Wednesday, September 30, 2015

September 2015 End Of The Month Report!

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September was a pretty busy month for my business, so I only wrote intermittently. While we got some wonderful hits off the new episodes of Doctor Who and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., readership was down a bit in September. As well, Facebook has just started blocking links to my blog site, so getting the word out is harder than ever!

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 September, the index pages were updated every few days. 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 holiday shopping picks, if you're going shopping online, please come through the blog to to it. Thank you so much!

At the end of September 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
2829 - 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
820 - 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
895 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Cheese and Meats
Ice Cream
Other Food
235 - 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
50 - Other Product Reviews

The Featured Reviews For The Month of September are the review of The Intern and my article: I Share My Existential Crisi!
Check it out!

The month of September had a little movement within the month and was dominated by some older reviews! For September, the Top Ten Reviews of the month were:
10. Expelled
9. The Intern
8. "The Magician's Apprentice" - Doctor Who
7. August 2013 End Of The Month Report
6. True Blood - Season 1
5. Virgil's Cream Soda
4. Arrested Development - Season 4
3. The Top Ten Episodes Of Frasier
2. The Top Ten Episodes Of Star Trek: Voyager
1. "Laws Of Nature" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

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 - 893 reviews
7s - 993 reviews
6s - 920 reviews
5s - 1171 reviews
4s - 869 reviews
3s - 689 reviews
2s - 319 reviews
1s - 220 reviews
0s - 101 reviews
No rating - 99 articles/postings

While there was a decent amount of movement this month, the all time Top Ten remains unchanged. At the end of September 2015, the most popular reviews/articles continue to be:
10. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
9. Safe Haven
8. Oz The Great And Powerful
7. The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bone
6. Warm Bodies
5. Iron Man 3
4. Now You See Me
3. Tyler Perry's Temptation
2. The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug
1. Man Of Steel

Thank you again, so much, for reading! Please share links to the blog with friends and spread the word!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Another Year, Another Disappointing Middle Earth Ornament Comes From Hallmark When Smaug Awakens!

The Good: Good balance, Generally all right sculpt
The Bad: Assembled looking, Light, Feels cheap, No sound clip, Simplistic look and feel
The Basics: The 2015 "Smaug Awakens" ornament illustrates Hallmark's continuing lack of enthusiasm for their Middle Earth license.

It seems like every year, I get excited for Hallmark's annual Middle Earth ornament and each year I get righteously disappointed. Sadly, this year is no exception: the 2015 Smaug Awakens ornament is another dismal ornament from a license Hallmark has never managed to render well or make profitable (a relationship between the two, perhaps?!). This year's ornament feels especially like a "screw you" from Hallmark to fans of the films Peter Jackson made based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkein in that it features a base and character big enough to include a sound function (and Benedict Cumberbatch fans would have gone wild for that), but it is a simple, light, mediocrely-rendered ornament.

For those unfamiliar with the idea of the ornament, Smaug Awakens features the Dragon Smaug from The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug (reviewed here!) on his pile of gold that he is hoarding. This is very clearly the dragon, awakened and ready to interrogate Bilbo Baggins.

The 2015 Smaug Awakens ornament features both the dragon and his pile of gold, which acts as a base for the giant lizard.


The "Smaug Awakens" ornament recreates the dragon Smaug in a resting pose, but with is head raised. The ornament, released in 2015, has some decent surface detailing, making it recognizable as the dragon from Peter Jackson's films. This version of Smaug Awakens looks somewhat animated and because the scale of the ornament is fairly small, it is not the most detailed ornament from Hallmark's 2015 line.

Measuring four and one-half inches long, two and a half inches wide and two and one-eighth inches tall, the "Smaug Awakens" ornament is obviously out of scale with prior Middle Earth ornaments! At $17.95, the Smaug Awakens ornament feels very expensive, especially for how light it is.

The Hallmark "Smaug Awakens" ornament is made of a durable plastic and sculpted to look generally like the CG-dragon. Unfortunately, the gold upon which he lays is not metallic at all, so it looks like he's laying on tarnished bronze. The reds and browns of Smaug lack the sense of detail and realism of the CG-model upon which the ornament was based. Still, sculptor Orville Wilson sculpted Smaug's mane surprisingly well. Unfortunately, the ornament has obvious seams, which make it look like it was assembled and attached to the base.


As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, "Smaug Awakens" could have a sound effect, but it does not. Instead, this is a less-expensive option that is just the character. Given how big the base is, it is especially disappointing that Hallmark did not include Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug's dialogue in the ornament.


As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake "Smaug Awakens" ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate movie nostalgia Christmas Tree, the "Smaug Awakens" ornament is just too disappointing to justify adding. The ornament has the standard brass hook loop embedded into the center of Smaug's back. This is fairly obvious and necessary for the ornament. Hanging there, the ornament has good balance. The base being as light as it is, the fact that the balance is decent is important and made fairly obvious.


Hallmark Keepsake began delving into the collectibles market in 1991 with Star Trek when it introduced the exceptionally limited edition original U.S.S. Enterprise ornament (click here for that review!). Within a few years, every major franchise from Star Wars to A Nightmare Before Christmas to Indiana Jones started making Hallmark ornaments. "Smaug Awakens" is one of only a few Middle Earth ornaments on the market and it is the only one from The Hobbit this year. Between the mediocre quality and the short half-life of Middle Earth-related merchandise, investors have no real incentive to pick up this ornament, certainly not at Hallmark's original release price.


Fans of the Middle Earth franchise, dragons, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Hallmark ornaments are likely to all be disappointed by the Smaug Awakens ornament, making it one of the few big flops of Hallmark's 2015 ornament line.

For other Hallmark Middle Earth ornaments, please check out my reviews of:
2014 Thorin Oakenshield The Hobbit ornament
2013 Bilbo Baggins The Hobbit ornament
2012 Gandalf The Gray The Lord Of The Rings 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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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Rebooted And Returned: "Laws Of Nature" Moves Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. In Its New Direction!

The Good: Decent performances, Good balance of reinvention and familiarity
The Bad: Plot-heavy, Neglects some of the cast
The Basics: "Laws Of Nature" does what it needs to to keep Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. going, but it reveals that the narrative has become pretty cluttered.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is becoming increasingly fascinating. While the DC Television Universe is about to get into territory that might make any one of its components seem ridiculous (what conflict can Green Arrow truly run into where fan reaction can't reasonably be "Why didn't you call The Flash or Supergirl and ask them to help you out for, literally, five minutes to thwart your problem?!"), the Marvel Cinematic Universe is expanding in a way that seems to be trying to balance story and marketing. By the time the third season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. begins with "Laws Of Nature," the television series has very quietly taken over the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Agent Phil Coulson and his team have now logged more hours in the MCU than any other character or team - it is theirs and the blockbuster films that built the Marvel Cinematic Universe are now the storytelling filler around the longer spy narrative. Unfortunately, as the second season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. (reviewed here!) wound up, it became apparent that the television series - despite its longstanding narrative importance in fleshing out the Marvel Cinematic Universe - is being used to generate a fanbase for the planned film The Inhumans. Sadly, as "Laws Of Nature" begins, it seems like the series is being used as some form of risk mitigation to investors in the film that is one of the more conceptually risky ones (after all, when The Inhumans hits theaters, the battle against Thanos will either be in mid-swing or over and it's hard to be the act that follows that kind of villain!).

Picking up after "S.O.S. Part 2" (reviewed here!), "Laws Of Nature" is impossible to discuss without revealing some spoilers from the second season finale. When last Coulson's S.H.I.E.L.D. team was seen, the Bus was destroyed, Simmons had been absorbed by the Kree artifact Gonzales had recovered, Morse was near death, Coulson had lost an arm, May had gone on leave and the oceans had been contaminated by the terrigen crystals that reveal Inhumans and murder humans.

Opening with a burnt out apartment, the effects of the contaminated fish from the oceans is realized: some people are dead and one man who is fleeing a black ops group seems to be unwittingly melting anything he touches. The man, Joey, is rescued by Daisy, Lance Hunter, and Mack. Joey is taken to the new Bus where Daisy explains his new condition. Coulson is frustrated that Inhumans that his S.H.I.E.L.D. team attempts to rescue have been intercepted by that black ops group, while their leader (a woman Coulson finally manages to photograph during the extraction of Joey) is intent of capturing and dissecting Inhumans.

Jose Gutierrez (Joey) is brought to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters where he reacts poorly to the idea that his entire life has changed and that he is now being hunted. Morse is now running S.H.I.E.L.D.'s medical division with Fitz and while she has some ideas on how the terrigen contamination might affect the world, Coulson wants Fitz back to headquarters to assist in the current effort. Fitz is in Morocco, where he is hunting Yusef, who might know something about the monolith that Simmons has been encased in. Yusef has a scroll Fitz needs and he trades it for a briefcase Fitz brought with what appears to be splinter bombs. While Fitz escapes with the tool he needs to rescue Simmons, Coulson and Hunter walk into a trap laid by the woman running the Inhuman capturing program. Coulson and Rosalind discover that the black ops group may not be the ones killing Inhumans that Coulson's team has failed to rescue. Skye and Mack, in attempting to get Lincoln Campbell to return to S.H.I.E.L.D., discover who - or what - might be responsible for murdering Inhumans!

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is fraught with deaths that don't stick. "Laws Of Nature" reveals that while Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has actual casualties (Garrett was pretty firmly killed on a second take and it would be hard to bring Bakshi back), the destruction of The Bus is not one the writers are trying to write their way back from. The original Bus is gone and "Laws Of Nature" feels very much like a reboot of the series as there is a new Bus and a more developed headquarters for S.H.I.E.L.D. While "Laws Of Nature" momentarily looks like it recast Raina with the episode's villain, it manages to go in a different direction that works.

Transformed as well is Daisy. Skye having a relationship with her father makes Skye adopt her given name and that is a minimal change compared to her mastery over her own powers. Daisy is, essentially, like a Jedi Knight in "Laws Of Nature." Daisy is played with more confidence by Chloe Bennet. Bennet is bounced between an outfit that looks like it was left behind from the set of one of the X-Men movies and a tank top designed to show off her cleavage (very subtle, director Vincent Misiano).

One of the serious issues with "Laws Of Nature" is the casting. Juan Pablo Raba may have been cast as Joey based on headshots or auditions that gave him a distinct and more ethnic look, but for much of his debut episode, he looks a lot like Brett Dalton, especially as he did at the outset of the second season. Fortunately, "Laws Of Nature" uses Joey as a way to introduce the new concept and does not dwell on him as much as it does planting the important threads of the season and reintroducing the various characters who are still standing.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is up to a pretty hefty cast with "Laws Of Nature." While both Ming-Na Wen and Brett Dalton remain in the cast, they are unseen in the third season premiere. That leaves eight main cast members and with Constance Zimmer appearing as Rosalind and Raba steal airtime from main cast like Nick Blood (no loss) and Henry Simmons (though Mack gets a good scene with Morse). Clark Gregg and Constance Zimmer have great on-screen chemistry in their big scene together. Zimmer has a pretty extensive resume and in "Laws Of Nature," she manages to make Rosalind a smart and powerful leader. Zimmer is excellent casting, utilized well, to create a foil character to Gregg's Coulson.

The performance of the episode, though, comes from Iain De Caestecker. While Fitz seems more mentally together than he did during the second season, De Caestecker has a lot of room to play with as a distraught man who lost the love of his life. Usually stuck delivering jargon, De Caestecker is given the chance to give Fitz a more developed human side and it works out well for the episode.

The special effects in "Laws Of Nature" are astonishingly good, though the episode does not actually pick up the pace or rely on those effects extensively until the final act.

"Laws Of Nature" is not an intensely character-driven episode and it is a bit out of balance as it works to establish the new main plot direction and find its footing. While there is a late Morse/Hunter scene, most of the episode is devoted to illustrating that S.H.I.E.L.D. is now focused on hunting and rescuing Inhumans.

While the fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe might be delighted by how "Laws Of Nature" fits into the larger mythos with the return of William Sadler as the President from Iron Man 3 (reviewed here!), those who are attentive and know what is coming next might be made wary. The next Captain America film is based on the idea that super heroes (and mutants and Inhumans) are forced by the government to register. "Laws Of Nature" seems to be laying the plot bedrock for that, where that will be an organic thing for the MCU, but it is hard not to feel like it is simply being used an an advertising technique to keep people invested until the next blockbuster.

"Laws Of Nature" is good, but more average than extraordinary television.

For other big season premieres, be sure to check out my reviews of:
"The Search, Part I" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"The Magician's Apprentice" - Doctor Who
"Who Are You, Really?" - True Blood

[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 Third Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the third season here!


For other reviews of elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a listing of all those reviews!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Timber And Elim Have An Indoor Adventure Thanks To Friskies Chicken Flavored Treats!

The Good: Dental benefits, Elim and Timber enjoy them, Inexpensive
The Bad: Neither cat shows a real preference for these treats
The Basics: Friskies Indoor Adventures Chicken flavor treats help keep my cats' teeth clean without running up my budget, which is nice but unextraordinary.

Timber and Elim have had a pretty busy summer. While I took a little time off of posting reviews, my two cats were very busy with reviewing new (to them) products. One of the advantages of giving them a pretty wide variety of treats is that it makes it very easy to see what treats truly land with them versus the treats they consume without zeal. In the case of Friskies Indoor Adventures Chicken flavor treats, both Elim and Timber eat them, but they do so withouth really charging out of their hiding spots for them.


Friskies Indoor Adventures Chicken flavor cat treats are crunchy little treats that come in a 2.1 oz. bag for only $1.00 at my local grocery store. The Indoor Adventures are all simple clover-shaped treats about 1/2" in diameter that are approximately 3/16” thick. The flower-shaped treats are green and brown, half and half. They are a grainy, hard treat that is very hard, which is excellent for feline dental health.

Ease Of Preparation

The Friskies Indoor Adventures treats are a treat, so preparation is as easy as opening the resealable bag and removing a few of treats. I, occasionally, mix a few of the treats in with Elim and Timber’s food, but otherwise, they get five to ten of these whenever I treat them! Unlike with most treats I give the boys, both cats eat the treats, but neither tries to steal any from the other. I cannot think of another treat the two eagerly consume that they do not try to steal from others.

Timber And Elim’s Reaction

Friskies Indoor Adventures Chicken flavor treats are treats that both cats are conditioned to come running for - given the stiff foil plastic bag in which they come. At times when the cats have exclusively gotten the Chicken flavor Indoor Adventures treats, they come at the sound of the bag less vigorously. Both cats consume these treats when they are set near them, but Timber gave up on a hide and seek game with the treats when I tried that with him. Elim found the batch of treats nearest him, consistently, but he did not go hunting for more. In other words, these treats are not hated by either cat, but they are hardly a beloved treat that either is eager for. But, given that they will consume them when they are given to them, they do exactly what they are supposed to for feline dental health.


The package does not provide a serving recommendation, but I have found Elim will eat about seven treats in a day (he's about eight pounds now). With Timber, I tend to limit him to 10 treats, despite him being more active. I usually go through about one 2.1 oz. bag in just under two weeks, so for the price, this treat is an affordable one. The pouches I bought at the beginning of summer expired this month, but over the three months Elim and Timber tried these treats, the freshness of the treats never seemed to vary.

As well, the Friskies Indoor Adventures Chicken flavor treats seem pretty healthy. With a minimum of 23.0% crude protein and 9% crude fat, but no more than 9% crude fiber and 11% moisture, these treats have a lot of nutritional benefits for Elim and Timber. These treats are made primarily of chicken meal, brewers rice, and animal fat with preservatives! They are hard enough to help clean cat teeth of tartar and plaque, which is nice.


The Friskies Indoor Adventures Chicken flavor cat treats are a good treat, but very average, cat treat that makes for a decent staple treat.

For other Friskies products, please check out my reviews of:
Party Mix Cheezy Craze Crunch Cheddar, Swiss & Monterey Jack flavor cat treats
Classic Pate Salmon Dinner
Turkey & Cheese Savory Shreds


For other pet product reviews, please visit my Pet Review Index Page!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Somewhere Between Brilliance And Idiocy Is "The Witch's Familiar!"

The Good: Moments of character for The Doctor and Davros, Performances
The Bad: Clara is portrayed as an utter moron, Very predictable reversals
The Basics: "The Witch's Familiar" pits The Doctor against Davros while Clara falls prey to Missy on Skaro.

With Doctor Who's new season getting off to a good start, it has been quite a week of anticipation around my house. My wife has gotten into the new Doctor Who and taken me along with her enough that I actually care about what is going on. The new season has a fairly inventive concept; it is made up of small arcs with virtually every pair of episodes being a two-parter that is directly connected. As a result, the season premiere "The Magician's Apprentice" (reviewed here!) leads directly into "The Witch's Familiar." The second episode of the new season picks up immediately where the prior episode left off and it is impossible to discuss the episode without some minor spoilers about plot events from "The Magician's Apprentice."

In the week between "The Magician's Apprentice" and "The Witch's Familiar," I began to feel like the follow-up episode would have a sense of familiarity to it. After all, the plot progression of "The Magician's Apprentice" concluded in such a way that it seemed like "The Witch's Familiar" would have some strong similarities to last year's episode of The Flash, "Rogue Time" (reviewed here!). "The Magician's Apprentice" climaxed with The Doctor having the opportunity to right the wrong he perpetrated at the outset of the episode. "The Witch's Familiar" takes an annoyingly unlinear detour from the last scene of the previous episode in order to tell its story and lead, somewhat inorganically, to where the viewer knows it has to go.

Clara awakens upside down while Missy is sharpening a stick. Using an example from The Doctor's life, Missy finally explains how she survived the assassination from the Cyberman who was The Doctor's undead ally. Clara realizes that Missy teleported the two of them using the Dalek's energy beams. While The Doctor hijacks Davros's chair, Missy shoves Clara into a Dalek sewer, which is coated with the Dalek sludge that is the rotting, but alive Dalek essence. The Doctor holds the Dalek's hostage to try to get them to bring him Clara, believing she is not dead.

When The Doctor is captured by Colony Sarff, he is reunited with Davros. As Davros dies, he plays his endgame to attempt to trap The Doctor using The Doctor's own compassion. In the Dalek sewer, Missy entraps a Dalek and then plugs Clara into its armor. The Doctor must thwart both the machinations of Davros and Missy to save himself and Clara.

While Missy dominates much of "The Witch's Familiar," her part hinges on Clara being recharacterized as a complete moron. Clara is dropped, thrown into a pit, handcuffed and then plugged into a Dalek's armor all by Missy. Clara lets Missy turn her back on her and allows herself to be plugged into the Dalek all the while accepting the premise that she and Missy have to work together to save The Doctor. There is something unsatisfying about the episode lacking as "You first" response from Clara when Missy opens the Dalek's armor and tells the Companion to "get in."

When the somewhat ridiculous, manic subplot with Missy is not on screen, "The Witch's Familiar" is an engaging series of scenes that are basically The Doctor and Davros talking. Davros attempts to tempt The Doctor utilizing a tether between Davros and his Daleks. Davros slowly builds his manipulation of The Doctor through simple conversation and the scenes are surprisingly engaging. The closest science fiction analogy is the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Duet" (reviewed here!) and while "The Witch's Familiar" does not quite rise to that level of depth, it is similarly intriguing to watch two people needle at one another for about half an hour (the Clara/Missy subplot is a real time eater).

The performances in "The Witch's Familiar" are homogeneously good. Poor Jenna Coleman is given the role of a rube to play, but she leaps into it without any apparent objection to how radically simple her character has become. There is not even a hint in Coleman's performance that Clara has any idea she is unquestioningly following the orders of the woman who killed the man she loved. Michelle Gomez perfectly hits the same one note of Missy's insanity each and every time.

Peter Capaldi and Julian Bleach play off one another amazingly as The Doctor and Davros. As Davros moves toward death, Capaldi's wordless performance in reaction to his co-star is impressive. In the moments leading up to the laugh that Davros and The Doctor share, Capaldi is intense and amazing. Bleach holds his own opposite Capaldi and he plays the part as if he was born for it!

"The Witch's Familiar" does a decent job of laying and springing the traps from The Doctor's enemies, but it continues a number of annoying trends in Doctor Who. First and foremost of these is that "Day Of The Doctor" rewrote the end of the Time War. Davros provides the viewers with a unique opportunity to explore the Dalek perspective to the end of that war. How did these Daleks get revitalized or saved? The closest we get is Davros's explanation that these Daleks built Skaro out of their own love of home. Having not been a Doctor Who fan for long, I'm unsure if Davros's last minute Time Lord Prophecy was a previously-established thing, but the idea of a Time Lord and Dalek hybrid should make The Doctor hesitant to leave Missy among his enemies.

Ultimately, "The Witch's Familiar" is much like many second parts of a two-parter. It resolves what is set up in the first episode, but the promise of "The Magician's Apprentice" was for something greater than this episode delivered.

For other works with Peter Capaldi, please check out my reviews of:
Doctor Who - Season 8
World War Z
In The Loop
Smilla's Sense Of Snow

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


See how this episode stacks up against other episode of Doctor Who by visiting my Doctor Who Review Index Page where the episodes and seasons are organized from best to worst!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Monday, September 28, 2015

Delightful Dark: Newman's Own Organics Super Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa Bar Gets It Right (For A Price)!

The Good: Great taste, Wonderful quality, Great ingredients.
The Bad: Expensive!
The Basics: Newman's Own Organics 70% Cocoa chocolate bars are wonderful, but hardly worth more than similar quality, less expensive, chocolates!

Every now and then, I am reminded of just how lucky I am to be able to find so many amazing things at my local discount store. Despite living in the virtual middle of nowhere, there is a store nearby that seems to buy up trucks of returns, overstocks and other merchandise (as near as I can tell by the sheer variety and randomness of the products they stock) and they sell them at pretty incredible discounts. This was hammered home to me as I went to review the Newman's Own Organics 70% Cocoa Chocolate Bar I bought there and I saw the disparity between the online price and the price at which I bought them.

The Newman's Own Organics 70% Cocoa Chocolate Bars are good, but not worth $7+ each; I was fortunate enough to find them for less than $1.00/ea! The difference makes all the difference. These chocolate bars are wonderful, but they are not worth that much more than other, comparable, chocolate bars that are less expensive.


Newman's Own Organics 70% Cocoa chocolate Bars are each 6" long by 3" wide and 1/4" thick. Each of the bars comes individually wrapped in a wrapper and features eight segments that make it easier to consume than biting into the whole bar.

Each segment is a seamless square that is solid, with the Newman's Own Organics "N" punched into the top. The 70% Cocoa chocolate Bar come in a standard 3.25 oz. bar. The thick paper wrapper does little to protect the bar, though I’ve not had any breakage from the few I picked up at a store that is less than careful about how they handle inventory.

Ease Of Preparation

This is candy, so preparing them is as simple as opening the wrapper and cracking off a square segment of the bar. There is no grand secret to eating Newman's Own Organics 70% Cocoa Chocolate Bars. These bars are exceptionally hard at room temperature, which makes them very easy to crack into proper segments.


The Newman's Own Organics 70% Cocoa bars have a surprisingly mild aroma to them. This chocolate bar has virtually no scent, which sets the consumer up for a far less flavorful bar than they actually are.

On the tongue, this chocolate is rich and powerful with its cocoa taste, with a strong dry aspect to the flavor, especially as it finishes reaching its potential in the mouth. As a result, this tastes like a very-concentrated dark chocolate without much sweetness to it. There is no waxiness or creaminess to it. This is a potent, true rendition of cocoa flavor, without the diluted milk or sugar flavor mass-produced bars have. Those looking for a fine dark chocolate will get exactly what they expect from this chocolate bar.

Predictably, the Newman's Own Organics 70% Cocoa Chocolate Bar has a strong, dry aftertaste. That said, the aftertaste does not ever transition into bitter or sour, the way some chocolate bars with a high cocoa percentage sometimes do.


These are candy, so they are not healthy, but the Newman's Own Organics 70% Cocoa Chocolate Bars are not nearly as bad as they could be. The sole ingredient is organic dark chocolate. There is nothing unpronounable in this candy and everything in it is certified organic by the Rainforest Alliance and the USDA.

A serving of the Newman's Own Organics 70% Cocoa Chocolate Bar is considered one whole bar. From a bar, one takes in 470 calories, including 40 grams of fat. There is no sodium and 7 g protein, but no vitamins in these chocolate bars. There is 15% of one's daily iron and Calcium in full bar, so that is decent.

These are not Vegan-compliant (they are manufactured on machines that require them to have a milk warning), 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 also not recommended for anyone with a soy, wheat, or egg allergy.


The Newman's Own Organics 70% Cocoa Chocolate Bar remains fresh for quite some time. While I could not find an expiration date on my bar, it had been kicking around for several months, partially opened without any issues. One assumes that if they are kept in a cool, dry environment they will not melt or go bad. It is hard to imagine just what it would take for these to go bad outside melting and refreezing.

As for cleanup, don't litter with these environmentally-friendly wrappers; that's just rude. 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 bars melt into most fabrics, they will stain. Getting them to melt is surprisingly hard, though.


The Newman's Own Organics 70% Cocoa Chocolate Bar is perfectly wonderful, but overpriced for what it is. It tastes great, but there are other, comparable 70% cocoa chocolate bars on the market that will not blow one's budget to stock up on!

For other dark chocolates, please check out my reviews of:
Lindt 99% Cocoa Dark Chocolate Bar
Endangered Species Chocolate Dark Chocolate With Forest Mint Bar
Cachet Lemon & Black Pepper Dark Chocolate Bars


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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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Technically Magnicifent, Actually Miserable: Men, Women & Children Makes Us Want To Bail!

The Good: Amazing cast, Good direction
The Bad: Oppressive mood, Neglected character motivations
The Basics: Complicated and engaging, Men, Women & Children is enough to make any viewer absolutely miserable.

These days, it takes a lot to sell me on watching a movie by the preview. I've been busy and previews tend to either tell me not nearly enough or way too much (like, the entire film). When my wife was trying to choose a film for us to watch today, Men, Women & Children came up as an option and it suddenly reminded me that I had seen a preview for the film that made it look real good. It lived up to the previews - Men, Women & Children was awkward, insightful, and well-presented, though it was disturbing on a number of fronts.

Co-writer and director Jason Reitman does a decent job of capturing the way people are disconnected today by weaving together several thinly-related stories of people living in Austin, Texas in modern times. Reitman and Erin Cressida Wilson adapted the film from the book by the same name and it is worth noting that I've not read the book upon which it is based. This review is entirely of the film, not any sort of comparative analysis with the book.

Men, Women & Children is much like Magnolia (reviewed here!) or Cradle Will Rock (reviewed here!) in that it has a large cast of characters and explores relationships more than it tells a single, solid, cohesive story. Don Truby and his wife, Helen, have lost all passion for one another and both consider having affairs. Their son, Chris, has gotten so deep into online erotica that when he is faced with the potential of affection from one of his peers, he is utterly uninterested and unable to engage with her. Tim Mooney was a once-promising football player, but when his mother abandons him and his father, he quits the team and tries to find his own path. He becomes enamored with Brandy Beltmeyer, a girl whose mother is so incredibly overprotective of her that she oppressively monitors both her physical locations and her entire online presence.

Chris begins a relationship with Hannah Clint, a girl whose mother is actively trying to make her a celebrity (with a pretty skanky website). And there's Allison Doss, an anorexic who feels immense pressure to not eat and have sex. As Hannah's mother and Tim's father begin to explore a relationship, Don and Helen explore extramarital affairs and most of the teenagers become sexually active to varying degrees.

Men, Women & Children is a great example of a film that perfectly captures and characterizes the disconnect between people in the modern age of connective devices like smartphones and tablets. Virtually all of the characters are miserable and the performers do an excellent job of characterizing how fast societal and technological changes have come and families have not had the time or ability to respectfully adapt.

This is one of those films that is difficult to discuss in depth and I liked it for that. The performances are almost homogeneously raw. The brilliance of Jason Reitman as a director is that he captures some powerful and realistic performances out of both the young and seasoned castmembers and there is not a single moment of the film that felt like "first take theatre." The moments seem perfectly rendered and at times incredibly painful to watch, but the movie never feels like it was clumsily arrived at.

Arguably the best performances in Men, Women & Children come from Dean Norris, Jennifer Garner, and Adam Sandler. Sandler's best moment comes in a wordless moment late in the film that reminds viewers that the goofy former Saturday Night Live performer has evolved into a real dramatic powerhouse of an actor. Garner is cold and distant as Patricia and Dean Norris manages to make his role of Kent unlike his Breaking Bad part. Judy Greer delivers her usual wonderful performance as Donna Clint and is anything but goofy (as some of her talent often inspires her to be). Even the young cast is marvelous and well-utilized by Reitman.

But the film is far from perfect. Garner's Patricia is overbearing and controlling . . . for no stated reason. Similarly, Allison's storyline is unsatisfyingly unresolved and her relationship with her parents is underdeveloped. Men, Women & Children wastes the talents of J.K. Simmons in the role of Allison's father. Reitman managed to not be salacious with the teenagers who are having sex, but characters like Hannah are just troubling to watch.

Men, Women & Children did what great films ought to do; it inspired conversations in my household. My wife and I have been talking about it since we finished watching it (it unsettled both of us) and both of us remain delighted to be childfree by choice after watching the movie. But much of Men, Women & Children is plagued by characters who simply are not communicating and that is not a new problem at all, despite the filmmaker's attempts to blame that on the internet. The internet did not suddenly make people stop communicating or have affairs, though Men, Women & Children accurately explores how online porn has ruined the mystique and imagination people used to have for sex.

The other thing my wife and I realized was that despite the film's importance, Men, Women & Children is unlikely to reach the audience it needs to. Are overprotective parents going to watch Men, Women & Children and suddenly say, "Patricia is just crazy!"? No. They're likely to say, "if that mom was more lenient, their kid would end up like Allison." Men, Women & Children is like the interpersonal story analogous to Blood Diamond (reviewed here!). Is it going to make people feel terrible? Absolutely. Will it inspire conversations? Sure. Will it lead to profound change? Absolutely not.

Worth watching once, Men, Women & Children is difficult and unsettling in a way that makes one not want to ever watch it again.

For other works with Rosemarie DeWitt, please visit my reviews of:
The Odd Life Of Timothy Green
The Watch
Rachel Getting Married

7.5/10 (Not Recommended)

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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Friday, September 25, 2015

Ugly Beyond Imagining: The 2015 As God Is My Witness Gone With The Wind Hallmark Ornament!

The Good: Good balance, Good sound chip
The Bad: Very expensive, Detailing on Scarlett's face, Weak light effect, Seams on arms
The Basics: The As God Is My Witness Gone With The Wind ornament is disappointing and just ugly!

I'm not a fan of Gone With The Wind, but I try very hard to be objective with all of my reviews. Hallmark has a pretty extensive Gone With The Wind ornament line and some years they do ornaments that I recommend. Unfortunately, for 2015 the As God As My Witness ornament is not one of the ones that is going to get a recommendation.

For those unfamiliar with the film, Gone With The Wind (reviewed here!) has a climax midway through the film where Scarlett finds herself on her own and making a profound declaration about her life. It is that moment (where the original VHS split - it's a long movie) that is the subject of the As God As My Witness ornament.

It is Scarlett, standing before the sunset behind her that is the subject of the As God Is My Witness Hallmark Ornament. To add extra value to this one, Hallmark provided this ornament with a very impressive sound chip.


The As God Is My Witness ornament includes only Scarlett, standing on the hardscrabble earth with the translucent susnset backdrop, all cast in solid plastic. The ornament, released in 2015, has drastically varied executions, as it has a decent and generally accurate sculpt of the character, good detailing on costume, and the backdrop looks accurate. Unfortunately, Scarlett is filthy and her face looks oddly pitted, her arms look like they were attached after the fact (there is a noticeable seam at the shoulders) and the light effect is too weak to illuminate the backdrop noticeably.

Measuring four and three-quarters inches tall, three inches wide and two and one-quarter inches deep, the As God Is My Witness ornament is a decent-sized Hallmark ornament. Unfortunately, at the original issue price of $24.95, it is a bit expensive, especially compared to other Gone With The Wind ornaments that featured more of the scenery for the same or less money. Scarlett’s dress, while well-detailed, seems bulky and the ornament seems heavier than many of the other ones released this year.

The As God Is My Witness ornament has Scarlett looking like a rotted apple head doll of Vivien Leigh. While it makes sense that Scarlett's face would be soot-covered, given the scene, Hallmark did not quite get it right for the ornament and she just looks horribly disfigured.

This ornament remains fairly easy to find at Hallmark stores, so there is no reason (yet) to look for it in the secondary market. This ornament features a battery to power the sound effects.


As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, As God Is My Witness has both a sound effect and a light effect. There is a button, on the base, that activates the sounc chip and light effect when pressed. The light effect is anemic and barely illuminates the backdrop.

The sound chip actually contains a single sound clip from Gone With The Wind. The chip has several seconds of actual dialogue from the scene the ornament represents that plays with sufficient volume out the bottom of the ornament. As a result, when one depresses the button, Vivien Leigh as Scarlett makes her declaration that she will never be hungry again and the related lines.


As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake As God Is My Witness ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate movie nostalgia Christmas Tree, the As God Is My Witness ornament is a somewhat expensive option that looks poor beside ornaments from The Wizard Of Oz and prior Gone With The Wind ornaments. The ornament has the standard brass hook loop embedded into the top center of the backdrop. The As God Is My Witness ornament hangs level when hung properly and because it is so heavy, it hardly sways unless it is really knocked.


Hallmark Keepsake began delving into the collectibles market in 1991 with Star Trek when it introduced the exceptionally limited edition original U.S.S. Enterprise ornament (click here for that review!). Within a few years, virtually every classic film franchise jumped on the bandwagon and began merchandising with Hallmark as well. Classic properties like Barbie, Disney, The Wizard Of Oz and Gone With The Wind have been made into Hallmark Keepsake Christmas ornaments. As God Is My Witness is one of the only Gone With The Wind ornaments on the market and the only one mass produced for the franchise in 2015. Fans of the book and film seem to be neutral to the As God Is My Witness ornament; it is still exceptionally easy to find in the Hallmark stores at this time. Given that only the Limited Edition Gone With The Wind ornaments have appreciated, this mass-produced ornament is not likely to be a great investment piece.


Fans of Gone With The Wind, Vivien Leigh, and Hallmark ornaments are likely to be disappointed by this ornament. The sound clip is interesting, but the light effect and overall look of the ornament are disappointing.

For other Gone With The Wind Hallmark ornaments, please check out my reviews of:
2014 Scarlett's White Dress
2013 Scarlett's Green Gown
2012 Scarlett Meets Her Match
2011 Almost A Kiss
2010 Scarlett O’Hara
2009 “Frankly My Dear”


For other ornament reviews, please visit my Toy And Ornament Review Index Page!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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The Intern Fails To Sell.

The Good: Decent acting, Good direction, Good casting choices
The Bad: Painfully troubling plot and character moments, Pacing
The Basics: Anyone hoping for a one-two punch of Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway is likely to be disappointed by how they are utilized in The Intern.

Whenever I review a film that stars Anne Hathaway, I worry that I am being too soft on the film based on my appreciation of Anne Hathaway as an actress and activist. There are few actors who sell me on a project simply by their presence in it (writers and directors tend to impress me more; without quality in their departments, it doesn't matter who the players are!), but Anne Hathaway is definitely one who I shell out money to see whenever she opens a movie. In the case of The Intern, I actually considered spending the $1500 (plus travel expenses) that it would have cost to get into the New York Premiere for the film on the hopes of rubbing elbows with Hathaway. After spending the day out at the nearest theater playing it, 40 miles away, I'm glad that I did not spend more on The Intern.

The Intern is the latest dramedy by Nancy Meyers, whose last film It's Complicated (reviewed here!) was brilliant and incredibly well-executed. At this point in her career, Nancy Meyers can do whatever she wants and it is easy to see why Robert De Niro, Anne Hathaway, Rene Russo and the rest of the cast was excited to work with her. Nancy Meyers is a legend, but The Intern makes the argument well that when some people get to "legendary" status, people do not have the heart to tell them when their projects are dramatically less-than what they have produced before.

The Intern does not suck, but watching it was a joyless experience, one packed with so much "stuff," and one that confounds the viewer with its glaring plot and character problems. Or, perhaps, Nancy Meyers really is writing for all the stupid people out there; I was somewhat surprised when Jules's (the character played by Hathaway) husband appeared on screen and the people in the theater I was in gasped - Meyers showed Jules's ringed left hand prominently on screen at least three times before Matt appeared. But, given that Meyers has a history of writing smart, complicated characters and situations, I think it is reasonable to expect that The Intern would be smart. Alas, it is not.

Ben Whittaker is a widower who has been on his own for years and at age 70 feels like he has done everything. Searching for a purpose in life, he applies to be a Senior Intern at About The Fit, an online clothing store. Despite her protestations, the head of the company, Jules Ostin, takes Whittaker on as her own intern. After spending a time at ATF not being utilized, Ben starts to pick up random slack around the crowded office and make an impression on his coworkers. When he sees Mike, Jules's driver, drinking during the work day, he replaces Mike and begins to integrate himself more and more into Jules's life.

Jules is under a tremendous amount of stress. Cameron, who initiated the Senior Intern Program, has advised Jules that the investors in ATF are getting wary at the pace at which the company is moving and they want Jules to bring on a CEO. Not eager to make someone else her boss, Jules very reluctantly begins to take interviews for the CEO position. At the same time, Jules's marriage to Matt - who was in a similar field and was more successful, but became a stay-at-home-dad when Jules gave birth to Paige - is strained. While Jules tries to juggle her personal and professional lives, she comes to rely on Ben more and more for guidance, while he finds purpose as her trusted adviser.

First, what's good. Nancy Meyers captures very well the sense of discontent and loss for a man who was happily married for forty-two years and then lost both his wife and his career (Whittaker was in the phone book publication business!). The Intern begins with an almost crushing sense of mood and when Whittaker is put off on his first day until 3:55 to meet the person he is interning with, the sense that his life has become useless is pounded home. Meyers does a decent job of instantly characterizing Whittaker as a man who truly has a need to be back in the workforce to derive a sense of purpose. And Robert De Niro does a fine job of portraying that. Similarly, Anne Hathaway manages to find the right balance for Jules between strong and efficient and vulnerable and human.

The problem is that the film tries to pack so much more in and one has to neglect some pretty huge problems to make the characters truly seem realistic or workable. At the top of the list is Jules. To buy Jules and the radical take-off of ATF one has to buy the vastly understated premise that eighteen months before the film began, Jules was not throwing all of the energy and focus she had into raising Paige. What?! Jules is devoted, focused, and a micromanager. Her company is relatively new and while I am not at all an expert on children, Paige is ridiculously young - like Pre-school age. While The Intern pays lip service to the idea that Matt was immensely successful in his field and gave it up so Jules could follow her dream and that Jules had the whole idea that women coming home to a bottle of wine each night could be a goldmine for online shopping . . . the film never lands the idea that shortly after getting Paige acclimated to life, Jules abandons her routine and launches a company. So, there's no mention of what Jules was doing before Paige, but somehow she became - essentially - a CEO of a start-up at a time when her husband was rocking the field and their daughter was at a pretty vulnerable age. Jules's motivation is unclear; she clearly cares about her business, but it's not clear why she had a child or, having had the child, why she ever started the business (she's a micromanager and having not been a business manager prior to Paige's birth, it seems like she would have just micromanaged the hell out of her daughter).

Jules is not the CEO, but she is running her own start-up. Cameron is introduced as, essentially, her consigliere and the assumption is that he is her CFO. But Cameron is way too familiar with Jules. Jules is a woman in authority and the way Cameron puts his hands on her in one of their first scenes was tremendously inappropriate for an employee. There might be some subtext that Cameron is supposed to be gay, but that doesn't actually excuse the familiarity he shows her.

That leads to the big conceptual problem with The Intern. Jules is not a very good business manager and Cameron is not a very good consigliere. Jules clearly wants to do right by her employees, but she micromanages every aspect of the business. The unseen investors are absolutely right to fear the way Jules is running ATF; she is on a trajectory to burn out because she does not delegate. But Cameron gives her terrible advice in asking her to take interviews for a potential CEO. Writer and director Nancy Meyers is working under a very old paradigm and does not understand well how the tech start-ups have changed the landscape of the business world. Tech start-ups have made a lot of people very powerful and put them in positions from which they will not advance - there are a number of company Founders and CEOs that have incredible staffs that, by the sheer fact of numbers, cannot all advance to the top of the company. Jules, who is supposed to be strong and independent and smart, takes the advice by Cameron to take the most passive possible approach on hiring a CEO; take interviews from interested people (I believe all of the referenced candidates were men). Jules resents having to do this and her character is gutted as a result.

Meyers set up a very realistic problem and then pursued the least character-driven solution for it. Strong, independent, and smart businesspeople in Jules's position do not wait for the phone to ring; they find people they admire and woo them to their company. Jules would have been so much stronger and not a pouty wuss had she looked around at The Industry and found someone whose accomplishments she admired and then wooed them to become the CEO. Or, on par with that, she would have approached them to mentor her to become the CEO the company needed to assuage the investors.

In this way, Robert De Niro's Ben Whittaker is dramatically misused in The Intern. Whittaker has a wealth of experience in business and Jules quickly comes to rely on him. . . to drive her around, to clean up a junk desk, and to listen to her problems without really judging them. Outside a charming scene near the film's end where Whittaker reveals just how intimately he knows the ATF building, Jules fails to grasp just what an asset Whittaker could be to grooming her to be a CEO. Perhaps, The Intern would have been more obviously a woman-empowering story had De Niro's part been cast by a woman. Then, of course, the structural problem would have existed; how did Jules fail to recognize such an experienced talent (sad to say there are only so many seventy year-old women who had the profound level of executive experience Whittaker had).

As it is, Whittaker is plagued by other structural character problems that make it hard to buy his character. The audience is supposed to instantly love how classic he is and how mature . . . but he doesn't have the wherewithal to tell Patty he is not interested in her?! How up front is that? Moreover, Whittaker has not truly moved on from the death of his wife, but that does not stop him from heading into a relationship with Rene Russo's Fiona (the company messeuse). For all the shit male directors take about how women are used in movies, it's not winning Meyers any points that De Niro's Whittaker rejects the nurturing, non-Hollywood beautiful Patty (played by Linda Lavin) in favor of Russo, who by most objective standards is smoking-hot in The Intern. Patty's purpose in the film seems to be to make it clear that someone as great at Robert De Niro's Whittaker is not going unnoticed by his peers, he's just not interested. (Very sarcastically) Kudos to Meyers to having Whittaker show interest in the first woman to give him an erection in years!

Finally, as a trendsetter, it seems odd that Jules would idolize Whittaker and his generation. Jules laments how the current generation is not classy like Harrison Ford . . . but she relies almost entirely upon the talents of a workforce that realized they did not have to look like Ford to be substantive and great. And given how shittastic the economy is now, wouldn't the bulk of Jules's investors be in Whittaker's age bracket?! Shouldn't she resent those who have it all together financially for pushing her in this direction she is loathe to go instead of bemoaning that her employees - who make her dream into a working reality! - do not have the "class" of Harrison Ford?!

Ultimately, after one gets through the oppressive and somewhat overstated beginning, they get into a few gem scenes and a whole vast ocean of plot and character problems that are realized simply by scratching the surface with a critical lens.

For other works with Anders Holmes, please check out my reviews of:
The Interview
Inherent Vice
Arrested Development - Season 4
Workaholics - Season 1


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, September 23, 2015

Spicier Than They Are Meaty: Oberto Cocktail Pep Smoked Sausage Sticks Still Satisfy!

The Good: Taste good, High protein
The Bad: Expense, Not terribly nutritious.
The Basics: Oberto Cocktail Pep Smoked Sausage Sticks are a high-calorie, protein rich snack that has a surprising peppery kick to them.

Lately, my wife has been exploring a Keytogenic diet. To help her, I've tried to find snacks that she can eat: ones that are low-carb, but higher in protein and have an average amount of fat. I seem to have found one she likes for a quick pick-me-up in the form of Oberto Cocktail Pep Smoked Sausage Sticks.


Oberto is a manufacturer of meat products like pepperoni and jerky. The intent of the Oberto Stix is for the meat snacks to be their own snack, not a component (like pepperoni traditionally is).

Oberto’s Cocktail Pep Smoked Sausage Sticks are a processed meat product. The 40 oz. bulk package contains dozens of 8" sticks that are each 1/2” in diameter. The individual sticks are not individually wrapped, so these snacks have a minimal environmental impact, which is nice. We found ours at the local discount store for $8.99 for the bulk package, which is not a bad price for such an item!

Ease Of Preparation

Oberto Cocktail Pep Smoked Sausage Sticks are a processed meat product, so basically, one opens the package and they begin devouring them. These do not require refrigeration, though an airtight package is recommended.


The Oberto Cocktail Pep Smoked Sausage Sticks have a spicy, beefy scent to them. The aroma is evocative of pepperoni. The meat stick does not have a powerful scent, at least not after the package has been opened for a few minutes.

The Cocktail Pep Smoked Sausage Sticks are surprisingly peppery. In fact, more than the salty, beef flavor, the Smoked Sausage Sticks are overwhelmed with the flavors of garlic and black pepper. That gives the initially greasy meat sticks with a grainy texture to the center (beyond the skin) a strong, spicy flavor. As one who is not usually drawn to spicy hot foods, the fact that these sticks left my lips peppery was a little bit of a drawback to me.

The Cocktail Pep Smoked Sausage Sticks leave a strongly pepper-flavored aftertaste in the mouth.


Oberto Cocktail Pep Smoked Sausage Sticks are a fairly poor choice for balanced nutrition. A serving size is considered one meat stick. In the recommended serving, there are 130 calories, 100 of which are from fat. This snack has 23% of one's daily recommended saturated fat intake and 16% of the RDA of sodium. On the plus side, it does have six grams of protein.

These are not marked as Gluten-free, nor marked as Kosher (I’m not sure why, the ingredient list does not indicate what might violate that diet). This meat snack is made primarily of pork hearts, beef, and pork. That makes it mostly natural, but it does have preservatives that are not natural.


The Cocktail Pep Smoked Sausage Sticks have a long shelf life; our two plus pound package would have lasted until mid-2016 had my wife not consumed them.

Cocktail Pep Smoked Sausage Sticks are a meat product, so they are not going to stain or ruin anything unless it is a light or papery material, given how greasy they are. Baring that, cleanup of nonporous surfaces is as easy as wiping them with a damp cloth.


Oberto Cocktail Pep Smoked Sausage Sticks are very average and for those who do not like peppery meat, these might surprise those who like something more mild.

For other meat snacks reviews, please check out my takes on:
Duke's House Of Meats Stubb's Spicy Bar-B-Q Beef Brisket Strips
Hormel Hard Salami Stix
Pecos Bill's Terayaki Beef Jerky


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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