Saturday, January 31, 2015

January 2015 End Of The Month Report!

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January got the blog’s year started out well! With Oscar nominations out and me suddenly finding I had seen almost none of the Nominees for Best Picture, I became obsessed with trying to watch the others. So, this month was heavy on new movie reviews, as well as reviews of new episodes of The Flash and Agent Carter!

This month, we picked up several 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 January, 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 early in this New Year and went through the blog to do so! As we enter the shortest month, if you have shopping to do online, please consider doing it through the blog to show your support for us!

At the end of January 2015, I have reviewed the following:
519 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Star Trek Books
Graphic Novels
887 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
2713 - 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!)!
213 - 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
791 - 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
849 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Cheese and Meats
Ice Cream
Other Food
224 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
112 - Travel Reviews
Destinations Reviews
Hotels Reviews
176 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
185 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
96 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
40 - Other Product Reviews

The Featured Review For The Month of January is an article: The 10 Worst Movies Of 2014!
Check it out!

The month of January 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 January, the Top Ten Reviews of the month were:
10. Predestination
9. ”Revenge Of The Rogues” - The Flash
8. ”The Blitzkrieg Button” - Agent Carter
7. ”Bridge And Tunnel” - Agent Carter
6. The Top Ten Episodes Of Frasier
5. Vice
4. ”Now Is Not The End” - Agent Carter
3. The Top Ten Episodes Of Star Trek: Voyager
2. The Seventh Son
1. Expelled

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 - 309 reviews
9s - 442 reviews
8s - 862 reviews
7s - 954 reviews
6s - 876 reviews
5s - 1128 reviews
4s - 841 reviews
3s - 664 reviews
2s - 304 reviews
1s - 203 reviews
0s - 92 reviews
No rating - 82 articles/postings

While there was a decent amount of movement this month, the all time Top Ten remains unchanged. At the end of January 2015, 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!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Another Meaty Delight For Myah: She Recommends Pedigree Smoky Bacon & Cheddar Flavor Stackerz!

The Good: Good ingredients, Smells very meaty, Myah loves them! Affordable.
The Bad: Lack of decent dental benefits!
The Basics: Myah gobbles down the Pedigree Smoky Bacon & Cheddar Flavor Stackerz, which makes her breath smell meaty and assures us they are primarily made of real meat!

Right now, I have a stockpile of treats for Myah, my seven year-old, frequently-willful Siberian Husky. Myah is in the process of being trained (again) with some basic commands and my wife has been bonding with her in ways they have not for the past few years (much of Myah’s prior training was ruined based on our living situation and now that my wife and I have more control over our environment, she’s up for the task of teaching a middle aged dog new tricks). One of the bigger treats that Myah gets after her training are the Pedigree Smoky Bacon & Cheddar Flavor Stackerz. The Stackerz are still a relatively new treat from Pedigree, but Myah has had them for the past month (thanks to a pretty fantastic sale on these!). Myah’s verdict has been simple: she likes the Smoky Bacon & Cheddar Flavor Stackerz and given that they are a decent reinforcement tool for a big dog like her, I have grown to appreciate them, despite their lack of dental benefits for big dogs, like Myah!


We picked up the 25 oz. resealable bag of Pedigree Smoky Bacon & Cheddar Flavor Stackerz on sale for under ten dollars, which is a great price for a month’s worth of large dog treats. These treats grabbed Myah’s attention with their strong scent and she became fairly willing to follow basic commands for a decent period of time when these treats were in play.

The Pedigree Smoky Bacon & Cheddar Flavor Stackerz dog treats are long, soft meaty stick treats that are red and yellow, as if they were actually some blended meat and cheese stick! When the bag is opened initially, the Stackerz smell powerfully of meat, like the exact scent of a Hickory Farms meat log. Each snack is approximately 4 1/4" long by 3/4” wide and 3/8" thick. The surface of the Stackerz dog treat is like a processed meat snack (think Slim Jim) without a casing. The treat is soft, but not very breakable and I was surprised to notice it has segments, so it can be easily torn into three pieces. Given how I have a bigger dog, we never had to make these smaller!

Ease Of Preparation

This is a ready-to-eat dog treat and only requires one to open the bag to dispense. The bag reseals after it is closed, so one need not make their entire house smell like smoky meat from the snack!

Myah’s Reaction

The soft Pedigree Smoky Bacon & Cheddar Flavor Stackerz does very little to freshen dog breath and/or clean plaque one’s dog’s teeth. This treat is too soft for that and for big dogs like Myah, she barely chews it, so it is a poor dental aid.

That said, Myah clearly enjoys the Smoky Bacon & Cheddar Flavor Stackerz treats. Because the treat is so aromatic, Myah perked up whenever the bag was opened and it is one of the few treats I’ve seen her really sniff for. When she smells it, she comes running for it! Myah never let one of the Smoky Bacon & Cheddar Flavor Stackerz linger; from the very first one we gave her (in the car on the ride back from the store where we bought them!) through the end of the bag, when she smelled it, she wanted it and she ate the entire thing right away!


The Pedigree Smoky Bacon & Cheddar Flavor Stackerz dog treats are very healthy. With at least 8 % crude protein, 1% crude fat and no more than 4.5% crude fiber and 23% moisture, the Pedigree Smoky Bacon & Cheddar Flavor Stackerz offer some decent nutrition to dogs. Made primarily of beef, wheat flour and wheat starch, I was impressed by how the Pedigree Smoky Bacon & Cheddar Flavor Stackerz start with real meat ingredients and have other good ingredients. These treats do not have extensive preservatives; our bag, purchased in September, expired this month. As with all dog treats, it is highly recommended that when you give your dog Pedigree Smoky Bacon & Cheddar Flavor Stackerz, you make sure they have a decent supply of clean water available. Pedigree Smoky Bacon & Cheddar Flavor Stackerz treats are not intended to replace dog food.


Pedigree Smoky Bacon & Cheddar Flavor Stackerz are reasonably-priced, smell like what they are supposed to and elicit the reaction we hoped they would from Myah; if only they cleaned her teeth while they did all that, they’d be perfect!

For other dog treats, please visit my reviews of:
PureBites Freeze-Dried Ocean Whitefish dog treats
Iams Shakeables Turkey Flavor treats
Meaty Bone


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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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The Big Bang Theory Meets A Beautiful Mind In The Imitation Game!

The Good: Exceptional acting, Good plot development, Strong protagonist
The Bad: Oppressive mood, Film loses its charm and becomes unpleasant, Underdeveloped supporting characters
The Basics: Set in three distinct points in the life of Alan Turing, The Imitation Game tells the story of one man’s attempts to help Britain win World War II . . . and survive life after the War!

Five down, three to go! In my quest to watch all eight Best Picture Oscar nominees, I am happily nearing the end. Today, I took in The Imitation Game and, if nothing else, 2014 looks like it was a good year for history and biography films (at least as far as The Academy goes). The Imitation Game is one of those films that it tailor-made for Oscar Pandering Season; its cast was carefully assembled from current “it” superstars (Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley) and blended with reliable powerhouses of actors (like Charles Dance), its subject is esoteric (codebreaking) and its British. The Imitation Game is catering to the audience that has been culled in the U.S. by the presence of BBC America on cable and PBS – it’s hard to imagine The Imitation Game getting considered for Best Picture if there were only five slots available.

That said, The Imitation Game is an engaging historical drama that takes the potentially ponderous subject of how a socially-awkward genius helped win World War II and makes it entertaining. Instead of a droll, tech-heavy drama, The Imitation Game is a compelling character study that weaves together a post-WW II story involving codebreaker Alan Turing, the story of how he became the world’s predominant codebreaker and Turing’s somewhat tortured childhood.

Opening in 1951 in Manchester, Alan Turing has a break-in that brings the police. Turing insults the police to get them to leave, which sparks the interest of one of the detectives. Flash back to London in 1939 as the situation between England and Germany devolves into all-out war. Arriving at the secret MI-6’s secret facility at Bletchley Radio Manufacturing, Turing gives a terrible interview with Commander Denniston, but as England’s chief cryptographer, he manages to get onto the team attempting to decrypt German codes. The Germans are using a device called the Enigma, a codemaking/deciphering machine that Turning’s counterpart, Hugh Alexander, calculates has 159,000,000,000,000,000,000 different code possibilities. Turing has poor social skills and while Alexander and the rest of the team focus on breaking the code, Turing designs a machine that can assist them in breaking the code.

After sending a letter to Churchill, Turing is put in charge of the Enigma project, which allows Turing to fire some of the dead weight from his team. After creating a puzzle as a recruiting tool, Turing hires two replacements, including (in an unconventional move for the time, a woman) Joan Clarke and he gets the government to invest the 100,000 pounds he needs to build (essentially) a computer that will figure out the base code for the Enigma. With Joan’s help, Alan becomes more affable to his team and when Turing is suspected of being a spy and his device does not work at the speed Denniston wants, Hugh actually leads the team to support Turing. As the computer works on the equations and the war spreads across England, Turing puts his reputation on the line and his personal desires aside in order to support his attempts to break the Enigma machine’s code.

The Imitation Game is much more about the social and military pressures placed upon Turing than the actual building of the machine or attempts at codebreaking. Turing is a homosexual at a time when such activities were criminalized in the U.K. The purpose of the storyline set in the 1950s seems to be to illustrate that, regardless of his accomplishments in the War, Turing faces a very real, albeit different, threat afterward. As the film moves towards its climax, it becomes a very different film and the strength of The Imitation Game is in how well it makes its transition.

Alan Turing’s life is a tortured one and the brilliance of The Imitation Game is in how Turing struggles to remain free with Joan’s help. Both Joan and Alan are confined by society’s expectations and to keep her working on the Enigma project, Alan offers to marry her. Unfortunately, Turing trusts the absolute wrong person with his truth about his homosexuality and that allows others to exert influence over him . . . and Joan. It is impossible to watch The Imitation Game and not feel ashamed at how arcane laws and viewpoints rob humanity of some of its greatest minds. Turing is condemned to a legally-enforced, medically-induced hell and Joan’s brilliant mind is condemned to a life of mediocrity and “normal” wifely duties following their service to their country.

Oscar Pandering Season loves the tormented soul and Benedict Cumberbatch is an excellent choice to portray Turing. Cumberbatch is able to embody all the awkwardness of a genius fish-out-of-water, much like Jim Parsons does on The Big Bang Theory (season seven is reviewed here!). Where Cumberbatch earns his paycheck, though, is in the film’s final act. A far departure from the simple, clinical brilliance fans are used to seeing from him on Sherlock, Cumberbatch is able to embody a man diminished after Turing is sentenced in the 1950s. His scenes opposite Keira Knightley in the last act have an entirely different chemistry to them and both performers play the scenes with a mastery of performance that comes from their body language and eyes that is impressive.

What surprised me about The Imitation Game was how good Matthew Goode was in it! In a film with Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch and Charles Dance, Goode manages to steal a number of scenes by playing Hugh Alexander with charisma and intelligence that is incredibly watchable. Alexander is characterized as Turing’s equal, but with a more affable personality and that plays well.

What does not play well in The Imitation Game is the imbalance of the dialogue. The film begins with a sense of wit to it; the interview between Turing and Denniston is actually hilarious and it sets the viewer up for a far less heavy film. Unfortunately, after Turing tells a joke to his team, the movie becomes stark and humorless and the joy one takes in the discovery of the life of Turing diminishes almost with each passing minute. Turing’s life was miserable before the film’s first scenes, but the movie was set-up in such a way that it is much more inviting than it becomes. The result, is a movie that lures one in on charm and intrigue and then starts stabbing one repeatedly for the last forty minutes.

Even so, The Imitation Game is a worthwhile film with performances that are worth seeing and direction that makes even the miserable moments cinematic. One just wishes it were a bit more straightforward and honest about what the story was actually about.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
To Write Love On Her Arms
The Last Five Years
The Voices
Love, Rosie
The Seventh Son
Song One
American Sniper
Project Almanac


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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Friday, January 30, 2015

This Is Where They Lost Me: The Walking Dead – Book Nine!

The Good: The plot progresses
The Bad: Mediocre artwork, Entirely oppressive mood, Unlikable new characters
The Basics: The Walking Dead - Book Nine marks the arrival of Negan . . . and the point where the series becomes unbearable to read.

While I was on vacation in September of last year, my wife and I visited the Mall Of America (reviewed here!). At one point, while she was shopping at stores I had no interest in, I decided to go and get some reading done at the Barnes & Noble there. I was pretty psyched at the time because there was a copy of The Walking Dead – Book Nine there (which was not available to me locally). So, while my wife shopped, I read and, alas, it quickly turned into the low point of my vacation for me.

The Walking Dead – Book Nine was unenjoyable to read because it is the point where everything in the series has built up to a point where there is such an oppressive tone that there is no joy in the experience. As horrible as what Rick and Michonne suffered at the hands of The Governor, there was at least the hope that they might overcome and thwart the leader of Woodbury. That part of The Walking Dead has a decent catharsis and it came fast-enough to make for an enjoyable, if gruesome, read. With the introduction of Negan in The Walking Dead – Book Nine, the series begins a downward spiral into misery. In fact, it becomes so unpleasant to read The Walking Dead – Book Nine that I had to pick up the subsequent volumes and skim through key plot points for one important reason: I had to know if continuing to invest in the series was going to be worth it. At the last point I skimmed to, the plotline involving Negan finally came to an end and its resolution was fairly unsatisfying. Still, I went back to finish The Walking Dead – Book Nine and it’s hard for me to imagine wanting to return to the world of The Walking Dead afterward.

On the way back to the Alexandria community from Hilltop, Rick Grimes and his party encounter a motorcycle gang. The motorcyclists are working for Negan and they demand a tribute for Negan. Michonne and Andrea kill three of the four people working for Negan. Rick sends the last one back to Negan to tell Negan to leave Hilltop alone. While Abraham and Eugene are out scavenging for ammunition, Abraham is killed and Eugene is captured. Brought to the gates of Alexandria by Dwight, Eugene is threatened, but manages to break free and give Rick’s survivors the chance to turn the tables on Negan’s people.

When Rick refuses to take things lying down, he and a small team prepare to leave for Hilltop (including Glenn and Maggie, who is now pregnant, who want to relocate to the safer location). On the road, though, they meet Negan, who menaces the group and then beats in the head of one of Rick’s closest friends with his barbed wire-covered baseball bat, which he has named Lucille. Forcing Rick into a position of fealty to him, Negan begins his oppressive reign over Alexandria. Visiting Rick’s town, Negan and his people take what they want and when Carl sneaks back with him, Carl sees just what Negan has built.

On the character front, The Walking Dead – Book Nine sees a progression of the relationship between Rick Grimes and Andrea. The change in their relationship status seems largely to provide a weird pair of mirror scenes in the book. When Carl walks in on Andrea and Rick after they have had sex, Rick avoids having “the talk” with Carl. This conversation is mirrored by a creepy “show and tell” wherein Negan gives Carl a tour of his brothel and admits that the end of the world has been better for his sex life than the world was before. The difference between the determined Rick and the sadistic Negan is played out throughout The Walking Dead – Book Nine and the genuine affection Rick has for Andrea is a foil for Negan’s careless collecting of women.

The Walking Dead – Book Nine has big, significant deaths and the siege mentality that results and the psychological torment of Carl by Negan makes for an utterly unpleasant book. There is no joy in seeing how Rick Grimes and his people survive at this point; instead, they are at a point of prolonged suffering and the sense that they will be miserable for a long time is more than just a mood in The Walking Dead – Book Nine. Rick, Maggie, Carl, and the others readers have invested their time and affection in will be suffering for books to come and given how harsh Book Nine is, it is impossible to recommend, much less recommending continuing with the series.

For other The Walking Dead books, check out my reviews of:
Days Gone Bye
Book One
Book Two
Book Three
Book Four
Book Five
Fear The Hunters
Life Among Them
Book Seven
Book Eight


For other graphic novel reviews, please check out my Graphic Novel Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Yeah, It’s Propaganda: American Sniper Is NOT The Best Movie Of 2014!

The Good: Bradley Cooper’s performance, The direction is generally good
The Bad: So many of the lines are propaganda, Neglects complexity for archetypes, Racist
The Basics: American Sniper transforms Bradley Cooper in an impressive way . . . but does not give him a role worth the changes.

Those who know me know that I am a pacifist and one who is not at all interested in war movies. So, when I pledged to watch all eight films that were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, the one I was (by far) least enthusiastic about watching was American Sniper. There was a pretty decent chance, going into American Sniper, that I would fall more into the camp of Michael Moore and Seth Rogen about the movie. I disagree with Moore’s comment on snipers being cowardly (though I understand why he would say that), but Rogen pretty much hit the nail on the head: American Sniper is little more than propaganda for much of the film.

And, having watched American Sniper, I suspect that part of the reason that so many people have so many issues with the film is that they treat criticism of the film as an attack on the military lifestyle. This review is about the film American Sniper and any references to Chris Kyle are for the character presented in the film, not the actual human being upon whom the film’s character is based. As a cinephile, though, what separates the pro-military American Sniper from a great film is its lack of subtlety. In American Sniper, the men are Men, the women are pliable and the film’s initial sense of moral ambiguity is quickly subdued by a macho, pro-America, post-9/11 “The military solution is the only patriotic answer” sensibility that focuses on a very monolithic and redneck viewpoint.

Opening with a U.S. convoy in Iraq being overseen by sniper Chris Kyle, tensions in Iraq are running high. When Kyle sees a boy being given a grenade, he has to shoot the boy. The film flashes back to Kyle’s indoctrination as a child where his father grooms him to be someone who ends fights and guides “the herd.” Following the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania, Kyle enlists and at 30 years old, he begins training to be a Navy SEAL. On the day he finishes his training, he goes to a bar where he meets Taya. After the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, Chris and Taya get married. Chris is almost immediately called to action in Iraq.

In Iraq, Chris becomes an efficient sniper, dispatching both the child and the woman from the opening scene. Kyle protects most of the Marines, though there is an Iraqi sniper who might be his match. Kyle assists and protects the Marines in Iraq. In the search for the Al Qaeda leader Zarqawi, Kyle and his team encounter the sniper (Mustafa) and Zarqawi’s lieutenant, who uses torture and intimidation to keep Iraqi citizens in-line. After the disastrous encounter, Kyle returns home, but cannot adapt to life back with his wife. Kyle continues to return to Iraq, hunting Mustafa and insurgents there while neglecting his wife and newborn son.

In many ways, American Sniper is Moby Dick for the military crowd. Virtually all of Kyle’s lines could be lifted from recruiting posters as he dehumanizes the Iraqis and focuses exclusively on the idea that somewhere in the world, America is a war . . . and he’s not there. Whenever he is not in Iraq, he is preoccupied with it and Mustafa is Kyle’s White Whale. Kyle is not a sympathetic character in that his actions are never reflected upon in a way that makes his actions seem deep. In fact, in dialogue with one of the Marines working in Iraq, Kyle’s banal assertion that “there is evil here” is put into proper perspective (“there is evil everywhere”) without any acceptable counterpoint.

American Sniper is geared toward a very specific demographic. That demographic is one that might be amused by beefy military men throwing darts at each other’s bare backs . . . as opposed to horrified by that. What makes American Sniper feel like propaganda is how monolithic it is. The five minute montage of kills when Chris Kyle arrives in Iraq (a country that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks featured two scenes prior) is treated without any sophistication: all of the people shot are would-be killers, suicide bombers, etc. There is no ambiguity or complexity and Kyle does not reflect at all while in the field upon the killing he has done.

Perhaps the most disappointing moment in American Sniper, for me, was the moment Sam Jaeger appears on screen. While I certainly respect an actor wanting to get away from a role, Jaeger is impressive and deep in his role on Parenthood (season five is reviewed here!); seeing him go from a role where he plays an emotionally-evolved character to a monolithic soldier-type hardly seems like career growth.

Director Clint Eastwood does a decent-enough job with American Sniper. American Sniper looks good-enough, which is good because the dialogue in the film is atrocious. Iraquis are referred to almost exclusively in racist terms, women are called “bitches” a disturbing number of times and the character version of Kyle is treated like a superhero who is good at all aspects of the military job (in addition to sniping, he goes door to door with Marines, performs interrogations, etc.). Eastwood, however, does not know the difference between a comic book and a graphic novel (individual issues of comic books are, in fact, comic books; graphic novels are the compilations) – which makes for pretty

Moreover, there is a distinctly un-American quality to American Sniper. Our Third Amendment (placed above our protective right against self incrimination!) protects American Citizens from having to quarter soldiers. In American Sniper, American soldiers take over Iraqi houses, basically keeping their citizens under house arrest in their own homes. The only justification within the film? Of course, they are insurgents, too!

Bradley Cooper does a fine job as Chris Kyle. It’s not a great role, but it is a very different one from those that he has had. Anyone who became a fan of Cooper from Alias (reviewed here!) will find the actor utterly unrecognizable, both in his physical performance and his character style. But good acting doesn’t make the film less propaganda.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
To Write Love On Her Arms
The Last Five Years
The Voices
Love, Rosie
The Seventh Son
Song One
Project Almanac


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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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The Worst 10 Movies Of 2014!

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The Basics: 2014 was hardly a sterling year for films . . . but these ten are the movies that ought to be avoided at all costs!

It has been a long time since I have cared so little about what movies might win the Best Picture Oscar than this year. 2014 might have had some big blockbusters and two perfect films, but it had a giant load of mediocrity for the bulk of the year. While the Razzies tend to pick out the most obvious commercial failures, this year’s list of dud films would not be complete without the ten movies below.

It is important to note that while I’ve seen a great number of movies from 2014, I tended to avoid horror movies (on principle) – I’m certain if I had bothered with the latest movies from the overdone franchises of horror there might be some alterations to the list. But, for cinephiles and those who value their time, these are the 10 films too annoying, painful, boring or poorly made to bother watching from 2014:

10. Behaving Badly (reviewed here!) – The sex comedy Behaving Badly was so poorly received that even Selena Gomez appearing in it couldn’t scare up interest in the film at the box office. Behaving Badly is what happens when humor from audacious animated shows like Family Guy and South Park becomes the norm; by the time live action goes as surprising and raunchy, it’s passĂ©. Behaving Badly might have been a cult film fifteen years ago, but in 2014, it’s utterly forgettable,

9. Listen Up Philip (reviewed here!) – The Academy and art house movie viewers usually love films about miserable people and writers at a point of crisis. Sadly, Listen Up Philip is just a collection of the worst stereotypes of writers and smart people. I never thought I’d see a year when Jonathan Pryce was in one of the worst movies of the year, but there it is . . .,

8. Expelled (reviewed here!) – While the major studios were duking it out during Oscar Pandering Season, one chose to dump one of its worst creations during the same time. Alas, hoping all the attention the big dogs would get vying for serious box office dollars might allow a concentrated fan effort to make an upset was not a marketing technique that worked. Instead, this droll comedy represents one of the year’s biggest conceptual failures: the entire premise is a slacker gets expelled from school and then has to apply himself to get back into school. The Herculean efforts made by the protagonist to get expelled make his ridiculous efforts to avoid boarding school all the more unrealistic, especially when he sees that the place he is threatened with ending up is incredibly easy to escape from! With no significant performers, performances, or ideas, Expelled is gut-wrenching to watch,

7. Horrible Bosses 2 (reviewed here!) – At the other end of the spectrum from Expelled is Horrible Bosses 2. Packed with talent, this limp sequel parades out as many of the stars from Horrible Bosses as it can to remind viewers what they liked about the original before degenerating into a disappointing and decidedly un-funny hostage caper movie that adds nothing worthwhile to the franchise. Seldom have so many truly funny and smart individuals been part of something that falls so short of humor and was so very dumb,

6. Authors Anonymous (reviewed here!) – I’m not sure if I should admire Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting for taking her time off as one of the highest paid actresses on television to appear in an indie film or lament that when she made the effort, she was put into essentially the same role. Either way, Authors Anonymous might be the best proof that when you’re at the top of the industry, it’s time to experiment and spread your wings (when there’s no risk to your finances or career for trying). Unfortunately, Authors Anonymous is neither ambitious, nor smart; it is not funny, nor does it allow any of the performers in it to truly showcase their talents – it is more a string of jokes that fail to land and missed opportunities than a film painfully bad to watch,

5. Vampire Academy (reviewed here!) – My only guess is that Vampire Academy was in production before Beautiful Creatures (reviewed here!) proved that not all supernatural teen lit translated into box office gold. Vampire Academy was so unmemorable that when I began assembling this list, I found I could not remember what was so bad about it. So, I picked up a copy, popped it in the Blu-Ray player and by the time the characters started talking to one another, I remembered! The dialogue is horrible, the acting is atrocious, the story is so familiar it has become an archetype - complete with the requisite and obvious reversals.  The only reason to pay to see this film would be if a Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of it was produced,

4. Bad Neighbors (reviewed here!) – I know I am in the minority of the world’s population on this one, but I did not find Neighbors funny. Dumb frat guys behaving badly, tormenting a working family . . . this is a horror movie disguised as a comedy and while Rose Byrne might have had a good year at the box office, it’s hard to imagine she or most of the rest of the cast is proud of this “comedy,”

3. Happy Christmas (reviewed here!) – Forgettable and neither complicated, nor entertaining, Happy Christmas was the last straw for me with actress Anna Kendrick. Kendrick either has one way to perform or she does not have the wherewithal to stand up to directors to challenge her to do more than appear on screen and keep her mouth partially open. Seriously; I know Anna Kendrick has a nice smile, but at some point, viewers need something more from her than reaction shots where she looks surprised, with her mouth slightly agape. Yet Happy Christmas seems to hinge on that one note of performance. As little as I ever root for the career death of anyone, as one who loathes how Lena Dunham has become the voice of fauxmanism (that’s "faux-feminism" or "a dumbing down of the fight for equality and civil rights," for which Dunham has become the poster woman), when Girls comes to its inevitable end, one hopes anyone who thinks of hiring Lena Dunham again might just check this film out and be assured that investing in her future is not worth it,

2. The Wait (reviewed here!) – Jena Malone did not have a good year in 2014. Her character in Mockingjay – Part 1 (reviewed here!) was virtually absent until the last few moments (and allowed her to show off none of her talent!) and Inherent Vice (reviewed here!), was delayed into 2015 in most markets, which meant that the most time she had on the big screen was in this lemon. The Wait is, as its name suggests, a ponderous film in which very little happens. At least Malone’s career will not suffer much from the film’s release . . . it did not get a wide-enough release, so most people will never see it to know how bad it was,

. . . and . . .

. . .the worst movie of 2014 is . . .

1. Making The Rules (reviewed here!) – Robin Thicke acting vehicle. Need I say more? Given how few people witnessed this cinematic atrocity, I probably should. Frances Conroy appears in her worst supporting role since supporting in Catwoman, Jaime Pressly plays Abby a lonely housewife obsessed with former boyfriend played by Robin Thicke and what is supposed to be a steamy, sexy drama about temptation is just another stupid, escapist trashy romance novel that isn’t smart enough to acknowledge itself for what it is. At under 80 minutes, at least Making The Rules does not make us suffer watching its terribleness long, but when that is the best that can be said about a film, it is hardly a ringing endorsement!

For other lists, please check out my:
Worst Ten Episodes Of Star Trek: Enterprise
The Top Ten Episodes Of Frasier
The Top Ten Episodes Of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

To see how all movies I have reviewed have stacked up against each other check out my Film Review Index Page where the movies are organized from best to worst!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Wes Anderson Creates The Best Slapstick Comedy Of All Time With The Grand Budapest Hotel!

The Good: Very funny, Wonderful acting, Engaging plot and characters, Impressive direction
The Bad: Needlessly complicated narrative technique, A number of the characters do not get developed due to the size of the cast
The Basics: Rightfully being called one of the best films of 2014, The Grand Budapest Hotel restores the reputation of Wes Anderson by creating an entertaining and enduring film!

When The Grand Budapest Hotel started to rack up award nominations this award’s season, I had the distinct feeling that the film was being treated as something of a “lifetime achievement award” for writer-director Wes Anderson. After all, Wes Anderson has made some masterful films, but after peaking with The Royal Tenenbaums (reviewed here!), the argument can be pretty easily made that he has simply been rehashing and reworking that movie for at least his two subsequent works - The Life Aquatic Of With Steve Zissou (reviewed here!) and The Darjeeling Limited (reviewed here!). The only Wes Anderson film I have not seen is Moonrise Kingdom and my failure to give it attention was the result of disillusionment following his post-The Royal Tenenbaums films.

So, my expectations were low when I sat down to watch The Grand Budapest Hotel. In fact, my viewing The Grand Budapest Hotel was more an obligatory viewing due to my desire to watch all of the Best Picture Oscar nominees this year. So, when I come out singing the praises of The Grand Budapest Hotel and director Wes Anderson, it is because the film is truly that good. With Anderson’s distinctive sense of style and color and a cast made up mostly of alumni from his prior works, Anderson was given the seemingly daunting task of creating something new and memorable with The Grand Budapest Hotel. He, and his cast and production team, succeeded.

An author sits down and tells the story of his younger self having the story of Zubrowska’s famed Grand Budapest Hotel narrated to him. Moustafa tells the story of how, as a boy, he was a Lobby Boy at the Grand Budapest Hotel during the turbulent time when it was switching owners. The young Lobby Boy Zero befriends the concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel, M. Gustave. Gustave is a smart, efficient man who has been bedding the exceptionally wealthy Madame D. Madame D. dies abruptly and Gustave goes to her estate where he is surprisingly willed the famous painting Boy With Apple.

The priceless painting is coveted by Madame D.’s sons Dimitri and Jopling, as well as her three daughters. Gustave is framed by one of Madame D.’s servants as the man who killed Madame D. and he begins his run from the law. Unfortunately, he runs pretty much right away into the arms of Inspector Henckels, who has Gustave imprisoned. Gustave must rely upon the efforts of Zero to rescue him so they can sell the painting and live their lives. But Jopling is a homicidal maniac intent upon finding Gustave and his hunt starts to cut a swath of death through Zubrowska toward Gustave, Zero, and Zero’s fiancĂ©, Agatha.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is essentially a screwball comedy and Wes Anderson goes to great lengths to give the film a retro feel and sense of melodrama. What makes The Grand Budapest Hotel work so well is that Anderson mixes things like special effect “skips” and exaggerated movements with more contemporary color palates and incredible performances by some of the best actors working today. With such an extensive cast, Anderson is unable to use them all well; Tom Wilkinson’s part in The Grand Budapest Hotel is essentially a cameo where he is not given the chance to plumb his performing depths. Similarly, Jude Law’s performance as the younger version of Wilkinson’s author character only has him on screen long enough to get the viewer into the narrative of M. Gustave and Zero, as opposed to forcing him to play anything impressive.

The story of The Grand Budapest Hotel is an engaging chase story that feels classic, but has a contemporary level of dialogue. Ralph Fiennes swears his way through The Grand Budapest Hotel and Willem Dafoe’s psychopathic Jopling is chilling in a way that early films would not have dared. In the chase, Gustave becomes a likable protagonist, as does Zero. Zero is given enough backstory to make him compelling – even if the love story of Zero and Agatha is somewhat contrived (it plays into a line about A to Z) and simple.

The performances in The Grand Budapest Hotel are appropriately exceptional. Jeff Goldblum is virtually unrecognizable as the lawyer Kovacs and Adrien Brody is similarly chameleonic as Dmitri. Tilda Swinton’s brief appearance on screen proves that The Grand Budapest Hotel should win a bevy of make-up awards. Even Saoirse Ronan gives a career high performance – her time on screen shows more range and genuine emotion than she did in the entirety of The Host (reviewed here!).

The surprise is how well Tony Revolori plays off Ralph Fiennes. Revolori is given a part that could easily be relegated to hapless sidekick, but in key moments, he steels his eyes and holds his own on screen with Fiennes. Revolori has on-screen panache that makes Zero distinct and the logical antecedent to F. Murray Abraham’s incarnation of the character.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of the few films in recent memory that ought to be seen and experienced as opposed to discussed. It is funny, stylish and original enough to decimate any assertion that its nominations are more for Anderson and his body of work than this specific film!

For other films with intriguing narrative techniques, please visit my reviews of:
Stranger Than Fiction


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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Absolute Mess: Star Wars Jedi Legacy Cards Sink!

The Good: Good concept/common set
The Bad: Insane numbers of parallel cards, Ridiculous rarities on incentive cards, Lackluster chase cards, Autograph card style.
The Basics: Topps, Inc. goes absolutely absurd on collectors with the Star Wars Jedi Legacy, a set that tries to convince one collector that parallels are the thing!

One of the consequences to being both a reviewer and a small business owner is one sometimes finds themselves in an awkward position of working at cross-purposes. I have a little small business selling collectibles – mostly trading and gaming cards – and for that side of my life, I rely entirely on my ability to sell the cards I get in. In that half of my life, I have relationships with some of the card manufacturers and, frankly, I’m not eager to mortgage those relationships by writing anything akin to “you have made a product that absolutely sucks.” But then there is this half (or more) of my life and I try very hard to maintain an impartiality and a set of high standards with my reviewing. Reviews, like this one, are only useful if there is some integrity to them and I can build a trust with readers as to my objectivity. Today, it is definitely the reviewer that is going to win out over any sense of salesmanship as I tackle the Star Wars Jedi Legacy trading cards.

Star Wars Jedi Legacy cards were produced by Topps, Inc. in 2012 and Star Wars is the company’s flagship entertainment product. Frankly, Topps is going to do whatever the hell they want and they don’t give a damn about this blog or the opinions of collectors. The latter assertion is easy enough to make: Topps has winnowed its collector base from thousands to hundreds to ten and now down to one (or two competing) collectors. Through the “magic” of parallel sets, there are only ten possible true, complete, master sets of Star Wars Jedi Legacy cards available. With the inclusion of Printing Plate cards for each of the common and main chase cards . . . there is only one possible complete, true, master set possible of these cards. There are over one hundred 1/1 unique cards (and, unlike sketch cards, they are not unique works of art where collectors might just collect one of each artist).

So, the first rail against the Star Wars Jedi Legacy cards is that they have no practical collectability. Topps has made the process of collecting cards an absolutely miserable one with the Star Wars Jedi Legacy cards because there can be no “die-hard” collectors of the set. No one can actually assemble a complete set, so one has to ask “Where is the fun in collecting these cards?!” [The businessperson in me says the exact same thing, by the way: “What possible pitch can I use to sell these cards when there is no way to complete a set – not even come close?!”]

The second huge strike against this set is the sheer volume of parallel cards. The common card set (which has silver foil lettering) is replicated by a blue set (almost one parallel card per pack), a magenta set (one card per six packs), a green set (one parallel card per box) and a gold set (one parallel card per case – only ten of each in existence) on top of the printers plate version of the card (only one of each card in existence). Why the hell does Topps think they’ve created such an incredible set of common cards that fans will truly want essentially the same thing four or five times over in increasingly expensive renditions?! Topps obsessively makes parallel sets and that is a distinctly unimaginative way to make a buck. The hyperbolic lengths of rarity in the Star Wars Jedi Legacy set for the parallel cards is ridiculous, not fun, and not truly collectible.

Basics/Set Composition

The concept behind the Jedi Legacy cards is interesting and a good one: the story of Anakin Skywalker is mirrored by the story of Luke Skywalker. Topps found forty-five plot points or aspects of the character arcs that were identical in the Prequel and Original Star Wars Trilogies and designed the set around pointing out those similarities. The set is fleshed out beyond the theme of the common card set with, apparently, whatever was laying around that Topps could get its hands on. While the three minor chase sets have ties to the concepts of the common set, the autographs, relic, and fur cards have no sense of thematic unity, so there is a scattershot sensibility to the set that makes it seem like a mess outside of its least-expensive elements.

Like almost all of Topps, Inc.' products, the cards come with a UV protective coating to protect the trading cards from fading over time and to give them a nice satin sheen. This does appear to work as I've not had any cards from Topps, Inc. fade. While all of the common cards (and most of the chase) are formatted in one orientation (landscape), the text on the back of the cards is (unfortunately) oriented the same way as the text on the front. As a result, when one flips a page in the binder, they must rotate the binder around in order to read the backs. This is not very friendly to those who want to sit and read the cards.

Usually, this is the point in the review where I try to define the number of cards in the set. Unfortunately, the Star Wars Jedi Legacy trading card set is such a craptastic mess that it is virtually impossible to nail down the exact number of cards in the set. According the checklist provided by Topps, there are 215 cards in the set. That checklist, though, is utterly useless to collectors or dealers as it includes none of the parallel cards, nor the promotional cards, and it fails to mention that several of the autograph cards are duplicated (i.e. there are at least two different autograph cards for Tim Rose in this set!). As near as I can determine, there are ten possible sets of 587 cards and one, true, master set that consists of 722 cards. Boxes contain only twenty-four packs of eight cards each. Topps, Inc. only guaranteed two “hits” per box. In my experience, that meant that each box had some form of film cel card and then an autograph, fur, Jabba’s sail barge or gold parallel card.

Common Cards

The Star Wars Jedi Legacy common set is the peak of the product. The 90 card set focuses on the character journeys of Anakin and Luke Skywalker. Inventively numbered from 1 to 45 with an A or L (Anakin or Luke) suffix on each card, the common card set almost demands one track down a different style of card page in order to truly appreciate how the cards (and stories) mirror one another. The common card set is well-written, surprisingly well-researched and well-executed. The photography encompasses the entire Sextet as well as a few comic book panels (to fill in implied parts of Luke’s storyline).

Topps did not use promotional images for the shots, but managed to make each card clear and there is some decent color variation in the set (the cards are not homogenously dark). The set is biased in favor of characters over space battles or equipment, but that makes sense given the concept of the set.

This is a neat concept for a set and Topps gets it right!

Chase Cards

Outside the insane number of parallel cards which simply replicate the common cards with minor variations in foil color (if you, for example, have a blue-green colorblindness, you’re pretty much screwed on figuring out the two parallel sets! – and the “Gold” parallel I pulled in my case was almost indistinguishable in normal light from the common version of the same card!), the Jedi Legacy cards are chock full of bonus cards. The bonus sets include: Connections, Influencers, The Circle Is Now Complete, Ewok Fur, Jabba’s Sail Barge, Chewbacca Fur, Autographs and three styles of film cell relic cards.

The first level of chase cards, found one in every other pack are the Connections and Influencers cards (if a pack has Connections, it tends not to have an Influencers card). The 15 card Connections and 18 card Influencers subsets point out more parallels between Anakin and Luke Skywalker by pointing out common places and characters that appeared in both stories or influenced each character. Like the common cards, these cards have minor foil accents for the lettering. There is nothing that makes them truly special, though they look good and are easy-enough to assemble as far as bonus sets go. That Topps made a 15 card bonus set seems odd; the standard card sheets hold nine cards, so usually they aim for multiples of 9 for the chase sets.

The next bonus set up is an utterly ludicrous The Circle Is Now Complete chase set. These cards, found one in every twelve packs, are designed to create a circle that plays Luke and Anakin/Darth Vader off one another. Neat concept, poor execution. The twelve cards in this set are pie-piece shaped and there is no practical way to assemble the set in one’s binder.

Among the high-level “hits” cards are Ewok Fur, Chewbacca Fur and Jabba’s Sail Barge fur/fabric cards. Apparently, Star Wars Jedi Legacy was the first time Topps had access to set-used materials and they really blew them out. There were eight Ewok Fur cards, which are essentially costume cards that are very thick and feature Ewok fur bursting out of them. The Ewok Fur cards range from the few recognizable Ewoks from Return Of The Jedi (Wicket, Logray, etc.) to the generic – four of the cards are simply “Ewok.” The Jabba’s Sail Barge cards are pretty standard costume cards, save that they all seem to have pieces of set-used sail material from Jabba’s Sail Barge. This is a somewhat baffling five-card subset in that the sail pieces seem to be virtually identical to one another and not at all indicative of any sort of interaction the characters upon the cards had with the actual Sail Barge. So, the Leia Organa and R2-D2 cards have the same type of material. Topps seemed to recognize that fans would not shell out big bucks for a card that pictured the Sail Barge and were far more common than five cards with the same material that had recognizable characters on them. That seems especially, well, duplicitous, to me. In other words, while Leia is pictured on a card, the fabric is not from any set-work material Carrie Fisher wore on the Sail Barge, it’s still a fabric swatch of the sail barge . . . just like the fabric swatch on the Nysad and Boba Fett cards from the same subset. The Chewbacca’s Fur cards are a shadowbox style extra-thick card that features more hair than fur in my personal experience. The sealed card has individual hairs and a picture of Chewbacca and that is cool, but the sheer expense of the hair is impressive (to be fair the four cards in this subset seem to have retained their value and the only high-end card I pulled in the case I opened was one and it was the only significant “hit” card I was able to sell!).

Then there are the autographs. The autographs are the incredibly unpopular format of autograph “card” where the signer signed a holographic sticker and Topps slapped that sticker on a trading card. While the checklist claims there are seventeen autograph cards, the hologram stickers that were signed were slapped on multiple cards. I easily found two different Tim Rose cards for the same set. My assumption in my numbering was that there were others that were duplicated and I just could not find them easily now (two years later). The Jedi Legacy set was sold on its inclusion of the Original Trilogy’s Big Three – Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill, in addition to significant supporting actors like James Earl Jones, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker and Billy Dee Williams. Now, the Kenneth Colley autograph has grown in value since his death, but the signers like Amy Allen (from the Prequel Trilogy), Garrick Hagon (from A New Hope’s deleted scenes and restored scenes in the Special Edition), Bonnie Piesse (young Beru from the Prequels), and Anthony Forrest (yea, a Sandtrooper!) make a “hit” seem like a real miss . . . especially when a case has an average of three autographs and they are only the filler ones!

The last level of chase cards are the three Film Cell cards – 30 single cell, 6 Double Cell, and 10 Triple cell (that being the number of film frames embedded in each card) – sets. While virtually every box had a single cell card, some had a second hit that was a double or triple cell card. These are much like the Star Trek: Animated Series trading cards (reviewed here!), which featured embedded clips of the film of each episode. These cards have film cells from the projector-used print of the three original Trilogy movies. That is, to be honest, pretty cool and these are neat cards that seem to be fairly attainable to collect.

Non-Box/Pack Cards

Outside the boxes, there were seven different promotional cards.


That leads us to a final analysis. The sycophants at Non-Sport Update (reviewed here!) will never write an editorial on how un-collector friendly The Industry has become (they absolutely depend upon the trading card manufacturers for promotional cards, advertising dollars and access to materials) and I’m sure their review of this set in issue #4 of Volume 24 was glowing and enthusiastic. Dealers are going to be desperate to try to recoup their losses on this set (I bought a single case four months ago and have sold, to date: 1 common card set, 1 Chewbacca fur card, 1 film cell card and 2 parallel – one green, one magenta – cards) because unless they are blowing out the cards well below book or pulled one of the two or three virtually impossible to find autographs, they have not made their investment back. Between the terrible autograph/sticker style, the sheer volume of parallel cards, the checklist that doesn’t actually tell collectors what all is in the set, and the bonus cards that cannot actually be put into card pages in any reasonable way, this set is a lemon.

This set culls images exclusively from the Star Wars Saga, reviewed here!

This is a set of trading cards I sell in my online store (new inventory being added daily!). Please visit and purchase from the current inventory of them at: Star Wars Jedi Legacy Trading Card Inventory!

For other trading card collections based upon the films, please check out my reviews of:
Batman Returns Stadium Club Premium Cards
The Hunger Games Collector’s Cards
Star Trek (2009 Movie) cards


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

© 2015 W.L .Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Brilliant And Depressing, The Skeleton Twins Showcases Career Bests For Hader And Wiig!

The Good: Great editing, Impressive acting, Good direction
The Bad: Virtually plotless/awkward/oppressive tone
The Basics: The Skeleton Twins lives up to its hype as a disturbing and wonderfully funny dramedy.

As I rush toward the completion of viewing the last few films from 2014 that were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, I find myself distracted by a movie or two that I missed last year that I would rather watch than one of the Oscar nominees. Chief among them was The Skeleton Twins. The Skeleton Twins came out when my wife and I were on vacation in Minnesota and while we wanted to see it in theaters, none of the ones near where we were staying were showing it (we managed to catch This Is Where I Leave You - reviewed here! – instead). Well, we’ve finally rectified that and The Skeleton Twins has leapt into our permanent collection. The fact that it was not nominated for Oscars only shows how narrow the attention spans of the members of the Academy are.

Milo Dean attempts to kill himself on the same day that his estranged twin sister, Maggie, is about to take an overdose of pills across the country. Maggie rushes to Milo’s side – alerted because he left his music playing loud and his suicide attempt was discovered – and she invites him to return to New York with her. Milo comes reluctantly, where he meets Maggie’s outgoing, good (if somewhat white bread) husband, Lance. Milo is put off by Lance and he is shocked when he learns that his sister is trying to get pregnant with him (the last he knew, she despised the idea of having children). Milo tempts fate by going to visit Rich, who is now the owner of a small book store while Maggie is out taking scuba lessons.

Maggie’s scuba lessons lead her to an affair with the instructor. As she confesses to Milo and Milo admits to her that he has seen Rich (who had an inappropriate relationship with Milo while Milo was still a minor). Milo discovers that Maggie is still on birth control pills and when Maggie criticizes his choices, he puts Lance on the path to the truth. The result is both Milo and Maggie have the chance to fall apart and reunite after decades apart.

Milo is deeply sarcastic and he is wrestling with powerful depression. He is aptly played by Bill Hader and Hader manages to find the perfect balance between his established track record of goofy performances and a serious, deeply wounded person affected by his past. One of the aspects of The Skeleton Twins that works so perfectly for the film is for a movie that had some impressive and long preview trailers, the film is packed with surprisingly good lines and moments. The incredibly awkward dinner between Milo, Maggie, their mother Judy and Lance was absent from the extensive trailers and yields some of the film’s best moments (from the drop of the aquarium to Milo snarkily repeating Judy’s New Age nonsense line, anyone who has had a strained relationship with family can relate).

Joanna Gleason (Judy), Ty Burrell (Rich) and Luke Wilson (Lance) give wonderful supporting performances in The Skeleton Twins. Burrell is anything but goofy in the role of Rich and Wilson represses his own morbidity to play the straightman opposite Hader’s sarcastic Milo. Gleason is surprisingly able to repress all of the intelligence and professional qualities that made her an excellent fit for her arc on The West Wing to play the flighty mother of the two disturbed twins.

Kristen Wiig, who has been exploring the depths of her dramatic potential since leaving Saturday Night Live manages to set the bar higher for herself with The Skeleton Twins. The challenge for Wiig coming into The Skeleton Twins was to play a heavy dramatic character without simply reprising her awkward and dramatic role from Hateship Loveship (reviewed here!). Maggie is much more grounded in reality and much more in touch with her emotions than her character from Hateship Loveship. Instead, Wiig is able to play Maggie as depressed and full of self-doubt in a way that is different from the social isolation of her other dramatically-grounded character.

What brings The Skeleton Twins down a bit is the length of investment the audience goes through for the entertainment value of the film. Long stretches of the film follow two depressed protagonists who lead charmless lives and are stuck without any sense of catharsis. Milo and Maggie spend much of the movie lying to one another and while the viewer waits for them to either admit they have been lying or deal with whatever led to their fall-out, the film wanders. While the scene at the hygienist’s office eventually lead to Maggie’s big confession about her present, it is a long way to go before the movie progresses. Milo, alas, never manages to admit his truths to her or Rich, but the backstory about Milo and Rich is discussed, so at least the characters and their fall-out from before the film makes some sense.

Watching The Skeleton Twins is not about things that happen, it’s about how people interact and watching some comedic actors who clearly love working with one another play impressively different roles than they have before. The Skeleton Twins works well and is worth seeing and while the Academy might have forgotten it, it is a film that deserves attention and accolades.

For other works with Bill Hader, please check out my reviews of:
22 Jump Street
Monsters University
Star Trek Into Darkness
This Is 40
Men In Black 3
Hoodwinked Too: Hood Versus Evil
Year One
Pineapple Express
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Knocked Up


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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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