Wednesday, August 31, 2016

August 2016 End Of The Month Report!

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August was a pretty tremendous return to blogging for me! We averaged more than two reviews posted each day of the month and we reviewed some big works and some truly obscure ones. August found us playing catch-up on the television shows we review and they ended up as some of the most-read reviews of the month. We also stockpiled some reviews going into September so that way when Luke Cage drops on Netflix at the end of the month, we'll be able to truly be useful to our readers!

This month, we picked up three new followers on Twitter, but no new subscribers! We are always trying to get people to become regular readers and subscribe, so if you enjoy what you're reading, please subscribe by clicking on the right side of the blog to get updates with each posting. As well, if you read a review that really affects you, be sure to "share" it! PLEASE share a link to the blog, not the content of the article; this keeps people coming to the site and, hopefully, liking what they find once they are here! We're slowly growing our readership, so sharing and subscribing to the blog is an important way you can help! If you’re subscribing, please tell your friends about the blog!

In August, we updated the index pages almost every day, keeping them quite useful to our readers. The primary Index Page, is usually updated daily and lets you know what the featured review is and has an up-to-the-day tally of how many reviews have been reviewed in each category! Check it out and feel free to use that as it is a much more useful and organized index to the reviews I've written!

If you enjoy the reviews, please consider clicking on the links in the reviews and purchasing items. We really appreciate all the purchases made through the blog as that keeps us going. As back-to-school spending picks up, if you're going shopping online, please come through the blog to to it. Thank you so much!

At the end of August 2016, I have reviewed the following:
550 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Star Trek Books
Graphic Novels
929 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
2997 - 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!)!
227 - 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
857 - 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
934 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Cheese and Meats
Ice Cream
Other Food
249 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
114 - Travel Reviews
Destinations Reviews
Hotels Reviews
196 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
198 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
104 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
56 - Other Product Reviews

The Featured Review For The Month of August is my review of: Nerve!
Check them out!

The month of August was awash in movement and it is no surprise that almost all of the biggest reviews were new movies and television season reviews! For August, the Top Ten Reviews of the month were:
10. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 3 / Legends Of Tomorrow - Season 1 (TIE!)
9. The Worst Ten Episodes Of Star Trek
8. Batman: The Killing Joke
7. Tallulah
6. Breaking The Bank
5. Suicide Squad
4. Spaceman
3. Stranger Things - Season 1
1. The Whole Truth

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 - 320 reviews
9s - 487 reviews
8s - 937 reviews
7s - 1042 reviews
6s - 964 reviews
5s - 1233 reviews
4s - 913 reviews
3s - 707 reviews
2s - 335 reviews
1s - 224 reviews
0s - 108 reviews
No rating - 120 articles/postings

There was a decent amount of movement this month, but there was no movement in the all time Top Ten Reviews! At the end of August 2016, the most popular reviews/articles are:
10. Beautiful Creatures
9. Safe Haven
8. Oz The Great And Powerful
7. The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bone
6. Iron Man 3
5. Warm Bodies
4. Tyler Perry's Temptation
3. Now You See Me
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!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Steven Moffat Writes A Check He Cannot Cash With "Forest Of The Dead!"

The Good: Acting, Character, Plot development and reversals
The Bad: None!
The Basics: "Forest Of The Dead" is a perfect Doctor Who episode that gives a proper introduction to the potentials River Song represents while resolving the conflict in the library with the Vashta Nerada.

Some brilliant episodes of Doctor Who are hard to go back to because of how they are followed up upon. The saga of River Song comes to a close in "Forest Of The Dead," an episode that introduces Song as a character chock full of potential for adventures with subsequent (non-David Tennant) Doctors. Unfortunately, going back to "Forest Of The Dead" after viewers see "The Husbands Of River Song" (reviewed here!), what stands out most is how River Song had amazing potential that was utterly wasted. The on-screen adventures of The Doctor and River Song end in "The Husbands Of River Song" unless Steven Moffat screws up again or Song is The Doctor's next Companion.

"Forest Of The Dead" is a direct sequel to "Silence In The Library" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the episode without allusions to where the prior episode ended. After all, "Silence In The Library" was a cliffhanger and it left The Doctor and River Song in a remarkably perilous position. Donna Noble was lost while teleporting into the TARDIS and then appeared as a Node which told The Doctor that Donna Noble had been saved. "Forest Of The Dead" was exceptionally good at answering the questions raised by "Silence In The Library."

While The Doctor and River flee the Vashta Nerada, the little girl in her fantasy world watches television. On her television is the story of Donna Noble, who she recognizes from her dreams of the library. Donna integrates to an entirely new life at a CAL hospital. There, Dr. Moon introduces her to a man, who she marries and settles down with. She has a flash of The Doctor and she seems vaguely aware of time moving at erratic intervals, but Dr. Moon quickly corrects her notions. In the library, River Song proves herself to The Doctor when he becomes frustrated that she has some version of his sonic screwdriver. Unfortunately, another member of her team is consumed by the Vashta Nerada.

The next day at the park, Donna confronts a mysterious woman in black she has seen lurking and the woman tries to reveal the true nature of the place they both occupy. The Doctor utilizes the opportunity of the Vashta Nerada being confined to space suits of people they have killed to communicate with the swarms. The Doctor realizes where the 4022 people saved by the computer went and he tries to figure out how to rematerialize those people (and Donna).

"Forest Of The Dead" is a three-pronged mystery and it is a rare one that works on all three fronts amazingly well. The answer to the simulation mystery is cleverly executed. The internal world is an expression of the data core and it is convincingly portrayed. The conflict within CAL adds another layer of nightmare to an episode that is already nightmarish for its creature of the week. The conceit also allows the episode to take on a ticking clock aspect that feels organic, in the form of the main computer preparing to self-destruct (or erase everything).

The River Song storyline is exceptionally well-executed and the result in the episode is very satisfying.

The Vashta Nerada are presented in "Forest Of The Dead" as frightening adversaries who seem like a gimmick, but are fairly fully-formed entities. The idea that the Vashta Nerada can both negotiate and were victims of massive deforestation is clever.

"Forest Of The Dead" is not just clever on the page, it is brilliantly presented and portrayed. The gimmick of CAL could be seen as just a ridiculous gimmick or cheap reversal, but it plays as a revelation that ties the story together in an interesting way. The performances are universally wonderful, most of the best simply being reaction shots for David Tennant, Catherine Tate or Alex Kingston. Between powerful moments of reflection and bold, emotional, proclamations, "Forest Of The Dead" has intense, amazing performances for the essential characters and the supporting guest cast.

Ultimately, "Forest Of The Dead" is an ideal second part; it satisfyingly pays off the elements left unresolved from the first part, while being solid on its own.

For other works with Colin Salmon, please visit my reviews of:
The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret - Season 1
AVP: Alien Vs. Predator
Die Another Day
The World Is Not Enough
Tomorrow Never Dies

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


For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Impressive, Most Impressive: The 2016 Star Wars Royal Or Rebel? Ornament!

The Good: Good sculpting, Neat sound clip, Generally good coloring, Generally good balance
The Bad: Less-detailed background/diorama piece, Slight balance issue
The Basics: The 2016 Star Wars diorama ornament, “Royal Or Rebel?” is surprisingly wonderful!

One of the nice things about being a reviewer is that it often encourages me to look closer at things and experiences. Sometimes, there are products I initially dismiss on first blush that I discover are far better upon closer analysis. The "Royal Or Rebel?" ornament from the 2016 Star Wars Hallmark ornament line is one such product. The "Royal Or Rebel?" ornament is the 2016 Star Wars diorama ornament and it immortalizes the first encounter between Darth Vader and Princess Leia.

For those unfamiliar with such things, near the very beginning of A New Hope (reviewed here!) Darth Vader confronts the captured Princess Leia aboard the Rebel cruiser Tantive IV. Vader meets Leia in a hallway and accuses her of being part of the Rebel Alliance. It is that confrontation, with Vader raising his finger accusingly, that is the subject of the "Royal Or Rebel?" ornament.


The "Royal Or Rebel?" ornament does a decent job of recreating the characters in the hallway, though the patch of bulkhead from the Tantive IV looks underwhelming behind the well-rendered version of Leia and the lights and controls on Darth Vader's costume. The ornament, released in 2016, is one of the best Star Wars diorama ornaments yet produced. Standing four and one-half inches tall by three and a half inches wide and two and one-eighth inches deep, Hallmark Keepsake issued the ornament with an original price of $29.95.

The Hallmark "Royal Or Rebel?" ornament is made of a durable plastic, which allows the whole bulkhead section to support the characters on the floor section of the ornament. Princess Leia is incredibly well-sculpted and in addition to her costume and hair, she looks like Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in A New Hope. Darth Vader is similarly impressively sculpted. The iconic Dark Lord Of The Sith is instantly recognizable and detailing on his gloves and chest plate are impressive for an ornament of this size. Even the sculpting of the bulkhead is wonderful.

Unfortunately, the coloring of the bulkhead is remarkably simple compared to the detailing on Darth Vader's chest plate. Princess Leia's rosy cheeks have more impressive coloring realism than the bulkhead and floor piece. Most of the coloring, save for Leia's skin tones are done in monotones, as opposed to having weathering and shading.


The "Royal Or Rebel?" ornament has a sound effect, but not a light effect (which would have been difficult to do, save from the top of the bulkhead section - like an overhead light). There is a fairly obvious button on the front of the floor section of the base. When pressed, dialogue from A New Hope plays of the exact exchange encapsulated by the "Royal Or Rebel?" ornament. Vader accuses Leia of not being on a diplomatic mission and she retorts. The sound clip is about thirty second in duration and it is pretty loud.

The sound function is powered by 1.5V batteries (watch batteries), which are included. They are enough to power the ornament for (presumably) several seasons with the sound clip playing loudly and clearly, which is nice!


As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake "Royal Or Rebel?" ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate Star Wars Christmas Tree, the "Imperial Royal Or Rebel?" ornament is a wonderful addition that is surprisingly worthwhile, if not quite essential. The ornament has the standard steel hook loop embedded into the top center of the ceiling piece of the bulkhead piece, which is the highest point on the ornament. Unfortunately, the ornament is slightly back heavy as a result of the character's locations, the wall, and the resulting center of gravity. The ornament has about a ten degree pitch when hung from the hook loop, but I found there were ways to prop the ornament that minimized the natural pitch of the "Royal Or Rebel?" ornament.


Hallmark Keepsake ornaments tend to be mass produced, and the "Royal Or Rebel?" ornament appears to have been adequately produced, though the first wave has not sold out locally during the Ornament Preview Weekend at any of my four local Hallmark shops. Still, given the quality of the "Royal Or Rebel?" ornament, one suspects that it will appreciate in value on the secondary market. This is an ornament I am betting on in the long-term as an investment piece.


The "Royal Or Rebel?" ornament is an ornament that deserves a second look and a place in any Star Wars ornament collector's collection!

For other Star Wars diorama ornaments, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
2015 There Is No Try
2014 Cantina Band
2013 At Jabba's Mercy
2012 Han Solo To The Rescue
2011 Showdown At The Cantina
2010 His Master's Bidding
2009 A Deadly Duel


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

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

In The Search For Glory, Britney Spears Loses Her Appeal!

The Good: Few moments of natural voice, One or two catchy tunes, Some musical diversity
The Bad: Duration, Vocally overproduced, Insipid lyrics, No truly interesting or engaging songs
The Basics: The deluxe edition of Glory hits one thematic note over and over again until it becomes utterly unlikable.

One of the big problems with coming to review an album after many, many listens, is that sometimes a reviewer finds themselves treading where every other reviewer has already gone before. In the case of the latest album by Britney Spears, I wanted to be certain that I listened to the deluxe edition of Glory enough times to review it fairly. As a result, I am pretty certain that by the time my review is posted, enough other reviewers have crassly made the comment about how the album is Spears's trip to the Glory Hole that I'll have nothing to add to that particular barb. While others might just look for the cheap joke, though, I find it hard not to make a remark about the oversexualization of Britney Spears because that is - for the most part - what Glory is all about.

Glory is a pop, dance, album with more hip-hop elements than many of her previous albums, including a particularly lame rap from G-Eazy on "Make Me. . ." And thematically, Glory is almost entirely about Britney Spears getting laid, seducing, and wanting sex. And that's fine . . . but it's like watching porn for hours on end. It doesn't take long for it to get old, then mundane, then ultimately entirely dull. By the third listen to "Private Show," the listener feels like they've watched Britney Spears get banged about fifty times and there's just no appeal to being the next person in line for that. And yet, there are more tracks after that. But thematically, they are pretty much the same and Glory is a pretty nauseating auditory experience.

From the first notes of Glory, the listener has some hope that the album will be something very different and interesting from Britney Spears. The use of Spears's natural voice and her hitting higher notes on "Invitation" offer alot of promise for an artist who has done very little different for her last few albums. However, "Invitation" is not indicative of the content on Glory and the soprano lilts of the background vocals on the song are almost instantly replaced by banal, over-produced breathy and nasal vocals that listeners of Spears's works have come to loathe. By the end of the fourth track (which is the superlative song on the album), Glory reverts into a mess that is likely to stand as one of the shining examples of what happens when a pop star has nothing left to trade on than their image and singing about that becomes pointless.

With seventeen songs, clocking out at 56:35, Glory is the collaborative, assembled, experience one might expect of a Britney Spears album these days. Spears co-wrote only seven of the songs, performing the words and music of others for the rest of the album. Britney Spears performs the lead and backing vocals on Glory, but that is the extent of her creative control and artistry on the album. Spears does not play any instruments and the producer credits for the tracks are more of a "who's who" of producers than anything that even insinuates that Glory had a coherent musical vision or direction. The result is a musical mess with a pretty singular thematic purpose.

The songs on Glory are almost entirely produced, as opposed to musical. They are constructed dance songs and ballads instead of tunes that were written, played on instruments and developed as songs. Synths, bass, and drums dominate the musical palate - such as it is - of the songs on Glory. There is not a single catchy single on Glory, save "Do You Wanna Come Over?," which sounds like a lost early Britney Spears dance track. Even there, though, the song is problematically-rendered. Spears's works are so overproduced that the listener easily gets distracted by added elements - is that a beer can being opened?! - that undermine its musical quality. Similarly, "Man On The Moon" is at least produced in such a way to be auditorily interesting, even if it does not have much of a memorable tune.

The vocals on Glory are predictable, obvious, and overproduced. While there are hints of Britney Spears's natural voice on "Man On The Moon" and "Invitation," they are the exceptions to the rule on Glory. The nasal vocals on "Private Show" make the insipid song even more unlistenable. While the initial "Oops!" on "Clumsy" is fun, its repetition gets boring and it contrasts the banal, grating vocals that surround it poorly. Almost all of Glory has Britney Spears utilizing production elements and presenting the nasal iteration of her vocals which is just annoying.

Lyrically, most of Glory is straight out sexual and I'm not a prude, but the unrelenting, in-your-face quality of it is just boring. While listeners might have some hope for a Britney Spears tease with a track called "Slumber Party," they are quickly disappointed. Instead of something fun, seductive and teasing, the repetitive nature of her lines "We ain't gonna sleep tonight / Cause we got them candles hanging /Hanging from the ceiling low /We use our bodies to make our own videos / Put on our music that makes us go fucking crazy" ("Slumber Party") beats the listener over-the-head with the "Britney's open for business" theme of Glory. Hell, even Avril Lavigne's "Hello Kitty" is more fun, quirky, and subtle than "Slumber Party!"

But, by the time "Slumber Party" comes up, the viewer is already worn out by the overbearing nature of the sexed-up version of Britney Spears performing on Glory. Indeed, there is nothing at all subtle about Spears singing "Strut it out, strut it out, eyes on me (eyes on me) / Watch me strut the poles, feel my heat (feel my heat) / Spin around, spin around, three-sixty / Ain't no boundaries here, the camera speaks" ("Private Show").

Glory is also hampered by unfortunately predictable rhymes and banal rhyme schemes. Perhaps the one advantage Spears has on Glory is that she did not even co-write some of the worst lines. It's a sad state for a musical artist when their best defense is that they did not pen "Call me a fool, call me insane / But don't call it a day / Closer to you, closer to pain / It's better than far away" ("Clumsy").

Ultimately, Glory is a repetitive, boring album that - even with more tracks to give it more duration - hits one note early, then beats the listener to death with that.
The best tracks are "Man On The Moon" and "Invitation," the rest of the album is just unlistenable.

For other reviews of Britney Spears music, please check out my reviews of:
. . . Baby One More Time (single)
From The Bottom Of My Broken Heart (single)
Stronger (single)
Don't Let Me Be The Last To Know (single)
I'm A Slave 4 U (single)
Overprotected (single)
Me Against The Music (single with Madonna)
Toxic (single)
Gimme More (single)
The Singles Collection
The Singles Collection (2-disc CD/DVD with videos)
The Singles Collection (Deluxe Collector's Edition)
Femme Fatale (Deluxe Edition)
Britney Jean (Deluxe Edition)


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

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Godiva Assorted Dark Chocolates Are An (Almost) Essential Assortment!

The Good: Delicious, Minimal aftertaste, Not overly expensive for the quality
The Bad: Bulky packaging, One of the three was not as good as the other two.
The Basics: Pretty wonderful for anyone who loves dark chocolate, the Godiva Assorted Dark Chocolates box is a worthy sampler of Godiva chocolates.

When it comes to chocolate, it is hard to go wrong for me with dark chocolate, especially from the more prominent chocolatiers around the world. My wife knows this and she knows that the way to my heart is often through dark chocolate. So, when she picked me up a box of Godiva Dark Chocolate Assortment truffles, she had a pretty good reason to believe she was getting me something I would truly love. And she was right.

The Godiva Dark Chocolate Assortment is a mix of three different dark chocolate truffles and two of the three are solid hits. The third is not bad, but the dark chocolate overwhelms the promised flavors a bit more than it ought and while that is fine, it is not adequately selling the promised culinary premise.


The Godiva line is a collection of more expensive, finer chocolates than the regular line. Quality is put at the forefront and the Godiva Assorted Dark Chocolates is intended for those who prefer dark chocolate over milk chocolate. The 6.6 oz. box comes with fifteen pieces of chocolate, five each of the Strawberry Cheesecake Bliss, Chocolate Lava Cake Bliss, and Dark Chocolate Bliss. The Godiva Assorted Dark Chocolates assortment comes in a fancy gold foil box which is a nine inch square and 1 1/2" tall. It opens easily by pulling the top up, then removing the plastic wrap on the lower half of the box.

Ease of Preparation

Usually, I focus on how to prepare a food product, but eating chocolates is as easy as opening a box and pulling chocolates out of the box and sticking them in your mouth. The Godiva Assorted Dark Chocolates includes three different types of truffles: Strawberry Cheesecake Bliss, Chocolate Lava Cake Bliss and Dark Chocolate Bliss.

All three of the chocolates in the Godiva Assorted Dark Chocolates are 1 1/2" long, 1" wide and 3/4" tall. They look like elongated truffles, like large chocolate jelly beans. What differentiates the three types of chocolate are the chocolate drizzles mixed conservatively on the upper shell of each truffle. The Strawberry Cheesecake Bliss truffles feature a very limited milk chocolate swirled into the outer shell. The Chocolate Lava Cake Bliss has a white chocolate drizzle and the Dark Chocolate Bliss does not appear to have any alternate form of chocolate on its outer shell. All three feature the Godiva "G" stamped into the top of the truffle.


The Strawberry Cheesecake Bliss surprised me by only smelling like dark chocolate, without even the insinuation of strawberry or cheesecake to its initial aroma. In the mouth, the Strawberry Cheesecake Bliss truffle has a strong cheesecake flavor, which blends with the dark chocolate incredibly well. The milky, cream cheese-like flavor blends with the chocolate and they overwhelm the minimal tang provided by the strawberry jam layer that the fruit flavor only asserts itself as a tangy quality as an aftertaste.

The Chocolate Lava Cake Bliss smells homogeneously like dark chocolate without any hint of the any other flavoring to its bouquet. The center of the truffle is a thick ganache that tastes like a chocolate cake with the most mild hint of cherry to it. The dark chocolate flavor dominates the Chocolate Lava Cake Bliss truffle is incredible to anyone who loves dark chocolate and wants a cake flavor without the hassle of baking their own world-class chocolate cake.

Dark Chocolate Bliss truffles round out the Godiva Assorted Dark Chocolates. Predictably, they smell powerfully of dark chocolate. The Dark Chocolate Bliss truffles live up to the promise of their aroma and their name. The dark chocolate ganache within the truffle is darker, more pure of a cacao flavor without at all being bitter; it hits the perfect note of chocolate flavor without being at all unpleasant. Those who love dark chocolate will find a lot to love in the Dark Chocolate Bliss!

All three leave a slight dry aftertaste in the mouth, exactly as one might expect from a dark chocolate truffle. The aftertaste is not unpleasant, nor does it linger terribly long.


The Godiva Assorted Dark Chocolates is a box of chocolates, so it is not like it is super-healthy for you. Any three pieces (which is the recommended serving size) contain 190 calories, one hundred ten of them are from fat. A serving also contains about 37% of the RDA of saturated fat and insignificant amounts of cholesterol (5% RDA), sodium (1% RDA) and protein (2 grams). There are also minuscule amounts of calcium and Vitamin A. But no one is eating the Godiva Assorted Dark Chocolates because they are looking for something nutritious.

On the plus side, the ingredients are largely good ones that may be easily pronounced and recognized! Godiva uses such quality ingredients as sugar, unsweetened chocolate processed with alkali, and cocoa butter. There are surprisingly few preservatives in these chocolates. The chocolates of the Godiva Assorted Dark Chocolates were made on machines that handled tree nuts and are obviously not Vegan-compliant.


The gift box of Godiva Assorted Dark Chocolates comes in is adequate protection for the chocolates against crushing and limited amounts of heat. In the box, there is a plastic wrapper that encases the plastic tray the candies rest in and so sealed the box remains fresh for some time. Given how few preservatives there are in the box of Godiva Assorted Dark Chocolates, I was surprised that the box I just opened had a March 2017 expiration date.

Cleanup of the chocolates should be relatively simple as they do not melt easily and do not have pieces that crumble off. I cleaned up my box by eating the chocolates out of it! Should the chocolates melt, they will likely stain most fabrics and one would need to consult a fabric guide to see how best to clean fabrics stained by these.


As a huge fan of dark chocolate, I found quite a bit to enjoy in the Godiva Dark Chocolate Assortment and it was not prohibitively priced. Still, if the same assortment swapped out the Strawberry Cheesecake Bliss with a decent dark chocolate truffle with mint, that would have made the assortment perfect!

For other Godiva chocolates, please read my reviews of:
Godiva Strawberry Cheesecake Dessert Truffles
Godiva Oranges & Cream in White Chocolate Truffle Bars
Godiva Dark Chocolate Mint Truffles


For other candy reviewed by me, please check out my Food Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Monday, August 29, 2016

Westeros Uninhibited: Game Of Thrones Season 6 Progresses Beyond The Source Material!

The Good: Good character development, Good plot development, Decent performances
The Bad: Exceptionally detail-oriented for obscure events and characters from prior seasons, Some truly unsatisfying character moments.
The Basics: Game Of Thrones Season Six pushes the narrative of Westeros forward, while relying very heavily on obscure characters and events from prior seasons to make any genuine sense.

I have not been a fan of Game Of Thrones, despite watching it for years with my wife. My wife is a big fan and she had read all of the books and has been eagerly awaiting each new episode of the television series. After a few years of being generally underwhelmed by the first few seasons of Game Of Thrones, I decided to binge watch the first five seasons of the show before watching Season Six. While individual seasons might not grab me, I found by binging the show, I cared more about the characters and their sprawling journeys than I did when it was spread out. That also made me a bit more excited about sitting down to watch and review season six of Game Of Thrones.

The sixth season of Game Of Thrones was arguably the most inherently exciting as it depicted events not written in the source material. After the climax of the fifth season (reviewed here!), Game Of Thrones progressed beyond the novels that George R.R. Martin had written. Treading into new territory allowed the show to stand on its own, return some characters to the narrative and attempt to winnow down some of the storylines.

The sixth season of Game Of Thrones picks up moments after the powerful final events of season five, which means that some of the major characters from the prior seasons are no longer in the narrative and several others have serious challenges to overcome. In addition to returning Bran Stark to the narrative, those who are keeping track of the various claims to the throne of Westeros would note that the sixth season is the first to begin without any truly legitimate candidates fighting for the throne (Daenerys's claim is now three generations removed from legitimacy and Tommen, legitimate or not, is the king and no one is directly combating him for the throne at the season's outset). As such, season six of Game Of Thrones opens with several series's of internal conflicts and struggles, as opposed to a continued war narrative that has dominated the prior four seasons.

The sixth season picks up immediately after the climax of the fifth season with "The Red Woman." There, Jon Snow's body is found by Sir Davos and Snow's one remaining ally at The Wall. While the Red Woman retreats in shock and Sir Alliser seizes power over the Knight's Watch, Sansa Stark and Theon flee Winterfell. Hunted by Ramsay's forces, they are rescued by someone who owes the Boltons more than they know! Blind in Bravos, Arya begs on the street and is attacked by one of her old comrades. In Meereen, Tyrion tries to find the Sons Of The Harpy when they burn the fleet of ships in the harbor. Jaime returns to King's Landing to tell Cersei of Myrcella's death. In Dorn, Ellaria and the Sand Snakes depose Prince Doran and Daenerys discovers what her fate is supposed to be if she stays with the horsemasters.

Bran returns to the narrative in "Home," where he is trained by the Three-Eyed Raven, in the process witnessing his father's childhood! Arya is reunited with her mentor as the Iron Isles sees a change in leadership. Roose Bolton's son is born and Ramsay feels threatened, so he seizes Winterfell. Jaime squares off against the High Sparrow and Tyrion releases Daenerys's two imprisoned dragons. Davos appeals to Melisandre to try to resurrect Jon Snow.

In "Oathbreaker," Jon Snow gets up, much to the chagrin of Davos. Arya continues her training as No One and Daenerys is stuck with the other Khaleesi widows in Dothrak. When Ramsay consolidates power in the North, one of the lords he wants obedience from brings him Osha and Rickon. Bran sees more of the past, when he witnesses the truth behind one of his father's favorite stories. Varys finds out who is financing the Sons Of The Harpy and Cersei creates her own network of spies. As his final act as Lord Commander of the Knight's Watch, Jon executes the people who murdered him.

Daenerys's rescue is the main push of "Book Of The Stranger," though the episode marks the return of Littlefinger, Loras, and Margaery. Theon arrives back in the Iron Isles and pledges his allegiance to his sister, Yara, while Littlefinger manipulates Lord Arryn into committing the Vale's forces to rescuing Sansa. Sansa arrives at Castle Black, where she is reunited with Jon Snow. Soon after, they receive word from Ramsay that he has Rickon and Sansa urges Jon to take back the North with the wildlings. In Meereen, Tyrion tries to compromise with the other leaders in Slaver's Bay with a gradual phase out of slavery, much to the chagrin of Grey Worm and Missandei. While Cersei and Olenna Tyrell make an arrangement for the forces of House Tyrell to take out the Sparrows, Jorah and the sell sword make it to the capital of Dothrak. There, they work with Daenerys to thwart the Khals and free the Queen.

Bran's training dominates "The Door," which also spends significant time on the Iron Isles. Brandon Stark is brought back to the past with the help of the Three-Eyed Raven and he witnesses how The Children created the White Walkers. In Bravos, Arya is given her first assigned kill. Theon vouches for his sister's claim to rule the Iron Isle and both are surprised when their uncle materializes with a plan to take over the world with the help of Daenerys. In Dothrak, Danerys learns of Jorah's infection and tasks him with finding a cure, while Tyrion and Varys turn to a Priestess of the Lord Of Light to get the word out about the peace they brokered in Slaver's Bay. When Sansa is reunited with Littlefinger, she turns him away and volunteers to act as ambassador in the North to the houses there to raise an army against Ramsay. And when Bran wargs on his own, he finds himself in direct contact with the White Walker King and his army, which sets off a tragic attack on the Three Eyed Raven's cave.

"Blood Of My Blood" picks up with Bran fleeing . . . and he is rescued by Benjin, who was thought lost years prior north of the wall. Sam and Gilly make it to the Tully's manor, where they are accepted by Sam's mother and sister, and insulted by Sam's Wildling-hating father. That inspires Sam to finally stand up to his father and take Gilly with him. In King's Landing, the forces of House Martell square off against the High Sparrow, only to learn that Margaery has essentially given them Tommen to earn her freedom. Arya once again betrays the Faceless Men in refusing to kill her mark, leaving their care. And Daenerys is reunited with Drogon, which allows her to inspire the Dothraki who are following her.

Sandor Clegane turns out to be alive in "The Broken Man." He is living with a small community of religious people who found him after Arya left him for dead. Jon Snow, Sansa, and Sir Davos visit some of the minor houses in the North that have not yet aligned with Ramsay and attempt to bring them into Snow's army, while Jaime and Braun reach Riverrun to try to convince the Blackfish to surrender the castle. In King's Landing, Margaery manages to get a message to her grandmother before her grandmother flees for High Garden. Theon and his sister prepare to sail for Meereen to beat her competition to offering Daenerys their fleet first. And in Bravos, Arya is hunted by The Waif.

In "No One," Arya is hunted by The Waif and has to choose between being a Faceless Man and going her own way. Brienne and Jamie reunite at Riverrun where Jamie attempts to get the castle back from the Blackfish and Brienne tries to bring the Blackfish and his soldiers over to Sansa's cause. And after bonding with Grey Worm and Missandei, Tyrion is horrified when the Masters return to Meereen and attempt to attack it from the sea.

"Battle Of The Bastards" features Daenerys liberating Meereen and making a pact with Yara. And Ramsay and Jon Snow go head to head for the climactic, titular conflict.

The season finale was "The Winds Of Winter," which saw Cersei making her move on the High Sparrow, Jon Snow consolidating his support in the North, and Daenerys naming Tyrion her Hand and gaining allies to help her get to and take Westeros!

Game Of Thrones continues to add new characters and forces in its sixth season and with the Iron Isles becoming suddenly relevant, there is the feeling for viewers that the cycle of violence and power struggles might never end . . . or it might not end with any satisfactory sense of resolve. Killing Baelon Greyjoy inspires the show to add yet another significant character in what is a seemingly insignificant part of the narrative. Season Six of Game Of Thrones increases the burden on the writers and producers to tie everything together in subsequent seasons to make viewers believe it was worth it.

Many of the plot developments in the sixth season of Game Of Thrones are dependent upon actions in prior seasons to understand. Arya's final act of the season is entirely dependent upon viewers recalling a story one character told another in one of the earliest seasons of the show. Similarly, Davos's anger when he discovers the charred stag near Jon Snow's camp is utterly incomprehensible within this season. The frustrating aspect of this is that attentive viewers who piece together all of the details from past seasons to fully understand season six of Game Of Thrones are still left with huge gaps in character motivations - like why The Waif has it out for Arya.

The season is also notable for the way it brings back some generally obscure characters - like Benjin, the Blackfish, Thoros Of Myr, etc. - at plot convenient times and expects viewers to be invested in them and remember who they were. While Game Of Thrones is based upon a series of novels and the television series tries to mimic the complexity of a novel, there is surprisingly little heart to the complexity of the show in its sixth season. Zombie Benjin felt like a plot seed; the Blackfish was a background character to an army that was never a serious contender for the throne of Westeros, so his return in season six lacked any real impact. At best, the Blackfish acts as a medium for a character conflict between Jaime and Brienne. But that character conflict goes nowhere; it is built into their characters at this point (they are on opposite sides of a fight now) and the sixth season of Game Of Thrones does not see Jaime growing beyond his simplistic commitment to the Realm. How is it that by this point, after Ramsay has killed his own father in his quest for power, that Jaime cannot see that having Ramsay as an ally is not a viable long-term strategy?! And why the hell would anyone - Jaime included - ever dine with Walder Frey?!

In the prior seasons of Game Of Thrones, it has been difficult to invest in the struggle for who rules Westeros and the split between the civil war in Westeros and the looming threat of the undead north of the wall has been unsatisfying. Season Six of Game Of Thrones struggles to redirect; there is no civil war at the outset of season six, but the show does not really ramp up the impending fight with the White Walkers. Instead, much of season six of Game Of Thrones is designed to delay the White Walker fight and restore the Kingdom to a state of civil war. There is still an attitude of "who cares?" about the struggle for Westeros. In King's Landing, religious zealots have taken over, but because it was Cersei in the fifth season who unleashed them, it's hard not to feel like the horrible crap that the citizens of King's Landing are enduring is a function of Cersei being a lousy character to begin with.

Fortunately, even as the plot reverts to something more familiar (it would be interesting to see how the basic plot of the season lined up with the essential plot of the first season), most of the characters in Game Of Thrones actually progress and develop over the course of the sixth season. In the sixth season of Game Of Thrones, the characters who are still standing are:

Tyrion Lannister - Ruling over Meereen with the help of Varys, Grey Worm and Missandei, he begins to hunt for the Sons Of The Harpy. His first major idea is to release Daenerys's two remaining dragons from their captivity. He tries to make peace with the other two cities by phasing out slavery there and having them cut off their funding to the Sons Of The Harpy. He reluctantly turns to the Lord Of Light's forces for aid in spreading propaganda about Daenerys. He is finally rewarded for his service and intelligence,

Varys - Advising Tyrion in Meereen, he uses his spy network to find out how the Sons Of The Harpy are being financed. He is even more wary of the Lord Of Light's priestess in Meereen, arguably because she knows so much about him. He goes on a diplomatic mission to the far reaches of Westeros to get Daenerys what she needs to get to Westeros from Meereen,

Jaime Lannister - He returns to King's Landing. There, he is reunited with Cersei and discovers how much power the Faith Militant have accumulated. He allies with Cersei to try to influence the Small Council and take the capital back from the Sparrows. He attempts to rescue Margaery with House Martell, but is removed from the King's Guard by Tommen. In retaking Riverrun for the King, he does everything he can to not have to go up against Brienne, including letting her escape,

Cersei Lannister - Shaken because the witch she met as a child's prophecies have come true, she is relieved when Jaime stands up for her. Tommen finally visits her and expresses his guilt for not being able to protect her. She begins using the zombie version of the Mountain to eliminate her enemies. When the Small Council walks out on her, she tries to manipulate Olenna Tyrell into fighting the Sparrows for her. When Tommen joins the Sparrows, she orders Jamie to retake Riverrun from the Blackfish for the Frays. While he is gone, she makes her move to defeat the Faith Militant in King's Landing,

Margaery Tyrell - She refuses to confess to the High Sparrow, even after she is told that Tommen has been despondent since she was imprisoned. She is given the opportunity to see Loras, finally, and tries to convince him not to give in to the High Sparrow. Soon thereafter, though, she convinces Tommen to join the High Sparrow. She figures out Cersei's endgame moments before her plan is executed,

Daenerys Targaryen - Captured by a different Khal, she is told that she is expected to return to a temple in the capital of Dothrak where all the widows of Khals live out their lives. When her allies arrive, she plots to save herself and gain command over the Dothraki in one ballsy move. She accepts Jorah's love and help, but sends him away to try to find a cure for greyscale. She is reunited with her dragon, which helps her wield the authority she needs over the Dothraki and Meereen,

Jon Snow - Having been betrayed and killed, he is resurrected by the power of the Lord Of Light. After slaying his enemies within the Knight's Watch, he declares his watch over and is reunited with Sansa. He tries to organize the North against Ramsay, with Sansa's help. He moves to save Rickon, thwart Ramsay and retake Winterfell,

Sansa Stark - Effectively fleeing Winterfell with the help of Theon, she accepts Brienne as her protector. After arriving at Castle Black, she rallies Jon to take back the North for the Starks. She comes to loathe Baelish and rejects his friendship when she encounters him again. She acts as ambassador for Jon Snow and fights to reclaim Winterfell for the Starks. She understands Ramsay and tries to use her knowledge to save Rickon and stop Jon Snow from falling into Ramsay's trap,

Lord Petyr Baelish - He arrives back in the Vale, lying as always. He manipulates Lord Arynn into committing the Vale's forces to fight Ramsay. He is pushed away by Sansa, who finally sees him for the liar he is. Despite that, he manages to keep his word to Sansa as the most important moment,

Brienne Of Tarth - After saving Sansa, she and Pod pledge service to Sansa. When they make it to Castle Black, she has the chance to reveal to Davos and Melisandre how Stanis met his end. She is made uncomfortable by Tormund and the way he looks at her, though she is also disturbed by Sansa lying about how she obtained information about Sansa's uncle. She is sent to try to get the Blackfish's forces for Jon Snow, but works to stop Jaime from degenerating into a bloodthirsty monster,

Ramsay Bolton - Threatened by the birth of his younger brother, he slays his father, step-mother, and the newborn to consolidate his control over the North. Murdering Osha, he holds Rickon Stark hostage to bait Jon Snow into open conflict with him. He goads Jon into a fight,

Melisandre - Her true nature is revealed after she is powerless to save John Snow. She is as shocked as Davos when Jon Snow is resurrected. She follows Jon Snow around, but does little to influence him . . . until Davos learns what she did to Stanis's daughter,

and Arya Stark - Blind as a consequence for killing a person she had a personal vendetta for, she learns how to be no one as a blind beggar. When she finally surrenders, she is granted her sight back and continues to train to be a faceless person. When she finds herself captivated by an actress she is supposed to kill, she betrays the faceless men and is hunted by the Waif. Having trained blind, she develops a clever trap to thwart her enemy.

The sixth season of Game Of Thrones is where Sophie Turner finally begins to excel as Sansa Stark. Early in the season, she is forced to play a wider array of emotions - more than simply the spoiled girl or the victim - and she nails it. It's virtually impossible to watch Turner's Sansa in the snow and not feel like one is freezing to death! Turner makes a good transition over the course of the season to strengthen Sansa's character. While many of the other female actors - most notably Maise Williams and Lena Headey - do great work at presenting their characters, they were badass to begin with.

Ultimately, despite how insular and self-referential it has become, season six of Game Of Thrones features enough character development and high points for plot development to make it well worth watching and adding to one's video library.

For other works from the 2015 – 2016 television season, please check out my reviews of:
Grace And Frankie - Season 2
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 3
The Walking Dead - Season 6
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Season 2
Legends Of Tomorrow - Season 1
Jessica Jones - Season 1
Daredevil - Season 2
House Of Cards - Season 4
Doctor Who - Season 9


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

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Shea Moisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar Delivers Limited Results For A High Price!

The Good: Cleans hair well, Inoffensive scent
The Bad: VERY Expensive, Scent wears off surprisingly quick, Limited conditioning properties on its own
The Basics: Shea Moisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar is very expensive and does not do much for hair to justify the expense.

I am, admittedly, not an overly stylish person and I care nothing for fashion or impressing others. As a result, whenever I review a health and beauty product, my priorities are on effectiveness as a cleaner, lasting aesthetic effect, and expense. So, while a professional stylist might have a more sophisticated opinion on a health and beauty product - especially when it comes to long-term usage, I tend to have a pragmatic approach that is useful to a layperson. As a result, some of the more sophisticated and expensive products I get in for review do not rate very highly with me because there are other, less-expensive products that do as much or more. That is where I ended up with the Shea Moisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar.

Shea Moisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar is a high-end shampoo that delivers average results for a pretty high price. The Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar is decent at cleaning, but has a fairly mild scent, almost no lathering ability, and is several times the price of most shampoos.

I love shampoos that both clean and leave hair smelling good. The Shea Moisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar did the former well, but did not leave a distinctive or interesting scent in the hair after use. After my first use of the shampoo, my hair was perfectly cleaned and smelled clean and vaguely fruity. Using the Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar improved the look and feel of my hair, cutting through build-up from other, less-expensive shampoos. The Shea Moisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar was an effective cleaner, but it does so without flair or lasting scent results.

With a cost of approximately $20 (or more in some salons!) for a 13 fl. oz. bottle, Shea Moisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar is very expensive. The bottle is smooth and round, opaque which suggests that the fluid inside should not be exposed to UV rays (something I once learned at a dairy I toured!). When wet, the bottle slips out of the hands easily. The cap screws off, which makes it a little more difficult to get the shampoo out while showering. The fluid inside the bottle is an opaque pearlescent white, reminiscent of a hand cream or a good conditioner.

The scent of Shea Moisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar is very much a fruity, mildly floral smell. The shampoo smells like an indistinct mix of fruits and shea butter (or at least what I know of Shea Butter as a scent from Bath & Body Works products!). The scent is surprisingly weak. As one might expect from the scent as it comes out of the bottle, there is virtually no scent left on the hair after the shampoo is washed out. The scent of the Shea Moisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar lingers for only about four hours and as the scent degrades, it ends up as vaguely apple scented when one really forces their nose into the hair. The scent might accurately be mongongo fruit, but I have no experience with that. As a result, this weakly-scented shampoo does not trigger anything pleasant from what little aroma it has . . . for the brief amount of time it does linger.

Like most shampoos, there is nothing mysterious to using the Shae Moisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar. You wet your hair, lather it up with this shampoo and rinse. Unlike most shampoos, I had to use a half-dollar-sized dollop of the Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar shampoo. This is a bit more than other shampoos I use and have reviewed. As well, the Shea Moisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar has very low viscosity and lather quality. This shampoo is very thick and does not excessively lather, regardless of water in hair and agitation. As a result, the Shea Moisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar takes a bit more effort to wash it out of the hair.

I don't like to spend a ton of time on my hair, but I like the results of a good shampoo or conditioner. The Shea Moisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar is an average shampoo, but one pays for the quality and between the initial expense and the cost of usage, it is impossible to recommend.

The Shea Moisture Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar does not make my hair feel heavy when it is still wet, and once dry, the shampoo leaves hair clean and moisturized, but not with any strong scents or phenomenal conditioned quality. Washing my hair as much as I do, I could end up with very dry hair, but the Mongongo & Hemp Seed Oils High Porosity Moisture-Seal Shampoo w/Baobab Protein & Apple Cider Vinegar eliminates any adverse affects to washing hair so much, but it does so at too high a cost to be worthwhile to most consumers.

For other shampoo reviews, please check out my analysis of:
Garnier Fructis Triple Nutrition Dry, Damaged Hair Fortifying Shampoo
Suave Professionals Black Raspberry + White Tea Shampoo
VO5 Shea Cashmere Silky Experiences Shampoo


For other health and beauty reviews, visit my Index Page for an organized listing of the products I have reviewed!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Anything But Epic: XOXO Is A Jumbled Mess!

The Good: Well-directed
The Bad: Generally mediocre performances, Unlikable characters, Stupid plot/predictable and lousy development
The Basics: In the attempt to create a memorable narrative for a party story, XOXO only illustrates the irresponsibility and stupidity of youth culture today.

After watching the Netflix original film Tallulah (reviewed here!), I found myself wondering if there was going to be - consistently - a quality difference between the Netflix Original Films and the Netflix television series's. Having now watched XOXO, it is hard not to feel like there is a deep schism between the two production groups working for Netflix. Perhaps XOXO is the type of film one ends up with when writers are willing to sign exclusivity clauses for script consideration (as writers try to search for a venue at a production company, they tend to pitch buckshot - to anyone who will listen and read their script; Netflix requires [or did the last time I checked] writers to sign a non-compete clause which prevents them from pitching the script to multiple production companies at a time). In other words, XOXO might be the best of what unrepresented talent can get produced when there are not multiple companies bidding on a project.

I went into XOXO blind; knowing only the title and that it was released this weekend on Netflix. XOXO is a youth culture party film that is essentially Netflix's excuse to never have to put Project X (reviewed here!) on their streaming service. If Woodstock wer held today by a bunch of young, vacuous, drug-using, electronic music lovers on the West Coast, the result would be XOXO.

Ethan Shaw is living at home with his family, producing his own music on his computer, with his mother's vocals, when he gets his first internet hit "All I Ever Wanted." Ethan's boss gets him a set as DJ at the club XOXO and tells the young musician eight hours before the set begins. Tariq has to spend the day working at the restaurant his father owns instead of helping Ethan, sending him on a party bus to the club instead of dealing with him. Leading up to the night at the club, the ravers prepare for the night of partying. Krystal lets her friends dress her up for meeting Jordan for the first time. Neil runs the local music store that is going out of business and he runs the party bus while Shannie and her boyfriend prepare to do a lot of drugs at the rave and unwittingly meet Ethan Shaw (whose set they are looking forward to).

The party bus breaks down, Tariq is kissed by a girl with a tab of acid on her tongue, Ethan cannot get in or backstage, and Shannie and her boyfriend have to sneak into the rave after the ticket sales reach capacity. While Krystal searches for Jordan, Ethan encounters a new manager, Chopper, who runs another DJ's career and tries to seduce the young new DJ to his label. Shannie fights with her boyfriend in the sewer, while Ethan arrives on stage to discover the venue does not have the cables he needs and Neil tries to avoid the bus partiers to whom he owes money.

XOXO is just dumb. As a reviewer, we want to make a sophisticated analysis, but sometimes there are projects that just plain suck. By the time the tipping Tariq appears to go headfirst into a port-a-john, XOXO has passed to point of being irredeemably bad. And at that point, the film is only about the halfway point.

What XOXO has going for it is the direction and even that is, unfortunately, inconsistent. Co-writer and director Christopher Louie does an excellent job with directing the dance scenes and the drug scenes to capture the frenetic quality and the surrealism of tripping on acid. But the use of handheld cameras for so many of the other scenes undermines the sense of contrast between reality and stable character moments and the party. In other words, to land the surreal, it helps to have direction that creates a familiar environment that makes it possible to empathize with the characters. Louie's direction lacks that basic contrast to land the narrative.

Sarah Hyland headlines XOXO as Krystal and she plays a young woman who is smart and idealistic so incredibly well that it guts her part of the jumbled narrative. Krystal seems to have her head on straight, she had a decent amount of wisdom to her monologues and she has clear goals; there is nothing within the film that at all explains believably how or why she would go to XOXO or be around the jagweed friends she has. Much of XOXO is waiting for Krystal to suffer a horrible sexual violation given how she makes a number of terrible decisions while around a whole bunch of inebriated, high, young, dumb people who are acting irresponsibly. Perhaps the least realistic aspect of XOXO is how there aren't screams in the background constantly from people getting the shit raped out of them at the rave.

Brett DelBuono holds his own on the performance front with Hyland. Tariq is a fairly interesting character who has the worst night of his life and is the only one truly not responsibly for the initial conflict he runs into. DelBuono plays the drama of Tariq standing up to his father well and he plays tripping exceptionally well. Having seen interviews with Ryan Hansen, his performance in XOXO is the result of acting (in interviews and commentary tracks, he seems like a nice guy and pretty articulate), but his role of DJ Avilo is essentially the natural continuation of his character from Veronica Mars. Hansen plays assholes well, but we've seen that from him before, so XOXO does not add anything to his body of work.

Most of XOXO is a mess of contrived characters acting irresponsibly and plot-convenient character collisions. The interrelated nature of the characters in XOXO is intended to mimic something like Love Actually (reviewed here!) and it lacks the character depth, narrative strength, and quality of performances of that film. Instead, XOXO is a shallow, pale, youth-targeted party dance movie that does not have depth, originality, or strength on any front to make it worth sitting through.

For other new release movies, please check out my reviews of:
The Whole Truth
Suicide Squad
Star Trek Beyond
Breaking The Bank


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

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Peter David Makes She-Hulk Into A Buddy Dramedy With Jaded!

The Good: Good character development, Artwork, Much of the plot
The Bad: Lack of plot resolution/subplot that goes nowhere, Artwork for Jennifer Walters at the end of the book.
The Basics: She-Hulk Volume 6: Jaded finds Jennifer Walter making another big life transition after she loses all of her friends and allies and teams up with a Skrull.

I grew up reading the Star Trek novels of Peter David and his writing style was part of what encouraged me to become a writer. So, as my tastes have grown and changed and I have gotten into different franchises or characters, I am always excited when I find works by Peter David in the new thing I'm into. As I continue to revisit She-Hulk - my She-Hulk Year gave me a real appreciation for the character! - I was pretty psyched to see that Peter David had a stint as head writer for the She-Hulk comic book for a while. The first anthology of his works as writer for the continuing story of Jennifer Walters is She-Hulk Volume 6: Jaded, a book that follows She-Hulk's life after the events of Civil War (reviewed here!).

David picks up the story of Jennifer Walters at a potentially awkward place. Walters is without a job, without any recognizable allies and she has essentially renounced her position as a super-hero. As a simple narrative device, it makes perfect sense that She-Hulk Volume 6: Jaded would feature some new characters and that Jennifer Walters would need a sidekick. Lacking a sidekick, David would have been forced to resort to extended external narration (the comic book equivalent of voiceovers) or the inorganic technique of having the protagonist talk to herself the whole time. Jennifer Walters's sidekick, Jazinda, is a surprisingly strong addition to the character's narrative, which helps make She-Hulk Volume 6: Jaded instantly intriguing and readable.

Jennifer Walters has left her life as a lawyer (and as an Avenger) behind and is now working as a skip tracer for F.B.I. (Freeman Bonding, Inc.). Rockwell Davis, Hi-Lite, attempts a museum heist when a guard walks in and has a heart attack. Unwilling to let the guard die, Davis saves the guard's life and is captured by the police, but goes on the lam before his trial begins. Walters hunts Davis down in Minnesota, but before she can take him away, Davis's cousin, Carl Creel (the Absorbing Man) arrives to take on Walters. She-Hulk is beset both by Creel and Titania, who is in a miniaturized form, pounding away at her eardrum. She-Hulk's fight with Creel takes them through the Mall Of America where She-Hulk has to rely upon her partner, who appears to be Jennifer Walters, for back-up.

She-Hulk's partner is Jazinda, a Skrull, and together they bring Davis to Brooklyn. Despite problems with F.B.I.'s insurance provider, Walters gets paid and goes out to a bar, where she meets Bran. While she is immediately attracted to Bran, she is thrown when his flirting quickly transitions into him setting off a bomb. Returning to the trailer park after saving as many lives as she can, Walters and Jazinda identify Bran and begin a hunt for him. En route, Jennifer and Jazinda are waylaid by an alien ship which is carrying a Froma, a green alien from a Gamma Radiation-saturated planet, who mistakes Walters for a relative. Cazon convinces Jazinda to help him escape the bounty hunters who are after him, but in the process she discovers he is the killer he is accused of being. She-Hulk fights the bounty hunter who is hunting Cazon, until the truth is revealed. In dealing with the consequences of that fight, Jennifer Walters finds herself forced to turn to the life she rejected for resolution.

She-Hulk Volume 6: Jaded works well because the characters are interesting and the book has a decent grounding in very relatable human morality. Even the first villain has a decent sense of ethics to him. Davis puts the human life of a guard over the potential profit he would make stealing the (potentially) Holy Grail. The morality adds a sense of character to an otherwise flat character (and gives readers the hope that Peter David still has his wry wit to him in that he immediately calls out the potential plot hole of a guy stealing the Holy Grail, but giving his inadvertent victim CPR).

The moralization and sense of loss for the protagonist is well-executed. Instead of seeming melodramatic, She-Hulk Volume 6: Jaded finds Jennifer Walters dealing with the full weight of her recent decisions and experiencing loss that is not simply overcome. Even as she explicitly rejects being a superhero, Walters chides Davis for risking his mother's house when he breaks his bail. Walter's attitude when saving Park from the bombed out rubble is equally heroic and moral; she spends She-Hulk Volume 6: Jaded trying to do the right thing, without judging the quality of the people she is attempting to keep safe.

The reveal of Jazinda is fun. Jazinda is a pretty cool character, where her alien nature allows her to get away with monstrous actions, like telling Roz's father that she is dead. There is an initial frustrating aspect to Jazinda's alien biology, but David smartly plays it to the point where it might become unbearable before rewarding the patient reader with making her abilities sensible and the source of future conflict. Jazinda and Walters play off one another well and David writes their banter well and their conflict with psychoanalyzing one another equally well.

While Jazinda is cool, she acts as a medium for the somewhat lamer subplot surrounding the new character Roz, from the trailer park, and her family. She-Hulk Volume 6: Jaded further confuses the reader by immediately throwing in a different troubled married couple to add another subplot. These extra characters are much like the fairly generic villains in She-Hulk Volume 6: Jaded. Carl Creel is written in She-Hulk Volume 6: Jaded as an utterly generic adversary for She-Hulk and I only appreciated his appearance at all because I recognized his character from the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode "Shadows" (reviewed here!). Similarly, Titania's vengeful attitude toward She-Hulk is alluded to without a single example of past wrongs done to her. That makes her appear as unremarkable an enemy as Cazon.

Despite some weak adversarial characters, there is much to recommend She-Hulk Volume 6: Jaded. The artwork in the book features wonderful coloring throughout. While the last chapter's rendition of Jennifer Walters looks very little like the rendition in the first chapter (she suddenly has brown hair, reminiscent of the human corpse from the prior chapter!), most of the book the characters are recognizable. The book has a low sense of movement and some of the book seems rushed in that regard. For example, a single panel is used to indicate a space ship is spiraling down and out of control.

Ultimately, though, She-Hulk Volume 6: Jaded is an enjoyable read which encourages readers to look back into the character of Jennifer Walters and find her journey compelling once again.

For other She-Hulk books from this period in Jennifer Walter's life, please visit my reviews of:
Single Green Female
Superhuman Law
Time Trials
Laws Of Attraction
Planet Without A Hulk
Secret Invasion


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

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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