Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Smarter Than Expected, “Heavy Is The Head” Reminds Viewers There’s Something Worth Caring About On Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The Good: Character work, Direction/special effects, Good performances/establishing new chemistry/dynamics
The Bad: Still fairly plot-heavy
The Basics: The challenge of the second episode of the second season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., “Heavy Is The Head,” is to make viewers care about the Agents and the Marvel Cinematic Universe again . . . and it largely succeeds.

With the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s staying power in pop culture currently resting in the hands of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. (season one is reviewed here!), the show opened its second season big with a plot-heavy episode. For several reasons, the episode was pretty much bound to be more focused on plot than any sort of cerebral, character-centered episode. Given the climactic nature of the end of the first season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., the second season had to reorganize the title organization of the series, now with Coulson in control. “Shadows,” the second season premiere, had to illustrate how Coulson was desperately trying to rebuild S.H.I.E.L.D. and necessitated an episode where numerous characters were introduced and the threat had to justify so many new characters.

So, with “Heavy Is The Head,” Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has its first practical chance to get back into the characters for the show. “Heavy Is The Head” picks up immediately after “Shadows” (reviewed here!) and the nature of the underlying threat in the episode is not made immediately evident. For the first twenty minutes of “Heavy Is The Head,” the episode minimizes the plot stuff, while giving a chance to explore Coulson and Fitz. Moreover, of all the new characters, that Mack is given a decent role in order to start to make the team feel like it is expanding (and give Fitz a new chance to heal) for real (as opposed to in a disposable way). To that end, “Heavy Is The Head” works.

May attempts to rescue Hunter without losing Creel, which leaves Hunter to get captured by Talbot. Coulson recalls May and as his Agents regroup, Talbot makes Hunter an offer: two million dollars and a proper burial for his friends in exchange for delivering Coulson to him. Hunter returns to headquarters to let Coulson know what Talbot offered him, while Mack gets Fitz working on working on the cloaking system from a cloaking device they recovered from a H.Y.D.R.A. plane. With Creel struggling with the material he recovered for H.Y.D.R.A., Coulson works to stop him and neutralize his element-absorbing ability.

When Raina returns to the mix, giving Creel an element recovered from space, she manipulates Coulson into contacting her and reveals that she wants to keep the obelisk from falling into H.Y.D.R.A.’s hands. Mack begins working with Fitz who reveals that the problem they are trying to solve is one he actually developed before his accident. With May, Hunter, Tripp, and Skye going back into the field to take down Creel (thanks to Raina’s tracker), Hunter’s agenda becomes apparent when he goes rogue.

“Heavy Is The Head” does a decent, if subtle, job of illustrating the wear on Coulson that comes from him being the leader who is wholly responsible for S.H.I.E.L.D. In “Heavy Is The Head,” he has more direct interaction with his team than he did in “Shadows” and that (loosely) reminds viewers that he is the familiar and essential character from Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. While the show has an ensemble cast, Coulson is the backbone of the show. “Heavy Is The Head,” at the very least, reminds viewers of that with the 11th hour rescue that puts Coulson back in the field. As the episode reaches its climax, the revelation that Coulson’s resurrection came with a price (visions), makes him into more of a superhero than he has been before and that is an intriguing direction for the character.

Of the new character, “Heavy Is The Head” tries to develop Hunter, but his part in the episode is actually much more of a plot-focused part. Instead, Mack is actually developed in the episode. Revealing new details about what could be a very flat character, Mack starts to bond with Fitz. Fitz, who is hallucinating and distracted (arguably suffering from minor brain damage), was largely an under-developed tech-guy sidekick in the first season. In “Heavy Is The Head,” Fitz and Mack start developing a relationship that is based (smartly) on decent, complex, psychology (Fitz subconsciously knows that Simmons is gone and he needs to connect with someone else, so through his hallucinations, he passes the torch to Mack, minimizing his hallucinations). Mack is smart enough to observe the body language necessary to make Fitz’s hallucinations work in a “real world” setting and call him out on it. Played adeptly by Henry Simmons, Mack is the new character to watch (though “Heavy Is The Head” seems to want us to care more for Nick Blood’s Hunter).

“Heavy Is The Head” has some cool little moments. When Creel is chasing Hunter, he runs through a glass door, as opposed to stopping to open it. That is a pretty refreshing detail that the writers and director Jesse Bochco catch it. This is actually an episode where the special effects accent what is going on in the episode without actually overwhelming the episode.

Fortunately, in addition to seeding Agent Carter and future plotlines for the series, “Heavy Is The Head” is a decent bridge episode between where the show was and where it seems to be going . . . and it works to make us want to come back to see where it will go. Mission accomplished, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D..

For other works with Kyle MacLachlan, please visit my reviews of:
How I Met Your Mother - Season 6
Sex And The City - Season 3
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
Twin Peaks

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - 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 sophomore season here!


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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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September 2014 End Of The Month Report!

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The month of September saw my wife and I taking an unexpected, wonderful vacation for the first time in almost three years! The result was somewhat lower-than-usual blog productivity (but a TON of forthcoming reviews for categories that have been neglected, like Travel!). Even so, we were bolstered by some new movie reviews, additional food reviews, and the new episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Doctor Who! We’re excited going forward about some of our upcoming toy and television reviews.

This month at W.L. Swarts Reviews The Universe, there we had no new additions to the Top Ten Of All Time. This month, we put special emphasis on food, new movies, new episodes of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Doctor Who and brand new Hallmark ornaments! Thanks for all the "likes" for those posts, as well as all of the new hits on older reviews!

This month, we picked up no new subscribers, which is not surprising given how little we were able to produce. 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 hoping to continue to grow our readership this year, so sharing and subscribing to the blog is an important way you can help! If you’re subscribing, please tell your friends about the blog!

In September, the index pages were updated 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! Thanks so much to all of the shoppers who have been spending during the summer and going through the blog to do so! If you have back-to-school shopping to do online, please consider doing it through the blog, to show your support for us!

At the end of September 2014, I have reviewed the following:
509 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Star Trek Books
Graphic Novels
875 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
2610 - 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!)!
The Doctor Who Review Index Page (All Doctor Who Reviews In Order)!
The Doctor Who Review Index Page (All Doctor Who Reviews From The Best Of The Franchise To The Worst!)!
209 - 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
743 - 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
806 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Cheese and Meats
Ice Cream
Other Food
218 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
108 - Travel Reviews
Destinations Reviews
Hotels Reviews
169 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
178 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
94 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
38 - Other Product Reviews

The Featured Review For The Month of September is for Deerfield Dog Lodging!
Check it out!

The month of September had a lot of movement within the month and was dominated by reviews that have been holding on! For September, the Top Ten Reviews of the month were:
10. The Giver
8. ”Robot Of Sherwood” - Doctor Who
8. ”Into The Dalek” - Doctor Who
7. This Is Where I Leave You
6. Parenthood - Season 5
5. ”Thank You” - True Blood
4. ”Shadows” - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
3. The Top Ten Episodes Of Frasier
2. The Top Ten Episodes Of Star Trek: Voyager
1. Bad Neighbors

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 - 293 reviews
9s - 426 reviews
8s - 825 reviews
7s - 925 reviews
6s - 839 reviews
5s - 1102 reviews
4s - 801 reviews
3s - 639 reviews
2s - 290 reviews
1s - 199 reviews
0s - 91 reviews
No rating - 74 articles/postings

There was a decent amount of movement this month, but there were no new entries into the Top Ten. At the end of September 2014, the most popular reviews/articles I have written are:
10. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
9. Safe Haven
8. Oz The Great And Powerful
7. The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bone
6. Warm Bodies
5. Iron Man 3
4. Now You See Me
3. Tyler Perry's Temptation
2. The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug
1. Man Of Steel

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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Myah Eats Iams! Iams Shakeables Turkey Flavor Treats Are A Good Reinforcement Tool!

The Good: Healthy, Good ingredients, Smells meaty, Myah loves them!
The Bad: Expensive, No dental benefits
The Basics: Replacing a store brand’s “meatballs” when we could find them on clearance, Iams Shakeables Turkey Flavor dog treats are beloved by my Myah!

There are so many different brands of pet foods that I often find myself overwhelmed by the variety and quantity of dog foods and treats on the market when I go out to buy for my Siberian Husky, Myah. One of the brands that I have, as a general rule due to my finances, avoided is Iams. However, recently, my local grocery store did a massive clearance of their pet products as they completely reordered the store. When that happened, all of a sudden, the Iams products were affordable for me (or, more accurately, Myah) to try and at 50% off, we got a whole bunch. The first Iams Product Myah had were the Iams Shakables Turkey flavor treats.

The Iams Shakeables Turkey flavored dog treats fill the exact same niche as the dog meatball treats that Myah fell in love with from a different local grocery store. They are a wonderful reinforcement treat for Myah, but for those lacking in a cool local place, finding the Iams on clearance is certainly the next best thing. Lacking dental benefits and given how fast Myah went through them, the Iams Shakeables were hardly a value except on clearance.


We picked up the 6 oz. canister of Iams Shakeables Turkey Flavor on clearance for $2, which is a good price for the small, chewy treats that do nothing for a dog’s teeth. What makes it worthwhile over so many other snacks or foods is how Myah continues to be enamored with them. And, at a similar price to the store brand when they are on clearance, one gets better ingredients for a fair price. The Iams Shakeables were a great treat to use as a training reinforcement tool. Myah sat pretty, did high fives, and army crawls for it and did other basic tricks that she has resisted doing in order to get the Iams Shakeables Turkey Flavor dog treats. Her willingness to do so many tricks for them, makes the Turkey Flavor a wonderful training tool!

The Iams Shakeables Turkey Flavor dog treats are little very dark brown dog snacks that look like cubes of chewing gum! When the canister is opened initially, the Turkey Flavor treats have surprisingly little in the way of aroma. What little scent they do have smells like grain. Each snack is approximately 3/4" tall and wide and 3/8" thick. The surface of the Shakeables treat is smooth and soft.

Ease Of Preparation

This is a ready-to-eat dog treat and only requires one to open the cardboard canister to dispense. The canister is resealable, which is nice. Like cat treats that come in such containers, shaking the container makes it easy to make a treat experience for dogs that trades on classic conditioning. Shaking the container now brings Myah running from the thudding, somewhat bell-like (cow bell-like) sound is now one Myah associates with eating this treat.

Myah’s Reaction

The soft Iams Shakeables Turkey Flavor has no discernable dental benefits, so despite the fact that Myah comes running whenever the canister is shaken is not enough to say they are amazing for dogs. Still, Myah loves them and, to be fair, Myah’s breath goes from being bad to neutral when she eats these.

Myah loves these. This is one of the treats she illustrated a strong preference for when given a choice between this and other treats. Because they are small and delicious, they make a great training treat for medium sized dogs. When I started calling the Shakeables Turkey treats “meatballs” (like we had called the other treats she likes “meatballs”), Myah never looked at us like she had been betrayed, so these easily fill the same niche as the other meaty dog treats we’ve gotten for her.


The Iams Shakeables Turkey Flavor dog treats are somewhat healthy. With at least 8% crude protein, 3.5% crude fat and no more than 3% crude fiber and 25% moisture, the Iams Shakeables Turkey Flavor offer good nutrition to dogs. Made primarily of wheat flour, glycerin and turkey, Iams Shakeables Turkey Flavor appear to have nothing bad in them. They also do not have a ton of preservatives; these treats only have about a year shelf life (our canister would have expired in October 2014, had Myah not eaten them right up!). As with all dog treats, it is highly recommended that when you give your dog Iams Shakeables Turkey Flavor, you make sure they have a decent supply of clean water available. Iams Shakeables Turkey Flavor treats are not intended to replace dog food.


Iams Shakeables Turkey Flavor treats are good, but not exceptional on the ingredients or health front and for the price, that is a bit of a detraction. That said, Myah shows a strong preference for them and enjoys this soft treat, making it ideal as a reinforcement tool. . . at least when they can be found on clearance.

For other dog treats and foods, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Pup-Peroni Original Bacon Flavor
Purina Busy Real Beefhide Rollhide
Chicken Yum-It-Up! Spread For Dogs


For other pet products, be sure to visit my Pet Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Enjoyable And Neglected, Life Of Crime Is Still Worth Watching!

The Good: Funny, Good character mix
The Bad: Very plot-centered
The Basics: Life Of Crime is a fun, albeit basic, crime comedy dressed up with a good cast and an interesting mix of weird characters.

With the recent death of Robin Williams, I find myself thinking more and more about how complex and ridiculous the film industry is. With Williams, it came in the form of Terry Gilliam being unable to get American investors to pony up ten million dollars for a film with Williams and Johnny Depp. For sure, monied people know more about money than I do, but the idea that a movie with Robin Williams and Johnny Depp with a budget of $44 million or less would not be able to (at least) make back the investment seems pretty ridiculous to me. We’ll never know, now. This tops off my review of the new indie film Life Of Crime because Jennifer Aniston is in a new film that is getting far less press than The Skeleton Twins or the recent wave of pseudo-Christian (evangelical) films like God Is Not Dead.

To be fair, Life Of Crime is not a flawless movie by any means. Writer/director Daniel Schechter may well be the last person in the world making new adaptations of Elmore Leonard books (wasn’t that a mid-/late-‘90’s thing?!) and all 1970’s period crime pieces are likely to get stuck in the shadow of American Hustle (reviewed here!) for a while, but Life Of Crime is a solid movie that is well-made . . . it deserved a lot more attention than it is getting. For sure, cinema is a crowded marketplace, but that a film where Jennifer Aniston is leading a cast that includes people like Tim Robbins, Mos Def, Will Forte and John Hawkes, is produced and released and cinephiles have no idea it exists is troubling.

Opening in Detroit, 1978, Ordell and Louis team up definitively when a hood takes Louis for $27. Ordell runs the man over for him and the two commit to Ordell’s plan to get embezzled money from the ultra-rich Frank Dawson. Ordell’s plan is to kidnap Frank’s wife, Mickey, and ransom her for a million dollars, which they will put into an account in the Bahamas. Frank is neglectful of his wife and actually seems to actively dislike her (doing things like driving her home drunk, hitting their other car and leaving Mickey unable to open her door to get out of the car and pinned down by a giant trophy!), which makes his co-worker, Marshall, believe he has a chance with Mickey. When Ordell and Louis go to abduct Mickey things do not go as planned – Mickey drops a jar of marmalade and, because she is barefoot, cuts her foot fairly badly and Marshall enters the house, ready to make his move on Mickey!

After the abduction, Louis and Ordell take Mickey to the house of a Nazi Ordell knows, Richard Monk. Marshall wakes up and makes it look like he was in a car accident (to explain the head injury Ordell gave him to knock him out) and one of Ordell’s tails on Frank informs him that Frank is in the Bahamas with the same woman he was seen with on another occasion. Ordell realizes that Frank may have more than a simple mistress and Frank tells Melanie that he has filed for divorce from Mickey. While Mickey deals with her imprisonment, Louis and Ordell realize that Frank has so little interest in his wife that they will never get a ransom from him! As the two try to get Frank to pay the ransom, the confluence of weird characters complicate what was supposed to be easy money for the pair.

Life Of Crime is easily-recognizable to fans of pop culture as an adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel by its collection of quirky characters. Richard is a Nazi who is a peeping tom, who is entirely comfortable doing business with a black man; Ordell is more comfortable with working with Richard than Louis is! Melanie seems straightforward, but has a subtle psychopathic vein in her as she encourages Frank to let the kidnappers kill Mickey (he’s divorcing her anyway . . .). Marshall is more dogged in trying to find what happened to Melanie than the police are! A collection of eclectic characters from all different ways of life is very much a common conceit in Elmore Leonard’s pulp works.

And the film works, even though it is far more average than it is extraordinary. Life Of Crime is funny and entertaining, though it lacks a spark to make it rewatchable. The caper and characters are fun, but despite how many quirky characters there are, the story is ultimately more straightforward than a truly character-centered film. The abduction has very obvious complications presented almost immediately – the wounded foot, the suitor in the house, the divorce papers – so as the film unfolds, it becomes more an exercise in waiting to see how they will influence one another. Life Of Crime plays out well, but it is hardly surprising or audacious.

On the performance front, Life Of Crime is made up of an impressive cast, who adequately embody the characters they portray. Jennifer Aniston plays Mickey without any originality or distinction; the role is straightforward to an extent that it is almost surprising Schechter managed to get her for the role. Mickey is not as memorable as Aniston’s character from Horrible Bosses (reviewed here!), for example. Tim Robbins, Isla Fisher, and Will Forte all give performances that are well-within their previously-established ranges. Even Mos Def, who is wonderfully charismatic as Ordell, gives a performance that seems to be more the result of good casting than anything he is stretching for in the role.

John Hawkes does manage to give a performance in Life Of Crime that allows him to shine. For perhaps the first time in anything I have seen him in, Hawkes does not seem like he is trying to give the performance Sean Penn would have given if he got the same part. Hawkes gives a decent portrayal of an emotionally-confused down-and-out not-quite criminal and he makes Louis pop well-enough to make Life Of Crime watchable.

Life Of Crime is solid, watchable and standard; while none of those are adjectives that might make a blockbuster, it is hard to believe that if the film had had any real promotion, it would have been bigger than it is likely to be.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
10,000 Days
Hit By Lightning
John Wick
Listen Up Philip
The Best Of Me
The Judge
Dracula Untold
The Equalizer
The Maze Runner
This Is Where I Leave You
The Giver
The Expendables 3
Guardians Of The Galaxy
The Zero Theorem


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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Monday, September 29, 2014

Delightful Dill! North Country Cheese Garlic Dill Cheese Curds Delight!

The Good: Wonderful flavor, Good ingredients
The Bad: Expensive, Not terribly nutritious
The Basics: North Country Cheese Garlic Dill Cheese Curds are a flavorful, delicious snack that is likely to please anyone who loves cheese, garlic or dill!

Having returned almost a week ago from the first vacation my wife and I have had in two and a half years, it is somewhat surprising just how much food I have around the house to review as a result of the trip. I certainly did not think our vacation was designed to give me a stock of reviewable foods! That’s not entirely true; when my wife chose Minnesota as our vacation destination and we decided that we would go through Northern Michigan and Wisconsin, I suddenly had the excited realization that I would be able to sample, stock up and review cheeses that I do not have access to locally. Despite being very excited to potentially tour one of the dairies (and disappointed when that did not materialize!), when my wife and I picked up a cooler, our first cheese purchase was not from that brand. Instead, at a gas station in Wisconsin, on our way home, we picked up cheese curds: North Country Cheese Garlic Dill Cheese Curds!

At $5.99 for a 12 oz. package, these cheese curds are a little pricy, though (to be fair) it has been a while since I have priced out cheese curds. North Country Cheese Garlic Dill Cheese Curds are a great snack, provided one accepts in advance that one’s waistline might expand and that the garlic flavor is potent enough to remain on one’s breath after the cheese curds are gone!


North Country Cheese is a Wisconsin-based dairy that does not seem to have extensive market penetration outside the Midwest United States (yet). The intent of most North Country Cheese cheeses is that they will be cheeses that hold their own as snacks that may be served to consumers in fancier settings. They specialize in cheeses and cheese curds that have different flavors infused into them: garlic, ranch, buffalo wing seasoning, etc. North Country Cheese cheese curds are intended to be little bite size cheese snacks that consumers eat to enjoy their love of cheese and indulge themselves every once in a while. The North Country Cheese Garlic Dill Cheese Curds come in bags at all sorts of places throughout Wisconsin.

Garlic Dill Cheese Curds are infused with actual dill, but the garlic seems to come in the form of garlic seasoning. Mixed throughout the white cheese blobs of these cheese curds are tons of flecks of actual dill!

Ease Of Preparation

North Country Cheese Garlic Dill cheese curds are a cheese curd product, so basically, one opens the container they came in and they begin devouring them. Opening the bag is like opening a bag of chips: open, eat. It's a pretty simple process! Be sure to seal them after opening them and if at all possible, eliminate the air from the package.

North Country Cheese Garlic Dill Cheese Curds are soft and require refrigeration. While cheese curds may be hard to work with for things like hamburger garnish, they melt exceptionally well and things like omelets may be zested up with these little cheese pieces very easily.


On their own, the North Country Cheese Garlic Dill Cheese Curds have a scent that perfectly blends the garlic and dill that is in them. The aroma is mouthwatering to those of us who love dill and the dill seems more potent arguably because the smell from the garlic in the cheese curds opens the nostrils up more to receive the herb’s aroma!

On the tongue, the cheese component seems almost like an afterthought or a medium solely to distribute the garlic and dill; the cheese curds are that flavorful. The cheese flavor asserts itself only after the potent garlic flavor in the cheese curd fades a little. The flavor of the cheese curd is like a magnified expression of cottage cheese (i.e. this does not taste like cheddar cheese or another recognizable cheese). The mild dairy flavor of the actual cheese curd is accented by the dill and the dill flavor is strong enough to overwhelm the cheese curd, though it tends to be subservient in the palate to the garlic in most of the cheese curds.

For something that is so intensely and deliciously flavored, the North Country Cheese Garlic Dill Cheese Curds have virtually no aftertaste, which is nice (and surprising).


North Country Cheese and cheese curds are not intended to be all that one lives on. But for those who try, the Garlic Dill Cheese Curds are not the best choice, though they could be far, far worse. The dill and garlic do not seem to add anything of note to the cheese of nutritional value (these cheese curds have 8% of the RDA of Vitamin A, but that seems to be in the standard range for cheese curds). A serving size is considered a one inch block (1 oz.) and some of the cheese curds I ate from my current bag were about that size or a little larger, though most were about 1/2" blobs. In the recommended serving, there are 110 calories, 80 of which are from fat. These cheese curds have 27% of one's daily recommended saturated fat intake and 7% of the RDA of sodium. On the plus side, it does have 20% of the RDA of calcium and has seven grams of protein.

Obviously, the Garlic Dill Cheese Curds are a dairy product, so those who are lactose intolerant will have problems with it. These cheese curds are made primarily of pasteurized milk, cheese culture and salt. That makes then apparently all-natural, as there are no listed preservatives in the ingredient list!


As a cheese curd and dairy product, North Country Cheese Garlic Dill Cheese Curds should be kept refrigerated. So long as that happens, it ought to stay fresh for several months. Ours had a "sell by" date of February 4, 2015 and so long as they are kept in an airtight, cool environment, they ought to remain fresh and supple. Ours seemed fresh and squeaked when we chewed them!

The Garlic Dill cheese curds are a cheese, so they are not going to stain or ruin anything unless it is ground into a fabric. Baring that, cleanup of nonporous surfaces is as easy as wiping them with a damp cloth. However, the dill from these does seem to come off on the fingers and get all over! Fortunately, the dill is easy to wash off.


I picked up North Country Cheese Garlic Dill Cheese Curds on a lark as part of having an authentic Wisconsin experience (and to balance my wife’s Ranch Cheese Curds from the same company) and I was pleased to discover that they were delicious and easy to enjoy. While they might have been the cause for some of my vacation weight, they were one of the most delicious and consistent cheese curds we tried on our trip!

For other cheese reviews, please check out my takes on:
Sartori Merlot Bellavitano Cheese
New Bridge Mediterranean Cheddar Cheese
Yancey’s Fancy Steakhouse Onion Cheddar Cheese


For other cheese reviews, please visit my index page by Cheese Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Reboot Failure: The Flash: Rogues Revolution Undermines The New 52 Flash!

The Good: Moments of story, One or two character moments for the villains
The Bad: Glosses over huge moments of characterization, Rushed plot, Erratic artwork/coloring
The Basics: The Flash: Rogues Revolution is a mediocre continuation of Barry Allen’s rebooted story of the Flash as the hero returns to the twin cities where he tries to stop the Rogues . . . with the unlikely help of Captain Cold!

While my Flash Year is long over, I found that the year of studying the character left me very interested in the super hero. I might be one of the rare fans of Wally West as the Flash as opposed to the traditional Barry Allen version of the Flash. As a result, I was not hugely impressed by The Flash: Rebirth (reviewed here!) and the big Flash-related crossover, Flashpoint (reviewed here!). With Barry Allen as the sole Flash, DC Comics’s “New 52” strategy rebooted the character. Following on the heels of Move Along (reviewed here!) was The Flash: Rogues Revolution. Unfortunately, The Flash: Rogues Revolution does not continue the story of The Flash in a compelling way to make one want to continue to revisit his corner of the new DC Universe.

The Flash: Rogues Revolution features almost no character development for Barry Allen and it focuses much more on the various villains in the Flash corner of the DC Universe. Almost as much as Batman, The Flash has an entire gallery of recurring villains who pop up to torment the hero and during the best-written phases of The Flash, the villains were incredibly well-written and deep. Sadly, The Flash: Rogues Revolution lacks that depth and it also has gaps in the storytelling that makes the book have a poor flow and an erratic quality to it that makes it impossible to recommend. The book also begins somewhat in the middle of a serialized story with only context clues for part of how the story got where it is, which makes it harder to get into for new fans.

Trapped in Gorilla City at the hands of the merciless Grodd, the Flash is essentially powerless and confused. While some of the intelligent simians believe that Barry Allen is their savior, Grodd wants to eat the brain of the Flash in order to gain his power and knowledge. When Allen is rescued by some of Grodd’s pacifistic political adversaries, he returns to Central City and Keystone City. There, The Flash discovers that in the years he was gone, an anti-Flash and anti-super hero sentiment has overrun the twin cities. Also, an industrialist has gained credit and notoriety for making the cities completely energy independent . . . using batteries that the Flash super-charged.

Given that the world thinks that Barry Allen is dead and Patty Spivot has mourned and moved on, Barry lays low as an anonymous bartender in the slums. There, he encounters Leonard Snart (Captain Cold) who is on the outs with the Rogues. When Heatwave breaks into the bar and tries to kill Cold, it becomes clear to Barry that there has been a fracture within the Rogues. Working together, the Flash and Captain Cold try to stop a crime spree which further seeks to discredit the Flash and destroy his reputation in the twin cities. But just as Barry comes to trust Cold to help him stop the Trickster, Weather Wizard, Mirror Master, Heatwave, and an ethereal version of Snart’s sister, his ally turns on him and leaves him (and the twin cities) at the mercy of an even worse enemy!

The Flash: Rogues Revolution does the heavy lifting of explaining how the Rogues were altered for the New 52 vision of the DC Universe. As it turns out, the idea is a good one: tired of being constantly disarmed by the Flash, the Rogues banded together to try to give themselves super powers. The idea is a neat one, as is the clever idea that the attempt to incorporate their gadgets as super powers had horrible side effects. Those side effects include Heatwave getting horribly burned and unable to control the fire within him when his emotions get the better of him and Leonard Snart’s sister becoming a disembodied entity who has minimal influence in our universe.

The idea of the mechanized conceits becoming biologically incorporated into the villains is an interesting idea, though it seems somewhat goofy (it’s the super-hero universe equivalent of creating a device that would allow anyone who had a blender to develop the super power of blending); at least it is derived by a clever means. The villains recognize the power of the Flash and have a reasonable way to minimize their vulnerability to him. The execution of their plan leaves people like Mirror Master with terrible consequences, though his being trapped in a mirror universe is erratically executed. The brief time the Flash spends trapped there in The Flash: Rogues Revolution implies that it is a much more permeable membrane than in prior storylines (and it is left unclear why others can move in and out of the Mirror Master’s pocket universe, but McCullough remains trapped there).

Just as the story has gaps and does exceptionally little to further the character of Barry Allen, The Flash: Rogues Revolution has erratic artwork. While the penciling is less blockish than in some of the recent prior graphic novels of The Flash, the coloring is far less vibrant and realistic than it could be. That gives The Flash: Rogues Revolution an unfortunately flat look and feel to it. The result is a book that lacks a sense of being visually stunning just as the story leaves the reader unimpressed.

Ultimately, The Flash: Rogues Revolution is what it is and it feels like it: it is a middle act in a storyline that is surprisingly underwhelming.

For other “New 52” graphic novels, please check out my reviews of:
Batgirl: The Darkest Reflection
Batgirl: Knightfall Descends
Green Lantern: Sinestro
Green Lantern: Revenge Of The Black Hand
Green Lantern: The End
Green Lantern Corps: Fearsome
Green Lantern Corps: Alpha War
Justice League: Origins
Red Lanterns: Blood And Rage
Wonder Woman: Blood
Wonder Woman: Guts
Wonder Woman: War


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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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From The Political To The Personal, “Father’s Day” Is An Important Dramatic Shift For Doctor Who!

The Good: Wonderful character development, Good acting, Good narrative structure
The Bad: None within the episode.
The Basics: Rose Tyler gets the focus of “Father’s Day” when she explores her dead father’s timeline and makes an effort to save his life . . . with disastrous consequences.

In decent serialized television, like Doctor Who, the conceptual framework of the series has to be established and sometimes the episodes that establish the framework are not as good as the episodes that simply exist within the framework and use it. In the first season of Doctor Who, “The Long Game” (reviewed here!) establishes the fluidic nature of time within the Doctor Who Universe. The episode, however, is largely without significant character development. So, that the episode follows up with “Father’s Day,” a powerfully character-centered episode that utilizes the framework established in “The Long Game” works to the benefit of the season.

“Father’s Day” is also notable in that it does not have a defined villain, which is pretty refreshing given that the prior episodes almost exclusively contain adversaries motivated primarily by greed. “Father’s Day” is a strong Rose episode and focusing on The Doctor’s companion for an altered-time episode establishes a decent precedent for the show. In addition to finally making explicit that The Doctor has the ability to alter the outcome of the Great Time War where The Doctor’s people were all killed, it is finally explained – explicitly - why such changes cannot be made in the Doctor Who Universe.

Recalling how her mother told her about her father’s death, Rose implores The Doctor to take her to visit her father. Together, they witness Peter and Jackie Tyler marrying (with Pete getting Jackie’s name wrong) and then they journey to the day Peter died from a random driver running him over. Witnessing him getting hit by the car, Rose is distraught and wants to make sure that Pete will not die alone. Going back to right behind themselves, Rose runs out and stops Pete from getting killed. Despite The Doctor being clearly upset over Rose’s meddling with the time stream, the pair returns to Pete’s apartment where Rose sees all of Pete’s weird inventions. The Doctor abandons Rose in his anger and runs afoul of a massive flying creature he calls a Reaper.

Accompanying Pete to the wedding of Sarah Clarke and Stuart Hoskins, Rose encounters the younger version of her mother as people in the immediate vicinity begin to disappear at alarming rates. Jackie, seeing Rose, gets upset with Pete (and his job history). The Doctor arrives in time to save Rose and some of the wedding guests from the Reapers who are picking off people in the area. The Doctor reasons that saving Pete’s life has created a wound in time and, seeing the car that was supposed to kill Pete appearing and disappearing around the church leads The Doctor and Pete try to restore order to the timeline.

The fundamental fluidity of the Doctor Who universe is explored wonderfully in “Father’s Day.” Not only does such a fundamental shift in time, such as Rose saving Pete’s life, alter the immediate vicinity, it creates tremendous ripples throughout the timeline. The TARDIS disappears and the appearance of the Reapers menaces all existence. In the larger context of Doctor Who this sort of illustrated consequence makes one question how such consequences are avoided for other temporal incursions (like how the Jagrofess in the prior episode enslaving Earth for 91 years that altered what The Doctor remembered of time not having similar consequences) makes no sense. But within “Father’s Day,” there are no such issues.

In fact, “Father’s Day” might well be the first perfect episode of Doctor Who, at least in the rebooted series. The episode is strong in character development for Rose and there are a number of incredible lines from The Doctor that enhance his character’s flexibility. He gets very angry at Rose throughout “Father’s Day,” but he comes to the anger from a place of frustration and love. Pete is characterized well as a smart, imaginative, but out-of-touch man and there is an interesting parallel to be made between him and The Doctor in the episode. Fortunately, Rose immediately puts the kibosh on Pete’s unwitting almost-advance upon her.

Actors Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper have amazing on-screen chemistry in “Father’s Day.” Their ability to emote to one another through eye contact is incredible and they sell the deepest emotional moments for their characters very well. Camille Coduri (Jackie) and Shaun Dingwell (Pete) have decent banter that makes it seem like they were a viable married couple once upon a time. Their on-screen tension plays out well through the course of the episode.

“Father’s Day” is one of the few episodes of Doctor Who that cheats on some of the consequences; most episodes of Doctor Who do not essentially “reset” the timeline to its starting point (characters remember the incidents in the episodes, casualties remain dead and time goes on with the incursion in place). “Father’s Day,” despite being wonderful, pretty much half-asses its resolution. While it restores the timeline, essentially, the story that Jackie tells the young Rose Tyler changes . . . so how the episode actually works out remains troublingly murky. What happened? What didn’t? In the final blend of the temporal wound and its resolution, the timeline is resolved in a murky way. The argument can be made – given that The Doctor and the previously-deceased father come out of the church after the important event – that a rest happens when Pete meets his fate head-on, but it does not really explain how the temporal reset works. Jackie says “people say” there was a girl . . . even though she saw the girl in question and how they disappeared.

That said, “Father’s Day” is still a perfect episode. The level of character, consequences, and the performances all lend themselves well to a solid hour of television that replays remarkably well. Despite all the time spent on the conceits, “Father’s Day” is a tight, resonating character story that is accessible to fans and casual viewers of Doctor Who.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sole season with the Ninth Doctor here!

For other, intriguing time-travel stories, be sure to check out my reviews of:
“The Visitor” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
The Time Traveler’s Wife
Fringe - Season Five


For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Rising To Average, The Legends Of Star Trek Hikaru Sulu Ornament Is (Mostly) Recognizable!

The Good: Fair price, Good balance, Detailing on the tricorder
The Bad: Overproduced, Animated look, Skin coloring.
The Basics: The 2014 Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu ornament is a disappointing ornament to celebrate the character of Sulu or the career of George Takei.

Every year, Hallmark comes out with a new Star Trek character ornament and for the past few years, Hallmark has been making original Star Trek characters under the banner Legends Of Star Trek. This year, it’s Lieutenant Sulu’s turn and it is something unsurprising that the ornament continues the trend of ornaments that the Legends Of Star Trek Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu ornament has an animated look to it.

Starting out at $14.95, the Legends Of Star Trek Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu ornament looks only like Sulu in a general way; outside the yellow shirt, all that really makes this ornament a Sulu ornament is the fact that the subject is not a Caucasian (this is Sulu by virtue of not being Kirk or Chekov).

For those unfamiliar with Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, he was the helmsman aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise for most of Star Trek (reviewed here!). Played wonderfully by George Takei, Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu is so seminal to Star Trek that casual fans seem unaware that Takei missed a huge chunk of episodes (mostly in the second season) and did not have a first name until Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country! The "Legends Of Star Trek" series gives Hallmark a chance to cast Sulu for the first time, though he was minimally rendered in the Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan bridge ornament.


The Legends Of Star Trek Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu vaguely recreates the Helm Officer of the Enterprise in solid plastic. The ornament, released in 2014, is presented very generally, with a problematically undeveloped sculpt for the face and head. Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu is fairly recognizable to genre fans holding up a tricorder and a communicator. Molded to be recognizable, the ornament still has a more animated look for the character than one might hope for. This comes, arguably, from the character’s rounded head and very generalized colorscheme that lacks realistic depth and shading. Sulu’s skin is not at all realistic to the fleshtones of George Takei! Measuring four inches tall by one and one-quarter inches wide by one inch deep, the Legends Of Star Trek Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu ornament has been selling slowly at my local Hallmarks since its Preview Weekend.

The Hallmark Legends Of Star Trek Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu ornament is made of a durable plastic and has the human officer standing in his yellow shirt, tight black pants and shiny black boots. The face is sculpted much more angularly than George Takei's is. This ornament is molded without deep attention to detail, like fingernails.

Conversely, Hallmark went to create painstaking detailing for the tricorder, getting it and the communicator in perfect proportion with the rest of the ornament. The tricorder is exceptionally detailed in both sculpt and coloring. Oddly, the same cannot be said about the head.

The Legends Of Star Trek Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu is colored correctly with his yellow Command shirt, outside his skin tones. Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu has very pale compared to the actor’s skin tones. I was impressed that the boots were a glossy black, while Sulu’s pants were appropriately matte in their finish. While the tricorder and communicator in his hands and the rank braids on his forearms are well-colored and detailed, the skin is much less impressive or realistic in its detailing.


As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, the Legends Of Star Trek Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu 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 starship or mural series of Star Trek ornaments. This is Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, standing alone with a communicator and tricorder as opposed to behind his helm console. Having the ornament without any features might disappoint some collectors.


As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake Legends Of Star Trek Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate Star Trek Christmas Tree, the Legends Of Star Trek Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu ornament is a necessary one, given that Sulu is an iconic character. The ornament has a brass hook loop that comes out of the top, center, of Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu's skull. To its credit, Hallmark's Legends Of Star Trek Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu is very well-balanced from that point.


Hallmark Keepsake began delving into the collectibles market in 1991 with Star Trek when it introduced the exceptionally limited edition U.S.S. Enterprise ornament (reviewed here!). Since then, they have made ornament replicas of almost all of the major starships from the franchise and when they started on the personnel in 1995, though this is the first Sulu ornament. The Legends Of Star Trek Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu ornament was not a fast-selling ornament since its release in summer of 2014.

Given the precedent from the prior Legends Of Star Trek ornaments, combined with the already-slow sales of this ornament, this is unlikely to be a worthwhile investment piece; hold out for it to be on the clearance racks at the season’s end.


Fans of the Star Trek franchise, George Takei and Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu are likely to not be wowed by the Legends Of Star Trek Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu ornament. Even so, this Legends Of Star Trek ornament is not one of the worst Hallmark has produced!

For other Star Trek ornaments of characters, please check out my reviews of:
2014 Vina The Orion Slave Woman
2013 Legends Of Star Trek Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott
2012 Legends Of Star Trek Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy
2011 Legends Of Star Trek Spock
2010 Legends Of Star Trek Captain James T. Kirk
2009 Limited Edition Ilia Probe
2005 Khan
2004 Commander Charles “Trip” Tucker III
2003 Subcommander T’Pol
1997 Dr. McCoy
1996 Mr. Spock


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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Lackluster Labyrinth: Why It’s Hard To Care About The Maze Runner!

The Good: Eventually turns into an interesting concept . . .
The Bad: . . . it takes SO long to get there, Mediocre characters, Uninspired acting
The Basics: The Maze Runner fails to thrill as young men (and a single girl) try to escape mechanized bugs and a maze that is testing something about them.

Last weekend, my wife and I were on vacation and we took a day to watch some movies in the theater. Neither of us got to see our first choice (she wanted to watch The Maze Runner, but did not want to be around people; I wanted to see The Zero Theorem, but had no idea how to get to the one art theater in the city that was showing it). So, it took us an additional week to take in The Maze Runner. My wife wanted to see The Maze Runner because she had read the novel series upon which the film was based. At this point, following the lackluster Divergent (reviewed here!) and the equally unimpressive Vampire Academy film (reviewed here!), I was pretty much tapped out for any interest in films based on young adult science fiction.

My indifference to The Maze Runner did not diminish as the film began. One of the difficult aspects of being dropped into a setting with new characters is developing any regard for the characters. The first duty of the writer/director is to get viewers to care about the characters in their new, fantastic setting. In The Maze Runner, the protagonist is Thomas and he lacks any initially distinctive quality to make the viewer care about who he is or what he is going through. Even Katniss Everdeen had more of a hook when she exhibited a willingness to perform acts of self-sacrifice at the outset of The Hunger Games than Thomas does in the first third of The Maze Runner.

A young man finds himself in an elevator, remembering nothing about his life before, nor even his name. He is trapped in a field, surrounded by massive walls and other young men and boys. The one opening in the wall, he is told, leads into a giant maze, from which there appears to be no escape. Alby and Newt explain to the new arrival how once a month, a new young man is sent into the glade and the group lives there. Each day a few boys go into the maze to chart it, but they live in fear of staying in the maze at night (after the doors close) because Grievers sting anyone in the maze at night, leading to insanity and death.

After a particularly poignant display of what happens when someone is stung by a Griever – namely a stung boy viciously attacking Thomas (as he has come to remember his name) – Thomas enters the maze when Alby and Minho are not able to make it out of the maze before the doors close for the night. With Alby wounded, Thomas and Minho string him up with vines for the night before they are chased by a Griever. Thomas manages to kill the Griever, but it leads to another boy, Gally, getting gravely concerned about the changes in the environment. To punctuate his fear, the elevator arrives again, this time with a girl from Thomas’s dreams. As Thomas learns more about the nature of the maze and the outer sections of it, he and Teresa discover they are tied together by more than just Thomas’s dreams. As they investigate the dead Griever and the nature of the venom, Alby is cured and his memories seem to trigger a Griever attack on the village. In struggling to survive the maze, Thomas, Teresa and the other survivors in the glade become aware of the nature of the test they are in and how it fits into a larger, wounded, world.

The Maze Runner is like The Lord Of The Flies without the shipwreck and it does not truly begin to get going in a compelling way until just over the one hour mark when Thomas enters the maz with Minho as a maze runner (mapper of the maze). When the part of the Griever they recovered begins clicking, it is the first moment in The Maze Runner that actually intrigued me enough to actually care. Given that is the third day of Thomas’s stay in the glade, it was hard to care at that point in the movie.

To be fair to The Maze Runner, from the moment sector 7 and the blades are introduced, director Wes Ball manages to create a creepy and tense film. From the shifting of the maze to the Griever attack on the glade, The Maze Runner picks up and becomes watchable. The special effects team on The Maze Runner makes the Grievers awesome to watch – though they seem like a mechanized version of the Alien 3 xenomorph – and the movie works itself to a climax that actually made me want to know where the series would go, but objectively the film stretches far too long before it gets to its point.

The Maze Runner has some gaping holes – like why the Grievers stop their assault on the boys in the glade when they seem to be pretty efficient at wiping the young people out – and its lack of interesting or likable characters makes the movie drag for the majority of the film. Thomas is not an impressive protagonist and the plot-heavy story does not pop because the characters are not easy to get invested in.

None of the performances in The Maze Runner are particularly compelling. While Patricia Clarkson appears for a few key scenes, she is not in The Maze Runner enough to justify seeing it for her. The usually talented Thomas Brodie-Sangster is similarly relegated to a minor supporting role that does not make use of his talents and Will Poulter is pigeonholed into yet another role where he plays an asshole that viewers are just going to hate. The young cast is led by Dylan O’Brian who plays Thomas with such a lack of spark that one has to wonder what the casting criteria was and who he beat for the part. The unimpressive performances make it hard to emotionally invest in characters who are only minimally defined.

The result is another film franchise with a stunted beginning that entirely hinges on the base of fans from the book turning up in droves to boost its grosses. That is the only audience that will likely find The Maze Runnera worthwhile film on its own.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
10,000 Days
Hit By Lightning
John Wick
Listen Up Philip
The Best Of Me
The Judge
Dracula Untold
The Equalizer
This Is Where I Leave You
The Giver
The Expendables 3
The Zero Theorem


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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Smart, But Way Too Short, Meghan Trainor’s Title Succeeds For What It Is!

The Good: Some great lyrics, Musically fun
The Bad: Very short, Erratic, Mixed quality on the vocals/production
The Basics: More than just an impressive single, Title makes Meghan Trainor into a household name . . . and makes us wish for more!

While on my recent vacation, I had a chance to listen to new music on the radio. While I came home eager to find the new album by a Canadian artist whose work has not quite broken here in the States, the other piece of music that truly moved me on my trip was the (now) #1 single from Meghan Trainor, “All About That Bass.” Learning about a hit single after it has already reached number one is very much like arriving to the party late, but after buying Meghan Trainor’s EP Title, I’m convinced that “All About The Bass” will not be the only hit off the album.

Title is an unfortunately short album that illustrates that Meghan Trainor is a talented singer-songwriter who is near the start of a very promising career. Title is the third album by Trainor and it is fun and clever in a way that I have not heard since Merril Bainbridge’s The Garden (reviewed here!). Unfortunately, the duration and lighter quality of Trainor’s EP make it a bit harder to recommend. Title has decent social messages and a narrative voice of female empowerment, but there is something of a feeling of diminishing returns after the single “Title;” the two singles that follow drop drastically in quality compared to “All About The Bass” and “Title.”

With only four songs clocking out at 12:45, Title is very much a collaborative work between Meghan Trainor and Kevin Kadish. Trainor and Kadish co-wrote all of the songs and co-executive produced Title. Trainor provides all of the lead vocals on Title and a few instrumental aspects on the album (claps, ukulele, and drum programming on two of the songs), while Kadish provides the other instrumental programming. The four tracks are enough to establish that Trainor and Kadish have something to say and a pretty solid method of musically delivering their message.

On “All About That Bass,” Meghan Trainor rails against the unhealthy body image portrayed in the media by celebrating the joys of being a curvy woman. Like a do-wop version of “Baby Got Back” from a woman’s perspective, Trainor celebrates the joys of being a curvy woman. She makes wonderful transitions from the confrontational to the empowered when she sings “I’m bringing booty back / Go ‘head and tell them skinny bitches that / No, I’m just playing, I know you think you’re fat / But I’m here to tell you . . . Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top . . . . You know I won’t be no stick figure, silicone Barbie doll / So if that’s what you’re into, then go ‘head and move along” (“All About That Bass”). The song is fun, catchy, and smarter than virtually any pop song in the last half-decade!

“All About That Bass” is followed by “Title” on the EP. “Title” is such a wonderful song that it is shocking that with the release of Title, it was not the second single released from the short album. Like “All About That Bass,” “Title” has a message of female empowerment and an enthusiastic, catchy, tune. Putting her boyfriend on notice, the female protagonist of “Title” demands, “Baby, don’t call me a friend / If I hear that word again / You might never get a chance to see me naked in your bed / And I know girls ain’t hard to find / But if you think you wanna try / Then consider this an invitation to kiss my ass goodbye.” The song is as strong as “All About The Bass” and has a very universal appeal to women who are tired of being strung-along as second tier date material and it’s about time there was an anthem for those women!

Surprisingly, the second single off Title is “Dear Future Husband.” “Dear Future Husband” is like a second take on “Title” where the female protagonist is talking to her prospective husband about what she wants out of her marriage. The song is not as catchy as the prior two singles, but it is a decent pop song that continues the quality of voice on the prior two tracks, without having quite the bouncy or compelling tune.

The final song on Title is “Close Your Eyes.” “Close Your Eyes” is an entirely forgettable pop ballad. Trainor sings high and slower with a very basic ballad that closes the album in a very mediocre way.

The result is that Title is well-written, sung in a fun manner and a decent collection of pop songs that are enough to make Meghan Trainor a household name, but it is not enough to make us want to play over and over and over again and have a prized place on the shelf; we are left wanting more.

For other newer works, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Shine On - Sarah McLachlan
Lights Out - Ingrid Michaelson
Louder - Lea Michele


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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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