Thursday, October 31, 2013

October 2013 End Of The Month Report

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Picking back up! This month, the blog began to pick up hits again, though we’re nowhere near the record months of this summer! Still, coming into November, we’ve got some prime movie reviews and November will see more economic articles like our featured blog article of the month!

This month at W.L. Swarts Reviews The Universe, there were no additions to the Top Ten Of All Time. This month, we put special emphasis on Hallmark ornaments, graphic novels, the musical works of Billy Joel and Madonna and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episodes! Thanks for all the "likes" for those posts, as well as all of the new hits on older reviews!

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 October, 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. Autumn picks up the online selling, so as you consider holiday shopping, please do so through my blog’s links to support the blog!

At the end of October, I have reviewed the following:
471 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Star Trek Books
Graphic Novels
827 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
2384 - 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!)!
199 - 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
696 - 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
710 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Cheese and Meats
Ice Cream
Other Food
199 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
107 - Travel Reviews
Destinations Reviews
Hotels Reviews
155 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
164 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
90 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
32 - Other Product Reviews

The Featured Reviews For The Month for October are my article on How The Affordable Care Act Is Unconstitutional and Sway by Blue October!
Check it out!

The month of October had a lot of movement within the month and a couple of prior reviews that made the list. For October, the Top Ten Reviews of the month were:
10. 2013 U.S.S. Kelvin (Battle Damaged) Hallmark Star Trek Ornament
9. Mr. Morgan’s Last Love
8. Gravity
7. ”The Asset” - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
5. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
5. The Top Ten Episodes Of Frasier
4. Concussion
3. Ender’s Game
2. Thor: The Dark World
1. Compulsion

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 - 764 reviews
7s - 851 reviews
6s - 769 reviews
5s - 1010 reviews
4s - 726 reviews
3s - 591 reviews
2s - 259 reviews
1s - 181 reviews
0s - 85 reviews
No rating - 53 articles/postings

There was a decent amount of movement this month, but no new entries into the Top Ten. At the end of October, 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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If It Weren’t For The Outfit . . . The Han Solo Mighty Muggs Figure Would Be Unrecognizable!

The Good: Costume looks more or less right.
The Bad: Dumb animated look, Giant head, Heavy.
The Basics: The Han Solo Mighty Muggs toy continued the trend in Star Wars Mighty Muggs whereby the figure was only really recognizable due to the costume painted on!

Han Solo, despite being vastly overproduced in the main toy line, actually only suffered Mighty Muggs treatment twice! The oversized, animated-in-appearance “figures” cursed Han Solo with the Hoth version (reviewed here!) and the standard, original A New Hope version. The original Han Solo Mighty Muggs figure is an appropriately ridiculous-looking statue/figure that appeals to a very tiny niche of collectors, which might be why there were no other Han Solo’s than the original two!

Mighty Muggs toys look like they might be plush as they feature animated versions of recognizable Star Wars characters. However, the cartoon-like heads atop disproportionately smaller bodies simply revealed that the heads and toys were solid, like ceramic (they are, in fact, made of a super-hard, heavy plastic). This is as true of the Han Solo as it is of other Mighty Muggs figures.

For those unfamiliar with Han Solo as he initially appeared, throughout most of A New Hope (reviewed here!), on both Tatooine and the Death Star. There, Han Solo wore a white and black smuggler’s outfit. It is the vested version of Han Solo that is the subject of the original Mighty Muggs figure.

The Mighty Muggs Han Solo figure is poor and anyone who has seen how Harrison Ford and Han Solo actually looked will recognize this bears little resemblance to Han Solo. This looks like a cartoon version of Han, though the costume is distinctive to the character (though Lando wears the same outfit at the very end of The Empire Strikes Back).


Han Solo is a human smuggler, seen on Tatooine and the Death Star as he appeared at the beginning of A New Hope. The figure stands 7" tall. Han Solo is dressed in a white and black outfit that is painted solidly onto the puffy body of the toy. There are no rank insignias on the toy, though there are details like the belt buckle and blaster holster painted onto the body of this Mighty Muggs toy.

This toy is a poor sculpt which looks like an oversized, fattened up LEGO figure and the Mighty Muggs has black hair on its head. His expression is a grimace, which is appropriate to Han Solo, but this puffy version looks nothing like the character as Han Solo had a very angular face. The hands are open slightly and this allows Han to hold his ridiculous plastic blaster.


Han Solo, scoundrel in debt to Jabba The Hutt as he is, comes with one accessory, his blaster pistol. The two inch long monolithic black plastic firearm fits in Han’s right hand and looks as goofy there as the rest of the figure. This is a very blockish accessory for a very unrealistically-rendered toy.


The Mighty Muggs toy line was designed for no good reason I can find, perhaps just because someone realized Star Wars fans would buy anything (which turned out to be true enough to make multiple lines of Star Wars Mighty Muggs financially viable!). This heavy toy can be harmful to children and is more intended as a display statue. Sure, it’s a ridiculous display statue, but that’s about it.

Han Solo comes with only five points of articulation, all of which are simple swivel joints. He has joints at the groin socket, shoulders, and neck. The elbows do not extend, so all arm posing is straight-armed. To be fair, the figure does stand up.


The Han Solo is part of the Mighty Muggs Star Wars collection, which no one I know would ever spend money on. The value of these is already declining because it’s a ridiculous concept executed poorly.


Only the very most devoted fans with far too much money to spend would waste their capital on the Han Solo Mighty Muggs toy.

For other Star Wars Mighty Muggs toys, please check out my reviews of:
Imperial Guard
Plo Koon
Qui-Gon Jinn
Obi-Wan Kenobi (Younger)
Obi-Wan Kenobi (Older)
Luke Skywalker
Hoth Luke Skywalker
Grand Moff Tarkin
Bespin Luke Skywalker


For other toy reviews, please visit my Toy Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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A Floppy Concept Album: Erotica Is One Of Madonna’s Failures!

The Good: Decent duration, One or two good tracks
The Bad: Mundane dance sound, A number of ridiculous lyrics, Musically unimaginative, A lot of simplistic uses of Madonna’s vocals.
The Basics: Erotica is anything but musically sensual and it remains one of Madonna’s least impressive albums.

I remember when I was in high school and Madonna was making a huge publicity push. She was promoting her book Sex and in conjunction with that, her album Erotica, so it was a time when Madonna was pretty much putting it all out there. It has taken me more than twenty years, but as Madonna is my Artist Of The Month, it seemed appropriate to pick up and listen to Erotica. While Sex might have been shocking as a coffee table photography book with Madonna and Vanilla Ice exposing themselves in various places and situations, Erotica is a painfully dull album that is forgettable save, perhaps, two tracks.

Madonna created a concept album with Erotica, but instead of being something sensual or interesting, the album is a loosely-connected series of dance tracks and ballads connected by a canned, overproduced percussion line. While there are hints of vocal quality, Erotica does Madonna few services for displaying any real talent.

With thirteen tracks, clocking out 70:27, Erotica is mostly the work of Madonna and her producer Shep Pettibone. Madonna co-wrote each song on Erotica and she is a co-producer for that album. She provides the lead vocals on all of the songs, but she plays no musical instruments on the album.

Instrumentally, Erotica is a banal example of pop music. The songs are mostly dance tracks, though ballads like “Rain” and “Bad Girl” break up the album. There is a simplistic dance beat that connects many of the tracks and that makes the album seem like it has only two or three songs; the vacuous dance music is broken up only two or three times and that makes the album aurally uninteresting. Worse than that, outside “Rain,” there are no really distinctive melodies on Erotica. If one were to try to hum the tune to the radio hit “Deeper And Deeper” from Erotica, it is likely they would quickly get lost; the song does not have the memorability of “Like A Virgin” or “Ray Of Light.”

Vocally, Madonna is shockingly limited on Erotica. While “Rain” has her presenting her natural voice, “Erotica” has her voice produced over to be almost entirely unrecognizable. In fact, the vocals on Erotica are so dull that Madonna even includes a riff from “Vogue” in order to finish off one of the songs! As well, on an inordinate number of songs, Madonna simply degenerates into speaking while backed by a basic percussion track.

The unfortunate boredom of Erotica continues into the lyrics. The title track starts out the concept album with a Sex-promoting idea that is hardly as sexually-charged as the title might suggest. “Erotica” is a musical storysong that creates the concept of sexual exploration in a weird singsong way. With the lines “My name is Dita / I'll be your mistress tonight / I'd like to put you in a trance / If I take you from behind / Push myself into your mind / When you least expect it / Will you try and reject it / If I'm in charge and I treat you like a child / Will you let yourself go wild” (“Erotica”), the album opens feeling salacious, not sophisticated and not sexually relevatory.

The most emotional song on the album is “Rain.” Despite somewhat simplistic rhymes like “When your lips are burning mine / And you take the time to tell me how you feel / When you listen to my words / And I know you've heard, I know it's real / Rain is what this thunder brings / For the first time I can hear my heart sing / Call me a fool but I know I'm not / I'm gonna stand out here on the mountain top” (“Rain”), “Rain” still manages to capture a beautiful sense of loneliness and longing that is universal. While other songs might try to play with sexual themes that range from obscure to the offensive (for those who are offended by such things), “Rain” stands out as remarkably accessible.

But “Rain” is the exception to the rule, though. Instead, most of the songs have lines that rhyme the same word with itself and have little lasting value. So, when Madonna sings “You're a thief of hearts and now you'll have to pay / How many licks does it take? / You're a thief of hearts and now you'll have to pay / Which leg do you want me to break?” (“Thief Of Hearts”), the listener pretty much just groans and hopes the next track will be better (to be fair, “Words” is mildly better than “Thief Of Hearts”).

Erotica is one of the least-inspired concept albums to ever hit the racks and it is unsurprising that few songs from it appear on Madonna’s many compilation albums. It’s a generally poor album, easy to avoid.

The best song is “Rain,” the low point is the insipid “Bye Bye Baby.”

For other works by Madonna, please check out my reviews of:
Bedtime Stories
“Nothing Really Matters” (single)
Confessions On A Dance Floor


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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A Wonderful Dessert Beverage, Bolthouse Farms Salted Caramel Latte Delights!

The Good: Tastes good, Exceptionally nutritious
The Bad: Expensive! Not the strongest flavor ever.
The Basics: Bolthouse Farms Perfectly Protein Salted Caramel Latte is a healthy, good beverage well worth trying, if not stocking up on.

One of the wonderful things about changing my diet to eat healthier is that I get to try all sorts of wonderful new (to me) products. In the case of the Bolthouse Farms Salted Caramel Latte, the delight is in trying a truly new-to-market product. Fortunately, Bolthouse Farms created a beverage worth trying in its Salted Caramel Latte. It is not the best, most nutritious, drink produced by Bolthouse Farms, but it is flavorful and true to its promised flavor. In fact, the only people it is bound to underwhelm are those looking for a strong, decent coffee beverage. This is like an amped up, flavored milk drink than a coffee drink.


Bolthouse Farms is a company that makes, among other things, healthy drinks, which are like energy drinks except that they are designed for more of a full-health solution (as opposed to being a liquid vitamin supplement) and they tend to taste better. This is like a dairy beverage that is enhanced with nutrients. Bolthouse Farms Perfectly Protein Salted Caramel Latte comes in a 15.2 fl. oz. plastic bottle that is smooth and very portable. The #1 recyclable bottle is filled with the opaque tan liquid, reminiscent of weakly produced chocolate milk, that is Perfectly Protein Salted Caramel Latte. Bolthouse Farms is one of the leading manufacturers of healthy prepared beverages.

The 15.2 fl. oz. bottle is intended to give consumers just under two servings, which seems pretty ridiculous to me. It would be nice if Bolthouse Farms added the other .8 oz. so we actually got two full servings out of a bottle!

Ease Of Preparation

Bolthouse Farms Perfectly Protein Salted Caramel Latte is a liquid in the 15.2 fl. oz. bottle and is a ready-to-drink beverage. So, preparation is as easy as opening a plastic bottle. Bolthouse Farms has a plastic cap that easily twists off and can be put back on in order to reseal it. It is important to note that this is supposed to be refrigerated, so quality of the beverage may degrade if it is left out at room temperature before or after the bottle is open. This has a pretty standard security seal ring around the lower half of the cap and informs the consumer as to whether the product has been opened by cracking off when the top is twisted.


Bolthouse Farms Perfectly Protein Salted Caramel Latte smells very lightly like coffee or caramel. In fact, this is one of the least aromatic Bolthouse Farms beverages I have yet tried. Instead, the scent does not preview much of a flavor at all. It hints at nothing, making one believe they will just be drinking milk when they sip from this bottle.

On the tongue, the Bolthouse Farms Perfectly Protein Salted Caramel Latte is like liquid caramel, sweet and lightly salted. The creamy, milklike flavor of the beverage entirely overcomes the coffee flavor. Still, the flavor is entirely true to salted caramel, which makes the drink a smashing success on the flavor front.

The aftertaste from the Perfectly Protein Salted Caramel Latte beverage is very dry, so this is not at all a thirst quenching drink. Still, given that it is salted caramel, it is unsurprising that the aftertaste would be very dry, so this is not unsatisfying.


As a healthy dairy and coffee beverage, Bolthouse Farms Perfectly Protein Salted Caramel Latte is designed to fill in some of the nutritional gaps one might have in their diet, while tasting pretty awesome to boot! Nutritionally, Bolthouse Farms Perfectly Protein Salted Caramel Latte is a great option for those who are dieting or are trying to improve their health. Perfectly Protein Salted Caramel Latte is primarily composed of low-fat milk, coffee and caramel syrup. It contains nothing bad, but does have additional vitamins pumped into it. While it is gluten free, it contains milk and whey, so it is in no way Vegan compliant. On the plus side, though, there are no preservatives, artificial flavors or colors or genetically modified ingredients!

This drink is also exceptionally healthy for you. One serving of Perfectly Protein Salted Caramel Latte has 2.5 g fat and 130 calories, 25 of which come from the fat. While there are 20 grams of carbohydrates, the beverage has only 15 mg of cholesterol and an impressive 7 grams of protein! Unsurprisingly, there are 150 mg (6% RDA) of sodium in each serving. A single serving is a sufficient source of Vitamin C, Calcium (30% RDA!), and Vitamin B12. It has more than your daily needs for Vitamin B6, so this truly is a healthy beverage (ironically, healthier than many fruit juices I have reviewed!).


Bolthouse Farms Perfectly Protein Salted Caramel Latte comes in a plastic bottle and it keeps for only a few months. The bottle I bought the first week of October had an expiration date of November 11, 2013. This beverage must be refrigerated!

This drink is a dairy product and fairly light, despite the coffee in it. If this gets on clothes, it will certainly stain them. Consult a care guide for your clothes, though I suspect light clothes would need bleach to get this out. Still, the drink wipes off surfaces easily with a cloth, assuming they are impermeable.


Bolthouse Farms Perfectly Protein Salted Caramel Latte is flavorful and healthy, but not a particularly satisfying thirst quenching experience. Those looking for a coffee pick-me-up will be let down, but those looking for a nice dessert beverage and a healthier alternative to a simple shake, the Salted Caramel Latte fits the bill nicely.

For other Bolthouse beverages, please check out my reviews of:
100% Matcha Green Tea Soy Latte
Mango Coconut Splash Coconut Water + Juice
50/50 Tropical


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

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

Why Catching Fire Is Worth Watching (When The Hunger Games . . . Not So Much)!

The Good: Good story, Decent use of themes, Generally good acting, Decent effects
The Bad: Characters still fall a little flat
The Basics: Rectifying many of the issues that made The Hunger Games not worth watching, Catching Fire becomes a Fall film worth tuning in to!

Lionsgate has made a huge mistake. I write that as someone who is not a fan of The Hunger Games Trilogy, despite the fact that my wife has now read all three books. I was not impressed by The Hunger Games (reviewed here!) and I have noticed that the merchandising for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire has been pretty anemic. In fact, outside the limited edition Hallmark Mockingjay ornament (reviewed here!), Catching Fire has not had a big pre-release push on the merchandising front. There seems to be a good reason for that: Catching Fire is a far more cerebral film than its predecessor and a far better one.

That leads me to my opening assertion: Lionsgate has made a terrible mistake. I was not a fan of The Hunger Games but I get how Lionsgate felt compelled to make the movie and make it first. Viewers needed to be introduced to the universe of The Hunger Games and understand the brutal methods of power and control utilized by the Presidents of Panem, including the current one, Snow. But when my wife finished reading the books, she noted that Catching Fire was the longest of the books and she complained that nothing much happened in Mockingjay. The mistake Lionsgate made: cramming everything from the second book into a single movie. Instead of breaking the final book into two films, the second book has a very natural break in it that could have made it a far better movie. This is a film with a lot crammed into it.

As it stands, though, Catching Fire is ambitious, generally smart, and well-presented, living up beyond the potential of The Hunger Games to make for a vastly superior film. Unlike the first film, which essentially made the audience into the citizens of the corrupt Panem, rooting for Katniss Everdeen to slay her child opponents in a bizarrely orchestrated bloodsport, Catching Fire exposes the movement throughout Panem that is leading to a genuine revolution. For half the film, the consequences of the corruption embodied by President Snow is explored and the viewer is given a fairly decent (and entertaining) civics lesson on the power of the individual and the methods employed by corrupt individuals in the highest levels of government. The allegory is strong and worthwhile and it makes most of Catching Fire worthwhile. The latter half of Catching Fire develops nicely as a story of sacrifice and rebellion realized; a story that would have carried more weight if some of the characters involved in making the sacrifices (and orchestrating the rebellion) were characters the viewer cared about more.

Catching Fire picks up where The Hunger Games left off. Having been triumphant dual survivors of the 74th Annual Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark have become symbols of defiance throughout the Districts of Panem. Katniss realizes this while on tour in District 11, where the child, Rue, she worked to protect in the Hunger Games hailed from. Having seen Katniss defy the rulemakers in the Hunger Games, by threatening to kill herself with Peeta at the climax and rob the government of a victor to trot around, Katniss has inspired the rebels scattered throughout Panem to openly engage the government forces. When Katniss learns that the previously-destroyed District 13 may not be the abandoned wasteland the government claims it is, she becomes even more sympathetic to the anti-government forces.

To stop the growing insurrection and to psychologically devastate the Districts of Panem, President Snow uses the 75th Annual Hunger Games as a way to dispatch of the troublesome Katniss, Peeta, and other prior victors at the Hunger Games who have symbolic value to the Districts and the Rebellion. Traumatized from the moment she is forced back into the games, Katniss works to keep Peeta alive. But soon, other contestants in the Games begin to ally themselves with Katniss and it becomes clear that Snow may have botched his attempt to stop the rebellion.

Right off the bat, it is worth noting that President Snow is one of the lesser villains of modern cinema. How a man who expects to rule with an iron fist using fear and ritualized demoralization does not see the potential of prior victors slugging it out as a bad idea seems particularly lame. For sure, Snow is getting some bad advice from the new Game’s Master, Plutarch Heavensbee. Heavensbee’s role in Catching Fire might go over the head of Katniss, but it is unlikely to stymie fans of science fiction or political dramas. While there is almost always a Brutus in a political drama, it weakens the Caesar of the work for them to be so blind to it. As a result, President Snow’s miscalculations in pitting former victors against each other (which basically puts the people who have been most traumatized by the system in one place for days on end and seems like it would do little outside inspire further acts of televised resistance) weaken the President of Panem.

For her part, Katniss Everdeen comes across as less whiny in Catching Fire than she did in The Hunger Games. A lot of the credit for this has to go to Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence portrays Katniss as a young woman who is ignorant of political intrigue, as opposed to just stupid. Despite having the tactical wherewithal at the climax of The Hunger Games to extort the Capitol for her and Peeta’s lives, Katniss is still just an inexperienced young woman whose tactical abilities largely come from hunting. While that is an asset inside the games, it does not realistically prepare her for clandestine approaches from rebels and Lawrence walks the fine line that makes Katniss seem reasonably ignorant as opposed to laughably daft.

Unfortunately, Josh Hutcherson is still thoroughly white bread as Peeta Mellark and Liam Hemsworth’s Gale is presented with so little substance as to not make him a viable romantic interest for Katniss. Hutcherson’s presence in the movie is undermined by the far more dynamic Sam Claflin as Finnick. Finnick seems instantly more interesting than Peeta and where Peeta bumbles through the film, Finnick actually is presented with all the seeds of being an able leader. Claflin plays Finnick well and the onscreen magnetism he possesses serves the character well. Also noteworthy of the Catching Fire cast is Jena Malone. Malone manages to make the acerbic Johanna Mason seem unlike any of the meek roles she has played in the past and she plays the rougher edges in Mason without any sort of hints at her Sucker Punch (reviewed here!) character.

Before Catching Fire degenerates into the choreographed blood sport – though this time there is so much more going on inside the arena than simple survival that the audience does not fall into the trap of being like the citizens of Panem and there is little entertainment in the deaths in the arena – the film manages to captivate. As the story of sacrifice and rebellion grows, the viewer actually begins to care what might come of Panem, if not Katniss.

Catching Fire is a strong middle act and the struggle of the twelve (or thirteen) Districts against the oppressive Capitol seems crammed into a film that moves along at a decent pace, but glosses over some of the subtlety that might have made Panem one of the more interesting dystopian realms. As it stands, Catching Fire might have a problematic antagonist and an ally hampered by lackluster acting, but it progresses The Hunger Games Saga in a direction that is enough to make viewers want to see how the Rebellion fares. What might have made the Saga, and this installment, more compelling is a fundamentally more interesting protagonist. Jennifer Lawrence does what she can with Katniss Everdeen, but for the bulk of Catching Fire, viewers are rooting for a pawn and that’s not an enviable place for a storyteller to hinge their success, nor an audience to hang its hopes.

For other action/science fiction second act films, please check out my reviews of:
The Empire Strikes Back
The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug
Thor: The Dark World


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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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Myah’s New Favorite Dog Food Is One She Loves, My Wallet Hates!

The Good: Very nutritious, Great ingredients, Myah absolutely loves it!
The Bad: Very expensive
The Basics: Myah exhibits a real desire for Nature’s Variety Prairie Chicken Meal & Brown Rice Medley adult dog food; a desire my finances cannot keep up with!

Myah, my soon-to-be six year-old Siberian Husky is a fan of variety and I have to be honest; I have gotten off comparatively cheaply since getting her. So, it is a rare thing that I would shell out $55 for a bag of dog food. Even so, Myah is worth it and I felt because the ingredients in Nature’s Variety Prairie Chicken Meal & Brown Rice Medley dog food were so good – it was the only bag of dog food in my new local grocery store where the first ingredient was actual meat (in this case chicken) – Myah would enjoy it and it would be worth the expense.

And it was!

The 30 pound bag has lasted over a month and Myah still comes for this food eagerly in a way she seldom does for a food after a month!


A single serving of Nature’s Variety Prairie Chicken Meal & Brown Rice Medley dog food is three to four cups for a big dog like Myah and she is supposed to get a single such serving each day, so a 30 pound bag lasts about two months. Getting about two months out of the $55 bag does not work for my budget, though it was not as bad as I initially thought when I shelled out the money for it. Each piece of Nature’s Variety Prairie Chicken Meal & Brown Rice Medley dog food is light tan disc that is very mealy and hard in its texture. They are approximately 7/16" in diameter and 3/16” thick. These pieces are very hard and textured to help remove plaque from teeth and the dog’s tongue. Myah often eats these several pellets at a time.

Ease Of Preparation

As a dry dog food, preparation of Nature’s Variety Prairie Chicken Meal & Brown Rice Medley dog is as easy as opening a bag and measuring out the pellets inside. There is no further prep needed.

Myah’s Reaction

Nature’s Variety Prairie Chicken Meal & Brown Rice Medley dog food smells exceptionally meaty. In fact, the scent is so strong that Myah comes running when I open the bag of this food. Myah seems intrigued by the scent as well and she devours as much of this as she can when it is put in front of her.

In fact, the Nature’s Variety Prairie Chicken Meal & Brown Rice Medley dog food is one of the few dog foods that Myah will both actually defend her bowl and eat all of the contents of her bowl when it is set before her. When this food has been in regular rotation or when it is mixed in with a lesser food, she comes running for it and eats all of the pellets of Nature’s Variety Prairie Chicken Meal & Brown Rice Medley dog food out of her bowl. The way she prioritizes this food makes it clear she loves the taste of it.

Each time she started eating it, Myah rushed for her bowl when she thought she was getting Nature’s Variety Prairie Chicken Meal & Brown Rice Medley dog food! This is one of the dog foods that I had to get more rigid with measuring out for her as she would devour all I put in front of her, regardless of her initial hunger level!


Nature’s Variety Prairie Chicken Meal & Brown Rice Medley dog food smells very much like meat, but not spices, which makes sense because it is made with real chicken. Made primarily of chicken meal, brown rice and barley, the ingredients are about half natural, the rest are minerals and preservatives. According to the guaranteed analysis, Nature’s Variety Prairie Chicken Meal & Brown Rice Medley dog food has at least 26% crude protein, 14% crude fat, but no more than 3.4% crude fiber and 10% moisture. As a dry dog food, it is highly recommended that you have adequate water available for your dog when serving it Nature’s Variety Prairie Chicken Meal & Brown Rice Medley dog food.


Nature’s Variety Prairie Chicken Meal & Brown Rice Medley dog food is made with great ingredients and it might be Myah’s favorite from this brand. Sadly, though, it is at least as expensive as other premium dog foods, which makes it harder for me to replenish than other Purina dog foods. Given how much Myah loves this food, though, it is one I have to recommend!

For other dog food reviews, please be sure to check out:
Eukanuba Naturally Wild North Atlantic Salmon & Rice Formula
Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diets Sweet Potato & Fish Formula
NutriSource PureVita Duck & Oatmeal dog food


For other pet product reviews, please check out my Pet Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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An Amazing Cast Helps Create A Surprisingly Good Family Comedy With Beethoven!

The Good: Decent cast, Moments of plot, performance, and theme
The Bad: Some hammy overacting/family movie conceits
The Basics: Despite its over-the-top silliness at points, Beethoven holds up as a strong family comedy!

As a matter of sharing parts of herself, my wife will periodically have me get out movies I either missed that she watched and enjoyed or films from her past that I have never had the impetus to watch before. A few weekends back, I had a taste from each category when she got out Game Change (reviewed here!) and Beethoven. The irony for me was that the film I expected to appreciate more - Game Change - did not hold up nearly as well as the family flick my wife recalled from her childhood and wanted to see again.

From the opening shots of Beethoven, as I realized I was watching a young(er) Oliver Platt and Stanley Tucci and that this family film that spawned several sequels actually had an impressive cast (mostly talent before they hit it big), Beethoven actually manages to entertain and tell a family friendly story in a way that makes it reasonable that it would start a franchise. Beethoven is hampered by the conceits that make it feel like a Disney live-action film (it is not!); hammy overacting, reversals that are larger than life and a plot progression so predictable that only children will not see the end coming in the opening frames of the film. Even so, for a movie hampered by such obvious conceits and employing both child and animal actors (neither is overly recommended by most directors), Beethoven manages to tell a decent story and, to be fair to it with all of the genre problems it possesses, is not a film I felt like I’ve seen a thousand times over.

The patriarch of the Newton family, George, is a reticent business-focused man who has worked hard to provide for his wife and three children (two daughters, one son). One morning, after the witless criminals Harvey and Vernon rob a pet shop of its puppies and two of them escape, a cute St. Bernard puppy, wanders into George’s home and wakes up little Emily with dog kisses. Pressured into keeping the puppy by the family that sees him as inhuman, George suddenly starts spending an inordinate amount of time and money on providing for the dog, who is soon named Beethoven. While George struggles to win new corporate patrons for his air fresheners, the family falls in love with Beethoven.

But Harvey and Vernon were not working alone. They were employed by the nefarious veterinarian, Dr. Varnick. Varnick has taken money from a gun manufacturer who wants small animals in order to test its new bullets. When Varnick discovers Beethoven (who by that time has grown to have a skull density that a bullet manufacturer would really appreciate!), he orchestrates a kidnapping that could result in the dog’s death. George has to choose between believing the authoritative vet and his daughter, who witnessed the set-up; it is a choice between mounting a dangerous rescue or allowing Beethoven to be put to death!

Beethoven makes good use of the talent involved and it is easy to see how David Duchovny, Patricia Heaton, Oliver Platt, Stanley Tucci and even Charles Grodin (who plays George unfortunately like a boss I once had who was a complete and total ass!) were eager to take the project. Despite Heaton and Duchovny being tossed about and forced to do the screams one might expect out of a Little Rascals short, they have the chance to play villains who are stiff and eager to take advantage of Grodin’s George. The roles are different from anything else I have seen them play, so it does give them something completely different to play.

The child actors in Beethoven are surprisingly not horrible, which is a rare thing for me to find. Led by Nicholle Tom (Ryce), the Newton children seem like a viable family and they are presented in a professional and realistic way. Sarah Rose Karr brings more to Emily than a cute face – she plays determined and hurt well and when her character, neglected, falls in a pool, the viewer actually believes she is drowning. Even Christopher Castile does fine as Ted.

What was unsurprising to me was that the actor who played the title character, Beethoven, was only in this film. Chris is a big dog and what shocked me was that director Brian Levant included scenes where Chris was clearly limping! Regardless of the disclaimers at the end of the credits, it does not seem like Chris was in the best of health when Beethoven was shot.

And the main plot conceit – testing new bullets on dogs – is absurd and monstrous enough to add menace to the film. It is probably enough to scare children, but as an adult, I was more surprised that the film was audacious enough to present such a strong stance on animal cruelty and testing. Such plots are usually relegated to a b-plot in an animated film, but Beethoven puts it up front as the a-plot in the live-action film. Color me impressed.

Not to be taken overly seriously as a work of great cinema, Beethoven nevertheless impresses in that it has an impressive cast working in ways I had never seen.

For other works featuring Melora Walters, please check out my reviews of:
The Master
Cold Mountain
Matchstick Men
Boogie Nights
Hard Eight


For other movie 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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Monday, October 28, 2013

Utterly Lackluster: Red Lanterns Volume 1: Blood And Rage Underwhelms the Fans!

The Good: Artwork
The Bad: Lack of genuine character development, Dull plot
The Basics: Moments in the b-plot of Red Lanterns Volume 1: Blood And Rage are all that makes the otherwise plodding narrative worth reading.

When DC Comics announced its ambitious reboot known as the New 52, the company had a lot of slots to fill in order to flesh out fifty-two comic books a month. While skeptics, like me, thought they were overextending themselves (something which has proven true as various titles have been cancelled and their replacement books have been similarly shitcanned), some of the titles had the potential to be truly exciting for fans of the DC Universe. The people who seemed to benefit the most were fans of the Green Lantern section of the DC Universe. In the buildup to the Blackest Night Saga (reviewed here!), the Green Lantern section of the DC Universe fleshed out with multiple new emotional Corps’s that offered a wider range of stories with characters who are motivated by other emotions than willpower.

One of the most intriguing new additions to the Green Lantern mythos were the Red Lanterns. Fueled by rage and led by the angry, blood vomiting Atrocitus, the Red Lanterns were a mindlessly evil force that never quite came to the forefront. Because Red Lanterns have been seen spewing napalm vomit and their only cure was also detailed in the brief stories they have been a part of (in this case, in order to save the life of Guy Gardner, the cure for Red Lantern “infection” had to be devised). Beyond that, the Red Lanterns were pretty fertile ground for writers working in the New 52 vision of the DC Universe. The first book, which contains the first seven issues of Red Lanterns is Red Lanterns Volume 1: Blood And Rage. Unfortunately, that book is a painfully dull book and does no service to Peter Milligan.

Following the War Of The Green Lanterns (reviewed here!), Atrocitus and his surviving Red Lanterns have returned to Ysmault. There, Atrocitus laments over the corpse of Krona and vows revenge upon the Green Lantern who killed Krona before he could. Atrocitus finds that having a mindless Corps is not all he needs it to be, so he dumps Bleez into the Blood Lake. That experience gives her back her mind, so she becomes Atrocitus’s equal.

Sadly for Atrocitus, that means he now has a rival for control of the Red Lanterns, one who sees that he might not be as full of rage as he ought to be. As Bleez antagonizes Atrocitus and Atrocitus works to free the mind of other key Red Lanterns, in the U.K. two brothers react to the murder of their grandfather. The calm Jack Moore tries to talk down his brother, Raymond. While Raymond plots revenge against the thug who killed his grandfather, Jack stands by while the police close in on his brother. The resulting police brutality leads Jack to transform into a Red Lantern. With Red Lantern Jack Moore fleeing Guy Gardner, on Ysmault, Atrocitus hunts down the force that stole Krona’s body.

The problem with Red Lanterns Volume 1: Blood And Rage is that Atrocitus has lost his rage. Rage, as one who might have experienced the emotion is likely to know, is an emotional state that is very hard to sustain. In the case of working out the kinks of the Red Lanterns, the mechanism to keep the rage going is essentially infecting the Red Lanterns with the napalm they vomit out and making them into mindless instruments of vengeance. That is a tough character design to write and for readers to want to read.

So, it makes sense that Atrocitus would be immune to the red vomit. In the process, though, Red Lanterns Volume 1: Blood And Rage focuses on a character who has lost his edge. Atrocitus does not exhibit much in the way of rage. Instead, he is an alien badass who looks wicked . . . and is phoning in the rage. Jack Moore’s snapping to become a blindly angry Red Lantern is more of a character journey than anything Atrocitus goes through in the book.

On the plot front, there is little to recommend Red Lanterns Volume 1: Blood And Rage. Who took Krona’s body is hardly a mystery and the answer to the question is peppered well throughout the book to make the end more obvious than audacious. Bleez, for her part, is a pretty generic antagonist and her part in the book lacks the gravitas that Atrocitus had in other books that featured him.

On the artwork front, penciller Ed Benes makes all of the characters clear. Unfortunately, he leaves little to the imagination. Ed Benes is clearly an ass man; every opportunity to put Bleez and the Green Lantern turned Red Lantern (I forget her name)’s ass in the panel and Benes takes it. It’s ridiculous and droll. The coloring in Red Lanterns Volume 1: Blood And Rage is decent.

It is not, however, a worthwhile book, which makes it surprising that Red Lanterns has survived in the diminishing (no longer) New 52.

For other books that include Red Lanterns, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Green Lantern: Rage Of The Red Lanterns
Blackest Night: Green Lantern
Brightest Day: Green Lantern


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

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Information Without Character, “The Shipment” Is Necessary, But Unremarkable Star Trek: Enterprise.

The Good: Good information for the continuity of the Xindi plotline
The Bad: No superlative acting or character moments.
The Basics: “The Shipment” moves along the Xindi plotline that consumes the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise, without advancing the main characters in any recognizable way.

With the long arc of Star Trek: Enterprise’s third season, the writers and producers of the series worked hard to progress the overall plot of the arc in each and every episode. In the wake of the largely contained episode “Exile” (reviewed here!), the show did a significantly more important episode for the overall Xindi arc with “The Shipment.” The problem with the seasonlong arc for Star Trek: Enterprise is that the writers and producers had a firm idea of the plotline they wanted, but no idea what they wanted to do with the main characters of the NX-01 Enterprise.

As a result, “The Shipment” is a wealth of information essential to the Xindi plotline, but it is utterly lacking in any character development for the main crew. In fact, with nothing exceptional to do to lead the characters to grow or develop, the actors are left doing extensive exposition. The result is that many of the performers do little but present technobabble for the episode and that makes it worth quite a bit less than it should be.

With the Xindi scientist, Degra, preparing to test the weapon the Xindi are building to destroy Earth and promising that, if the test is successful, Earth’s obliteration is only weeks away, Captain Archer takes Sato’s lead about a Xindi colony seriously. Reed, Archer, and Corporal Hayes investigate the Xindi colony where the weapon is being built. There, they learn that the Xindi Sloth are shipping out Kemocite to the facility where Degra is building the weapon. The lead Xindi on the colony, Gralik Durr, claims ignorance of the weapon that Degra is building.

As Tucker verifies the Kemocite is the same as what was used in the probe that attacked Earth, Archer interrogates Gralik Durr. With Hayes preparing to bomb the Xindi colony, Tucker and Phlox disassemble the Xindi rifle they confiscated and discover that it includes organic components. Gralik Durr tells Archer the history of the Xindi war and the destruction of the Xindi Homeworld (and the genocide of the Xindi Avians), which is interrupted by Degra’s early arrival at the colony. Taking Gralik Durr into hiding, Archer comes to believe that the Xindi might be telling the truth about his ignorance of the kemocite’s military destination. Rather than continuing with the plan to bomb the facility out of existence, Archer decides to use the kemocite to track Degra back to the weapons lab producing the ultimate weapon.

“The Shipment” contains a b-plot that is entirely unrealized in this episode, but sets the stage for subsequent episodes. Tucker, T’Pol, and Phlox studying the Xindi rifle leads the Enterprise crew to develop countermeasures to the weapons and that seems sensible, but very plot-focused as well.

On the acting front, Dominic Keating gives a particularly clunky delivery during a chase through the woods, which provides the episode’s only overt action sequence. Otherwise, “The Shipment” is a lot of decent actors presenting a lot of exposition. Actor John Cothran Jr. is given the heavy lifting of the episode, but the make-up does not allow the character of Gralik Durr to truly emote. As a result, Cothran delivers lines that contain an emotional journey for the character as he realizes he may have abetted in a horrible attack and may be aiding in a forthcoming genocide, but Gralik Durr is hardly presented as an emotionally-realized character. Archer barely develops and the lesson he learns in the final moment of the episode is hardly a remarkable one for fans of the Star Trek franchise.

In the end, “The Shipment” is a part of the essential Star Trek: Enterprise for its plot elements, but it is an unremarkable episode overall.

The biggest gaffe in “The Shipment” is that the devices used by the Xindi Reptiles are virtually identical to the devices used by the arms merchants on Minos in “The Arsenal Of Freedom” (reviewed here!), so the fact that Yar and company don’t recognize them two hundred years later seems dimwitted.

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

For other works with John Cothran Jr., please visit my reviews of:
Yes Man
The Cell
“Crossover” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
“The Chase” - Star Trek: The Next Generation


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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Out Of Scale, But Essentially Correct, The 2013 Mockingjay The Hunger Games Hallmark Ornament Will Generally Please Fans.

The Good: Good detail, Perfect balance, Not terribly expensive
The Bad: Larger than realistic scale, Muted brass color (as opposed to metallic)
The Basics: The Hunger Games gets Hallmark’s ornament attention with the limited edition Keepsake Ornament of Mockingjay, which has not yet found its market.

With the conclusion of both the Harry Potter Saga (reviewed here!) and The Twilight Saga (reviewed here!), licensees are struggling to make their quotas on merchandise to an entire demographic that was opened up by those two film franchises based upon the book series’. Both Twilight and Harry Potter tapped into a neglected demographic: geek fan girls (also known as the “daddy buy me” crowd, at least when the first Twilight film was released). Trying to fill that niche in 2013 has been disastrous with underperforming young adult fantasy films at the box office and going into autumn, the last bet for the niche audience is The Hunger Games. As the cinematic release of Catching Fire nears, licensees like Hallmark are banking on The Hunger Games franchise with a new ornament. Hallmark, unlike the film studios, went very conservatively with its betting. Replacing two ornaments last year (one each from Twilight and Harry Potter) with one from The Hunger Games, Hallmark has largely sold-out of its limited edition Mockingjay ornament.

For those unfamiliar with the franchise, Mockingjay is the pin in The Hunger Games (reviewed here!) and Catching Fire (reviewed here!) that Katniss Everdeen is given to wear as a symbol of her District when going to the Hunger Games as a Tribute. The tiny pin is worn by Katniss while she is in the Games.

Now, fans can thrill to the limited edition ornament, at least those who are lucky enough to find them. Diehard fans will be a little less likely to be impressed by the Mockingjay than the casual fans as this ornament is grossly out of scale and is manufactured in bronze plastic, as opposed to metal (which Hallmark has been known to use for some of its ornaments).


The "Mockingjay" ornament is a very simple ornament of the recognizable artifact made of solid plastic. The ornament, released in 2013, is a generally accurate ornament which is impressive for its likeness to the prop, both in coloring and sculpt, if not its overlarge scale. The "Mockingjay" is a solid ornament that looks just like the actual prop from the movies, save that it is quite a bit bigger than the one in the film. Measuring 1" thick, 3 9/16" wide and 3 3/4" tall, "Mockingjay" has virtually sold out at the Hallmark stores during the October Release Weekend at the original issue price of $14.95.

The Hallmark "Mockingjay" ornament is made of a durable plastic and is the simple bird inside the ring. It has all of the appropriate lines of texture on the front, most notably the wings and a thin line for the beak.

The Hallmark sculptors capture the Mockingjay pin symbol perfectly, though it is large. While the Mockingjay ornament is not shiny for a true metal look, the bronze color does not look horrible. Appropriately, this ornament is cast in monotonal bronze plastic, which might look unremarkable, but it is accurate for the item upon which this ornament is based.


As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, "Mockingjay" could have a function like a sound chip or light effect, but does not. This is just an ornament, so it has both simplicity and durability going for its long term prospects. For its size, the ornament is not really overpriced, especially with the virtual guarantee that it will appreciate in value if Catching Fire does well at the box office.


As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake "Mockingjay" ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate fantasy Christmas Tree, the "Mockingjay" ornament is a great addition, but hardly an essential one. The ornament has a brass hook loop that comes out of the top of the ring. Hung from there with a standard Christmas tree hook, this is a remarkably stable ornament that only sways when it (or the tree) is bumped. The "Mockingjay" ornament is exceptionally well-balanced.


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 delved into virtually every other collectible franchise in an attempt to cash in on every major license. The The Hunger Games series started with this limited edition ornament and there is no bead yet on whether or not it will match the collectible value of prior limited edition ornaments. But, given how the "Mockingjay" ornament was produced in limited quantities and almost all outlets sold out of it at their Ornament Release weekend already, this should appreciate on the secondary market in the long term!

In other words, this might be one of the better investment pieces of 2013.


Less incredible than fans might hope, who would have wanted a metal Mockingjay much like NECA’s pin line, the 2013 Limited Edition Mockingjay ornament at least gives Hallmark’s The Hunger Games fans something to put on the Christmas tree.

For other fantasy ornaments, please check out my reviews of:
2013 Merida The Archer Brave ornament
2013 Bilbo Baggins The Hobbit ornament
2012 Edward And Bella’s Wedding Twilight ornament


For other ornament reviews, please visit my Ornament Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the ornaments I have reviewed!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Why The Enhanced Songs Of Mass Destruction Is The Only Version Worth Buying!

The Good: Good songs, Great bonus tracks, Interesting commentary, All right video
The Bad: Still not perfect - could have used more extra songs/easier video format
The Basics: The Deluxe version of Songs Of Mass Destruction might not change the original, but it adds well to it and has added value.

It is a rare thing when I would choose the standard version of an album as opposed to the enhanced, deluxe version of it. Sometimes, the deluxe version is a draw with the original release, as I recently discovered with Sara Bareilles' enhanced Little Voice release (reviewed here!). With Annie Lennox's Songs Of Mass Destruction (reviewed here!), I was eagerly anticipating listening to the album and as a result, when I found myself a more lukewarm to it, I turned to the Deluxe version in hopes of getting a different perspective.

Given that I have already reviewed Songs Of Mass Destruction, this review will focus exclusively on the differences between the original (one-disc) version and the deluxe (2-disc) version. The 2-disc version consists of the original c.d. pressed now with two additional tracks. As a result, it is a thirteen track album that clocks out at over fifty-four minutes.

One of the bonus tracks is simply an acoustic version of the album's first single, "Dark Road." "Dark Road" lends itself very naturally to an acoustic version and as one might suspect, the non-electric version is more haunting, relying on Annie Lennox's voice and passion more than any instruments to create its mood. This works incredibly well with this song as it has a lyrical power that combines well with Lennox's vocal power to establish a real sense of loss and . . . well, destruction.

The bonus track "Don't Take Me Down" bookends the album well, though the music thwarts some of the lyrical power. Take, for example the closing lines, which are magnificently written as "I've been caught by the spell of temptation / I've been burned by the hell of damnation / And I don't need to be taken there again / All I want's for this wounded heart to mend" ("Don't Take Me Down"). It could be longing and wrenching, but the tempo is faster paced than one might expect from the lyrics and that makes for a less great song than one might hope for.

That said, the deluxe version is easily redeemed by the second disc. The second disc contains the original pressing of Songs Of Mass Destruction with Annie Lennox providing a commentary track. The commentary track cannot be muted, so the album is all about Lennox telling the story about her thoughts and feelings about the creation of the music. Rather amazingly, the album plays in any c.d. player because the commentary version is a standard compact disc in its formatting.

The commentary track is insightful with Lennox putting songs in a larger musical context ("Through The Glass Darkly," "Smithereens"), telling anecdotes (her daughter told her not to do the rap on "Womankind") and editorializing on the state of the world and the intent of her music in it ("Dark Road," "Sing"). The commentary track, like many commentary tracks on DVDs (this is my first c.d. commentary track) drifts and surrenders to the music at times, but for the most part, the information and enthusiasm Annie Lennox brings to the project keeps her talking.

Sure, there are moments where Lennox is obvious - talking about war being horrible on "Lost" for example - but she more than makes up for it with her sense of vision. She is articulate and when she stays focused, the commentary disc provides an experience that is both interesting to listen to and informative. I have found myself re-listening to the commentary album almost in equal measure with the thirteen track disc almost in equal measure because it is so entertaining. This is something I rarely do with DVD commentary tracks, so I find this significant.

Also on the disc is the video for "Dark Road," which plays in any computer with Quicktime. I swear, I thought this sort of Enhanced CD had gone the way of the dinosaur. I can't remember the last time I found a c.d. with a Quicktime video as opposed to a DVD video. Honestly, I prefer the DVD versions, but it is neat to see the video for "Dark Road" (which I had not seen before picking up this version of the c.d.) Lennox gives a good performance and makes an interesting story from the song that illustrates a sense of being tormented by the consequences of the past. It's a fine video, despite the format.

Anyone who enjoys the works of Annie Lennox will like the Deluxe version of Songs Of Mass Destruction. It might not solve any of the structural problems - admittedly mostly tied to my expectations based on the album's title - of the original, but it makes what is there make more sense and the additional tracks add value as well.

This is definitely the preferred version for anyone who likes Annie Lennox; the value of the additional disc and bonus tracks make it a clear choice over the original release, especially considering how little added expense there is for this version!

For other works by Annie Lennox, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Little Bird (single)
The Annie Lennox Collection (Deluxe Edition)


Check out how this album stacks up against others I have reviewed by visiting my Music Review Index Page where the reviews are organized from best to worst!

© 2013, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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