Friday, July 31, 2015

July 2015 End Of The Month Report!

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July is always a big month for us and this was no exception! In addition to reviews of the usual suspects from Summer Blockbuster Season, July marks the advent of our year's new Hallmark ornament reviews and this year, we are on pace to review the greatest number of ornaments yet! Between new movies, ornaments, the music of Susanne Sundfor, and some pretty awesome articles, this has been a decent month for the blog.

This month, we picked up several new followers on Twitter and a brand new subscriber! We are always trying to get people to become regular readers and subscribe, so if you enjoy what you're reading, please subscribe by clicking on the right side of the blog to get updates with each posting. As well, if you read a review that really affects you, be sure to "share" it! PLEASE share a link to the blog, not the content of the article; this keeps people coming to the site and, hopefully, liking what they find once they are here! We're slowly growing our readership, so sharing and subscribing to the blog is an important way you can help! If you’re subscribing, please tell your friends about the blog!

In July, the index pages were updated almost daily and remain a great way to find both new and old reviews! The primary Index Page, which we try to update daily, lets you know what the featured review is and has an up-to-the-day tally of how many reviews have been reviewed in each category! Check it out!

If you enjoy the reviews, please consider clicking on the links in the reviews and purchasing items. We really appreciate all the purchases made through the blog as that keeps us going. As summer comes to an end, if you're going shopping for Fall online, please come through the blog to to it. Thank you so much!

At the end of July 2015, I have reviewed the following:
533 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Star Trek Books
Graphic Novels
907 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
2820 - Movie and Television Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Movies By Rating (Best Movie to Worst)
Movies In Alphabetical Order
Best Picture Oscar Winner Film Reviews
Television Reviews
The Star Trek Review Index Page (All Star Trek Reviews In Order)!
The Star Trek Review Index Page (All Star Trek Reviews From The Best Of The Franchise To The Worst!)!
The Doctor Who Review Index Page (All Doctor Who Reviews In Order)!
The Doctor Who Review Index Page (All Doctor Who Reviews From The Best Of The Franchise To The Worst!)!
219 - Trading and Gaming Card Reviews
Gaming Cards Reviews
Star Trek Gaming Cards Reviews
Star Wars Gaming Cards Reviews
The Lord Of The Rings Trading Card Game Reviews
Other Gaming Cards Reviews
Trading Cards Reviews
817 - 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
892 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Cheese and Meats
Ice Cream
Other Food
234 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
113 - Travel Reviews
Destinations Reviews
Hotels Reviews
184 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
191 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
99 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
49 - Other Product Reviews

The Featured Reviews For The Month of July is the review of 2015 WALL-E WALL-E Hallmark Ornament and the article on Why We Should Stop The Search For The "Gay Gene"!
Check them out!

The month of July had a lot of movement within the month and was dominated by (predictably) brand new movies! For July, the Top Ten Reviews of the month were:
10. Terminator: Genisys
9. Inside Out
8. Arrested Development - Season 4
7. Sense8 - Season 1
6. The Flash - Season 1
5. Death Machine: The Fall Of London
4. Expelled
3. The Top Ten Episodes Of Frasier
2. The Top Ten Episodes Of Star Trek: Voyager
1. No Way Jose

I pride myself on being an exceptionally fair reviewer, but one who is very discriminating. I believe that most reviewers are far too biased toward both what is current and toward unduly praising things. I tend to believe most things actually are average and they ought to follows something around a Bell Curve. Mine is a little lopsided, but not as lopsided as most reviewers I know (who would probably have peak numbers between ten and seven)!

For my reviews, the current count is:
10s - 315 reviews
9s - 461 reviews
8s - 890 reviews
7s - 991 reviews
6s - 919 reviews
5s - 1166 reviews
4s - 865 reviews
3s - 689 reviews
2s - 319 reviews
1s - 215 reviews
0s - 101 reviews
No rating - 94 articles/postings

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

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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Katherine Heigl Exchanges Mundane Romantic Comedies For A Mundane Gay-Friendly Romantic Comedy In Jenny's Wedding.

The Good: Good acting, Decent writing
The Bad: Mundane plot, Unremarkable characters
The Basics: Katherine Heigl makes a coming out movie for mainstream audiences with Jenny's Wedding, which is a romance about twenty years behind its relevance.

Whenever a subculture's struggle and culture becomes pervasive-enough, mainstream media catches up with where the marginalized group has been . . . usually for years. Twenty years ago, when The Incredibly True Adventure Of Two Girls In Love (reviewed here!) was released, it was a pretty audacious art film that managed to open a wide section of American culture up to the everyday struggles of young lesbian women. The LGBT struggle for acceptance and civil rights recognition has come a long way in the past twenty years and as Jenny's Wedding hits theaters, it is almost passe. Hell, Friends - one of the most popular, most-watched television shows of the last twenty years, had a lesbian wedding episode nineteen years ago.

Does that mean the struggle does not still exist for lesbians and gays coming out to their families? No, but the struggle is hardly that momentous in much of the United States and in most of the developed world. Katherine Heigl and Alexis Bledel lead the cast of Jenny's Wedding in a mundane love story and coming out story that is about as interesting as watching any two middle class, heterosexual people turn a casual college romance into wedded bliss. These stories need a hook and Jenny's Wedding does not have one. Katherine Heigl and Alexis Bledel are incredibly safe casting choices for a lesbian couple and the sheer lack of complication in their characters' relationship makes Jenny's Wedding drag. Are we really at the point in our society's development where we truly need a film that implicitly states "they [LGBT folks] are just like us [the heterosexual majority]?" IFC Films seems to think so.

In advance of her parents' anniversary party, Jenny finds her family - especially her nosy sister - pressuring her to settle down and get into a relationship. After discussing it with her roommate and longtime girlfriend, Kitty, Jenny attempts to come out to her family at her parent's anniversary party. Her mother and father are shocked and ask Jenny to not tell the rest of the family and she begrudgingly agrees. Jenny's father, Eddie's, attitudes quickly change as he becomes troubled by how his firefighter co-workers refer to gays and lesbians. His wife, Rose, is much more shocked by Jenny's coming out and that complicates her interactions with her friends. In fact, that Rose asked Jenny to continue lying causes friction between Rose and Eddie.

As people find out, Jenny stands up for herself and Kitty and they begin planning the wedding in earnest. Despite an awkward public coming out at her old neighbor's funeral, Jenny sticks by her decision and prioritizes her love for Kitty over the discomfort of her parents. And her parents work to come around to accepting her.

Katherine Heigl is a good, safe, choice for Jenny and Jenny's Wedding does exactly what it sets out to do. It's a coming out and gay wedding movie. And for those who have never seen one of the hundreds (thousands, maybe?) of coming out movies in the past, this is a wonderful, safe entry for the masses into the genre. Personally, I still prefer The Incredibly True Adventure Of Two Girls In Love as it is far more complex as it includes issues of economics, interethnic relationships, and first-time/experienced individuals exploring a relationship.

The closest to genuine conflict that Jenny's Wedding has comes when Jenny's sister, Anne, sees Jenny and Kitty at Nordstrom's and freaks out. Anne's rant to Rose is interesting in that Anne is suddenly complex; she is less angry about Jenny being gay than how Rose having Jenny continue lying to her continues a long history of bad cycles in their relationship. As Jenny comes out more publicly and Rose works to accept who her daughter is (and has been), Jenny's Wedding becomes very mundane. And, for fans of the genre, there is the very predictable "person who already knew" character (this time in the form of Jenny's brother).

Jenny and Kitty are well-off enough that the wedding isn't going to financially ruin them or truly strain their relationship. Jenny and Kitty are in a longterm, monogamous relationship so neither has to break the heart of their beard to move ahead with their wedding. And in yet another, desperate attempt to create a film that makes everyone as comfortable as possible, Jenny and Kitty are looking to start a family of their own, which involves them having children (because, screw you, child-free people!). Seriously, Jenny is a good, Christian, girl who wants to have a normal family unit with her wife, so mainstream America, see how not-fringy these people are?! Jenny and Kitty are more stable and happy than Anne and Frankie, so it's not like heterosexuals are characterized as all happy and okay.

Outside a stifling lack of onscreen chemistry between Katherine Heigl and Alexis Bledel, what Jenny's Wedding has in spades is great acting. Tom Wilkinson is wonderful as Eddie and the scenes where he and Katherine Heigl play opposite one another are the performance high points of the movie. In fact, it has been easy for years to say that Katherine Heigl is overrated or typecast in works in which she appears: Jenny's Wedding proves she has talent. Heigl holds her own for screen presence with Wilkinson and that is no small task. When Heigl manages not to flinch under Wilkinson's quiet, but furiously-delivered lines at the funeral, it is hard not to sit up and notice her!

Jenny's Wedding has decent supporting performances by Sam McMurray, Grace Gummer, and Linda Emond. McMurray delivers the funniest line of the film as his character tries to reconcile Kitty's name being the same for both Jenny's fiance and the married man with whom she supposedly had an affair. Gummer shows more range than she was allowed during her tenure on The Newsroom (season three is reviewed here!) and Linda Emond does everything that That Type Of Character is supposed to do as Rose. Rose is the reticent mother whose love of her daughter will give her the opportunity to come around, despite all her inherent hurt and prejudices and Emond plays the part well-enough to be convincing.

But the performances are not enough to save Jenny's Wedding. The female sidekick (in this case Anne) comes up with the standard romantic comedy cliche epiphany that seems pretty ridiculous, the soundtrack is troublingly overbearing, there's the conflict montage and everything essential fits into the allotted ninety minutes (or 94, in this case). Jenny's Wedding isn't bad, but it's a movie virtually everyone has already seen.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
Dragon Blade
Fantastic 4
Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
Lila & Eve
No Way Jose
Terminator Genisys
Inside Out
Jurassic World


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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Why We Should Stop The Search For The "Gay Gene."

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The Basics: In this time, with human development where it is at, continued research into finding genetic markers for homosexuality is a dangerous idea with entirely foreseeable negative consequences.

All day, I've been preoccupied with writing an article which I was persuaded against writing by a good argument by someone I deeply respect. One of my (heretofore unmentioned) purposes with the first article was to collect comments that would help illustrate my points for this article. As it stands, I am confident I can make my point without illustrating how immature commenters can be when facing an unpopular or audacious opinion they had never before encountered.

I have long been an advocate and supporter of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Civil Rights. I am proud to be a part of the fight for equality. I have long noted that two of the big reasons that the LGBT Civil Rights Movement has been so slow to achieve demonstrable gains are the lack of a single, clear, leader and an inability to unify a very fractious base. Unlike the Evangelical Christian Movement, liberals have a wide array of opinions on all sorts of issues and are not browbeaten (or excommunicated) for voicing an opinion contrary to dogma (whatwith there being no single, established dogma for the left). For example, while I have been a longtime supporter of LGBT Civil Rights, I have never been an advocate of research that is searching for the "gay gene."

The Issue

Peripheral to many arguments about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered rights is the the question of what is the cause of LGBT "behaviors" or "lifestyles?" The answer to that question tends to come down to variations of "nature vs. nurture." The "nurture" argument is that people choose to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgendered. The "nature" argument is that LGBT people are "born that way." "Born that way" is, scientifically, the phenotype for a genetic sequence (genotype).

To investigate a genotype, scientific exploration is necessary. In the world today, there are many scientists - geneticists, sociologists, psychologists, and genealogists (usually with other, more widely recognized scientific backgrounds) - working on the search for the genetic markers that are common in homosexuals and different from the same genetic markers in heterosexuals. I argue that the search for the gay gene (or, more likely, gay gene sequence) is one that is a foreseeably bad idea with more potential for abuse than it has potential benefits.

The Schools Of Thought

The basis for my original discontent with the search for the gay gene sequence has its roots in hearing years of unsatisfying answers to why being gay by choice was a bad thing. I recall very vividly, decades ago, while working on my Junior Thesis on LGBT rights, interviewing a local gay activist. He rhetorically asked, "Who would choose to be gay?" And he answered his own question with a number of answers that illustrated a strong conflict from the super-ego; he noted that people discriminated against him, pop culture made jokes about his lifestyle, and his own government did not protect his inherent human rights. Even at the time, that answer was unsatisfying to me.

The "nurture" argument says that we, as human beings of intelligence and emotional realization, choose who we love. I'm big into Freedom Of Choice. What I've never yet heard is a compelling argument for homosexuality being a choice that does not rely strongly on the idea that because it is not a choice made by the populous majority and is not popular with a number of people in authority (both religious and governmental). In other words, the most-common argument against homosexuality being a choice seems to be "other people won't like the choice you make and they won't like you as a result." That viewpoint prioritizes the comfort of other people and the role of societal conformity over the joy that comes from loving whomever one chooses. So much of the angst young gay people encounter seems to come in the form of pressure to conform and fear of being different (or rejected) as opposed to a strong doubt about their feelings of love. So, while some young LGBT people certainly do not understand how or why they feel attraction, the pressure against coming out usually comes from others imposing their viewpoint upon them. Even the Kinsey scale supports the idea that attraction is not absolute and can fall along a wide continuum of choices that individuals make, regardless of what other people think.

The most compelling reason to instantly discount LGBT attraction as a matter of choice is the heteronormative culture that dominates U.S. culture. When faced with questions about "choosing to be gay," those asking such questions are opened to the question of "when did you choose to be heterosexual?" While that seems like a question with a simple answer, because the heteronormal culture so vastly outnumbers the LGBT or non-sexual culture, the formative experiences on heterosexuals cannot easily be measured (i.e. an argument could be made that heterosexuals "choose" to be heterosexuals through constant reinforcement of heterosexual relationships, modeling in the media, and positive interactions from parents who give positive reinforcement to young people as they engage in youthful heterosexual relationship-building).

So, it becomes very easy to make a compelling exploration into the "nature" causes of LGBT behaviors and desires. "We love who we love;" by choice or because we are born that way. Between the Kinsey scale and the complications of genetics (there are several genetic markers that control skin pigmentation, not just a single gene to make someone white, brown, deeper black, or any other ethnicity), logic suggests that if humans are genetically "wired" for sexuality, the keys to that are in our DNA.

But the search for the genetic causes of homosexuality are being pursued without a clear understanding of how that information will be used and who will have access to it.

The Foreseeable Abuse

The quest to map the human genome is a laudable one. Anything that increases our understanding of the universe and how it works is beneficial to the development of humanity as a species. However, human technological advancement has not been paralleled by human psychological and sociological development. One need only look at the proliferation of nuclear weapons throughout the world to recognize that with freedom of choice comes the potential for individuals or groups to make terrible decisions. While the United States developed destructive nuclear technologies and corporate interests quickly took control of the means to develop those technologies, the world is at the mercy of nations that use the argument "if our god wants us to have this technology, we will get it and deploy it upon our enemies in that god's name!" And the world became enslaved to its own fears about how any nation with the technology might react as borders, administrations and alliances changed.

The nuclear technology argument is an excellent analogy for the search for the gay gene sequence. While nuclear power has potential to be safely developed (even if we haven't yet figured out how to dispose of spent nuclear materials in a safe way!), it is hard to see the demonstrable benefit of finding the gay gene sequence. Just as using the first nuclear bombs to attempt to end World War II was a shortsighted goal for developing atomic bombs, one could see the benefit for the ostracized gay teenager returning to the family that kicked him to the curb with the paperwork that shows the repressed parents that he has a medically-proven reason for being gay. If that were the end-all of the discovery of the gay gene sequence, it might be worth the pursuit of that knowledge.

Human history, especially U.S. History, is replete with examples of how progress has been met by reactionary elements to undo such progress and repress individuals who achieve legal and societal equality. Those who want to apply science to find a root, genetic, cause for sexual behavior seem to want to pursue that knowledge without the realistic expectation of how it will be used. Consider the following three scenarios:

1. Proof To The Uninitiated/Disproof To The Adopted. Whenever talking about LGBT Civil Rights, there are a number of absolutes that people like to throw around. In denial of the Kinsey Spectrum, many people like to lump people into one or two boxes. Advocates of LGBT Civil Rights like to deny any causality reasons for homosexuality, just as some enemies of reason like to combat with the same sense of absolutism. So, regardless of any genetic cause to non-heterosexual behaviors, it would be ridiculous to assert that there are never, ever psychological causes. An abuse victim who is continually abused by members of the opposite sex and are rescued from such abuse by a member of the same sex would have a strong psychologically-valid attraction to members of the same sex. Is it the most common "cause" of LGBT behaviors? Certainly not. But should the "gayness" of those who do get into LGBT relationships for non-genetic causes have their "gayness" judged and disputed? Trying to find a single cause and claim it is the only cause is somewhat ridiculous, but for the sake of argument, let's say that LGBT behaviors are all a function of genetics. If the gay gene sequence is discovered, any testing that is used to prove or disprove homosexuality can have consequences both profound and esoteric.

Take the abuse victim. She survives decades of abuse by an authoritarian man and is rescued by a woman who empowers her. The survivor and rescuer develop a romantic relationship and are happy. One day, after the gay gene sequence is discovered, they are compelled by Alabama's government to get tested and learn that the survivor is not genetically gay and Alabama revokes their wedding license. By having a medically-provable "condition" for homosexuality, institutions can easily be corrupted by reactionary elements - i.e. your gay marriage is not legal because you are not legally gay. If that seems far-fetched, consider how reactionary elements have tirelessly worked to undermine abortion rights following the Supreme Court decision on Roe Vs. Wade.

But consider the other side. As previously mentioned, we have no way to currently measure the effect environment plays on heterosexual development. The search for the gay gene sequence has failed to take into serious consideration what effect it could have on society to be "genetically gay." Just as a gay marriage could conceivably be nullified when a married person is proven to be not - genetically - gay, it is entirely foreseeable that the exact opposite would be true. What happens to the conservative mythical version of the family when heterosexual parents who have been married for twenty-five years have their marriage legally dissolved because it turns out they are both genetically gay? And what kind of world is created when there is a statue of limitations to that (i.e. the parents are not forced to get divorced because they have been married so long, but their grandchildren are not allowed to marry by choice, but are forced to marry based on premarital genetic testing)? While plenty of us liberals would love to see the Evangelical Christian Movement cut down by genetic testing revealing that a significant percentage of the hatemongers are, in fact, genetically gay, that moment of euphoria pales in comparison to the profound societal implications represented by the revelation of unactualized homosexuals and the denial of benefits/rights to behavioral non-heterosexuals.

2. Treatment. Societal collapse is hardly a reason to deny scientific progress, but among certain subcultures, the nightmare scenario is all too real a potential. The discovery of the gay gene offers a very real threat to LGBT individuals in the form of "treatment." The search for discovery is not free. The companies that are investing in the search for the gay gene sequence are likely to be motivated more by a sense of profit motive than altruism. In other words, the discovery of the gay gene sequence is not, inherently, profitable. As a result, the discovery of the gay gene sequence represents the most real chance for extremists to eliminate the undesirable phenotype.

As distasteful as Evangelical "re-education" camps are now to anyone who supports LGBT Civil Rights, consider the horrifying notion of parents medicating their gay children to repress the phenotype. With the discovery of the gay gene sequence, LGBT individuals may be scientifically identified. With that, their "condition" may be treated and medical treatment is far less likely to be clumsy and ineffective as "reprogramming."

One of the greatest scientific achievements since the discovery of DNA has been the development of gene therapy. Cystic Fibrosis used to be lethal; in my lifetime, the average life expectancy of a child born with CF has doubled. The developing technology being used to treat and, hopefully, eventually cure Cystic Fibrosis is gene therapy. The theory behind gene therapy is that a treatment can be engineered based on targeting specific genetic markers and either treating conditions with a given phenotype based on attaching that treatment to the specific genetic marker (i.e. a compound that breaks down excessive lung mucus when it attaches to tissues that contain the genetic markers that cause Cystic Fibrosis) or (further out) resequencing DNA to stop the causes of the problem (i.e. a genetically-engineered virus is created, which finds cells that contain the Cystic Fibrosis genes and rewrite them so the lungs stop over-producing mucus). Carry that argument into the search for the gay gene sequence and the implications are terrible. A genetically-engineered "treatment" that targets the gay gene sequence could be administered on unsuspecting gay children (or adults) in an attempt to alter their "deviant" behavior. Again, while this seems like it might just be an extreme reaction that is more akin to science fiction than reality, consider the Evangelicals who send their children to LGBT "reprogramming" camps and ask yourself if it seems like those same people would not try to medicate the gay out of their kids if they had the opportunity?

3. Eugenics. Which leads to the final, horrifying probability to come out of the discovery of the gay gene sequence. If the companies that invest in discovering the gay gene sequence can't make money on treatment, it seems a pretty fair bet that they would make money off testing. While there might be that momentary sense of delight in the idea that the discovery of the gay gene sequence could form a real schism in the Evangelical Right between the anti-gay and anti-abortion elements, the consequences are more longer-lasting than the delight. Evangelicals who fear they might have an LGBT child could get tested and discover their offspring's sexuality shortly after conception. It is horiffic to think that some bigots would suddenly become pro-choice in order to abort their genetically gay offspring and the implications to LGBT and Women's Rights are staggering.

But it is foreseeable that within our lifetime, gene therapy will reach the point where a still-dividing zygote or an embryo in the early stages of development will be treatable with DNA resequencing treatment. In other words, if genetic testing reveals that your embryo has all the markers for Cystic Fibrosis, those specific sequences can be targeted by a genetically engineered virus that resplices that part of the sequence (that is still decades away, but it is a goal intended to make lives better and eliminate a debilitating disease). If that technology is developed without parallel social development of rationalism and tolerance, it is entirely foreseeable that reactionary eugenicists would offer to "cure" LGBT behaviors before the embryo is developed. While there are scientific consensuses, victims of overbearing dogma have been proven to capitulate to dogma over reason. In short, recent historical evidence would illustrate a trend of theist scientists to use their developments to support dogma, as opposed to supporting the proven argument that genetic diversity is overwhelmingly good for a species.


Science is an incredible tool for progress and the benefits of understanding the universe around us usually outweigh the threats that applying those discoveries can represent. For LGBT people and for humanity at large, the potential abuses to the discovery of the gay gene vastly outweigh the benefits of the knowledge we could achieve. When humanity has either grown enough to accept all people, regardless of a single defining characteristic they possess, or is safe from the disastrous consequences of that knowledge, we should be free to discover for the sake of discovery, including concluding the search for the gay gene sequence. That means that until enough off-planet human colonies are successfully established or until the reactionary elements whose homophobia might drive them to eliminate their scapegoat population through the application of scientific discovery, the search for the gay gene sequence should be suspended.

For other articles, please check out my articles on:
Why Modern Libertarianism Is Disastrous For The United States
An Open Letter To Senator Elizabeth Warren
It Is Time To Abolish The "Minimum Hourly Wage For Tipped Employees"

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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Monday, July 27, 2015

Martha Jones’s Chance To Excel Is Co-Opted By “The Family Of Blood!”

The Good: David Tennant’s performance, Character development, Plot progression
The Bad: Focus on secondary characters, Neglects the significance of Martha Jones for most of the episode.
The Basics: “The Family Of Blood” completes the story begun in “Human Nature,” but it does not do so in a particularly satisfying way.

In science fiction television, there is arguably no greater mixed bag than the two-part episode. Two-parters are more often about the tease than telling a longer, compelling story that could not simply be told in the time limits of a single episode. Instead, so many two-part episodes of science fiction television are about getting the characters to the worst possible place they can get and trying to intrigue viewers into tuning in the next week. In Doctor Who, there are very few actual two-part episodes and the one that seems like it does have a decent story to tell that is more drawn out is the two-parter that begins with “Human Nature” and concludes with “The Family Of Blood.” Unfortunately for fans of Doctor Who, to bring a climax to the episode “Human Nature,” “The Family Of Blood” begins in an unfortunately lame position.

Picking up immediately where “Human Nature” (reviewed here!) ended, “The Family Of Blood” makes Martha Jones into a compelling and complete hero. It’s a rare thing when a show allows the main protagonist to be replaced by the lead supporting character. “The Family Of Blood” allows Martha Jones to become the legitimate hero of Doctor Who, even if only for an episode. But “Human Nature” reached a peak where The Doctor had to make a choice and for all the intensity of that moment, how the subsequent episode goes it cannot be honestly dragging that decision out. The result is the feeling that “The Family Of Blood” opens at an artificially cheap point. “The Family Of Blood” is further hampered by the fact that the conflict is not significant-enough to carry the entire episode, so it turns into a somewhat maudlin tribute to the loss of youth brought about by World War I.

With The Doctor given the painful choice of having to sacrifice either Martha or Joan, Martha Jones leaps into action. Threatening The Family with their own weapons, Jones is able to create a distraction long enough for most of the people at the dance to get to safety. While Martha goes in search of the pocket watch that houses The Doctor’s consciousness, the headmaster meets with The Family. The school is suddenly under siege as The Family’s army of animated scarecrows descend upon it.

After a conversation with Martha Jones, Joan Redfern begins to suspect that Jones might be right about Smith’s true identity as The Doctor. With his TARDIS discovered and The Family closing in on the school, Tim figures out the nature of the pocket watch. Forced to retreat into the school, The Doctor acts as general to lead the students and help them survive the terrible night and the hideous creatures who menace them all!

Throughout “The Family Of Blood,” John Smith’s student, Tim Latimer, is hunted by the alien family that is searching for The Doctor. Tim is in possession of the (essentially) magical pocket watch that houses The Doctor’s true consciousness and will rewrite his DNA when it is open. Latimer opens the watch several times without fully unleashing The Doctor, which is not satisfactorily addressed in “The Family Of Blood.” The focus on Tim Latimer and his seemingly psychic ability to see the future (namely the day of his death in the forthcoming war) diminishes some from the focus on Martha Jones.

At its best moments, “The Family Of Blood” makes Martha Jones into a legitimate defender of The Doctor and the only real force that can stand in opposition to the villainous aliens who are attacking the boarding school. Jones is compellingly portrayed by Freema Agyeman when she is given enough of a part to play. Unfortunately for her chances of being the hero of the episode, “The Family Of Blood” often refocuses on Latimer or The Doctor.

“The Family Of Blood” affords a great chance for David Tennant to shine. Throughout the episode, John Smith is tormented by partial knowledge of his true nature. That leads to wonderful tortured moments when David Tennant plays Smith as regretful of being The Doctor. Tennant commits to the part and he is agonizing to watch in the moments where he plays Smith as lost and hurt by all he will have to give up if The Doctor is to live.

The initial concept of “The Family Of Blood” seemed to justify the two-part episode by creating a threat that immediately endangers The Doctor and Martha Jones. The full scope of the nature of that threat is not revealed in “Human Nature,” but does come out in “The Family Of Blood.” Unfortunately, that transforms The Family into another somewhat generic alien race that is an Alien Of The Week. While there is the potential of The Family to spread throughout the galaxy, that seems unlikely given that there are only four left and they only seem to be a real threat because they stole a temporal vortex manipulator.

The end result is a second part that is comparatively unsatisfying, like so many second parts of two-part episodes; “The Family Of Blood” completes the story set-up in “Human Nature,” but it does not make for a great resolution.

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

For other episodes of television where identity of a character is compromised, check out my reviews of:
“The Paradise Syndrome” - Star Trek
“Who Are You, Really?” - True Blood
“Yes Men” - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.


For other Doctor Who episode and season reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page where the reviews are organized from best to worst!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Unimpressive, Unnecessary, The 2015 C-3PO And R2-D2 Ornament Is An All-Around Disappointment!

The Good: Wonderful sculpts, Good coloring detail on R2-D2
The Bad: Coloring on C-3PO, Balance, Lack of feature
The Basics: The 2015 C-3PO and R2-D2 ornament is a miscalculation for Hallmark on just what Star Wars fans will buy.

Hallmark ornaments of subjects I like are not graded on a curve. As a result, the Star Trek and Star Wars ornaments that I collect do not get special treatment or consideration just because I am a fan of the franchises. This year's primary Star Wars character ornament is a flop and despite my appreciation of the sculpt, my love of the Star Wars characters does not make it better. Hallmark completely blew the coloring on the C-3PO half of this year's C-3PO and R2-D2 ornament and given that both halves of this ornament have been done before, it seems like an immediately superfluous cashgrab on the part of the company.

Pretty much anyone who knows the Star Wars Saga (reviewed here!) will recognize the two primary droids from the series. C-3PO is the gold protocol droid who reminded the Rebels of rules and regulations. His companion, R2-D2, was the non-anthropomophic droid that was known as an Astromech droid.

The 2015 Hallmark C-3PO and R2-D2 ornament presented both droids on a single ornament, connected.


The C-3PO and R2-D2 ornament recreates the two droids in solid plastic. The ornament, released in 2015, are the two sidekick droids, connected by C-3PO's hand on R2-D2's domed head. The droid pair is 4" tall by 2 1/2” wide and 2" deep. Hallmark charged $17.95 for the ornament originally and it was by no means a sell-out at that price. Unfortunately, the look of the ornament made the original release price seem overpriced.

The Hallmark C-3PO and R2-D2 ornament is made of a durable plastic and they are both sculpted wonderfully. The R2-D2 half of the ornament looks perfect for the Astromech droid, with every nook and cranny detailed accurately. C-3PO looks good, but in a very general way. The sculpted aspects are accurate, from the assembled-looking leg plating to the center stomach area having wires molded in.

Unfortunately, the coloring on C-3PO is entirely off. C-3PO is metallic and should have a reflective quality to him. He is gold. The C-3PO in this ornament is brass or bronze, dull and animated-looking.


As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, the C-3PO and R2-D2 ornament could have a function like a sound chip or light effect, but does not. C-3PO and R2-D2 could light up and play dialogue between them, which would make some sense, but Hallmark did not bother with either enhancement to the basic ornament. This is C-3PO and R2-D2 and they simply hang on the tree.


As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake C-3PO and R2-D2 ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate Star Wars Christmas Tree, C-3PO and R2-D2 is very much unnecessary given that Hallmark has done both C-3PO and R2-D2 separately, before. The ornament pair has the brass hook loop on C-3PO's left shoulder. From there, the ornament is heavy to the C-3PO side, making it off-balance and awkward-looking when it hangs.


Hallmark Keepsake began delving into the collectibles market in 1991 with Star Trek when it introduced the exceptionally limited edition original U.S.S. Enterprise ornament (reviewed here!). Since then, they have branched out into other popular franchises like Star Wars and The Wizard Of Oz. The C-3PO and R2-D2 ornament is fairly common and because both characters have been done before as part of the standard ornament line, it is unlikely this version - which is the nineteenth in the set of character ornaments - will explode, or even appreciate much, in value.


Like most Star Wars ornaments, C-3PO and R2-D2 has nothing to do with the Christmas holiday, but Star Wars fans tend not to care when collecting these ornaments. What they do care about is quality and the coloring and balance details are seriously off, making it easy to pass it by.

For other Hallmark ornaments of Star Wars characters, please check out my reviews of:
2015 Admiral Ackbar Limited Edition ornament
2014 Yoda Peekbuster Ornament
2014 Imperial Scout Trooper
2013 Jango Fett
2013 Wicket And Teebo
2013 Lego Yoda
2013 Boushh Limited Edition
2012 Lego Imperial Stormtrooper
2012 Sith Apprentice Darth Maul
2012 General Grievous
2012 Momaw Nadon Limited Edition
2011/2012 Lego Darth Vader
2011 Jedi Master Yoda
2011 Bossk Limited Edition ornament
2010 Lando Calrissian Limited Edition ornament
2010 Luke Skywalker X-Wing Pilot
2010 Boba Fett and Han Solo in Carbonite mini-ornament set
2009 Greedo Limited Edition ornament
2009 Han Solo As Stormtrooper
2008 Emperor Palpatine ornament
2005 Slave Leia ornament
2000 Darth Maul
1999 Max Rebo Band mini-ornament set
1998 Princess Leia


For other holiday ornaments, please check out the Ornament Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Most Developed Yet: Ten Love Songs Is Wonderful Susanne Sundfor!

The Good: Good lyrics, Wonderful lyrics, Most of the instrumental accompaniment is cool
The Bad: Short! Awkward album assembly
The Basics: On her latest album, Susanne Sundfor creates Ten Love Songs that hold up remarkably well . . . even if the album order is sometimes odd!

When I take on a musical Artist Of The Month, eventually, I move toward an inevitable judgment: would I recommend listeners tune in to the works of the artist? My July 2015 Artist Of The Month is Susanne Sundfor and I have been on the fence about her. After a strong debut (reviewed here!), I found myself very unimpressed by The Silicone Veil (reviewed here!). With her latest album, Ten Love Songs, though, I am definitely falling into the camp of "listen to this artist!" I'm discovering that Susanne Sundfor does not release a lot of music at any one time; her albums are short. Ten Love Songs is fairly well-developed in its sound, but it is very short and the album order is somewhat baffling.

Ten Love Songs is a collection of ten interesting and good songs (it was one of the harder albums in recent memory to pick a weak track from!), but the order they are placed in makes for a more unsettling than compelling listening experience. The song "Accelerate" is followed by "Fade Away" and "Fade Away" uses a virtually identical bassline/percussion programming so the songs blend together. And after the loud, fast, energetic "Fade Away" the album hits a wall with the almost-acoustic opening to "Silencer." The album is centered around "Memorial," which is a long piece that evolves from a somewhat standard pop number into a classical/orchestral song. It's interesting, but it feels like the product of a very different album from the one containing "Kamikaze" and "Trust Me." That said, it still is a collection of singles worth investing the time in.

With only ten tracks, occupying forty-seven minutes on c.d., Ten Love Songs is short, but it is the clear, distinct creative vision of Susanne Sundfor. Sundfor wrote all of the lyrics for the songs and she composed the music for the tracks as well. As is her fashion, Sundfor provides all the main vocals and she plays instruments on each of the songs. At this point in her career, Sunfor is involved with producing her own works and she is the sole producer on six of the songs and a co-producer on the remaining four. Ten Love Songs is very much her intended musical vision.

And it is good. Instrumentally, Ten Love Songs is very ambitious. Despite "Fade Away" starting out in a way that sounds virtually identical to the track before it (and "Delirious" using a similarly-produced beat later on the album), the musical development on Ten Love Songs is impressive. "Delirious" blends keyboards, percussion and overlapping vocal tracks to accomplish exactly what it intends. Similarly, "Kamikaze" has moments of instrumental cacophany that perfectly embody the song's goals. "Slowly" and "Silencer" both use keyboards and programmed percussion to make for delightful, almost-1980's sounding, pop songs.

Vocally, Ten Love Songs has Susanne Sundfor at the top of her game. Sundfor has clear vocals and seems to effortlessly traverse the alto and soprano registers, all the while maintaining a level of articulation that makes every one of her lines clear and emotive. Sundfor is hypnotic with the way she uses her backing vocals to harmonize with her melodies on "Slowly" and Ten Love Songs does not make the mistake of ever producing the instrumental accompaniment to overwhelm the vocals.

On the lyrical front, Sundfor illustrates a real talent for musical storytelling on Ten Love Songs. First off, Susanne Sundfor has a wonderful sense of diction and an impressive ability to use imagery in her songs. With lines like "Here I stand with the gun in my hand / Waiting for the water to calm / The moonlight can barely paint / An aquarelle of coral blue and red / Like the colours / Of your lover's / Pretty eyes and hair" ("Silencer"), Sundfor sets herself apart from her contemporaries.

Susanne Sundfor's origins are in the folk tradition and on Ten Love Songs, she combines the lyrical sensibilities of a folk singer with the instrumental accompaniment of a techno-pop artist. Sunfor still sings musical storysongs with a strong, clear protagonist and intriguing imagery, like when she sings "Many people will get hurt / Take your time and I'll finish your dessert / Don't look people right in the eyes / If you can, you can / Wars erupting like volcanoes / Blood streaming down the walls / It's out of our hands, so baby let go" ("Accelerate") but she pairs the lines with more aggressive and expressive instrumental accompaniment on Ten Love Songs. Sundfor makes it work.

Even repetition does not hurt Susanne Sunfor. On "Trust Me," Sundfor repeats many of the same lines, but she creates a ponderous, heartwrenching mood that perfectly fits her lines "Nothing’s ever easy, when you take ecstasy / All you do is please me, all you do is tease me / You cannot erase me, you cannot replace me / Like they do in the movies, like they do in the movies." Finding that type of balance is a tough thing, but Sundfor creates musical themes and plays them out wonderfully on songs like "Trust Me."

Ten Love Songs shows real growth and creative mastery for Susanne Sundfor and with progress like this, it is surprising her works have not yet jumped to the U.S. to become mainstream hits here!

The best track is "Accelerate," the low point is probably "Darlings" if for no other reason than every song after it on the album is better than the album's opener. It's still not a bad song, though!

For other 2015 album releases, please check out my reviews of:
Star Wars - Wilco
Endless Forms Most Beautiful - Nightwish
The Way It Feels - Heather Nova
Emerald - Dar Williams


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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Outside The Balance, Ariel's Thingamabobs Is A Perfect Ornament!

The Good: Decent sculpted details, Affordable, Neat coloring accents
The Bad: Back-heavy
The Basics: The 2015 "Ariel's Thingamabobs" ornament from The Little Mermaid is an understated great ornament from Hallmark and is easy to recommend to fans!

It is a rare thing when my wife and I disagree on a Disney Hallmark ornament and it actually affects whether or not we buy it. While I have a modest collection of Star Trek and science fiction Hallmark ornaments, my wife collects the cute holiday ornaments and the ornaments from her favorite Disney films. This year, she went through the wishbook and picked out the ones she wanted and when we have gone ornament shopping since, she has stuck to her original list.

She decided, based on the dreambook, that she did not want the Ariel's Thingamabobs ornament from The Little Mermaid. This surprised me because she is a huge fan of The Little Mermaid and she has several other ornaments from that film. But, even after we saw it in person, she was adamant that she did not want the ornament. As a fan and collector, I think she is making a terrible mistake; the Ariel's Thingamabobs ornament is one of the best Hallmark ornaments this year and a very cool Disney ornament!

For those unfamiliar with The Little Mermaid (reviewed here!), early in the film, the mermaid Ariel explores a shipwreck and she finds things like a fork and a shell with an oyster. She sings a song about the artifacts she has found and her cravings to be on land.

Katrina Bricker did an absolutely incredible sculpt for the ornament and it includes a glass shell backing that makes it feel like one of Ariel's ancient artifacts!


The "Ariel's Thingamabobs" ornament recreates Ariel and shell - with pearl - that she is holding inside a glass seashell with kelp accents on the side. The ornament, released in 2015, is an incredible sculpt of the mermaid Ariel, especially for the smaller scale, and is instantly recognizable to anyone who loves The Little Mermaid.

Measuring three inches tall and wide by one inch deep, the "Ariel's Thingamabobs" ornament is a slightly smaller than most of the Disney ornaments, but it packs a lot in. At only $14.95, it is one of the more affordable Disney ornaments this year and with the feel of glass to its backing shell, it gives the impression of being a real value!

The Hallmark The Little Mermaid "Ariel's Thingamabobs" ornament is made of glass and durable plastic and has Ariel, swimming up from the ocean's floor and essentially hovering inside the ornament holding the shell in her left hand. The sculpt is accurate enough to make the mermaid look perfectly recognizable. The paint accents on the "Ariel's Thingamabobs" are pretty incredible. Ariel has a blush to her cheeks and the kelp that frames the ornament is pearlescent. The tail even has some sparkle accents to it! Even the character's eyes are well-detailed and colored!


As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, The Little Mermaid "Ariel's Thingamabobs" could have a sound or light function, but Hallmark opted to make a less-expensive ornament option for fans of The Little Mermaid instead of augmenting it with a feature.


As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake The Little Mermaid "Ariel's Thingamabobs" ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate Disney movie Christmas Tree, the "Ariel's Thingamabobs" ornament is a great addition, despite having some balance issues. The ornament has the standard steel hook loop embedded into the top center of the back of the shell, right behind an ornamental starfish. The starfish hides the hook loop well. Unfortunately, from that vantage, the ornament is backheavy. That means that the level bottom of the ornament actually pitches upward, like the ornament is falling slightly back into the tree. The balance issue is enough to rob the ornament of perfection, though it is not a serious-enough defect to make it unworth buying!


Hallmark Keepsake began delving into the collectibles market in 1991 with Star Trek when it introduced the exceptionally limited edition original U.S.S. Enterprise ornament (reviewed here!). Within a few years, every major franchise from Star Wars to A Nightmare Before Christmas to Indiana Jones started making Hallmark ornaments. "Ariel's Thingamabobs" is one of many The Little Mermaid ornaments the company has released and one of several Disney ornaments on the market for 2015. This ornament appears to be resonating with fans and has sold out at several of the Hallmark shops I have gone to! As a result, I was unsurprised to find it already increasing in value on the secondary market. That suggests that it will be a good investment piece, even at its full, original release price.


Fans of The Little Mermaid, Disney, Ariel, and Hallmark ornaments are likely to love the The Little Mermaid Ariel's Thingamabobs ornament, despite the minor balance issue. As a low-cost Disney ornament, it is a must-buy, even if my wife can't see that!

For other Disney's The Little Mermaid Hallmark ornaments, please check out my reviews of:
2014 The Little Mermaid 25th Anniversary ornament
2013 Under The Sea The Little Mermaid
2013 Ariel's Big Dream The Little Mermaid ornament


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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Saturday, July 25, 2015

Child-free Jurassic World Might Not Have Sucked.

The Good: Moments of effect, Some of the performances
The Bad: Unlikable characters, Ridiculous and predictable plot, Thematically heavyhanded
The Basics: Jurassic World is another cheap re-do of Jurassic Park: this time with undertones of sexism and an overt "family values" message likely to disgust viewers more than the killer dinosaurs will!

Jurassic World is, as I write this, the third top-grossing film of all time and already has a sequel in development. I waited weeks to watch Jurassic World because I have not, traditionally, been a fan of the Jurassic Park film franchise. In fact, I only recently realized that I have only seen and reviewed the first Jurassic Park (reviewed here!) before taking in Jurassic World. While I was not super-impressed by Jurassic Park, I was actively bored and repulsed while watching Jurassic World.

Before watching Jurassic World, I had some inklings that it might not become my favorite film of all time. My wife asked me if I grade on a curve for "b" movies and I told her "no" - I review and rate Casablanca with the same criteria as Step-Brothers and Just Friends - and we had heard some rumblings that it had some distinctly anti-child-free elements to the film. What surprised me most about Jurassic World was how dramatically sexist the film was. And yes, for those who are deliberately child-free, there is something distinctly offensive about the death of Zara in the film (this is not a significant spoiler at all). Zara is the personal assistant to Claire, who is saddled with childcare duties that are nowhere near in her job description and as "punishment" for her failure to look out for the child protagonists of Jurassic World, she endures the longest on-screen human death sequence of any of the human characters (only one of the dinosaur characters is brutalized longer on-screen than Zara is!). For those of us who are deliberately child-free, the message from screenwriters Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Colin Trevorrow (who also directed the film!) and Derek Connolly is pretty clear: everyone should want to have children in their life or die horribly for not protecting kids!

More than Twenty years after the planned Jurassic Park was scrapped, Isla Nublar is up and running as a successful theme park known as Jurassic World. Despite having more than twenty thousand visitors to Jurassic World a day, the park's director, Claire, is anxious about the bottomline and has had her team of scientists developing new human-engineered dinosaurs. Claire is meeting with the corporate director, Masrani, and sponsors who are funding the research for developing the new dinosaurs, when her sister sends her nephews - Gray and Zach - to the park. Unprepared for their visit, Claire fobs the kids off on her assistant, Zara, and tries to keep the park up and running.

But the new genetically-engineered dinosaur, Indominus Rex, decides now is the time to fake out its overseers and it pretends to escape its enclosure, which sets up for her actual escape. Claire is forced to rely upon the velociraptor trainer, Owen, to find her nephews who are lost in the park when Indominous Rex breaks out and the rides get shut down. While Owen and Claire are out trying to save the children, the military contractor Hoskins siezes the opportunity to fill the power vacuum by bringing the velociraptors into the field against the Indominus Rex. While trying to get the human visitors to safety, the dinosaurs are set against each other.

Every now and then, there is a movie that has a conflict that has such a stupidly complex story when the simple solution is the most sensible and Jurassic World is exactly that kind of movie. Jurassic World is populated by characters who learned absolutely nothing from Jurassic Park and live in a world where our technological achievements did not occur. In Jurassic Park, DNA from other animals was spliced with the dinosaur DNA to fill in, essentially, the introns, because computers of the day did not have the processing speed to analyze full DNA strands in a timely manner. That is not the case now. Computer speeds have become so very much faster that it would no longer take decades or even years to render a single dinosaur's DNA strand. In other words, all of the evolutionary benefits the Indominus Rex gets from its spliced DNA are entirely unnecessary.

But beyond that, Jurassic World suffers from being a victim to simple numbers. The Indominus Rex has $26,000,000 worth of research and development poured into it, which is why Claire is anxious to not kill it right away. But the potential lawsuits from deaths of visitors to Jurassic World with the utterly foreseeable event of a giant genetically-engineered dinosaur escaping and killing or maiming anyone is entirely forseeable to exceed $26,000,000. So, simple business insurance would have Jurassic World preparing for foreseeable disasters with a killswitch (i.e. it is more cost-effective to insure the research and development on a new dinosaur than it is to insure against the deaths of up to 20,000 visitors to Jurassic World). Jurassic World makes a piss-poor run-around the concept with "shock collars" and "trackers." The moment the threat of Indominus Rex was revealed in the film, I sat up and asked "Why didn't they install an explosive in the dinosaur so if it left the enclosure or they couldn't find it, they could just blow its head off?" The writers of Jurassic World are not so smart. They thought "we'll give it a tracker." But even there, why wouldn't they put a small load of Cesium in the tracker? Cesium explodes in oxygen and if the dinosaur was smart enough to remove the tracker, the process of removing it would kill the dinosaur. How is it that pretty much anyone watching Jurassic World will be smarter than the people who are supposed to exist in the world where engineering dinosaurs for fun and profit is real?!

So, back to the actual film Jurassic World. It's a lot of running around. It's a lot of computer-generated dinosaurs running around and attacking people. There are a lot of guns that shoot dinosaurs and don't seem to cut them down nearly as fast as one might expect. And there are a lot of surprisingly weak women. I love Judy Greer. Greer plays Karen in Jurassic World, the mother of Gray and Zach. In her professional workplace setting, Karen begins crying while on the phone with Claire for no particular reason other than the fact that Claire is not actually spending time with her children (nothing bad has yet happened to them to their knowledge). Zara is a nonentity who is not so vital that she cannot be fobbed off on babysitting duty (and fails horribly at that because she can't stay off her smartphone). Claire constantly defers to men in the film; she is the director of Jurassic World, though she gets a verbal spanking from Masrani for not understanding the philosophy behind the park (though this is not a new job for her!) and turns to Owen for in-field help at the first sign of trouble. The most competent female character in Jurassic World is Vivian, a control-room operator who is horrified when things go wrong at the park, but stands her ground against inappropriate inter-office contact when it comes time for her to evacuate.

The acting in Jurassic World is fine, save the preponderance of shots where child actors fail to get eyelines or emotional reactions right while working with virtual characters.

The dinosaurs are big, but hardly special in Jurassic World and there my analysis ends: Jurassic World is a long, painful, dull before is rushes into a derivative chase movie that viewers have already seen.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
Dragon Blade
Fantastic 4
Jenny's Wedding
Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
Lila & Eve
No Way Jose
Terminator Genisys
Inside Out


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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Friday, July 24, 2015

Where's The Marshmallow?! Land O'Lakes S'Mores Cocoa Is Too Tough To Execute Properly!

The Good: Good flavor, Easy to prepare
The Bad: Fairly expensive in this form, Environmental impact of packaging, Doesn't actually have the marshmallow flavor of s'mores!
The Basics: Good, but not truly great, the Land O' Lakes S'mores Hot Cocoa is still worth trying!

I admire ambition, in all things I experience (and review). Ambitious movies, ambitious musical recordings, even ambitious foods impress me for the attempt, if not their execution. I was instantly impressed by the Land O'Lakes S'Mores Hot Cocoa. I love flavored hot cocoas and S'mores is a neat flavor. Following on the heels of their Chocolate Graham cocoa (reviewed here!), Land O'Lakes S'mores Cocoa seems like a flavor the company could conceivably pull off. Unfortunately, the flavor balance between the three key elements of S'mores - chocolate, graham crackers and marshmallows - prove to be an impossible combination for the company to pull off in cocoa form.

The only real problem with the S'mores Cocoa is that it fails to live up to the flavor of marshmallows in its flavor palate.


The S'mores 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 S'mores hot cocoa mix is ridiculously simple to make. 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.


The S'mores cocoa has a wonderful aroma to it. The scent is strong with the aroma of graham crackers and there is enough in the aroma to hint at the chocolate flavor, too. There is nothing in the scent that screams "marshmallow," so the scent is very much the embodiment of graham crackers and chocolate.

On the flavor front, S'mores cocoa is a good balance of chocolate and graham cracker flavor. The milk chocolate flavor Land O' Lakes was striving for is balanced well by the cinnamon and graham flavor one would expect from a S'mores cocoa. This is a very sweet cocoa flavor, which is dominated by the graham cracker flavor over the chocolate. Even in the sweet aftertaste, there is not really any marshmallow in the S'mores cocoa's flavor.


Land O' Lakes Cocoa Classics are hot cocoa mix and therefore not the most nutritious things in the known world, though the S'mores flavor could be far less nutritious than it is. The S'mores 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. 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 S'mores Cocoa Classics, there are 140 calories, twenty-five of which are from fat. There are 2.5 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 S'mores Cocoa Classic powder in its packet, it ought to stay usable. Given that it had an expiration date almost two years away - our package had an expiration date of February 27, 2017 - 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 are good, but the S'mores flavor does not add anything to the line that the Chocolate Graham did not already do. The result is a good flavor, but not quite all that the name promises!

For other Land O' Lakes hot chocolate drinks, please visit my reviews of:
Warm Oatmeal Cookie Cocoa
French Vanilla & Chocolate cocoa
Arctic White


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

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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