Sunday, November 30, 2014

November 2014 End Of The Month Report!

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November was a somewhat erratic month for the blog; we had a strong start, but the release of a new trading card set, a death in the family and a convention all drew our attention and reduced our output as the month went on. Regardless, we had a few big movie reviews, Hallmark ornament reviews, food and the new episodes of The Flash, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Doctor Who that we reviewed! Going into the last month of the year, the blog is going strong and we’re looking forward to finishing the year on a high note!

This month, we picked up a few more new followers through Twitter, but no new subscribers. 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 November, the index pages were updated very regularly, which was great for our readers! 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 on Black Friday and going through the blog to do so! As we enter holiday shopping time, if you have shopping to do online, please consider doing it through the blog to show your support for us!

At the end of November 2014, I have reviewed the following:
514 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Star Trek Books
Graphic Novels
880 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
2659 - 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!)!
211 - 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
774 - 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
825 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Cheese and Meats
Ice Cream
Other Food
220 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
111 - Travel Reviews
Destinations Reviews
Hotels Reviews
171 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
179 - 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 November is my tribute review to poor Gollum, my cat who died on November 18: Friskies Tasty Treasures Pate Beef & Liver Dinner With Cheese Cat Food!
Check it out!

The month of November had a lot of movement within the month and was dominated by reviews of new movies and Hallmark ornaments and a few great articles that have been holding on! For November, the Top Ten Reviews of the month were:
10. 2014 Frozen Queen Elsa ornament
9. ”The Things We Bury” - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
8. 2014 The Rise Of Lord Vader Star Wars Hallmark ornament
7. Interstellar
6. ”The Writing On The Wall” - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
5. 2014 Olaf Frozen Hallmark ornament
4. The Top Ten Episodes Of Frasier
3. The Top Ten Episodes Of Star Trek: Voyager
2. Dragons Of Camelot
1. 10,000 Days

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 - 302 reviews
9s - 432 reviews
8s - 840 reviews
7s - 940 reviews
6s - 860 reviews
5s - 1115 reviews
4s - 822 reviews
3s - 650 reviews
2s - 294 reviews
1s - 202 reviews
0s - 92 reviews
No rating - 76 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 November 2014, the most popular reviews/articles continue to be:
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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The Graphic After-School Special Without The Spark: To Write Love On Her Arms

The Good: Good performances, Moments of direction
The Bad: Lack of character spark, Oppressive tone, Somewhat predictable plot arc
The Basics: To Write Love On Her Arms is a glorified after-school special with an impressive cast, which fails to connect because it is so unflappably generic.

In recent years, it seems like stories of subjects that were traditionally the domain of after school television movies – alcoholism, child abuse, spousal abuse, etc. – that have a Very Special Message have managed to make the transition from the small screen to the big screen. While there are a few such stories that endure and make for great films, more often than not, they have trouble translating to major motion picture. Without knowing anything about To Write Love On Her Arms beforehand, I was drawn to the film simply by Kat Dennings’s starring role in the film; but the biopic drama is one of the more problematically-rendered big-screen films about battling addiction. As much as I might have wanted To Write Love On Her Arms to be an amazing experience I could eagerly recommend to Kat Dennings fans and moviegoers in general, the film transitions from imaginative and unsettling to heavyhanded, predictable and strangely dull.

To Write Love On Her Arms is the story of Renee Yohe, who is a real person; it is worth noting right at the outset that I know nothing of the actual person upon whom To Write Love On Her Arms is based. This is strictly a review of the film To Write Love On Her Arms. Issues with character and plot all are centered strictly upon the film versions of these characters and one has to assume some of the events (or at least names) are fictionalized to protect those who would not give clearance for their parts in the story to be presented on screen. So, before hashing out the plot, the fundamental problems with To Write Love On Her Arms are the lack of originality and a murky initiating incident.

Renee Yohe is an outsider at her high school where she, Dylan and Jessie bond and pretty much stand alone apart from the rest of their classmates. Renee is close with her mother and has an imagination that is intense. But in high school, she abruptly begins cutting herself, getting into drugs and alcohol and hanging off the arms of many different boys and men. After doing coke at a party, she is pulled into a back room and raped and after cutting pretty heavily, she calls upon Dylan and Jessie to help her out. Dylan takes his boss’s car to rescue Renee and together they head back to try to get Renee into rehab. Dylan’s boss, McKenna, is an ex-addict who is in recovery and is now a manager of musical groups. When rehab will not take Renee in, because she has not been sober and has not been cut-free for five days, McKenna takes Renee in to get her sober.

At McKenna’s house, Renee starts to get clean and she re-bonds with Dylan and Jessie. She also meets Jamie Tworkowski, who becomes intrigued by her story. Despite setbacks like going to a concert which leads Renee to cut again (largely because Jessie leaps to the conclusion that she used while separated from them), Renee manages to get clean. Six months after she first got admitted to rehab, Jamie has built an online community around Renee’s story and trying to help those who suffer from similar addictions. Out of the shelter of rehab, Renee finds herself suddenly a celebrity of sorts thanks to Jamie’s site and charity, To Write Love On Her Arms. She is overwhelmed, but struggles with her sobriety and her desire to help others who suffer from issues similar to herself.

Immediately, one of the most serious issues with To Write Love On Her Arms is the lack of a clear, strong, initiating incident to make the protagonist one with whom audiences can empathize. Yes, writers Kate King Lynch and Nathan Frankowski get around to it, but given that the first twenty minutes of To Write Love On Her Arms feature Renee undergoing dramatic physical changes, cutting, obvious drug addiction and a rape, the fairly simple exposition that comes at the halfway point is incredibly unsatisfying. But for almost half the film, the best explanation viewers have for the self-degradation of the protagonist is simply a vague sense of depression and the death of Jessie’s mother affecting her at a young age. Given how death of a friend’s family member is hardly considered a traumatic event, this is an unsatisfying motivation from a narrative perspective.

To Write Love On Her Arms starts off well-enough and strong enough. Director Nathan Franowski uses visual stylings for the young, imaginative, version of Renee that are instantly reminiscent of Across The Universe (reviewed here!). But the film quickly loses its magic and the harsh reality of the world is mirrored in the direction; To Write Love On Her Arms becomes a stark, dark, dank film that is as formulaic as any afterschool special. To Write Love On Her Arms suffers because its protagonist might be famous and a celebrity within the sobriety social circle in Florida and on the internet, but her story is incredibly typical and the lack of originality makes for a fairly unsatisfying film. To Write Love On Her Arms is just a more visually-graphic, modernized The Lost Weekend (reviewed here!).

What To Write Love On Her Arms has is a valuable message and pretty wonderful acting. Despite seeming like a PSA for the charity To Write Love On Her Arms, the acting is of a decent caliber. Actress Kat Dennings who made the transition effectively from indie movie star to mainstream celebrity with Two Broke Girls (season one is reviewed here!) is amazing as Renee Yohe. Dennings does snarky wonderfully, but the role of Yohe does not allow her any of her trademark sass. Instead, she is pale, listless and difficult-to-watch as the depressed, addicted, deeply-pained protagonist. This is new cinematic territory for Dennings and she plays the role with amazing depth and a disturbing proficiency.

Equally good are the supporting cast, at least for what they are allowed to do. Chad Michael Murray is easy to write off for those of us who only knew him from the first season of Gilmore Girls (reviewed here!) or his teenager-marketed soap opera One Tree Hill, but in To Write Love On Her Arms he is good. While his part of Jamie is pretty simple (he basically facilitates the story without giving any significant backstory himself), Murray plays it well and he plays off Rupert Friend’s McKenna in a way that makes it completely credible that the two characters are old friends. Rupert Friend is good as McKenna, though he telegraphs his performance to make his character’s plot-focused relapse instantaneously predictable.

One of the pleasant surprises on the performance front is Mark Saul. Saul performs a cover of the Coldplay song “The Scientist” and his voice is wonderful. Saul makes Dylan a decent supporting character and with Juliana Harkavy, the pair support Dennings’s Renee Yohee enough to make the character have a believable support network.

But To Write Love On Her Arms is otherwise unremarkable. The direction starts interesting and fades ridiculously fast; the characters and plot are predictable and generic. The result is a movie with good performances that is generally unwatchable.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
The Seventh Son
Inherent Vice
Still Alice
The Interview
The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
Horrible Bosses 2
10,000 Days
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1


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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More Average Than Extraordinary, Slim-Fast 3-2-1 Double-Dutch Chocolate Bars

The Good: Fairly healthy, Good flavor
The Bad: Very expensive, Not the richest chocolate flavor
The Basics: Slim-Fast 3-2-1 Double-Dutch Chocolate Bars are interesting, but hardly flawless, making them a better product to get on clearance than to seek out regularly.

Since quitting my hellish job almost five months ago, many good things have happened to me. I have stopped losing weight and gotten back into a regular sleep cycle and I’ve had something my crap job never afforded me; disposable income! The result of being able to eat well has meant that I get to try a lot of foods and I actually have put on a few extra pounds. To stop my weight gain and help me level out at a healthy weight, I have been mixing healthy foods and diet foods and that seems to be working; I am almost happy with my body for the first time in a year!

One of the foods I have been enjoying lately are the Slim-Fast 3-2-1 snack bars. While there are a number of incredible ones, I was pretty excited about the Double-Dutch Chocolate Bars, mostly because I like rich chocolate flavoring. While these bars are good, they are hardly one of the most inspired flavors and they are not all that they could be. That said, they live up to their promise of helping consumers feel more full and supplementing their nutritional needs!


Slim-Fast is the company that merchandises its specialized diet plan for those who are trying to lose weight by eating healthier, especially through portion control. The 3-2-1 plan is a program that encourages participants to have three snacks (like the 100 calorie Snack Bar), two Slim-Fast shakes or meal bars, and then have a balanced meal of about five hundred calories. The Slim-Fast 3-2-1 Plan Double-Dutch Chocolate bars are part of that program, but may be enjoyed just the same outside the program.

The Double-Dutch Chocolate Bars come in a .81 oz. chocolate bar that is foil-wrapped. Each bar represents a single serving and Slim-Fast 3-2-1 Plan has bars presented as 7/8” wide, ¾” tall by 3” long solid, heavily pitted or assembled-looking chocolate bar without any adornment. One bar is one portion, so this is very easy to get into on the portion front! These snack bars come in packs of six and locally, we have found them for $4.99, though we only stocked up on them when they went on clearance at a local store for $1.50/ea. At that price it was an actual value!

Ease Of Preparation

Eating Slim-Fast 3-2-1 Plan Double-Dutch Chocolate Bars is not a real challenge. After removing the wrapper, simply pull out the bar and stick it in your mouth. There is no particularly complicated equation to eating this chocolate bar. This is an entirely ready-to-eat food!


Opening the wrapper on the first Slim-Fast 3-2-1 Plan Double-Dutch Chocolate Bar, one is greeted by a surprisingly powerful chocolate scent. The aroma of chocolate is rich, but familiar; the Double-Dutch Chocolate bars smell like super-concentrated milk chocolate, as opposed to smelling like dark chocolate.

The Slim-Fast 3-2-1 Double-Dutch Chocolate Bars are instantly sweet on the tongue and the chocolate flavor is rich, but very sweet. The sweetness is cut by the dry chocolate of the cookie center of the Double-Dutch Chocolate bars. The combination of chocolate flavors results in a somewhat more muted chocolate flavor than one might hope, at least for those who love dark chocolate or consistently sweet milk chocolate.

The Double-Dutch Chocolate Bars have a slightly dry aftertaste to them, which encourages one to drink more after consuming them.


Slim-Fast 3-2-1 Plans Double-Dutch Chocolate Snack Bars are intended as a supplemental food, not a full meal. These .81 oz. bars represent a single serving and they have quite a few nutrients in them. Made primarily of rice flour, sugar and polydextrose, the ingredient list does become a mess of preservatives and vitamins near the end. This is not an all-natural food product and these snack bars were produced on equipment that forces them to add a disclaimer about macadamia nuts, milk, soy, wheat, eggs, sesame, almonds, cashews, coconut, walnut, pecans, and peanuts.

Slim-Fast 3-2-1 Plan's Double-Dutch Chocolate Bars have only 100 calories, only 30 of which are from fat. A bar represents 12% of one's RDA of saturated fat, though they are cholesterol free. As well, they are fairly low in sodium, having only 60 mg per serving. They also have a gram of protein and ten percent of nine different vitamins and minerals! This is a very healthy snack!


Slim-Fast 3-2-1 Plan Double-Dutch Chocolate Bars are tasty regardless of when they are eaten or how they are stored. Unopened, they have a decent shelf life around a year. We purchased a box two days ago on clearance and they have an expiration date of June 19, 2015, which makes me wonder why they were being clearance now. If they melt, they will stain, so consult your fabric guide if that happens. Otherwise, cleanup is simply throwing the foil wrapper away when you are done with the chocolate bar.


Slim-Fast 3-2-1 Plan Double-Dutch Chocolate Snack Bars are a fair addition to the line, but not an extraordinary food on any front.

For other Slim-Fast 3-2-1 reviews, please check out:
Peanut Butter Crunch Time
Chocolatey Vanilla Blitz Snack Bars
Chocolate Mint Snack Bars


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

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

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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Serving The Middling Franchise In A Middling Way: The EconoLodge & Suites Grand Rapids, Michigan!

Econo Lodge & Suites

Econo Lodge & Suites

Econo Lodge & Suites

The Good: Good room size, Clean
The Bad: Grounds not cared for, Low customer service, Mediocre breakfast
The Basics: In a fairly hotel-packed area, the EconoLodge & Suites in Grand Rapids simply seems cheap.

Some years ago, I was working at a Star Trek convention and the hotel that I was used to going down to had been demolished in the months since I was last in the area. That unfortunate turn of events (the original hotel had been a decent one and it was flattened to make some giant store, like an IKEA) led me to stay at an EconoLodge and that experience was so bad that I swore off the chain. When my wife was helping me plan my latest convention excursion, she pointed out that my previous bad experience at a single EconoLodge in an entirely different part of the country should not sour me on the whole chain. The thrifty part of me responded well to her argument when my search for hotels in Grand Rapids, Michigan, revealed that despite there being a lot of competition for the tourist dollars there, the deals were not at all extraordinary. As a result, I opted to book for the EconoLodge & Suites Grand Rapids, if for no other reasons than it was in my chain and it was the least expensive hotel in the area the weekend I needed lodging.

To be fair, the EconoLodge & Suites in Grand Rapids was nowhere near as bad as the outright hideous EconoLodge I stayed at in Maryland a decade ago. That said, it still had enough problems to make it an underwhelming stay and one that made me feel that – despite the low price – it was not much of a value.


The EconoLodge & Suites Grand Rapids, MI294 in the Choice Hotels numbering system (a number quite useful when making phone or online reservations), is located at 2985 Kraft Ave SE in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This is a section of Grand Rapids that is discreetly away from the college areas and all that seemed to be around it were strip malls, fast food restaurants and a few big box stores. This was a pretty unremarkable area of Grand Rapids with no real draw.

The EconoLodge & Suites Grand Rapids has a single entrance right off Kraft Ave SE and this hotel’s little side street is right off one of the major arterials around Grand Rapids. Mapquest directions are more than adequate for finding this hotel.

The EconoLodge & Suites Grand Rapids looks very small and the first real strike against it is its parking lot. I arrived on a weekday during prime business hours and the driveway had not been plowed. There were over two inches of wet snow on the ground throughout the parking lot and for the four days of my stay at the EconoLodge & Suites, the snowy parking lot was never once shoveled or plowed. The lack of care for the grounds made the hotel seem exceptionally inhospitable.

Room Size

Upon entering the hotel, I was surprised by the size of the lobby. The lobby had a high ceiling and a very open feeling and was well lit, the only part of the building that was so open. The front desk was to the left of the front door, perpendicular to it, and when I entered, there was no one at the front desk.

A minute and a half after ringing the bell at the front desk, a manager appeared to sign me in. He was friendly-enough and it was very easy to find my room on the second floor of the hotel.

As for the room itself, this was a decent-sized room, which was split into a living room and a bedroom, separated by a small hallway which has the bathroom and the alcove which passes for the kitchen. Measuring twenty-nine feet deep by fifteen feet wide, the full suite included a king-sized bed, two nightstands, a tv hutch, bathroom with shower and bathtub, desk, and a couch in the living room. The room did not feel cramped at all and had a number of lights that made the room feel warm.


From the first moment I approached the door to my room at the EconoLodge & Suites in Grand Rapids, I had a cool feeling about it. The wallpaper was not peeling, but it was darker than looked clean and the rugs were not all laying flat on the floor! On the plus side, the nonsmoking room lived up to that. The nonsmoking room smelled like nothing at all. There was no evidence or trace of scent that would have indicated it had ever had a cigarette smoked in it. Instead, the entire hotel smelled good.

Every time I enter a new hotel room, I flush the toilet and this EconoLodge & Suites easily passed the first flush test with no difficulties, which admittedly surprised me. The shower, hot tub and toilet were all clean. The wallpaper in the room was tasteful and none of the wallpaper or paint was peeling. Still, I found several spots on the wallpaper, even at eye level, both in the room and in the hallways. Unfortunately, the hotel was not all that bright; the lighting was average and enough to add a feeling of warmth to the rooms, but I found I could not sit and read comfortably with only one light on.

The common areas were all clean and well-maintained. The lobby was clean, as was the breakfast room.


The EconoLodge & Suites Grand Rapids has only the standard amenities, at least in our room. There were the standard coffee packets, shampoo, soap, and lotion. The suite actually had a microwave and very small refrigerator, which was a nice touch. The suite had two televisions, one in the living room, one in the bed room. As one of the oddities to this EconoLodge, shampoo was not replaced two of the three days I was there!

This hotel had a free breakfast, but it was pretty lousy. Billed as a “hot breakfast” online, the EconoLodge & Suites in Grand Rapids included a make-your-own waffle station and a toaster. The breakfast is dominated, however, by cold options: yogurt, danishes, cold cereal and fresh fruit. This hotel had only two drink options for breakfast: one type of milk and orange juice.

In the room, the television has approximately twenty cable television stations and the television was one of the smallest I've had in a Choice Hotel. We got a great on-line deal on the room, but it still cost us $72/night after all of the taxes. The hotel did have one of the most reliable wi-fi internet connections I’ve ever had at a hotel.

When the time came to check-out, the new manager at the front desk was not well-versed enough in procedures to make it easy for me to have the room charge taken off my credit card so I could pay cash. That was irksome.


The EconoLodge & Suites in Grand Rapids is mediocre; not bad, but overpriced for such a basic hotel, especially one in a snowy area where it is not adequately cared for to make guests feel invited.

For other Michigan hotels in the Choice Hotels chain, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
Quality Inn By The Bay - Traverse City, MI
Comfort Suites Southfield, MI
Comfort Suites Lakeside - Houghton Lake, MI


For other hotel reviews, please visit my Hotel Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
Econo Lodge & Suites

Econo Lodge & Suites

Econo Lodge & Suites

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Colossus Steps In For Girder When “The Flash Is Born!”

The Good: Decent character work, Good performances, Decent subplot work.
The Bad: Main plot is formulaic, Character design for Girder is underwhelming
The Basics: “The Flash Is Born” introduces the villain Girder, explores the relationship between Barry and the Wests and has Joe and Iris West getting closer to danger.

As a fan of The Flash graphic novels, there are several villains from the series that I have been eagerly anticipating on the new television program The Flash. While many people were super-excited about the introduction of Leonard Snart in “Going Rogue” (reviewed here!) and anticipation continues to grow with the imminent reveal of the identity of the Reverse Flash, I was actually pretty psyched when casting was announced for the villain Girder. Girder is one of the Flash adversaries that Geoff Johns wrote with extraordinary depth and made into an intriguing antagonist. In “The Flash Is Born,” viewers are treated to the arrival of the television version of Girder . . .

. . . and it’s a huge letdown for fans waiting to see an awesome CG iteration of the rusty giant from the comic books. That said, “The Flash Is Born” is a largely satisfying hour of television, though not as much for the a-plot as the numerous serialized subplots that move forward in the episode. “The Flash Is Born” picks up after “Plastique” (reviewed here!) and, as the title suggests, finally gives the show’s hero is true name! By the time “The Flash Is Born” is over, “The Streak” is replaced by “The Flash” and it’s about time!

Opening with The Flash encountering Iris West and advising her to stop blogging about him, Barry Allen runs off to a crime scene to save his day job friends. A car thief nearly runs over a child and drives through a police blockade and Barry Allen confronts a metahuman who can turn his skin into steel. Wounded more than ever before, Barry turns to his friends for help while Joe West continues his investigation into the murder of Barry’s mother. At the police briefing, Barry learns the perpetrator is his former school bully and Eddie Thwane starts asking questions about Tony Woodward and how it appeared that his skin deflected his bullets when Thwane shot him repeatedly. After a brutal training round at S.T.A.R. Labs, Barry and Eddie team up to visit Keystone and they discover that Tony supposedly died the same night Barry received his super powers.

As Joe West interrogates Dr. Wells, Tony comes looking for Iris in order to try to find The Streak. Menaced by Woodward, Iris tries to get the Streak to avoid Tony. Not heeding her advice, Barry hunts down Woodward in his Keystone lair. After getting defeated again, Barry learns that he would have to hit Woodward at more than Mach 1 in order to stop Woodward. After bonding with Thawne, Barry has to rush to Iris’s rescue when Woodward captures her and takes her to their old middle school.

“The Flash Is Born” is the first episode to truly focus on Iris West and the character balance in the episode between Barry Allen, Iris West and Joe West almost makes it possible to overlook the somewhat bland science and social message in the episode. The PSA about bullying is a bit heavyhanded for adult fans of The Flash, though it is worthwhile. Iris has been, up until now, building toward a pretty obvious plot point; since Iris began blogging about The Streak, the response by those closest to her has been that writing like she knows who the Streak is will put her in danger. With the volume of metahumans coming out of the woodwork all of a sudden, Barry and Joe have been advising Iris to stop because one of them will undoubtedly come looking for Iris to try to get to The Streak. “The Flash Is Born” is the episode where that actually happens.

Far more subtle in the episode than the inevitable plot and character point whereby Iris West is captured by a metahuman and held hostage until she can be rescued by the Flash is the way that Iris is beginning to put distance between herself and Eddie. For the first time, Iris prioritizes chatting with The Streak over taking Eddie’s calls and Barry witnesses Iris lying to Eddie. The inevitable demise of the Eddie/Iris relationship is well underway in “The Flash Is Born” and it provides the groundwork for Thawne to evolve organically into the Reverse Flash. In fact, the scenes that feature Thawne in “The Flash Is Born” finally start giving him enough depth to be a credible foil to Barry Allen. In this episode, we learn some of Thawne’s backstory, which has similarities to Barry’s, and Eddie reveals a frustrated, violent side to himself.

Just as with some of the prior episodes, “The Flash Is Born” has some underwhelming science to it. After discussing hitting a man at Mach 1, Dr. Snow overstates that Barry would have to break the sound barrier; a ridiculous dumbing down for exposition that makes no practical sense as “Mach” is the descriptive unit of velocity after breaking the speed of sound! In a similar fashion, Joe’s investigation into the murder of Barry’s mother both finally makes sense and illustrates a distinctive lack of imagination. In the category of “Dr. Wells must be the Reverse Flash,” the fact that the brilliant scientist does not postulate to Joe that time-travel might be involved in the death of Barry’s mother seems to illustrate that Dr. Wells is protecting his own interests. What is nice about “The Flash Is Born” in context of the first season is that Joe West finally has a compelling reason to be investigating the death of Barry’s mother. After the first episode, Joe suddenly blandly went over to the side of Barry Allen in believing that young Barry Allen might have seen something the night his mother died. In “The Flash Is Born,” Joe finally actually sees Barry moving like red lightning and that makes for a far more compelling reason for him to trust the child Barry’s version of events.

Far less impressive than any of the plot points is the appearance of Girder. Tony Woodward’s transformation into Girder is done on a television budget and it feels cheap. Sadly, Girder is basically a pewter version of Colossus from the X-Men movie franchise (X-2 where Colossus made his debut is reviewed here!). The special effects for Girder are entirely underwhelming and not at all like the character as he existed in the book.

Fortunately, the volume of work in b-plots in “The Flash Is Born” is enough to sustain the episode and make it worth watching and worth returning to.

For Flash graphic novels, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Flash Archives, Volume 1
The Flash Vs. The Rogues
The Trial Of The Flash
Born To Run
The Return Of Barry Allen
Terminal Velocity
Dead Heat
Race Against Time
Emergency Stop
The Human Race
Blood Will Run
The Secret Of Barry Allen
Rogue War
Full Throttle
Lightning In A Bottle
Flash: Rebirth
The Dastardly Death Of The Rogues
The Road To Flashpoint
Move Along
The Life Story Of The Flash

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into The Flash - 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 debut season here!


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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Best Is In The Middle: Star Trek Aliens Trading Cards Confound And Delight!

The Good: Great concept, Decent images, Good overall value, Decent chase
The Bad: Common card set is irksome, Virtually impossible to complete the set!
The Basics: The Star Trek Aliens trading cards are a tremendous concept, with pretty awesome chase cards, but a problematic common set and a disturbing lack of collectability for avid card collectors.

Star Trek trading cards have come a long way from when I started collecting them in 1991. Like many people who started collecting back then, I was happy when the trading card companies evolved beyond the simplistic trading cards and into more intriguing card designs – both for common sets and chase sets. I have had issues with how the trading card collecting industry has gone in recent years, which were well-detailed in my reviews of Rittenhouse Archives’ Star Trek: The Original Series 40th Anniversary Series 1 (reviewed here!) and Star Trek (2009 Movie) trading card sets (reviewed here!). So, with the release of Star Trek Aliens, the latest Star Trek trading card set by Rittenhouse Archives, we are already way, way beyond the point where complaining about collectability of the card sets is a truly legitimate – or germane – complaint (Star Trek trading card collectors who might be able to create true master sets have been reduced from 50 to 25 to 5 over the last decade!).

So, there is some irony in Star Trek Aliens, a set that is clearly designed for those who love Star Trek and who thrill to collect, but that seems to service best a middle-ground of collectors. Star Trek Aliens is notable in that it has one of the coolest concepts for a card set, but has one of the most haphazardly produced common card sets; it has amazing chase cards and the first Whoopi Goldberg autographed card, but sketch cards of such incredible rarity that several of the artists produced less than 25 sketches. Those looking for sensibility or who enjoy collecting are likely to find the set to be a troublesome boondoggle, but those who just go with the flow and have a more casual approach are actually bound to find a lot that leaves them legitimately excited about the set.

Basics/Set Composition

As the name, Star Trek Aliens indicates, this card set explores the many aliens of the Star Trek franchise. Not limited to just the original Star Trek, this was an incredible collection of Star Trek cards that featured images, autographs, and sketch cards from all five television series as well as the Star Trek film franchise. With 7000 numbered boxes and a presumed 80 archive boxes, Rittenhouse Archives has created a product that is clearly designed to hold its value in the marketplace.

Star Trek Aliens trading cards return card collectors to the more image-packed sets that Rittenhouse became known for a decade ago. Packed with bonus cards that ranged from foil and die-cut cards to sticker cards to the grails – thirty different hand-drawn sketch cards by different artists, Star Trek Aliens is bound to be a favorite for many Trekkers. The Star Trek Aliens trading card set, when properly assembled, includes three hundred sixty-eight cards, of which ten are not available in any of the boxes! This was a virtually impossible set to complete, so collectors that do will end up with a virtually priceless Star Trek artifact.

The Star Trek Aliens trading cards were released in packs of five cards. There were twenty-four packs per box and a dozen boxes in a case. This was a set that, like most contemporary Rittenhouse Archives releases, had 6-case, 9-case and 18-case incentives.

Common Cards

Out of the three hundred sixty-eight cards in the Star Trek Aliens trading card set, one hundred are considered common. The common set focuses on, as the name suggests, the aliens of the Star Trek franchise. Oriented in a landscape format, Star Trek Aliens has the sensible format where the backs are upside-down from the fronts, so when they are placed in a binder, when one flips the page, they may read the backs of the cards, without having to further manipulate the binder. All of the cards feature the usual UV resistant coating to prevent fading.

Star Trek Aliens cards are distinctive in that they are very white; the front of each card features a white bar at the top and bottom and the backs are dominated by white space for the card text. Each card focuses on a single character and the fronts feature three images (one large taking up the left two-thirds of the card, and two smaller images stacked on the right side). Cards range from the popular and familiar alien characters like Spock, Guinan, Worf, Kira Nerys, Odo, Seven Of Nine and T’Pol to the memorable guest characters or recurring characters, like Worf’s son Alexander, the Talosians, Hugh the Borg, Gul Dukat, Shran, and Annorax. Fortunately, Star Trek Aliens does not include too many ridiculously obscure characters, though choices like Alexander the dwarf from “Plato’s Stepchildren,” Ambassador Ves Alkar (from “Man Of The People”), and Firek Goff are far less recognizable or influential in the pantheon (in discussing this with my wife, for example, we came up with five more worthwhile characters/aliens than Ves Alkar!). For the most part, though, Star Trek Aliens features the favorite and best alien characters of the Star Trek franchise.

The Star Trek Aliens common card set is fairly well written. The back of each card features a blurb on the relevant character with enough information to make them seem vital and memorable and encapsulate most of the character’s arc.

That said, Star Trek Aliens is one of the most flawed common card sets to be produced by Rittenhouse Archives in years. First, there is no rhyme or reason to how the set is organized (except in the most general sense). Cards go through the Star Trek franchise from Star Trek to Star Trek: The Next Generation to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, etc. But then after Star Trek: Enterprise, there are the Star Trek film aliens, followed by ten random characters (possibly fan favorites?). Within the various series’, though, there is no consistency; the Star Trek and Star Trek movies aliens are presented in chronological order of their characters’ appearances. The other four categories have no such order to them. Second, the cards do not make good use of the entire arc of several of the characters. For example, card 16 – Alexander Rozhenko – presents Alexander as he was played by John Stuer a disproportionately high number of times (Stuer appeared only in “Reunion,” Brian Bonsall played him several more times and even Marc Woden, who took the role on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine played him for two episodes . . . and his iteration of the character is not featured at all!). Some of the other key characters who were recast – Daimon Bok and Tora Ziyal – do not have all the versions of the character represented (Bok is an amusing example as the second actor to play him signed autograph cards for the set, but is not featured on any of the common cards!). Rather hilariously, there is no Ezri Dax card in the common set!

Finally, there is a strike against the Star Trek Aliens set for those who are avid Star Trek card collectors: the images. Star Trek has a rich amount of material and Rittenhouse Archives has done an impressive job of getting incredible images in the past. But with Star Trek Aliens, they have begun to reuse their material and that is bound to be frustrating for collectors who actually like looking at their collections. For example, on the Leeta card, one of the five images is instantly recognizable as the shot that was the subject of the Leeta card for the Women Of Star Trek In Motion set! Furthermore, cards like the Guinan and Troi cards both feature images on the common cards identical to the images on the autograph cards!

Chase Cards

Fortunately for collectors, there is so much more to card collecting now than just common card sets! In boxes of the Star Trek Aliens trading cards, there were two hundred fifty-eight bonus cards and they range from cool retro-sticker cards to unique works of art created by thirty sketch card artists. For the first time in Star Trek trading cards, collectors were pressed to collect artists as opposed to specific sketches! With absolutely ideal collation, the Star Trek Aliens trading cards would take thirty CASES (360 boxes!) and an archive box to complete the set! The set included bonus cards like parallel, “Quotable” Klingons, First Appearances, Sticker, Alien Ships, Autograph, Badge, and Sketch cards. The boxes of these cards are packed with value from the sheer number of bonus cards in them!

The first chase cards are the parallel cards. One per box, collectors found a common card that was replicated on slightly thicker cardstock and had a gold bar on the front of the card and an individual collector’s number stamped into the back of the card. The gold parallel set is limited to 100, so getting all one hundred cards replicated in gold parallel versions is a task in and of itself!

The four most common chase sets each required almost an entire case to complete! The nine “Quotable” Klingon and First Appearance cards and the ten Alien Ships cards were each found one per box, while the eighteen Star Trek sticker cards were released 1:16 packs, so with a single case, one could actually assemble a set. The “Quotable” Klingons cards are somewhat disappointing in that they are identical to one another, save the text on them. Featuring a cool background, but with identical Klingon symbol and communicator images on the fronts and backs does not make the set one of the more distinctive chase sets. The First Appearance cards are beautiful foil-enhanced, die-cut cards that feature multiple neat images of the first episodes that featured seminal Star Trek aliens like the Vulcans, Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians and Borg. Similarly, the embossed Alien Ships set is beautifully rendered with both matte and gloss aspects that accent the blacks of space that the ships are featured on and they look amazing. As with prior sets that included retro-sticker sets, the Star Trek sticker cards are a lot of fun! Having big sticker images of Guinan and Troi are enough to make the teenager in me giddy with retro-delight (I would so have gotten mocked in middle school if they had existed then because I would have stuck them on my book covers for my textbooks!).

At three per box are the Star Trek Aliens autographs. The Star Trek Aliens autographs have comparatively high rarity (only two signers signed more than 500 cards!), despite the frequency of the autograph cards in the boxes. With a mammoth 76 card autographed card set, the Star Trek Aliens set is arguably the most impressive and bloated set of autograph cards yet. The most rare autographs include Whoopi Goldberg, Daniel Davis (Moriarty), Leonard Nimoy, and Jeri Ryan. Signers ranged from the always-impressive Malcolm McDowell to the regular cast members like Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Armin Shimerman and Tim Russ. While the autograph set is remarkably light on main cast members for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Enterprise and there was an issue that had the actors names on the front of some autograph cards in the place of their characters names, the collection is largely impressive. Star Trek Aliens marks the first autograph cards for Paul Dooley and Chris Sarandon, in addition to the obvious draw of a Whoopi Goldberg autograph card!

One per case collectors could find one of six (or seven, depending on one’s perspective) badge pin cards. Rittenhouse Archives produced replicas of the Vulcan IDIC symbol, Klingon communicator, Romulan symbol badge, Borg symbol and Bajoran communicator in addition to a replica of a slip of Gold Pressed Latinum and attached those replicas to an extra-thick card. Each card was individually numbered to 200 and the cards are so thick that they take the place of any other cards in the pack when they pop up. These cards were beautifully made, but their thickness was problematic; virtually all of them had scalloping on the edges where they were pressed by the equipment used to seal them into packs! The Borg pins were available in two variants (black and red) and that gave collectors a little extra treat to hunt for for their collections.

The grail of the boxes, though, are the sketch cards. Thirty different artists contributed art of Star Trek aliens and ships to the Star Trek Aliens trading card set. The art ranged from the immaculately precise works of Roy Cover and Gener Pedrina to the less colorful, but more shaded works of Bien Flores. Jomar Bulda did not appear to sign his cards for the set and some of the artists (like Sean Moore) produced less precise and more stylized sketch cards, more like comic book versions of the subjects than the photorealistic works of, for example, Irma Ahmed. I was truly thrilled when I pulled a collage card by artist Javier Gonzales (he painted a viewscreen border and Naguilum’s head and pasted them onto a viewscreen painting!). Each one is a truly unique work of art and Star Trek Aliens features a number of artists who had not worked on prior Star Trek trading card runs.

Non-Box/Pack Cards

Outside the packs found in the boxes, there are ten cards that cannot be found no matter how many packs are opened. They include the promotional cards and the casetopper cards. The promotional cards include a P1, which is simple to find and was given to dealers to promote the set and the P2, which was an exclusive promo in Non-Sport Update Magazine. P3 was exclusive to the Star Trek Aliens binder from Rittenhouse Archives.

In every case, there was one of two Juan Ortiz art cards. Developed in a similar style to the Star Trek Portfolio Prints cards (reviewed here!), the casetoppers are poster cards for the Borg and Klingon. This is an unfortunately boring casetopper for such an art-rich set of trading cards. The casetoppers are not even individually numbered to make them appear distinct or rare.

For every six cases of Star Trek Aliens trading cards a dealer purchased, they received a colored sketch/painting card from Warren Martinek. Martinek made cards of both characters and ships from the Star Trek franchise and they were very cool.

The nine-case incentive card was similar; Matt and Mike Glebe did painted art cards that were even more limited than Martinek’s and they, too, featured characters and ships. The Glebe’s artwork cards have been popular with Trek fans since they started doing them and these are already some of the most valuable and coveted art cards in the set (despite not being as rare as some of the other artists!).

The archive boxes feature R1, a Klingon Neck Collar artifact card. Given that this is a piece of Karen Austin (Miral in “Barge Of The Dead”)’s costume and she is hardly one of the most influential or impressive characters in the franchise, the card has more value for its rarity than its popularity. Each R1 card is hand-numbered to 80 and the fabric swatches in them seem similar across the run.

There are two cards, not available in packs, boxes, cases or incentives given to dealers. They are the P4 promotional card, which was an incentive used to promote the Star Trek Collective card resource and the F10 Q card. For the "Rittenhouse Rewards" program, which award points for each wrapper redeemed to Rittenhouse Archives, fans could get an exclusive F10 card featuring the first appearance of Q. This also makes the First Appearance set from a sensible 9 cards to an awkward 10 cards, but the card itself is still cool. The P4 follows the same style as the rest of the promos.


The Star Trek Aliens trading cards is going to be the crowning achievement of someone’s Star Trek trading card collection, but the number of collectors who can actually complete the set will be remarkably few. For those who complete or simply collect the set, the rarity too often overrides the quality: the common set is a mess, the autograph cards are inconsistent and the sketch cards are prohibitive to collect a complete set of. But the attempt is a neat one; despite their faults in formatting, the common cards look good and are fun to read – the bonus cards are (mostly) inspired and the thrill of most of the autograph signers overcomes the variations in the card fronts. And the art . . .and the art . . . Star Trek Aliens is worthwhile to collect if for no other reason than they are making art a living, breathing, vibrant thing for people whose love of a television show and movie franchise might cause them to neglect a love of genuine artwork. And looking at the artwork cards in this set, it is impossible to deny that they are art!

This set culls images from:
Star Trek
The Star Trek Movies
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Star Trek: Voyager
Star Trek: Enterprise

This is a set that I proudly sell in my online store! Check out my current inventory at: Star Trek Aliens Trading Card Page!

For other mixed series Star Trek trading card sets reviewed by me, please check out:
Star Trek: The Motion Picture Topps card Set
Star Trek 25th Anniversary Series 1
Star Trek 25th Anniversary Series 2
Star Trek 1994 Edition Master Series
Star Trek 30th Anniversary Phase One
Star Trek 30th Anniversary Phase Two
Star Trek 30th Anniversary Phase Three
Star Trek Cinema 2000
The Women Of Star Trek In Motion
Star Trek (2009 movie) cards
Star Trek 40th Anniversary


For other Star Trek trading card reviews, please visit my Trading Card Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Thursday, November 20, 2014

An Illustration Of Consequences For Those Who Do Not Understand Nuance: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1.

The Good: Themes, Decent use of the expanded cast
The Bad: Unlikable characters, Plot is more set-up than substance
The Basics: More a tease for the final installment, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is thematically heavy-handed and the film is surprisingly easy to skip!

Despite the fact that my review of Catching Fire (that’s here!) remains one of my most-read reviews, I am not what one might call an enthusiast of The Hunger Games franchise. In fact, when the cinematic rendition of The Hunger Games (reviewed here!) was released, I argued that even reviewing it was utterly pointless; the novel series had such a huge fanbase and Lionsgate had thrown so much advertising at the undecided masses that it was going to be a huge phenomenon regardless of critical analysis. At this point, there is little purpose to bothering to review The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, either, except for those who might have soured on the franchise from the first two films and need a reason to go and see it or skip it.

My vote is actually in the “skip it” category. Not since 28 Weeks Later (reviewed here!) has there been such an unnecessary sequel. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is entirely a transition movie and given where it begins (desperately hinging on seeing Catching Fire) and where is ends (with, presumably*, the initiating incident which will finally crystallize the budding rebellion in the world of Panem), it seems like it would be virtually impossible to watch The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 when it is released next year and not get everything that happens in Part 1 from context clues. Seriously; if anyone out there is on the fence and willing to try, I’d love to be proven right on this one! The reason for this is simple: despite the influx of characters into the universe of The Hunger Games, the ones who survive The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 are only incrementally moved in this film. And, on the plot front, what events do occur in the film have ramifications that will undeniably be self-evident in the second part . . . and the rest is just a dressed up version of what we saw in Catching Fire. [* I wrote “presumably” because I have not read the books, so perhaps the final film will take an abrupt right turn from the direction it has been going for the past three films, though I doubt it!]

The 28 Weeks Later analogy is not an inapt one; where 28 Days Later described the horror of uninfected people fleeing crowds of infected individuals and left it up to the viewer, like the protagonist of the film, to grasp the level of horror and change in the world, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 illustrates over and over and over again what Catching Fire began and showed quite enough of. In Catching Fire, President Snow’s tenuous grasp over the 12 Districts of Panem is slipping and he sends in faceless soldiers into the Districts to do things like beat insubordinate old men to death and shoot rebels and menace crowds with firearms just off camera from televised events. We get it; people are rebelling, Snow’s forces are pretty mercilessly killing them. When that, and the 75th Annual Hunger Games, fail utterly, Snow uses his military to bomb Katniss Everdeen’s home district right off the map. We get it.

So, where Catching Fire unfortunately repeated the plot conceit of The Hunger Games for its latter half, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 browbeats the audience with repetition of Snow’s desperate attempts to retain power and control over the districts that pay tribute to his Capital. Where Catching Fire had an old man getting his head blown off, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 ups the stakes with a line-up of children. Snow, apparently, is not the only one too stupid to realize that if fear failed to keep people in line, more fear won’t stop the rebellious forced; director Francis Lawrence and the screenwriters assume the audience needs to see more and more violent incidents to understand that.

We don’t.

Following her arrival in the subterranean District 13, Katniss Everdeen learns that the world of Panem is on the edge of full-scale revolution. Despite District 12 being obliterated, Katniss’s losses are remarkably small; she is reunited with her sister and Gale in District 13. There, she meets District 13’s “President,” Alma Coin. Coin and Plutarch Heavensbee want Katniss to become the symbolic leader of the revolution, a figurehead that will galvanize their movement. But Katniss is frustrated and determined that Peeta be rescued from the clutches of President Snow. When Peeta, who was captured after the arena was destroyed during the climax of the last Hunger Games, is shown on broadcasts as enemies to the Rebellion, Katniss is convinced that Peeta has been brainwashed and must be saved.

In exchange for committing forces to a rescue operation, Katniss allows Coin and Heavensbee to use her for their own propaganda machine. The result is a conflict that does not climax, a character whose heroic journey is stalled, and a film that seems much more like filler than flash.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is thematically unsettling in that protagonist Katniss Everdeen, who worked very hard to resist being a part of Snow’s propaganda machine in the prior installment, is willing to be a part of Coin’s media blitz against Snow in this one. Either way, she’s just a tool and like Snow menacing her family in exchange for her campaigning and illustrating love for Peeta, Coin withholds resources to rescue Peeta until Katniss commits to help her cause.

Unfortunately, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 flops even more in-context of the larger Saga . . . for anyone who has a memory. Katniss Everdeen didn’t love Peeta in The Hunger Games, she did not particularly love him in Catching Fire (though she was protective of him). In Mockingjay – Part 1, Katniss is more obsessed with saving Peeta without having an emotional connection to him to back that up. Katniss seemed happiest in District 12 when she was with Gale and now she and Gale could be together; from the moment Peeta first appears in Mockingjay – Part 1, the damage he can do is done. He is Snow’s mouthpiece. For a character who has no genuine love for him, assassination should bear the same emotional effect as rescue (a loss to a rebel is a loss to a rebel; how one commits resources says a lot). In the simplest possible terms, Katniss feels more like she is going through the motions with pushing for a rescue attempt as opposed to a character who has a heartfelt love and genuinely likes the guy she is concerned with.

To that end, Jennifer Lawrence does what she can with the role that spends much more time being passive and lackluster than truly compelling. Katniss Everdeen is barely the hero in the process of becoming, as opposed to the “political pawn who realizes she’s actually a rook;” Lawrence has very little she can do with such a limited character.

The rest of the cast is as good as the writing allows them to be. Josh Hutcherson may be bland as a love interest, but as a brainwashed figurehead delivering Snow’s talking points, he seems to have found his niche. Jenna Malone’s time on screen makes no real use of the actress's talents; her character is an afterthought and her appearance is little more than a cameo near the climax of the film. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson, and Donald Sutherland each return to their roles flawlessly. Julianne Moore, Mahershala Ali, and Robert Knepper join the cast and integrate well. Moore is given the most screentime of the new arrivals and she is exactly what she needs to be in order to sell the character of President Coin. She is dignified enough to be realistically presidential and she delivers the character’s strategies with a sense of pragmatism that makes her a good embodiment of a rebel. While Jeffrey Wright is simply continuing his role of Beetee, he is a pleasure to watch; the part of the intellectual with a grasp of both physical and political sciences suits him well.

Ultimately, though, none of the performances are so superlative that they become the “must see” embodiment of any of the actors’ talents, the characters are not drastically transformed in a way that the next film would not have to say (yet again) what happened to them and the themes are nothing new to the audience of the first two The Hunger Games. The result is a film that may be very safely skipped.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
To Write Love On Her Arms
The Seventh Son
Inherent Vice
Still Alice
The Interview
The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
Horrible Bosses 2
10,000 Days


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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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

For The 50th Anniversary Of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer Hallmark Makes An Irresistibly Cute Ornament!

The Good: Decent sculpted details, Accurate coloring, Cool light function, Good balance
The Bad: Low collectible value, Paint job.
The Basics: The 2014 "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" ornament from Hallmark is well worth picking up for fans of generic Christmas ornaments!

This year, apparently, marks the fiftieth anniversary of the animated Christmas special of Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. To commemorate the event, Hallmark has produced a Hallmark Keepsake ornament of the climactic event of the tale of Rudolph. Given my wife’s desire for some more generic Christmas ornaments for her tree this year, I was somewhat unsurprised when she requested the Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer ornament, which I was lucky enough to find on sale at Hallmark’s Open House Event earlier this month!

For those unfamiliar with The Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer was the savior of Christmas when his glowing nose allowed him to guide Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Night. In the special The Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, the elf Hermey and Rudolf have to journey together to save Christmas. It is Hermey the elf riding Rudolph that is the subject of the 2014 The Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer 50th Anniversary ornament.

Nello Williams made an immaculate and completely accurate sculpt of the Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer and the ornament was affordable at the original issue price of $14.95 and it was an even better value at $5.00 off!


The "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" ornament recreates Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer as he appeared in the stop-motion animation special The Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. The ornament, released in 2014, is an entirely accurate sculpt of both Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer and Hermey the Elf. The subjects of the ornament were animated and Nello Williams captured the playful sense of adventure inherent in the characters’ design. Measuring three and one-quarter inches long by 2 7/8” tall by 1 7/16" wide, the "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" ornament is on-scale with most of the other character ornaments Hallmark offers. As well, it is one of the more affordable Hallmark Keepsake ornaments at only $14.95.

The Hallmark "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" ornament is made of durable plastic and has the character Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, with Hermey on his back, presumably rising into the sky. Hermey is waving and his hair, hat and belt are all accurately sculpted. The ornament gets Rudolf perfectly right from his spiked little horns to his hooves. He has a 50th Anniversary medal molded to his collar and it fits the look of the ornament well.

The Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer is colored in simplistic, but solid colors, which are entirely accurate for the character. Rudolph’s eyes are painted with glossy paint, which make them look wet and realistic. Hermey’s eyes are also glossy; the rest of the ornament is cast and painted in matte paint. On mine, Hermey’s collar was very sloppily painted, bleeding into the top of his coat. The coloring, though, is otherwise good and accurate.


As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" has a light function, but no sound chip. On Rudolph’s collar is a button. When depressed, Rudolph’s nose lights up, thanks to a trio of 1.5 Volt watch batteries.


As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate Christmas Tree, the "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" ornament is a perfect addition. The ornament has the standard brass hook loop embedded into the side of Hermey’s hat. From that position, the Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer ornament hangs nicely level. Unfortunately, the hook loop is in a pretty obvious and obtrusive position, but the result is a perfectly-balanced ornament, so it is hard to complain!


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 (reviewed here!). Within a few years, every major franchise from Star Wars to A Nightmare Before Christmas to Indiana Jones started making Hallmark ornaments. "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" is part of the The Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer ornament line and the only one from that franchise in 2014. This ornament seemed to benefit from being discounted at the Hallmark Open House. As a result, I suspect that the Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer ornament will have a tough time doing more than retaining value, but it seems feasible that it will not be available on post-Christmas clearance.


Fans of the stop-motion animation special Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Hallmark ornaments and Christmas in general are likely to be thrilled by the Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer 50th Anniversary ornament. Despite slightly sloppy paintwork and a likely lack of collectible value, this remains an easy-to-recommend ornament!

For other Christmas ornaments, please check out my reviews of:
2014 Snow Miser The Year Without Santa Claus ornament
2012 Michael Oher ornament
2009 Mr. Plow The Simpsons ornament


For other 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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