Monday, September 30, 2013

September 2013 End Of The Month Report

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September was my real vacation time, as I looked for work and enjoyed married life more than blogging (for a change!). As autumn falls, I’ve been catching up on reading (so there will be many more book reviews in upcoming weeks!) and television series’s as well as watching and reviewing some of this year’s newer shows.

This month at W.L. Swarts Reviews The Universe, there were no additions to the Top Ten Of All Time. This month, we put special emphasis on Hallmark ornaments, new True Blood and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. episodes! Thanks for all the "likes" for those posts, as well as all of the new hits on older reviews!

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 really growing our readership this year, 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 September, the index pages were very regularly! The primary Index Page, which we try to update daily, lets you know what the featured review is and has an up-to-the-day tally of how many reviews have been reviewed in each category! Check it out!

If you enjoy the reviews, please consider clicking on the links in the reviews and purchasing items. We really appreciate all the purchases made through the blog as that keeps us going. Thank you so much! By purchasing items through the links on the blog, you sponsor my ability to continue reviewing. Autumn picks up the online selling, so as you consider holiday shopping, please do so through my blog’s links to support the blog!

At the end of September, I have reviewed the following:
466 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Star Trek Books
Graphic Novels
821 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
2364 - 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!)!
198 - 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
690 - 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
704 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Cheese and Meats
Ice Cream
Other Food
197 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
107 - Travel Reviews
Destinations Reviews
Hotels Reviews
153 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
164 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
90 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
31 - Other Product Reviews

The Featured Review For The Month for September is the review of the The Newsroom - Season 2!
Check it out!

The month of September had a lot of movement within the month and from some interesting prior reviews that made the list. For September, the Top Ten Reviews of the month were:
10. Bolthouse Farms 100% Carrot Juice
9. Dexter - Season 1
8. We’re The Millers
7. Finish Quantum Powerball
6. The Worst Ten Episodes Of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
5. ”Pilot” - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
4. ”Radioactive” - True Blood
3. The Top Ten Episodes Of Frasier
2. The Top Ten Episodes Of Star Trek: Voyager
1. Compulsion

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 - 282 reviews
9s - 404 reviews
8s - 755 reviews
7s - 842 reviews
6s - 758 reviews
5s - 1006 reviews
4s - 721 reviews
3s - 585 reviews
2s - 257 reviews
1s - 179 reviews
0s - 85 reviews
No rating - 51 articles/postings

There was a decent amount of movement this month, but no new entries into the Top Ten. At the end of September, the most popular reviews/articles I have written are:
10. Beautiful Creatures
9. Star Trek Into Darkness
8. Safe Haven
7. Oz The Great And Powerful
6. The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bone
5. Warm Bodies
4. Iron Man 3
3. Now You See Me
2. Tyler Perry's Temptation
1. Man Of Steel

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

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Weak Brush (Strong Handle), The Conair Grooming Brush With Reinforced Boar Bristles!

The Good: Does not damage hair, Good for short hair, Good solid handle
The Bad: Utterly ineffective on long, thick hair, Not very strong.
The Basics: The Conair Grooming Brush fails to actually straighten and separate hair.

It’s a rare thing that I take the time to review a hairbrush. In fact, after I reviewed the Conair Anti Static Grooming Brush (reviewed here!), I did not think I would actually review another one. Even as I prepare to stop reviewing hair products for a while (my wife cut off all my hair last week), I figured it was time to review the Conair Grooming Brush. The Grooming Brush (Conair product #95116Z) is distinguished by its reinforced boar bristles . . . which are entirely ineffective against hair. Conair has yet to truly land it for me with a brush; this brush has a great handle, but virtually worthless bristles.

The Conair Grooming Brush is a hairbrush, 8 5/6” from handle to tip of the head, 2” wide on the head and containing dozens of boar hair bristles 5/8" long. The bristles are soft and in bunches that bend. They do not work all that well because, more often than not, they simply bend when they encounter snags in the hair. The grip on the Conair Grooming Brush is smooth, which makes it very easy to grab onto and hold solidly as one brushes even the thick hair.

The fact that the brush is one solid piece – the handle and head are a single wooden piece, which makes it significantly stronger than molded handle/head brushes.

To its credit, after half a year of daily use from my wife and experimental use by myself occasionally, none of the bristles have come out, so it is durable. It is, however, not a reasonable solution for untangling and brushing long hair, as it is the hairbrush of utter surrender when it encounters resistance, making it impossible to recommend.

For other hair care products, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Color Oops Extra Strength Hair Color Remover
Bath & Body Works Rain Kissed Leaves Volumizing Shampoo
Goody Ouchless No Metal Elastics Little Black Dress


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

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Friday, September 27, 2013

Build-up To Catastrophe, The Newsroom Season Two Is Good, Not Exceptional!

The Good: Good writing, Great acting, Interesting plots and characters, Engaging plot construction
The Bad: Dramatic tension hinges on forgetting how the season begins?!
The Basics: When The Newsroom returns for Season 2, Aaron Sorkin tries something new, but the season’s sense of dramatic tension builds on something of a folly.

As a big fan of the works of Aaron Sorkin, when I reviewed the first season of The Newsroom (reviewed here!), my biggest criticism of the new Aaron Sorkin series was how much Sorkin recycled from the other works he wrote. The Newsroom proved that Aaron Sorkin either does not understand just how much of a fanbase he has or that he is the biggest pro-recycling advocate working in entertainment today. The second season of The Newsroom starts out appearing to buck that trend, though the astute fans will find a lot in the nine episodes of the second season that is familiar.

In fact, the new concept season for The Newsroom actually appears on the surface to be the freshest thing Aaron Sorkin has done in years (though fans of his works will be utterly unsurprised by the prevalence of lawyers in this season – Sorkin has legal entanglements and depositions in virtually all of his major projects), though it has two fundamental flaws. The minor flaw is that the first season made a big deal of Jenna Johnson (the former student who set off the firestorm that began the series) joining the ACN team as a new intern. The second season finds Jenna in a background role in only a few of the episodes; the nearly-absent Lisa (Maggie’s roommate) ends up having a vastly more significant role in the season than the new ACN intern! So, there is the feeling that the bloated cast is not even using the supporting talent it had when it loaded up with two to three new recurring characters for the second season.

The far more significant issue with the second season of The Newsroom is that the nine episode season has a continuous arc that hinges almost entirely on the viewer forgetting the first five minutes of the season. The concept of the second season of The Newsroom is that ACN reported a story on the air that was quickly debunked. Given that the season starts with lawyers taking depositions from the key staff, the viewer knows what is coming, so there is a distinct lack of dramatic tension that the season seems to be trying to build. As the pieces of the story begin to come together, only the inattentive viewer (which is not, traditionally, the HBO audience) forgets where the story is going.

Opening with most of the senior staff of ACN being interviewed by Rebecca Halliday, a wrongful termination lawyer, the season flashes back to the beginning of the 2012 Presidential Primary season. In the wake of Maggie confessing her feelings (inadvertently) to Jim and the footage of her rant making it onto YouTube, Jim flees New York for the Romney Campaign’s tour bus. Aboard the Romney tour bus, Jim becomes frustrated that his role there is largely to provide the candidate with good press and he becomes a malcontent, even as he starts a relationship with Hallie, a reporter who is on the assignment that is likely to be her last.

Back at ACN, Jim’s replacement Jerry Dantana shops a story that instantly troubles Mac and Charlie. Dantana has a source that claims that during a black op in Pakistan, the United States military used sarin gas on civilians while extracting U.S. Marines. Slowly, Jerry, MacKenzie, and Charlie follow the thin leads surrounding Operation Genoa. Long before the final betrayal that leads to the onslaught of lawyers turning on ACN and a huge rift forming between Will and MacKenzie, the staff of ACN becomes troubled by the leads surrounding Genoa and the appearance that the story might be valid.

The Newsroom is a season with severe tension among the main characters. Fans of Sorkin’s works will be unsurprised that Will develops a relationship with Nina Howard (anyone who knows of the saga of Casey and Sally will see this coming a mile away) and there is something refreshing in how quickly it dissolves. But most of the season’s emotional melodrama comes from Will McAvoy and MacKenzie McHale rehashing how their relationship dissolved before the series began. To fill the gap left by the rising sexual tension between Maggie and Jim, The Newsroom slowly builds the romance insinuated at the very end of the first season between Sloan Sabbith and Don Keefer. The romantic aspects of the Sloan and Don subplot is almost enough to overlook just how dark Sorkin goes with Maggie’s character.

Like all great dramas, The Newsroom Season 2 is about great characters. In the second season, the essential characters are:

Will McAvoy – A Republican cable news anchor, he starts calling out candidates during the Republican primary. As ACN takes fire because of Will’s scathing commentary on the Tea Party, Will pushes for a more conservative approach to presenting the news, hinging all his hopes on presenting a real debate for the Republican candidates. Pulling his punches and kept out of the loop on Genoa until the last possible moment, he becomes the public face of ACN’s scandal leading into Election Night coverage,

MacKenzie McHale – As executive producer of News Night, she feels the loss of Jim most acutely. Not quite trusting Jerry, she still feels compelled to investigate Genoa, while at the same time being frustrated by how Will keeps her at arm’s length,

Jim Harper – The News Night producer goes rogue to work well beneath pay grade and position to try to get coverage on Mitt Romney that will expose the contradictions in his campaign. Jim is deeply interested in bringing to public attention the public policies Governor Romney changed once he began running for President. He returns after a fumble on the campaign bus to discover the distance between him and Maggie has grown insurmountable, especially as he continues to grow his relationship with fellow reporter Hallie,

Maggie Jordan – An Associate Producer on News Night, she pushes for a story in Africa. There, she has a traumatic experience that leads her to cut off almost all her hair and dye what was left. Maggie begins engaging in risk behaviors including drinking and promiscuous sex with strangers in the wake of the incident in Africa,

Don Keefer – The ex-producer of News Night, he is now the executive producer on the ten o’clock show. After the fallout with Maggie, he becomes a pretty harsh critic of Jerry Dantana and the Genoa story. He starts to let his attraction to Sloan and she becomes one of the people who counsels him more than anyone else,

Sloan Sabbith – An economist with two Ph.ds, she starts to act as Will’s “big sister.” She is horrified when a book she did not actually autograph sells in a charity auction,

Neal Sampat – The writer of Will’s blog, he finds a serious lead in the Genoa story using Twitter. He becomes obsessed with the idea of Occupy Wall Street and works to bring that story to the attention of ACN, with somewhat disastrous results. He works to control the negative Tweets surrounding Will and News Night. He also tries to get MacKenzie’s Wikipedia page updated as a gift to her,

and Charlie Skinner – The head of the news division, he continues to go head to head with the corporate owners of ACN. Despite drinking quite a bit, he remains highly ethical and serious about keeping ACN focused and delivering hard-hitting news. As the Genoa story becomes more and more of a reality, he remains one of the longest holdouts to airing the story.

In the second season of The Newsroom, the acting remains exceptional. Led by Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer (who, despite all the teasing on the first season’s commentary tracks, does not appear naked in the season!), The Newsroom provides its performers with the opportunity to play triumph and heartbreak in almost every episode. Sam Waterston is tragically underused as Charlie, though he has some wonderful moments he provides both gravitas to go head to head with Jane Fonda’s Leona Lansing and goofy humor to deliver some of the season’s most memorable lines.

Thomas Sadoski almost entirely removes the bastardly qualities from Don Keefer to make him a surprisingly watchable and interesting character for the second season. The attention paid to Magge Jordan in the first season in The Newsroom is gone in the second season. Alison Pill surrenders most of her acting talent and substance for the season in exchange for a brutal haircut and a scared look in her eyes. She is easily outshined by recurring guest star Marcia Gay Harden, who starts out as efficient and sarcastic in the role of Rebecca Halliday (the lawyer) before degenerating into a pretty typical Sorkin female character who craves male attention.

Still, The Newsroom is worth watching in its second season. The show looks good and despite the structural issue, the season goes a decent distance to assuring fans that Sorkin still has some new tricks up his sleeve, even if they do not entirely land.

For other works by Aaron Sorkin, please check out my reviews of:
The Social Network
Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip
Charlie Wilson's War
The West Wing
Sports Night
The American President


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

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Writers Of The Walking Dead Want Us To Fear The Hunters For Good Reason!

The Good: Decent character development
The Bad: Mediocre artwork, Very simple plot
The Basics: In the six-issue trade paperback anthology, The Walking Dead: Fear The Hunters, Rick Grimes’s survivors encounter homicide and cannibalism!

Despite my appreciation for how the television show The Walking Dead has been going (season three is reviewed here!), it seems it has been quite a while since I sat down and read a The Walking Dead graphic novel. My local library system has been sluggish to get in some of the bigger books, so in lieu of Book Six, I’m reading and reviewing The Walking Dead, Volume 11: Fear The Hunters and (forthcoming) The Walking Dead, Volume 12: Life Among Them. Picking up The Walking Dead: Fear The Hunters throws the reader into the middle of a story where fans of the television show would likely be completely lost. Fans of the books get caught up ridiculously quickly.

The Walking Dead: Fear The Hunters has very few of the original survivors of the Zombie Apocalypse left alive. Led by Rick Grimes, Glenn, Maggie, Dale, Andrea, Michonne, Morgan, Sophia, Billy, Ben, Carl, and Abraham and his two companions have found a car by the side of the road and that is cause for momentary jubilation. The Walking Dead: Fear The Hunters continues the trend in The Walking Dead of adding a character and slaughtering more. In fact, in the six issues that are anthologized in The Walking Dead: Fear The Hunters have one of the higher body counts for intimate deaths; the books almost entirely neglect the Walkers and focus instead on two incidents of human on human barbarism that forces Rick to wrestle with the deeper questions of who humans are becoming in the post-apocalyptic world.

Following Ben butchering his twin brother Billy, the survivors camp is in shock. As Andrea and Dale wrestle with what to do about Ben, the group is traumatized again when one among them murders the surviving boy. As the survivors turn upon one another in the wake of the mysterious murder, Dale goes missing and Father Gabriel Stokes appears. Giving the group sanctuary in his church, Father Gabriel is criticized by Rick, but the group comes to appreciate the tactical retreat to his church.

As Andrea pushes for the group to find Dale, Dale awakens to a new horror; his remaining foot has been cut off and eaten by his five captive. Dale, however, is filled with uncharacteristic mirth; he had been wandering off in the woods, having been bitten, when he was captured. Calling himself tainted meat, he awaits rescue or death at the hands of the captors, who leave him at the church to freak out the survivors. They, however, get more than they have bargained for when Rick leads a team to eliminate the threat to the survivors.

The Walking Dead: Fear The Hunters is very much a small episode in the larger arc of The Walking Dead. This piece seems very insular and Father Stokes hardly seems like an essential new character. Similarly, the book ends long before Andrea can truly reflect on the magnitude of her losses in this sequence of events. The Walking Dead: Fear The Hunters takes a huge toll on Andrea, but given how long it takes to build to the book’s final significant death – and how it is overshadowed with the revelation of who killed Ben.

Rick Grimes continues to be somewhat unhinged, talking on his telephone, which almost immediately gives readers the clues needed to figure out the book’s somewhat enduring mystery. Even so, the big character issue for Rick is largely glossed over in two pages that vaguely insinuate how horrible his actions are before he accidentally describes his own barbarism to Carl. Even so, in The Walking Dead: Fear The Hunters Rick’s actions seem much more justified than crazed.

The Walking Dead: Fear The Hunters feels a lot like a pruning episode. Outside the major character death, the book leaves the reader with the feeling that Robert Kirkman had realized the cast had become a bit too bloated. The deaths of the twins are emotionally inconsequential to the readers and even Dale’s demise seems more inevitable given he has been missing part of his leg for quite some time. The book barely uses Michonne or Morgan and Abraham has a surprisingly substantive role compared to more enduring characters like Glenn and Maggie.

The artwork in The Walking Dead: Fear The Hunters is one of the biggest detractions to the book. The lack of color helps make character definitions that much harder to recognize. Once Dale loses his trademark hat, there are a slew of panels where the reader only knows if the character on the page is Dale or Rick by the context of their speech.

Ultimately, though, The Walking Dead: Fear The Hunters is a worthwhile read for anyone who has an interest in survivalist drama stories, though it is harder to get into for those not already invested in this particular story.

For other The Walking Dead books, check out my reviews of:
Days Gone Bye
Book One
Book Two
Book Three
Book Four
Book Five


For other graphic novel reviews, please visit my Graphic Novel Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Whedon Fans Might Be Happy, But Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. “Pilot” Hardly Sells The Series In Objective Terms!

The Good: Funny, Interesting set-up
The Bad: Nothing exceptional on the acting or character fronts.
The Basics: Joss Whedon opens Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. in an unincredible, but not unenjoyable, way.

When the cast of the new television series Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. was announced, the show had a pretty instant conceptual problem. The top of the cast list was Clark Gregg, who played S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson in the Marvel Phase One Movies (reviewed here!) and appeared to die in The Avengers (reviewed here!). Given that the big emotional moment of The Avengers was the death of Phil Coulson, which was used as a catalyst to get the team of super heroes to start working together, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. had the huge potential to gut one of the biggest summer blockbusters of all time.

And yet, by the first act break of the “Pilot” to Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., the problem has an insinuated rectification and it is delivered to the savvy viewers of Marvel’s new project in a way that Joss Whedon fans are likely to love. In fact, the people most likely to get a jag out of the unimaginatively titled “Pilot” are fans of Joss Whedon’s works. In addition to featuring Whedonverse alumni J. August Richards (sounds like Gunn, looks so much older!) and Ron Glass (who manages to look younger than he did on Firefly), the wry humor and sense of humor about industry conceits (like Coulson emerging from a dark corner and noting that that is an improbable position for him to be in) are pure Whedon. But for comic book fans, there is something underwhelming about the characters in the pilot episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.; the villains are not especially super and the heroes are not given enough to do yet to truly impress.

At some point after the Battle Of New York (the references to Iron Man 3, reviewed here!, come very late in the episode to imply it happens after that film), an explosion in an apartment leads Mike Peterson to climb up a wall and enter the burning building. Peterson illustrates super-strength and super-endurance in rescuing a woman from the burning building. Peterson’s activities draw the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Maria Hill and Agent Coulson, who extract Grant Ward from Paris and bring him in to Level 7 of S.H.I.E.L.D. S.H.I.E.L.D. is hunting a terrorist organization Rising Tide, an organization that is working against S.H.I.E.L.D. to recruit emerging superheroes and “unregistered metahumans.”

Easily tracking Rising Tide’s spokeswoman, Skye, Coulson, Ward, and the rest of the team start to uncover an industrial conspiracy that Skye seems more aware of than S.H.I.E.L.D. Unable to pay his bills, Project Centipede’s successful cyborg augment Mike Peterson begins to show psychological strain. As Coulson and Grant hunt for Peterson, the rest of the ream investigates the corporate conspiracy that built Peterson.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. opens fairly unremarkably with its “Pilot.” Like spinoff programs like The Lone Gunmen (reviewed here!), Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is clearly counting entirely on an existing fanbase to survive. The “Pilot” has little outside Whedon’s dialogue and Hollywood beautiful people to sell the episode. Clark Gregg is surrounded by probably the best-looking group of people to ever work in intelligence (where one would think blending in would be a priority).

Like The Lone Gunmen, “Pilot” fleshes the familiar characters that sell the initial premise out with likable “types.” In this case, the S.H.I.E.L.D. forensic team on Level Seven includes Leo and Jemma, who are a bantering team who allow Whedon to continue to perpetrate the concept of the socially-inept scientist geeks, Melinda May, an apparent celebrity in the intelligence community who is relegated in the pilot to driving the S.H.I.E.L.D. plane, Grant, who does little more than show up and look good (it’s like Whedon listened to the commentary track on the second episode to The Lone Gunmen!).

The “Pilot” seems to have missed the resolution to Iron Man 3 in the way it develops the conflict with Mike Peterson. After all, Pepper Potts was cured of her infection, which pops up in “Pilot” and yet, apparently, Tony Stark did not share that technology with S.H.I.E.L.D.?!

The set-up for the characters in “Pilot” is fine. Skye is instantly one of the most interesting Whedon characters to come to one of his series’. While Coulson shows up with the important potential to later be revealed to be a replicant of the popular character, Skye is an adversary turned ally with plenty of potential to create conflict and reversals that make Joss Whedon shows so engaging.

But on the acting front, there are no remarkable performances in “Pilot.” Clark Gregg is predictably great as Agent Coulson and J. Augist Richards presents all the angst in one episode that he did in every Angel episode where he wrestled with confronting the conflicts between being a part of Angel’s team and his old crew on the street. Ming-Na Wen’s performance is basically limited to a single martial art’s scene and the brief appearances by Cobie Smulders have her portraying an administrator more than a field agent. The result is a pilot episode that is somewhat more mundane than extraordinary.

As viewers wait to see if the villainous organization skirted around in “Pilot” lives up to Whedon’s legacy with Wolfram & Hart, we are left with an episode that does not absolutely land the return trip to this corner of the Marvel Universe.

For other works with Cobie Smulders, please visit my reviews of:
Safe Haven
How I Met Your Mother - Season 5
How I Met Your Mother - Season 4
How I Met Your Mother - Season 3
How I Met Your Mother - Season 2
How I Met Your Mother - Season 1
The L Word - Season 2

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season here!


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

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Despite The Pounding Soundtrack, “Anomaly” Is A Bland Adventure Episode.

The Good: Generally okay acting
The Bad: Overbearing soundtrack, No real character development, Mundane plot
The Basics: Another piece in the puzzle that is the Expanse is revealed in “Anomaly,” which is a pretty banal chase episode that is largely lacking in a compelling villain or motivation.

Despite not being a huge fan of Star Trek: Enterprise, one of the aspects of the show I have generally admired is that it tends to have a pretty decent sense of internal continuity. So, when episodes pop up with frequent issues that overwhelm the episode, I get pretty annoyed. “Anomaly” is one of those episodes.

“Anomaly” continues the arc in the Expanse, but almost from the beginning, it starts to raise troubling questions. Despite Archer mentioning that Porthos was along for the ride in “The Expanse” (reviewed here!), it seems suddenly cruel given how Porthos appears both helpless and disturbed in “Anomaly.” Given how the Vulcans have feared the Expanse because of how it dements the Vulcans’ brain chemistry, T’Pol should have been crazy long before now. As it is Jolene Blalock opens her eyes wide and looks kittenish in “Anomaly,” but there is no context for her change of performance in the episode. The issues within the episode and its place within the series stack up quickly and it makes the episode more erratic than at all clever.

After Porthos freaks out in Archer’s quarters, the laws of physics become erratic all over Enterprise. Archer’s mug floats, the gravity reverses for food in the mess, and ripples go through the entire ship. Shortly thereafter, the Enterprise is attacked by a boarding party who beams aboard and starts to systematically rob the ship. Phlox identifies one of the corpses as an Oosarian and Archer discovers the one pirate left alive aboard Enterprise to be predictably unhelpful.

As the Enterprise hunts down the pirates, they discover the changing laws of physics might be the least of their worries. Following the Oosarian ship’s ion trail into a cloaking field, they discover a massive, artificially-constructed sphere. Using a shuttlepod, Archer and a small team enter the sphere where they discover a Xindi artifact. Archer returns to Enterprise where he tortures the prisoner for more information on the Xindi.

The closest thing to character development present in “Anomaly” comes in the form of Archer having a mini-meltdown and torturing the Oosarian. This seems entirely unlike Archer and not only is a lousy direction for Archer (he’s seemed smart enough to know that torture does not provide reliable results), but it makes little sense in context. Trip Tucker would have been an ideal person to rough up the Oosarian – the Oosarians attacked Engineering, he’s still feeling grief over the loss of his sister’s death, and he hasn’t been sleeping. That combination would have made it reasonable for Tucker to snap. Archer just seems like he is overreacting to the death of a single crewmember. Moreover, the very final shot of the episode, which has Archer smiling subtly, implies that he is a psychopath

What the episode is about more is teasing another aspect of the great mystery of the Expanse. In “Anomaly,” the Enterprise encounters the first giant sphere and Archer acquires the most valuable piece of military intelligence about the Xindi to date. Even more than that, the episode is about presenting a pretty brainless adventure chase experience. More than any Star Trek: Enterprise episode to date, “Anomaly” features an invasive soundtrack that is designed to get the heart pumping. The problem is that for much of the episode, there is no clear, definable, or compelling villain the Enterprise and its crew is chasing. The Oosarian ship is long gone, so most of the “chase” is following an ion trail.

Perhaps more disturbing is how lazy the episode is in presenting its adversary. The Oosarians, we are told by Phlox, are a race from outside the Expanse, yet Archer has had no experience with them. That’s fine, but then the episode falls apart on the details. Archer confronts the captured Oosarian without Hoshi Sato to translate their language. The Oosarian says his ship has been in the Expanse for quite some time. There should be no way, then, that he would recognize a StarFleet ship and have any idea at all what their morals would be. And yet, he instantly chides Archer and says Archer does not have the stomach for doing what he needs to in the Expanse.

Ultimately, “Anomaly” is a bland episode that adds some new information to the Xindi plotline without any genuine flair or substance.

The three biggest gaffes in “Anomaly:”
3. The Oosarians are yet another local alien race that is never before seen or referenced in any of the subsequent series’, despite being in the heart of what will be the core of the Federation.
2. Given that the Oosarian pirates download the Enterprise’s database as a matter of course, one would think that future generations would thwart such an easy and obvious attack. Yet, by “Q Who?” (reviewed here!) when the Borg attack, they do the same thing and it is clear StarFleet has not adapted. StarFleet has never been that stupid before.
1. Given the physics of the anomaly in this episode, the spatial distortion ring in Star Trek: Voyager’s “Twisted” (reviewed here!) should have been diagnosed dramatically faster and should have seemed far less extraordinary.

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

For other works with Nathan Anderson, please visit my reviews of:
"The Xindi" - Star Trek: Enterprise
“Learning Curve” - Babylon 5
“Nemesis” - Star Trek: Voyager


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page where the episodes are organized from best to worst!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Another Clone Trooper, The 501st Legion Clone Trooper From The Vintage Collection Is Good, Not Perfect.

The Good: Amazing articulation, Great coloring detail, Good sculpt for certain poses, Great accessories, Great balance.
The Bad: Facial sculpt/coloring is not exactly right, Yellowing helmet (already!)
The Basics: Clone Trooper (501st Legion) is great for enhancing one’s clone army, though it suffers the same problem as many of the other Clone Troopers from the Star Wars Vintage Collection.

When I briefly managed a comic book and toy store, I became intimately acquainted with how popular Clone Trooper action figures actually are and how many exist in the marketplace. One of the last Clone Trooper figures I picked up was the Vintage Collection 501st Legion Clone Trooper. This blue-accented Clone Trooper is an efficient looking Clone Trooper, but it is basically a repaint of one of the other Clone Troopers. It’s good, but not a terribly original figure.

For those unfamiliar with Clone Trooper (501st Legion), they were the standard Clone Trooper seen briefly in Revenge Of The Sith (reviewed here!) on Coruscant under the command of the newly-minted Darth Vader. The 501st Legion Clone Troopers are the blue-accented Clone Troopers seen on Coruscant and when Order 66 is received, they are the Troopers who help kill the Younglings!

The Vintage Collection casting of Clone Trooper (501st Legion) is exceptionally articulated and would be absolutely perfect, were it not for the details of the head underneath the figure's already-yellowing helmet.


The Clone Trooper (501st Legion) is incredibly detailed both in the sculpt and the coloring. Standing at 3 7/8" tall with his helmet on, the Clone Trooper (501st Legion) looks like an ideal soldier. The Clone Trooper (501st Legion) was released in 2012 as part of Hasbro's Vintage Collection, with a classic-looking card.

This toy is a very cool sculpt, which is the standard Clone Trooper sculpt with a slightly different sculpt to the belt accessories and with blue accent paint on various points on the armor and helmet. The figure has a removable helmet. The figure's armor looks strong and durable and this sculpt features a softer plastic utility belt, which is not actually molded to the figure's waist. Beneath the helmet, the Clone Trooper (501st Legion) is revealed to be a pretty loose interpretation of a Clone Trooper in the head and face sculpt. The head looks only slightly like Temuera Morrison and there are no molded-on details that are unique to Clone Trooper (501st Legion)'s face that define him as a specific Clone Trooper that viewers might recognize.

The coloring is what separates 212th Battallion Troopers from other Clone Troopers and that is largely what makes the Clone Trooper (501st Legion) distinctive. Unfortunately, the head underneath the helmet is not painted in realistic fleshtones. Instead, this figure's face is cast in a monotonal brown plastic and it is not highlighted with any other shades. The lips are uncolored, which is odd. The eyes are white and beautifully detailed as brown with black dots to add a level of realism the earliest Star Wars figures lacked.

But the armor and helmet is an amazing work of coloring detail, save that the white plastic of the helmet is already beginning to yellow. The Clone Trooper (501st Legion) is a blue and white Clone Trooper and this one looks pretty amazing.


The Clone Trooper (501st Legion), efficient Clone Trooper who is ready to assassinate Jedi, is granted only two pieces of equipment: a blaster and a blaster rifle. The blaster pistol is a clone trooper staple and this version is the 1 1/4" long blaster with the flattened barrel end which allows the Clone Trooper (501st Legion) to hold the gun in a two-handed grip and look realistic while doing it! The monotonal black color the blaster makes it look clean and unused and matches the clean coloring of the rest of the figure. There is nothing that makes this particular blaster distinct to this character.

The Clone Trooper (501st Legion) also comes with a blaster rifle, which is twice as long as the standard blaster. While cast in monotonal black plastic, and not accented, the long weapon has amazing molded details to its surface, like the power pack, scope and second hand grip. This figure looks great with the Trooper holding this blaster rifle in two hands, much like the picture on the package!


The four inch toy line was designed for play and the Clone Trooper (501st Legion) is exceptional in that regard. This Vintage Collection figure has great articulation and wonderful balance. The Clone Trooper (501st Legion) is able to stand in some pretty outlandish poses, as well as stand in more standard poses. For additional support, he has holes in both feet which may be plugged into pegs on vehicle or playset toys!

The Clone Trooper (501st Legion) comes with fourteen points of articulation, most of which are not just simple swivel joints. The Clone Trooper (501st Legion) has joints at the ankles, knees, groin socket, shoulders, elbows, wrists, neck, and waist and he twists at any of those points. The shoulders, elbows, wrists, ankles, groin socket AND knees are all ball-and-socket joints. The head joint is also on a ball-and-socket joint and because of how the armor is designed on the sides, this is a more useful joint than the groin socket having the added articulation. The groin socket is designed to allow Clone Trooper (501st Legion) to open his legs wider, presumably to straddle something like a Speeder Bike, but because of the raised portions on the upper outside of the thighs, the armor prevents much in the way of articulation from that joint. Even so, this represents a vast step-up in articulation for fans of the Clone Troopers!


The Clone Trooper (501st Legion) is part of the 2012 Vintage Collection four-inch series, a series of Star Wars action figures that was a bit more common than many of the Vintage Collection lines. Because of the yellowing helmet and the prevalence of plenty of other Clone Trooper figures, this is not an ideal investment figure; it is one that has lost some collectible value on the secondary market already.

The Clone Trooper (501st Legion) is VC60 in the Vintage Collection.


Outside the helmet and what is under it, the Clone Trooper (501st Legion) is a pretty wonderful Star Wars figure. It is worth picking up by anyone making a full clone army, but somewhat unnecessary for the more casual collectors.

For other Vintage Collection figures from Revenge Of The Sith, please check out my reviews of:
VC15 Clone Trooper
VC17 General Grievous
VC29 Kit Fisto
VC38 Clone Trooper (212th Battalion)
VC39 Super Battle Droid
VC43 Commander Gree
VC46 AT-RT Driver
VC51 Barriss Offee (Jedi Padawan)
VC54 ARC Trooper Commander
VC58 Aayla Secura


For other Star Wars toy reviews, please visit my Toy Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Mellow Joel: Turnstiles Is A Short, Sweet, Album!

The Good: Decent vocals, Thematic concept/execution, Sounds good
The Bad: SHORT! Some forced lines
The Basics: Billy Joel’s fourth album, Turnstiles, may not have spawned a slew of hits, but it remains a pretty solid concept album with a decent execution.

As I continue through the works of Billy Joel, I’ve been finding that he is much like I always suspected John Mellencamp was for me (which I have, admittedly, not tested): an artist whose works I enjoy when I hear them on the radio, but I’m not really missing much by not listening to his full albums. Billy Joel is good, but the A&R people around him clearly knew what they were doing as there has yet to be a song on one of his albums I’ve heard and thought “Wow, they should have released this as a single!” Instead, until Turnstiles, the albums have been very well vetted for radio play with the best tracks.

Turnstiles, however, bucks that trend and I’m not sure it does so in an entirely good way. The album is a concept album (a journey from California to New York City) and any of the songs on it sound like they could have been singles (the most recognizable songs from the album are “New York State Of Mind” and “Say Goodbye To Hollywood”). The flipside of all of the songs sounding like they could have been fine as singles (though “James” would be a tough sell) is that none of them truly stand out and make the listener feel like they are hearing something truly exceptional. In other words, Turnstiles is solid conceptually, but nothing surprises or stands out. This is a mellow, but not indistinct, Billy Joel album.

With only eight songs and a running time of 36:48, the biggest strike against Turnstiles is that it is short. Even so, it represents one of the purest expressions of Billy Joel’s creative talents of any of his albums. Despite its brevity, Billy Joel remained in control of every key creative aspect of Turnstiles. Joel wrote all eight songs and he provides the lead vocals on all of the tracks. As well, Joel played the keyboards for all of the album’s songs, though he is backed up with his touring band for Turnstiles. The fact that Joel produced Turnstiles as well, makes it undeniable that Turnstiles is exactly the album Joel wanted to release for his fourth studio work.

Vocally, Turnstiles is exactly what one expects of Billy Joel. . . at least for his early works. His voice is in the higher registers than his later works. Given that almost all of the songs are slower, lounge-safe pace ballads, Joel illustrates some decent lung capacity, especially on the album’s opener “Say Goodbye To Hollywood.” He goes faster and articulate on “Angry Young Man,” presaging by decades his ability to credibly make something like “We Didn’t Start The Fire” vocally viable. But, most of the songs are soft, sweetly-delivered ballads that have Joel singing clearly and slowly to make every word heard and every line felt.

Instrumentally, the songs on Turnstiles are virtually the definition of “soft rock.” Piano and bass-driven, the songs are slower and the percussion is muted. Joel’s concept for Turnstiles is musically unimaginative, though none of the songs sound bad. Even though “Angry Young Man” does not grab me, the music that accompanies the lyrics is fine. The closest Joel gets to upbeat is “All You Wanna Do Is Dance” and while it might be comparatively up-tempo, it is not really danceable or fast.

The slower music and somnambular vocals fit most of the lyrical tone of Turnstiles well. On Turnstiles, Billy Joel presents a musical protagonist who is more fed up and exhausted than he is angry. Tired of the decadence of California, he returns to New York and the contemplative mood permeates the album. The songs have a pretty heavy philosophical bent to most of them. When Joel sings “So we'll argue and we'll compromise / And realize that nothing's ever changed / For all our mutual experience / Our separate conclusions are the same / Now we are forced to recognize our inhumanity / Our reason coexists with our insanity / But we choose between reality and madness / It's either sadness or euphoria” (“Summer, Highland Falls”), we gather that he (or at least his musical protagonist) has come to something of an existential crisis and he is working through that.

In the process, Joel begins to belabor the time and place he wants to be. “New York State Of Mind” might be a fairly romantic piece of mood music, but objectively viewed, it is pretty weighed down by Joel’s need to sound authentic. The homesick song gets away with product placement and setting the stage with lines like “But I'm taking a Greyhound / On the Hudson River Line / I'm in a New York state of mind,” but seems backheavy when Joel laconically lists “It was so easy living day by day / Out of touch with the rhythm and blues / But now I need a little give and take / The New York Times, The Daily News” (“New York State Of Mind”). The song is good, but some of the lines seem a bit forced.

Similarly, “James” just sounds like a laundry list of complaints from the musical protagonist to the title character. Joel oscillates between lazy rhymes and not even trying to fit to a rhyme scheme as he musically states “James...we were always friends, / From our childhood days / And we made our plans, / And we had to go our seperate ways. / I went on the road / You pursued an education” (“James”) and the song seems somewhat redundant in advance of “Angry Young Man” which has a more universal statement.

Ultimately, though, Turnstiles is a solid album and a good one for setting a mood for a casual evening at home. Clearly illustrating Billy Joel’s talents, Turnstiles satisfies, even if it does not light the world on fire with its sound.

For other Billy Joel reviews, please check out:
Piano Man
52nd Street
Glass Houses
The Nylon Curtain
An Innocent Man
Greatest Hits Volume I & Volume II
River Of Dreams


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

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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I Start My Harney & Sons Reviews With The Delightful Mint Verbena Tea!

The Good: Decent ingredients, Good taste
The Bad: Caffeine free, Additional tea bag garbage, Expensive
The Basics: Harney & Sons Mint Verbena tea is a bit pricy, but tastes flavorful enough to justify the expense.

I love mint tea. I am a big fan of mint tea and I like trying new teas and flavors of teas that I like from almost every brand I can find. Until now, I have not tried any teas from Harney & Sons. So, today I decided to start on the boxes of Harney & Sons teas that I have with their Mint Verbena tea. My wife is a fan of Harney & Sons and with my love of mint teas, Mint Verbena seemed like a smart starting point for me.


Mint Verbena is an herbal tea from Harney & Sons. It is a tea that is naturally caffeine free and it is one of the stronger herbal teas that I have tried. Mint Verbena comes in Harney & Sons's standard individually-wrapped tea pyramids, means that each tea pyramid has a wax papery envelope it is sealed in for freshness. Each tea bag has a three-inch string with a little paper tab at the end, which is quite a bit more waste than I like from a tea bag. When I make pots of tea, I tend to use three bags and making a steeping pot of Mint Verbena reminds me of why I like the easy environmentalism of Celestial Seasonings' stringless bags. A box of Mint Verbena comes with 20 individually-wrapped tea bags.

Mint Verbena is marketed as a mint-flavored tea and in that regard it lives up quite well. If one wants something that is flavored like mint this will satisfy.

Ease Of Preparation

Mint Verbena is an herbal tea, which means preparation is as easy as boiling a pot of water! A single tea bag will make the standard 8 oz. coffee mug worth of tea, though reusing the tea bags yields a barely minty beverage. These tea bags can be reused and the resulting beverage is about 5/8 strength and has a more potent menthol aftertaste than the original brewing. I tend to make my tea using a 32 oz. steeping tea pot and that works fairly well, even for a second pot.

To prepare Mint Verbena, simply boil up some water, and pour it over the tea bags in a cup, mug or steeping pot. This tea is recommended to take three to five minutes to steep and after a couple cups and pots, I've found that with boiling water, the tea is ready at the three minute mark and letting it steep longer does not truly change the results. Letting the tea steep more than five minutes does not net any additional flavor, nor does it denature the flavor of the tea.


Mint Verbena smells strongly of peppermint. The menthol scent is strong enough to open up one’s nostrils and the scent is inviting and distinct to anyone who loves mint.

On the tongue, the Mint Verbena tastes just like it smells. The flavor makes the tongue tingle and then as the hot tea washes over it, it cools mouth. The peppermint flavor is strong and there is a slight herbal flavor to it. There is a vague leafy flavor that accompanies the menthol peppermint flavor.

There is no aftertaste with this tea, though it cools quickly in the mouth. When one adds sugar to it, the mint kick is accented, though it does not take on an aftertaste when sugar is added.


It is utterly unsurprising that the dominant flavor in Mint Verbena is tea as the ingredients are lemon verbena and peppermint leaves, crushed fine. Mint Verbena tea is all natural, kosher and does not contain caffeine.

Were it not for the sugar I add whenever I make pots of Mint Verbena, this tea would be devoid of any nutritional value. It contains no calories, fat, sodium, carbohydrates or protein.


Mint Verbena is a fairly light tea. As a result, cleanup is rather simple, save on fabrics. The mugs and steeping pot easily rinse out, but the steeping pot ought to be rinsed fully after the tea is gone as the mint flavor will linger in a steeping pot to corrupt the next pot, if it is unrinsed. This tea will stain if it is left on fabrics, so simply do not let the tea cups or mugs linger on light colored materials that might stain!

Mint Verbena is easy to clean up after - the tea bags may be disposed in the garbage, or composted if you have a good garden and/or compost pile. One of the nice things about this tea - like most - is that so long as it is kept cool and dry, it can last for a long time and it is easy to clean up. However, like all Harney & Sons teas, there is extra waste from the strings, paper tabs and individual wrappings around each bag.


Mint Verbena is a delightful light mint tea that is well worth trying, though Harney & Sons makes the consumer really pay for it. Fortunately, the quality of the tea makes it worth spending the money on it!

For other tea reviews, please check out:
Bigelow Eggnogg’n
Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Peach
Stash Christmas Eve


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

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Friday, September 20, 2013

Protecting The Teeth Of Both My Cats: Ocean Fish Flavor Feline Greenies Work!

The Good: Generally good ingredients, Good dental benefits, My cats love them!
The Bad: A bit expensive for what one gets
The Basics: Feline Greenies Ocean Fish Dental Treats are helping to keep my cats’ teeth strong and breath fresh!

Sometimes, I am surprised by how I take a long time to get products from a product line I like in after reviewing one positively. It has been years since I reviewed the Oven Roasted Chicken Feline Greenies (reviewed here! ) and so it is surprising that it has taken this long for me to get in another flavor. The new (to me!) flavor for Timber and Gollum is the Ocean Fish Flavor Feline Greenies Dental Treats.

Feline Greenies come in a variety of flavors and we picked up the Ocean Fish flavor because they were dental treats and, frankly, I have noticed Timber’s breath lately. Given that both our boys love fish flavored cat treats, the Ocean Fish Flavor was a very safe bet. Unlike some of the other cat treats on the market now, these do not trade on being all natural or anything, so I was a little wary of that, but the moment I opened the bag for the first time, both Gollum and Timber came running.

Both of my cats enthusiastically devoured the Ocean Fish Dental Treats. They crunch right down on them and they do seem to do all they promised to. Because I started Gollum young on tartar control treats, he has seldom had bad breath and usually only treats my boys get are ones that have the health benefit of being tartar control. While the Feline Greenies do not make that claim, the fact that cats have to chew them supports the dental benefits claim on the package. For general dental health, Feline Greenies Ocean Fish cat treats are more than adequate. For roughly $3.00, being able to avoid a teeth cleaning for my cats that would cost hundreds of dollars seemed like a good idea to me!

After a few pouches of Feline Greenies, the Feline Greenies treats seem to be working well as a preventative measure by effectively keeping tartar from building up on my cats' teeth, at least as effectively as other treats which do have tartar control claims. Feline Greenies cat treats are crunchy little treats that come in various flavors, including chicken, salmon and tuna. The Ocean Fish flavored treats are shaped like tiny fish and are three-eighths inches wide. Each of these treats is green and slightly textured, though I’ve seen other treats with more surface texture in recent days. These appear quite manufactured-looking. Only about 1/8" thick, these treats resemble dry cat food.

Feline Greenies treats have become a cat treat I am happy to give Timber and Gollum because they work, but they are expensive. In fact, these are very expensive, at least through the store we purchased them through. For the price of a small bag (4.2 lbs.) of cat food ($2.99), we get a single 2.5 oz. package of Feline Greenies treats! This is not an extraordinary value at all. As such, I ended up downrating in the 2.5 oz. size because of the expense.

Because my older cat, Gollum, is finicky about his food - he needs urinary tract health formula food - the Feline Greenies treats offer my cats an option for keeping their teeth healthy that I would not otherwise have (there are tartar control cat foods, but not yet one that is both urinary tract and tartar control that I've found). Pounce marketed itself as a champion of classic conditioning, urging pet owners who use Pounce to shake the container to bring cats to the owner for their treats, so my cats know to come whenever I open a bag of the Feline Greenies. They recognize the sound of the stiff plastic crinkle bag and my cats came running for the Ocean Fish flavor they same way they did for Pounce's tartar control treats.

Feline Greenies treats are available only in the stiff-plastic pouches which make it easy to tell if they have been tampered with. Each plastic pouch is vacuum sealed and has a brown plastic bag which is very recognizable and protects the treats inside well. The stiff plastic creates a loud, recognizable crinkling sound that brings cats to it right away (I still call out to my cats with the question "Who wants treats?" whenever dispensing this as a treat). Sadly, there are other food products (like vacuum-sealed dinners) that come in similar pouches and when opening them, one's cats are likely to descend, eager for a treat. Like many other cat treat manufacturers, Feline Greenies took a lesson from the makers of Pounce when making the Feline Greenies.

The truth is, though, I'm a somewhat lazy cat owner. My cats keep me moving around to play fetch and keep the litter box immaculately cleaned, I'm often too busy (or forgetful) to give them treats every day like they insist they deserve. What I've begun to do is mix the treats in with the catfood, so the cats get the treats like Lucky Charms marshmallows in their dinner. The package makes no recommendations for how many treats a cat gets each day, though it does warn that Feline Greenies are intended as supplemental food, as opposed to actual meals for cats. So, my mixing them into the regular cat food seems like a good idea and my boys get five to ten treats that way each day (though the suggested serving is something ridiculous like 18 – 21 pieces for cats the size of my boys!).

Mixing the treats into the food makes a package last about a week with my cats. I tend to keep one pouch for use as treats (they get treat time an average of once every other day) and I mix the rest into their food when I jar it up. I jar all of my cat food up to keep the potential mouse population at bay (mice like Feline Greenies treats as well, I've discovered, and they can easily chew through the stiff plastic pouch). These treats have a great shelf life in comparison to other cat treats. The package which I picked up last week has a November 2014 expiration date, which seems to make sense given the extensive preservatives in the treats.

I refuse to taste sample this treat myself to determine whether or not they taste like what they are supposed to. My cats like them, they keep coming back for them (and the big one is usually quite lazy) and they have lived up to the promise to maintain (or restore) my cat's dental health, but they illustrate no preference for the Ocean Fish flavor versus other dental health cat treats. They both chose these over Pounce, though, the last time I gave them a choice.

The Ocean Fish flavored Feline Greenies are made up primarily of chicken meal, rice flour and wheat flour before the ingredient list turns into the many preservatives. There do not appear to be any vegetables in Feline Greenies. The Ocean Fish flavored treats contain at least 27% crude protein, 12% crude fat and less than 10% crude fiber and trace amounts of taurine. There is no more than 10% moisture in these treats, which is probably why they keep so well. These are not a bad food for my cats.

The Ocean Fish flavored cat treats from Feline Greenies are wonderful, though, pricy, nicely freshening the breath of cats of all ages!

For other cat treats, please check out my reviews of:
Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Perfect Bites Salmon Formula cat treats
Cloud Star Buddy Biscuits Savory Turkey & Cheddar Flavor cat treats
SmartyKat Catnip Mist catnip-infused spray


For other pet product reviews, please visit my Pet Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Summer Finishes Comedy Strong With We’re The Millers!

The Good: Funny, Generally decent acting
The Bad: Very predictable plot and character development
The Basics: This year’s summer runaway comedy film, We’re The Millers actually entertains and hits the right notes to be the year’s most enduring comedy.

Every summer since The Hangover (reviewed here!), the major studios have tried like hell to create a summer comedy that would have the staying power at the box office to last through August and into September in order to get the college crowd’s money, as well as captivating adults and becoming the must-watch movie for high school students. This year, New Line actually nails it with We’re The Millers, a comedy that has managed to maintain a place in the Top 5 of the box office for over a month and a half . . . and with good reason.

We’re The Millers is hampered most by the fact that it is painfully predictable in its plot and character development. Within the first fifteen minutes almost anyone who has ever seen a comedy film will be able to call pretty much the entire film. “Painfully predictable” undersells how obvious We’re The Millers is for the movie. The humor in We’re The Millers lands because verbally, the film is hilarious and the performers in it sell the lines they are given in an uncommonly smart way. In fact, it is surprising how funny We’re The Millers is, despite the plot being utterly blasé.

David Clark is a very active drug dealer who makes the mistake one evening of helping his neighbor’s son, Kenny, come to the aid of the homeless Casey, who is being mugged by guys who want her iPhone. David is robbed by the muggers, who steal his drug money and leave him in a precarious position for his distributor, Brad Gurdlinger. Brad tells David he will forgive the debt and even pay him $100,000 if David will go to Mexico to his weed source and smuggle back “a smidge and a half” of weed. Recognizing that he looks like the drug dealer that he is, David gets a haircut and hires Kenny, Casey, and his stripper neighbor, Rose, to pretend to be his family. They rent an RV and go to Mexico. There, they meet Pablo Chacon and get two tons of his weed before heading out.

Surviving a run-in with Mexican law enforcement, the faux-family (who go by the surname “Miller”) makes it to the U.S. border. There, they are accosted by another family – the Fitzgeralds – in their RV. The Fitzgeralds are boisterous, archetypal Americans, who express a lot of interest in the Millers and while the drug smugglers are eager to get away from the Fitzgeralds, when their RV breaks down they are forced to rely upon the other family. In the process of running from the Fitzgeralds and Pablo Chacon (and his one-eyed thug), the Millers bond, have awkward sexual blunders, and try to deal with Brad’s treacherous nature. In the journey, Dave and Rose realize they might have more in common than they thought and the Millers actually become a family.

We’re The Millers has a comedic dream cast and I give a lot of credit to director Rawson Marshall Thurber. Thurber is ballsy enough to put both Jason Sudeikis and Ed Helms – who fill the exact same niche and are almost the same height even! – in the same film as David and Brad, respectively. The scenes they are in together illustrate well why they are considered two of the funniest people working in the U.S. today. Nick Offerman plays off Sudeikis with hilarious results and Offerman and Kathryn Hahn have great on-screen awkward chemistry to play a plausible couple that has been together for a long time.

Thurber also deserves real credit for getting Emma Roberts out of her on-screen comfort zone. Roberts, who is one of my favorite younger talents, is anything but simple and charming in the role of Casey. In fact, this is a film that does not trade on any of the innate charm she presents in virtually every other film role she has had. What is unsurprising is how Jennifer Aniston plays a stripper who does not take it all off. Like virtually every part Aniston has played, Rose is a character with an extensive backstory and in the revelation of her past struggles, Aniston is called upon to emote largely through softening her more stern facial expressions. Aniston’s performance is largely familiar, but to her credit, she is daring when the movie calls for it and fans are likely to be excited by how far she goes to sell the character of Rose.

The whole reason to watch We’re The Millers, though, is not for the cast – though it is good – and it is not for the characters or the plot, but it is a must-watch for the lines. Not since Monty Python And The Holy Grail (reviewed here!), though my wife would say Step Brothers (reviewed here!), has there been a comedy that is as quotable with as many superbly absurd one-liners as We’re The Millers. The Hangover may have been the runaway summer comedy a few years ago, but We’re The Millers raises the bar now.

For other films with Ed Helms, check out my reviews of:
Arrested Development - Season Four
The Hangover, Part III
The Lorax
The Hangover Part II
Cedar Rapids
The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard
Monsters Vs. Aliens
Confessions Of A Shopaholic


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

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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