Wednesday, December 31, 2014

December 2014 End Of The Month/End Of The Year Report!

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December was a wonderful month for the blog! Despite getting a new cat (whose helpful reviews will begin cropping ip in the new year!), we posted very regularly! Ending the year with some big new 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, we finished pretty strong!

This month, we picked up a few more new followers through Twitter and one new subscriber (welcome!). 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 December, 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 spent on Black Friday, Cyber Monday and throughout the holiday season and went through the blog to do so! As we enter the new year, if you have shopping to do online, please consider doing it through the blog to show your support for us!

At the end of December 2014, I have reviewed the following:
516 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Star Trek Books
Graphic Novels
882 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
2682 - 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
787 - 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
841 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Cheese and Meats
Ice Cream
Other Food
221 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
112 - Travel Reviews
Destinations Reviews
Hotels Reviews
171 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
179 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
96 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
39 - Other Product Reviews

The Featured Review For The Month of December is an article: On SONY Cutting The Release Of The Interview . . .!
Check it out!

The month of December had a lot of movement within the month and was dominated by reviews of new movies and television and a few great articles that have been holding on! For December, the Top Ten Reviews of the month were:
10. Comet
9. The Top Ten Episodes Of Star Trek: Voyager
8. ”Flash Vs. Arrow” - The Flash
7. Dunkin’ Donuts Jelly Donut Coffee
6. ”Ye Who Enter Here” - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
5. ”The Man In The Yellow Suit” - The Flash
4. ”What They Become” - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
3. To Write Love On Her Arms
2. Expelled
1. Annie

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 - 306 reviews
9s - 437 reviews
8s - 850 reviews
7s - 947 reviews
6s - 868 reviews
5s - 1119 reviews
4s - 831 reviews
3s - 659 reviews
2s - 298 reviews
1s - 202 reviews
0s - 92 reviews
No rating - 79 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 December 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

. . . which means that for all the growth of 2014, we had no new reviews break into our Top Ten Of All Time!

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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Aging Poorly: Ellen Is More A Sign Of The Times Than An Enduring Series!

The Good: Good performances, Much of the humor, Interesting characters
The Bad: Laugh track, Erratic series
The Basics: Ellen does a fair job of bringing the comedy of Ellen DeGeneres to television, but the five seasons of the show are more erratic and dated than consistent and timeless.

I have long been a fan of the comedy of Ellen DeGeneres. In fact, back when Comedy Central was a new network, playing old clips of stand-up comedians, Ellen DeGeneres’s routines were easily some of my favorites (though Steven Wright amused me quite a bit, too!). So, in my teen years, I was thrilled that DeGeneres managed to get her own sitcom and, despite a complete retuning after the first season, I was pretty much hooked. The show that gave DeGeneres a chance to wow a broader audience was Ellen - though the show began as These Friends Of Mine. Competing with the likes of Seinfeld, Ellen featured Degeneres’s awkward humor in a character tailored to her comedy.

Ellen ran for five seasons and is currently only available as a bundle pack of the DVDs:
Ellen - Season 1
Ellen - Season 2
Ellen - Season 3
Ellen - Season 4
Ellen - Season 5

Ellen follows the life and daily tribulations of Ellen Morgan. After a series of terrible dates and ludicrous schemes, Ellen’s entire social network is upended. Morgan works at a book store which is mismanaged by its owners until Ellen is put in charge. Ellen tries to balance managing the book store with the space used in the store for the coffee shop (which is managed by the sarcastic Canadian, Joe). But travails like the Los Angeles earthquake and the desire to buy her own home lead her to sell the bookstore, even though she stays on as manager, on and off.

Ellen’s personal life revolves initially around dating and crazy schemes (like trying to keep a friend’s family members from seeing a sex tape that the friend made and inadvertently switching the tape out multiple times and playing the offensive tape for them!). But as the seasons go on, Ellen dates, helps friends, gets into work problems, and eventually realizes that her bad luck with men comes largely from the fact that she’s gay and has been fighting that impulse for years. But her revelation of her sexual identity comes at a price when her homophobic boss leads her to quit her job at Buy The Book and her entire life is turned upside-down.

So much of Ellen Degeneres’s comedy is observational humor and sometimes Ellen struggles to incorporate her comedy into the stories. As a result, Ellen Morgan frequently delivers incongruent stories to the main plot or actions of an episode. This characterizes Morgan as wacky, weird, and somewhat out of touch with reality. As a result, Ellen finds herself in the company of people who are equally messed up as she is: her best friend represses his feelings, Joe is deeply sarcastic, Paige is incredibly competitive, Spence is a failure at all his life has been built around and Audrey is so annoying that she is introduced as a woman who Ellen cannot stand to such an extent that she is trying to “dump” her, but feels so bad when Audrey learns how little she is liked that Ellen has to woo her!

Like most sitcoms, Ellen survived for so long because its characters were memorable. The main characters in Ellen are:

Ellen Morgan – A wacky bookstore manager, she lives with Adam and works with Joe. She takes a long string of weird men until she comes out of the closet and finds happiness with a real estate agent who has a daughter. She is continually hounded by her parents, who have some marital difficulties after being together for decades. She revises her goals in life after Buy The Book is nearly destroyed in an earthquake and her cousin Spence ends up on her doorstep. She is friends with Paige, though she has remarkably little in common with her. When she decides to grow up, she devotes herself to buying a house, which forces her to sell the bookstore,

Joe Farrell – A sarcastic Canadian who runs the coffee shop portion of Buy The Book. He dates strange women and is generally a thorn in Ellen’s side, at least, professionally,

Paige Clark – Ellen’s best friend from childhood, she is in the movie industry and tries to help Ellen out when it serves her purposes. She is promiscuous and gets involved with Spence, which complicates Ellen’s life,

Audrey Penney – Arguably the most annoying woman in the world, Ellen loathes her. She and Joe become decent friends; she seems perky, but is actually disturbingly dark and angry,

Spence Kovak – Ellen’s cousin, he appears on her doorstep after the earthquake. At that time, he is running from his family’s expectations that he will become a doctor. Instead, he loaf around Los Angeles and gets involved with Paige and helps Ellen out,

And Adam Green – Ellen’s roommate initially, he is a photographer who experiences increasing levels of success while his dating life stalls. He becomes the object of Audrey’s affections, but has a secret of his own which makes Ellen incredibly uncomfortable.

Despite an erratic overall narrative, Ellen succeeds (when it does) because of the strength of the cast. Ellen DeGeneres makes Ellen Morgan’s divergent stories seem like they are coming from a completely well-realized human being and she binds the disparate phases of the series together well. DeGeneres has great on-screen chemistry with Ayre Gross and Jeremy Piven (Adam and Spence, respectively). David Anthony Higgins slouches wonderfully through the role of Joe and Joley Fisher is consistently wonderful as the often-shallow Paige.

But Ellen is plagued by a lack of consistency and one of the worst laugh tracks in modern television. The show is funny, but Ellen Degeneres’s comedy needs room to breathe and far too often, the show forces the laughs at the inopportune moments or on the wrong beats. The result is a collection of episodes that are more worth henpecking through than getting in one complete collection.

For other television series' that made their debut on ABC, please check out my reviews of:
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 1
Happy Endings - Season 1
V - Season 2
Mr. Sunshine
Pushing Daisies - Season 1
Boston Legal
The Job
Once & Again - Season 2
Once & Again - Season 1
Sports Night
Spin City - Season 1
NYPD Blue - Season 4
Twin Peaks
V - The Complete Series
Battlestar Galactica - The Complete Epic Series


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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Terror With Minimal Balance Issues: Kryb Is An Awesome Action Figure!

The Good: Great sculpt, Decent accessories, Great articulation, Collectible value
The Bad: Balance/articulation issue makes it so one must pose the figure in a pretty limited way, Accessory coloring
The Basics: Kryb is one of the most frightening and original characters from the Sinestro Corps and her presence in The Sinestro Corps War led to the creation of one of the best figures in the Blackest Night toy line!

When it comes to action figures based upon the DC Comics characters, there are few that are more clearly geared for adult collectors than those from the Sinestro Corps. Say what you will about the rage that comes from the Red Lanterns, the members of Sinestro’s Yellow Corps based on fear were drawn to look terrifying and ugly in ways that are likely to give children nightmares. Arguably the most valuable toy based upon Sinestro Corps members, outside Sinestro himself from the Blackest Night toy line is Kryb. Kryb might be an obscure character to most people, but fans of The Sinestro Corps War (volume 1 is reviewed here and volume 2 is reviewed here!), she is a distinctive and awesome character. Given how much DC Direct caters to the hard-core fans, it is somewhat unsurprising that Kryb preceded even Sinestro to action figure status for the Blackest Night toy line!

For those unfamiliar with her, Kryb is a nightmarish woman who steals babies from alien planets and keeps them “safe” by caging them in her skeleton cage that grows out of her back! With her four arms, she scoops up children and at the outset of the Blackest Night, she was serving the Sinestro Corps by hunting the children of Green Lanterns across the universe!

It is Kryb, her four arms at the ready and with an opening back cage, that is the subject of DC Direct’s Blackest Night action figure!


The Kryb figure is amazingly well-detailed and one of the bigger DC Direct figures from the Blackest Night line. The sculpt and detailing of Kryb is exceptional. The frightful mother stands 7" tall when she is flatfooted and hunched over as the character is want to do. The Kryb figure is available only from DC Direct.

This toy is an exceptional sculpt, especially for a character that has only had two-dimensional references, Kryb looks amazing in all three dimensions. DC Direct gave the figure a distinctive head that is like an alien desiccating in front of the collector! Cast with her mouth in a creepy rictus grin, Kryb has finely detailed teeth, neck veins, face muscles (as if the skin was super-thin on her cheeks!) and recessed eyes. In his mouth, there are tiny teeth that make Kryb look like a piranha! The figure also features amazing muscle definition under his Sinestro Corps uniform for the muscles of her chest, ribs, stomach and legs. Kryb also features nasty looking claws with nails that appear entirely lethal. This is sculpted to be a creature one is afraid of and Kryb works for that!

Kryb's costume is all tightly molded to her body and lends the fearsome monster her awesome coloring. The yellows of the Sinestro Corps uniform are pearlescent and the shine offsets the black, silver (a band around his waist) and white accents (for the Corps symbol on his chest and the dots on her gauntlets) wonderfully. The color is a great contrast to the blue of Kryb’s skin and DC Direct accented that perfectly with things like the light blue fingernails that look like they could rip someone in two! The coloring details are also awesome for the way the mouth and hands are not simply monochromatically blue and black. Kryb’s teeth are also not simply white, which makes them look rotten and gory, which makes for a very realistic looking toy for a comic book character!


Kryb, powerful member of the Sinestro Corps that she is, comes with only two accessories. She has her stand and two captured babies. Interestingly, Kryb does not come with a power battery to recharge her Sinestro Corps Ring with! The stand is a translucent yellow and white disk with the Sinestro Corps logo. It is 3 3/4" in diameter and 1/4” tall and it has a single peg which plugs into the hole in Kryb's right foot. She is very stable on her base, though she only truly stands in flatfooted poses.

Kryb also comes two little baby figures. The babies are recasts of one another (the blue one has horns the pink one does not, but otherwise, the sculpts are identical!). The two 1 5/8” tall PVC mini-figures are only designed to be held in Kryb’s clawed hands (they fit all but the left hand that has the power ring molded on it) or in her back cage. These accessory baby figures do not have anywhere near the same depth and shading as Kryb does, making them less wonderful accent pieces than they could have been.


The DC Direct figures were designed more for display than play. Kryb is cool for play (though it’s hard to imagine anyone where this would be age-appropriate to play with) and she looks great as a display piece, provided she is in the right pose. Unfortunately, because Kryb has a hinge joint in her groin socket, she can only stand flatfooted in a very specific foot and hunched over top-half pose. While that fits the character, the arm articulation (which is pretty good) is somewhat compromised because the wilder the arm poses, the more the figure tips!

Kryb comes with eleven points of articulation, which is fairly good, even by today's standards. Kryb has joints at the groin socket, shoulders and wrists (all four of each!) and head. The shoulders and head are proper ball and socket joints, while the groin socket is a hinge joint and the wrists are simple swivel joints.

Additionally, Kryb features the menacing back cage to hold children! The baby mini-figures fit (at least one at a time) into the back cage, which may be easily popped off the figure. The back cage is made of a slightly softer plastic, so it easily fits on and off the figure.


Kryb is part of the DC Direct Blackest Night Series 2 line which was fairly rare and usually only distributed through comic book shops. Kryb is one of two colorful characters in the assortment, which is dominated by obscure characters. Kryb sold out fast and has never been so prevalent in the market as to devalue. The Kryb figure is unique to this series and is of the same stature of characters like the Orange Lantern Larfleeze or the Red Lantern Atrocitus and has consistently drawn some of the highest prices of the toy line. Kryb is likely to, at the very least, maintain its collector’s price for years to come.


Kryb is one of the best DC Universe figures and for anyone who loves the Green Lantern section of the DC Universe, she is essential for balancing out one’s collection of heroes and villains!

For other Blackest Night figures, please check out my reviews of:
Limited Edition Boxed Set
Wave 8 Black Lantern Black Flash
Wave 8 Indigo Tribe The Atom
Wave 8 Orange Lantern Lex Luthor
Wave 7 Arkillo
Wave 7 Red Lantern Mera
Wave 6 Blue Lantern The Flash
Wave 6 Star Sapphire Wonder Woman
Wave 5 Black Lantern Deadman
Wave 5 Nekron
Wave 3 Star Sapphire
Wave 2 Indigo-1
Wave 1 Boodikka
Wave 1 Saint Walker
Wave 1 Atrocitus


For other toy reviews, please check out my Toy Review Index Page!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The New Doctor Sleeps Through Most Of “The Christmas Invasion!”

The Good: Good character development for Rose, Decent explanation of the universe, Good moments of humor/creepiness
The Bad: Largely predictable plot, A few strange continuity issues
The Basics: Earth faces annihilation when the new Doctor crashes to Earth in “The Christmas Invasion!”

There are few shows that have been, by necessity, forced to reinvent themselves like Doctor Who. Perhaps the most surprising change of direction came after only one season of the revived Doctor Who. Apparently, Christopher Eccleston had a negative experience in the first season of Doctor Who (reviewed here!), so before the season’s end, he was ready to be replaced and the BBC obliged. After a few seconds on screen in “The Parting Of The Ways” (reviewed here!), David Tennant took over as the Tenth Doctor fulltime in “The Christmas Invasion.”

“The Christmas Invasion” is the first time in the “modern” Doctor Who where the producers had to deal with explaining to viewers the mechanics of The Doctor’s regeneration. For that, they actually had a pretty easy and sensible technique; Rose Tyler’s mundane friends and family know little to nothing about Time Lords, so explaining The Doctor’s new face and body gives her the chance to answer questions. In fact, the questions that Jackie Tyler and Mickey Smith have for Rose are pretty much the questions that viewers have of the show and The Doctor.

Mickey Smith and Jackie Tyler are going about their days when they hear the TARDIS returning. Running out into the street, they witness the TARDIS crash in London and they are shocked when a man stumbles out, wishes them a Merry Christmas and then collapses. Rose reveals to them that this strange looking man is The Doctor and Jackie wonders if he has changed only his face or if he is an entirely different person. Rose is frustrated by the questions, just as Mickey is frustrated by Rose going on about the TARDIS and The Doctor. When Rose and Mickey are attacked in the street by mechanized Santas, they return to Jackie’s apartment (where The Doctor is laying unconscious) and are attacked by an artificial Christmas tree that arrived while Rose was out.

As Great Britain, now under the leadership of Prime Minister Harriet Jones, loses contact with its Guinevere I space probe, The Doctor believes that his regeneration energy is attracting aliens. He surmises that they are dangerous aliens and when the first images from Mars come via the Guinevere I probe, Rose and the world are shocked that there is a snarling alien there. After Harriet Jones stands up to the aliens, who the government has determined to be the Sycorax, the aliens send a signal to Earth and approximately one-third of the world’s population suddenly falls into a trance and moves to high points (like roofs). The mission specialist for the Guinevere I project realizes that all humans who have A positive blood are under the control of the Sycorax because of a blood sample he put on the space probe that the Sycorax abducted. With the Earth being held hostage by the Sycorax and their threat to execute a third of the world’s population should Jones resist, Rose works to save The Doctor and hopes he has what it takes to save the Earth!

“The Christmas Invasion” is notable in that is manages to focus more on Rose Tyler, the Doctor’s companion, than on the new Doctor. The Doctor’s absence frustrates Harriet Jones and leaves Rose feeling abandoned. While Rose comes home remarkably empowered, as the situation becomes more dire, she starts to lose her cool. While her reaction is to freak out and reunite the Doctor with the TARDIS, she never seems stupid or ignorant in “The Christmas Invasion.” Her final major scene is a tour de force of allusions to Season 1’s events and characters, but it also serves to provide a decent moment for Rose to assert herself and illustrate the spine she had at the beginning of the episode.

“The Christmas Invasion” is very plot-heavy and the plot is mostly mundane and obvious. Invasion stories are pretty standard and “The Christmas Invasion” has few surprises in the way it is plotted. The blood control that the Sycorax use is an interesting twist that otherwise complicates the straightforward and simple plot. When The Doctor finally wakes up for the final act, he is goofy and powerful and curious.

On its own, “The Christmas Invasion” explains itself very well. The episode features Harriet Jones, who was first introduced in “Aliens Of London” (reviewed here!) and the return of her character allows for much of the episode’s comedy. The rest of the humor comes from The Doctor when he faces off against the Sycorax leader. The episode also does a good job of asserting that the new Doctor means a new direction for the show. There are menacing allusions to Torchwood and Harriet Jones, who was hailed as one of Britain’s great leaders by the Ninth Doctor comes to be derided and dismissed by the Tenth Doctor. The future, it appears, is malleable in the Doctor Who universe and “The Christmas Invasion” realizes that in smart and subtle ways.

David Tennant has an auspicious first outing as the Tenth Doctor . . . once he finally gets into the show as a character who has lines. Tennant distinguishes himself as the new Doctor by consciously asking the question of who he is now and then starting to come up with some answers. Tennant has an authoritative bearing, which allows him to sell goofy lines (like a reference to The Lion King) with equal measure to his character’s rage. In his first outing, Tennant is not given enough chance to become a fully realized Doctor, but he makes an instant impression when he starts speaking as an energetic new incarnation of the Doctor.

Billie Piper and David Tennant do a decent job of working to establish a chemistry between their characters and fortunately, Rose and The Doctor do not rush it. The final scene has a huge amount of charm to it, but it does not realize the potential of the relationship, which is the way a start should be.

In the larger context of Doctor Who, “The Christmas Invasion” is billed in the episode as the first empirical proof of alien life, which is strange considering “Aliens Of London” saw an alien invasion of modern Earth in the prior season. Beyond that, “The Christmas Invasion” is a decent start, but it’s largely the result of having to come back from a peak point in the prior season, which makes it feel like more of a stumble than it is objectively.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - 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 debut season of the Tenth Doctor here!

For other works with Penelope Wilton, please visit my reviews of:
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Pride & Prejudice
“World War Three” - Doctor Who


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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Interesting Accent Piece, But Not Enough To Stock Up On: Lindt Citrus Lindor Truffles!

The Good: Good bulk options, Generally decent ingredients
The Bad: Citrus flavor is overwhelmed by the white chocolate medium.
The Basics: Tasting more strongly of the white chocolate that enrobes the lemony ganache, the Citrus Lindor Truffles underwhelm, but are not unpleasant.

The day has finally come; the last of my chocolates from the Lindt store at the Mall Of America (reviewed here!) has come up in my reviewing queue! That chocolate is the Lindt Citrus Lindor Truffle, a flavor my wife loved, but as an objective reviewer, I find is far from flawless. That said, there are plenty of chocolates that do not land; the main issue I have with the Citrus Lindor Truffle is that the white chocolate overwhelms the flavor that the Lindor truffle is supposed to be.


Lindt Lindor Citrus truffles are one of the newer chocolate truffles from the Swiss chocolatiers Lindt & Sprungli and their U.S.-based subsidiary. Each truffle is a one inch sphere of white chocolate with a shell about an eighth of an inch thick. This shell covers a thick off-white chocolate ganache ball inside and that center ball is a softer substance than the outer coating. Each of the truffles comes individually wrapped in a light yellow-green foil wrapper, which is very easy to distinguish from other Lindt Lindor truffles. While I usually rail against the environmental impact of individually-wrapped candies, it is hard to imagine Lindt Lindor truffles not wrapped. This keeps each one clean, unmelted and intact.

Each Lindor Truffle is a sphere with a seam at the hemisphere that is essentially a smooth white chocolate globe sealing in a soft creamy ball inside. Currently sold individually (at approximately $.75/ea), by the pound or in various-sized packs outside the Lindt retail stores, Citrus Lindor truffles are priced on par with the rest of their non-exclusive truffle flavors.

Ease of Preparation

These are candy, so preparing them is as simple as unwrapping the foil wrapper around the actual chocolate truffles. There is no special way to unwrap or eat Lindt Lindor Citrus truffles; it's not picking and peeling one’s own lemons!


Opening the wrapper from the Citrus truffle, there is instantly a burst of lemon scent that explodes forth. The aroma is distinct and inviting and opens the nose right up!

On the tongue, the Citrus truffle has the smooth flavor of white chocolate. That chocolate flavor is accented by a dry sourness that is distinctive of citrus fruits. Interestingly, the sourness never pops; the muted flavor of the white chocolate keeps the fruity flavor in check, preventing the candy from ever developing to its true flavor potential. The result is a vaguely fruity white chocolate that is sweet and milky, as opposed to delightfully lemony.

The Citrus flavor has a slightly sour, (very) mildly dry aftertaste that lingers on the tongue for about two minutes after the truffle is consumed!


The Citrus Lindt Lindor truffles are candy, so they are not actually replacing fruit in one’s diet! Lindt Lindor truffles are made of good ingredients, which is probably why they are so expensive. The primary ingredients are white chocolate, vegetable oil and sugar. There is nothing unpronounable in these candies, which is something I have come to expect from Lindt.

A serving of the Lindt Lindor Citrus truffles is one truffle. From a single truffle, one consumes 80 calories and 6 grams of fat. There are ten milligrams of Sodium, but no cholesterol in these truffles. This flavor is also devoid of any vitamins. There is, however, one gram of protein and 2% of the RDA of Calcium in each truffle.

Honestly, these are candy and anyone looking to them for actual nutrition has unrealistic expectations for them. These are not Vegan-compliant, nor are they recommended for anyone with a nut allergy as they are produced on the same equipment that peanuts (and tree nuts) pass over. They are not marked as kosher nor are they labeled as gluten-free.


The Lindt Lindor Citrus truffles remain fresh for quite some time. However, they ought to be kept in a cool environment between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Kept in such an environment, the truffles we bought a month ago would easily have lasted until next year, but with holiday snacking these will not.

As for cleanup, throw the wrappers in the garbage. Outside that, there is no real cleanup needed, unless one is eating them in a hot environment. In that case, it is likely one would need to wash their hands. If these truffles melt into most fabrics, they will stain darker fabrics. For that style of clean-up, be sure to consult a fabric guide for whatever you stained.


The Lindt Citrus Lindor Truffles do not taste bad, but the generic “citrus” name does not excuse the flavor’s lack of zest. Any flavor overwhelmed by white chocolate is not strong enough in my book and Citrus Lindor Truffles certainly apply.

For other Lindt treats, please check out my reviews of:
Sea Salt Lindt Lindor Truffles
Lindt Strawberries & Cream Lindor Truffles
Lindt Coconut Lindor Truffles


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

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

The Agony Of Losing Everything: Still Alice Is Wonderfully Made . . . But Tough To Watch!

The Good: Amazing acting, Good issues, Decent character development, Soundtrack
The Bad: Thematically overbearing to the point of being unwatchable
The Basics: Still Alice is, rightly, one of the best films of the year, but its subject matter is so difficult to watch that it quickly loses any sense of entertainment and becomes grueling to sit through.

As Oscar Pandering Season reaches its climax, there has been a lot of buzz surrounding Julianne Moore in Still Alice. Moore is an accomplished actress and the problem with her come awards time now is that she is, quite simply, too good. After roles in Boogie Nights (reviewed here!), The Kids Are All Right (reviewed here!), Game Change (reviewed here!), and – at the entirely other end of the spectrum - Evolution (reviewed here!), Julianne Moore has illustrated such a range and ability that it is hard to imagine a role she could not absolutely nail. So, when Moore took on the role of Dr. Alice Howland for Still Alice, the attention the role is getting feels in some ways like Moore is up this year for a lifetime achievement award.

Still Alice is a film based upon the novel by the same name. It is worth noting that I have not read the novel, so this is a pure review of the film Still Alice. Still Alice is a drama focused on a woman with a degenerative medical condition, which might make for a downer during the holidays, but it is the exact type of film that gets nominated for awards (and wins) . . . even if they only reach a limited audience and have an appeal that makes it difficult to imagine rewatching/adding to one’s permanent collection. Still Alice is very much the archetypal patient drama for an Oscar Pandering Season release.

Dr. Alice Howland is a Linguistics professor at Columbia University in New York City who is an expert in lingual development. After her fiftieth birthday, Dr. Howland begins to forget words and she gets lost while out running on the campus (which is a familiar place to her). After multiple visits to a neurologist, Dr. Howland is diagnosed with an early-onset familial (genetic) Alzheimer’s Disease. When she and her husband tell their adult children, they are all – predictably – alarmed. Alice’s daughter, Anna, and her son, Tom, get genetic testing done and Anna (who is trying to get pregnant with her husband) is alarmed when her test comes back positive. Despite Tom being relieved that his is negative, he is concerned about his mother while his romantic relationship falls apart.

At an alarming rate, Dr. Howland’s memory begins to degrade. She has to ask her students for what lesson they are studying and soon cannot even teach. Her husband, John, is a scientist and his attempts at advocacy often come across as clinical, when she is looking for emotional support. Dr. Howland starts to rely upon her smartphone for identifying people, remembering names, and scheduling every aspect of her life. As everyone in the family tries to reconnect with Alice, Dr. Howland loses more and more of her memory, her ability to control her body and even her ability to speak.

The site I used to right for had a simple ratings system for its reviewers: in addition to giving a rating on stars (one through five), one had to recommend whether or not they would buy the product. While I have vastly higher standards (my ten-point scale goes down to zero!), one of the things I have found useful about continuing to review is that the model that site used to have could actually be useful. Every once in a long while, I encounter something that is well-created, socially-important, and all around excellent . . . that I cannot stand. Still Alice is one such work.

Life is hard. Life can be impossibly hard and with birth defects, intolerance, AIDS, mental illness, behavioral disorders, sexual abuse and Alzheimer’s Disease in the world, it is hard to imagine there are people who exist in the United States untouched by some form of existential horror. With all that in the world, why would one want to experience such issues in their entertainment baffles me. I suppose for those who have not experienced any permutation on watching a loved one helplessly degrade, Still Alice offers the audience something. For the rest of us, though, it only offers a chance for the performers to play well.

And perform well they do. Given decent material and a good cast, everyone associated with Still Alice shines. Hunter Parrish plays Tom with a seriousness and intelligence that his role in Weeds (reviewed here!) did not allow. His entire body language is different as Tom from his most well-known character. Kristen Stewart gives a wonderful performance where she is not playing a character plumbing the depths of personal misery as Lydia. In fact, it is nice to see Stewart play a character who is something of a freethinker and artist without her ending up drug-addled, painful to watch and/or just skeezy and filthy. For all the attention Julianne Moore is getting with Still Alice, this is one of Kristen Stewart’s best roles and most varied performances.

Dr. John Howland is played by Alec Baldwin and he and Julianne Moore play off one another as a seasoned, married couple so well that it is almost impossible to recall that they played a romantic relationship in the fourth season of 30 Rock (reviewed here!). Baldwin gets through his character’s technobabble exceptionally well. Moore is predictably great as Dr. Alice Howland. The role requires her to look confused, appear to pee herself and slowly change her body language from being a confident woman to a sad, lost, husk of her former self. Moore nails it.

The thing is, it is easy to watch Still Alice and recognize all of the components of greatness. Moore and the rest of the cast have a great script to work with, but the subject is excruciating to watch and is anything but entertaining. Still Alice is like Love And Other Drugs (reviewed here!) but without the charm and romance. Instead, Still Alice is a stark, realistic, painful-to-watch film that is objectively well-created but impossible to recommend to watch and certainly not a movie most people will want to add to their permanent video library.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
To Write Love On Her Arms
The Voices
Love, Rosie
The Seventh Son
Song One
American Sniper
Inherent Vice
The Interview
The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
The Imitation Game

9/10 (Not Recommended)

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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A Cool Concept With A Mediocre Execution The 12” Power Of The Force Ponda Baba!

The Good: Decent outfit, Good sculpt, Neat play function
The Bad: Very basic coloring, Play function does not work in reality the way it should, Overproduced, Poor balance
The Basics: The Power Of The Force 12" Ponda Baba is a very basic Star Wars doll that has some neat ideas, but a mediocre execution.

My recent vacation to Minnesota netted me several cool new (to my collection) toys, compliments of an awesome comic book shop that was situated in the strip mall opposite the hotel at which I stayed. While some of the figures were instant slam dunks with me that I picked up and knew I was going to buy the moment I saw it – the Hermie Odle figure (reviewed here!) perhaps chief among them! – others took a little arm twisting to convince me to buy. For that, I looked at the 12” Power Of The Force Ponda Baba Star Wars doll. I have a 12” Star Wars bounty hunter doll collection and I had seen Ponda Baba for years (I guess over fifteen years now!), but I had not honestly considered adding Ponda Baba to my collection before now. Given that the local comic shop had Ponda Baba on clearance – mint in box – for a measly $10, my wife managed to talk me into adding the Ponda Baba as a vacation gift to myself!

Like most of the dolls in the 12" Star Wars action figure line, Ponda Baba is a faithful cloth and plastic replica of one of the criminals from the Star Wars Trilogy. Ponda Baba, for those unfamiliar with obscure Star Wars characters, was in a single scene in A New Hope (reviewed here!) where he threatened Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi until he and his alien mouthpiece, Dr. Evazan, drew down on the farmer and Jedi. Ponda Baba is the walrus-faced character who threatens Luke and Obi-Wan saves the young man’s life by slicing off Ponda Baba’s arm!

It is Ponda Baba with a removable arm in plastic and vinyl and cloth costume that is the subject of the Ponda Baba doll.


Ponda Baba is a criminal who is wanted in a dozen star systems. Ponda Baba is a somewhat simple Star Wars alien who has not been overdone; Sideshow Collectibles, for example, has never bothered to produce a Ponda Baba. The Ponda Baba figure stands 11 7/8" tall. Ponda Baba is dressed in his light brown pants, bright orange jacket and cream-colored shirt.

This toy is a decent sculpt, clearly resembling the walrus-faced alien with big, glossy eyes and a spotted whatever the hell that is that comes out of his mouth. Kenner got the texturing just right on the bottom of Ponda Baba’s head and his hands to make him look like he has hair. The figure is sculpted with such details as the wrinkles on his palms and the cranial plating and nose ribbing. The costume for the character is so well-stiched that it looks appropriately padded and that is very cool.

Ponda Boba’s hair is monotonally colored and the outfit is made in complimentary colors. Hasbro actually got a lot of coloring variation into Ponda Baba’s head and mouth organ. Like the hair, Ponda Baba’s outfit is made of solid colors. Ponda Baba’s pants, boots, shirt and jacket are all colored in monotones. This is a little frustrating given that Ponda Baba’s arm is removable, so Hasbro could have colored the jacket around the amputated arm with burn marks.


Ponda Baba comes with a single accessory: a small blaster. The 1 7/8” blaster is solid black and looks almost identical to Han Solo’s blaster pistol. The blaster is molded with cool detailing like a scope, but there is very shallow level of surface detailing on the side of the pistol. Ponda Baba’s blaster fits in either of his hands.


No one I know plays with the 12" figures, but Ponda Baba would not be great for that. Ponda Baba features only twelve points of articulation, though most are not just simple swivel or hinge joints. Ponda Baba has hinged ball and socket joints at his wrists, shoulders and groin socket. He also bends at the knees and twists at the head and waist. His knees bend enough to allow him sit down realistically and his waist and neck simply turn on swivel joints.

Ponda Baba has somewhat poor balance; he can be maneuvered to stand fairly easily, but he tips over easily as well. Unless posed in an absolute flatfooted position, he requires a bit of manipulation or he falls over. It is difficult, but not impossible, to get Ponda Baba to stand in a stable fashion and he does not come with a stand.

Ponda Boba also has a pretty cool playability function; his right arm detaches from the doll, which is pretty cool (and, I suppose is an extra point of articulation!). Ponda Baba’s orange jacket features a Velcro ring on the sleeve which allows it to be detached and reattached. Unfortunately, the sleeve does not reattach nearly as easily or flawlessly as the arm does.


Ponda Baba is part of the 1998 Power Of The Force Collector Series twelve-inch series, a series of Star Wars action figures that were released during a time that they were largely being mass produced. As a result, Ponda Baba is exceptionally common, and has not at all appreciated in value. This is a poor investment for Star Wars collectors or investors.


Ponda Baba is a good, but not exceptional Star Wars 12” figure. The removable arm is a cool idea, bit does not work as well as it could. Combined with the balance issue, the cool concept is brought down a bit, making it more average than extraordinary.

For other Star Wars 12" dolls, please check out my reviews of:
Power Of The Jedi Slave Leia
Power Of The Force Dengar
12” Attack Of The Clones Jango Fett


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

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Dreams, Movie References, And Another Unresolved Doctor Who: “Last Christmas!”

The Good: Good plot development, Decent performances
The Bad: No real character development, Lack of resolution
The Basics: When alien parasites attack The Doctor, Clara and an Arctic base, the entire season of Doctor Who comes into question, thanks to “Last Christmas!”

Regardless of how the rest of the season finale of Doctor Who went, it is pretty hard to fight the feeling that Peter Capaldi’s first season as The Doctor ended in a pretty shit place. Regardless of what the BBC would call it, I tend to consider the last episode before a long hiatus the season finale and, despite how much the rest of “Death In Heaven” (reviewed here!) played itself up as the end of the season, the last moments of the episode and its follow-up “Last Christmas” argue otherwise. It is virtually impossible to discuss “Last Christmas” without talking about where “Death In Heaven” ended, so consider that a spoiler alert!

“Last Christmas” is the latest Doctor Who Christmas special/season finale and it has the unenviable task of picking up the Doctor Who story at a terrible place. The eighth season of Doctor Who climaxed with the death of Danny Pink, a Cyberman attack, and The Doctor being told that his long-lost homeworld of Gallifray had returned to our universe at its original coordinates. While the problem of Missy lying to The Doctor (as Peter Capaldi’s performance in “Death In Heaven” strongly implied) was fertile ground from which to launch a new character arc for The Doctor, “Last Christmas” is saddled with the burden of trying to be clever, while still being surprising. The crux of the problem at the end of “Death In Heaven” and at the outset of “Last Christmas” is that the viewer knows that Danny Pink cannot be permanently dead as the story would have us believe; in “Listen” (reviewed here!), Clara and The Doctor met Danny and Clara’s descendant. Given that Clara and Danny had not conceived a child from which to have an ancestor, Danny could not remain truly and completely dead. The implication at the climax of “Death In Heaven” was that the mechanism by which Danny Pink would be resurrected would be . . . Santa Claus.

Clara wakes up in bed, discovering that Santa Claus is on her roof, talking about tangerines. The Doctor and the TARDIS appear and he demands Clara come with him, before he confronts Santa Claus. Hopping in the TARDIS, The Doctor asks Clara if she actually believes in Santa Claus. In the Arctic, a four person team is trying to get to an airlock, through a medical bay that houses their four contaminated comrades. The victims are unconscious, having fallen prey to a parasite called dream crabs. They only attack when the victim thinks about them and it detects a mental picture of itself in the victim’s mind. When the Doctor and Clara arrive, it leaves the mission of the Arctic team compromised and after the parasites attack all six, the group is rescued by Santa Claus.

As The Doctor and the Arctic team study the dream crabs that have infested the station, Clara is attacked by one. Clara finds herself back with Danny Pink and, despite seeing chalk boards telling her that she is in a dream and dying, she shrugs off the warnings of her subconscious mind. The Doctor enters her dream directly and convinces her of it lack of reality. But when she wakes up from it, thanks in part to the dream Danny making another heroic sacrifice, the lack of a wound on her head from the dream crab makes her question reality. As she and the base’s inhabitants struggle to wake up, the Doctor tries to combat the dream crabs and formulate a way out of their telepathic attack.

“Last Christmas” might well be the episode of Doctor Who that alludes to the greatest number of other works. The dream crabs are reminiscent of – and explicitly referenced as similar to – the facehuggers in Alien (reviewed here!). The description The Doctor gives for what the parasites are doing to the brain is an allusion to the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Phantasms” (reviewed here!) where Data sees invisible parasites through dream imagery. And the tangerines in “Last Christmas” are Steven Moffat’s equivalent of the spinning top in Inception (reviewed here!).

So, “Last Christmas” starts fun as a series of clever lines and quickly devolves into a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream. The problem with “Last Christmas” is that the audience that is savvy-enough to understand what Steven Moffat is doing with the layers of dreams is smart enough to see the reversals late in the episode coming a mile away. So, there is something of a “fuck all” aspect to “Last Christmas” and it is basically that the episode serves to call into question not only the whole final arc of the season finale, but the entire prior season. (***More on that below the “Not Quite Spoiler Version” note below!***)

Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman and Nick Frost (Santa) play their parts well and, unfortunately, much of their role is to explain the plot. “Last Christmas” is an exposition-heavy episode with no real character development. As a result, it is an episode that leaves one without much to say about the episode as it is, as opposed to the episode as it fits into the larger context of the season and series Doctor Who.

That said, the dream crabs are a cool idea that are designed to be creepy. It is a fitting tribute to the 35th anniversary of Alien as much as it is a neat Doctor Who alien. Still, “Last Christmas” is an episode that ultimately insults the intelligence of Doctor Who fans by setting up the biggest reversal of the season without bringing an actual resolution to it. In other words, Steven Moffat strings viewers along before essentially admitting that the past few episodes have been unreal . . . but then does not give the viewer the satisfaction of having a true “wake up” moment. That means that, just as “Last Christmas” opened with the burden of pressure for the series to resolve resurrecting Danny Pink, the episode finishes with the immense pressure of making another episode that does not simply explain the multi-layered dreams, but compellingly resolves the entire arc.

Otherwise, it is impossible for fans to continue watching and not simply cry “bullshit” at all that comes next.

For other works with Nick Frost, please visit my reviews of:
The World’s End
Snow White And The Huntsman

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



Only continue to read this if you’ve seen “Last Christmas” and the rest of the eighth season of Doctor Who!

“Last Christmas” is just riddled with problems, even though it seems to be the answer to a number of issues. Ironically, several of the problems are actually encapsulated in the way the episode fails to genuinely resolve.

The dream crabs are a neat idea, but they are an entity on the order of the creatures from “Listen.” In “Listen,” the Doctor goes hunting for a creature that is the perfect hider. The dream crabs are only active when they sense creatures perceiving them (a concept that sounds great, but is entirely hinged on the idea that the parasites recognize themselves . . . get it? The parasite only knows the thing you’re thinking of is it if it reads your mind, sees you looking at it and considering it and then it recognizes itself as the creature you’re thinking of!). As the dream states “end,” the creatures desiccate. There is no reason in nature for a parasite, which is presumably dying because its host is either dead or rejecting it, to immolate itself. If the creature can only exist in the alien environment for a short time unattached to its host, then that makes some sense, but not the act of resisting (think about trying to set yourself on fire with the power of your mind when you’ve just starved).

So, between that and the lack of significant wounds on the faces of those who have “escaped” and the tangerines, viewers know that the victims are still in the dream.

The question, then, becomes “how far back does the dream go?” The unsophisticated answer is “Dark Water” (reviewed here!). That faux-answer comes from how and where The Doctor appears to wake up from his dream. The Doctor, whenever he wakes up alone in “Last Christmas” is outside the TARDIS on the edge of the volcano that Clara took him to in “Dark Water.” The problem for the more sophisticated viewer is that The Doctor on the edge of the volcano was an image . . . from Clara’s dream, not The Doctor’s. That leaves two possibilities: 1. Clara succeeded in knocking The Doctor out with his patch and all that has followed is moments after Clara and the Doctor were reunited following Danny’s death or 2. The Doctor, Clara and Danny were attacked by dream crabs far, far, earlier in the season . . . like back around “Listen.”

“Last Christmas” forces fans of Doctor Who to go back and question everything from the current season of the show. Given how many scenes include only The Doctor, Clara or Danny, the only permutation that makes any real sense is that the three of them were attacked by dream crabs (the fact that the Doctor and Clara remain in the dream state at the climax of “Last Christmas” is the evidence – in series – of the existence of the parasites). In other words, from a narrative sense, it makes no sense to have scenes with Danny if he is not a part of the parasites telepathic link (much like it makes no sense in stories of characters who are in the middle of a death dream to have scenes where that character is not present). The thing is, “Last Christmas” is so unsatisfying because it calls into question everything in the season, including the season premiere, but having raised the questions, it fails to answer them.

Clara and the newly-regenerated Doctor went through a series of adventures that were remarkably mundane in the current season. Almost everything encountered by The Doctor and Clara in the eighth season were things that were human, humanoid, and/or encountered by both of them in the past. The Doctor (in his prior incarnation) and Clara had encountered Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax before. The first time we see The Doctor in this season is after the TARDIS has been ejected from a dinosaur’s throat. “The Time Of The Doctor” saw The Doctor regenerating from Matt Smith to Peter Capaldi. As “Last Christmas” belabors pointing out, dreams have incongruities and leaps that those in the dream do not question. Director Paul Wilmshurst seems to realize that by the way he directs the episode – the group is attacked, cut to a shot outside the base for a massive explosion and then a rescue from Santa’s toys. But look back at the season of Doctor Who: it opens with a complete non-sequitor from the last time we saw The Doctor.

Moreover, episodes like “Into The Dalek” (reviewed here!) which begins with The Doctor arriving from the distant future and illustrates what appears to be a flashback works much better in dream terms. In other words, if the episode happens in its literal order, The Doctor arrives at Clara’s school moments after he was in the future and in telling her the story of their mission, he actually experiences it only then (it’s not a flashback, it’s a temporal discontinuity that makes sense in dreamline nonlinear).

But a parasite that needs to keep its host in a dreamstate to feed upon it would want to make its dreams as much like reality as possible. Things like exploding dinosaurs in Victorian London might fit in perfectly with The Doctor and Clara’s lives, but things like Jenny’s TARDIS blue vest and Strax reading her thoughts in “Deep Breath” along with the familiar monster of the week for that episode make for a remarkably rational introduction to a dreamstate.

The tirade The Doctor gives in “Deep Breath” is, unfortunately, the best argument for the parasite attacking ridiculously early in the narrative. In that episode, The Doctor comments that his face looks familiar and he asks what could be happening that he couldn’t just tell himself. If the prior incarnation of The Doctor was attacked on Trenzalore (an idea that is not out of the question considering that prophecy stated he would die on Trenzalore and the planet was surrounded by every adversary in the universe), choosing a familiar face as he regenerated would provide his next iteration with a clue that he was trapped in an unreal state.

Even such a lavish theory does not improve the current season of Doctor Who . . . for one simple reason: “Last Christmas” does not resolve. Instead of having a season that tells a single, complex story that is brilliant, “Death In Heaven” ends on an anticlimax, “Last Christmas” says “question everything” and it all hinges – as too much recent Doctor Who has – on the next episode.

. . . And yes, The Missy subplot actually works as a function of The Doctor’s subconscious guilt in a dream narrative! Sadly, none of this makes “Last Christmas” any better on its own.

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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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Ambitious Generation, Mixed Results: Imogen Heap’s Sparks!

The Good: Duration, Voice, Overall sound
The Bad: Utter lack of distinction for most of the tracks (over-familiar)
The Basics: If Sparks were Imogen Heap’s only album, it might have been a masterpiece, but for fans, it will simply seem like more of the same . . .

It is never a good sign when, halfway through my first listen of an album, I find myself asking “Have I heard and reviewed this album before?” Yet, such is how it was with Sparks, the latest album from Imogen Heap. To cut to the chase, the fundamental problem with Sparks is that the album is entirely familiar to anyone who has heard any other full album by Imogen Heap. The creation of the album, a factor I never consider when I review the resulting art, was the result of an ambitious creative concept. Unfortunately, what Imogen Heap ended up producing was an album that might feature more samples than her prior album, Ellipse (reviewed here!), but it lacks a single. After eight listens to the album, I could not relate a single tune; they are all that indistinct.

I write this as one who has largely enjoyed the prior works of Imogen Heap. I have a very positive association with the music of Imogen Heap; a friend of mine tuned me in to Speak For Yourself (reviewed here!) at a time when it completely spoke to all I was going through. So, when I finally got my hands on Sparks, I found myself disappointed. I knew of the existence of Sparks from when Imogen Heap first started plugging her super-deluxe boxed set, but it took until the holidays for me to actually get my hands on it. When the most favorable thing I can say about an album is, “I’m glad I did not shell out for the super-fan version,” it’s a pretty sad commentary.

With fourteen tracks, clocking out at 59:34, Sparks is an album that is the result of Imogen Heap pushing herself to create tracks on a specific timeline with sound clips provided to her by her fans. The result is an album that sounds like Heap’s other albums, but with some auditory “found art” mixed in. In pushing herself to make the album this way, Imogen Heap made some songs that lack real thematic resonance – her song “Telemiscommunication” about calling a partner while at an airport is the pop music equivalent of a comedian’s “What’s with airline food” type joke and “The Listening Chair” is little more than a list of activities that occupy her day – and have almost no replayability. For all of the tools at her disposal, Sparks is entirely the responsibility of the artist Imogen Heap. She wrote all the lyrics, composed all of the music, and produced the album. Outside having guest vocalists on two of the tracks, Imogen Heap provides all of the lead vocals as well. In many ways, Sparks is a resounding success of artistic integrity and independence from the corporate machine.

Unfortunately, outside a few moments of intro or outro on a track, Sparks is largely made up of indistinct music that blends together track to track. There is not a single memorable tune on the album (I cringe to think what the instrumental-only version of the songs sounds like) and were it not for the exceptionally loud chord at the end of “Propeller Seeds” (seriously, it woke up my sleeping cats each time it hit!), one would not know where the album began or ended when they play it on continual replay. While the album opens with the piano-driven “You Know Where To Find Me,” the song is not one of Imogen Heap’s more memorable tunes and the album soon devolves into deep chords and synth instrumentals accompanying the true instrument on the album: Imogen Heap’s voice. The only real exception is the string accompaniment on “Xizi She Knows,” but the Chinese instrumental accompaniment only seems to be present for the opening and closing of the song, sublimated the rest of the track by the other elements mixed in.

Imogen Heap’s voice on Sparks is predictably wonderful. Heap has incredible vocal range, going from her husky low vocals at one moment to her soaring soprano in the same song. Imogen Heap is articulate and easily understood on Sparks, making it easy to fall in love with the sound of her voice; fortunately, she produces the album so her vocals dominate even the Electronica instrumentation on songs like “Entanglement.” But even there, Imogen Heap’s vocals sound breathy and familiar, like we’ve heard the lines before, even when they are all new (“Entanglement” seems like a b-side from Ellipse).

Sparks suffers on the lyrical front because Imogen Heap presents an album where she is making random statements and stringing them together. The album lacks a sense of cohesion; instead, it is a collection of murky singles that blend from one to another. Outside the delightful, overt, sexuality of “Entanglement,” Heap does not land a statement that both sounds good as poetry and is musically interesting. Imogen Heap continues to have moments of amazing poetry, with a high level of diction like “Adventures in the multiverse / effervescent candlelit closeness / Plus, I feel like I've just got the hang of this living thing” (“Lifeline”).

Sadly, songs like “The Listening Chair” early on the album make it hard to want to continue to listen to Sparks. When Heap sings “”I can moonwalk, build castles, play ping pong, talk to animals, / hold my breath for a really long time…and tell the future / Are just six of the things I can do / And the more I can fit of these things in my day / The better I sleep at night (“The Listening Chair”), it is hard for listeners not to cringe. The song is like the Family Guy joke where Stephen King pitches a book based on what he sees in front of him at a pitch meeting. By the time Imogen Heap sings the storysong aspects like “Wonder bra thrown ‘round the German classroom / You wouldn’t understand / I’ll never live it down” (“The Listening Chair”), most listeners will have given up on the track.

Unfortunately, Sparks does not get better as it goes along. Despite a slightly different sound for the opening of “Run-Time,” listeners are greeted with the lines “Sparks might fly, in no time. / It’s a delayed reaction of the third kind” (“Run-Time”), which are not Imogen Heap’s best.

And that’s pretty much the epitaph of Sparks: it’s not Imogen Heap’s best. Even if this were my first experience with Imogen Heap and the music did not sound so familiar to me, I suspect I would be disappointed by the lack of thematic resonance and intrigue that her other albums have had in spades.

The best track is “Entanglement,” the low point is the (mostly) spoken-word “Neglected Space.”

For other new music, please visit my reviews of:
Sucker - Charli XCX
Little Secret - Nikki Yanofsky
Nostalgia - Annie Lennox


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

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