Monday, July 31, 2017

July 2017 End Of The Month Report!

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July was an interesting month for us - it was feast or famine. Our output was admittedly erratic - we did a show, got a new canine member of our family, and had a huge new set of trading cards to process, all of which cut into our reviewing time. That said, we reviewed a bunch of the new Hallmark ornaments for this year, a new Netflix television series, most of the first season episodes of American Gods and several new films in theaters. It has been a pretty exciting month for us and we're pleased to say we have some really awesome reviews coming up in the pipeline!

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

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

In July, we updated the index pages every few days, 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 shopping begins, if you're going shopping online, please come through the blog to to it. Thank you so much!

At the end of July 2017, I have reviewed the following:
590 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Fiction
Star Trek Books
Nonfiction
Graphic Novels
Magazines
959 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
3277- - 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!)!
240 - 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
918 - 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
1032 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Drinks
Candy
Cereal
Cheese and Meats
Ice Cream
Other Food
275 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
114 - Travel Reviews
Destinations Reviews
Hotels Reviews
225 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
213 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
108 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
62 - Other Product Reviews

The Featured Reviews For The Month of July is my review of: 2017 Ursula The Little Mermaid Ornament!
Check it out!


The month of July was packed with new, highly-read reviews, especially because of Hallmark's ornament preview weekend and the Twin Peaks revival! For July, the Top Ten Reviews of the month were:
10. "The Bone Orchard" - American Gods
9. 2017 Lavender Luxe Limited Edition Barbie Hallmark Ornament
8. Travelers - Season 1
7. "The Return Part 10" - Twin Peaks
6. "The Doctor Falls" - Doctor Who
5. "The Return Part 12" - Twin Peaks
4. "The Return Part 11" - Twin Peaks
3. Glow - Season 1
2. You Get Me
1. Friends From College - Season 1

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

For my reviews, the current count is:
10s - 331 reviews
9s - 521 reviews
8s - 1006 reviews
7s - 1117 reviews
6s - 1048 reviews
5s - 1324 reviews
4s - 992 reviews
3s - 777 reviews
2s - 379 reviews
1s - 251 reviews
0s - 121 reviews
No rating - 140 articles/postings

There was a decent amount of movement this month, but no new additions to the all time Top Ten Reviews! At the end of July 2017, the most popular reviews/articles are:
10. Oz The Great And Powerful
9. The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bone
8. Lemony Snicket's A Series Of Unfortunate Events - Season 1
7. Warm Bodies
6. Iron Man 3
5. Now You See Me
4. Tyler Perry's Temptation
3. The Burden Of Being Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
2. The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug
1. Man Of Steel

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

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sunday, July 30, 2017

Audrey Horne Returns!!!!!!!! "The Return Part 12" Brings Back A Twin Peaks Favorite!


The Good: Audrey Horne returns, Character development, Good performances, Plot threads are decent, Surprisingly funny, Ties together a number of previously incongruent moments
The Bad: One or two bits that still feel pointless and disconnected.
The Basics: "The Return Part 12" has most of the past Twin Peaks being smart in an episode that has almost no Kyle MacLachlan!


Twin Peaks returning to television has been a truly mixed blessing. The idea that the show might wrap up the twenty-five year old mystery of "what the hell happened after Agent Cooper was lost in the Black Lodge and Bob, with Cooper's face, made it out into out world" was a compelling one. But the concept has had an execution that is much more crowded than it is direct. Unlike the original Twin Peaks featuring disparate plotlines that did not have anything to do with Laura Palmer's murder, the incongruent elements of the new Twin Peaks seem widely unattached to the main plot. Viewers are further isolated from the original Twin Peaks by the fact that much of the action in the new season of Twin Peaks does not occur within the town of Twin Peaks.

"The Return Part 12" picks up after "The Return Part 11" (reviewed here!) and it continues the story with greater focus on answering the questions about the alternate planes of existence that Dale Cooper disappeared into. "The Return Part 12" takes a long time to get back to Cooper, but there is the sense in many of the scenes leading up to his appearance that people are working toward finding him or understanding what truly happened to him.

At the Mayfair, Gordon, Albert, and Tammy have wine and Albert informs Preston about Project Blue Book's end. Tammy is offered a position on Gordon and Albert's U.F.O.-related task force before Diane heads to the meeting. Diane is deputized by Gordon with the potential that she might learn the truth of what happened to Agent Cooper. In Twin Peaks, Sarah Palmer freaks out at the grocery store, claiming people are coming and in the trailer park, Carl exhibits compassion on one of his residents by releasing him from next month's rent.

Sheriff Truman visits Ben Horne and tells him about his grandson's hit and run. Horne takes financial responsibility for Miriam's treatment and laments his loss of his childhood bicycle. Albert meets with Gordon again and the two try to figure out what Diane is involved in. Cooper's assassins take out the warden. And Audrey takes to task the man who is supposed to find Billy.

"The Return Part 12" has a strong science fiction beginning. Dale Cooper, it turns out, was part of a top secret FBI task force pertaining to the Blue Rose Task Force, an investigatory body looking into U.F.O. cases that were unsatisfactorily investigated during Project Blue Book. Twin Peaks has had a pretty strong fantasy undertone to it when it was not a literal forensics drama or melodramatic soap opera, so the turn into explicit science fiction is an intriguing twist.

The inclusion of Diane into the Blue Rose Task Force seems like a thematic nod back to the Bookhouse Boys in the original Twin Peaks (when Agent Cooper was able to accompany the secret society). Gordon including Diane in the task force seems like a case of "keep your enemies closer," though and Gordon and Albert play it cool with Diane in a way likely to excite fans. It is refreshing when the follow-up scene comes up to see that Gordon and Albert are actually on top of things - especially given how Gordon usually appears like a bumbling moron.

Equally exciting to fans is how Benjamin Horne evolves in "The Return Part 12." Benjamin Horne spent the original Twin Peaks as a schemer, then a man suffering from a nervous breakdown before getting his skull cracked in. Apparently, all that horribleness left Benjamin a better person because in "The Return Part 12," he is contemplative, responsible, and he recognizes the horrible nature of his grandson immediately.

David Lynch takes his time with drawing out his scenes in "The Return Part 12." Gordon's date taking her time to leave is distractingly long. "The Return Part 12" is particularly melancholy for its moment with David Lynch looking sadly at Miguel Ferrer and it would be completely unsurprising if an eventual commentary track reveals that Ferrer told Lynch on the day of shooting this scene that he was ill (Ferrer died only a few months ago, before the first episode of the new Twin Peaks aired). The moment is especially poignant now and it is tough not to watch that portion of the episode and choke up.

But then "The Return Part 12" takes a right turn as Sherilyn Fenn pops back up as Audrey Horne! Fenn is part of a scene that answers a number of questions about previously incongruent elements in the new Twin Peaks season and fills in huge gaps in Horne's story. Fenn leaps upon playing the adult Audrey in a compelling way that still has the sarcasm and anger of the young woman she once played and the odd balance of dramatically advancing and maintaining the character is expertly handled by Fenn.

"The Return Part 12" finds just the right balance between answering questions and raising new one, progressing the story and continuing the mysterious feel. While there are still elements of the new Twin Peaks that feel forced for their weirdness - the exit of Gordon's mistress standing right out - most of the episode works incredibly well and fleshes out the story magnificently.

For other works with Grace Zabriskie, please visit my reviews of:
Santa Clarita Diet - Season 1
The Judge
The Grudge
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
FernGully: The Last Rainforest
Twin Peaks

9.5/10

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

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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It Could Use More Marshmallows: Froot Loops With Fruity Shaped Marshmallows Cereal!


The Good: Surprisingly decent vitamins and minerals, Neat idea
The Bad: Generically sugary flavor, Not enough marshmallows to sell the concept
The Basics: Kellogg’s Froot Loops With Fruity Shaped Marshmallows cereal is a neat idea, but it fails to live up to its promise.


My wife is a huge fan of Froot Loops and Lucky Charms. I've seen her, in the past, remove the cereal pieces from her Lucky Charms and eat the milk-soaked marshmallows as a breakfast treat. So, when I found Froot Loops With Fruity Shaped Marshmallows at my local discount store, I was super-excited to bring it home to her. My wife quickly came to love the Froot Loops With Fruity Shaped Marshmallows cereal and I've been sampling it.

In contrast with my wife, I found the Froot Loops With Fruity Shaped Marshmallows cereal to be a good idea with a less-than-ideal execution. I found the cereal wanting on the marshmallow component and the fruity promise of the cereal seemed lacking.

Basics

Kellogg’s Froot Loops With Fruity Shaped Marshmallows cereal is the standard Froot Loops cereal with additional pieces added to the mix. The standard Froot Loops are blue, purple, green, orange, yellow and green and are approximately 5/8” in diameter. The standard pieces are augmented by tiny marshmallows that are in the shape of fruit and Toucan Sam.

The standard box of Froot Loops With Fruity Shaped Marshmallows cereal is 12.6 oz. That represents approximately twelve servings and I got eleven servings out of my box.

Ease Of Preparation

Froot Loops With Fruity Shaped Marshmallows cereal is a breakfast cereal, so this is one of the low-impact breakfast options as far as preparation goes! Simply open the box of Froot Loops With Fruity Shaped Marshmallows cereal, pour out a one cup serving (I recommend actually using a measuring cup, especially if you are monitoring your intake) and add 1/2 cup of milk to it. I have discovered, as part of getting healthy, that one of the biggest challenges one might have with breakfast cereal is actually eating the serving size recommended by the manufacturer.

For the purposes of my reviews, and my regular consumption, I only use skim milk (fat free) milk with cereal.

Taste

Froot Loops With Fruity Shaped Marshmallows smell vaguely fruity, with a decent, sugary quality to it. There is a faint berry and lemon aroma to the Froot Loops With Fruity Shaped Marshmallows.

On the flavor front, dry Froot Loops With Fruity Shaped Marshmallows cereal is incredibly sweet. There is almost no genuine fruit flavor to the Froot Loops and the overwhelmingly sugary flavor finishes dry and like corn meal. The Fruity Shaped Marshmallows do not add a more fruity flavor to the palate; they just make the cereal even more sugar-flavored.

Covered in milk, the Froot Loops With Fruity Shaped Marshmallows are sugary for the first few bites, but after the milk sits for a moment or two on the cereal, the cereal takes on a very basic puffed corn flavor. There is nothing truly fruity in the flavor, even after the milk is added. Even the marshmallows do not carry much in the way of flavor. The Froot Loops With Fruity Shaped Marshmallows does not taste bad, but it does not taste very distinct and it does not have a lot of marshmallows in it.

The Froot Loops With Fruity Shaped Marshmallows leave a slightly sweet aftertaste in the mouth, but it does not last for very long in the mouth.

Nutrition

Kellogg’s Froot Loops With Fruity Shaped Marshmallows cereal is surprisingly nutritious on its own and with skim milk! Made primarily of sugar, corn flour blend and wheat flour. The Froot Loops With Fruity Shaped Marshmallows ingredient list degenerates into a chemistry equation after “gelatin.” This cereal has some preservatives in it and it also has a separate list of vitamins and minerals, which means that this is a cereal that has nutrients sprayed onto it. That makes it very important to drink the milk after one has consumed the actual cereal.

A single serving of Kellogg’s Froot Loops With Fruity Shaped Marshmallows cereal is 29 grams, 1 cup. In that serving, there are 110 calories, with 5 calories coming from fat. There is no saturated or no trans fats in this cereal, nor is there any cholesterol. With 115 mg of sodium and two grams of dietary fiber, this is actually a really good dietary choice for those striving to improve heart health. With a gram of protein and 30 mg potassium, Froot Loops With Fruity Shaped Marshmallows has more going for it on the dietary front than one might suspect. On its own, this cereal has significant percentages of eight vitamins and minerals.

Storage/Cleanup

Froot Loops With Fruity Shaped Marshmallows is a cereal, so as long as it is kept sealed in its box, it ought to remain fresh for quite some time. The box we purchased last week at our local discount store had an expiration date of December 30, 2017. Obviously, when you are done pouring the cereal from the box, fold down the plastic inner wrap to help maintain the cereal’s freshness.

Cleaning up after Froot Loops With Fruity Shaped Marshmallows cereal is simple as well. Simply brush away crumbs left by it and you are done! It is that simple! This is a cereal that barely discolors the milk added to it, but because you should drink that up to get all the vitamins and minerals Kellogg’s added to the cereal, that shouldn’t be an issue with staining.

Overall

Froot Loops With Fruity Shaped Marshmallows cereal is all right, but it does not accurately convey a fruit flavor and it does not delight consumers with a sufficient volume of marshmallows to be a true blend of Froot Loops and Lucky Charms.

For other Kellogg's cereals, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
Cinnabon Cereal
Frosted Flakes Chocolate
Krave Double Chocolate

4/10

For other food reviews, please visit my Food Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the food reviews I have written!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets Dazzles, But Fails To Pop.


The Good: Decent direction, Good themes, Wonderful special effects
The Bad: Mediocre plot and characters, Some huge technical gaps
The Basics: Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is a beautiful film that never quite manages to excite as much as it seems it should.


This summer, there have been very few films I have gotten excited about based upon the previews. One of the few I went into with virtually no outside knowledge of was Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets. I saw a preview trailer for Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets and it looked intriguing. I knew that the film was based upon a graphic novel, but after reading The Coldest City (reviewed here!) to prepare myself for Atomic Blonde, I opted not to prepare myself for watching the movie by reading the graphic novel first. So, when I sat down to Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets, all I was armed with was the information from the preview trailer and the knowledge that the opening-weekend grosses for the film were less-than-stellar.

Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is a film by Luc Besson and about halfway through watching the movie, I got to thinking that The Fifth Element (reviewed here!) took a long time to find its audience. The Fifth Element is generally considered a film that was produced before its time and I highly suspect that Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets suffers from a similar problem. When Star Wars (reviewed here!) was first released and illustrated a populated universe, many critics were flummoxed; films that have tried to create similarly creative and alien-filled galaxies seem to stumble in a similar way. Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is very packed with creatures, devices and backstory, but outside the setting and themes, I found it virtually impossible to emotionally invest in the film.

Starting in 1975 with the first modules of the International Space Station being placed in Earth's orbit, the ISS expands over hundreds of years. The ISS is the site of first contact with aliens in 2150 and hundreds of years later, the station has been expanded to the point that its mass is no longer sustainable in orbit. It becomes known as Alpha Station and sent away from Earth. On the planet Mul, the peaceful, pearl-farming aliens are thriving and celebrating the environmental renewal when the planet is bombarded by massive pieces of military hardware and alien ships. Major Valerian awakens in a virtual reality program having just dreamed of Mul's destruction. Valerian, a law enforcement officer, and his partner (both on the job and in his personal life) Laureline, are tasked with recovering a Mul converter on the planet Kyrean. En route to the extra-dimensional Big Market on Kyrean, Valerian learns that he has been the recipient of external brainwaves, suggesting to him that he just received memories of Mul's destruction.

At the Big Market, Valerian and Laureline encounter the gangster Igon Siruss, who illegally obtained the converter. Valerian is in the process of stealing the converter when he recognizes the would-be buyers of the technology as people from Mul. After narrowly escaping with the super-valuable converter (which is the creature that made pearls on Mul), Laureline and Valerian journey to Alpha Station to defend the military leader of the humans. On Alpha Station, the pair learns that there is a growing irradiated zone on Alpha Station that threatens all life there. When the security council's meeting is attacked and Commander Filitt is captured, Valerian and Laureline go on a journey through Alpha Station to recover the military leader and in the process, they uncover a massive conspiracy surrounding the destruction of the planet Mul.

Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is a tough film to unpack; the spectacle of the movie is near-complete. Indeed, the only bad effect that I noticed was that when characters pet the Mul converter, the hand motions/creature movements do not quite line up. The special effects element of Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets are immersive and, occasionally, overwhelming.

The story of Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is far less-impressive than the effects, though the themes of the film are decent and experimental in a way similar to those of The Fifth Element. The characters are a mix of engaging and very obvious archetypes. Valerian is a young Han Solo, cocksure, womanizing, and by-the-book; Laureline is efficient, ethical and able to use judgement as opposed to simply following the rules. But Laureline is also the character who explores the nature of love in Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets.

Dane DeHaan spends Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets delivering a performance that is identical to a young version of a well-known actor . . . I haven't been able to place it, but the entire time I was watching the film, I felt like I was watching someone else. Valerian is not poorly portrayed, but DeHaan plays him like himself playing the other actor playing the role. Cara Delevingne is good as Laureline, but Eric Lampaert's brief time on screen seems like Lampaert playing Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow for Thaziit and Ethan Hawke appears to be impersonating Mark McGrath for his part of Jolly The Pimp. Rihanna is surprisingly undistracting in the role of Bubble.

Despite the themes and the special effects, Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is a startling average science fiction action movie. While the film might age well, its time is not quite there yet and the film seems more like an academic exercise than a truly impressive and unique story of its own.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
Atomic Blonde
Spider-Man: Homecoming
Baby Driver
Transformers: The Last Knight
Wonder Woman

4.5/10

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

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Zuke's Clean Berry Crisp Z-Bones Prove An Unfortunate Point!


The Good: Decent ingredients, Dental benefits
The Bad: Benny lost interest in them very fast, Environmental impact of the packaging.
The Basics: Benny's initial interest in the Zuke’s Clean Berry Crisp Z-Bones faded ridiculously quickly, making for a less-impressive treat than I initially thought.


When a new pet joins my family, my wife and I do everything we can to make that animal feel welcome and loved. One of the ways we do that is providing the new addition with treats and foods that meet their preferences. As a reviewer, I get psyched about the new treats and foods my animals get to try and with Benny, our new four year-old English Setter, I have been excited about seeing what he likes. The thing is, Benny has been a member of our family for less than a month now and my wife warned me almost immediately that I should let him get comfortable here before using him too much for reviews. This point was truly driven home to me with the Zuke's Clean Berry Crisp Z-Bones.

Zuke's Clean Berry Crisp Z-Bones were one of the first treats Benny responded positively to in his first week with us. I picked up one of the Clean Berry Crisp Z-Bones on a lark at my local discount store and we gave Benny one when he came in from pooping early on. I figured it might be a good reinforcement tool for him and he devoured the first one with enthusiasm that he had not shown any other treat at the time. So, after I got back from my recent trip, I figured a good way to show Benny that I was still his new guy (and give him affection) was by stocking up on the one treat that I knew he liked and giving it to him as a positive reinforcement treat.

Sadly, Benny has been utterly indifferent to the Zuke's Clean Berry Crisp Z-Bones since that first one.

Basics

The Zuke's Clean Berry Crisp Z-Bones are a treat that is in the same snack niche as Greenies. Made to look like a dark brown-red bone, much like Greenies - save that Greenies are green, the Zuke’s Large Clean Berry Crisp Z-Bones is supposed to be difficult for the dog to chew, which helps them scrape the plaque and tartar off their teeth. When Benny actually consumed the Clean Berry Crisp Z-Bones, they did actually clean his teeth like they were supposed to. But, just like the dental floss that remains unused in my medicine cabinet, the key to the effectiveness of this product is getting the consumer to actually use them . . . and Benny hasn't wanted any of the other Clean Berry Crisp Z-Bones I have opened up for him.

Clean Berry Crisp Z-Bones left me ultimately unimpressed because Benny could not be enticed into trying them again. The Clean Berry Crisp Z-Bones Treats are brownish-red and shaped like a bone, though they are flat and have the brand name embossed on the side. It is 3 1/2” long and 1 3/8” wide at its widest point and 3/4" thick. Each Regular Clean Berry Crisp Z-Bones 1.5 oz. treat comes individually as a wrapped bone-shaped treat and it would be reasonably priced at $1.00/ea., if he would only consume them.

Ease Of Preparation

The red pressed potato flour and glycerine "bone" is designed to help fight plaque and tartar build-up by having a texture to it and being very hard. The bone-shaped treat is smooth until the dog bites into it and fractures it. Then it becomes very mealy and the texture helps remove matter from a dog's mouth. Because the bone is too big to simply be swallowed, the Clean Berry Crisp Z-Bones effectively brushes the dog's teeth and tongue using friction whenever the dog bites into it to split it and swallows it, dragging the bolus across their tongue . . . if a dog actually can be coaxed into consuming it.

Preparing the treat for consumption is very easy; simply unwrap the individually-wrapped bone treat and give it to your dog. I highly recommend having water nearby for the dog to drink as they eat the Clean Berry Crisp Z-Bone!

Benny’s Reaction

Benny ate one. He refuses to eat another one. And I've given him the option several times in the last two weeks.

Nutrition

These treats would not be bad for dogs if only the dog would eat them. The package recommends that dog owners have clean drinking water available to their dog when they feed them this treat. This treat is a dietary supplement, not a full meal. Clean Berry Crisp Z-Bones in the regular size have at least 9.5% crude protein, 1% crude fat, and no more than 5% crude fiber and 20% moisture, so those looking out for their dog's specific dietary needs, that might help. They are made primarily of potato flour, peas, and tapioca. There are not a lot of preservatives, so these treats are actually very natural! The bone we picked up two weeks ago had a December 10, 2017 expiration date.

Overall

The Zuke’s Clean Berry Crisp Z-Bone is a good idea, but one that flops because Benny cannot be enticed into using them.

For other dog treat reviews, please check out my takes on:
I And Love And You Chicken + Duck Recipe Nice Jerky Bites
Pedigree Filet Mignon & Bacon Flavor Stackerz
Purina Busy Real Beefhide Rollhide

2/10

For other pet product reviews, please click here to visit my index page on the subject!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Saturday, July 29, 2017

American Gods With Explicit Purpose: "A Murder Of Gods"


The Good: Good acting, Moments of character, Direction
The Bad: Plot meanders
The Basics: "A Murder Of Gods" does a good job of transitioning the various American Gods characters to a place where the critical ones each have a purpose!


As the first season of American Gods progressed, the show hit a stride after it gained a purpose. After a series of meandering episodes, the primary antagonist to Mr. Wednesday appeared in "Lemon Scented You" (reviewed here!). Mr. World was pretty awesome when he popped up and his entrance was cleverly related; he knows everything about everyone, but Wednesday had essentially slipped under his radar. It's a neat idea, that the omniscient character would know everything, but have to focus to get recall. "Lemon Scented You" was notable in that Technical Boy turned Mr. World's focus on Wednesday and Shadow Moon. So, as "A Murder Of Gods" begins and the essential purpose of American Gods is now known, the series experiences a burden of making it make sense that Mr. World is not refocusing on Wednesday so quickly.

The instant joy that comes for viewers in "A Murder Of Gods" is that, now that the cat is out of the bag on the plot for the first season, the new episode wastes no time in introducing new gods with clarity. After a teaser that shows Mexican Jesus, Vulcan explicitly enters the story and it is nice to see a new character introduced without pretense, subtlety or mystery. Vulcan, even in American Gods is Vulcan, the Roman God Of Fire and Smithing - the Roman appropriation of the Greek god Hephaestus. So, unlike Wednesday's very opaque visit with the Russian gods - who many viewers have no knowledge of - Wednesday clearly approaches Vulcan for aid in his attempt to restore the power of old gods and stop the new gods from eradicating them.

The "Coming To America" vignette features a Mexican border crossing at night. At the climax of the crossing, minutemen (the border vigilantes) arrive and shoot at the immigrants, including Mexican Jesus. Leaving the decimated police station, Shadow Moon is entirely in shock about what he saw inside and the death of all the officers who had been holding them moments before. When Shadow tells Wednesday he saw Laura, Wednesday decides it is time to run. As they drive off, Wednesday sees Laura trying to catch them. Laura, finding her car missing, enlists Mad Sweeney to steal her a car. In attempting to steal a car, Laura and Mad Sweeney meet Salim and the three set out for Kentucky.

Arriving at Vulcan, Virginia, Wednesday and Shadow Moon find a gun-toting town where bullets are manufactured at the plant there. Vulcan is reluctant to join Wednesday's war, but they head off to explore the possibilities. Mad Sweeney wakes up to find that Laura has brought them back to Indiana. While they have a drink at the bar in which Shadow Moon made his deal with Wednesday, Wednesday and Shadow Moon meet with Vulcan. Wednesday asks Vulcan to made him a blade for his impending attack on the new gods and Vulcan agrees. Wednesday inspires Shadow to see Laura and he is able to tap into her as she stalks her family of origin.

The opening of "A Murder Of Gods" is decent foreshadowing in American Gods and makes explicit comments Wednesday made in prior episodes. There are multiple Jesuses based on the belief and groups in the American Gods world and Mexican Jesus is both the first once referenced and explicitly seen in the show.

"A Murder Of Gods" is refreshing in that it makes so much explicit, for a change. Laura Moon is now on a quest to get resurrected, Mad Sweeney is on a mission to get his lucky coin back and Wednesday is in a fight for his very survival. Even Salim has a purpose in "A Murder Of Gods" as he is searching for a Djinn. In the second half of the episode as "A Murder Of Gods" transitions from the scattered characters all going on road trips to Wednesday making an appeal to Vulcan to join his side in the impending war, the episode reveals the grand potential of the series.

As with most episode of American Gods, "A Murder Of Gods" is incredibly well-directed. Adam Kane makes the mundane beautiful with shots of lighting matches, bullets raining down upon a car, and even the simple act of Salim turning his head. "A Murder Of Gods" is visual poetry.

For an episode that includes Corbin Bernsen in the role of Vulcan, the real shock on the acting front is that Pablo Schreiber dominates "A Murder Of Gods." Bernsen is wonderful as Vulcan; infusing the character with a subtle, unexplained racism against Shadow Moon and Ian McShane plays off Bernsen masterfully. When Bernsen's Vulcan asks Shadow about hanging, Ian McShane's expression is nuanced and amazing in that Adam Kane captures it at the right angle and timing.

But, despite the greatness of the veteran actors, it is Pablo Schreiber who rules the acting front of "A Murder Of Gods." Schreiber is given a lot of exposition to deliver as Mad Sweeney and in his key scene, Mad Sweeney becomes darkly philosophical and Schreiber makes the lines sound like a song. It is exceptional how Schreiber is able to make the unlucky, unlikable leprechaun who is delivering harsh truths into a must-watch character, but he does so in "A Murder Of Gods."

On the character front, Shadow Moon - now armed with some truths about gods living among the mortals - is able to start asking better questions and his frustration becomes much more palpable and understandable. When Shadow Moon asks relevant questions and is simply told that he wouldn't believe the answers, the viewer feels what Shadow does. "A Murder Of Gods" is a good transition episode that allows the characters to push forward - from Laura making an effort to make peace with her mother to Salim praying to celebrate life to Wednesday becoming explicitly shocked from betrayal - and it makes them all seem relevant.

Even in the a-plot, not much happens in "A Murder Of Gods," but the episode looks good and has the primary performers acting at a higher caliber (possibly because now they understood just what their characters were doing!) than in some of the prior episodes. That makes it a treat to watch and come back to!

For other works Corbin Bernsen, please check out my reviews of:
Psych - Season 8
The Big Year
Psych - Season 1
"Deja Q"- Star Trek: The Next Generation

8/10

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

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Green & Black's Pure Milk Chocolate Sea Salt Chocolate Bars: An Average Bar At An Expensive Price!


The Good: Good flavor, Good ingredients, Decent corporate ethics
The Bad: Expensive for the quality, Sea salt is not overly evident
The Basics: Green & Black's Pure Milk Chocolate Sea Salt chocolate bars are decent, but could be so much more for the price.


Recently, I've been getting into Green & Black's chocolate bars. I purchased a lot of them at my local discount store and I have been enthusiastically trying each one. Tonight, I'm reviewing my first milk chocolate bar from the brand! Tonight, it's Green & Black's Pure Milk Chocolate Sea Salt chocolate bars for dessert and they are all right. The thing is, for the price, "all right" is not great and I was hoping for a bit more from the Green & Black's Pure Milk Chocolate Sea Salt chocolate bar.

Basics

Green & Black's Pure Milk Chocolate Sea Salt chocolate bars are one and three-eights inch by one and five-eighths inch rectangles of chocolate that are about three-sixteenths of an inch thick and connected side by side and in rows, to form a bar of nine segments (eight squares and one half-serving rectangle in the middle of the bar). Each bar comes unified in a foil wrapper. The foil-wrapped chocolate bar is sealed in a cardboard package.

Each chocolate bar is sold in a way that it is easy to segment and control portions. In this form, the 3.17 oz. bar, the chocolate bar represents two and a half servings. Each bar appears solid (the sea salt flakes are embedded, as opposed to acting like a filling) and is stamped with the Green & Black's logo.

Ease Of Preparation

These are candy, so preparing them is as simple as opening the cardboard and then opening the foil wrapper from around the actual chocolate. There is challenge to eating Green & Black's Pure Milk Chocolate Sea Salt chocolate bars.

Taste

The Green & Black's Pure Milk Chocolate Sea Salt bars feature a fairly potent milk chocolate scent. The aroma is distinct, much like sweet cocoa. There is no hint of sea salt in the bouquet.

In the mouth, the Pure Milk Chocolate Sea Salt bars are very sweet. The milk chocolate flavor is sweet and chocolatey, with a creamy texture and taste to it. There is nothing waxy to the chocolate's texture; this is a quality chocolate flavor. The sea salt flavor comes into the flavor palate as more of an aftertaste; the salt flavor does not manifest in a forthright manner. In fact, there was not a very strong sea salt flavor at any point in the bar I tried.

The Green & Black's Pure Milk Chocolate Sea Salt chocolate bar has a mild sweet and salty aftertaste to it. The Green & Black's Pure Milk Chocolate Sea Salt chocolate bar has a slightly dry aftertaste only for a few seconds on the bites that contain no sea salt, which, ironically, makes the chocolate bar taste more like high-quality chocolate.

Nutrition

These are candy, so they are not especially healthy, but the Green & Black's Pure Milk Chocolate Sea Salt chocolate bars are not anywhere near as bad as they could be. The primary ingredients are milk chocolate and sea salt. There is nothing unpronounceable in these candies and all of the ingredients could be readily identified by me; this seems to be a delightfully simple chocolate bar.

A serving from the Green & Black's Pure Milk Chocolate Sea Salt chocolate bars is considered four rectangles from the overall bar, which is a ridiculous serving size for a bar that is segmented into ten pieces. From four squares, one takes in 200 calories, including 120 calories of fat. There are 100 mg of sodium and 4 grams protein, but almost no vitamins or minerals in these chocolate bars. The biggest nutritional detraction in the Green & Black's Pure Milk Chocolate Sea Salt are the 13 grams of fat per serving and the 40% RDA of saturated fat that comes from the 8 grams of saturated fat!

These are not Vegan-compliant, nor are they recommended for anyone with a nut allergy as they are manufactured on equipment that processes milk, soy and tree nuts. They are not specifically marked as kosher (I'm not sure why), but Green & Black's uses sustainable cocoa farming for their cocoa, which is pretty cool!

Storage/Clean-up

The bars of these Green & Black's Pure Milk Chocolate Sea Salt chocolate bars remain fresh for quite some time. The bars we picked up last month had an expiration date of September 19, 2017, though they will certainly not last that long as I will have consumed mine well before then! One assumes that if they are kept in a cool, dry environment they will not melt or go bad. It is hard to imagine just what it would take for these to go bad outside melting and refreezing.

As for cleanup, just throw the packaging away in socially appropriate places, as opposed to litter and you're done! Outside that, there is no real cleanup needed, unless one is eating them in a hot environment. In that case, it is likely one would need to wash their hands, though these bars do not melt as easily as less-expensive chocolates. When this chocolate melts into most fabrics, it will stain.

Overall

Green & Black's Pure Milk Chocolate Sea Salt chocolate bars are objectively average; they aren't bad, they aren't fabulous, they have great ingredients, but are more expensive than normal. The net result is average.

For other chocolate reviews, please check out:
Wild Ophelia District 6 Transportation The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Crunchy Runner Peanuts In Peanut Butter And Milk Chocolate Bar
Trader Joe's Marbled Mint Crunch Chocolate Bar
Russell Stover Freeze-It Vanilla Bean In Dark Chocolate

5/10

For other chocolate reviews, please visit my Chocolate Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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The Slow Burn Of Atomic Blonde


The Good: Good acting, Good direction, Engaging plot, Good reversal
The Bad: Thinly-defined characters, Predictable plot progression/fight sequences
The Basics: Atomic Blonde might have burned itself up on the hype, leading to an under-performing opening weekend, but objectively viewed, it is an impressive film worth attention!


The prevailing wisdom in the world is that, given a choice between the two, a book is always better than the movie upon which it is based. There are exceptions to that rule, but often when they come up, the topic is hotly debated in fandom. A few months ago, I was drawn into watching the red band trailer for the film Atomic Blonde and the trailer was so compelling and intriguing that I hunted down the graphic novel upon which the film was based. The book, The Coldest City (reviewed here!), was insular, featured terrible artwork, and vastly prioritized the realism of its setting over the development of the characters involved. In fact, if anything, reading The Coldest City made me less excited about seeing Atomic Blonde.

Despite that, I eagerly attended an opening day showing of Atomic Blonde and the fact that it took me almost a full day to write my review speaks to the fact that the film has a density to it and requires some unpacking to truly appreciate it. In fact, Atomic Blonde is far better than its source material and it is a rare example of how those who are too tied to the original work upon which a film is based are likely to experience an initial disappointment with the movie.

Writer Kurt Johnstad adapted Atomic Blonde from The Coldest City and he found the absolute right balance of fidelity to the original work and fleshing the material out. The Coldest City is a short book - a fast read packed more with jargon than substance and development. Johnstad fleshes the bones of the book into a more-realized film by giving its protagonist, Lorraine Broughton, a genuine romantic relationship (Atomic Blonde is already being accused to having a gratuitous lesbian relationship, but the truth is Lorraine's relationship with Delphine allows Broughton to be humanized, fleshed out beyond her job and, frankly, is hardly as erotic as one might guess for having Charlize Theron naked) and fleshing out the film's primary antagonist with a truly brutal example of KGB tactics. Even better, Johnstad eliminates one of the fundamental problems with The Coldest City by referencing Satchel - the Soviet double-agent - immediately in the film (in the book, the first reference to Satchel comes perilously late in the narrative, creating an artificial and disturbingly forced reversal at the climax of the graphic novel).

The thing is, Johnstad's script is good, but it hinges upon the film's end because of the way director David Leitch directs the movie. Throughout Atomic Blonde, Johnstad gives obvious hints to how the book ended and it's tough to call it a "spoiler" as the book has been out for over five years. Leitch, however, insinuates the reversal at the end of the book through the alcohol in the film and as the film goes on, it is hard not to believe that the spies are not picking up on the Obvious Clue being left as to Satchel's identity. The reason that it took me so long to write my review of Atomic Blonde was that I spent much of the viewing annoyed at Leitch for directing the clue to Satchel's identity so obviously.

David Leitch, however, earns a lot of credit for his direction of Atomic Blonde; had I had faith that he was not simply telegraphing the end of the film, I would have enjoyed it quite a bit more. And there is a lot to enjoy in Atomic Blonde, but the film is a slow burn, the opposite of Wonder Woman (check out why I assert that film gets worse the more one deconstructs it here!) - Atomic Blonde gets better the more one considers it.

Set in November of 1989, Lorraine Broughton is called into MI-6 Headquarters for debriefing. There, she is interrogated by Eric Gray, while the C.I.A. observer Emmett Kurzfeld looks on and Broughton's boss, C, observes through a double-sided mirror and records the session. Ten days prior, Broughton was tasked with going to Berlin to recover the corpse of James Gasciogne, an MI-6 agent who was killed by a Soviet spy. Broughton is tasked with both recovering the corpse, under the alias of a lawyer working for the dead man's estate, and recovering a list that Gasciogne appeared to have died for; a list of every spy working in Berlin.

After arriving in Berlin and discovering her identity has already been compromised when the Soviets attempt to kill her, Broughton meets with the surviving MI-6 station officer in Berlin, David Percival. Percival is believed to have "gone native" and operates a black market in Berlin intended to destabilize East Berlin by exciting the youth culture there. It does not take long after Broughton arrives for the list to resurface, but the mission is complicated by Spyglass, an operative who has memorized the list and needs to be extracted from East Berlin, Soviet operatives attacking and a French spy who develops a quick, passionate, relationship with Broughton.

Atomic Blonde is a well-directed film and one of the aspects I particularly enjoyed about the movie was that it was violent without being overly gory. There are numerous occasions when two characters are in a life and death combat situation and Leitch puts one character's back to the camera and allows the brutality or kill shot to be obscured. The film is populated by fast punches, surprisingly limited blood splatter and when characters are, for example, shot in the head, it often happens at a distance that is anything but intimate, making the violence and the fighting much more entertaining than unsettling.

Music plays a big part of creating the atmosphere of 1989 Berlin (on both sides of the Wall). The soundtrack for Atomic Blonde is an impressive blend of period-specific songs and remixes/foreign language versions of the songs. Similarly, the costumes are impressive.

Far more than being a style film, Atomic Blonde does a good job of making Lorraine Broughton interesting to watch. Broughton is characterized as a tough, all-business spy, but she is humanized by her relationship with Delphine, the French spy. Broughton lets down her guard with Delphine and the relationship she develops with Delphine allows Broughton to see the potential life she could have outside spycraft. And Atomic Blonde might be impressively erotic (I suppose it is to some people), were Broughton not already pretty bruised by their first encounter.

Charlize Theron is entirely convincing as Lorraine Broughton. Theron sells her character's aliases and her efficient, professional, coldness - she is a viable spy. In fact, the moment Theron gets the viewer to fully invest in her character's abilities and competence is when Broughton sarcastically observes, "I can read a fucking map." In a world that predates smartphones and instant connectivity, Theron realistically portrays a human asset. Sofia Boutella is fine as Delphine Lasalle, but she plays Lasalle like a reluctant spy; a woman who wishes far more she took one of her other job options. Regardless, there is no hint of her character from Star Trek Beyond (reviewed here!) in her performance in Atomic Blonde.

James McAvoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones, James Faulkner, and Rolland Moller all give good supporting performances (though I spent much of Atomic Blonde thinking of Moller, "Sean Harris really has some range in this!") in Atomic Blonde. McAvoy is well-cast as the emotionally-confused Percival.

Ultimately, Atomic Blonde is an entertaining spy thriller that does a decent job of fleshing out a bare-bones idea in compelling ways, even though it still is somewhat plot-heavy and more concerned with action-adventure entertainment than making its protagonist truly well-rounded and compelling.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
Spider-Man: Homecoming
Baby Driver
Transformers: The Last Knight
Rough Night
Wonder Woman

6.5/10

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

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Simple Fun Saturday: The 2016 Santa's Sweet Reindeer Ornament Stacks Up Well!


The Good: Cute, Good sculpt, Decent balance
The Bad: Very basic coloring, some sloppy painting
The Basics: The 2016 "Santa's Sweet Reindeer" limited edition ornament is fun, cute, but not nearly as collectible as Hallmark might have hoped.


A few years ago, as my wife got into collecting Hallmark ornaments of her own, I was forced to look into the non-genre ornaments that Hallmark produces. This might seem like an ironic reversal, but the truth is, since 1990, the only reason I have gone to Hallmark stores are for their genre-themed holiday ornaments; the more traditional Christmas ornaments they produce and sell had been a pretty massive blind spot to me, not to mention the greeting card portion of their stores. But, a few years back, I was dragging my wife around with me on Ornament Preview Weekend as I was hunting exclusive ornaments and she saw the Mint Chocolate Chipmunk ornament (reviewed here!) declared it adorable and I "paid" her for letting me drag her to several Hallmark Gold Crown stores by buying her the ornament. Shortly thereafter, she went through the Dreambook and found other cute, pun-based ornaments that she fell for. 2016 and 2017 have been pretty fallow for that style of ornament, but late last year, I saw one that I thought was cute. Right before this year's ornament preview weekend, one of my local Hallmark stores dug out their remaining ornaments from last year and clearanced them on a pretty deep discount. I was pleasantly surprised to see they had one copy of the ornament that had lingered in my mind in that discounted stock. That ornament was the Santa's Sweet Reindeer ornament.

Santa's Sweet Reindeer is cute and a good basic ornament, but it did not seem to resonate with collectors and the simplistic and sometimes sloppy paintjob on the ornament makes it look unfortunately cheap.

Basics

The Santa's Sweet Reindeer ornament is a Reindeer, made of a chocolate jelly roll (like a Ho-Ho), with candy cane antlers, gumdrop feet and what appears to be mint leaves for the ears! The ornament, released in 2016, is a limited edition ornament that was released during Ornament Debut Weekend and was intended to be a companion ornament to the Santa's Sweet Ride ornament. Either people did not find or did not care for the 2016 Santa's Sweet Reindeer ornament, because it did not seem to sell out anywhere I could find during its initial release.

Hallmark made a decent effort to make a good ornament with the Santa's Sweet Reindeer ornament, but the ornament is very simple in both sculpt and coloring, though it is well balanced. Measuring three and one-half inches tall, one and one-eighths inches wide and two and one-quarter inches deep, the "Santa's Sweet Reindeer" ornament is a decent-sized Hallmark ornament. Despite its size, the 2016 Santa's Sweet Reindeer ornament seemed expensive with its initial release price of $15.95, which might be why there were so many left even after the ornament was put on clearance after the season last year.

The Hallmark "Santa's Sweet Reindeer" ornament is made of a durable plastic, but the coloring is done entirely in monotones, which is simplistic but fair for the ornament's subject. Most of the Reindeer is a glossy brown with glossy white to represent the frosting filling. The candy canes are white and red and there is a purple-striped blanket on the reindeer's back, which seems to imply a blanket made of gum! The best coloring aspect of the 2016 Santa's Sweet Reindeer ornament is the inclusion of sparkles on the feet to represent the sugar of the gumdrops.

Unfortunately, several of the Santa's Sweet Reindeer ornaments I looked at had imprecise paintjobs. The lines between the white frosting filling and the brown cake body were blurred and the green from the ears ofted overlapped the brown of the reindeer's head.

Features

As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, "Santa's Sweet Reindeer" could have a sound effect, but it does not. Instead, this is a less-expensive option that is just the cute animated character.

Balance

As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake "Santa's Sweet Reindeer" ornament is to be hung on a Christmas tree. And the "Santa's Sweet Reindeer" ornament would be a good option for anyone who wants a family tree, enjoys food, thinks puns are funny or who loves animals, despite the less-precise paintjob. The ornament has the brass hook loop embedded into the top center of the back of the Reindeer’s body. From there, the ornament hangs perfectly level, with its feet looking like they would stand flat on the ground, like it is supposed to.

Collectibility

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. "Santa's Sweet Reindeer" is a non-genre ornament that is limited edition, which leads buyers to hope it has an inherent collectible value. Unfortunately, it seemed to be a terrible investment piece; its value tanked and it can still be found dirt cheap in the secondary market.

Overview

Fans of cute food, reindeer, Hallmark ornaments, and generic Christmas ornaments are likely to find the Santa's Sweet Reindeer ornament cute, but a tough sell at its full price.

For other non-genre Hallmark ornaments, please check out my reviews of:
2017 Lavender Luxe Barbie Limited Edition ornament
2016 Green Thumb Snoopy ornament
2015 Misfit Friends ornament

7.5/10

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

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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