Thursday, April 30, 2015

April 2015 End Of The Month Report!

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April was a VERY Marvel-centered month! We reviewed the entirety of the new Netflix series Daredevil (check it out here!), new episodes of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 trading cards and the new film The Avengers: Age Of Ultron!

This month, we picked up several new followers on 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 April, the index pages were updated very regularly, which was great for our readers to be able to find the new reviews! The primary Index Page, which we try to update daily, lets you know what the featured review is and has an up-to-the-day tally of how many reviews have been reviewed in each category! Check it out!

If you enjoy the reviews, please consider clicking on the links in the reviews and purchasing items. We really appreciate all the purchases made through the blog as that keeps us going. Thank you so much! Thanks so much to all of the shoppers who have been buying things through the blog links.

At the end of April 2015, I have reviewed the following:
531 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Star Trek Books
Graphic Novels
898 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
2784 - 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!)!
217 - 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
798 - 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
874 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Cheese and Meats
Ice Cream
Other Food
230 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
112 - Travel Reviews
Destinations Reviews
Hotels Reviews
180 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
191 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
98 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
47 - Other Product Reviews

The Featured Reviews For The Month of April are the article: An Open Letter To Senator Elizabeth Warren and the review of "The Trap" - The Flash!
Check them out!

The month of April had a lot of movement within the month and was dominated by older reviews and new reviews of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episodes! For April, the Top Ten Reviews of the month were:
10. The Top Ten Episodes Of Star Trek: Voyager
9. Expelled
8. The Top Ten Episodes Of Frasier
7. "The Dirty Half Dozen" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
6. ”The Frenemy Of My Enemy” - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
5. ”One Door Closes” - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
4. ”Afterlife” - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
3. ”Melinda” - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
2. Bound
1. Parallels

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 - 313 reviews
9s - 453 reviews
8s - 879 reviews
7s - 976 reviews
6s - 900 reviews
5s - 1153 reviews
4s - 851 reviews
3s - 675 reviews
2s - 313 reviews
1s - 212 reviews
0s - 98 reviews
No rating - 88 articles/postings

While there was a decent amount of movement this month, the all time Top Ten remains unchanged. At the end of April 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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(Mostly) Smart People In The Fight For The Truth: "The Trap!"

The Good: Good character development, Performances, Decent direction, Plot development
The Bad: Pacing, Iris issue
The Basics: "The Trap" exposes the truth about Harrison Wells and another character learns the identity of The Flash!

Tuesday night was the first time, apparently, that The Flash beat Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the ratings. The Flash aired the episode "The Trap" and, as far as I'm concerned, it was a dead heat for quality with "The Dirty Half Dozen" (reviewed here!). It is worth noting, that the moment my wife and I finished watching "The Trap," she sat up and excitedly yelled "Ten out of ten! Perfect episode!" I admire her enthusiasm, but with my critical lens, I could not rate it quite so high, as much as I enjoyed it.

"The Trap" opens seconds after "Who Is Harrison Wells?" (reviewed here!) and it answers a ton of lingering questions in The Flash. With most of the secrets that the first season of The Flash began with being answered (to viewers at least) already, "The Trap" progresses the characters so that most of the characters get the same answers the viewers already have. And it does so in a remarkably entertaining way.

Opening in the Time Vault at S.T.A.R. Labs, Cisco, Dr. Snow and Barry Allen marvel at the futuristic newspaper displayed and they encounter Gideon, the artificial intelligence Harrison Wells has been using. When Wells returns to S.T.A.R. Labs, the trio barely escapes the Time Vault before they are discovered. Regrouping at Barry and Joe's house, after Eddie asks Joe for his blessing with proposing to Iris, the group decides they need to set a trap for Wells. The first step is learning what they can from Cisco's memory of the alternate time line (from "Out Of Time," reviewed here!) which has been manifesting in Cisco's dreams. Creating a device to help Cisco experience lucid dreaming (ironically, with Wells's help), Cisco experiences the incident where Wells came clean with him before killing him!

After gleaning all they can from Cisco's dream, Dr. Wells calls on Barry to help put out a fire in Central City, which is menacing Captain Singh's fiance. Putting the fire out, the team regroups at S.T.A.R. Labs where they plan to trap Harrison Wells. Going back to the cortex, the team prepares for Cisco to get a confession from Harrison Wells (admitting that he killed Nora Allen) so that Barry can free his father from Iron Heights. When Wells returns from a lecture, the trap is sprung . . . but not in the way that the team expects.

"The Trap" takes time in building up the whole idea of entrapping Dr. Wells and that works well. The issues I have with the episode all require way too many assumptions from outside the episode to make it work. The fundamental issues - outside the pacing, which repeats a lot of information and is a slow build after the Time Vault scene - are with Iris and the nature of the trap. Iris approaches Barry near the middle of the episode with information she has collated about the rise of the metahumans and she has collated the data. In "The Trap," she explicitly realizes that the S.T.A.R. Labs disaster created the metahumans who have been plaguing Central City. What I failed to buy was that Iris, who is collating so much specific information surrounding people and time, does not make any sort of note or realization pertaining to Barry. Barry was affected by the S.T.A.R. Labs disaster - despite him denying it in "The Trap" - but only after he regained consciousness did The Flash start to appear. So, Iris is smart, but only so smart.

While an emotional blind spot might explain that, it is unsatisfying to see Iris not even question the surface correlation between Barry and The Flash. Even so, "The Trap" has a powerful flashback for Iris and the unconscious Barry Allen which sets up a decent conclusion to the episode.

The other issue in "The Trap" is with the trap itself. While there is a wonderful reversal that I will not spoil here, there is an irksome issue with the trap that in order to discuss, there is a minor spoiler for the episode's end. (That's my version of a spoiler alert) The trap basically recreates the end of "Out Of Time" and that is cool . . . except that from the lucid dream, Barry and the S.T.A.R. Labs team know that Cisco will be killed by Wells. Cisco's solution is to repolarize the field so that the Reverse Flash cannot get into the trap and he is protected. But that solution still puts Cisco at risk and for a bunch of smart people, they act with remarkable stupidity at times; Cisco is standing in front of a hologram generator. Why he didn't simply reprogram the hologram so that there was a hologram of him that he could control to get the confession from makes less sense than putting him at risk against an adversary with powers the team is unsure of.

As an additional twist, the trap hinges on Dr. Snow essentially baiting Dr. Wells to go down to the Cortex. Even rewatching "The Trap," one of the elements that made less sense to me was why Wells leaves Snow alive. Perhaps it was a more obvious "clever twist" to have the team down in the cortex while Wells confesses to Snow and kills her, leaving the team diminished, but "The Trap" did not go in that direction.

So, for what the episode is, "The Trap" does a remarkably good job (minutia aside) of moving all the characters around. Faced with the undeniable scientific evidence from "Who Is Harrison Wells?" even Dr. Snow is on board with trying to capture the Reverse Flash. The episode is peppered with flashbacks to the period Barry spent unconscious and that helps enrich the character aspects of the episode.

Near the climax of "The Trap" comes some of the best acting of the series. Grant Gustin, Danielle Panabaker and Tom Cavanaugh are all acting opposite nothing and they make it seem like they are interacting. Gustin plays angry beautifully opposite thin air and Cavanaugh makes some basic plot exposition sound like long-repressed character details.

"The Trap" is an example of how wonderful a part of a whole can be. The Flash, at its best, is highly-serialized television and the first season is (for the most part) telling one long story. In telling a long, complicated story, individual chapters do not always hold up so well as the overall work. But "The Trap" does; it is engaging and has some powerful character moments all on its own, even as it contributes to the larger story. That makes for television well worth watching, rewatching, and lauding.

For other works with Peter Bryant, check out my reviews of:
Sucker Punch
Fantastic Four
"Leonard Betts" - The X-Files

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


For other television episode and movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Unimpressive Exclusive: Mountain Dew Fails To Wow With Sangrita Blast!

The Good: Inexpensive
The Bad: Not terribly nutritious, Pretty lousy flavor
The Basics: Mountain Dew Sangrita Blast Soda is a disappointing limited edition flavor that does the franchise no great benefits.

Not very long ago, I was impressed by a drink at Taco Bell. Rather smartly, Taco Bell (reviewed here!) licensed the Mountain Dew name to create exclusive flavors and on one of the infrequent times that my wife and I went to the nearest Taco Bell, I found myself impressed. The Baja Blast flavor of Mountain Dew was pretty wonderful (especially for a mainstream soda brand) and it was enough to make me open to trying the Sangrita Blast Mountain Dew which was exclusive to Taco Bell, but is now available in stores. Sadly, Mountain Dew Sangrita Blast Soda is no Baja Blast. It is, however, fairly foul.

Mountain Dew Sangrita Blast Soda is not one of the better flavors of Mountain Dew and it is one of PepsiCo's more disappointing experiments.


Mountain Dew Sangrita Blast Soda is a bottled soda that is both sold at grocery stores and at Taco Bell. Each 20 fl. oz. plastic bottle houses the dark red liquid. The 20 oz. bottle represents a single serving of Mountain Dew Sangrita Blast Soda.

Ease Of Preparation

Mountain Dew Sangrita Blast Soda is a dark liquid in a clear 20 oz. bottle. Preparation is as easy as opening the bottle by twisting the bottle top off and drinking the liquid inside. I recommend refrigerating the bottle first, despite the flavor not being truly different between the cool and slightly warmer versions of the soda.


The aroma of the Sangrita Blast has an aroma that is a weird mix of berry and lime. If it weren't for a slightly sweet quality to the bouquet the Sangrita Blast Mountain Dew would smell most like cranberry soda.

On the tongue, the Mountain Dew Sangrita Blast is sour and despite a slight cherry flavor to the soda, the lime is surprisingly potent. More than regular Mountain Dew having a citrus flavor, the Sangrita Blast has a berry and strong lime flavor. The result is a taste that is most like sour cherry soda, which I had not tried before now.

The Sangrita Blast Mountain Dew has a strong, sour aftertaste like the lime without any hint of berry to it.


As a soda, one might expect this to have many unpronounceable ingredients and this is hardly an all-natural beverage. However, Mountain Dew Sangrita Blast Soda is made primarily of carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, and citric acid. There are no really good ingredients in this beverage.

Nutritionally, Mountain Dew Sangrita Blast Soda is not enough to live off of and this is pretty bad compared to other sodas (though it is on par with mainstream soda pops). Mountain Dew Sangrita Blast Soda has a whopping 72 grams of sugar. With 270 calories per serving, there are 170 milligrams of sodium in this. Mountain Dew Sangrita Blast Soda has no fat, nor any other nutrients.


Mountain Dew Sangrita Blast Soda comes in a plastic bottle and it has a very limited shelf life. The bottle we bought this week had a July 6, 2015 expiration date on it.

This drink is a dark red color and if it gets on light fabrics it will certainly stain them. Consult a care guide for your clothes, though I suspect even light clothes will be able to wash the soda right out. As well, the drink wipes off surfaces easily with a cloth, assuming they are impermeable.


Mountain Dew Sangrita Blast Soda is unfortunately sour and while it is not undrinkable, it is hard to find a reason to want to consume this flavor.

For other soda pops, please check out my reviews of:
Virgil’s Black Cherry Cream Soda
Sodastream Pina Colada Soda Mix
Jones Zilch Vanilla Bean Soda


For other food and drink reviews, please visit my Food Review Index Page for a complete listing of all the foods I have reviewed!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Cameos And A Mixed Place In The Marvel Cinematic Universe For "The Dirty Half Dozen!"

The Good: Decent performances, Engaging plot, Moments of character, Special effects
The Bad: Comparatively plot-heavy (as opposed to character-motivated)
The Basics: One of the best Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episodes to date, "The Dirty Half Dozen" finds Coulson truly leading S.H.I.E.L.D. against H.Y.D.R.A.'s most powerful leaders!

It's a sad time for Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been carrying on the Marvel Cinematic Universe on a semi-weekly basis and, at this point, has more total hours of material than any other element or character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And yet . . . it lacks a legitimacy that allows the producers to force the blockbuster films in the franchise to accept it. To wit, the only real way that Nick Fury's cameo in The Avengers: Age Of Ultron (reviewed here!) makes any real sense is if one denies that Nick Fury gave Coulson S.H.I.E.L.D. in the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode "The Beginning Of The End" (reviewed here!). To that end, the second season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has built an unfortunately contrived fracture within the remains of S.H.I.E.L.D.

By the time "The Dirty Half Dozen" comes up, the whole idea that Coulson is the legitimate leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been so weakened thanks to the new character, Robert Gonzales, having at least as much clout, authority and resources as Director Phil Coulson. So, ironically, the people for whom Fury's part in The Avengers: Age Of Ultron will make sense are those who do not watch Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and those who are die-hard fans who understand the intricacies of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Sadly, the new film seems to count on those who deny the legitimacy of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. in that Nick Fury does not reference Coulson as aiding him to get the helicarrier out of mothballs. "The Dirty Half Dozen" works to re-establish the legitimacy of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. while doing all that the episode can to connect the television series to The Avengers: Age Of Ultron. Picking up right after "The Frenemy Of My Enemy" (reviewed here!), "The Dirty Half Dozen" continues the mission that puts the splinters of S.H.I.E.L.D. up against the concentrated force of H.Y.D.R.A.

Opening with Raina having another dream premonition, Skye and Calvin are brought back to Jiaying. Gordon is barely able to escape searching for Lincoln alive. Aboard the Bus, Coulson appeals to Gonzales to go after Strucker and List and stop the H.Y.D.R.A. experiments on powered people. Dr. List has taken Lincoln and Deathlok to an Antarctic H.Y.D.R.A. base, where Mike Peterson is disabled and disconnected from his S.H.I.E.L.D. handlers. While Gonzales hears Coulson out about the mission to take the H.Y.D.R.A. base, May becomes the swing vote on whether the mission will actually happen or not. In their lab, Simmons proposes that Fitz kill Ward, then volunteers for the mission herself.

When Skye appears on the Bus, Ward tries to win the trust of Coulson's strike force by apologizing to them. At her retreat, Jiaying takes counsel from Calvin about Raina. As the Bus approaches the H.Y.D.R.A. base, Dr. List detects it and shoots it out of the sky. Using the debris field to cloak themselves, Coulson's team lands and infiltrates the H.Y.D.R.A. base. There, Simmons rescues Mike Peterson and Skye rescues Lincoln.  In the ensuing firefight, Coulson proves himself to Gozales, Simmons plays her endgame with Ward and Coulson's hidden objective is revealed.

It is ironic that The Avengers: Age Of Ultron weakens the authority of Director Phil Coulson because in "The Dirty Half Dozen," he is at his most authoritative. Following Ward apologizing to the team, Coulson regroups and takes charge in a way that he has not in the rest of the series. Just as Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has more air time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Director Coulson actually has vastly more screentime in the Marvel Cinematic Universe than Nick Fury. In "The Dirty Half Dozen," Coulson is played like he has the legitimacy of Nick Fury and the authority to lead S.H.I.E.L.D. like Fury did. Coulson is better than a cameo leader and he finally comes into his own in "The Dirty Half Dozen."

The idea that Simmons could have it in her to murder Ward is an intriguing idea and it certainly shows that her character has grown. Despite her couching her reasoning in purely professional points, "The Dirty Half Dozen" plays as a reward to fans who have waited for some emotional resolution to the Fitz/Simmons relationship. There was an obvious connection between the two characters and while Simmons never said she loved Fitz back after his admission at the climax of the first season, it is hard to deny that the relationship was not played as one-sided. Simmons pitching the assassination of Ward is a strange sign of her love for Fitz, but it actually works.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. seldom relies upon special effects for a big wow factor, but in "The Dirty Half Dozen," it has one of the coolest sequences of the series. The destruction of the Bus and the landing of the stealth quinjet is just awesome.

"The Dirty Half Dozen" is easily the most physically-demanding episode for Chloe Bennet (or her stunt double). One of the few issues with "The Dirty Half Dozen" is that director Kevin Tancharoen does not maintain a tight enough focus on Skye as she kicks ass against a half-dozen H.Y.D.R.A. agents. If you're going to have a big stunt sequence, it makes sense to make sure the viewer can see it and appreciate it. Tancharoen does not light the scene or keep Bennett framed well-enough to actually make the sequence as impressive as it ought to have been. It's unfortunate because for one scene, Skye is as efficient a fighter as Captain America or any of the other Avengers!

Clark Gregg, Ming-Na Wen and Elizabeth Simmons dominate "The Dirty Half Dozen." This might not be the most character-driven episode, but for those who are not fans of Brett Dalton (Grant Ward), "The Dirty Half Dozen" gives him a decent role (even if the dialogue in his big scene is pretty obvious and atrocious). If this was his exit from the series, it would be a good one.

"The Dirty Half Dozen" plays Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. as a direct lead-in to The Avengers: Age Of Ultron and that is fun, but it still requires the enduring element of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to pay fealty to where the series came from.

For other works directed by Kevin Tancharoen, be sure to check out my reviews of:
"One Of Us" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"All Star Team Up" - The Flash
"Face Of My Enemy" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - The Complete Second Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophomore season here!


For other reviews of components of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a listing of reviews from best to worst!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Fringe 2.0: The Observer Retells The Show In Fringe: September's Notebook!

The Good: Exceptional construction, Good photographs, Neat concept, Good research
The Bad: Somewhat messy (physically), Virtually no original material
The Basics: The television series Fringe is reconstructed chronologically in Fringe: September's Notebook - The Bishop Paradox which is fun for die-hard fans.

My wife and I have a generally awesome arrangement at this point in our lives. We work side by side and we have an apartment we like in a place that is not bad and on most days, we're pretty happy. At the moment, I'm the sole breadwinner for the family, while she takes care of our apartment, sells her art and does surveys for an online site that pays her for her opinion. But she makes very little money that way, so when she gives me gifts, it is a very deliberate thing; she is very cautious about giving me gifts, usually knowing well in advance that I will like what she is giving me before she ever presents it to me. Last year, for my birthday, the big gift from her was Fringe The Complete Series (reviewed here!) on Blu-Ray. For our winter celebration, she gave me the gift of Fringe: September's Notebook.

Fringe: September's Notebook - The Bishop Paradox was a "risk gift" for her; one that she was not sure I would like. Fortunately, the risk she took paid off quite well. The gift was the perfect one for me as I neared rewatching Fringe and began to feel a little anxious about having the series out of my life again. Fringe: September's Notebook - The Bishop Paradox is a coffee table book about Fringe and instead of something as straightforward as The Star Trek Compendium (reviewed here!), this book takes a different approach to looking back at the television series.

A number of genre television and movie series's come out with books that are encyclopedias or simple episode guides, but for Fringe, writers Tara Bennett and Paul Terry took a different approach. Fringe: September's Notebook completely retells the story of Fringe as a series of dossiers on the characters, plots, timelines and motivations through the eyes of the Observer, September. Fringe: September's Notebook manages to reconstruct the story of Fringe in a surprisingly linear way, which is clever because the story belabored unfolding and unraveling the plots to bring viewer's the joy of discovery. Fringe: September's Notebook - The Bishop Paradox is intended for fans who have seen and enjoyed the television series. As such, the discovery is done, the "wow" factor gone. The real pleasure of Fringe: September's Notebook is that Fringe is reconstructed without the reader having to do the mental acrobatics of watching the series.

In other words, fans of Fringe can rewatch the television show at any point and watch as the story unfolds. When they do that, they have to think "this relates to that, this little fact will become huge two seasons from now and I have to remember to look for the Observer somewhere in the background, etc. etc." Reading Fringe: September's Notebook, the reader gets the substance without the flash; the reader is taken on the journey initiated by Walter Bishop and September (the Observer) and they see how both his intellect and emotion change the course of at least two universes (two, plus the tangent two, plus the darkened future).

Following the story of Walter Bishop, William Bell and the rise of Massive Dynamic and the ZFT, the reader gets an appreciation for how well-conceived and constructed Fringe actually was. In Fringe: September's Notebook, the neutral narrative voice of the Observer points out all the little facts and connections (most of which eventually become explicit in the television series) that made Fringe work. The result is a surprisingly satisfying read.

Almost every page of Fringe: September's Notebook is a series of glossy photographs, mostly from in-universe shots. The book has uncommon collections of prop photographs and visual elements from Fringe that were only flashed on-screen. Some are impressive, others make it obvious that Fringe benefited from utilizing them as quick flashes (some of the composite photographs that appeared in the background are truly horrendous photo manipulations or compilations that clearly are assembled works!).

The only real detraction of Fringe: September's Notebook, other than spoilers for those who have not seen the whole of Fringe before sitting down to read this, it that the book collects "documents" which make reading the coffee table book occasionally messy. The book has envelopes and post-it style notes on several pages and some of these fall out. It's cool to have a book that comes with temporary tattoos of Observer sigils for their human slaves; less so when they keep falling out of the tome.

That said, Fringe: September's Notebook - The Bishop Paradox might well be the best gift for fans of Fringe . . . especially the ones who do not have the time and attention to constantly rewatch the series.

For other books about film and television, please check out my reviews of:
Prometheus: The Art Of The Film
Watchmen: The Film Companion
The Star Trek Encyclopedia


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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Avengers In, Avengers Out, Avengers In Again: The Avengers: Age Of Ultron Barely Reaches Average!

The Good: Performances are fine, Generally good direction
The Bad: Unrelenting effects sequences/splintered cast makes for a strangely underdeveloped couple of hours.
The Basics: With The Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Joss Whedon has a rare stumble into mediocrity that advances the Marvel Cinematic Universe into a particularly unthrilling direction.

I have been worried lately that I will never again fall in love with a new work of art. I listen to a lot of music, watch and review a lot of television and movies and I try to experience food on multiple levels when I am introduced to new culinary delights. Having critical standards has led to a number of conversations around my house between my wife and I. She has voiced a concern that my idea of a "perfect film" is virtually unattainable and when I spend a significant amount of time after a viewing trying to find something wrong with a movie just to not give it a perfect ten, I am actually delivering a contrived rating that works to deny perfection, as opposed to celebrate it.

With The Avengers: Age Of Ultron, I fear no such contrivance. The Avengers: Age Of Ultron was easily the film I was most unabashedly excited about seeing this year, so it was the one I was also at the greatest risk of rating high based on prejudice in favor of the film. The irony for me is that X-Men: Days Of Future Past (reviewed here!) last year came with so much less hype and delivered such a vastly superior film that I was not genuinely prepared for how mediocre The Avengers: Age Of Ultron actually was.

To his credit, Joss Whedon had a herculean task at hand when he penned and directed The Avengers: Age Of Ultron. The Avengers: Age Of Ultron is a sequel to Whedon's The Avengers (reviewed here!) and the marketing department at Marvel Entertainment/Disney has worked overtime to leak its forthcoming schedule of Marvel films. Joss Whedon had to try to top a superhero team origin story that brought together disparate heroes and made them into a group that could fight a single villain and his incredible army. Where do you go after that?

The problem Whedon faced conceptually within the narrative of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was that he had one film to introduce and defeat a new villain that could hold his own in the imagination of the viewer with Loki (the adversary from The Avengers), while servicing a sprawling cast of established heroes and making that work within the confines of the stories told since The Avengers. From a studio, practical moviemaking point of view, Whedon had to wrestle with reorganizing characters so the franchise could survive if significant actors decided to leave when their contracts came up and that meant adding new cast members to the mix. With all those pressures upon him, Whedon had to write an entertaining super hero story that could entertain and set up the next, known, installments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

That's a lot of balls in the air for anyone and the only real hope for the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes in the promises made outside the actual film The Avengers: Age Of Ultron. Writer/Director Joss Whedon has promised that The Avengers: Age Of Ultron will have a slew of deleted scenes and unseen footage when it drops on Blu-Ray. One has to hope that there will be a director's cut because as it is, The Avengers: Age Of Ultron is something of a mess.

At the core of my issue with watching The Avengers: Age Of Ultron is the fact that so much of it felt like it had been done before that I kept waiting for the movie to begin, to get engaging, to thrill me, to show me something new, to surprise me, to . . . well, you get the picture; I just kept repeating and rephrasing things without actually saying anything fundamentally new. The Avengers: Age Of Ultron feels a lot like that. In fact, were one to do a double-feature, one suspects that if one dozed off at any point in the Chitauri attack on New York City in The Avengers and awoke at virtually any point in The Avengers: Age Of Ultron, they would feel like they were in the same movie.

The Avengers: Age Of Ultron goes from one sprawling, fast-paced, CG-encrusted action sequence to another to another to another with breaks that are surprisingly uninteresting. Much of The Avengers: Age Of Ultron is like watching The Avengers blended with outtakes or b-roll footage from Iron Man 3 (reviewed here!). It is chaotic, warlike, easy to lose track of and takes a long time to get through before it gets to anything truly good. And in the quiet, character-building moments, The Avengers: Age Of Ultron focuses on the least-impressive Avenger, belabors the set-up to Captain America: Civil War and entirely jerks the audience around. We'll come back to that.

What is it about? The Avengers: Age Of Ultron follows in the wake of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (reviewed here!) with The Avengers - Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye, Black Widow, and the Hulk - working to clean-up the problems left in the world from the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. In Sokovia, they hit upon the motherload: Baron Strucker and Dr. List have a laboratory where they have the scepter Loki used, along with corpses of Chitauri vessels and two powerful (for lack of a better term) metahumans. When the Avengers break in to put an end to the H.Y.D.R.A. lab, the twins Pietro (who has superspeed, much like The Flash) and Wanda Maximoff (who is not actually magical, but has the ability to influence neurons in the brain to make people see things and has telekinetic powers over matter and energy) escape. As the battle for the H.Y.D.R.A. base is winding down, Wanda returns and uses her powers on Tony Stark, who sees a nightmarish image of the Earth under attack by legions of the creature/ships that attacked New York City with the Chitauri.

Their mission successful and the scepter recovered, the Avengers return to New York City and Avengers Tower where they plan to put the problems that have been lingering behind them. The recovery of the scepter will allow Thor to return it to Asgard and remove the lingering influence of Loki from Earth, the destruction of Strucker's organization and lab effectively decimates S.H.I.E.L.D.'s biggest enemy (which removes a big psychic burden from Captain America). Only Tony Stark is not over-the-moon thrilled about the campaign. While studying the scepter, Stark realizes that the glowing piece at its tip is not a brainwashing device, but rather a complex program or neural network, comparable to (but vastly more complex and alien than) Jarvis (Stark's A.I.). He pitches an idea to Dr. Bruce Banner; they can use the alien a.i. in their mothballed planetary defense project, Ultron. Bypassing the rest of the group, Stark and Banner activate the alien intelligence and then go off to a party celebrating the victory of the Avengers over the Earth's enemies. While they party, the alien a.i. kills Jarvis and takes control of the Avengers's robotic army (a collection of flight suits much like those in Iron Man 3, which are now serviced through Avengers Headquarters).

After the main party, the a.i. reveals itself as Ultron by attacking the Avengers using the Avengers robots. Calling for human evolution through the extinction of the Avengers, Ultron disappears into every computer on earth when his robotic body is compromised, but in the attack, his forces make off with the scepter. Needless to say, the other Avengers are pissed at Stark and Banner (especially Thor, who now has to try to find and recover the scepter yet again!) and they soon become terrified that Ultron will break into computers that have nuclear launch codes and obliterate the Earth. Ultron makes a new body and heads with the Maximoff twins (who want nothing more than revenge upon Tony Stark for the death of their family) to the African nation of Wakanda. There, Ultron acquires Vibranium he needs for his nefarious plan and when the Avengers track him down, they are set upon by Wanda and Pietro. Wanda influences Captain America, Thor, and the Hulk before she is stopped by Hawkeye. Shaken, the team retreats to a safe house where they try to figure out what UItron wants and how to stop him. Their brainstorming leads them to Dr. Helen Cho's skin-growth machine where Ultron is attempting to create the entity that will be the downfall of the Avengers. But in the process, Wanda sees Ultron's plan and his idea of peace comes through an extinction-level event and she (and her brother) are forced to choose sides in the battle for the fate of the planet.

Writing out the plot for The Avengers: Age Of Ultron actually makes the movie sound really interesting and engaging. On screen, it didn't seem as awesome, though (much like the way some of the plots to Star Trek: Enterprise sound pretty good, but then when one turns on the show and the characters start talking, the dialogue and acting are so bad, it doesn't matter what is going on, the show is virtually unwatchable the way it tries to tell the story). The film opens with a big battle, montage/regroup/party, post-party battle, characters argue, Wakanda battle, moody safe house scene, extended climactic battle. It's a lot of fighting. And, try as he might, Joss Whedon and the special effects department don't have a lot they can do that hasn't been mined by The Avengers and Iron Man 3 (Whedon had a real disadvantage in that Ultron's robot army is basically made up of shiny silver Iron Man-style suits).

So, it comes down to character. Tony Stark gets one or two quips (they've been in the trailers), Bruce Banner is predictably conflicted, and Nick Fury pops up for a dramatic speech just at the right time. But Ultron never pops - he's General Grievous from Revenge Of The Sith (reviewed here!) meets any generic Decepticon. Ultron is the real shock; he's such a monolithic villain. Even James Spader voicing him cannot make him seem less generic and, therefore, entirely un-frightening. Will The Avengers unite to find a way to stop Ultron? Gosh, I hope so. Come to think of it, if they just crashed the world's power grid long enough for every computer in the world to actually shut down, wouldn't that have stopped him?! The point being, it would be a surprise if the Avengers couldn't stop Ultron more than any real revelation that they can.

Of the new characters, that leaves Wanda, Pietro, Vision, and Laura. Wanda and Pietro are motivated by a sense of revenge that is adequately explained in The Avengers: Age Of Ultron. It's not so satisfactorily explained to make viewers feel satisfied when Pietro doesn't kill Tony Stark in the film's first twelve minutes. Seriously; Pietro stands, watching the completely vulnerable Tony Stark take possession of the scepter when all he had to do was run over at super-speeds, kill his family's mortal enemy . . . movie over. Vision is engaging to watch, but is just about as generic as Ultron. And Laura . . .

. . . Laura gives Joss Whedon an excuse to keep Hawkeye in the mix in The Avengers: Age Of Ultron. Hawkeye is, as the film openly acknowledges, an archer in a team that includes a super soldier, a demigod, a trained assassin, a raging lab experiment, and an armored weapon equivalent to a small army. So, Hawkeye is given a sudden, abrupt, backstory and when the Avengers arrive at Laura's safe house, it humanizes the archer and gives the viewer an emotional root. And Whedon uses all the momentum with Hawkeye to set up one of his famous reversals and it would be truly nitpicky to say that doesn't work. Whedon pulls off his final-act reversal with Hawkeye and that is one of the few treats of The Avengers: Age Of Ultron.

Of the big three (Thor, Iron Man and Captain America), The Avengers: Age Of Ultron is unfortunately fractured. One has to guess that a number of the scenes Whedon could put back into the film center around Thor and his large chunk of time away from The Avengers entering the mysterious pool and leading to the resolution that brings him back. Thor sits out a surprising and significant chunk of The Avengers: Age Of Ultron. That gives Tony Stark and Steve Rogers a lot of time on screen to disagree. Rogers is, reasonably, pissed because Tony Stark does in The Avengers: Age Of Ultron exactly what Pierce did in Captain America: The Winter Soldier; he tried to anticipate world problems and stop them before they ever occur. Stark's characterization here makes sense: he is reeling from fear that Earth cannot protect itself and he doesn't want to debate with the team the merits of having a global defense system. When it goes wrong, Rogers climbs off his high horse to yell at him and Stark yells back. But the conflict between Stark and Rogers never quite boils up to the level where it would create a credible schism to result in Captain America: Civil War. In fact, while the conflict between Stark and Rogers is essential for that, Whedon takes a big crap on the writer who has to create that film with where he leaves Stark. And while Rogers moralizes, he's essentially the same guy we've been seeing. This time, he's already so disillusioned from S.H.I.E.L.D.'s actions in The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, he doesn't seem particularly surprised when one of his teammates screws him (and humanity) over.

The other big character arc in The Avengers: Age Of Ultron is just a colossal mindfuck for fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After finally figuring out how to make The Hulk interesting and truly work, The Avengers: Age Of Ultron belabors a romantic relationship between Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow). Mortgaging the chemistry Romanoff and Rogers developed throughout Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Avengers: Age Of Ultron teases a "will they or won't they" through most of the film. The result is particularly unsatisfying, if for no other reason than that Joss Whedon (who is both incredibly intelligent and remarkably personable, at least in interviews!) perpetrates the stereotype that incredibly smart people are emotional idiots. Bruce Banner can be absolutely brilliant, but to offset that, he can't have enough emotional maturity to face his demons, ask for help, or accept the compassion and love of someone who fits him surprisingly well.

The acting in The Avengers: Age Of Ultron is good. But, that's it. The Avengers: Age Of Ultron is not bursting with big emotional scenes that allow the actors to actually do much in the way of stretching. In fact, newcomer (to the franchise) Elizabeth Olsen is given the character with the biggest emotional journey. Wanda transitions from angry to triumphant (her smile at seeing Tony Stark shaken after she mojos him is wonderful) to horrified when she realizes Ultron's plan is embodied well by Olsen's performance. Olsen has good emotional range for her eyes, posture and body language to sell the conflicted emotional states of Wanda well. Sadly, Aaron Taylor-Johnson is not given as much in the way of big moments to make Pietro pop.

So, Joss Whedon had a tough task with The Avengers: Age Of Ultron and the fact that he has already said there is much more to the movie than viewers will see in the theaters virtually guarantees a time when he admits that the theater version is not the film he intended to make. The Avengers: Age Of Ultron contains noticeable narrative gaps, some troubling gaffes and a "ho-hum this is *supposed to be* adventure" feel to it that makes one wonder if more will actually be better when the longer version is eventually revealed.


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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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Flash Recovers Its Footing When It Asks "Who Is Harrison Wells?" (My 7000th Review!!!!!)

The Good: Decent plot, Good character development, Special effects
The Bad: A few obvious technical gaffes, Problematic final scene, Arrow fans are robbed of an important moment.
The Basics: "Who Is Harrison Wells?" makes The Flash exciting and watchable once again!

It's been a Marvel intensive week for me, whatwith the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 trading cards (reviewed here!) and Daredevil Season 1 (reviewed here!) being released. But given the mediocre quality of the prior few episodes of The Flash, I was not exactly eager to jump back into the DC "Cinematic" Universe. Fortunately, "Who Is Harrison Wells?" seems determined to put the mediocrity and awfulness of the prior pair of episodes. A more subtle crossover than "All Star Team Up" (reviewed here!), "Who Is Harrison Wells?" progresses the mysteries surrounding the elusive scientist Harrison Wells.

"Who Is Harrison Wells?" works a strong serialized plot focusing on the investigation into Harrison Wells with the pretty standard "Metahuman Of The Week" storyline that defines the episodic portions of The Flash. The nature of the metahuman - a shapeshifter going by Everyman - makes for some unfortunately predictable scenes and reversals that the episode's writers fail to innovate with. But, outside a few fairly minor gaffes on the directing side and a lack of real innovation on the writing front, "Who Is Harrison Wells?" makes The Flash exciting and worth watching again.

Cisco and Joe prepare to go to Starling City to find whatever they can about the time Harrison Wells spent there, when Dr. Caitlin Snow rejects helping the small group that is investigating him. A bank robbery in Central City leads Eddie Thawne to suspect that the perpetrator of the robbery is able to influence minds or take on other shapes when the robber's alibi seems incredible strong (and the crime is entirely uncharacteristic of her). Barry and Eddie trace the history of wrongly convicted people in Central City back to Hannibal Bates, which leads to a chase in which it appears Thawne shot two police officers. Bates is the shapeshifter and he is able to appear as anyone he touches, which makes Barry fearful of being touched by him (because it might reveal to Bates that he is the Flash). Barry is able to find some evidence to exonerate Eddie, but then (rather stupidly) falls victim to the shapeshifter.

In Starling City, Joe and Cisco work with Detective Lance to investigate the scene of Wells' accident decades prior. Cisco discovers tachyons at the site and there, they dig up a corpse with Cisco quickly identifying the body as that of the actual Harrison Wells. Back at S.T.A.R. Labs, the shapeshifter learns from Dr. Snow about a serum that will stop him. Iris arrives, recognizing an inconsistency with the video footage of Eddie and Harrison Wells is actually able to stop the shapeshifter. While the S.T.A.R. Labs team and Iris work to exonerate Eddie, Cisco comes up with the evidence that proves that Wells is not who he says he is.

"Who Is Harrison Wells?" has an interesting balance of amusing moments that work incredibly well and eye-rolling moments that genre fans are likely to loathe. Hannibal Bates as Barry Allen hits on Dr. Snow and the incredibly awkward moment Snow experiences is hilarious to watch. "Who Is Harrison Wells?" has one of Danielle Panabaker's better performances on The Flash has she has body language that perfectly embodies discomfort and eye movements that are hilarious.

Director Wendy Stanzler presents a rather unremarkable take on a shapeshifter suspense episode, though she gives the bulk of the cast a chance to do fight scenes with Grant Gustin (The Flash). That's fun to watch. But Stanzler has poor attention to detail; seconds after Barry takes Dr. Snow from Wells's house, Snow and Wells are assisting the Flash from S.T.A.R. Labs. Stanzler cannot take all the blame for the episode's shortcomings. Fans of Arrow (which, to date, I am not) are likely to feel cheated by "Who Is Harrison Wells?" as Black Canary gets an essential piece of her costume/tech in this episode, as opposed to on Arrow. As well, it seems like the big moment of reconciliation for whatever problems Quentin and Laurel Lance have comes in an episode of The Flash.

Moreover, the episode's final sequence is somewhat ridiculous. Cisco's ability to find the secret room at S.T.A.R. Labs makes perfect sense and it is pretty easy to buy his explanation for why he did not find it before, but how Barry, Cisco and Dr. Snow get access to it is utterly ridiculous. How could a man as smart as "Harrison Wells" not have the secret, hidden room that requires a handprint to access have it biometrically sealed to only his DNA or handprint is utterly ridiculous.

Ironically, in one of the episodes that does the most travel and uses the whole cast fairly well, the high point might well be an intimate scene between Joe and Harrison near the climax of the episode. Tom Cavanagh and Jesse L. Martin play a conversational scene with such timing and subtlety that the rising tension between their characters is palpable. So little is said and so much is done in undertones that the genius of the moment is that it manages to create such tension! The scene is so strong and sets up such excitement for the next episode that it is almost enough to forget the obvious reversal with the shapeshifter when Barry and Eddie visit Hannibal Bates's grandmother.

The performances in "Who Is Harrison Wells?" are good, with Panabaker standing out for being the best. This is not a high-emotion episode of The Flash, but actresses like Panabaker and Candice Patton are given the chance to do more physical acting than usual. And they rise to the challenge quite well.

The result is an episode that makes The Flash well worth watching again. Viewers may already know who Harrison Wells is, but "Who Is Harrison Wells?" makes the process of the characters learning the truth exciting.

For other works with shapeshifters, check out my reviews of:
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"I Will Face My Enemy" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

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


For other television episode and movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Much Improved: The Belkin Coolspot Anywhere Laptop Cooling Pad Is Worth Picking Up!

The Good: Inexpensive, Quiet, Easy to use, Easy to travel with.
The Bad: Requires USB power to use, Poor air flow
The Basics: The Belkin Coolspot Anywhere Laptop Cooling Pad is an adequate laptop cooling pad that does what it needs to well and inexpensively.

For my recent anniversary with my wife, she got me a new laptop computer and a cooling pad. The cooling pad was a Kootek Laptop Cooling Pad (reviewed here!) and it was an utter dud. When she returned the essentially worthless one, we went back to a brand we trusted for its replacement: Belkin. My new cooling pad is the Belkin Coolspot Anywhere Laptop Cooling Pad and it is a dramatic step up from the last pad she bought for me!

Having used the Coolspot Anywhere Laptop Cooling Pad for almost two weeks now, the only aspect of the device I have not been able to evaluate is its longevity.

The Belkin Coolspot Anywhere Laptop Cooling Pad, model 2814CS, is a hard plastic desk-like support for laptop computers which features rubber feet on the bottom and a curved top surface to promote air flow. It is 14" wide by 10 1/2” deep and 1 1/2” tall at the back. The front is lower, which makes the laptop’s keyboard raised when it is on the Belkin Coolspot Anywhere Laptop Cooling Pad. The laptop computer does not slide, though, because of the curved top surface, which seems to help hold the laptop on its surface and a pronounced lip at the front of the pad. The Belkin Coolspot Anywhere Laptop Cooling Pad features a single fan in its center, which sits beneath the center of the laptop that is placed on the stand.

The Belkin Coolspot Anywhere Laptop Cooling Pad is powered via USB power. There is a twelve inch cord that ends in a USB-male jack that plugs into any USB port on the laptop. As soon as the device is powered, the fan on the Belkin Coolspot Anywhere Laptop Cooling Pad begins blowing air up. Because the surface of the top of the Belkin Coolspot Anywhere Laptop Cooling Pad is very curved, the air that is being blown up blows out both sides of the base of the laptop.

The first thing I noticed about the Belkin Coolspot Anywhere Laptop Cooling Pad is that it is virtually silent. I only knew it was on because I stuck my hand in front of it and felt air moving. When one has a computer operating and set atop the Cooling Pad, the pad has no sound pollution from it! The laptop cooling fan (the one internal to the laptop) is louder than this cooling pad.

Unfortunately, the Belkin Coolspot Anywhere Laptop Cooling Pad is not very powerful. In fact, the Belkin Coolspot Anywhere Laptop Cooling pad acts best as a supplement to a good internal laptop fan; it is not strong enough to cool older laptops or laptops that are overclocked and heat up excessively. But, it moves just enough air under my new laptop to prevent my new laptop from ever getting warm enough that I would worry about its internal components.

That said, Belkin included a neat feature on the Belkin Coolspot Anywhere Laptop Cooling Pad. The cord comes in a small channel which allows one to easily wrap the cord under the Belkin Coolspot Anywhere Laptop Cooling Pad when it is not in use. That makes the cooling pad easier to transport in computer bags securely.

While there have been other Belkin laptop cooling pads that I have preferred, it seems Belkin no longer makes or distributes them. That makes the Belkin Coolspot Anywhere Laptop Cooling Pad their best, most economic cooling pad on the market!

For other products laptop coolers, check out my reviews of:
iWorld Laptop Cooling Station
Belkin Laptop Cooling Stand F5L055
Targus AWE45US1 HeatDefense Cooling Mat


For other computer-related reviews, be sure to visit my Computer Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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In Advance Of Ultron: Ward Turns Up As "The Frenemy Of My Enemy!"

The Good: Good plot, Good pacing, Decent special effects, Moments of character
The Bad: More plot-heavy than character motivated, Unremarkable performances
The Basics: "The Frenemy Of My Enemy" does not live up to its advertising, but does manage to be a surprisingly engaging episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. that uses the full, very broad, cast.

In advance of the newest Marvel Cinematic Universe blockbuster The Avengers: Age Of Ultron (reviewed here!), Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. was given the chance to lead into one of the big Marvel properties and the episode "The Frenemy Of My Enemy" was hyped as doing just that. For the bulk of the episode, the hype is vastly overstated; the tie-in to The Avengers: Age Of Ultron is the reference to the H.Y.D.R.A. leader Baron von Strucker, who does not appear in the episode. The reference to H.Y.D.R.A. having (essentially) two leaders is a cheat that allows The Avengers to have their own big mission that appears significant, while allowing H.Y.D.R.A. to remain the primary adversary on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D..

Picking up right after "Melinda" (reviewed here!), "The Frenemy Of My Enemy" tries to restore ex-Agent Ward to the series. The problem with Grant Ward has always been that he is not a particularly interesting character and so virtually everything that has been done with him has had a contrived feeling to it. As a result, when he was exposed as part of H.Y.D.R.A., he was momentarily interesting. When it became very clear - by the end of the first season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - that Ward was more a rogue agent indebted to John Garrett than a H.Y.D.R.A. loyalist, the writers lost any momentum or intrigue for Ward. So, when "The Frenemy Of My Enemy" bothers to bring him back, the viewer has to wonder why they bothered.

Fitz eludes his tail and joins Coulson, Mike Peterson, and Agent Hunter. Using Fury's toolbox, Coulson prepares to make a deal with Ward, who is now a significant power in H.Y.D.R.A. While one of H.Y.D.R.A.'s new leaders, Dr. List, experiments upon Potentials, Skye reacts to having had dinner with her parents. After capturing (ex-)Agent 33, Coulson lures Ward into a meeting where he offers Ward a chance to walk away by getting him into H.Y.D.R.A. and letting him use the T.A.H.I.T.I. Protocol on Ward. Ward agrees, reluctantly, while Simmons tells May that Fury's toolbox is gone and she is shocked when May tells Morse.

At Jiaying's Sanctuary, Skye tries to convince her mother not to evict Calvin under the pretense that the world it too dangerous for Calvin to be out in it alone. Using Bakshi, Coulson plans to infiltrate H.Y.D.R.A., while Simmons tries to track down Coulson's team through Peterson's eye. Bakshi uses Peterson as a bargaining tool to endear himself to Dr. List, which leads to a standoff in List's office.

"The Frenemy Of My Enemy" does a decent job of utilizing the rather broad cast of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. in a way that the show has not managed to do that effectively before. Virtually everyone has a role to play in the episode, even if some of them are rather unremarkable, like Mack being used as a punching bag for Morse. That makes it a very plot-heavy episode.

In fact, the biggest character development in "The Frenemy Of My Enemy" comes from Skye and Calvin. Calvin Zabo is dropped back into the real world and Skye is determined to keep him from getting angry and exploding with his powers. Zabo becomes increasingly frustrated by all of the things in the world that are different from how he remembers them. That frustration continues to make Zabo more twitchy and it puts tension on the bond between Skye and her father.

Zabo is aptly played by Kyle MacLachlan. His performance as Zabo puts a lot of pressure on the reboot of Twin Peaks; MacLachlan's character there was just transformed into the embodiment of all evil in our world when last he was seen. If MacLachlan returns to that role, the challenge for him will be to differentiate it from Zabo, who is articulate, but twitchy, and barely containing his rage.

What "Frenemy Of My Enemy" does more than give Ward a decent return to the series or effectively lead into The Avengers: Age Of Ultron is undermine Skye even more than it has in the past. Skye recognizes that Calvin might go ballistic when she reveals that she is leaving him, but still she lets it slip that she is leaving. Instead of being cautious and waiting for her backup to arrive, Skye is not careful enough to keep herself in check, even when faced with mortal consequences for, frankly, her stupidity.

"The Frenemy Of My Enemy" is, essentially, a rescue mission and J. August Richards, Chloe Bennet and Kyle MacLachlan give the best performances of the episode. There is a "comedy of errors" aspect to "The Frenemy Of My Enemy" that leads to all of Coulson's plans going awry. While it makes for a well-plotted episode, it hardly leads into The Avengers: Age Of Ultron the way it makes the next episode a potentially indispensable one.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - The Complete Second Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophomore season here!


For other reviews of components of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a listing of reviews from best to worst!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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A Touch Of Sea Salt Pops . . . Only When The Center Is Reached!

The Good: Decent quantity, Generally natural ingredients, Interesting flavor once the chocolate coating melts away.
The Bad: Surprisingly indistinct chocolate flavor that does not wow for either its sweetness or its dark chocolate nature.
The Basics: Lindt Excellence A Touch Of Sea Salt chocolate squares are flavorful, but take too long in the mouth/on the tongue to reach their potential to be considered truly great.

When trying various flavors of new (or new to me) chocolates, I look for something distinctive and flavorful. In that pursuit, when I have trouble describing as new chocolate, it does not bode well for it. While going through the last of my Lindt Excellence chocolate squares, the one that has lingered longest are the A Touch Of Sea Salt dark chocolates. The Lindt Excellence A Touch Of Sea Salt chocolate squares are good, but only memorable when one finally gets to the sea salt in them and the rest of the time in the mouth, they are indistinct. The thing is, there is so little sea salt in these chocolate squares, so they are mostly unimpressive.


Lindt Excellence A Touch Of Sea Salt chocolate squares are one and 1/8” squares of chocolate that are about one-quarter of an inch thick. Each of the squares comes individually wrapped in a white, blue and dark brown wrapper. It is worth noting that while I usually rail against the environmental impact of such things, it is hard to imagine Lindt Excellence chocolate squares not wrapped. This keeps each one clean, unmelted and intact.

Each chocolate square is a seamless square that is solid, with lines etched into the top and the Lindt name also punched into the top. The A Touch Of Sea Salt chocolate squares come in a standard 4.9 oz. bag, the individually-wrapped chocolate squares are packaged together in a thick foil paper bag. The thick foil paper bag does little to protect the squares, though I’ve never had any breakage. The bag is not resealable, though this matters very little considering that the chocolate squares do not go bad as they are individually wrapped.

Ease Of Preparation

These are candy, so preparing them is as simple as opening the bag and then opening one of the foil wrappers around the actual chocolate square one wishes to eat. There is no grand secret to eating Lindt Excellence A Touch Of Sea Salt chocolate squares. This is a flavor that is good at room temperature or frozen; it has a delicious solid flavor to it that carries the taste in all temperatures.


The Lindt Excellence A Touch Of Sea Salt chocolate squares smells like a slightly dark chocolate, dry and unsweet. The sea salt does not truly add anything to the aroma to foreshadow anything for the flavor.

On the tongue, the A Touch Of Sea Salt chocolate squares are sweet and dry, not overly flavorful. The sweetness is not overbearing and the dry dark chocolate flavor is not impressive or distinct either. As the somewhat indistinct chocolate melts away, it blends with flakes of sea salt that make the cocoa in the A Touch Of Sea Salt chocolate squares pop. It is only when the salt blends with the chocolate that it reaches its flavor potential.

There is a fairly dry aftertaste left on the tongue by these chocolate squares. The aftertaste from the A Touch Of Sea Salt chocolate squares does not linger in the mouth for much longer than three minutes.


These are candy, so they are not healthy, but the Lindt Excellence A Touch Of Sea Salt chocolate squares are not nearly as bad as they could be. The primary ingredients are sugar, chocolate and cocoa butter. There is nothing unpronounable in these candies and everything in these could be readily identified by me.

A serving of the Lindt Excellence A Touch Of Sea Salt chocolate squares is considered four squares. From four squares, one takes in 230 calories, including 15 grams of fat. There are 25mg sodium and 3 g protein, but no vitamins (save 2% of the RDA of Vitamin A) in these chocolate squares. There is 6% of one's daily iron and 2% the RDA of Calcium in four squares, so that is a plus.

These are not Vegan-compliant (they have real milk), 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, however, kosher.


The bags of these Lindt Excellence A Touch Of Sea Salt chocolate squares remain fresh for quite some time. One assumes that if they are kept in a cool, dry environment they will not melt or go bad. Given that they are individually wrapped in a very sealed package, it is hard to imagine just what it would take for these to go bad outside melting and refreezing.

As for cleanup, I applaud those who actually throw the wrappers away in socially appropriate places, as opposed to litter. 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 chocolate squares melt into most fabrics, they will stain. Getting them to melt is surprisingly hard, though.


Lindt Excellence A Touch Of Sea Salt chocolate squares are good, but rise to average, as opposed to truly impressing as most Lindt chocolates manage to.

For other Lindt chocolates, please check out my reviews of:
Intense Orange Chocolate Squares
Strawberries & Cream Lindor Truffles
70% Cocoa Almond Brittle chocolate bar


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

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