Monday, August 31, 2015

August 2015 End Of The Month Report!

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We pretty much took August off. Tomorrow, we'll start posting again with the usual regularity, but in August, we had a bit of an existential crisis (which will be the subject of a blog post tomorrow!) and took the month off after a few days to focus on some more important things. But, there was a little work done in the blog in August.

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 slowly growing our readership, 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 August, the index pages were not updated at all. Still, 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. As back to school shopping hits full swing, if you're going shopping online, please come through the blog to to it. Thank you so much!

At the end of August 2015, I have reviewed the following:
533 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Star Trek Books
Graphic Novels
907 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
2823 - 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!)!
219 - 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
818 - 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
893 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Cheese and Meats
Ice Cream
Other Food
234 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
113 - Travel Reviews
Destinations Reviews
Hotels Reviews
185 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
191 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
99 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
49 - Other Product Reviews

The Featured Reviews For The Month of August is the review of Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation!
Check it out!

The month of August had a little movement within the month and was dominated by (predictably) older reviews! For August, the Top Ten Reviews of the month were:
10. Quaker Oatmeal Squares Cereal
9. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Season 1
8. The Walking Dead - Season 3
7. Arrested Development - Season 4
6. Fantastic Four
5. Talking Labyrinth Jareth Figure
4. Expelled
3. Jenny's Wedding
2. The Top Ten Episodes Of Star Trek: Voyager
1. The Top Ten Episodes Of Frasier

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 - 315 reviews
9s - 461 reviews
8s - 891 reviews
7s - 992 reviews
6s - 920 reviews
5s - 1168 reviews
4s - 865 reviews
3s - 689 reviews
2s - 319 reviews
1s - 216 reviews
0s - 101 reviews
No rating - 95 articles/postings

While there was a decent amount of movement this month, the all time Top Ten remains unchanged. At the end of August 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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Monday, August 10, 2015

As Close To Transforming Butterfinger Candy Bars To Ice Cream: Edy's Comes Through!

The Good: Tastes good, Good ingredients, Inexpensive
The Bad: Light on chocolate flavor, Vanilla ice cream is more a medium than a flavor
The Basics: Edy’s Butterfinger Ice Cream is good and flavorful, doing justice to the beloved candy.

One of my earliest food reviews was of Butterfinger candies (reviewed here!). I am a fan of Butterfinger candies and ice cream, so the Edy's Butterfinger Ice Cream was an instantly alluring flavor concept to me. And while the ice cream may be a true representation of Butterfinger candies, it accents the idea that Nestle chocolate (who manufactures the Butterfinger candy bars) is not one of the more potent chocolate flavors.

Edy’s’s Butterfinger Ice Cream is a fairly light, delicious ice cream with heavy candy piece additives.


Edy’s ice cream comes in a one and a half quart cylindrical container. The Butterfinger Ice Cream is a smooth ice cream broken up by frequent chocolate pieces, chunks of Butterfinger candy bars and a swirl of peanut butter. At (locally) $5.99 a half gallon, the Edy’s ice cream is an affordable, mid-range ice cream. This is a standard Edy’s ice cream, available year round.

Ease Of Preparation

Edy’s Butterfinger Ice Cream is a fairly basic ice cream with hard additives. As an ice cream, preparation is ridiculously simple: one need only open the top of the container, scoop out a half cup and consume! There is no trick to preparing or eating the Butterfinger Ice Cream.


The Butterfinger Ice Cream smells entirely like peanut butter and caramel. The aroma is so perfectly, and predictably, like the Butterfinger candy bar like one expects.

On the flavor front, Edy’s Butterfinger ice cream is a vaguely vanilla ice cream entirely overwhelmed by the chocolate and peanut butter Butterfinger additives. The smooth ice cream is broken up in every bite by peanut butter swirl, little waxy chocolate flakes, and the chunks of crispy Butterfinger candy pieces.


The Edy’s Butterfinger Ice Cream is a heavy ice cream with a substantial and hard additive. The one and a half quart container represents twelve half-cup servings. In the half-cup serving, there are 170 calories, 80 of which are from fat. The nine grams of fat represent 14% of the RDA of fat, with 23% of one’s RDA of saturated fat coming in the 4.5 grams of saturated fat in this ice cream. One serving has 20 mg of cholesterol (that’s 7% of the RDA!) and 55 mg of Sodium (2% RDA). The only other real nutrient is three grams of protein, though there is also 6% of the RDA of Calcium and 4% of the RDA of Vitamin A in the Butterfinger Ice Cream.

Edy’s has decent ingredients, too. Made primarily of Skim Milk, cream, and sugar, Butterfinger is a decent ice cream! There is nothing unpronounceable in the ingredients list. This ice cream has an allergy warning for milk, peanut, and soy ingredients.


Edy’s ice cream is both a frozen and a dairy product, so it is pretty obvious that it must be kept frozen in order to remain viable. Kept frozen it remains fresh for months (my half gallon had an expiration date of March 27, 2016).

The Butterfinger ice cream is a light orange color and will certainly stain light clothing and some darker clothing. When the ice cream melts and gets onto fabrics, it will require one to wash it right out, consult a fabric guide for the best way to get it out. On nonporous surfaces, the ice cream wipes off exceptionally easily.


Edy’s Butterfinger ice cream is a good flavor of ice cream that might have been better with a chocolate ice cream base, but uses the vanilla ice cream to completely carry the Butterfinger flavor throughout it.

For other Edy's ice creams, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Mint Brownie Ice Cream
Outshine Grapefruit Bars
How I Love Thee Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream


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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sunday, August 9, 2015

Spoiler-Free Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation!

The Good: Decent performances, Good pacing, Engaging plot
The Bad: Very low on character development, Predictable plot reversals
The Basics: Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is fun, but hardly surprising and not at all a character-driven film.

In most major movie franchises, the work gets to the point where viewers can legitimately say, "You've seen one, you've seen them all." The James Bond franchise is an excellent example in that regard and there are several outings in the franchise that feel more like a parody of themselves, as opposed to legitimate outings. The Mission: Impossible franchise has been a pretty rocky one, but after truly being thrilled by Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (reviewed here!), I actually found myself getting excited about the latest installment, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (despite the big action sequences being ruined by the film's trailer!). And, for a fun summer popcorn movie, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation does all that it is supposed to.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is not to the eye-rolling point where viewers are likely to feel they have seen the whole film before (especially the beginning), but for veterans of the franchise the reversals are beginning to get far more telegraphed. And that is the real missed opportunity of Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation: this installment has a formidable villain, but it is limited to the conventions of the genre, as opposed to exploring the unique aspects of the story. So, much the way Die Another Day (reviewed here!) did an inadequate job of exploring the effects of a shellshocked Bond, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation does not actually explore how Ethan Hunt squaring off with - essentially - his equal and opposite, affects the character.

Following a mission to Belarus where Ethan Hunt manages to intercept a shipment of biological weapons, the Impossible Missions Force is disbanded by its Senate oversight board. Hunt's attempt to make it to a London safehouse puts him in the crosshairs of a dangerous individual who plans to have him tortured for information. But the interrogation is quick as Hunt is rescued by a woman he does not know and manages to escape, while she remains behind to infiltrate the Syndicate. With the IMF shut down by the Director of the CIA, Hunley, Brandt and Benji Dunn are assimilated into the CIA while Hunt goes on the run to try to investigate the Syndicate himself.

Six months later, the CIA sends a team to Havana to apprehend Hunt (whom they believe is there) and they find what he wanted them to; his assembled information on the Syndicate, which is an intelligence agency made up entirely of international intelligence agents who appear to have died in the line of duty on prior missions. Hunt enlists Benji to help him identify the leader of the Syndicate in Austria, but the mission goes horribly wrong. Soon, Hunt, Benji, and the Syndicate double agent Ilsa Faust are on the run from both the Syndicate and the CIA.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is fast-paced and engaging despite the reversals that are pretty predictable. If it's Mission: Impossible, at some point, one of the characters will be revealed to be someone else wearing a high-tech mask. In this regard, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is par for the course. And there are the chases. They are good, but the menace is telegraphed and the chases are pretty average.

The performances in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation are good, but most of them are hardly exceptional. In fact, the best one is the performance by Sean Harris. Harris plays the villainous Solomon Lane and he is so good with his controlled body language and tone of quiet menace that he was utterly unrecognizable as the same actor who played Fifield in Prometheus (reviewed here!). His performance elevates what we expect from the villain and while Tom Cruise does some fairly impressive stunts in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, Cruise's performance is bland by comparison. In fact, Cruise is stuck characterizing Lane as impressive more than he makes Hunt the equal of the adversary.

Ultimately, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is all right and it is entertaining, but it is not much more than that.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
Dragon Blade
Fantastic 4
Jenny's Wedding
Lila & Eve
Inside Out
Jurassic World


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for a listing of all the films I have reviewed, from Best To Worst!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Immortalized Classic: The 2015 Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman Hallmark Ornament Is Neat!

The Good: Good sculpt, Decent balance, Good sound effect, Good general coloring
The Bad: Somewhat animated look, Seams at arms
The Basics: The 2015 Hallmark Keepsake “Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman” does justice to the classic 1970s icon version from Wonder Woman and makes for a generally good ornament.

A few weeks ago, actress Lynda Carter who played Diana Prince and Wonder Woman in the mid-'70s television show Wonder Woman turned 64. Right up front, I think it is worth noting that if the director of the new Wonder Woman film does not offer Lynda Carter the role of Hippolyta, then there really is no hope for the DC Cinematic Universe. And, while Lynda Carter is an impressive actress and great musical performer, it bears saying, "Damn! I hope I look that good at . . . well, ever!" For the 40th Anniversary of the first episode of Wonder Woman, Hallmark is releasing the “Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman” Wonder Woman ornament and it is pretty awesome.

For those unfamiliar with the television series Wonder Woman (reviewed here!), it is a problematically split series. The first season takes place during World War II, while the second and third seasons take a narrative leap up into the mid-1970s and has some trouble credibly redefining itself. All the while, Lynda Carter plays the immortal Amazon princess Diana and her alter-ego super-hero Wonder Woman!

It is Wonder Woman with her bullet-deflecting bracelets raised, standing on a base that is the iconic Wonder Woman W's that is the subject of the “Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman” Wonder Woman ornament.


The “Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman” Wonder Woman ornament faithfully presents the Lynda Carter version of Wonder Woman, the iconic DC super heroine in her red, white, blue and gold outfit. The facial sculpt is clearly intended to be Lynda Carter and it looks like her in the role of Princess Diana as Wonder Woman. The ornament features Wonder Woman with her fists raised, looking like she is ready to deflect bullets, while her Lasso Of Truth hangs from her right hip.

The ornament, released in 2015, is a decent size, but not flawless. The sculpt looks quite good, but has an assembled quality to it (specifically in the arms where there is a deep, unsightly seam on all the copies of this ornament that I found). The hair is sculpted to look like hair (with texture to it) and it succeeds, despite being big-70's hair that goes up and behind Wonder Woman's iconic tiara. But then, the coloring is terribly simplistic. Measuring four and one-half inches tall by two one-half inches wide and one and three-quarters inches deep, the “Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman” Wonder Woman ornament is one of only three DC super hero-based ornaments released by Hallmark for 2015. “Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman” Wonder Woman came with an original retail price of $17.95 and it is very fairly priced at the original issue price.

The Hallmark “Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman” Wonder Woman ornament is made of durable plastic. Wonder Woman's costume is colored in matte red, white, blue and yellow (not quite the foil gold of the actual costume). She is well-built including some muscle definition in the arms and legs. “Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman” has Wonder Woman standing on a yellow and brown Wonder Woman symbol, which is familiar to fans of the television series. Hallmark even took the time to make the high heeled boots accurately sculpted!

As for the rest of “Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman” Wonder Woman, she looks like an animated character. Her coloring for the skin tones are monotonal and bland. Her eyes are matte colored and lack the zest for life Carter brought to the role, which admittedly is hard to bring out in something this scale that is so mass-produced. Hallmark did, however, get Carter's bright red lips perfectly colored!


As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, the “Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman” Wonder Woman ornament could have a sound and light function, but because there is no iconic light effect for Wonder Woman, Hallmark smartly limited the ornament to a sound clip. When the button on the base is pressed, the ornament plays a sound clip from Wonder Woman. The base is, essentially, a speaker and it plays the opening theme to the television show Wonder Woman, which remains pretty funky even today. The sound is loud enough to be easily heard and the ornament comes with the batteries needed to operate the sound clip.


As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake “Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman” Wonder Woman ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate super hero Christmas Tree, the “Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman” Wonder Woman ornament is pretty much essential. The ornament has the standard brass hook loop embedded into the top of Wonder Woman's head. As a result, the ornament, when affixed to a tree with a hook, hangs well balanced from that loop. The loop is fairly obvious, but does not distract from the overall look of the ornament. Hung in this fashion, she looks like she is ready to fight crime!


Hallmark Keepsake began delving into the collectibles market in 1991 with Star Trek when it introduced the exceptionally limited edition U.S.S. Enterprise ornament (reviewed here!). Since then, they have made ornament replicas of almost all major franchises like DC comics, The Wizard Of Oz and Harry Potter. The “Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman” Wonder Woman ornament was not an exceptional commercial draw its first two weeks, but seems to be a hit or miss seller at the Hallmarks I have visited. As a result, I think it is a fair bet that the ornament will maintain its value, even if it does not become an impressive investment piece.


Fans of Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter and DC comics characters are likely to be generally happy with the “Lynda Carter As Wonder Woman” ornament, even if it does not match the younger generation's expectation of the version of Wonder Woman currently being marketed by DC and Warner Brothers.

For other DC Universe Hallmark ornaments, please check out my reviews of:
2014 Bane The Dark Knight Rises (Limited Edition)
2014 1989 Batmobile
2014 Defender Of Mankind Superman
2013 Man Of Steel
2013 Descending Upon Gotham City Batman ornament
2012 The Bat The Dark Knight Rises Limited Edition Ornament
2012 Catwoman ornament
2012 "Beware My Power" Green Lantern ornament
2012 The Dark Knight Rises
2011 Batman Takes Flight
2011 Green Lantern
2010 Limited Edition Harley Quinn
2009 Wonder Woman ornament


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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Friday, August 7, 2015

Nitpick Free Fantastic 4

The Good: Decent effects, Good set-up, Most of the performances
The Bad: Plot/character progression
The Basics: Fantastic 4 gets a reboot that has been taking flack . . . which is largely undeserved until the film's latter portion.

When it comes to super hero films, the market has been pretty well saturated the last few years. With the monumental success of The Avengers (reviewed here!), it is understandable for studios to want to try to replicate the financial success of movies like that. But from a fan perspective, it is hard not to feel burned out. The plots have become formulaic, the characters have very minimal differences and in team scenarios, they tend to fall into "types" pretty fast. So, when a studio works to reinvigorate one of the fallen franchises, it is unsurprising that there would be some blowback.

In the case of Fantastic 4, the production and hype has been an uphill battle. Fantastic 4 is struggling to reboot the franchise that was killed by Fantastic Four (reviewed here!) and Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer (reviewed here!). Fox invested quite a bit of money in one of the most lucrative (at the time) comic book franchises with its attempt at Fantastic Four. That it was not the box office knockout Fox wanted was hard to swallow and given that they had invested money in the rights, it made a lot of sense (from a business perspective) to make Fantastic 4. So much has been said about Fantastic 4 and how it stacks up against the comic books and people's perceptions that I decided to make a bitch-free review of Fantastic 4. As someone who was not a reader of Fantastic Four, I felt that gave me the ability to write a pretty pure review of the film and I managed to avoid all spoilers and previews of the film.

Going in with low expectations, what instantly impressed me about Fantastic 4 was that there was a sense of philosophy to it. While others have devoted a lot of time kvetching about how Johnny and Sue Storm are adopted brother and sister in Fantastic 4, it is hard to take such whining seriously when the writers spend so much time on Dr. Franklin Storm (their adopted father) in the first part of the film. The writers covered their bases in establishing the Storm pater's commitment to science and the way he has recruited for his projects at the Baxter Foundation. Dr. Storm openly acknowledges that his generation made some big mistakes that have left the world ruined (say what you will about the Millennials, they weren't the ones who created the hole in the ozone layer or the immense wealth disparity that resulted from the destruction of the middle class!) and that it will take applied young minds working together to solve those problems. Thematically, there is a lot in common between Fantastic 4 and Iron Man (reviewed here!) and the result is not terrible.

Opening in Oyster Bay, New York 2007, Reed Richards does a report in elementary school explaining how he wants to create a usable teleporter. He properly meets Ben Grimm when he tries to steal a power converter from Grimm's family junkyard. Years later, Richards attempts the same experiment with his (and Grimm's) more refined teleporter. While it does not go very well, it is enough to get the attention of Dr. Franklin Storm of the Baxter Foundation. Storm recruits Reed to the Baxter Foundation to work on their teleportation project. There, Reed Richards is told by Sue Storm that Richards actually punched a hole into another dimension with his teleportation project and the Baxter Foundation is building up to a mission to that other dimension. With the help of Dr. Victor Von Doom (who started the project independent of Richards years before) and Johnny Storm (who is a mechanical genius), the Baxter Foundation successfully creates the interdimensional teleporter and sends a test monkey there and back again.

When the government gets involved in the project and wants to turn the teleporter over to NASA for a proper manned mission, Reed Richards gets drunk with Von Doom and suggests that they go before NASA can take over. Contacting Grimm, Richards, Johnny Storm and Victor Von Doom hijack the teleporter and go over into the alternate dimension. Disaster strikes in the other dimension when the team discovers a crater with an energy (or fluid, it's not entirely clear) that reacts to the presence of the human invaders. Victor Von Doom is lost there, but Sue manages to rescue the other three. Unfortunately, the team that returns is mutated and taken to Area 57 for examination by the military. Reed Richards is stretched, Johnny Storm is trapped in a state of being engulfed in flames, Grimm has turned into a giant rock-covered creature and Sue (who was splattered with matter from the other dimension) keeps flashing in and out of the visual spectrum. After a year of training, Grimm and the Storms have managed to use their powers to aid the military, while Richards has gone on the run. The military wants to figure out how to cure the four and weaponize their powers to benefit the military, while Reed just wants to help people, most notably his friends. When Richards is returned to the Baxter Foundation, they recover Von Doom - who is still alive - and his transformation convinces Richards that the alternate dimension must not be accessed by the military.

Right off the bat, what is easily the most impressive aspect of Fantastic 4 is the acting of Miles Teller. Teller plays Reed Richards and before this project, I had mostly seen Teller in roles where he played a redneck, like Footloose (reviewed here!). It's a pretty huge leap to go from a role like that to being one of the smartest characters in the Marvel Universe. While Teller is not given the diction needed to truly sell it (that's a writing problem, not an acting one!), he credibly plays the scientific and precise Reed Richards. In fact, his posture and bearing and the way he projects a sense of confidence, is entirely different in the role of Richards than anything he has been in before.

The rest of the performances in Fantastic 4 are largely the subject of good casting. Kate Mara picks up the mantle of Sue Storm and her experience on House Of Cards (season one is reviewed here!) makes her casting ideal. Mara has the ability to emote well opposite blank screens (on House Of Cards, it was smartphones, here is it monitors and bluescreens) and that ability to control her face and eyes. That helps her characterize Sue as a cerebral character whose real ability is pattern recognition.

Similarly, Reg E. Cathey's role as Dr. Franklin Storm allows Fantastic 4 to have a level of instant credibility. Cathey finds the right balance between emotionally realized and paternal and intellectually curious. The rest of the cast is adequate, but not exceptional. Tim Blake Nelson does not have the screen presence as the suit who starts using the Baxter project for the military to be completely credible. Jamie Bell, Michael B. Jordan and Toby Kebbell are not Andy Serkis and director Josh Trank is not using them the way Peter Jackson used Serkis and special effects. While Trank does an excellent job of not overwhelming Miles Teller with special effects (for the most part), Bell, Jordan and Kebbell are eventually overwritten entirely by the CG needed to embody their characters.

Ultimately, the problems that arise in Fantastic 4 come almost exclusively from conformity to the established material (which is ironic given that most people's issues are with how the film diverges from it). In making Fantastic 4, the writers and director are trapped with their perception that Sue, Johnny, Ben and Reed have to end up as the heroes, opposite Von Doom as the villain. As a result, they create an unfortunately typical super hero film that unites the four against Von Doom to save the Earth.

But, the problem is that that dialectic does not at all fit the story being told. Fantastic 4 has a very natural progression up until the moment Victor Von Doom is "rescued" from the alternate dimension (where he has been living contendedly enough over the year since the accident). At that point, Von Doom begins a ridiculous attack on Earth that is utterly uncharacteristic. The writers are stuck trying to make Von Doom conform an the result is as inorganic as the Romulan villains in Star Trek: Nemesis (reviewed here!) and Star Trek (reviewed here!). In Star Trek: Nemesis, Shinzon is tortured for years by Romulans and allies himself with the Remans . . . so it is entirely inorganic for the character to have a beef against the Federation (the writers concocted a ridiculous reason to have him go after Picard) as opposed to attack Romulus. Similarly, in Star Trek, Nero is tortured by Klingons for decades and had the desire only to save his homeworld, so the fact that he doesn't lay waste to the Klingon Empire and save Romulus, as opposed to going off on a half-assed mission of revenge against Spock plays as just stupid (the writers of the Star Trek franchise have, apparently, forgotten how to make a compelling film where the heroes come to the aid of another group of people who are not human). To bring the point around, the writers of Fantastic 4 get trapped with a similar problem based on how they began the movie.

Fantastic 4 has a completely sensible ending based on where and how the story begins. It is that after Reed Richards is betrayed by Sue and Ben and returned to the Baxter Foundation, Richards either destroys the interdimensional device (which cuts Von Doom out entirely) or he is compelled to help rebuild the machine, the military sends its team over and recovers Von Doom and Reed Richards and Victor Von Doom work together to return Von Doom to the alternate dimension and then destroy the device. Instead, Victor Von Doom in Fantastic 4 begins a half-assed attack on Earth from his adopted planet in the alternate dimension. This makes no real sense as Von Doom just wants to be left alone and get away from the Earth that humans have ruined. Reed Richards and Victor Von Doom actually have the same goal and with about thirty seconds worth of conversation could have worked together to achieve that goal.

The problem, of course, is that would fundamentally redefine the Fantastic Four. It's the three on two and it's a harder story to resolve than the two geniuses working together to stop the military and protect an alien planet. The three writers on Fantastic 4 seriously could not figure out a way to make that work?! But, in truth, that's the only real problem with Fantastic 4. It's going along doing its own thing surprisingly well when all of a sudden, it takes a nonsense turn toward the conventional to be like virtually every other super hero film and that's when the film just falls apart.

While it never becomes truly as terrible as the prior two outings, though the need to fit in the line "It's clobberin' time!" comes close, Fantastic 4 is mostly just guilty of not living up to its potential. It is set up as a complicated and surprisingly smart and aware story that degenerates into the obvious conceits of the genre instead of telling its own, unique, story.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
Dragon Blade
Jenny's Wedding
Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
Lila & Eve
No Way Jose
Terminator Genisys
Inside Out
Jurassic World


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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Monday, August 3, 2015

Less Intense = Less Effective: Listerine Zero Mouthwash

The Good: Mint flavore freshens breath.
The Bad: Demonstrably ineffective, Comparatively expensive
The Basics: Virtually worthless, Clean Mint Listerine Zero is an expensive, less effective version of Scope.

I am a pretty big fan of Listerine. I'm cheap and I lost my dental insurance, so to keep my mouth clean and fresh, I use mouthwash and Listerine is easily the best. So, when I saw that Listering Zero Clean Mint mouthwash was on clearance at my local grocery store, I bought it all up. I wish now that I had tried it first! Never have I experienced a dud product from Listerine the way I have with the Clean Mint Listerine Zero mouthwash.

Listerine Zero is a liquid that comes in Clean Mint flavor and is designed to help prevent cavities, restore enamel to teeth, strengthen teeth, kill bad breath germs, freshen breath, and fight plaque above the gumline, without alcohol. Presumably, this makes it safer for children and alcoholics to use. The Liter size lasts about a month, but it is not likely to do much for the consumer to prevent cavities, restore enamel or strengthen teeth, because it barely works to freshen breath. Who would have guessed? Alcohol is a key element for killing all the crap that sprouts up in one's mouth!

Listerine Zero is a light pale green liquid that comes in a clear plastic bottle. The Liter bottle is enough for about a month of daily use for two people. The black cap is tamper and child-resistant as it has a plastic seal and the cap itself must be squeezed on both sides to be twisted open. This prevents children - who have less gripping ability - from getting into the bottle and drinking this liquid as if it were a beverage. The Listerine Zero Clean Mint is a watery liquid with no leg that is designed to be swished in the consumer's mouth, gargled at the back of their throat and then spat out.

To use, simply twist open the cap, fill it with the solution and then tip the cap into your mouth. Unfortunately, nothing happens then. This mouthwash does not cause a tingle or anything to happen in the mouth. It barely freshens breath and when it enters the mouth, there is nothing but a vaguely minty flavor and no bite of any kind.

Spitting the rinse solution out leaves the mouth feeling only vaguely clean. The mint flavor is not terribly strong and it does not do much other than cover the causes of bad breath, as opposed to killing them. Unlike other Listerine products, I could see no demonstrable benefits from this mouthwash. It did not cut through plaque, did not seem to kill germs and it barely freshened breath. In other words, it did essentially what Scope does, but for an increased price and without doing it quite as well.

For other mouthwashes, please check out my reviews of:
Listerine Whitening Vibrant White Clean Mint
Listerine Fresh Mint Total Care
Crest Whitening Rinse


For other health and beauty products, please visit my Health And Beauty Review Index Page!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sunday, August 2, 2015

It's Not GARBAGE! But Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 1 Is More Mediocre Than Spectacular.

The Good: Some funny lines, Generally decent performances, Interesting plot progression
The Bad: A TON of recycled ideas, Derivative performances, Concept overwhelms the characters
The Basics: In its first season, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt sells itself adequately, but leaves very little room for the future.

Whenever I sit down to review a television series, I work very hard to rate it solely on the work itself, not on how it compares to other works by the same creators. With the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, I found that to be virtually impossible as the problems with the show are almost exclusively the result of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock's prior work, 30 Rock (reviewed here!). But, the truth is, the problems with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt come from the fact that it utilizes its cast in a virtually identical way to 30 Rock and has a similar patter and progression as Fey's prior endeavor (it makes sense; she was writer, executive producer and star of 30 Rock).

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 1 is a thirteen episode season released on Netflix (and, given its awards nomination, NBC has got to be kicking itself for letting it go there!) and while I found it, ultimately, to be fairly average, my wife had a very different perspective. While I looked at Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt strictly from a funny and analytical perspective, my wife pointed out that the show is unique in that it provides a perspective not usually shown on television. Kimmy Schmidt is, essentially, a survivor and the fish-out-of-water quality she possesses is something that is not commonly shown on television. In that way, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt does a decent job of showing something new; but in many other ways (specifically, to fans of 30 Rock) it is a repetition of what Fey has put out before.

On the outskirts of Durnsville, Indiana, a subterranean bunker is raided by the F.B.I. Inside, they find four women and the cult leader who had imprisoned them in the bunker for the prior fifteen years. The survivors are thrown out into the world and with her (partial) middle school Kimmy Schmidt decides to remain in New York City to start her adult life. In short order, Kimmy finds a place to live and a job. She starts living in a basement apartment (barely a closet) with street performer Titus Andromedon and she starts working for the wealthy Jacqueline Voorhees. Determined to pretend to be normal, Kimmy tries to keep her history secret, but has to confide in Titus when her backpack (with her money) gets stolen out of the club they go to.

While trying to help Titus get a legitimate acting gig (by helping him get new headshots taken), Kimmy acts as a nanny for Jacqueline's son, Buckley, and works to keep her past history secret from Jacqueline's step-daughter, Xanthippe (who is suspicious of her). As Jacqueline's marriage falls apart, Kimmy tries to empower her and she begins taking G.E.D. classes, where she tries to inspire her fellow students.

In the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (which might well have the most infectious opening theme song ever!), the primary characters are:

Kimmy Schmidt - A naive young woman from Indiana, she ends up in New York City after her fellow cult prisoners are released from the bunker and interviewed on a national morning show. Armed with cash that was given to the survivors, she takes a closet apartment with Titus and tries to get him to follow his acting dreams. She takes a G.E.D. course and she meets two guys, including her fellow student Dong, are interested in her. She is optimistic, but uses outdated cultural references, which makes Xanthippe suspicious. When the cult leader, Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, goes on trial, Kimmy has to return to the bunker to find the evidence needed to get the conviction against him,

Titus Andromedon - An effeminate gay man who has worked as a street performer as an off-brand Iron Man. He supports Kimmy's secret and tries to trade in the suit to get new head shots. He immediately identifies Gretchen's fiance as a closeted gay man and he becomes morbidly fascinated with the court case as it picks up,

Jacqueline Voorhees - The socialite wife of a millionaire businessman, she neglects her children and is a parody of the not-suffering New York City housewife. When her husband is caught cheating on her (but not with the woman she thought!), she considers divorce and is talked into it by Kimmy (compound interest!). She has a secret Native American past that she has kept from everyone,

Lillian Kaushtupper - Titus and Kimmy's drug-addled slumlord. She accompanies Titus to a funeral for someone Titus did not actually know (when he tries to hide that he has money from her),

Gretchen - Another one of the women imprisoned in the doomsday bunker by "Reverend" Wayne, she is given a number of benefits after the women are released, including the crush she had before she was imprisoned. Despite him being gay, Gretchen is eager to live her dreams and is worried when Kimmy does not immediately come back to Indiana for Wayne's trial,

and Xanthippe - Jacqueline's stepdaughter, she is an angsty teen who has a very different persona with her friends than at home (she actually is a pretty decent student and does not take drugs like her friends). She is suspicious of Kimmy and Kimmy becomes suspicious of her when she realizes some of Xanthippe's excuses are from one of the books Kimmy had in the bunker with her!

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is funny, but very average. The best performances of the season come exclusively from lead Ellie Kemper. Kemper's Kimmy Schmidt is almost exclusively played as enthusiastic and wide-eyed excited and Kemper nails it in every scene. She perfectly embodies a woman stepping out into a world that she does not know at all.

That is not to say that Jane Krakowski (Jacqueline) and Tituss Burgess (Titus) are bad, but they're playing what they've already done before. Krakowski is, yet again, playing an ego-centric dimwit which she played on both Ally McBeal (reviewed here!) and 30 Rock. She's hit the niche before and mastered it. She shows us nothing new in the first season on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Tina Fey has typecast her. In a similar way, while Tituss Burgess has a fun role in the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Titus is virtually identical in performance requirements to D'Fwan (Burgess's character on 30 Rock). Titus and D'Fwan would be a huge acting challenge for a masculine heterosexual who can't sing; Burgess is playing an effeminate, openly gay, theater performer . . . two out of the three of those are the function of simple casting (Burgess is not particularly effeminate or over-the-top in his performances like his character!). In other words, Burgess is playing the same part as he did in his television breakout role.

I cannot think of a show I have watched as much before reviewing as the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I've watched all thirteen episodes four times now and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt manages to hold up over multiple viewings. It is a fun collection of lines and the protagonist is generally enjoyable to watch. But Tina Fey's guest performance at the end of the season is solid schtick and the writing feels like jokes that just wouldn't have fit - from the context - on 30 Rock. Is it fun to hear Fey's jokes about pop-culture elements from the turn-of-the-Millennium? Sure. I'm still waiting for the Austin Powers reference and the fact that it didn't come in the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt gives us something to look forward to in the second season. Strangely, after watching the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt so many times, it's really the only thing . . .

For other works from the 2014 – 2015 television season, please check out my reviews of:
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 2
The Flash - Season 1
Orange Is The New Black - Season 3
Sense8 - Season 1
Grace And Frankie - Season 1
Agent Carter - Season 1
Daredevil - Season 1
The Newsroom - Season 3
House Of Cards - Season 3
Doctor Who - Season 8
True Blood - Season 7
The Walking Dead - Season 5


For other television 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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