Wednesday, February 28, 2018

February 2018 End Of The Month Report

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February was a big month for the blog with the return of a lot of popular television shows and the end of the first season of Star Trek: Discovery. The DC Television Universe was a mainstay of our reviews, but it was no surprise tha the big review of the month was from a new Netflix show!

We are adapting the Amazon product links as we reference old reviews now. Most of the links have been properly converted and the reviews now have the right products associated with them. We appreciate our readers sticking with us through Amazon reconfiguring, which is likely to continue to be ongoing for a bit longer!

This month, we picked up two 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 on the blog, 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 February, we updated the index pages every few days and remembered to upload the changes, so the index pages continue to be a useful tool to our readers! The primary Index Page, is usually updated daily and 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 and feel free to use that as it is a much more useful and organized index to the reviews I've written!

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 tax returns begin, if you're going shopping online, please come through the blog to to it. Thank you so much!

At the end of February 2018, I have reviewed the following:
591 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Star Trek Books
Graphic Novels
960 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
3431- - 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!)!
241 - 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
951 - 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
1112 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Cheese and Meats
Ice Cream
Other Food
293 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
116 - Travel Reviews
Destinations Reviews
Hotels Reviews
235 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
218 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
110 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
62 - Other Product Reviews

The Featured Review For The Month of February is my review of: The Good Place Season 2!
Check it out!

The month of February was packed with new, highly-read reviews, especially for new television works, with some interesting hits from legacy reviews! For February, the Top Ten Reviews of the month were:
10. "Will You Take My Hand?" - Star Trek: Discovery
9. Cello Whisps Cheddar Cheese Crisps
8. "True Colors" - The Flash
7. Loacker White Wafer Cookies
6. "The War Without, The War Within" - Star Trek: Discovery
5. Travellers - Season 1
4. ChocoMe Dark Chocolate With Ground Cocoa Beans, Freeze-Dried Sour Cherry Pieces, and Freeze-Fried Strawberry Pieces chocolate bars
3. "Past Life" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
2. The End Of The F***ing World - Season 1
1. Altered Carbon - Season 1

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 - 344 reviews
9s - 648 reviews
8s - 1049 reviews
7s - 1155 reviews
6s - 1079 reviews
5s - 1376 reviews
4s - 1029 reviews
3s - 805 reviews
2s - 399 reviews
1s - 262 reviews
0s - 134 reviews
No rating - 147 articles/postings

There was a decent amount of movement this month, but no new additions to the all time Top Ten Reviews! At the end of January 2018, the most popular reviews/articles are:
10. Oz The Great And Powerful
9. The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bone
8. Lemony Snicket's A Series Of Unfortunate Events - Season 1
7. Warm Bodies
6. Iron Man 3
5. Now You See Me
4. Tyler Perry's Temptation
3. The Burden Of Being Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
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!

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

"Subject 9" Hits Highs Before Settling For "Ho-Hum."

The Good: Moments of continuity, Most of the special effects and humor work.
The Bad: Obvious plot progression, Mediocre performances
The Basics: "Subject 9" starts The Flash out with an intriguing new metahuman before settling into the familiar.

The fourth season of The Flash has finally come into focus. While DeVoe was instantly the season's adversary, the show has meandered into the S.T.A.R. Labs team figuring out what DeVoe is up to. But, as "Subject 9" begins, DeVoe's general plan - to absorb the metahuman abilities from the metahumans he created - has become apparent to both the viewers and the characters within The Flash. "Subject 9" also opens with Ralph Dibny at an intriguing narrative juncture; recognizing that DeVoe is coming after the others like him, he starts the episode knowing he has a target painted on his back.

"Subject 9" was preceded by"True Colors" (reviewed here!) and found Barry Allen being exonerated for the murder of DeVoe - thanks to Dibny discovering a newfound ability; using his stretching skin to shape-change. Allen's successful appeal came following DeVoe making a rather bold move with the metahumans he had created and the murder of Warden Wolf at the hands of DeVoe. The seeds have been well-planted for Marlize DeVoe to switch sides; it remains to be seen how long she will hold out before betraying her husband.

Barry Allen returns to work where he gets a surprisingly cold reception. Captain Singh asks that Barry take a leave of absence to help restore faith in the Central City Police Department. The new Mayor wants to prove that DeVoe is still alive, but while relieved of duty, the S.T.A.R. Labs team closes rank on Ralph Dibny and they renew their search for the other bus metas. Dibny visits the bus depot's lost and found and discover that Izzy Bowin was one of the people turned into a metahuman through the bus accident. While visiting Bowin at a gig, Dibny and Allen are surveilled by the DeVoes. When Bowin resists their help, she reveals her power: the ability to manipulate sound waves.

After DeVoe reveals herself to Bowin while the Flash team is trying to convince her of the threat to her life, the S.T.A.R. Labs team decides to try to train her to be a part of the team. Bowin wants nothing to do with them, but Dibny actually changes her mind. Horton rails against Wells's new device while Bowin is trained at S.T.A.R. Labs. When The Flash steps in with the training, Bowin gets hurt. After bringing the new dampener to Horton, Wells and Horton try to strike up a friendship when Wells has an important epiphany about the nature of the device he built for her. Believing she can take DeVoe on herself, Bowin leaves S.T.A.R. Labs.

"Subject 9" makes Ralph Dibny surprisingly important. Dibny helps find Bowin and he is integral to convincing her to stay with the S.T.A.R. Labs team. Dibny is willing to be tested upon so that Bowin can develop her abilities and that is a nice twist for him; being suddenly useful.

Attentive viewers will recognize the moment it is brought up that "Subject 9" has the season's resolution within it. In the third season, when DeVoe was being teased as the fourth season's adversary, Savitar mentions the weapon used to defeat DeVoe. In "Subject 9," Horton turns to Wells for help with dampening Joe West's thoughts . . . which seems like exactly what the crew needs to adapt in order to stop DeVoe. So when the silent epiphany comes, attentive viewers are well-prepared for it. In fact, it is hard to believe that it takes so long for the S.T.A.R. Labs team to develop the cerebral inhibitor . . . considering they had a similar device already in play to protect Barry from the psychic attacks of Gorilla Grodd.

The climax of "Subject 9" is incredibly frustrating. The physics of the final scene make no reasonable sense; there is a force field (apparently) and The Flash doesn't even try to vibrate through it. Or go around it. As a result, the move by DeVoe feels ultimately forced for the plot, as opposed to a sensible development based on characters' actions.

Harrison Wells returns to the narrative in a way that continues to illustrate that the writers have not figured out how to write for him now. Tom Cavanaugh is good - though he does smirk through one moment where he is supposed to be performing exasperation - but the character has been a bit aimless this season. Fortunately, Cavanaugh's final scene in the episode is well-executed and bucks the trend of adult characters being almost exclusively under thirty. Cavanaugh and Danielle Nicolet have good on-screen chemistry for their scenes.

In the end, "Subject 9" leaves the viewer with something of a ho-hum feeling. The plot moves into the inevitable territory fans knew it would, but it still feels more formulaic than it is fresh. The cast - save Hartley Sawyer - seem to be simply going through the motions and "Subject 9" feels more like a filler than a thriller episode.


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

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Benny's Diet Requires Earthborn Holistic Coastal Catch Dog Food . . . It's Such A Good Thing That He Loves It!

The Good: Great nutritional benefits, High-quality ingredients, Benny loves it
The Bad: Exceptionally expensive
The Basics: Earthborn Holistic Coastal Catch dog food meets Benny's special dietary needs and while it is expensive, it has helped him get up to a healthy weight and he loves it!

My poor Benny! It did not take my wife and I long to realize that our latest rescue dog had some pretty serious issues. As he became healthier, he started to exhibit food allergies and one of his eyes became drastically worse than when we got him - as an corneal ulcer manifested! With Benny's near-constant scratching, it became very easy for my wife to diagnose his food allergy. Since Benny's diet had always (since we got him) been grain-free, his itching indicated a different type of food allergy. My wife did a lot of reading on the subject and determined that Benny probably needed to consume novel proteins.

While she initially sent me on a futile quest to the local bison farm (yes, I live now in an area where there are multiple bison farms!), we ended up stocking up on Earthborn Holistic Coastal Catch dog food the moment Benny responded favorably to it. And he has. For the past two months, Benny has been eating Earthborn Holistic Coastal Catch and he no longer itches compulsively after eating!


Earthborn Holistic Coastal Catch dog food is a premium dog food and it is not something carried at my local grocery store. The 28 lb. bag lasted Benny a month and that's a pretty big expense for dog food for us.

A single serving of Earthborn Holistic Coastal Catch dog food for a dog like Benny (he's an English Setter who has gotten up to a healthy fifty pounds) is supposed to be 2 1/4 - 2 3/4 cups per day, so the 28 pound bag lasts only a month! The Earthborn Holistic Coastal Catch dog food is made up of little discs that are 3/8" in diameter and 1/8" thick. The Earthborn Holistic Coastal Catch dog food smells appropriately fishy.

Ease Of Preparation

Earthborn Holistic Coastal Catch is a fully-prepared dry dog food; there is no preparation required for dispensing it. The Earthborn Holistic Coastal Catch has directions for dispensing based on specific canine weight ranges and Benny has had no issues with devouring his 2 1/4 cups each day.

Benny’s Reaction

The Earthborn Holistic Coastal Catch smells very fishy, but not in an unpleasant way. Instead, the Earthborn Holistic Coastal Catch dog food is aromatic in a way that implies the fine ingredients it possesses!

Benny devours the Earthborn Holistic Coastal Catch dog food each time it is put before him. Benny consumes this dog food eagerly and when he hears the bag being opened, he comes running for his meals. The Earthborn Holistic Coastal Catch dog food sits in Benny's stomach well; his stool has become more firm and regular while on this diet. As well, he does not itch after eating any more, which seems to indicate it has solved his food allergy issues!


Earthborn Holistic Coastal Catch dog food is quite nutritious. Made primarily of herring meal, potatoes, and peas, the first twelve ingredients are natural and recognizable and most of the middle ingredients are, too! The Earthborn Holistic Coastal Catch dog food has no corn or wheat in it, which is good for a finicky dog like Benny who needs more protein, so it is considered grain-free.

According to the guaranteed analysis, Earthborn Holistic Coastal Catch dog food has at least 32% crude protein, 18% crude fat, 1.2% Calcium , but no more than 4% crude fiber and 10% moisture. This is a great food for all dogs. As a dry dog food, it is highly recommended that you have adequate water available for your dog when serving it Earthborn Holistic Coastal Catch dog food. Because it is a hard dog food, the act of dogs eating it helps to clean their teeth, which is a nice benefit of the Earthborn Holistic Coastal Catch dog food.


Earthborn Holistic Coastal Catch dog food is wonderful for dogs with dietary issues, which make it worth it for anyone who loves their special needs canine!

For other dog food reviews, please be sure to check out:
Rachael Ray Nutrish Just 6 Lamb Meal & Brown Rice Recipe Dog Food
The Honest Kitchen Grain Free Base Mix
Cesar Canine Cuisine Filet Mignon


For other pet product reviews, please check out my Pet Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Monday, February 26, 2018

"The Curse Of The Earth Totem" Makes For Decidedly Mediocre Legends Of Tomorrow

The Good: Moments of character, Decent performances
The Bad: Simple and obvious plot, Unfortunately lame special effects
The Basics: Legends Of Tomorrow creates a pretty basic episode in the form of "The Curse Of The Earth Totem," as three plots don't quite come together in a satisfying way.

It is hard not to acknowledge - even for fans - that Legends Of Tomorrow is meandering in its third season. The season is shuffling around cast members, has not satisfactorily focused on a villain and is struggling to find new characters who resonate in interesting ways. So, after a season high, it is hard to come back to Legends Of Tomorrow with hope that its latest attempt to incorporate a character it had trouble integrating with another cast will yield a decent episode.

"The Curse Of The Earth Totem" was preceded by "Here I Go Again" (reviewed here!) and that episode climaxed with the appearance of Wally West. Wally West encounters Rip Hunter, a character who has been ill-defined and pretty much off the team since the climax of the first season when he lost his defining character arc (which was to stop Vandal Savage and restore his killed family to the timeline). West is a speedster who is a perfectly adequate and wonderful Flash who essentially got booted from The Flash when the executive producers found it impossible to write around any scenario that could be solved by having two Flashes in play at the same time (or they got tired of being forced to artificially knock one Flash out of play to keep only one in the hero position at a time). So, Legends Of Tomorrow might be a good venue for Wally West, as the team could benefit from a Speedster.

Opening in 1717 in the Bahamas, Blackbeard the pirate bestows a gift upon his pirate queen. The emerald he gives her is a totem and it almost instantly causes vines to erupt from the earth to kill her. While Ray Palmer briefs the Legends on the search for the sixth, previously unknown, totem, Captain Lance visits Star City for a date with Ava Sharpe. Horrified that the fire totem has fallen into the hands of Damien Darhk, the Waverider crew (less the Captain) visit the Bahamas to recover the Earth totem. Rip Hunter asks Wally West for help and West denies him aid, as he is eager to no longer engage his Speedster powers. In Nassau, Jiwe actually turns to Rory for advice in what to do with her desires to change the futures for her daughter and granddaughter. Rory starts talking up the Dread Pirate Jiwe, so she can get the attention of Blackbeard and that gambit works.

Unfortunately, the Darhks - Damien and Nora - arrive and Damien takes Jiwe's totem from her. Hunter and West get drunk together, which allows Hunter to convince West to use his powers to steal equipment from the Time Bureau. Escaping Darhk's cannonballs, Lance's date is broken up by Ava fleeing when Gary shows up and Lance sees the Waverider crash nearby. Trapped in 1717, Jiwe and Rory manipulate Blackbeard into getting them to Grace Island to recover the Earth Totem.

"The Curse Of The Earth Totem" starts as a pretty basic Legends Of Tomorrow episode. This is a pirate episode of Legends Of Tomorrow. As a Legends Of Tomorrow episode, there is a pretty obvious progression of screw-ups, reversals and antagonists who are unique to the setting and part of the larger arc. As such, this is an episode that is mostly about the setting and it blends the pirate tale poorly with the Hunter and Lance plots. For sure, Rip Hunter's tale is a story that begins with piracy, but it gels poorly with the rest of the plot.

Part of what makes "The Curse Of The Earth Totem" so mediocre is the reversal surrounding Blackbeard. Blackbeard is a coward, who gives up information to law enforcement easily and is nowhere near as fierce as the legends about him. So, the episode becomes an easy opportunity for Jiwe to rise to the occasion of the rumors that Rory and the other Legends start.

That said, the reversal near the end that puts a zombified Annie (Blackbeard's pirate queen) back in play is well-executed. As well, Amaya Jiwe is a compelling protagonist for the episode. Jiwe is a pragmatist in many ways and "The Curse Of The Earth Totem" gives the show a chance to play with her character a bit in a decent way. Maisie Richardson-Sellers has the talent and magnitude to carry an episode and she pairs surprisingly well with Dominic Purcell for most of "The Curse Of The Earth Totem."

Ray Palmer's big moment at the episode's climax promises major character conflict for him in the next episode . . . assuming the writers make a decent exploration of it. The hints of Palmer's slip from the lawful good that comes in "The Curse Of The Earth Totem" leads to a climax that follows his character (save his supposed intelligence) well. The progression of Lance and Sharpe is fun in "The Curse Of The Earth Totem," but the return of Rip Hunter and Wally West to the DC Television Universe is unfortunately mediocre.

The concept for the vine and zombie creature that is the affected Annie is an interesting one, but the special effects for the sequence are poorly rendered compared to most of the other effects, undermining the menace. Ultimately, "The Curse Of The Earth Totem" is a very average episode; every aspect of what it does well is offset by something is head-smackingly bad.


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

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Indistinct Edibles: RXBar Kids Berry Blast Protein Bars Underwhelm

The Good: Decent ingredients, Does not taste bad
The Bad: Not particularly or distinctly berry flavored, Not as nutritious as it is ethically produced, Comparatively expensive
The Basics: RXBar Kids Berry Blast Protein Bars are unimpressive and not particularly filling or healthy, making them a tough sell for their premium price.

My wife has her eyes out constantly for new and interesting foods. As a result, she often picks me up products from new (to me) brands that have "hooks" that I tend to be intrigued by. Recently, she found me RXBar Kids Berry Blast Protein Bars and the gimmick for RXBars seems to be listing their primary ingredients on the front of their packaging. For me, that meant a sense of bemusement right out of the gate: there are no berries listed as primary ingredients for the RXBar Kids Berry Blast Protein Bars! Sadly, that truth carried through to the flavor of the Berry Blast bars, which meant that the flavor of raspberries only was a minor aspect of the flavor palate and made these an underwhelming treat to me.


RXBars are new to me. They seem to be trading on the idea of being all-natural and up-front with their ingredient list (the front of the package lists the four main ingredients that compose the bar).

Each Berry Blast Protein Bar is in a 1.16 oz. bar that is plastic-wrapped. Each bar represents a single serving and the Protein Bars are each 1 5/8” wide by 3/8” thick by 2 1/2” long. The RXBar Kids Berry Blast Protein Bars are unsurprisingly breakable or squishable. Each bar looks like a simple cookie bar, like a textured Fig Newton or a soft breakfast bar.

Ease Of Preparation

Eating RXBar Kids Berry Blast Protein Bars is simple. After removing the plastic wrapper, simply pull out the bar and stick it in your mouth. There is no particularly complicated equation to eating this Protein Bar; it is an entirely ready-to-eat food!


Unwrapping the Berry Blast Protein Bar, the bar smells surprisingly fruity. The scent of raspberries and strawberries emanates compellingly from the RXBar Kids Berry Blast Protein Bar!

In the mouth, the RXBar Kids Berry Blast Protein Bar tastes dry and sweet, with a vaguely fruity flavor. The sweet and tangy flavor of raspberries overwhelms the actual dates that form the basis for the bar. The mildly berry flavor comes out in every bite - usually as a mid-flavor between the mealy date dryness and a buttery, nutty aftertaste.

The RXBar Kids Berry Blast Protein Bars have a buttery, almond aftertaste that is not particularly distinct or flavorful.


RXBar Kids Protein Bars are intended as a meal supplement and they seem to work fairly well for that. These 1.16 oz. Protein Bars represent a single serving and they are surprisingly healthy. Made primarily of Dates, egg whites and almonds, what surprised me was how there was nothing in these bars that was unpronounceable. This is an all-natural food product and these Protein Bars are not Vegan-compliant, because of the eggs in them.

RXBar Kids's Berry Blast Protein Bars have 130 calories and 4.5 grams of fat. A full serving represents 3% of one's RDA of saturated fat, though they are cholesterol-free. Surprisingly, they are fairly low in sodium with only 80 mg (3% RDA) per serving and there are an impressive 7 grams of protein to be had by eating a full bar. These bars are a notable source of Calcium, Iron and Potassium, but no other vitamins or minerals.


As a healthy Protein Bar, RXBar Kids Berry Blast Protein Bar remain fresh so long as they are kept in their wrappers. Ours had an expiration date of June 23, 2018, so these last for a while. As long as the bars are not heated up, they remain fresh and the only real clean-up for them comes from wiping up crumbs. These bars are fairly moist and they seem almost greasy; cleaning the moisture/greasy film off the fingers is pretty much the only clean-up required!


RXBar Kids Berry Blast Protein Bars are unimpressive on all fronts.

For other bars, please check out:
Special K Protein Chocolatey Dipped Mint Meal Bars
Quest Beyond Cinnamon Roll Cereal Protein Bar
Clif Builder's Bar Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Bar


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

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sunday, February 25, 2018

Black Panther Advances The Marvel Cinematic Universe Surprisingly Well!

The Good: Cerebral moments, Decent continuity, Good performances, Female characters
The Bad: Very basic plot progression, Some under-developed characters
The Basics: Black Panther does a good job of making a fairly-original feeling film for the Marvel Cinematic Universe . . . when it is not falling into the familiar conceits.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is, wisely, evolving beyond the most obvious and familiar icons from Marvel Comics and it is a risky venture for the wildly successful film franchise. Fans of Marvel Comics and the films based upon them have a pretty wide stable to draw from, but the characters who are most popular are most popular and enduring for a reason, so as the MCU evolves, the fanbase is being challenged and highlighting lesser-known (in the collective consciousness, at least) characters is a risky endeavor. Arguably the greatest risk the film studio has taken - the television portion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is well-acquainted with risk, whatwith making the series' Agent Carter, The Inhumans and Iron Fist . . . and finding shocking success with the obscure character Jessica Jones - thus far is with the film Black Panther. While Ant-Man (reviewed here!) mitigated some of its risk by playing with a popular genre - the heist movie - Black Panther takes a much riskier approach by blending a tormented family drama with a conflict of a society in crisis.

Black Panther is intriguing in that it marks a major turning point within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. More than the continuity aspects within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Panther is intriguing because it does not utilize most of the obvious conceits of the action-adventure superhero films that have dominated the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, one of the issues that does not take long to manifest within the film is that it is horribly mis-named. Black Panther would have been more accurately entitled "Wakanda" or Black Panthers; the film is vastly more about the setting than the protagonist or antagonist.

Indeed, writer Joe Robert Cole and writer/director Ryan Coogler seem to go out of their way to smartly explore the setting of Wakanda in amazing detail and with a clever eye for subtle cultural commentary. Black Panther is set in the fictional African nation of Wakanda, which has incredibly futuristic technology and is hidden from the outside world by a massive holographic field. The country's largess comes from the presence of a massive reserve of Vibranium, the hardest element on Earth, deposited under the surface thanks to a meteor that crashed to Earth in ancient times. The Vibranium deposits allowed four of the five local tribes within Wakanda to unite and create a stable, technologically-advanced society that featured its own super hero, the Black Panther.

But beyond the technological superiority of Wakanda, Wakanda is characterized by a strong sensibility of African style. Wakanda is well-defined by a visual sensibility that illustrates costume and art style that are not dominated by European sensibilities. As a result, buildings have curved ramps instead of stairs, bright colors dominate the walls and outfits, and weaponry is spear and energy-based, as opposed to advancements in gunpowder-based firearms. Wakanda is a colorful place that blends advanced technology with tribal artwork, lip plates, and body types that are not at all monolithic (there are several films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe where a viewer would be hard pressed to try to find someone who did not look like they could be a lead in a film and/or a model).

Opening in 1992 in Compton, a Wakandan spy who has stolen Vibranium from Wakanda is confronted by King T'Chaka - the Black Panther at the time. Flashing forward to the present day, a week after the death of T'Chaka in Captain America: Civil War (reviewed here!), T'Challa is being formally installed as King of Wakanda. After a brief challenge, T'Challa becomes king. One of the first challenges he faces in the dual roles of King of Wakanda and Black Panther is the theft of a Wakandan artifact from a London museum and the resurfacing of Ulysses Klaue, a mercenary who stole Vibranium from Wakanda and has since eluded capture or justice there.

Determined to bring Klaue to justice after thirty years, T'Challa and his guards journey to South Korea where an American is buying the Wakandan artifact from Klaue. T'Challa finds that the buyer is the C.I.A., in the form of Everett Ross. While they disagree on who should apprehend Klaue, the point rapidly becomes moot as Okoye is made and a fight breaks out in the casino the mission has taken them to and Klaue is revealed to be armed (literally) with Wakandan weaponry. Ross captures Klaue and begins an interrogation of him, but Klaue is rescued by Erik Killmonger. In the process, Ross is shot saving Nakia and T'Challa makes the decision to save his life by bringing him back to Wakanda. Shortly thereafter, Killmonger arrives on the border of Wakanda with a surprising gift and a challenge to the throne. Deposing T'Challa, Killmonger begins to pursue a radically-different agenda for Wakanda.

Black Panther works when it tells the political story of two potential leaders who each have a different view of their nation and its relationship with the world at large. Erik Killmonger, raised in the U.S. and trained by the C.I.A., sees the plight of black people around the world and wants to use Wakanda's resources to liberate blacks, advance Africa, and dominate the world. Killmonger is one man, essentially, working alone with a vision that would overturn the world order and have Wakanda conquer.

The most interesting aspect of Black Panther on the character front is that Killmonger's foil is not a single character; it is the idea represented by T'Challa in the way he governs. T'Challa - despite being a king who reports to a council that features representatives of the four tribes that participate in Wakanda's government - has a strongly democratic idealism; he is guided by views and agendas from his scientifically-minded sister (Shuri), the Captain Of The Guard (Okoye), his old friend W'Kabi, and his ex-, a spy who is bent on stopping the oppression of women throughout Africa, Nakia. T'Challa is an interesting mix of being open-minded to opposing viewpoints and being set in his way. In many ways, Black Panther is about T'Challa slowly incorporating the various ideas he is presented with into a new plan for Wakanda.

Much like Captain America: Winter Soldier (reviewed here!) was essentially a spy thriller set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Ant-Man was a heist flick in the shared universe, Black Panther is a cerebral political drama that is masquerading as an action-adventure movie. In fact, the forced action moments are often disappointing because of the way they feel entirely incongruent with the rest of the movie. The car chase sequence is especially banal. While things like Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Doctor Strange provide Black Panther with continuity cover for the film's mysticism (both Killmonger and T'Challa both commune with the dead, but they do so from a specific place in ways that could be explained as either portals or simple psychological revelations).

While Klaue is outfitted with an awesome weapon that is utilized in a clever way for his part in Black Panther, many of the conceits that follow the plot formulas for the action-adventure film fall flat in the film. T'Challa's body being tossed off a cliff, for example, simply leaves the genre fan waiting for him to pop back up in the narrative.

But the foils between T'Challa's father issues and Killmonger's father issues play out well and create an interesting character drama that the viewer wishes was explored more. The values of Wakanda are detailed well and the political differences between T'Challa and Killmonger, Nakia and Okoye, Ross and Klaue make for an intriguing story of political theory disguised in a science fiction/fantasy setting.

The acting in Black Panther is good. The performers are all convincing in their roles, but given how few of them I was familiar with prior to the film, it is hard for me to write more. Andy Serkis (Klaue) is well-cast, but his giggles are reminiscent of his most famous performances and Martin Freeman's biggest performance challenge seems to be maintaining an American accent throughout (which he does well). Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, and Letitia Wright are all good, but most aren't given a lot that allows them to show off much range or greatness. Indeed, Boseman's best moment comes at the film's climax when T'Challa amends what could be the film's most sexist and demanding moment into a request. After a film populated by strong women and men who accept that as the norm, that moment stands out and after a moment of disgust at the writers, the film turns back to its delightfully progressive direction.

Black Panther is worthwhile and it is a solid addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it could have been more by focusing on what made it original, as opposed to trying to force it to conform to the familiar paradigms.


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

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Friday, February 23, 2018

Ghirardelli White Chocolate Creme Brulee Chocolate Squares Delight!

The Good: Good flavor, Good ingredients
The Bad: Not exactly nutritious, I wouldn't pay full price for them . . .
The Basics: The new, limited edition, Valentine's Ghirardelli White Chocolate Creme Brulee chocolate squares are flavorful and worthwhile!

I love Valentine's Day . . . for the after-holiday sales. I'm not a huge fan of the Hallmark style holiday (I have an anniversary to glorify my love for my wife!); so getting the treats from the holiday afterwords for half price is a much bigger deal to me than the actual Valentine's Day. This year, I stopped at Target after the holiday and I picked up a bunch of Valentine's Day candies. One of the most exciting candies I picked up this year was a bag of Ghirardelli White Chocolate Creme Brulee chocolate squares.


Ghirardelli White Chocolate Creme Brulee chocolate squares are one and 13/16” squares of chocolate that are 1/4” thick. Each of the squares comes individually wrapped in a light pink foil wrapper with gold hearts. It is worth noting that while I usually rail against the environmental impact of such things, it is hard to imagine Ghirardelli chocolate squares not wrapped. This keeps each one clean, unmelted and intact.

Each chocolate square is a seamless square that is essentially a white chocolate patty with tiny flecks of additives that are reminiscent of cookie pieces with the Ghirardelli symbol stamped into the top. In this form, the 4.8 oz. bag, the individually-wrapped chocolate squares are packaged together in a thick foil paper bag. This size has fourteen squares and the thick foil paper bag does little to protect the squares. The bag is not resealable, though this matters very little considering that the chocolate squares do not go bad as they are individually wrapped.

One of these bags, even with only fourteen squares, tends to run in the $5.00 range, which is not at all prohibitively priced.

Ease Of Preparation

These are candy, so preparing them is as simple as opening the bag and then opening one of the plastic wrappers around the actual chocolate square one wishes to eat. There is no grand secret to eating Ghirardelli White Chocolate Creme Brulee chocolate squares. That said, they do need to be kept comparatively cool or these squares will melt.


The White Chocolate Creme Brulee Ghirardelli squares smell incredibly like white chocolate. The white chocolate aroma is strong and aromatic. There is a hint of cinnamon in the scent of the Ghirardelli White Chocolate Creme Brulee chocolate squares.

In the mouth, Ghirardelli White Chocolate Creme Brulee chocolate squares taste potently of white chocolate. The cinnamon and caramel flavor comes out in the Ghirardelli White Chocolate Creme Brulee chocolate squares as the white chocolate melts away. The Ghirardelli White Chocolate Creme Brulee chocolate squares feature a crunchy additive that bears the flavor of the creme brulee; the white chocolate is smooth and creamy opposite the caramel and cinnamon crunchy pieces.

The White Chocolate Creme Brulee chocolate squares have a slight, sweet, milky aftertaste.


The White Chocolate Creme Brulee chocolate squares are candy, so they are not intended to fill in nutritional gaps one might have. Ghirardelli chocolate squares have decent ingredients, though, which is probably why they are so expensive. The primary ingredients are sugar, cocoa butter, and whole milk powder. There is nothing unpronounceable, nor unrecognizable, in the White Chocolate Creme Brulee chocolate squares.

A serving of the Ghirardelli White Chocolate Creme Brulee chocolate squares is a single square. From a square, one takes in 60 calories. There is no cholesterol and 20 mg of Calcium. There is only a negligible amount of Sodium (10 mg) and no other vitamins or minerals are truly represented!

The White Chocolate Creme Brulee squares are not Vegan-compliant, nor are they recommended for anyone with a nut allergy as they may contain trace amounts of tree nuts. They are, however, kosher.


The bags of these Ghirardelli White Chocolate Creme Brulee chocolate squares remain fresh for quite some time. Given that it is chocolate, 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. The bag I purchased on clearance following Valentine's Day had an expiration date of November 30, 2018.

As for cleanup, just throw the wrappers away in socially appropriate places and you're done! Outside that, there is no real cleanup needed, unless one is eating them in a hot environment. In that case, it is likely one would need to wash their hands. If these chocolate squares melt into most fabrics, they will stain. Getting them to melt, though, is quite a task.


Ghirardelli White Chocolate Creme Brulee chocolate squares are surprisingly good, even for those who like dark chocolate, as a flavorful alternative to the norm!

For other Ghirardelli chocolate squares reviews, please check out:
Milk Chocolate Peppermint Brownie chocolate squares
Cinnamon Crunch
Sublime White Vanilla Dream White Chocolate With Vanilla Beans


For other candy reviews, please visit my Candy Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Good Place Season 2 Develops Character In The Afterdeath!

The Good: Very funny, Good performances, Interesting themes, Decent character development
The Bad: Unfortunately short season, Some repetitive moments
The Basics: The Good Place Season 2 manages to reinvent itself successfully to progress its characters through a short, but wonderful, second season!

There are very few shows that I can think of that had more pressure to perform and surprise audiences in their second season than The Good Place. It was a tough thing to write a review of the first season of The Good Place (reviewed here!) without spoiling the end; it is impossible to write a review of the second season without discussing the end reversal. In my review of the first season, I worked hard not to spoil the end, but I alluded to how the first season works like a movie that if I even mentioned could spoil the first season. That film was The Usual Suspects (reviewed here!) and, like that, The Good Place Season 1 features an untrustworthy narrator. That put a huge burden on the second season of The Good Place as it forced the show to completely reinvent itself or risk simply doing the same thing a second time.

In its second season, The Good Place takes the tough road of reinvention and it manages to succeed, making an even better second season than the first.

Almost immediately, The Good Place Season 2 subverts expectations by revealing that the show will not simply be a reboot of the first season. Having revealed that Michael is actually tormenting the four protagonists of The Good Place, the rebooted experiment within Michael's Bad Place does not last the whole season . . . it does not even survive the season premiere! Over the course of the first episode, Eleanor's note from the first season finale allows her to quickly deduce the nature of the place in which she has found herself.

The Good Place Season 2 finds Eleanor, Chidi, Tahani, and Jason in the afterdeath. There, they are tormented with the belief that they are in the Good Place, but the imperfections tip them off. On the 802nd attempt, Michael is extorted by Denise and Eleanor and Chidi retreat with Janet to Mindy St. Claire's. In the Medium Place, Eleanor and Chidi learn the true nature of their existence and return to the neighborhood. There, Michael confesses to his humans and works to convince them that they are all in the same boat. Reluctantly working with the coerced Michael, the group begin the 803rd attempt with their memories intact and a promise from Michael that he will try to find a way to sneak the quartet into the actual Good Place.

When Chidi begins to teach ethics to Michael, it creates in him an existential crisis. It does not take long, though, for him to revert to form. But continuing to work with Michael to force the demon to uphold his word, leads Michael to develop and grow. As he becomes invested in the group and their problems, he actually works to protect the humans from Sean and their impending doom!

The Good Place Season Two progresses wonderfully, without a sense of repetition that could have plagued the show. Instead of simply repeating the first season's plot for the entire season, The Good Place reinvents itself by smartly developing Michael. While the first season worked to evolve Eleanor to reveal a truth about the plot, the second season of The Good Place finds Michael and Janet evolving beyond their original parameters in surprisingly compelling ways. Janet and her impending self destruction forces the plot forward, but the threat to Michael blended with the menace from Vicki makes him make decisions that progress the twelve episodes forward in an intriguing and often-funny way.

For a better understanding of why The Good Place works as well as it does, it helps to understand the characters. The characters in the The Good Place Season 2 continue to be:

Eleanor Shellstrop - Dead and initially returned to Michael's experiment knowing that she doesn't belong and given the title of "Best Person" to encourage her to go off the rails, she uses the clue left from the prior loop to find Chidi. Almost constantly figuring out that the group is in the Bad Place, she always turns to Chidi for help and she begins to develop actual affection for him. She starts to develop actual romantic feelings for Chidi and actually turns to a tape she stole from Mindy St. Claire, which allows her to make a genuine appeal to the architects of the afterdeath,

Chidi Anagonye - Originally rebooted as the neighborhood's only man who has two potential soulmates, between whom he must choose, he is found by Eleanor almost immediately. It is the fact he always helps her that ultimately turns Eleanor toward Michael's plan. He acts as an ethical guide to Michael, Eleanor, Tahani and Jason, though he is tormented by Michael with the Trolly Problem. As Eleanor develops, Chidi starts to have feelings for her as well,

Tahani - Given a new identity with a tiny house and a short soulmate, she is miserable right away and gets drunk at the initial party. Tahani is a hold-out with Eleanor on Michael's plan until she has the epiphany of how truly horrible she was in life (by being shown how she died). When she is tormented by Denise with a party that is better than one she is throwing, she finds Jason's compassion surprisingly alluring and the two hook up. When Jason proposes to her, she finds herself in the surprising position of actually saying "yes,"

Jason Mendoza - Rebooted again as a silent monk, he is miserable with his platonic soul mate and works to get away from him. He turns to Janet for help and, at a low point for Michael, he figures out they are in the Bad Place! Still a complete idiot, he eagerly hooks up with Tahani. When that happens, he becomes more emotionally-complicated by feeling hurt by Tahani's shame about being in a relationship with him. When he learns that he was married to Janet in a previous incarnation, he tries to maintain his relationship with Tahani,

Janet - The interactive information system in The Good Place, she was stolen by Michael for his experiment and continues to adapt to the new stimuli she is presented with. She works around her programming by trying to keep the four humans happy (as opposed to servicing the demons in the community). Her programming begins to glitch when she acts as a therapist for Tahani and Jason. Her glitches begin to compound, which threatens the neighborhood, so she creates a mate for herself, which further complicates the neighborhood,

and Michael - The demon who is desperately trying to avoid "retirement" (in the form of eternal torment), he adopts a mindset of "if you can't beat them, join them" and teams up with his human subjects. Learning philosophy from Chidi starts to have a real effect on him and he develops compassion for the four people he has been tormenting. Working to keep his secret from Sean, constantly threatened by Vicki (Denise, the original "real" Eleanor), he starts to feel bad about how he treated Janet and how asking her to lie is affecting her program. When Sean recognizes his good work and he is promoted, he faces a genuine ethical dilemma that forces him to actually choose sides and face the consequences of his actions.

The Good Place allows Ted Danson to shine with a very different type of character than he has played before. Danson is funny and tormented as Michael and he plays that range well. When Michael is earnest and honest, Danson shines in a way that he often does not have the chance to play. Equally wonderful is William Jackson Harper, who plays Chidi. Harper is instantly watchable as he plays Chidi as more than simply conflicted and indecisive. When he has to play the teacher and has hints of an alternate self when he and Eleanor were romantically involved, William Jackson Harper shows off his chops in a way he did not in the first season. As the second season of The Good Place progresses, Harper becomes a delight to watch as he makes Chidi an exceptional balance of authoritative and deeply human in the most painfully flawed ways.

Against the probabilities of what comes from most network television shows, The Good Place manages to make a smart, strong second season that improves upon the first season and whose deepest flaw might be that it leaves the viewer wishing there were more of it!

For other works from the 2017 - 2018 television season, please check out my reviews of:
"Here I Go Again" - Legends Of Tomorrow
"Will You Take My Hand?" - Star Trek: Discovery
"True Colors" - The Flash
"Both Sides Now" - Supergirl
"Past Life" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Altered Carbon - Season 1
Grace And Frankie - Season 4
"Twice Upon A Time" - Doctor Who
The End Of The F***ing World - Season 1
The Orville - Season 1
The Punisher - Season 1
Inhumans - Season 1
Stranger Things - Season 2
Rick And Morty - Season 3
"Crisis On Earth-X, Part 2" - Arrow
Twin Peaks - Season 3 ("The Return")
Game Of Thrones - Season 7
The Defenders - Season 1
Friends From College - Season 1


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

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Garnier Goes Affordable And Great With Garnier Fructis Grow Strong Paraben-Free Fortifying Shampoo!

The Good: Great scent, Wonderful cleaning power, Surprisingly affordable, Conditioning properties
The Bad: Still a little pricier than comparable shampoos.
The Basics: Garnier Fructis's Grow Strong Paraben-Free Fortifying shampoo is a wonderful shampoo thar strengthens hair and makes it smell wonderful!

For most of my life, Garnier Fructis has been a brand that is notable to me for being a premium hair care product. So, as the brand has moved into more affordable territory, I have been pleasantly surprised as it has allowed me to try more of their products. On a recent business trip, I had to pick up some shampoo because my hotel was horrible. For the first time, the best-priced shampoo at the grocery store I went to was a Garnier product! Since then, I've been using Garnier Fructis Grow Strong Paraben-Free Fortifying Shampoo and my wife and I love it!

Garnier Fructis Grow Strong Paraben-Free Fortifying shampoo is one of the more affordable shampoos in the Garnier line; I found it for $3.50 for a 12.5 oz. bottle and that was quite reasonable for the quality. The bottles are flat on the sides and top, which makes it easy to hold when wet. Grow Strong Paraben-Free Fortifying is a white creamy shampoo that has good viscosity, though it is a little thicker, almost like a conditioner. The Grow Strong Paraben-Free Fortifying shampoo comes with a flip-top cap for easy access to the shampoo with one hand while in the shower.

Grow Strong Paraben-Free Fortifying is a shampoo, so there is no trick to using it. Simply place a dollop on your hand and rub it into your wet hair until it lathers up. Then rinse and repeat if necessary. I have long hair and I usually can get away with a quarter-sized dollop to clean my hair with most shampoos. That has easily held true with the Garnier Fructis Grow Strong Paraben-Free Fortifying Shampoo.

This Fortifying shampoo cleans and seems to do an amazing job of actually strengthening hair. My hair has gotten cleaner and stronger over the last two weeks, without even having to use conditioner!

On the scent front, Grow Strong Paraben-Free Fortifying Shampoo smells delightfully of apples. The scent is strong and pleasant and it endures on the hair for hours after the shampoo is rinsed out of the hair.

All in all, Garnier Fructis Grow Strong Paraben-Free Fortifying Shampoo is worthwhile and does all that is promises!

For other shampoo reviews, please check out my takes on:
Pantene Pro-V Dream Care Shampoo
Maple Holistics Limited Edition Winter Blend shampoo
Dove Intensive Repair Shampoo


For other health and beauty product reviews, please be sure to visit my Health And Beauty Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Monday, February 19, 2018

"Here I Go Again" Moves Beyond References Into Something Wonderful!

The Good: Wonderful performances, Interesting character explorations, Good direction, Decent plot twist near the end, Good balance of humor and heart
The Bad: Somewhat derivative plot
The Basics: "Here I Go Again" plays the time loop conceit on Legends Of Tomorrow . . . surprisingly well!

Legends Of Tomorrow is having a third season that is made more weird than by its air schedule. The show has had two essential characters depart, a new character added, the brief return of an alternate-universe version of Leonard Snart, and the return of one of the most familiar villains in the franchise as support for the season's primary villain. "Daddy Darhkest" found Sara Lance starting to explore feelings for Ava Sharpe, despite having a fling with John Constantine. Throughout this season, the show has not had a lot of time to explore and grow the new character of Zari Tomaz. The attempt to rectify that is made in "Here I Go Again."

"Here I Go Again" follows on "Daddy Darhkest" (reviewed here!), which had Mallus tormenting Damien Darhk's daughter. "Here I Go Again" also begins with the Legends Of Tomorrow now having a quest of their own; Mallus appears vulnerable to the totems used by Amaya Jiwe, Zari Tomaz and Kuasa.

Zari Tomaz is attempting to alter Gideon's programming when the rest of the Legends return to the Waverider. While checking the results of the mission, Gideon crashes and Sara Lance gets furious with Tomaz. Zari indicates she is trying to hack time to alter the flow of history to prevent her Earth from becoming a dystopia and when she tries to fix the Waverider, it blows up. Time reboots and Tomaz is frustrated and confused by returning to a conversation in which Lance gives her a dressing down. Within an hour from the conversation, the Waverider explodes and Tomaz is thrown back in time.

As one of the loops progresses, Dr. Heywood tells Tomaz about Groundhog Day and the next time through, Tomaz hunts down Heywood and enlists his aid. Together the two try to figure out who might have blown up the Waverider and why.

Despite the allusions to Groundhog Day, "Here I Go Again" plays much like the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Cause And Effect" (reviewed here!) on the plot front. "Here I Go Again" is fun and there is a lot of joy in the moment when Ray Palmer actually references the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode.

More than simply being a plot conceit, "Here I Go Again" uses the repeating time loop to explore the characters of Legends Of Tomorrow and Tomaz especially. Zari Tomaz came from a dark and miserable place and has not truly integrated with the crew. So, putting her at the core of the conflict where she has to try to win the trust of her teammates and save the day is interesting.

Tala Ashe has a chance to truly shine in "Here I Go Again" and she runs with the opportunity. While it is hard not to see Tala Ashe when she is used as windowdressing, to fill a niche to make viewers think of Morena Baccarin, "Here I Go Again" allows her to step out with an incredibly diverse performance. Ashe gets to play heavily dramatic, incredibly funny and wonderfully earnest at various points in "Here I Go Again" and she rises to the occasion each and every time. Ashe's performance is matched by Dominic Purcell's wonderful deadpan and the best on-screen sexual chemistry between Maisie Richardson-Sellers and Nick Zano.

More than simply a rehashing of Groundhog Day or "Cause And Effect," "Here I Go Again" races to a surprising, clever and original climax. Director Ben Hernandez Bray makes "Here I Go Again" feel fresh and original and some of the editing telegraphs the end, but that only makes the episode feel smarter and better-constructed than it originally does.

The result is one of the best episodes of Legends Of Tomorrow.


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

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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