Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October 2012 End Of The Month Report

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This was another very exciting month for the blog! With increased traffic on StumbleUpon (please feel free to "share" the blog pages through StumbleUpon, as that keeps helping new readers find us!) and an incredibly enduring food review that keeps growing more and more, October was a fabulous month! In addition to some strong toy reviews (based upon toys my wife got me for my birthday!), October ended up being boosted by my studies of Janis Ian, Bob Dylan, and the entire series Monty Python's Flying Circus!

We also managed to pick up another subscriber to the blog this month! Very exciting for us and we hope to keep building on that movement. If you're thinking of subscribing, please do! We are always trying to get people to become regular readers and subscribe. 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 really looking to grow 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 October, we were able to keep the Index Pages up and updated the entire month, save the days right around the housewarming party my wife and I threw in our new home, making for a very dynamic website. The primary Index Page, which is now updated daily, lets you know what the featured review is and has an up-to-the-day tally of how many reviews have been reviewed in each category! Check it out!

If you enjoy the reviews, please consider clicking on the links in the reviews and purchasing items. By purchasing items through the links on the blog, you sponsor my ability to continue reviewing. Thank you so much for that support! BIG “Thank you!” to all of the people who continue to support the blog and my writing in that fashion! Especially as you begin holiday shopping, please consider clicking through and using links we provide to sponsor this blog.

At the end of October, I have reviewed the following:
394 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Star Trek Books
Graphic Novels
655 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
1946 - 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!)!
165 - 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
579 - 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
571 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Cheese and Meats
Ice Cream
Other Food
140 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
106 - Travel Reviews
Destinations Reviews
Hotels Reviews
118 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
126 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
80 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
22 - Other Product Reviews

The Featured Review Of The Month for October is: The Worst Ten Episodes Of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine! Check it out!

For October, the Top Ten Reviews were my reviews of:
10. Breaking Silence - Janis Ian
9. Flight
8. Argo
7. Silver Linings Playbook
6. Chasing Mavericks
5. Brita Water Filter 42629 Slim Pitcher
4. Here Comes The Boom
3. Star Wars Vintage Collection Kmart Exclusive Endor AT-ST Crew 2-pack
2. Another Side Of Bob Dylan - Bob Dylan
1. Cadbury Screme Eggs

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 - 259 reviews
9s - 361 reviews
8s - 622 reviews
7s - 686 reviews
6s - 604 reviews
5s - 820 reviews
4s - 565 reviews
3s - 496 reviews
2s - 201 reviews
1s - 133 reviews
0s - 74 reviews
No rating - 27 articles/postings

And, if you haven't checked out the top reviews of all time, at the end of October, the most popular reviews/articles I have written are:
10. Total Recall (2012)
9. Breaking Dawn, Part 1
8. Snow White And The Huntsman
7. The Amazing Spider-Man!
6. Cadbury Screme Eggs
5. The Avengers
4. The Hunger Games
3. Star Trek: Machinations Of Doomsday
2. Won't Back Down
1. Prometheus

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

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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The Quick Devolution Of An Album With Much Potential For The Future

The Good: Excellent sound, Surprisingly diverse sound, Mostly decent lyrics, Generally good balance between members
The Bad: Surrenders to the marketing stereotypes of rap music
The Basics: With fifteen tracks, The Black Eyed Peas album Monkey Business is a diverse listening experience that is mostly very enjoyable.

There is a significant gap between the time it took the Bee-Gees and Michael Jackson to create albums that were able to chart four or more singles in the U.S. In the UK, the trend was continued with Oasis's Definitely Maybe (reviewed here!), but in the U.S., it's a near-impossibility to score four singles of an album and have them get decent airplay or chart position. Britney Spears's debut is a soft example (the fourth single did not do great, though it kept her in the public imagination until "Oops I Did It Again" was released), Matchbox 20 (and Matchbox Twenty) and Destiny's Child are pretty much the only two that come to mind that were successful with four singles off an album in the mainstream pop-rock charts. Then came The Black Eyes Peas who nailed the charts with "Where's The Love" and when their album Monkey Business was released, they managed to chart "Pump It," "Don't Phunk With My Heart," "Don't Lie," and "My Hump" on the top 40. It was a respectable outing and there was enough in those four singles to encourage me to give the album a spin.

Monkey Business defied my immediate expectations when I popped the album in. My thought was that it was likely to be a rap or hip-hop album. In all honesty, this album is a very pleasant surprise in that regard. The Black Eyed Peas have a diverse sound that does from dance and club to flat out pop to rap to hip-hop to moments of soul and even a song that has a folk quality to it. The Black Eyed Peas, with their social conscience and musical diversity (though definitely slanted toward the dance/hip-hop spectrum), have more in common with Deee-Lite than Outkast. In that regard, the album was quite a surprise.

This makes me want to rush to the negative aspect of the album. I have been looking for a decent rap album for some time (Outkast's The Love Below/Speakerboxxx, reviewed here, represented the best chance in a long time) but have never found one that does not at some point simply disappoint by presenting views that are either sexist, racist, or just plain dumb and self-promotional. Have you ever noticed how largely what rap artists sing about is themselves (listen to the first single Eminem has put off any of his albums, they are all about Eminem rapping!)? Within moments of putting Monkey Business in, I had removed it from any classification of "rap album." It's not. It's so much more pop-funk than rap. Thus, it was a tremendous disappointment when the devolves into flat out rap on "Disco Club" and "Ba Bump." And rap is not inherently bad (hence my desire to find a perfect rap album) but the Black Eyed Peas continue the worst embodiments of rap with the tracks including "n*gga" and ridiculously sexist language: "If the girl's ugly, then get drunk ("Ba Bump")."

That said, the album is otherwise is remarkably well-concieved and considerate. "Don't Phunk With My Heart" asks about the nature of relationships, desperately wondering "If let you take me home, will you still be in love with me?" The narrator wants to know if "love" is a ploy and I think it's a very cool track. "Don't Lie" cries out for honest in relationships and the album closes with "Unity," a Sting-featured track that is a recasting of "Where's The Love," asking for the people of the world to come together. This is generally positive stuff.

I don't know that I'm a fan of Jack Johnson (who sounds suspiciously like John Mayer) but the track "Gone Going," which features sampling (called an interpolation here because it's such a large chunk used for the refrain) of Jack Johnson's "Gone." It's fabulous, a song telling a story and railing against materialism. It's sharp, beautifully presented and I cannot believe it was not released as a single. When the Black Eyed Peas release a Best of album, that's a must have track.

How can an album with such tight lyrics and such desire for love of all humanity devolve into the simple "score with whatever moves" concept of "Disco Club?" I think "My Humps" is a delightful tease, the power of female sexuality, but the flat rap songs on Monkey Business are just disappointing.

One of the aspects of Monkey Business that might come as a surprise to those who are only familiar with the Black Eyed Peas from the radio is how the album is not dominated by Fergie. There is a great balance between the vocals of Fergie,, and Taboo. Just like the diversity of the sound on Monkey Business, there is great diversity of vocals that makes the album a pleasant listening experience that does not get stale over many listenings.

Finally, I would like to say that the Black Eyed Peas are clever in avoiding one rap conceit which is advertising all of their guest vocals. Justin Timberlake, James Brown and Dante Santiago without appearing on the tracklisting. I think that's cool; too often bands try to sell their albums simply using crossover appeal.

Ultimately Monkey Business is a fairly solid album qualitatively. It's a fun listen, with great flow between songs. In fact one of the most hypnotic aspects of Monkey Business is the way songs flow from one into the other. And most of the album is filled with positive lyrics and unobjectionable lyrics. It's music that energizes and occasionally makes one think.

It's close, but not perfect. But it's Definitely worth a listen. The album is front loaded with the four released singles in the first five tracks, but the album continues into other distinct and likable tracks. The best track is "Gone Going" the worst is the simplistic and disappointing "Ba Bump."

For other music reviews, you might enjoy:
Time Capsule: Songs For A Future Generation - The B-52’s
Two Suns (Deluxe) – Bat For Lashes
Cex Cells - Blaqk Audio


Check out how this album stacks up against other musical works I have reviewed by visiting my Music Review Index Page where the works are organized best to worst.

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Mild, Then Sour, Lindt 70% Cocoa Almond Brittle Bars Are Anything But Nutty!

Excellence 70% Cocoa Almond Brittle
Click here to order Lindt 70% Cocoa Almond Brittle Bars

The Good: Good texture, Decent size, Generally natural ingredients
The Bad: Somewhat expensive, Less distinctive taste.
The Basics: Lindt 70% Cocoa Almond Brittle chocolate bars are a good alternative for people who do not like nuts in chocolate!

As one who loves dark chocolate, but is not overly enamored with nuts in chocolate, I was only half surprised by how much I enjoyed the Lindt 70% Cocoa Almond Brittle my wife purchased for me on my birthday. Arguably, the reason I enjoyed this so much was that the 70% Cocoa Almond Brittle barely tastes like almonds at all.


Lindt 70% Cocoa Almond Brittle chocolate bars are segments that are one and five-eighths inches wide by one and a half inches long of chocolate that are about one-quarter of an inch thick and connected to one another to form a bar that is four long, two wide (7 3/8” long by 3 3/8” wide). The entire bar comes wrapped in a silver wrapper and the bar is packaged in a cardboard sleeve to protect it in transit. As part of Lindt’s Intense Dark chocolate line, these bars are made as a premium product.

One of these bars tends to run in the $3.00 range, so this is a candy intended to be savored, not gobbled up!

Ease Of Preparation

These are candy, so preparing them is as simple as opening the cardboard wrapper and then unwrapping foil wrapper from around the actual chocolate square(s) one wishes to eat. The seams between the different segments make it exceptionally easy to break the bar apart and leave the rest of it intact. There is no grand secret to eating the Lindt 70% Cocoa Almond Brittle chocolate bar.


The Lindt 70% Cocoa Almond Brittle chocolate bars smells like a strong chocolate bar, so rich it is almost like coffee. The aroma is distinct and not at all nutty.

On the tongue, the 70% Cocoa Almond Brittle bars taste very bitter. The chocolate lacks any sweetness in its initial flavoring. The nuts do not taste at all nutty. Instead, the almonds only add a crispy texture without enhancing or changing the flavor. As this chocolate lingers in the mouth, the bitter chocolate begins to taste slightly sweeter and oddly, slightly sour, like an aftertaste of citrus.

This candy leaves the mouth very dry and the aftertaste is much less pleasant than the initial flavor of the bar.


These are candy, so they are not particularly healthy. The Lindt Intense Dark 70% Cocoa Almond Brittle chocolate bars are not nearly as bad as they could be. The primary ingredients are chocolate, sugar and nougat. There is nothing unpronounable in these candies and that was pretty reassuring.

A serving of the Lindt 70% Cocoa Almond Brittle chocolate bar is considered four segments (squares). From four squares, one takes in 210 calories, including 15 grams of fat. There is no cholesterol, only 15 mg sodium, and 3 g protein, but no vitamins in these chocolate squares. There is, surprisingly enough, 8% of one's daily iron and 4% Calcium in three squares, so that is a plus.

These are not Vegan-compliant, nor are they recommended for anyone with a nut allergy as they include a lot of almonds. They also include an allergy warning about peanuts, tree nuts, soybeans, and milk.


The bars of these Lindt 70% Cocoa Almond Brittle chocolate squares remain fresh for quite some time. The ones my wife picked up for me in early October had an expiration date of December 30, 2012. One assumes that if they are kept in a cool, dry environment (60 – 68 degrees Fahrenheit) they will not melt or go bad. Given that they are foil wrapped in a fairly sealed package, it is hard to imagine just what it would take for these to go bad outside melting and refreezing.

As for cleanup, simply throw away the foil and recycle the cardboard when you are done with the candy bar. 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 this chocolate melt, it will stain most fabrice.


Despite the somewhat overbearing aftertaste, Lindt 70% Cocoa Almond Brittle chocolate bars are worthwhile for those who do not like nuts, but do like dark chocolate!

For other Lindt chocolate reviews, please check out:
Limited Edition Spring Lindor Truffles
Vanilla Lindor Truffles
White Chocolate Truffles


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

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
Excellence 70% Cocoa Almond Brittle
Click here to order Lindt 70% Cocoa Almond Brittle Bars

When Food Goes Wild, Hilarity Ensues In Aqua Teen Hunger Force Volume 1

The Good: Funny, Sometimes clever, Conceptually interesting
The Bad: Meatwad's unintelligible voice
The Basics: Living near the Jersey Shore, sentient food products encounter various obstacles and enemies and hilarity ensues.

What do you get when you put together a milkshake, an order of fries and a blob of meat? One might think a meal. But to Matt Maiellaro and Dave Willis, that makes a crime fighting force for the slacker generation. Aqua Teen Hunger Force is the story of three sentient food products and their annoyed neighbor working (occasionally) to combat the evil by-products of the scientist Dr. Weird. The Aqua Teen Hunger Force Volume 1 DVD set includes sixteen episodes from this odd Cartoon Network series and offers a chance to laugh at something totally absurd.

Each episode begins with the laboratory of Dr. Weird, where the insane scientist has created something that he wants his assistant, Steve, to "Behold!" For example, in the first episode, it is an immense rabbit robot he calls Rabbot, which breaks loose and heads into the Jersey suburb where the Aqua Teens live. Led by Master Shake, the bossy drink who wants nothing more than to use Carl's, the irritable neighbor, pool, the Aqua Teens try to thwart the obstacle and usually rely on the brains of Frylock, the electricity-weilding french fries. Along for the ride and to be abused by Master Shake is Meatwad, a meatball with arms that can shape change into an igloo or a hot dog in a bun.

If it sounds absurd, you have grasped the concept behind Aqua Teen Hunger Force. It's silly, it's crazy and it's very funny. There is a serious drawback to Aqua Teen Hunger Force and that is that Meatwad speaks in a high pitched, heavily lisped voice that is almost unintelligible. It's very difficult - even on multiple viewings - to catch what he is saying. It's funny because when I sat down with my two new Adult Swim DVD sets, I anticipated liking Aqua Teen Hunger Force more than Sealab 2021, but I was surprised to find the opposite. Aqua Teen Hunger Force has fewer characters and the dynamic gets older faster than in Sealab 2021.

Outside Meatwad's distractingly annoying voice, there is much to recommend Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Master Shake, voiced by Dana Snyder, is funny in his over-the-top self-centered laziness and insistence on being the leader. One of the most humorous touches to the show is that the front door to the house where the Aqua Teens live is shaped exactly like Master Shake, straw and all. Shake is a study of selfishness and his constant co-opting of Carl's pool is one of the nice running jokes in the series.

Frylock, however, is the clear brains of the team and he gets the group out of most of their problems. Educated and sophisticated, Frylock is voiced by the smooth timbre of Carey Means and his straightforward delivery makes for a wonderful contrast to the indecipherable Meatwad.

Each episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force is only 15 minutes long, which is about the average attention span of the average viewer and the program works because, while there is some continuity between episodes, if one episode isn't grabbing the viewer, they can skip it and go onto the next one without missing anything. One of the most amusing running gags is that Dr. Weird and the Aqua Teens never interact, so the heroes never get to confront the ridiculous villain and the silly antagonist never deals with the consequences of the creations he unleashes. It's a nice touch.

The first volume introduces Dr. Weird, as well as the villainous Mooninites, based on Atari graphics and the creatures from beyond Pluto that are bent on world domination without a clue. The Mooninites are a cleverly conceived villain and it's easy to see why they would be recurring; they are sarcastic, abrasive and pop up to tempt Meatwad into doing unethical actions (like stealing) that he wants to do. The interactions between the Aqua Teens and the Mooninites are worth the price of the DVD set alone.

But this is not for children. For example, one of the funniest jokes (based on its execution) involves Inside Out Boy. Meatwad takes in the Inside Out Boy, despite objections. The closing joke is Master Shake coming to the pool and announcing he's stuffed from eating all of the cherry cobbler that was in the bath tub. It's that type of disgusting (but hilarious) jokes that pushes the envelope toward young adults and twenty-somethings for this show.

The DVD set itself is decent with extras being commentary, a couple of deleted scenes and an extended cut of the pilot, Rabbot. This set is funnier than most animated works and pushes the envelope in a way that has been lacking since Family Guy went off the air (when it was off the air!). It's a tough sell for those who do not like absurdist humor, but a treasure to those who do.

For other animated comedies, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Family Guy - “It’s A Trap!”
Clerks: The Animated Series
Robot Chicken - Season 1


For other television reviews, be sure to check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing of the relevant reviews!

© 2012, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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Despite The Environmental Detraction, Plackers Micro Mint Dental Flossers Are Very Much Worth It!

The Good: They are inexpensive, Decent mint flavor, They work, Durable
The Bad: Generates a lot of waste!
The Basics: Plackers Micro Mint Dental Flossers are cool and worth getting, even if they generate a lot more garbage than regular dental floss.

When it comes to oral care products, my wife is well ahead of me in finding cool new products. She picked up a bag of Plackers Micro Mint Dental Flossers. The package of 75 Plackers Micro Mint Dental Flossers has so many positive aspects that it is almost difficult for me to factor in the environmental impact of them. And yet, there we have it; these would be perfect if they did not generate so much extra garbage! Someday, Plackers is going to make a metal dental flosser using a spool of dental floss that only generate the usual floss waste. That might well be a perfect product when it is created. Until then, we have the disposable Plackers Micro Mint Dental Flossers and they are very cool.

Plackers Micro Mint Dental Flossers comes in a 75 unit pack and, for me, that represents about three months of oral care. Each Plackers Micro Mint Dental Flossers is a white, nylon thread that is attached to a solid green plastic holder that is 3 1/4" long, 1” wide, and just over 1/16” thick. The floss is solidly held taut between two tines (like a pitchfork). Each Plackers Micro Mint Dental Flossers has a 3/4" piece of dental floss suspended between the tines.

To dispense Plackers Micro Mint Dental Flossers, simply open the bag and pull one out. Then reseal the bag.

Plackers Micro Mint Dental Flossers are and incredibly simple product to use. After the Plackers Micro Mint Dental Flossers is pulled out of the package, stick it in your mouth with the floss side in and stick it between your teeth. After the Plackers Micro Mint Dental Flossers is between a pair of teeth, gently move it back and forth, loosening up any matter that has gotten trapped between your teeth and gums. Repeat with each tooth. Anything that the floss portion cannot get may be poked out with the toothpick on the back side of the Plackers Micro Mint Dental Flossers. Snapping off the tab of the back exposes a pointed toothpick that allows the Plackers Micro Mint Dental Flossers to be used as a normal toothpick would be.

The first few times one uses Plackers Micro Mint Dental Flossers, or any dental floss, the results will be pretty gross; that’s normal. The material that comes out of your mouth the first time you floss is tartar, plaque and – most importantly – food and other materials that is literally rotting in your mouth. As it rots, it wears away at the enamel on your teeth and destroys your gums, forcing an immune response.

But, the Plackers Micro Mint Dental Flossers are durable and absolutely work. Not one of them has snapped on me. Also pretty cool is the fact that the Plackers Micro Mint Dental Flossers do taste lightly of mint, which comes off in the clean gums, which effectively freshens breath some.

Ultimately, Plackers Micro Mint Dental Flossers are durable, efficient, and cool, despite the fact that they are disposable and thus generate quite a bit of waste.

For other oral care items, check out my reviews of:
Crest Pro-Health Clean Cinnamon toothpaste
Aim Mint Wax Nylon Dental Floss
G-U-M Mint Waxed Butlerweave Dental Floss


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

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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A Surprisingly Adult Premise Makes Lilo & Stitch An Intriguing Disney Film!

The Good: Set-up, Moments where it commits to the premise, Character work, Decent character design.
The Bad: Predictable plot and character arcs, Sacrifices its mature elements for safety, Surprisingly violent for a children’s movie, Erratic animation quality.
The Basics: When an alien falls to Earth and ends up adopted by a Hawaiian girl in need, she finds family and the viewers find Lilo & Stitch unable to commit to its own premise.

I can admire when an established studio takes a real risk with its fan base. Disney certainly took a big risk with Lilo & Stitch, which was a science fiction animated Disney adventure that had a number of elements atypical to a Disney animated film. I find no small irony in the fact that the night after my wife sat me down to watch Lilo & Stitch, a film with a number of comparative elements to the Star Wars Saga, for the first time was the day before Disney bought Lucasfilm. If Lilo & Stitch is any indication, future Star Wars films will be troublingly safe, formulaic and problematically rendered. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much what most people say of the Star Wars movies now!

Lilo & Stitch is a science fiction story, though, with the character of Stitch being an alien. The film has a number of familiar elements, especially in the basic plot structure and character types, but the film opens with a comparatively audacious opening that is exceptionally engaging for Disney and science fiction fans. The Disney fans who do not give up on the film for how far from the norm it begins, are rewarded by a movie that develops into exactly like what one expects of a Disney film. As one who was impressed by the strong opening for the film, I ended up a bit more disappointed by the direction in which Lilo & Stitch went.

Experiment 626 is the creation of Jumba, a mad scientist who is incarcerated by the Grand Council of the galaxy. When the measures used to contain Experiment 626 fail, the small creature with two legs, four arms, giant ears and eyes and a mouth full of deadly fangs escapes and ends up crashing on Earth, on one of the Hawaiian islands. There, the creature comes into contact with Lilo. Lilo is a young girl, being cared for by her older sister, Nani, and getting into quite a bit of trouble. After biting a dance classmate and nailing shut the front door on Nani, Lilo’s family life is menaced by former CIA-turned-social-services-agent Cobra Bubbles. Agent Bubbles wants to make sure Lilo is adequately cared for by Nani and he is not at all impressed by their first meeting.

Given three days to shape up her family, Nani allows Lilo to buy a pet from the local animal shelter. There, she adopts the blue alien Experiment 626, whom she names Stitch. As Stitch is hunted by Jumba and his dimwitted police guardian, Pleakley, he causes Nani to lose her job and Nani goes on a quest to find a new job to keep her family safe and secure. While outrunning Jumba, Pleakley, and Captain Gantu of the space fleet, Stitch begins to bond with Lilo and come to understand that his destructive actions have consequences.

In the age of ADHD, Lilo & Stitch would seem to be exceptionally relevant. Unfortunately, the film fails to truly stick with its own premise. Jumba defines Experiment 626 as the ultimate destroying machine. Fast, strong, and destructive without remorse, Stitch is characterized initially as an agent of chaos. However, the simple lack of cities on the island seem enough to reform the creature from unstoppable evil to just periodically annoying. For sure, writers Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois might well be making a comment on how children who suffer from ADHD simply need a change in their environment. However, that does not work. Neither does Lilo’s approach which seems to be to try once, then guild the alien into doing what she wants.

I am, by no means, saying that Lilo & Stitch would be a stronger film if the main character never developed, but the speed of the development utterly undermines the premise of the film. Jumba, Pleakley, Gantu, and ultimately the Grand Councilwoman herself all arrive to do what they can to stop Stitch because the threat of him being out of their custody is perceived as so great. And yet, stuck on the island, there is remarkably little trouble the creature can get into and, more importantly, less it appears inclined to. So, Lilo & Stitch seems an overblown response to a significantly overstated problem.

As one expects from a Disney animated film, Lilo & Stitch is intended to show the strength of family, in this case a broken, small, Hawaiian family. Lilo is easy to empathize with; she lost her parents relatively recently and the film take the time to make some really perceptive comments on such situations. While Bubbles is initially characterized as a monolithic antagonist, his goals are always honorable; to make sure that Lilo is being cared for in the best possible way. When Lilo notes that she likes Nani better as a sister than a mother, it opens a complicated range of emotions and discussions. It is easy to empathize with Lilo, who has lost her parents, and equally easy to empathize with Nani, who is not much older than Lilo (there is a perception that she is in her late-teens, early twenties compared to Lilo, who is in (I believe the film said) first grade). Nani has lost her parents and been saddled with a child at a time in her life when she was very much ready to move on. It is hard not to empathize with that.

Lilo & Stitch opens with the threat of a big villain, who is easily pacified, and epic space battles and a lot of sound and fury that make the film seem like it will be intense and engaging throughout. Unfortunately, it settles pretty rapidly into very standard Disney fare and Lilo and Stitch bond and the alien learns the importance of family. It is very much the Disney formula, with the inclusion of the usual conceits, like the all-powerful authority figure that sits most of the film out (Grand Councilwoman) and the wisecracking sidekick (Pleakley).

The voiceovers in Lilo & Stitch are one of the superlative aspects of the film. All of the vocal talents, from Daveigh Chase (Lilo) and Tia Carrere (Nani) to David Ogden Stiers (Jumba) and Ving Rhames (Bubbles) are clear, emotive and distinctive. Lilo & Stitch benefits from having a decent caliber of actor performing the lines for the occasionally obvious and sometimes action-packed animated film.

But for all the leaps Lilo & Stitch takes to be audacious, clever, and interesting, it rapidly degenerates into exactly what one expects from a Disney animated movie. With a soundtrack of Elvis songs instead of characters singing, Lilo & Stitch makes the fantastic seem credible before it abandons the attempt, making a film more average than audacious.

For other Disney animated films, please visit my reviews of:
Toy Story 3
A Christmas Carol
The Princess And The Frog
The Incredibles
Monsters, Inc.
The Lion King
The Little Mermaid
Lady And The Tramp
The Sword In The Stone
Sleeping Beauty


For other film reviews, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Complete First Season Of Pointless And Contrived: Dharma And Greg Season 1 On DVD!

The Good: (Very few) Moments of humor, Moments of character
The Bad: One of the most obvious one-trick ponies out there, Lackluster DVD bonuses, Overdone sitcom plots.
The Basics: When Dharma - daughter of hippie parents - meets Greg - son of yuppie parents - generic mismatch comedy ensues in a bland DVD release.

Often when relationships end, it's a good time to look at life, what you've shared with someone and your general outlook on existence and take stock. After living with someone for over three years, when that relationship dissolved, I looked over my DVD and music collections and it got me thinking. My DVDs were almost entirely devoid of comedy, my music shelf suddenly came to lack all the quasi-Goth music and the raspy drawl of Tom Waits. In the year and a half since that departure, I realized the only works I've looked to replace are U2's Zooropa (still looking for a copy) and Twin Peaks (reviewed here!). Now my permanent DVD collection spans 113 volumes (many of which are boxed set seasons of television series) and of those, only 10 are straight out comedies! Most of those are Kevin Smith's View Askew movies and Family Guy DVDs. In fact, more than comedies that are in the collection, I have dramedies, the series' that straddle the line between comedy and drama. My point with all of this is that sitcoms are incredibly difficult for me find the value in investing in; they might be worth a viewing, but very few are so good or indispensable as to make it into my permanent collection (see the end of the review for some). Far more often, with situational comedies that make it onto DVD, I find myself watching them and wondering "why?!"

Your average sitcom is what syndication is made for. Seriously, most people who will sit down and watch a comedy will tend to be indifferent to the actual episode and more enjoy the general experience of watching characters they like doing stuff. So, for example, According To Jim and The George Lopez show are not being rushed to DVD because they'll never be phenomenal sellers because they are strictly average (at best) television. At worst, they are hokey rip-off of other sitcoms. Sure, average shows get rushed to market. I suspect 'Til Death - Season 1 was brought out to capitalize on the potential cross-market of Everybody Loves Raymond fans who were out buying the last boxed sets of that series. So, I was more than a little surprised when I found Dharma & Greg Season 1 on DVD recently. Of all the sitcoms from the 1990s, it struck me as one of the ones that would fall into the category of surviving on in syndication rather than desperately attempting to get picked up by DVD fans. Especially in its first season, Dharma & Greg was, at best, an average laugh-track sitcom with a basic "Ethnic Mismatch" premise with only a slight twist. And yet, here it sits before me.

As young children, Dharma, a free spirit girl of hippie parents, was visiting New York City and she exchanged glances with Greg, the son of a wealthy businessman and his socialite wife. Now, almost twenty years later, Dharma tracks Greg down and convinces him to uproot his life and begin a relationship with her. They marry on their first date and try to live with their decision in the episodes that follow. What follows is Dharma and her artistic, freedom loving, money shunning parents and friends trying to get to know Greg's uptight, business-oriented, highly capitalist and goal-oriented parents and friends.

The first season finds Dharma and Greg navigating early misunderstandings in their relationship, like Dharma buying Greg a shower and making Thanksgiving dinner for the families. As well, Dharma convinces Greg to start working at a fast food restaurant and she takes Kitty to a porn shop. Their family and friends join the somewhat predictable series' of conflicts arising from the artist vs. businessman divide when Dharma and Greg join a dance competition at Kitty and Edward's club and the women deal with Kitty turning 50 while the men go skiing.

With 23 episodes on three discs, Dharma & Greg- Season 1 is a monument to the ridiculously average. I understand that this is intended as a comedy, but the concept is so ridiculous in its simplicity as to be utterly insulting to a viewer. So, for example, Dharma is only moderately employed, yet looks like she just stepped off a model's runway in virtually every scene she is in! Greg, supposed uptight businessman, drops everything to be with her. So, from the beginning, the whole purpose and concept is somewhat skewed; Dharma is never as poor as reality would have her be and Greg is never as dogmatically pragmatic as everyone characterizes him as.

But, we're supposed to overlook such things as the conceits of comedy. The problem is, when one bases a whole series on the idea that the comedy is based on a mismatch, the mismatch needs to work. Moreover, the characters need to actually make sense. From the beginning, Greg does not make as much sense as a foil/complementary character to Dharma because by the end of the first episode he is already making a giant impulsive life change. But more than that, outside the fabulous sex that Dharma and Greg have off-screen, there's nothing to indicate exactly what would attract Greg to Dharma other than her assertions that fate has led them together. This seems especially ridiculous when one considers that he is supposedly a practical, goal-oriented businessman with laser beam focus to take over the company he is working for.

And outside the basic concept, the episodes fall remarkably along the lines of virtually every other relationship sitcom and buddy comedy. Greg's parents do not like Dharma, which is a common comedic foible and Dharma's parents are open to Greg, which makes him somewhat uncomfortable and causes him to question what his love for Dharma could be, which is a pretty standard plot/character idea in sitcoms as well. Moreover, Greg's friends interact with Dharma in the comedically obvious way and they end up much more as "types" than genuine characters. Indeed, instead of popping with originality, Greg's friends seem like cookie-cutter sidekicks. The first season has almost no scenes that do not contain either Dharma or Greg (subsequent seasons find whole episodes focusing on Greg and Dharma's respective parents doing their own thing or interacting with one another) and the scenes that find Greg with his friends are often far more bland than one might want them to be.

"Typical" is a good way to describe the plots of Dharma & Greg, with "one-trick pony" describing the characters and the basic sense of comedy to the series. In general, the characters embody types much more than a collection of experiences and a realistic sense of personality. The result is episode after episode with essentially the same jokes, involving the culture clash between the art and business worlds. And it's not terribly funny and certainly not as audacious as it could have been.

Still, it helps to know the principle characters and in the first season of Dharma & Greg, the essential characters include:

Dharma Montgomery - She is a wacky, new age nymph with a belief in fate and the essential goodness of the world and a disdain for the culture of money. She is drawn to Greg by a sense of inevitability and grand design that leads her to pursue him romantically, soon she is with him in every meaningful way and looking to spend her life with him, despite the fact that he has many of the trappings of wealth,

Greg Montgomery - A businessman working in the uncreative world of law, he allows himself be led away by Dharma who intrigues him. Getting used to her attitudes of life, liberty and lack of commitment to a future with plans, Greg finds himself uncomfortable and growing through much of the season,

Kitty Montgomery - Greg's wealthy, often-drinking mother, she is generally unhappy in her stable, uncommunicative relationship with husband, Edward. She loved Greg, but is concerned at his attraction for Dharma which she sees as a distraction from his career and society tracks,

Edward Montgomery - Kitty's husband, Greg's father. He is a successful businessman but is often dominated at home by Kitty. He seems to prefer a stiff drink to her company and he enjoys all his wealth my buy him. He loves Greg, though he would not tell him unless prompted by Dharma,

Abby - Dharma's flaky hippie mother. That's pretty much all she's characterized as,

Larry - Dharma's flaky hippie father, he is a slightly overweight, pot-loving bohemian who lives as if the countercultural revolution never ended. He's spacey and easily confused, though he generally accepts Greg into his life,

Jane - Dharma's annoying girl friend, she is supportive of Dharma, though she often reduces the attraction to a matter of simple sexuality and she pretty much hates men. Frequently at odds with Pete,

Pete - Greg's laid-back friend who arrives just in time to make the punchline observation and/or to be verbally beaten on by Jane.

Dharma & Greg quickly establishes the characters and the actors who portray them establish them with little spark or zeal that is not in the bland scripts. This is generic ABC laugh-track comedy and it is baffling to me who the target market of buyers might be. Even the talent that does exist in the cast is sublimated for bland stupidity or dull characterization. So, for example, when Mitch Ryan appeared on Star Trek: The Next Generation as Kyle Riker in "The Icarus Factor" (reviewed here!) he took a brief role and made it emotionally relevant and interesting, even as he infused it with a sense of chemistry and loss. But as Edward Montgopmery, he is devoid of any traits that make us want to care about him. Instead, viewers sit, wait for his perfectly timed, understated insult of his wife and her wants and needs in a situation and are unimpressed when he delivers the bare minimum to get a reaction.

Thomas Gibson plays Greg and he highlights the cast of Hollywood-good-looking, fairly bland white men with his completely average portrayal of the often monolithic Greg. Gibson's performance does not make the viewer question the character's motives or wonder about his backstory. Instead, he is very much a character who appears on the surface and what the character appears as on the script page is exactly the flat, underdeveloped performance Gibson delivers.

It is Jenna Elfman as Dharma who is charged with selling the series, though. She is a perky-eyed hollywood beautiful blonde who plays Dharma as perky and pretty much the 1990s interpretation of the 1960's sexually liberated woman. The problem with the series and Elfman's performance is that once that type is established, the show does not do anything extraordinary with it. Okay, Elfman plays a character who is kind and loving and forgiving and happens to be the societal archetype of beauty. Next week (next episode, next disc) it's more of the same and the series quickly gets a repetitive quality to it that never genuinely stretches Elfman past her original starting performance.

On DVD, Dharma & Greg- Season 1 suffers as a minimal bonus release. It's hard enough mustering up the enthusiasm to play these episodes, it's surprising Jenna Elfman and other cast members would take the time to do commentary tracks. Then again, what has Elfman been up to lately? In addition to commentary tracks, the "vanity cards" from the end of the episodes are available for viewing so they may be read clearly. There is also one fairly basic featurette from the series creator. On DVD, Dharma & Greg does not have all of its original incidental music, though what has been changed specifically is not noted nor did such apparent changes make any significant (or noticeable) difference in the program. All in all, it's a pretty mediocre release.

Who will like this release? I'm not sure. I suppose anyone who has the obsessive need to watch the same one-trick pony over and over and over and over again. Otherwise, this boxed set does not retain its value and need not plague anyone's shelf as part of their permanent collection.

For vastly better comedies on DVD, I'd like to recommend viewers check out any of the following:
Arrested Development
Monty Python's Flying Circus
Clerks The Animated Series


For other television and movie reviews, be sure to visit my Index Page for organized listings!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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For Its 100th “Timeless” Episode, Star Trek: Voyager Does The Same Old Crap!

The Good: Mostly decent acting, Good effects, Moments of character
The Bad: Beltran's performance/guest characters, Entirely predictable and familiar plot
The Basics: "Timeless" once again jerks fans of Star Trek: Voyager fans around with little regard for actually presenting something new or different.

For those who might not follow my reviews regularly, with Star Trek: Voyager, I have a pretty consistent and reasonable bitch. Yeah, I complain pretty constantly about how the ship will encounter an alien technology that works only for the duration of the episode they are in before failing, leaving them (essentially) no better or worse off than when the episode begins. By the time the fifth season of Star Trek: Voyager came around, that annoying pattern was usually paired with the ship encountering a spatial anomaly that would make their travels even more difficult than usual (i.e. a nebula that required the crew to be put in suspended animation or a vast area of space where there was absolutely nothing.

So, I suppose it ought to be no surprise that for the one hundredth episode, Star Trek: Voyager kept to business as usual. To be fair to the writers – Rick Berman, Brannon Braga, and Joe Menosky – they at least make a passing attempt at undoing that trend by revisiting one of the “failed” technologies from a prior episode. In “Hope And Fear” (reviewed here!), the U.S.S. Voyager acquired a quantum slipstream drive and managed to use the drive for only a portion of the episode. Big sigh for the fact that, in a crunch, Voyager was able to use the quantum slipstream drive to catch Arturis, but with months of research (including, retroactively, years!), they cannot get the technology to work.

In the future, Harry Kim (who goes just by “Harry” now) and Chakotay beam down to a frozen planet where they find the U.S.S. Voyager embedded underneath several meters of ice. The two survivors of Voyager recover Seven Of Nine’s corpse and the Emergency Medical Hologram in an attempt to change history.

In the past, the crew of Voyager is celebrating the integration of the quantum slipstream drive. Tom Paris, however, is wary of the new technology, having discovered a phase variance that knocks the ship out of the new drive and (in simulations) killing everyone. Harry Kim argues fervently for a new strategy; take the Delta Flyer ahead of Voyager and relay the relevant information back to Voyager. Of course, that attempt fails, leaving the shuttle crew – Harry and Chakotay – trapped in the shuttle after Voyager crashes to its frozen grave.

Obviously, the rest of the episode is preoccupied with how Harry Kim and Chakotay try to change the past.

The one hundredth episode of any series is a milestone and “Timeless” has a pretty ridiculous “ticking clock” aspect (Harry Kim argues that the flight has to occur the morning after the celebration because the crystals in the quantum slipstream drive are already decaying). The episode never actually addresses how Harry Kim and the Voyager crew got the crystals to begin with. There is a pretty obvious bit of logic that dictates that acquiring or growing new crystals would take less time than risking everyone’s lives or sitting still.

The Harry Kim who is fifteen years older is actually pretty cool. Kim is a criminal, essentially a pirate who has violated the Temporal Prime Directive out of guilt for miscalculating the phase variance years prior. “Timeless” gives Garrett Wang a real chance to thrive as an actor. Wang sells Harry Kim as an abrupt, somewhat angry character who has a strong motivation as a character.

At the other end of the spectrum is Robert Beltran as Chakotay. Chakotay is involved with Tessa Omond, which might have worked better had either character made sense or been well-acted. Chakotay and Janeway share an unusually intimate scene (it’s more like second season Chakotay and Janeway than fifth season Chakotay and Janeway) and Chakotay and Tessa have no real connection. In fact, Christine Harnos – who plays Tessa – and Beltran have absolutely no on-screen chemistry. This is complicated by a scene where Chakotay seems more torn up about altering the past than Tessa does.

Fortunately, the cameo by director LeVar Burton, as Captain LaForge, does not overshadow Wang’s performance or the essential plot of the episode.

“Timeless” is a ridiculously basic time-travel episode, but the problems with it are ones that have nothing to do with temporal mechanics. Why Harry Kim had to steal the Delta Flyer is not made clear (it seems like a new ship might have been a better choice, especially when it came to eventually fleeing from a StarFleet ship). Also to the credit of the writers and director LeVar Burton, “Timeless” does have an epic feel to it and it capitalizes on the elements from the series that are the most popular. The use of the EMH and even Seven Of Nine (even if primarily as a corpse) illustrate well the way the show has pulled away from being Captain Janeway’s story. The fact that “Timeless” is an episode with a strong engineering concept, yet B’Elanna Torres is virtually absent from the episode (she has essentially a cameo near the beginning of the episode) while Seven Of Nine and Tom Paris deal with the engineering and navigation issues from the bridge is very telling.

Ultimately, “Timeless” is a faux-epic episode, more of the familiar plot structure that viewers are already long familiar with. As a celebration of Star Trek: Voyager that is oddly appropriate.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete Fifth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the season here!


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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VERY Heavy On The Publicity Photos, The Legends Of Captain Janeway Set Is Unremarkable!

The Good: Limited nature, Image and card quality
The Bad: By and large images that have been done on other cards.
The Basics: Rittenhouse Archives drops the ball on the Legends Of Captain Janeway card set by providing largely uninteresting publicity shots.

One of the wonderful things about collectibles is that sometimes merchandising can actually make a mediocre product or experience better. Sometimes, especially with trading cards, the merchandising can distill the problems with a movie or television show down and leave only the real good elements of it. Sadly, for fans of Star Trek: Voyager, the new "Legends Of Star Trek: Captain Kathryn Janeway" set does not do that. My hope when I opened up my limited edition pack was that this would have some fresh, cool shots of Janeway that I had never seen and it would impress me in a way that Star Trek: Voyager has seldom done. Rittenhouse Archives, who makes the Legends Of Star Trek cards, has been known to do it before. Unfortunately, on this set, Rittenhouse Archives pretty much phones it in.

I write this with some sense of dismay and a strong sense that the words are entirely justified. After all, as an avid trading card collector, I can easily recognize the difference between publicity photos and screen captures. But even more than that, Rittenhouse Archives's lapse of creativity unfortunately extends to ripping off their own material. Largely what isn't obvious publicity photos in the "Legends Of Janeway" set are shots they used in bonus sets of their immensely popular "Women Of Star Trek In Motion" trading cards (reviewed here)!

The first 2009 release in "The Legends Of Star Trek" focused on the captains of the Star Trek franchise and "The Legends Of Janeway" set was released alongside sets for Sisko and Archer. Made overwhelmingly of publicity photos used to promote Star Trek: Voyager, the "Legends Of Janeway" set is a big letdown. Of course, in beginning to review the card set, it occurs to me how seldom Janeway was seen out of her uniform. Sadly, there were several times and Rittenhouse Archives does not capture that with this set. Instead, they selected images that Paramount gave out and a few images they had already used in exclusive sets in prior releases.

Basics/Set Composition

"The Legends Of Star Trek" set is a series of cards produced by Rittenhouse Archives and released on average twice a year over the last five years. The "Legends Of Janeway" set is the seventeenth in the ever-expanding series that is released in nine card, limited edition increments. There are no bonus cards in this set, they come as complete sets of nine cards sealed in a cellophane package. There are three things that make these sets truly special: cardstock, an individual limited edition number, and the images on the cards. The cardstock is a 20pt. (thicker than usual) cardstock with the standard UV resistant coating that all quality trading cards come with these days. To illustrate the truly limited nature of the "Legends Of Star Trek" cards, every set is strictly limited to 1701 sets and the L9 card (visible at the back of the cellophane pack) is foil stamped with an individual number for the specific "Legends Of" set. So, for example, my personal set is number 0440/1701! This is where it helps to have a dealer that you are loyal to; dealers were able to order all of the same limited edition collector's numbers each time, so every time I get an order in, they are the same limited edition numbers and I - and my customers - are assembling sets with matching numbers, which will presumably hold the value of the overall series better in the long run.

Finally, the "Legends Of Star Trek" series is usually characterized by wonderful, uncommon images that are not the typical shots that have been on 8x10s, t-shirts and collector's plates before. Instead, these cards capitalize on big rare images, vivid color contrast and cards that are uncluttered by pesky text! These cards are for the fans who know the accomplishments of their heroes! No need to write about them, the images speak for themselves! Unfortunately, several of the more recent sets seem to mortgage that concept as Rittenhouse Archives pushes out a product that is more mediocre than original.

Common Cards

The "Legends Of Janeway" set is a nine-card "Legends Of Star Trek" set that features eighteen images of Kathryn Janeway from her first season publicity shot to the final publicity photos of Kathryn Janeway from the seventh season of the series. Rittenhouse Archives presents Janeway for the most part in her uniform in shots that have Janeway looking directly at the camera (or card collector). Visually, this is a remarkably uninteresting set as this is more the "hairstyles of Janeway" set than truly anything that illustrates a well-rounded sense of who the character is. And the more I look at this set, the more disappointed I am because the set had the chance to do exactly what I hoped it might: distill the crap away and make a cool card set. So, for example, "Macrocosm" (reviewed here!) is never truly considered a great episode of Star Trek: Voyager, but in the episode Janeway looks different (she runs around most of the episode toting a big gun in a tanktop) and that would have made for a distinctive card. That incarnation of Janeway is not represented here.

The "Legends Of Janeway" set uses more publicity images and images that have been done on other trading cards many times before. Six of the images on the fronts of the cards are clearly recognizable to fans of the series as being simple publicity shots. The backs of these cards use similarly unimaginative shots as well, with only two being publicity shots, but five of them having been clearly done by Rittenhouse Archives on other sets! The result is a collection of Janeway shots, primarily headshots that have Janeway looking more like a celebrity than a starship captain.

On the plus side, Rittenhouse Archives did make a passing attempt at creativity. Included in this set is an image of Janeway in the nightclub from "The Killing Game" as well as one of her as a Klingon from the same episode. Rittenhouse Archives teases collectors with a headshot of Janeway in a classic Star Trek movie uniform from "Flashback" (the card would have been better as a full-body shot of Janeway in the outfit. As well, there is a shot of Janeway as Arachnia and to be fair it is different from the image culled for prior sets.

But there are some looks for Janeway that are noticeably absent, most immediately Janeway as a Borg. One wonders why the timid folks at Rittenhouse don't ask for what fans might want to see in these sets because instantly I'd have eliminated three publicity shots of Janeway in her uniform and gone with: Janeway in nightgown (she was seen in it several times, most notably with Q), Janeway in 19th Century outfit, and Janeway in Civil War attire. Those three ideas came without even looking at film stock or considering the series, just thinking about Janeway and looks for her that were not her in her uniform.

But even if Rittenhouse was going to stick to Janeway in her StarFleet uniform, this is a particularly unimaginative set. Janeway is not pictured on the bridge in the Captain's chair with any sort of image of authority. Heck, one of the least represented images of Janeway would have to be from "Year Of Hell" when she takes Voyager on a suicide run into the Timeship! That would have been a cool shot. The lack of ambition here is startling and Rittenhouse Archives missed out on some great opportunities, like shots where Janeway is talking to herself and encountering Admiral Janeway. The lack of an Admiral Janeway image from "Endgame" or Star Trek: Nemesis makes the idea that Janeway is a "legend" seem pretty forced or underwhelming.


Only the die-hard fans of Kate Mulgrew or Captain Kathryn Janeway are going to want this set and one suspects that they will buy them up given how limited the sets are. But for those not making a master set of "Legends Of Star Trek" cards, this is an easy set to pass by. Other than getting signed at conventions, this is a pretty unworthy set for a character who was maligned enough in the source material.

This set culls images from:
Star Trek: Voyager, most recognizably "The Killing Game."

For other Star Trek: Voyager trading card sets, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Season 1 Series 1
Season 1 Series 2
Season 2
Star Trek: Voyager Profiles
Women Of Star Trek: Voyager HoloFEX


For other trading card reviews, be sure to visit my Card Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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Janis Ian's Stars Is Decent Elevator Music.

The Good: Good lyrics, Great vocals, Decent instrumentals
The Bad: SHORT!
The Basics: Despite being a bit "elevator music-esque," Stars is a solid album that is a bit short for a c.d. but otherwise is a phenomenal Janis Ian outing!

[Note: This review was originally written when I used to write reviews for a different site. There, I tried to make an event for my readers for my last review of one year and the start of the next year. So, for 2009, I opened with this review and the opening reflects that. I have decided to keep that opening simply because I like the sense of renewal to it and it does not detract from the review itself. Thanks for reading! – W.L. Swarts]

As we jump forward into a new year, I find myself thinking of what made 2008 at all memorable for me. Honestly, one of the things that did it for me had to have been my discovering the music of Janis Ian. I had never heard of Janis Ian or any of her songs. Now, I have listened to, reviewed and hunted down almost all of her albums (links at bottom!) and I have been astonished by how I never knew of her or her works before now. One of the last albums in my 2008 cache, which I am proud to make my first review of 2009 is Janis Ian's classic album Stars.

Janis Ian had a career as something of a musical prodigy in the pop-rock/folk-rock world, exploded with hits and potential by the time she was sixteen and then sank into obscurity for years after her teens. Stars was her return to the spotlight as an adult artist and she also returns to her roots as a folk-rock artist with an album that is melancholy, contemplative and utterly adult in its execution. This is also Ian's venture into adult contemporary, emphasizing her voice and lyrics over production elements and other distracting stylistic tells. And it works to establish her as a serious, articulate and well-presented artists.

With only eleven tracks, clocking out at 40:54, Stars is distinctly the work of Janis Ian. Ian wrote all ten songs (the eleventh is a bonus track on the c.d. of the live version of "Jesse" from Working Without A Net, so she wrote that at least as much as she wrote the original studio recorded track that appears three tracks prior). Ian provides the lead vocals on each song and plays guitar on seven tracks and piano on five, so she is constantly playing at least one musical instrument!

On the production end, Ian is not credited with any form of production credit, however, she is credited with being a co-arranger on every track. Given that she wrote the music, lyrics and arranged the songs, it is hard to see how the producer had much creative control that Ian herself did not already have. As a result, it is fairly easy to declare this the musical vision of Janis Ian.

And what a musical vision it is! For those who like light rock or folk rock, this is pretty much everything one could want, save long. Janis Ian has a great voice, which ranges from low and forceful, like on "Dance With Me" and she sings beautiful and haunting soprano on songs like "Thankyous." Vocally, Janis Ian is not to be denied on Stars. She is articulate and expressive and while the album has a somewhat homogenous quality, it is hard to listen to her vocals and deny that they are anything but truly notable. Ian has both range and articulation and the more music I review the less I find that combination to be as prevalent as I once thought it would be.

What originally drove me to the works of Janis Ian, though, were her lyrics and on Stars this is no exception. The title track is one of Ian's most recognizable tracks and "Jesse," which appears twice on this album, is her most-covered song. But what catches me about the album is how melancholy it is while maintaining a strong sense of poetics. Ian muses on stardom (“Stars”), loneliness ("Without You") and desire ("Sweet Sympathy"). No matter the subject, Ian makes the songs both listenable and poetic.

Take, for example, the haunting sounds of "The Man You Are In Me." Ian presents a poetic exploration of sorrow and loss with a sense of rhythm that almost is a chant when she sings "I love the man who waits beside you / I love the man who hides behind you / I love the shadow though it disappears / I love its afterglow reflected through the tears / I love the shadow in my tears / I love the dreams you can't remember / Lost in the early waking hours / I love the season of forever" ("The Man You Are In Me"). Throughout the lines and the song there is a strong sense of lack of fulfillment and she creates a musical protagonist that is instantly easy to empathize with.

Even her more introspective songs on her own experiences still have a strong sense of poetics. It is hard to deny that Stars is a lyrically a great song and despite the singsong nature of it, "Applause" is a great song that accurately captures what it is like - especially the insecurities - being an artist. Ian writes from experience when she sings of her younger days performing: "Applause, applause / Give the singer a chance / Treat her right / Be polite / Maybe she will dance / Applause, applause / Give the singer a break / How much can you give / How much can you take / Give the singer a chance . . . Anything to buy your soul / And maybe she will dance" ("Applause"). She makes the performance as universal as the act of listening to her music! Listening to her lines, we feel like we are being manipulated, just as she feels pressured by her audience.

And it is easy to see why her biographic song "Jesse" is so frequently covered. The sad song of abandonment resonates with its lines like "Jesse, the floors and the boards / Recalling your steps / And I remember, too / All the pictures are fading / And shaded in grey / But I still set a place / On the table at noon / And I'm leaving a light on the stairs / No I'm not scared - I wait for you / Hey Jesse, I'm lonely, come home" ("Jesse"). Truly Janis Ian is a poet and her lyrics resonate for anyone who has lost anyone in their lifetime.

As far as the instrumentals go, Stars is a very quiet, melancholy and difficult album, with the songs quietly resonating. All of the tracks - save "Applause" - are slow, sad, piano or guitar-driven tracks that are defined by a tone of longing and a general lack of percussion. This leaves Ian's voice to carry much of the album and that works out well, as she has an amazing voice.

This album is best for those who appreciate quiet adult contemporary or the quieter aspects of folk-rock. If James Taylor was ever to cover an album of Janis Ian's, one suspects Stars would be the one he would do. It is that smooth sound, gentle instrumentation and attention to lyrics that makes this album an enduring success.

The best track is "Jesse," the low point is the fairly unmemorable "You've Got Me On A String."

For other works by Janis Ian, visit my reviews of:
Janis Ian
Between The Lines
Breaking Silence
God & The F.B.I.
Billie's Bones
Live: Working Without A Net
Folk Is The New Black


For other music reviews, be sure to check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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