Friday, September 30, 2011

One Of The Coolest Blackest Night Action Figures, Nekron Menaces The DC Universe Heroes!

The Good: Great sculpt, Decent Accessory, Great articulation, Generally good balance
The Bad: Loose grip on scythe, Collectible value
The Basics: The major villain from the Blackest Night Series 5 figure line, Nekron stands tall for fans of the DC Universe.

As an Alpha Geek, I am proud to be able to get toys and display them as decor. I like toys, I like merchandising from the various franchises that interest me. No, I don't play with it. Okay, I don't play with most of it. Most of my action figures are set up as decor, so as I work, I can see the things that inspire me and I enjoy that. As I find more and more merit in the graphic novel, I have found a few that have truly wowed me. One of them was the Blackest Night Saga, which inspired my guide on reading the convoluted series here! In Blackest Night, the main villain is Nekron and as I have been increasing my collection of action figures into the DC Direct figures from series' that I have enjoyed, the Nekron figure became my first Blackest Night action figure.

For those unfamiliar with him - or it - Nekron is the leader of the Black Lanterns during the Blackest Night. While Black Hand begins marshaling the dead and raising them as Black Lanterns, when the Black Lantern Battery comes to full power in Blackest Night (reviewed here!), it is Nekron who is risen to take the place of Black Hand as the leader of the Black Lanterns.


The Nekron figure is amazingly well-detailed, though the coloring is very simple. This works for Nekron as he is a pretty monochromatic being. The villain of the Blackest Night looks vaguely human with a skeletal head that features a Black Lantern symbol branded into his forehead. The embodiment of death incarnate stands 6 1/2" tall to the top of the figure's bare skull. His skin is sculpted to look tight, so there are empty veins evident all over the figure's arms and face, with his cheeks pulled so tightly that his teeth are revealed in a rictus grin. The Nekron figure is available only from DC Direct.

This toy is an exceptional sculpt, especially for a character that has only had two-dimensional references, Nekron looks good in all three dimensions. DC Direct gave the figure great bone definition in the fingers and the open chest is mortifying. Nekron is missing most of his breast area, with his ribcage torn open to reveal a black, detached heart. This makes the king of the undead look even more detached from anything that was once living.

Nekron's costume features a cloak that is made of soft, flexible rubber and is essentially a skirt. There is also a lowered hood on his back made of soft rubber, which leaves the creature's spine exposed in a grotesque way. The figure's legs are covered and look solid with simple wraps being all the apparent costume Nekron needed below the waist, save heavy boots. Nekron's boots feature silver-gray coloring to make them look like they are made of a heavy metal. The silver on the boots, near the knees, has flecks of blood red, as if Nekron has been bleeding victims and some splatter landed only on the metal.

That splatter coloring is also evident on the figure's shackle and neck shackle. Nekron features chains that hang from a neck shackle, and they look cool and have enough length not to inhibit the figure's articulation. Nekron features decent coloring detail outside the blood splatters on the metal-look portions of the figure. His eyes are solid white and have an almost luminous quality offsetting the blacks and grays of the rest of the figure. Nekron looks appropriately dead, but despite being largely gray tones, he looks like a viable creature.


Nekron, Leader of the Black Lanterns that he is, comes with only two accessories. He has his stand and scythe. The stand is a black and white disk with the Black Lantern logo. It is 3 3/4" in diameter and 1/4” tall and it has a single peg which plugs into the hole in Nekron's right foot. He is very stable on his base, even in extravagant poses

Nekron also comes with a scythe which he is able to hold in both hands and in a two-handed grip, though the fingers are molded to only hold it loosely. The scythe is 8 1/2" tall and features the curved wooden handle which arcs backward into the top section. The curved head of the scythe is exactly what one expects when they think of a scythe; a tapering, curving blade that is silver-gray and looks absolutely deadly. What is distinctive about Nekron's scythe is that between the blade and the grip on the wooden handle is Nekron's black lantern! It took getting the figure for me to fully process that Nekron's power battery - though he had no ring - is part of his scythe!


The DC Direct figures were designed more for display than play. Nekron cool for both. First, he has decent balance, though it is certainly better on his stand. Because he lacks a hinge joint on the ankle, when off the stand, Nekron must be posed flatfooted or he is likely to fall over.

Nekron comes with fifteen points of articulation, which is pretty good, even by today's standards. Nekron has joints at the ankles, knees, thighs, groin socket, shoulders, elbows, wrists and head. The shoulders are proper ball and socket joints, while the elbows and knees are both hinge joints. The head is on a ball joint, which allows the villain to nod up and down as well as look left to right!

The only strike against Nekron on the playability front is the fact that the hands are cast so the grip on the scythe is a bit loose.


Nekron is part of the DC Direct Blackest Night Series 5 line which was fairly rare and usually only distributed through comic book shops. Nekron is one of two unique villains in the line, but considering most of the figures in the line are undead versions of popular DC Universe characters, Nekron is largely being overlooked. Actually, this is one of the times collectibility in the marketplace is confounding me. The Nekron figure is unique to this series and is of the same stature of characters like the Orange Lantern Larfleeze or the Red Lantern Atrocitus, but has been drawing prices more analogous to the vastly unpopular Blue Lantern Saint Walker or Indigo-1 Lantern, which is pretty ridiculous for a figure this cool. As a person who bets on the market, I would bet that in the coming years as more fans share the Blackest Night Saga with friends, the Nekron figure will go from being a comic shop pegwarmer to a sought-after figure. It is just not (inexplicably) there yet.


Nekron is one of the best DC Universe figures - from any line - that I have encountered so far. The incredible detail makes him stand out from the Blackest Night line and provides a cool, credible villain for virtually any assortment of DC Direct figures for play or display!

For other figures based on DC Universe character, please check out my reviews of:
Infinite Crisis Donna Troy
Wonder Woman Series 1 Circe
The Dark Knight Two-Face doll


For other toy reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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A Surprisingly Pleasant Sequel: Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil Develops The Franchise Better Than Expected!

The Good: Decent character development, Largely funny, Decent voice acting.
The Bad: Very predictable plot, No commentary track.
The Basics: Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil is an engaging continuation of Hoodwinked! that has a decent theme on the importance of teamwork, despite featuring adult allusions for much of the humor.

Almost three years ago, I met the woman who would become my wife. After a surprisingly short time of communicating via e-mail and online chats, she invited me out to meet her in Michigan and despite the fact that I could not actually afford it, I took her up on her invitation. That trip changed my life; we were married a little over four months later and we have been happily married since. That first weekend, we shared movies with one another. I brought Magnolia (reviewed here!), which she still holds against me to this day. I also rather stupidly, apparently, informed her that I had "a bit of a thing" for Anne Hathaway when she pulled out a copy of Hoodwinked! for us to watch together. Despite her general loathing of Anne Hathaway (her films and singing voice at least), I find it deeply ironic that she had an Anne Hathaway film in her collection before me. We both enjoyed Hoodwinked! (reviewed here!) and watch it an average of once a year. So, when we heard about Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil, we were both pretty excited (she was probably a little more excited considering Hathaway was not going to be in it). Unfortunately, the movie was only played locally for a week before it disappeared from our theaters and we missed seeing it on the big screen.

But last night, that changed when our local library got in Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil for us. The sequel, featuring Hayden Panettiere in the role Anne Hathaway had in the original, is a decent sequel, which does a good job of continuing the original and developing it beyond what it was. While Hoodwinked! was focused on Red Riding Hood becoming an empowered heroine while cracking the case of the goodie bandit, Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil illustrates the challenges to the Happily Ever After Agency when Red Riding Hood is not available.

Having, presumably, been on several missions with the Happily Ever After Agency following their induction, Red Riding Hood has taken a leave of absence to learn with the Sister Hoods in the mountains. She is, thus, cut off from the group when Granny Puckett is abducted and the Big Bad Wolf botches the case they were on when it happened. Granny, in trying to save the kidnaped Hansel and Gretel, is captured herself. Nicky Flippers contacts Red Riding Hood, who quickly comes to believe that Granny's abduction has to do with her knowledge of how to make a devastatingly powerful truffle.

Journeying to the Big City, Red Riding Hood rejects working with the Big Bad Wolf, irked because she blames him for Granny's capture in the first place. Trying to milk the local Giant for information, though, she is bailed out by the Wolf and soon comes to rely upon him for help. Working together, the pair infiltrates the castle in search of Granny. All the while, Granny comes to realize that her capture is no accident and she finds the responsible party to the crime!

Having not read anyone else's reviews of Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil, I'm not exactly sure why so few people actually seemed to enjoy the film. For my money, what I liked was pretty solid: the movie progresses the story and characters without simply rehashing the successful elements of the first movie. For sure, the plot is ridiculously simple and predictable, but there is a great deal of adult humor that hinges on an adult knowledge of popular culture. As an Alpha Geek, I can appreciate the many references and the fact that there are very few fairy tale allusions makes the work much more relevant to adults than children.

That said, the dominant theme in Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil is that is is important to work well with others. While this might seem like a terribly juvenile idea for an otherwise adult film, it works well as a reminder to adults in these cash-strapped times. No, it's pretty much the solid element for younger people in the movie. But why it worked for me was that it effectively illustrated how playing for a team does allow the strengths of each member to be used, something which is not often seen in movies today. Moreover, the theme is well-developed and Red Riding Hood painfully illustrates how a team is weakened when the most potent negative traits of a team member are allowed to dominate. Red Riding Hood's absolute belief in herself is over-the-top arrogance, which leads to a disastrous meeting with the Giant. But when she begins to rely upon her teammates, her innate strength and intelligence are able to come through.

The animation in Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil is quite good and the vocal performances are decent as well. Glenn Close reprises her role of Granny with ease and Patrick Warburton and David Ogden Stiers are trained hands at vocal acting, so their performances are flawless as far as vocal emoting goes. Hayden Panettiere does a decent job stepping into the role of Red Riding Hood and she pretty much makes it her own. Amy Poehler, Joan Cusack and Bill Hader do fine as Hansel, Gretel and the Witch, though Martin Short noticeably does not perform Kirk quite like Belushi did in the first film. For the most part, though, the acting is decent, easily living up to the expectations left from Hoodwinked!.

On DVD, Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil comes with a featurette on the vocal performances for the movie that is dominated by clips from the movie and storyboards. There is not a commentary track, but there are three music videos (none of which are stellar). Regardless, the primary material is engaging enough to entertain.

For other works featuring Amy Poehler, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Monsters Vs. Aliens
Southland Tales
Arrested Development


For other film reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Revising My Views On Country Music: Shania Twain Is My Next Artist Of The Month!

The Good: Good vocals, Some memorable lyrics
The Bad: Short, Instrumentals are somewhat lackluster.
The Basics: A good, but short and musically sedate, album, The Woman In Me introduces me to Shania Twain and makes me want to share her works with others!

A few days ago, I ran into quite a conundrum. I had chosen an Artist Of The Month to immerse myself in whose first album left me with such an antipathy toward their work that I could not justify spending a whole month on them. That artist was Roberta Flack and the album was Roberta and when I opted against devoting the month to her works, I found myself in a bit of a quandary as to who to spend the month on. My wife suggested I branch out a little and try some Country music (she's a fan) and she recommended Shania Twain. A quick investigation of the discography of Shania Twain revealed that she did not have a terribly extensive body of work, so for the month Co-Artists Of The Month are . . . Shania Twain and Sheryl Crow!

My first experience with a Shania Twain album - I have only heard her works previously as part of her pop music crossovers on the radio - was The Woman In Me. This is a pretty poppy Country album and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, though I do believe that the album is much more average than many reviewers find it. There is a repetitive quality to the lyrics and instrumentals that nullifies some of the impact of some of the better lines on the album. Still, for those who might not traditionally enjoy Country music, The Woman In Me is an easy album to strongly recommend.

With only a dozen songs, clocking out at 48:05, The Woman In Me is short for a compact disc, but it does seem to illustrate the artistry of Shania Twain and John Lange. Twain wrote only one song on her own on this album, as did Lange, but the pair collaborated on the other ten. As well, because Twain performs all of the vocals and Lange produced the album, it seems they have a pretty decent balance between them. Lange provides harmonizing vocals on several of the songs and Twain does as well. As for instrumental artistry, the best Twain is credited with is handclaps and footstomps. This is hardly an album that illustrates much in the way of musical talent for Twain.

And the instrumentals are not the most extraordinary ever heard or produced. Most songs have a pretty heavy and danceable percussion section, like "Any Man Of Mine" and "(If You're Not In It For Love) I'm Outta Here!" There are a few country ballads, like "The Woman In Me (Needs The Man In You)" and "Is There Life After Love?" and the fundamental difference between the songs on this album and traditional pop-rock tracks is the lack of keyboards and electric guitars and the presence of the pedal steel and violins. Musically, though, there are any number of bored, predictable runs that sound like other artists. So, for example, the pianos and closing to "The Woman In Me (Needs The Man In You)" sounds remarkably like the Bonnie Raitt song "I Can't Make You Love Me." In fact, despite the quality of many of the lyrics, most of the instrumental accompaniments to Twain's vocals are lackluster and unmemorable. I've listened to the album over a dozen times now and I can't recall the tune to "No One Need To Know," for example.

Similarly, songs like "If It Don't Take Two," with the prevalence of fiddles and Country twang infused into the vocals sound exactly like what one would expect a Country song to sound like based upon rumor and hearsay.

As for the vocals, Twain is a mezzo-soprano and this album illustrates the quality of her voice, if not an extensive range. Shania Twain can sing and she does it with beautifully sultry tones on "Is There Life After Love?" and a happy energy on "You Win My Love." In fact, more than any other artist I've listened to in the recent past, Twain actually sounds like she enjoys what she is singing. Her tones often sound like she is smiling as she sings, there is such a vibrancy to her vocals.

Most of the songs on The Woman In Me are pretty wholesome Country ballads musing on the nature of love and relationships. Songs like "Any Man Of Mine" illustrate an uncommon sense of musical humor with lines like "Any man of mine'll say it fits just right / When last year's dress is just a little too tight / And anything I do or say better be okay / When I have a bad hair day." Shania Twain performs with clear, articulate vocals that enunciate all of the right words and keep her lyrics at the forefront of the listener's ears. There is no easy way to qualify Twain's musical protagonists; she is clearly presenting the image of a strong, independent (Western) woman but with little asides that have her characters seeking a man's approval (very Country). There is a reinforcement in her lines of traditional gender roles, but she presents her lyrics with a forthright strength that is anything but traditional feminine.

I think the strong woman wins out on this album. The Woman In Me is more about empowering women to take charge of their circumstances. Twain does this by being the dominant voice on "You Win My Love," where she determines the conditions of a partnership. And on "Leaving Is The Only Way Out," she plaintively sings "When late nights and long lies came knockin' / You just invited them in / And our voices got too loud for talkin' / Then my heart hit the floor / But your feet just kept walkin' / And if cryin' is the only way you hear me hurtin' / For the lovin' that I can't live without / And if lovin' ain't the only way into your heart / Then leavin' is the only way out" and has a strength to her that is both powerful and feminine.

And for fans of pop-rock, there is little intimidating on The Woman In Me. Sure, there are a few very County Western references, like the sensibilities that come with "I know I'm not the only / Girl you run to / I know about Lolita / Your little Spanish flame / I've seen you around with Rita / The redhead down the lane / Whose bed have your boots been under? / And whose heart did you steal I wonder" ("Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?") but largely the references are more universal than esoteric to the genre. For the most part, anyone who likes a strong female vocalist will find a lot to enjoy on The Woman In Me, a love album filled with anthems for strong women finding their voices.

The best track is "Is There Life After Love?" and the low point is "No One Needs To Know."

For other Country music reviews, please visit my takes on:
50 Greatest Hits - Reba McEntire
Something To Talk About (single) - Bonnie Raitt
Little Bit Of Everything - Billy Currington


For other music reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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Yea! It's Time To Start Exploiting Myah! The Oster ShedZilla Clean & Healthy Professional De-Shedding Tool Is Marginally Effective.

The Good: Good grip, Durable, Generally effective
The Bad: (Ironically) Expensive.
The Basics: Generally good, the Oster ShedZilla is a bit expensive for the results.

We cannot fight our natures. I am a reviewer and even when I am gifted an item, it makes my way into my reviewing cache. As has been my habit when getting new pets, I have tried to find some products that we bought for them that I might be able to review. So, for example, when our rabbit Daisy came to live with us, one of the new (to us) products that we picked up were Combo Chews (reviewed here!). Well, last night, our family grew again. Over six months after the tragic (though entirely foreseeable) death of our geriatric cocker spaniel, Mitzie - who helped me review a whopping 28 dog foods, treats and pet care products - my wife said she was ready to have another dog and after two frustrating days searching Craigslist, she found a Siberian Husky named Myah Rose who needed a good home and was within a two hour drive for us. So, yesterday, Myah Rose joined our family.

With Myah came many accouterments and as I rush to try some of them with Myah - both to help our new Husky feel more comfortable and to treat our new girl the same way I have spotlighted all our current and former pets - I feel lucky to have a dog coming from such a good home. Myah is an almost-five year-old Siberian Husky who is a little thin at the moment because she just got through her weaning her pups and she came to us with a full kennel and all sorts of food, treats and grooming materials. In an effort to make her feel included and comfortable, I decided to do a little grooming with Myah today and I picked up the Oster ShedZilla Clean & Healthy Professional De-Shedding Tool to groom her with. This is an impressive heavy-duty de-shedding tool and I was looking at it as a potential replacement for the Miller's Forge Large Shedding Blade for dogs (reviewed here!) which I had found to be less effective than I would like.

The Oster ShedZilla Clean & Healthy Professional De-Shedding Tool is a dog grooming tool that did not quite live up to my expectations. My car seat tells me that Myah is shedding and has a lot of loose hair, but the ShedZilla does not. After ten minutes of brushing Myah with the tool, I had less than five real tufts of hair that were removed. The result was I was left feeling like the ShedZilla might not be quite the right tool for a dog with a short undercoat and not a whole lot of loose fur. If only the loosest fur is removed by this tool, it is hard to justify the expense.

The Oster ShedZilla Clean & Healthy Professional De-Shedding Tool is a metal and plastic device that is 6 1/2" long by 3 1/4" wide - at the head - and 1" thick. Ours is gray with blue plastic for the handle and the butt of the handle features a hole to allow one to hang the tool for storage. The metal end of the ShedZilla features steel teeth. The teeth are flattened pieces of metal - twenty-five of them - which are spaced about 1/8" apart. The teeth are shaped, ironically enough, like full cat claws. As a result, they have very thick bases and they taper with a curved end.

Using the Oster ShedZilla Clean & Healthy Professional De-Shedding Tool is very simple. Simply grab the end of the handle, point the teeth toward your dog's hide and brush your dog. Brushing head to tail yielded about a tuft of hair per side of the dog. Myah is a thirty pound Siberian Husky and I was surprised by how little loose hair was pulled out by the tool, especially considering how much hair I have found around the house already.

But there are some real advantages to the Oster ShedZilla Clean & Healthy Professional De-Shedding Tool, foremost that it seems very comfortable for the dog. Myah is very twitchy about her tail being touched, leaping up when I accidentally brushed my hand against her tail when she was on our bed last night. But while brushing her with this tool, I was pleasantly surprised that Myah allowed me to brush her tail. Her tail is very bushy and I got my three largest tufts of hair from Myah from her tail.

The teeth seem like they would never wear out, given they are made of stainless steel. If the teeth need to be replaced, all one would need are the replacements, a tiny wrench and an Allen wrench. I was able to figure out intuitively how to replace the teeth, so this is a very easy to use and maintain tool.

Ironically, the major gripe I have with the Oster ShedZilla Clean & Healthy Professional De-Shedding Tool is the expense. Yes, I got mine as part of a package deal with an amazing dog! But not everyone is going to fill their gas tanks halfway and get an amazing dog, the Oster ShedZilla, and more. Online, these retail for about $25, which is a bit steep in my estimation. Miller's Forge products that I have used have had more effective results - at least with Mitzie - for less money.

Ultimately, I recognize the quality of this tool for dog grooming, but give it a very soft "recommend." It is pricy for what it does and there are other tools that seem to do the exact same things at least as efficiently. I am eager to keep dog hair from getting all over and other shedding brushes do more for less than this ShedZilla appears to.

For other dog care products, please visit my reviews of:
Millers Forge Large Slicker Brush
Millers Forge 2-in-1 Adjustable Pet Comb
Vroom Around The Room Dog Laser


For other dog care products, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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"The Power Of Love:" A Whispy Song, A Waste Of A Single.

The Good: Not a bad song
The Bad: Overproduced, Short (does not use the medium well).
The Basics: A fine song for those who like romantic pop ballads which are heavily produced, “The Power Of Love” is a disappointing use of the c.d. medium as a single.

When it comes to the works of Celine Dion, there are few songs that will probably make it onto each and every one of her compilations the way that her song “The Power Of Love” does. The song was Dion’s first multinational hit and the song that defined her breakout as a performer in the United States. It is, in many ways, the embodiment of the pop ballad and it is almost universally recognizable, even when it is remade as elevator music. It is also an utter waste as a c.d. single.

The c.d. single of “The Power Of Love” is a one-track release with the album version of The Power Of Love on it. The c.d. single offers no additional tracks, no remixes, no alternate versions, nothing. This is a regular c.d. upon which only 4:48 of music is imprinted. And while “The Power Of Love” is a good song, it is schmaltzy and Celine Dion fans – and casual listeners – will have no good reason to hunt this down as it appears on at least three full albums (that come instantly to my mind).

That said, “The Power Of Love” illustrates the lack of creative control Celine Dion has over the works she performs. She is a performer, not an artist and nowhere is it more clear than on this single. In this case, the sole song on the disc was written by four writers, none of whom were Dion. As well, Dion plays no instruments and she was not involved in the production of the single at all. That said, what she does on “The Power Of Love” is sing.

Celine Dion has a pretty amazing soprano voice and on “The Power Of Love,” most of her natural voice is actually evident. Unfortunately for listeners, while she has the swells and stanzas dominated with her natural voice, there are moments – especially at the beginning – where the vocals have a more produced sound to them. Ironically, this is not when she is mumbling through the opening lines of the song, but rather right before the first refrain. In the refrain, she illustrates amazing pitch and great lung capacity.

But the ridiculous aspect of “The Power Of Love” (other than its short duration) comes in its production. This is a keyboard-driven song with a programmed synclavier which gives the song a feel of actually possessing a string section. While there is an electric guitar – none of these played by Dion – that comes in to give the slow ballad more of a pop-rock edge, the keyboards dominate. And the problem is that when it seems Dion has the most to show off with her powerful, trademark vocals, this is when the instrumental accompaniment drowns her out and prevents the listener from getting the full magnitude of her voice.

As well, those who are not a fan of sappy pop love songs will find there is little to recommend “The Power Of Love.” The song is poetic, with lines like “Even though there may be times / It seems I’m falling away / Never walked away, I have / ‘Cause I am always by your side” which are then hampered by a pretty banal rhyme scheme in the refrain. Indeed, when it is set up with “’Cause I’m your lady,” the lines that follow, including “And you are my man / Whenever you reach for me / I’m gonna do all that I can. . .” are pretty predictable. The lines are clearly heartfelt and inoffensive – this is a love song, not a song about “getting some” – but they are uncomplicated. This makes for a good hit song (simplicity bodes well for the memories of the masses), but is not honestly a timeless song that is likely to be covered by other artists in decades to come.

That said, Celine Dion’s vocal interpretation of the lines others have wrote for her is not inherently bad and one finds themselves listening to this simple single wishing very much that they could hear an acoustic version of it. Sadly, that is not to be on this single. It is just the commonly-available studio-produced track. Nothing more, nothing less. Hold out for an album with the song on it.

For other works by Celine Dion, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Celine Dion
The Colour Of My Love
Falling Into You
Let's Talk About Love
The Collector's Series, Volume 1
A New Day Has Come
One Heart
These Are Special Times
Miracle: A Celebration Of New Life
Taking Chances
I Drove All Night (single)
My Love: Essential Collection
My Love: Ultimate Essential Collection


For other music reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Land O' Lakes Cocoa Classics Chocolate Graham Is Surprisingly Good Hot Chocolate!

The Good: Great taste, Easy to prepare
The Bad: Very expensive in this form, Environmental impact of packaging
The Basics: One of the surprise flavors of hot cocoa from Land O' Lakes that is exceptionally good and worth buying is Chocolate Graham Hot Cocoa.

Land O' Lakes Cocoa Classics makes pretty great - if expensive - hot cocoa. Many of their flavored hot cocoas live up to the basic flavors they claim to possess, but the expense of the cocoa or the environmental impact of the packaging makes it hard for me to recommend. But every now and then, I get surprised. Tonight, as my wife and I took in our new dog - Myah, who will be helping me review more dog products! - I was in the mood for a comfort food and I tried Land O' Lakes Chocolate Graham Hot Cocoa. And wow! Land O'Lakes truly comes through in this one!

Despite the lack of environmentalism of the packaging, this beverage is surprisingly good and very easy to recommend. True to the taste of graham crackers, the Land O' Lakes hot cocoa mix is worth buying as a very different treat.


The Chocolate Graham hot cocoa mix is part of the Land O' Lakes Cocoa Classics premium hot cocoa line. The mix comes in a 1 1/4 oz. sealed foil package and is a pretty delicious mix. Each 1 1/4 oz. packet is a single serving and these bear a relatively high price tag virtually everywhere I have found them of approximately three for two dollars. For a single mug of cocoa, this is expensive when compared to other make-at-home products, but about on par with getting a cocoa at a place like Starbucks.

Ease Of Preparation

The Cocoa Classics Chocolate Graham hot cocoa mix is ridiculously simple to make. Having been given a packet last Christmas, it is evident that this has a decent shelf life, as the expiration date recommended using the packet by December, 2012. Because it is sealed and has some artificial preservatives in is, this is likely to last virtually forever unopened. A single serving is the packet and six oz. of water. There is no measuring of the product involved!

As a result, preparation is ridiculously simple. The top of the envelope has a perforated edge and one need simply tear open the top, which is quite easy, and pour the contents of the packet into a mug that is at least eight ounces large. Then, simply pour hot water - near boiling, but not actually boiling as boiling water cooks the ingredients as opposed to simply dissolving them - over the powder and stir. Stir the powder until there are no blobs of chocolate powder visible in the water or giving resistance from the bottom. The beverage will have a light brown color to it and will be uniformly smooth and creamy.


At first encounter, the Chocolate Graham cocoa impressed me from the first scent. The aroma of hone graham crackers with a hint of - of all things - coconut wafted up from my mug and I immediately began to salivate, which is odd because graham crackers have never truly impressed me all that much. But the scent - perhaps because of the weird milky hint of coconut in the bouquet - made me immediately thirsty and eager to try this hot chocolate.

Fortunately, the taste was spot on. First, Chocolate Graham cocoa does not skimp on the chocolate flavor. Instead, the first sip was richly chocolatey, though it was clearly a milk chocolate flavor Land O' Lakes was striving for (and achieved). On the first sip, the graham flavor was defined mostly by a dry aftertaste with the hint of honey. I was prepared to begin panning this flavor of cocoa until I kept drinking it. With the second sip, there was more of a cinnamon flavor overwhelming the chocolate that had defined the first taste. By the third sip, the dominant taste was that of hot honey, tasting and smelling just like a graham cracker.

As such, Chocolate Graham has one of the most flavorful and interesting flavors of any of the Land O' Lakes hot cocoas. The taste seems to oscillate wildly between chocolate, honey and cinnamon - though the chocolate never completely dominates the flavor again as it did on the first taste. The aftertaste is consistently dry and while the beverage is sweet, when the flavor is mostly cinnamon, that sweetness does not come through. With a flavor that is never sugary, the Chocolate Graham hot cocoa is not much of a thirst quencher, but it is always satisfying.


Land O' Lakes Cocoa Classics are hot cocoa mix and therefore not the most nutritious things in the known world, though the Chocolate Graham flavor could be far less nutritious than it is. While I am used to reviewing things like all natural teas where the ingredients are all easily pronounceable and recognizable, the Chocolate Graham hot cocoa has a few ingredients that cannot be easily identified. The primary ingredients are sugar, nonfat dry milk and whey. It is not vegan compliant as a result. Ironically, the coconut I smelled is possibly from the coconut oil which is the fourth ingredient. There are no flavorings in the ingredient list that would define the beverage as graham cracker flavored!

What is not a mystery is how high this product is in sugars. In each cup of Chocolate Graham Cocoa Classics, there are 140 calories, thirty of which are from fat. There are 3.5 grams of saturated fat, so while one might be tempted to curl up and enjoy this while resting, they are likely to pay for it later on! While there is no cholesterol, a consumer gets 11% of their recommended daily allowance of salt out of a single packet of this beverage! There is a little protein, but not enough to live off this. In other words, this product is not a nutritious food product.

This product contains soy and milk and because there are no notations on it, one must assume it is not Kosher or gluten-free.


So long as one leaves the Chocolate Graham Cocoa Classic powder in its packet, it ought to stay usable. Given that it had an expiration date almost two years away, one assumes it will last quite a while and dissolve appropriately when one attempts to use it. The packets, for those of us who consider the environmental impact of such things, are terribly wasteful and expensive. The foil/plastic wrappers are not recyclable anywhere I've been.

Cleanup is very easy as well. If the product spills while dumping it into the mug, simply wipe it up or brush it up with a dry or damp cloth. If it has already been reconstituted with water into hot cocoa, simply wipe it up. Light fabrics are likely to stain if this gets on them, in which case consult your fabric care guide to clean it up.


Land O' Lakes Cocoa Classics usually feel expensive to me, but with the Chocolate Graham flavor, I found a unique beverage that was a steal at the price. I've never had anything quite like this hot cocoa, but I know for sure that I enjoyed it enough to buy (or request it as a gift!) it again!

For other Land O' Lakes hot chocolate drinks, please visit my reviews of:
Classic Dark
French Vanilla & Chocolate cocoa
Arctic White


For other food or drink reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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A Wishy-Washy Future Is Nothing To Report Home About: Minority Report

The Good: Interesting concept, Interesting characters
The Bad: Direction, some acting, Thematically repetitive
The Basics: Steven Spielberg directs Tom Cruise in a middling film about a future where crimes are prevented by foreseeing them and stopping them before they happen.

Somewhere along the line, I began to associate Philip K. Dick with L. Ron Hubbard. Both science fiction writers seem to lend their work to big movies with lots of people running around in a world that looks nothing like what anyone would currently guess the future would look like now. As a simple example, in Minority Report (which was based on one of Dick's short stories), there is a sweeping, huge highway system throughout Washington, D.C. that would never have the funding to be built by today's Highway Departments.

Minority Report is set in the near future where crime in Washington, D.C. has been eliminated through the use of psychics and an advanced system wherein police arrest criminals before they commit murder. The head of the Precrime Division is John Anderton, a deeply scarred, drug addicted police officer who is very good at his job. He has effectively eliminated murder in Washington, D.C. and his system seems to be flawless. However, as Precrime prepares to go national, Anderton finds the office under investigation by a Justice Department investigator named Witwer. When the Precognitives (the psychics in charge of sensing the future murders) foresee Anderton committing a murder, Anderton starts to run, believing Witwer has set him up.

This little opus by Steven Spielberg is an unfortunate example of where special effects films go wrong today. In the pursuit of being bigger, faster and more, the directors somehow manage to forget "better." As a result, Minority Report is a chase film filled with quick shot images, fast camera moves and other jerky visual elements that keep the viewer off their toes and missing much of the rather large world being created to tell the story in. Thus, the first viewing of the film may inspire a headache or at the least bafflement as so much happens on the screen so fast it's near impossible to catch it all the first time. This is especially disappointing considering what an accomplished director Spielberg is; one might think he would like people to see the canvas he is painting on, but instead this piece substitutes creative endeavor with flash.

While the characters are interesting, some of the problem with the film comes down to the actors. Colin Farrell plays Witwer, the Justice Department investigator who is hunting Anderton. While Anderton tries to exonerate himself, Witwer gains access to all the same data. Farrell fails to portray Witwer in a menacing enough manner that the viewer actually believes he is the villain setting everything up. As a result, it's hard to buy any of Farrell's scenes, save his final one.

Similarly, Tom Cruise, who plays Anderton does nothing to differentiate this role from his Mission: Impossible persona. All he does is run, jump and defend himself. Cruise brings nothing to this role that is not in the script, not in the short story. He's become, in this context, something of a generic action hero and in Minority Report, the viewer wants something more.

In contrast, Anderton is an interesting character. He is fleshed out well with his backstory; he joined the Precrime program in its infancy when his son was kidnaped. He has some complicated relationships, with his estranged wife and the head of the Precrime Division, Burgess. The character's desperate attempts to prove himself make the film watchable.

Ultimately, the problem with Minority Report is that it wants to be a temporal thriller while being an engaging chase film. When certain fundamental principles are put into place, the film loses its edge. For example, the Precognitives predict that Anderton will commit a PREMEDITATED murder of a man he doesn't know. Given that fact and the supposed infallibility of the Precognitives, it is no surprise when the could-be climactic scene arrives. As well, the theme of predestination versus free will becomes rapidly and excessively beaten into the viewer.

In the end, that was what pushed me over into the "not recommend" camp; Minority Report is an average film that tries to be new, different and cutting edge and instead ends up beating the viewer over the head with some rather elementary concepts, making it visually difficult to watch and auditorily failing to stimulate enough to keep the viewer engaged. If you want fair science fiction where everything is handed to you, this is a fine film. I, however, know you can do better.

For other movies featuring Colin Farrell, check out my reviews of:
Horrible Bosses
The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Without A Scent, Without A Purpose: Pure Rinse Formula Action Pacs Disappoint!

The Good: Ridiculously easy to use, Actually cleans
The Bad: No scent! Cost/Benefit
The Basics: The Pure Rinse formula offers an unscented option for lazy people who like to blow their money. Utterly pointless!

A few months ago, I first encountered the Cascade 2-in-1 Dishwasher Detergent ActionPacs. I found the scented ones (see links below) and I discovered I was pleasantly surprised by the execution of what seemed to me to be a pointless concept. Despite my hemming and hawing, though, I had to admit the product worked beautifully and I had no complaints. So, when I was going through the clearance aisle of my local supermarket recently and I found the unscented Pure Rinse ActionPacs, I thought this might be a good opportunity to pick them up and give them a try.

Here's the thing: the ActionPacs made sense to me when they had a scent that would effervesce throughout the house while the dishwasher was running. The Pure Rinse ones are powered by Dawn. The plain, blue, largely unscented Dawn liquid is what this ActionPac is filled with for the fluid half. This completely undermines the useful trait of this weird concept problem. But the short version of this review is to simply state that after using these, there is no doubt in my mind why they were in the clearance aisle!

So, I bought the Pure Rinse Formula ActionPacs, took them home, popped one in my Frigidaire stainless steel dishwasher (reviewed here!) . . . and ended up disappointed.

The Cascade 2-in-1 Dishwasher Detergent ActionPacs are small, concentrated plastic bags that contain a block of preformed, premeasured Cascade Dishwashing detergent and a discrete amount of Dawn dish soap. The pack is about 3/4 solid detergent, 1/4 liquid/gel detergent. The premeasured packs have a thin, but strangely durable, plastic bubble that surrounds them. There are twenty of these pillow packs in a bag. The bags seem to be popping up at about $6.00 in retail outlets. That means for $6.00, one is getting 20 loads of dishes washed, as compared to $3.50 for 30+ loads from a standard box of dishwashing detergent. I managed to find the Pure Rinse pack of twenty on clearance for $3.50 and I had a coupon which lowered the price even more. I might not have overpaid, but it did not yield the results I had hoped for.

The scent is inoffensive and soapy. After all, this is the plain blue Dawn detergent in it; it smells like cleanser! While setting the dishes up to be washed, the pack smells just like plain blue Dawn dishsoap. The scent is not all-encompassing; it is subtle and bland. Within minutes of taking the Pure Rinse Formula ActionPac out of the package, the scent was more or less gone! There's something humiliating about bending down into a dishwasher and sniffing one of these packs to see if it is still scented, yet for reviewing I did that! The scent is there, but it is very faint and it dissipates very quickly. Any residue left on dishes that might smell will overpower the detergent scent of these ActionPacs.

The ActionPac is ridiculously easy to use. Remove the ActionPac from the bag of ActionPacs and place in the primary wash detergent dispenser in your dishwasher. The primary wash is the one that usually has the little flip door that you close after putting detergent in. Put one ActionPac in there and close it. It does not get much easier than that!

It is worthwhile and important to not that the detergent is not removed from the ActionPac when it is put into the dishwasher. No, the plastic bags are not supposed to be cut open before the ActionPac's contents are put in the dishwasher detergent dispenser. The ActionPac is designed to go in intact. Put it in and run your dishwasher as you normally would.

And the dishes come out clean. Perfectly clean. I have no idea how it works, but it does. The plastic bag that surrounds the ActionPac completely dissolves. Where does it go? I have no idea. I have checked every part of my dishwasher (I even disassembled the pieces around the drain assembly); no plastic. It quite effectively dissolved and washed away without a trace!

Over several uses, I decided to make an effort to see what these little packs could do. And the Pure Rinse ones did pretty much the bare minimum; they cleaned my dishes. Well, normal dishwashing detergent cleans my dishes as well and for a lot less money. They were effective at getting off all levels of food matter that had been left on silverware, plastic cookware, and all manner of ceramic dishes and glasses. I put in every combination of cookware, flatware and dishware coated with food, dirt, coffee stains, grease and sauces that I could think of. ALL of the dishes came out clean and clear every time. Not one piece I put in needed so much as a touch up or polishing.

So, despite my grumblings, the Pure Rinse Formula ActionPacs work! They cleaned my dishes beautifully under all conditions I contrived.

I did notice that the Dawn detergent scent did not survive the washing. Whereas the Cinnamon Apple ActionPacs put out a scent on the steam from my dishwasher, the Purse Rinse Formula ones did not. It seems they only smell in the bag and for a few minutes outside it.

So, I will admit, this product is simple to use and it works. It might well be ideal for people who have trouble with motor control and might otherwise spill dishwashing detergent when trying to load a dishwasher or those who have trouble judging how much to use. The premeasured packets are very efficient in that regard.

But it's an expensive service for so little benefit. The product works, but the cost seems disproportionate to the benefit to me. Most adults I know are not so lacking in time that the time it takes to fill the detergent tray and put the box of detergent back is what is keeping them from their goals. Moreover, they are able to judge things like how much to use. Therefore, I'm not sure who this would truly appeal to.

It's a good product, just an overly conceived product for a very simple task.

For other dishwashing products, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Cascade Citrus Breeze 2-in-1 ActionPacs
Cascade Cinnamon Apple 2-in-1 ActionPacs
Jet Dry Turbo


For other home and garden product reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Homicide! Look Behind You! See That Shark?! Homicide: Life On The Street Season 6.

The Good: Interesting stories, Good acting from older cast
The Bad: New characters are dull, Poor casting, Light on DVD bonus features
The Basics: With twenty-two episodes, Homicide: Life On The Street buries itself with new castmembers and characters that dull the impact of this show.

By this point in my reviews of individual boxed sets of Homicide: Life On The Street, I am relatively certain that my readers are getting sick of seeing me write that the series is not what I anticipated when I started watching the show. I get that and today I shall refrain from that tired refrain, despite its truth. I will, however, say that many people consider the end of the sixth season to be when the series jumped the shark. For me, though, the mark is in the first episodes of season six.

It is in this boxed set that the cast is severely shaken up and the result is a program that is so different from any lingering greatness it once had - even the prior season - that the best the viewer can hope for is a storyline that focuses on Meldrick Lewis. Yes, the throwaway character from Seasons 1 & 2 becomes the character worth watching in the rocky, disappointing season Six. It is worth noting, as well, that it is impossible to write about Homicide: Life On The Street - The Complete Season 6 without revealing details from the finale to season five. That said . . .

Detectives Kellerman and Lewis, along with narcotics cop Stivers deal with he consequences of Kellerman killing Luther Mahoney. This takes the form of Mahoney's sister, Georgia Rae Mahoney. Georgia Rae begins to extort Kellerman, claiming to have a tape of him shooting Luther. While Kellerman works to get out from under her, Lewis goes rogue, initiating a war amongst the remaining factions of Mahoney's organization and leaving the rest of the Homicide Unit to clean up the mess.

While Lewis and Kellerman find themselves resolving their Mahoney problems, the rest of the squad comes back together after six months of being reassigned. Unfortunately for them, Kay Howard stays elsewhere and Brodie has taken a job with a film company. Bayliss and Pembleton return to the Unit to find their desks and prestige taken over by Detectives Falsone, Laura Ballard, and Stuart Gharty. Stivers, as well, finds herself working with the squad as well, despite having her lingering issues with Kellerman. Dr. Cox continues to provide the detectives with the forensic evidence from the corpses for the Homicide Unit, until she is put in an awkward position that she is unable to get herself out of.

And in the entire season, the only notable episode outside the continuing arc of Luther Mahoney's legacy is the peabody-award winning episode "The Subway." The cases in "The Complete Sixth Season" are pretty standard homicide/detective stories. Unfortunately, the new characters do not gel terribly well with the old ones and they often seem more like "types" as opposed to genuine characters. As a result, Ballard seems determined to add a feminine presence and Gharty is pretty much Generic Old Irish Cop. To wit, Ballard - we are informed in the season premiere - is an excellent detective with an amazing clearance rate, yet after the three parter, she is unable to impress the viewer with closing cases left and right. Moreover, Falsone, far from being a clever addition to the cast, seems like he was brought on from a focus group, given his youth and generic Hollywood-good looks.

To better understand what one is getting in Homicide: The Complete Sixth Season, it helps to know who the characters are. The principle characters in this DVD set include:

Detective Frank Pembleton - No longer suffering the effects of his stroke, he is back in prime form. Soon, though his peeping into Bayliss's world gets him and Tim estranged and he struggles to deal with partnering up with others. Professionally jealous of Ballard,

Tim Bayliss - Desperate to find some happiness, Bayliss flirts with both Ballard and a man. Embracing his newfound bisexuality, he becomes increasingly emotionally fragile as he and Pembleton begin to get distance between them,

Detective John Munch - Spending more time bartending and switching detective partners, Munch acts more as counselor than police detective this season,

Meldrick Lewis - Dealing with the suspicious death of Mahoney, he is shot at by surviving members of Mahoney's crew. Soon, he is forced to take time off as he is suspended. While on his own, he begins to set the disparate elements of Mahoney's gang against one another using information supplied by Falsone,

Kellerman - Working without Lewis, harassed by Falsone and having had a fallout with Cox, he becomes more and more edgy. Clearly guilt-ridden over killing Luther, he becomes a liability to the squad when Georgia Rae realizes his weakness,

Dr. Juliana Cox - The medical examiner does such extraordinary work that she wins an award . . . before being run out of town for actually having ethics,

Stivers - The weak link in the witnesses to Mahoney's shooting, she becomes rattled when the surviving members of his gang target her,

Falsone - Constantly sparring with Kellerman when the stories about Luther's shooting do not add up, he finds his attentions split as he undergoes a rough divorce with his wife. Has a child he seldom sees,

Detective Laura Ballard - Has an amazing clearance rate an a tolerance for Bayliss, though she soon becomes interested in Falsone,

Stuart Gherty - Partnered with Ballard, he clearly loves her and is blandly prejudiced against many different groups of people,

and Lieutenant Al Giardello - overjoyed at the increase in the clearance rate because of the shakeup, he finds himself looking to learn the truth about what happened with Luther Mahoney as Baltimore is shaken up by it.

The thing about "Season Six" is that after the great fifth season, the cast shake up almost immediately guts this season. It prides itself on being different - and admittedly, episodes like "Subway" are - but the shakeup changes the show too radically. Pembleton and Bayliss - the brain and heart of the series - no longer illustrate even competent chemistry between them.

Moreover, some of the stories are flat-out disappointing given their references to other works. Granted, this season precedes Magnolia (reviewed here!) but an entire episode is spent having Dr. Cox tell the story that forensic experts have been tossing around for years and is part of the pre-story in the film. As a result, fans of Magnolia, police show, or forensics wait for the surprise, but discover that this is just Homicide: Life On The Street's take on a four minute cocktail story.

On the acting front, the performers are almost universally dull. Callie Thorne - while being very easy on the eyes - underwhelms as Ballard and Peter Gerety plays Gharty like a stereotype as opposed to a genuine character. The less said about Jon Seda's Falsone, the better. The surviving members of the original cast: Andre Braugher, Kyle Secor, Yaphet Kotto and Richard Belzer all do fine . . . when they are given the opportunity to shine, which is far too infrequent in this season.

The standout for the season is Clark Johnson as Meldrick Lewis. He does a masterful job of adding more and more frustration to his character, adding a slouch and a more subtle sense of devotion through an undertone in his performance. He is especially good playing off Toni Lewis (Stivers) and he and Reed play off one another well for the speed of their dialogue. But Johnson is almost handed the easy opportunity to act as his character goes rogue, necessitating his movement toward a different type of performance.

On DVD, Homicide: Life On The Street - The Complete Sixth Season is fairly low on extras. It does include the "Anatomy Of A Homicide" documentary (reviewed here!), as well as a commentary track on "Subway" and "Fallen Heroes, Part 2." The commentary for "Subway" is remarkably repetitive given the presence of the documentary and the lack of anything else of substance disappoints.

All in all, Homicide: Life On The Street - The Complete Season 6 is the show after the shark. It's all downhill from here and it seems like there are moments when many in the cast recognize that.

For the sixth seasons of other television shows, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Lost - Season 6
The West Wing - The Complete Sixth Season
Star Trek: The Next Generation Season Six


For other television reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode Collection Season Two Trading Cards Are Mediocre At Best.

The Good: Establishes sets well, Good images, Interesting chase cards
The Bad: A few rarer promotional cards to be found, Unremarkable chase cards, Dull, Overproduced
The Basics: At the time, the most technically advanced trading card set, Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode Collection Season Two is dull and overly common.

Star Trek: The Next Generation was a huge hit when it was on and I was an avid fan of it, almost from the start. The series was smart and different from anything on television at the time it began. Many people do not recall that before the Star Trek franchise rebooted with Star Trek: The Next Generation, science fiction television was pretty much dead. Star Trek: The Next Generation arguably revitalized the interest and viability of science fiction on television. What few people forget is that the second season was shaky as a result of the writer's strike and just plain bad episodes.

As a result, collectibles from the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation are few and far between. One of the few that exist is the trading card set that continues the Episode Collection series of cards. This set follows on the heels of the Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode Collection Season One trading cards (reviewed here!).

Basics/Set Composition

The Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode Collection Season Two Trading Cards was a series of Star Trek trading cards that continued the incredible new standard in image transfers to the trading cards that was pioneered in "Episode Collection Season One." Properly assembled, the set has 122 cards, all but four of which may be found in the standard hobby release boxes. Boxes tended to be 36 pack boxes with eight cards per pack.

The full set of "Season Two" trading cards included: 96 common cards, 6 foil embossed cards, 2 holograms, 1 1994 survey card, 1 promotional card, and 92-card prototype cards. All but the last two types could be found in boxes. There was also a binder available directly from SkyBox, who produced this set of cards.

The Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode Collection trading cards represented a new level of quality for SkyBox, the non-sports card division of Fleer. Gone were the days of cheap cardboardy cards, like the late 70s and '80s had had, gone were the easily damaged cards of the earliest SkyBox releases. In their place were wonderful, high quality cardstock which featured bright, vibrant images and a subtle UV resistant coating! "Season Two" continued that tradition with incredible and rare images taken from digital video transfers, which allowed for high quality images that look great even today.

Common Cards

The common card set follows in the tradition of the prior Episode Collection set, with 96 cards which include: 9 cards for the timeline mural, 9 cards creating a tribute to Counselor Deanna Troi, 9 cards creating a tribute mural to Commander William Riker, 66 cards chronicling the twenty-two episodes of the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1 card detailing the main credits for season two and 2 checklist cards. This common set is a beautiful work, despite some of the quality issues related to the principle photography from the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The set opens with nine cards that form a "title page" when properly assembled in a binder. The front has various images from the second season over a mural of the Enterprise going out into the universe that acts as a title card. The back of the opening mural traces the timeline of the second season allowing a preview of the cards to come by reminding collectors of the significant events and episodes of the second season.

Prior to the episodes portion, there are two more 9-card murals, one of Commander Deanna Troi, one of Commander William T. Riker. These are beautiful collections of cards that highlight the accomplishments and relationships of each character. Troi's is a beautiful, very colorful mural of a beachscape featuring head shots of various appearances he had over the seven years of the series. Commander Riker's is similar with the mural being planetscape with a close moon! The backs of these cards are wonderfully detailed containing information and very complete character biographies of the characters (and often how they interact with other main characters). These cards are wonderful for fans who go to Star Trek conventions and get trading cards autographed because they are nice headshots with intriguing backgrounds with plenty of space for the celebrity actor to sign over.

After that, the set becomes a very regular series of three cards per episode from the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The set includes a decent mix of special effects shots and character images and the backs are plot summaries that detail well the aspects of the episode needed to recall what happened in the episode. The backs are very complete with the plot synopsis's so fans who have not seen episodes might not want to read the cards as most do indicate how each episode ended!

In one of the more clever and collector friendly aspects of the set, the Episode Collection cards, "Season Two" included, alter the location of the card number for ease of organization and collation. Because the murals must be put into card pages a certain way to get the desired result (one image from all nine cards put together), the cards that follow must be organized in order as well (which makes sense because they tell the plot of an episode! Cards have their collector numbers on the left, center, and right - respectively - for the first, second and third cards in each episode. As well, there is an alternate numbering system to reinforce this order wherein the episode number may be used as a reference point, with a, b, and c denoting the proper order. It may seem like a lot of fuss, but it's awfully convenient when collating hundreds of cards to be able to eliminate so many with a glance based on where the card number is located.

Following the episode portion, the common card set is capped off with a card that encapsulates the first season closing credits and the two checklist cards.

Chase Cards

As for the bonus cards, there are nineteen, most of which are still very easily available in the market today because they are present in the boxes of these cards. While not strictly a bonus card, the survey card comes up at least one per box, making them a cheap staple to the set - some dealers even include the latter with the common card set.

The first level of chase card (chase card, insert card and bonus card are all the same thing - cards that are far less frequent than common cards and have a different numbering system and usually something distinctive about them that makes them more valuable than normal cards) is a set of six embossed Klingon and Character cards. These are glossy cards that have a raised surface and foil lettering or accents and they stand out, front and back, as chase cards. There are three Klingon culture cards, written on the backs in both English and Klingon, that focus on the Pagh, a bat'leth, and the Klingon Age Of Ascension. The three characters that are given beautiful headshots that are embossed are Guinan, Doctor Pulaski, and Professor Moriarty. These cards are approximately one in every twelve packs, so it took at least two boxes with ideal collation to assemble this set. These established the numbering system for these as cards S7 - S12. Strangely, the numbering system changed from SP to S.

The high level chase cards, the grails of the Star Trek: The Next Generation Episode Collection Season Two set, were the two dual-image holograms! HG3 is Counselor Deanna Troi and HG4 is Commander William T. Riker. These holograms have a three dimensional image and move one frame, so Troi and Riker both move their head in their three-dimensional images! By the time this set came out SkyBox seems to have gotten its act together and picked decent images to use for the holograms. As a result, these provide two good, clear, solid images each.

Finding them, though, can be a real pain! The stated odds for a hologram card were one hologram in every 180 packs (five boxes). This means with ideal collation, ten boxes would be needed to assemble a master set of cards that can be pulled from boxes. Experience with the Season Two cards shows that the holograms were about that rare. This is why the Season Two holograms are still pretty solidly priced in the secondary market at $30 - $50.

Non-Box/Pack Cards

In order to complete a true master set, collectors must hunt down a binder, the promo from SkyBox (S1) and the nine two-card promo panels. The promotional card has a decent image from season two and is relatively easy to find in the secondary market for approximately $5.00/ea.

The nine card 2-card promos are much harder to find. Produced directly from SkyBox, these were sent to dealers and the truth is, they are almost impossible to find. Most were simply destroyed by dealers who didn't care and the images on them are simply two-card panels from the Riker and Troi murals. They do not have the UV-coating and they do not include any images that are not already in the common set. These are very hard to track down and many collectors do not even bother because they are so difficult to find.


Today, collectors tend to be a bit more savvy with their chase cards. With the advent of autograph cards and costume cards, things like holograms (and certainly simple embossed cards) seem passe. The set is all right for collectors who collect for the sheer joy of it as boxes may usually be found inexpensively and yield at least one common card set and three bonus cards (at least).

I still have mine in my collection and I can't see getting rid of this (or the other six) sets, so ultimately, I'd say that it's an intriguing and enjoyable enough set that collectors and fans will want to make the effort to assemble a full set, who knows what the future holds as far as its value? Unfortunately, the second season is the weakest and it's hard to get excited about this set unless one can find it inexpensively. Fortunately, it was overproduced enough that it can be. The only people this will appeal to are those collecting the entire Episode Collection series.

This set culls from source material found in Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 2, which is reviewed here!

For reviews of other Star Trek: The Next Generation trading cards, please check out my reviews at:
Star Trek 25th Anniversary Series 1
Star Trek 25th Anniversary Series 2
Star Trek: The Next Generation Inaugural Edition


For other card reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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