes II & III together, it would have gotten a more favorable review from me.

At the crux of it is this: some of Billy Joel’s early works are clever but forgettable (“The Entertainer”) or dismally repetitive (“Captain Jack”) and might have been part of establishing Joel as an international superstar, but not they play poorly. After “Piano Man” on Disc One, there is a dearth of recognizable hits until “New York State Of Mind” and then a gap until “Just The Way You Are.” In the overall pantheon of Billy Joel’s works, it is hard to argue that “The Stranger” or “Say Goodbye To Hollywood” are truly his greatest works. That said, there is enough on Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II to please the fans and convert those who only have enjoyed Joel’s radio hits into fans!

Split into two discs, Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II is a compilation album that is distinctly the creative work of Billy Joel. With twenty-five songs on two discs clocking out at a total of one hour, fifty-three minutes, Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II does a decent job of including the hits with minimal fat. There are only two original tracks and they hold up poorly by comparison. “You’re Only Human (Second Wind)” and “The Night Is Still Young” do not hold a candle to the hits that appear on Volume III (eventually). I appreciate putting new material on Greatest Hits compilations, but it should be of a quality that matches the rest of the works and the two new songs are as unmemorable as some of the lesser hits on disc one. That said, Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II illustrates well the many talents of Billy Joel. Joel wrote the words and music to all twenty-five songs on Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II, which was a bit of surprise for me only for “New York State Of Mind.” Joel provides all of the primary vocals and he plays keyboard, piano, or other instruments on each track as well. The only major creative aspect of the album that Billy Joel is not credited with is production, though for the bulk of his career and the songs on this album, his works were produced by Phil Ramone. Given how long they worked together, it is hard to believe the works on Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II are not Joel’s musical vision.

Billy Joel’s sound is the very definition of light pop rock, especially on Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II. Recreating a 1950’s du-wop type sound on songs like “Uptown Girl” and “The Longest Time,” most of the songs are ballad and light rock piano-driven songs. While there is a (piano-driven) folksy sound to songs like “Piano Man” and an epic ballad sound to songs like “Just The Way You Are” and “She’s Got A Way,” Joel makes a series of fairly limited instrument combinations sound fresh track to track.

Vocally, Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II has Billy Joel largely singing in a mid-tenor vocal range. Joel sings clearly and articulately on every song and it is no surprise that “Piano Man” resonated so well as he articulates each and every word with perfect clarity. While Joel goes a little lower on songs like “Pressure” or holds notes longer on songs like “Allentown” and “Goodnight Saigon,” most of the songs on Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II have Billy Joel singing very similarly to on “Piano Man” with clear, direct vocalizations.

Lyrically, Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II has a pretty decent blend to it. Many of the songs are musical storysongs, much like what one might expect from folk music. Songs like “Piano Man” have a clear musical protagonist who tells a story and has something of a character arc. Joel appears to go autobiographical when he sings about the music industry with lines like “You’ve heard my latest record, it’s been on the radio / It took me years to write it, they were the best years of my life, / If you’re gonna have a hit you gotta make it fit / So they cut it down to 3:05” (“The Entertainer”) and the song is probably the best “hidden gem” for those who do not know most of Joel’s earliest works.

Many of the songs, though, are just emotional explorations of how relationships work. “Just The Way You Are” poetically embodies the feelings of love one might feel when they have found “the one.” With declarations like “I would not leave you in times of trouble / We never could have come this far / I took the good times, I’ll take the bad times / I’ll take you just the way you are” (“Just The Way You Are”) it is easy to see how Billy Joel became known around the world for great love songs.

Joel is known as well for upbeat, feel-good songs and “It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me.” Joel did lists songs remarkably well and when he wrote “Don’t waste your money on a new pair of speakers, / You get more mileage from a cheap pair of sneakers. / Next phase, new wave, dance craze, anyways / It’s still rock and roll to me” (“It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me”) it sounded incredibly fresh. On Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II, Joel’s rhymes sound original and fun.

Ultimately, Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II is a good example of Joel’s popular works, but given that there are at least two more compilations that have all of these songs and more, it is impossible to recommend, despite being easy to enjoy.

For other Billy Joel reviews, please check out:
52nd Street
Glass Houses
The Nylon Curtain
An Innocent Man
River Of Dreams


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

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Plot Rules The Penultimate Episode Where “Life Matters!”

The Good: The plot progresses, A decent farewell to a dead character
The Bad: Nothing exceptional on the performance front, No real character development, Baffling plot discontinuities
The Basics: In the sixth season’s penultimate episode, “Life Matters,” Bill’s vision is more or less realized with consequences more absurd than incredible.

With any serialized television series that effectively employs foreshadowing as a plot technique or in working to develop serious, long, character arcs, there comes a time when the foreshadowing has to pay off. In the sixth season of True Blood, the show has been steadily building to what appears to be the death of several important characters in a white room in the Governor’s compound. Bill saw a vision of the untimely death of most of the credited vampires in “Who Are You, Really?” (reviewed here!) and viewers have been hanging on to see if that would be the last shot of the season or if the consequences of those (potential) deaths would be dealt with.

Rather smartly, the writers and producers of True Blood went with the latter option and with the penultimate episode, “Life Matters,” viewers get to witness Bill’s vision in real time. And “Life Matters” is pretty much worth it. That said, late in the episode, director Romeo Tirone makes some absolutely baffling choices with extras that gut the emotional resonance of the season’s big plot arc. Because this is a late-in-the-season episode, it is impossible to discuss “Life Matters” without revealing some key aspects of where “Dead Meat” (reviewed here!) left off. Consider that a spoiler alert.

Opening with Sookie and Bill arriving in the fairy realm to find Warlow largely exsanguinated byEric, Sookie vows to keep her word to Warlow and remains with him after launching Bill back into the real world. There, Bill finds himself arriving late to the jailbreak Eric has incited at the Governor’s compound. While Sookie attends Terry’s funeral, Eric frees the vampires in search of Pam, Willa, and the others Bill saw in the white room meeting the sun. Minutes behind him, Bill finds vampires tormenting back at their tormentors. When Eric finds Jason Stackhouse still alive in the female gen pop cell, he has a very different experience than he did after freeing the male gen pop (where he confirmed that the inmates of the camp have been infected with Hep V).

Guided by Jason, Eric finds his way to where his friends and progeny are being kept. Meanwhile, Sarah Newlin manages to escape the carnage (how? Every other vampire has been able to hear heartbeats and smell living humans!) and she runs outside to make Bill’s vision come to light. As the sun enters the white room, Eric and Bill’s paths converge and . . . the long-awaited event occurs in a slightly different way than previously visualized and with an anticlimax that has a casualty that is truly hard to give a damn about. Spliced in between the action at the Governor’s camp is Terry Bellefleur’s funeral, which is where Sookie and the rest of the main cast finds closure and spends their time.

“Life Matters” has some really odd discontinuities. Foremost among them is that Eric has come to care about vampirekind, yet releases a ton of infected vampires out into the facility. While it was night moments ago – Eric bit Adilyn at night to enter Warlow’s realm – but apparently lingered there the whole night? This makes no rational sense as if Eric truly wanted to save everyone, night time would be the best time to open the cages.

But, more importantly, “Life Matters” has a resolution that makes absolutely no sense. Eric frees a number of vampires who are infected with Hep-V when the humane thing would be to kill them. Eric has seen firsthand just how gruesome their deaths will be and given that no cure for the disease was found in the episode, there are a number of infected vampires who are about to die pretty horribly in the genera vampire population. But as baffling are the sheer number of vampires seen in the sun at the climax of the episode. Either they are infected with Hep-V, but Eric fed them anyway or . . . well, they couldn’t have fed on anyone else because those who did were seen doing so . . .

The scenes that focus on Terry’s funeral are good, though they allow Sookie to make even the tragedy of his death partly about her. The plotline is a fitting exit for Terry and the flashbacks are nice; even Sookie’s revelation of her telepathic nature is not trumped by her revealing that Terry was in love with Arlene from the moment he first saw her.

“Life Matters” stumbles a bit on the character front. Given Sookie’s assertions at her parents’ graves in the prior episode, it is no surprise she is willing to stay with the wounded Warlow and honor her word to him. Similarly, given how angry Eric was following the death of Nora, it is unsurprising that he would still have issues even after the Governor’s camp is essentially dismantled. Ironically, the character of Terry is fleshed out a bit more, but given that he is dead and not likely to return, it ends up being something of a wash. The surviving characters do not grow or develop in any truly significant ways.

“Life Matters” does live up to the promise of a casualty, though, but it is not one of the major characters and the death is not one likely to change any of the surviving ones (Jason Stackhouse, for example, could have begun a much more interesting potential arc had he become a killer in this episode). Like so much of the sixth season of True Blood, “Life Matters” got where it promised, but did nothing truly extraordinary in getting there or where it leaves the viewer.

[For a much better value, check out True Blood Season 6 on Blu-Ray and DVD. The penultimate season is reviewed here! Check it out!]

For other fantasy movies based on book series’, please visit my reviews of:
The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones
The Twilight Saga
Beautiful Creatures
Warm Bodies


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

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Ultimate Tale Of Peer Pressure: Lovelace

The Good: Acting, Interesting character struggle.
The Bad: Very predictable plot
The Basics: Pounding the independent film circuit at the end of Summer Blockbuster Season, Lovelace should be Amanda Seyfried and Peter Sarsgaard’s ticket to Oscar nominations.

As Summer Blockbuster Season winds down, with a particularly crowded release weekend, there are a number of independent films being released alongside the mainstream ones that are largely getting neglected. One of the most anticipated ones that is nevertheless being overlooked by mainstream audiences this weekend is Lovelace. Lovelace is a drama/biography starring Amanda Seyfried and for those who are only into the salacious, there is no need to read any further: Amanda Seyfried gets naked in Lovelace. For those looking for something more substantive, there is plenty more to read, but for the audience who just wants to see more of Amanda Seyfried, the bottomline is that yes, Lovelace lives up to the potential of its subject by showing off more of Amanda Seyfried than in her other films.

For those unfamiliar with her, Linda Lovelace was the star of the classic porn film Deep Throat. Apparently, she was the first breakout, mainstream porn actress to capture the imagination of viewers in Deep Throat. It is worth noting up front that I knew nothing about Linda Lovelace and have never actually seen Deep Throat, so this review is only on Lovelace, not how it recreates reality on screen. Lovelace is essentially this year’s Boogie Nights (reviewed here!) where the protagonist is female. Structured in plot very much like Boogie Nights, Lovelace features a woman who is pressured by her husband into entering the porn industry.

Before she was a mainstream porn breakout, Linda Lovelace was just a girl. Hanging out with her friend Patsy, Linda is something of a prude who is pressured by Patsy into go-go dancing at a local roller skating rink. There she catches the eye of Chuck, who starts hanging out with her and actually works to impress her parents. Linda confesses to Chuck that she had a baby whom she was forced to give up for adoption by her mother and shortly thereafter, Linda and Chuck move in together. At Chuck’s house, she is exposed to porn movies and after she bails him out of jail six months later, Chuck reveals what his real business is (he is essentially a pimp for a topless bar’s women).

After Linda bombs an audition for Chuck’s backers, Chuck plays a home video of Linda giving him a blowjob and that captures the attention of producers Butchie and Gerry. Linda is pushed into doing a porn movie,

While Lovelace is a predictably dark plot progression of a character in an industry that is unforgiving and punishing to women. As After Porn Ends (reviewed here!) adequately documented, porn and erotica do not have a huge regard for women and Lovelace illustrates that women in the industry are often manipulated and pushed farther than they might want to go. As well, the aging porn star Dolly illustrates that the industry does not prepare women in the biz for other vocations, but the ones who are best prepared for life after porn are those who take on other vocations (Dolly is a make-up artist).

As these stories frequently go – in reality and in virtually every fiction about them - Lovelace starts as the story of a person with a singular talent filling a niche in the industry and quickly turns into a story of abuse, drugs and personal horror. What separates Lovelace from many other films, like What’s Love Got To Do With It? is a lack of pretense, a focus on overcoming, and some pretty amazing performances.

The lack of pretense manifests itself instantly in the form of Chuck. Chuck is a dirtbag and the moment he first arrives on screen, the viewer knows he is bad news for Linda. We see his arc coming a mile away. Lovelace does not try to shield or confuse the viewer. Instead, Chuck is a dirtbag, but Linda is not an innocent. Linda is not at all thrilled by all of Chuck’s mannerisms, but she goes along with him and is beaten by him long before he pushes her into porn. Lovelace is smart enough to leave some ambiguity; do the producers send Chuck away the day Linda is going down on co-star Harry Reems because he will inhibit her performance or because she is more likely to be easily manipulated without him looking out for his “investment?”

The seduction and calamity of Lovelace happens at a roller coaster speed, which leaves a significant chunk of the film exploring how Linda deals with her celebrity and overcomes the negative influences of Chuck. While the movie never quite gets into “inspirational” territory, it smartly does not sink so low as to be unwatchable or continually oppressive. The focus on Linda overcoming Chuck and their shared poverty and problems keeps Lovelace watchable.

The acting in Lovelace is so good it is hard to believe this film is not breaking out in mainstream theaters. With a supporting cast that includes Chris Noth, Wes Bentley, Hank Azaria, Sharon Stone, and Robert Patrick, Lovelace is an incredible presentation of talent in every frame. Amanda Seyfried is perfectly cast as Linda Lovelace. If for no other reason than Seyfried is able to perfectly embody both innocent and sultry, she seems like the ideal choice for Linda Lovelace and she sells the life story of the actress as compelling and engaging.

It was Peter Sarsgaard who rocked Lovelace for me, though. Sarsgaard has none of the creepiness of his villain from Green Lantern (reviewed here!) in his portrayal of Chuck. As a result, he is able to play Chuck first with credible charisma and then as a manipulative bastard who rules all of Linda’s life. The key to such a role is in making the character seem like one the woman would initially be drawn to and he manages to do that. The layered performance of Peter Sarsgaard and the on-screen chemistry he shares with Seyfried make it seem like a no-brainer that a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination is in his future.

Despite its tone and subject matter, Lovelace is a very accessible film that becomes one of August’s few “must watch” movies!

For other works with Amanda Seyfried, please check out my reviews of:
The Big Wedding
Les Miserables
In Time
A Bag Of Hammers
Red Riding Hood
Letters To Juliet
Dear John
Veronica Mars - Season One
Mean Girls


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

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Dividing The Camp Between Those Who Are “Dead Meat” And Those Who Might Survive!

The Good: Decent plot progression, Good character development, Moments of performance
The Bad: Still a little crowded at the expense of coherency.
The Basics: “Dead Meat” continues to progress the True Blood story, enhancing the supernatural plotline with some starkly realistic moments!

One of the consequences of creating heavily-serialized television is that episode by episode, a season might be weaker than the season as a whole. The current season of True Blood has been one of its most erratic, though it is not a bad season. It is, however, virtually impossible to discuss the episodes without revealing some of the details of prior episodes. By the time “Dead Meat” comes up, the show is hip deep in casualties and the season has been leading toward a vampire cataclysm foreseen by Bill in the first episode of the season. Following on the heels of “In The Evening” (reviewed here!), “Dead Meat” brings the viewer closer to the inevitable without leaving the viewer without reason to tune in the next week. In other words, the hand is not tipped yet.

That said, “Dead Meat” effectively moves the plot of True Blood forward and puts the characters where they need to be to either be slaughtered or survive. Given that, the episode smartly redirects the season from conspiracy theories and supernatural moments to present a surprisingly grounded and effective episode.

Following the death of his sister, Eric and Bill verbally duke it out over how Bill failed to save Nora. While Bill implores Eric to join him in trying to save the rest of the vampires still at the Governor’s camp, Eric goads Bill about his failure to bring Warlow to him to save Nora, ostensibly because Sookie was involved. Alcide, having been exposed as a liar, is forced to fight to keep control of the pack and save the life of Nicole. In the Governor’s camp, Jason finds himself as the property of an aggressive medieval Catholic vampire. Sookie rejoins Warlow in the fairy realm where she tries to negotiate with him to help Bill save her friends. Returning to the mortal world, Eric discovers that he can break the spell that has masked Warlow. Jessica and James are recaptured and returned to the general population, where Pam is brought in as well. When True Blood is distributed to the vampires, James saves Steve Newlin’s life.

Alcide decides pack life is not for him and returns Nicole and her mother to Sam. As Violet feeds on Jason, Willa, Pam, Tara, and Jessica work to get him free so they might feed. After Arlene learns the truth about Terry’s death, Adilyn reads her mind and realizes why he might have arranged to be killed. Seeing some of the prisoners are not drinking the TruBlood, Sarah milks Steve Newlin for information and begins rounding up the uninfected vampires in the white room! Back at Merlotte’s, Sookie finally reveals to Sam her fairy power.

“Dead Meat” finally advances the Sam and Alcide plotline in a productive manner. Alcide never seemed like a tool and finally he stands up to the pack and decides he doesn’t want their way of life and that is a refreshing, if predictable, character twist for him. Moreover, San sniffing Nicole when they reunite finally confirms what viewers have reasonably begun to suspect since she was bit; that True Blood is going to finally reveal how werewolves can be created in this universe. The quiet scene between Alcide and Sam as they share a drink is a delightful confirmation that the werewolves and shifters have more in common than divides them. The idea that Sam has gotten Nicole pregnant is an interesting one that foreshadows (if past episodes are any precedent) future potential tragedies.

“Dead Meat” features some of the best acting of the season. The scene between Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin where they confront one another about Bill’s plan has the two exhibiting absolutely no chemistry. Paquin and Moyer, who are married and have had amazing on-screen chemistry in the past, play the scene as it ought to be played; with absolute loathing. By contrast, when Sookie returns to Merlott’s, Paquin and Trammell have decent chemistry. Paquin’s job in the scene has to add realistic conflict to Trammell’s Sam at a time when Sam is struggling to commit to Nicole. Trammell makes the scene work by appearing reasonably conflicted while still embodying love for Nicole.

Arguably one of the most impressive aspects of “Dead Meat” is the realistic aspect of it. Arlene, Holly, and Andy (with the Bellefleur’s) sit planning the funeral of Terry Bellefleur and the scene would be impressive in any series not affiliated with Alan Ball, who was one of the creators and execs of Six Feet Under (reviewed here!). Despite being familiar to Ball’s fans, the scene which eats up about five minutes of “Dead Meat” presents the realistic complications of surviving a death and it makes the characters of Andy and Arlene even more well-rounded. Amid fairies, werewolves, and vampires, the realistic scene reminds viewers that True Blood is intended to be a realistic drama with a few supernatural elements and it works for that.

That scene helps make Sookie’s subsequent scene, which has Anna Paquin delivering an emotional monologue to the graves of Sookie’s parents, feel realistic and deep instead of whiny and girlish. Paquin delivers a powerful and emotional performance opposite no one else and it reaffirms her talent.

“Dead Meat” affirms that Sarah Newlin is the true villain of the sixth season of True Blood and Anna Camp plays the role with gruesome ferocity. Camp transforms Sarah from a coldblooded, but meek tactician into a desperate zealot who is pushed over the edge. It is Camp who rises to the occasion of taking her character on a journey that is predictable, but the end product of years of hatred Sarah Newlin has embodied. The emotionless way Camp watches as Steve Newlin breaks down in the white room is enough to give enlightened viewers the shivers. Despite the fact that Steve Newlin is a spineless sycophant, as Sarah tortures him and shows no remorse or humanity, Camp accelerates the process by which Sarah becomes one of the most frightening villains True Blood has created and horrifies the viewer.

Ultimately, “Dead Meat” crams a lot of great moments into a short space and leaves the True Blood viewers wanting more!

[For a much better value, check out True Blood Season 6 on Blu-Ray and DVD. The penultimate season is reviewed here! Check it out!]

For other works with Joe Manganiello, please visit my reviews of:
What To Expect When You're Expecting
How I Met Your Mother - Season 2
Spider-man 3


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

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