22 June 2013

TV DVD Review: "The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes": Volume Three: "Iron Man Unleashed"

Rated: TV-Y7 for fantasy violence
Starring: Eric Loomis, Brian Bloom, and Colleen O'Shaughnessey
Released: December 5, 2010 to January 23, 2011 (TV premiere) / October 25, 2011 (DVD)
Synopsis: The pulse-pounding action continues with six unforgettable episodes in Volume Three of The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes!  Enjoy all the thrills as Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, and the rest of the Avengers face off against Baron Zemo's Masters of Evil, and defend Earth from a full-scale alien invasion led by the time-traveling Kang the Conqueror!  Inspired by Marvel Comics.  As seen on Disney XD.
(Adapted from the back cover of the DVD)

Plots: 5/5
I finished this series in less than twenty-four hours, and that's saying something!  Seriously, this series is very enthralling, and the continual story arc makes it even better! You would have to watch the earlier episodes to understand the ones in this set, but you'd be all the better for it.

Production Values: 4.25/5
The voice work is awesome; the guy who does Iron Man really sounds like Robert Downey, Jr., and everyone else does well, too. The animation is mostly great, though I did notice some spots that could have used a bit more polish.  As for the action sequences--which is what everyone is watching for, anyway--they are all spot-on.

Content Concerns:

  • Sex: A couple of mild quips. 4.5/5
  • Nudity: Two male heroes are seen shirtless; two heroines and one villainess wears outfits that show cleavage and/or a lot of leg. 4/5
  • Language: Occasional mild name-calling. 4.75/5
  • Drugs: None. 5/5
  • Violence: The usual explosions, hits, kicks, projectiles, etc., are present here.  Living beings battle other living beings, and robot baddies get smashed and sliced.  Though there is no blood, the action does get a bit intense; probably the worst is when an arrow that is meant for one character misses her, but takes off part of her hair and hits another person. 2.5/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Along with the above, some of the monsters could be a bit scary for some kids. 3.5/5
  • Other: Nothing that I can remember. 5/5

Conclusion: Yet another great installment in the Avengers' animated series!  I don't know what to say other than this: Anyone who has watched and enjoyed the first two volumes of this Disney XD cartoon should definitely check out this third one!

Score: 4.5/5

18 June 2013

TV DVD Review: "Flight 29 Down": Volume One

Rated: TV-Y7
Starring: Corbin Bleu, Hallee Hirsh, and Kristy Wu
Released: October 1 to November 5, 2005 (TV premiere) / June 5, 2007 (DVD)
Synopsis: When their plane crashes on a remote island while en route to Micronesia, these L.A. high school students get a crash course in survival! However, working together isn't going to be easy with this cast of characters: Boy Scout know-it-all Nathan (Corbin Bleu, High School Musical), flighty blonde Taylor, spoiled Eric, level-headed Melissa, quiet Jackson, bossy boots Daley (Hallee Hirsh, Disney Channel's The Ultimate Christmas Present), and her brainiac younger brother Lex.  Will they ever learn to cooperate?  Created by Stan Rogow (Lizzie McGuire) and written by D. J. MacHale, author of the Pendragon series.

Review: I had high hopes for this series.  Being the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon fan that I am, live-action "kiddie" shows like this always pique my interest, especially when people from one or both of those networks are involved.  Unfortunately, this first "volume"--which is nothing more than the first four episodes edited into a movie--falls flat.  Though the acting and production values are great and the story is interesting enough, it just doesn't have that attention-grabbing factor that I've seen with other television shows intended for the younger set.  If you're an avid fan of the show, you probably already have all the DVDs; if you've never watched it, but really want to, get this first volume from the library before plunking down hard-earned cash on an entire season set.

Content Concerns: Some of the girls wear low-cut tops and/or short shorts; one girl is seen in a bikini twice.  Shirtless guys are also seen.  Violent content involves a plane crashing--obviously--and a kid getting hurt after a bad landing. (He recovers.) The scene where a girl gets leeches on her legs could freak some kids out.  A lack of closed captions or any sort of subtitles or dubbing makes this inaccessible for those who are hard-of-hearing or don't speak English.

Score: 2/5

15 June 2013

Quickie Audio Drama Review: "The Hiding Place" by Focus on the Family Radio Theatre

Written by: Corrie ten Boom (original book) / Dave Arnold (dramatization)
Starring: Brother Andrew, Wendy Craig, Isla Blair, Alec McCowan, et. al.
Released: April 21, 2005 (audio cassette and CD)
Synopsis: Corrie and Betsie ten Boom were merely two sisters who worked in their Father's watchmaking factory in Holland.  As World War II erupts, and Holland becomes subject to the Nazis, the ten Boom family does their Christian duty and helps the Jews by hiding them in their house.  Despite the persecution they and others face, they never lose sight of God, even teaching others about Him and His Word.  Based on a true story.

Review: This is a little bit different than the usual entertainment I consume; therefore, this review will be different as well.  Not only was the "audio drama" very well-produced--seriously, it sounded amazing on my headphones; I can only imagine how it amazing it would be on surround sound--but the story brings home a point that I have needed to hear for quite a while now.  I've always found it difficult to forgive others; instead of wanting to let people's wrongs go, I've always wanted them to suffer dearly, no matter what they had done.  When I listened Corrie and Betsie were wronged in ways I've never been, yet they were still willing to offer their forgiveness, that really "cut me to the heart".

Content Concerns: As with the book, this is a good story, but it's a bit too intense for children.  The emotional scenes, as well as the sound effects that imply violence, could freak some kids out.  The terms "wench" and "shut up" are used.

Score: 4.5/5

13 June 2013

DVD Set Review: "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers": Season One, Volume One

Rated: TV-Y7 for fantasy violence
Starring: Austin St. John, Walter Jones, and Amy Jo Johnson
Released: August to November 1993 (TV premieres) / August 21, 2012 (DVD)
Synopsis: After ten thousand years of imprisonment, the evil intergalactic sorceress Rita Repulsa has her sights set on destroying Earth.  The inter-dimensional being Zordon and his robot assistant Alpha 6 recruit five normal teenagers--karate star Jason, geeky Billy, pretty Kimberly, dancer Zack, and smart Trini--as Power Rangers, who can morph into superheroes to defend our planet from Rita's attacks.  However, it's not going to be easy to defeat Rita.  With Putty Patrollers crawling around, and one monster after another going on a rampage, the Rangers will have to work together and use every power in their arsenal...and even that may not be enough.  This is the genesis of the mega-popular franchise that is still going strong to this day; it all starts here.

Plots: 4.5/5
Sure, I love superhero stories, but how could a live-action Saturday morning series from two decades ago keep my attention? Well...it did.  Some have called the plots weak, and they are, but they're still gripping nonetheless.  Where this set excels is the five-episode "Green with Envy" arc, which is the Green Ranger's introduction; where it falters a bit is the annoyingly repetitive last episode in the two-parter "Island of Illusion".  I've been so gripped by this set, even my books and other DVDs have gotten short shrift!

Production Values: 2.25/5
The video quality ranges from moderate to quite grainy, though that might be as a result of there being ten episodes on each of the three discs.  The acting is mostly good, though it fails a time or two.  As for the special effects? Yes, they're low-budget and cheesy, but, the set was so involving that I really didn't care.  (You may feel differently.)

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: Kissing, flirting...totally innocent romance. Two guys accidentally end up in drag, which is played for laughs. 4.5/5
  • Nudity: Kimberly and Trini are seen in midriff-baring outfits and/or tiny shorts quite a few times, especially in the first several episodes.  The male Power Rangers are also seen shirtless a few times. 4/5
  • Drugs: Some of the stories involve chemical-induced transformations. 4.5/5
  • Language: "Gee" is used once or twice.  Name-calling is prevalent; one-word insults such as "nincompoop," "geek," and "pinhead" appear in most if not all of the episodes. 4/5
  • Violence: Martial arts battles; robot vs. villain fights; usage of fantasy-style weapons.  Comic slapstick violence, a la Drake & Josh, is present in every episode as well.  No blood or gore, though seeing a monster or two getting impaled is a bit disturbing. 2.25/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Some of the villains and scenarios could be a bit creepy to young children. 3.5/5
  • Other: Rita uses some magic that smacks of incantations and/or witchcraft. 3.75/5
Conclusion: The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and I have an interesting history.  I didn't get into the series as a kid until the introduction of the White Ranger, who soon became the most popular character.  I can still remember a scene for two from seeing the movie with Ivan Ooze as the villain.  Someone gave me a Power Rangers audio cassette that I listened to every day for a while.  Even my church was hip to it; they had a Vacation Bible School that was based on the series, calling us "Pray Rangers" and having skits with people in Power Rangers suits, with a guy dressed as a Bible taking the place of Alpha the robot.  Over the years, they appeared from time to time in my dreams, almost as if I somehow missed them.
In some ways, watching this has brought me back to the days of my childhood, when everything was seemingly much simpler.  It also has the feel of the debut album of a band that I didn't follow until late in their career; it reminds me of the time I got my hands on dc Talk's debut project, which was decidedly different from Jesus Freak, Supernatural, or anything on their "greatest hits" CD.  As such, despite its flaws, this twenty-five-year-old guy still finds it just as appealing as I did when I was in first grade.  Maybe the lack of budget is a bit more noticeable now, but I still found it enthralling.  I hope it won't be too long until I get my hands on the second volume of the first series...

Score: 4.5/5

12 June 2013

Movie Review: "The Amazing Spider-Man"

Rated: PG-13 for sequences of action and violence (US) / PG: "Not Recommended for Young Children, Frightening Scenes, Violence" (Canadian Home Video Rating)
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, and Rhys Ifans
Released: July 3, 2012 (theaters) / November 9, 2012 (DVD/Blu-Ray and digital download)
Synopsis: Teenage social outcast Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) spends his days trying to unravel the mystery of his past, and attempting to win the heart of his high school crush, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone, The Help).  A mysterious briefcase that belonged to his father, who seemingly abandoned him as a child, leads Peter to his dad's former partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans).  The discovery of his father's secret will ultimately shape his destiny of becoming "Spider-Man," and bring him face-to-face with Connors' villainous alter ego, the Lizard.
(Adapted from the back cover of the single-disc DVD edition)

Plot: 2.5/5
Normally, I like superhero films, but I found this one to be rather lackluster.  Though the narrative is good, it felt a bit slow for a movie based on a comic book.  It's definitely very different from what Tobey Maguire and Sam Raimi gave us in 2002, but, that change seems to be for the worse.  The bleakness of the ending makes things even worse.

Production Values: 2.5/5
Like any modern blockbuster, the special effects were great, and so were the action sequences and the acting.  Still, there's no escaping the lackluster feel.  What should have been a gripping, emotionally involving story ended up seeming pithy, trite, and dumb.  No amount of CGI or acting chops could rescue a movie from that. 

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: Peter and Gwen passionately kiss twice.  A random couple is also seen making out. 4.25/5
  • Nudity: A woman in a bra, Peter is seen shirtless, and Gwen wears a short skirt in one scene. 4.25/5
  • Drugs: The whole movie centers around chemical-based transformations. 3.5/5
  • Language: One or two uses each of the a-word, the d-word, and the h-word.  God's name is misused twice; Jesus' is misused once.  The expression "Mother..." is left unfinished once; another time, "Mother Hubbard" is used as a euphemism. 3/5
  • Violence: Plenty of explosions, crashes through walls, and the typical superhero stuff.  Two people are killed, and blood is seen in both instances.  Spider-Man gets some rather nasty gashes on his body as a result of fighting bad guys. 2/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: The Lizard is quite creepy, and bound to scare some little kids.  The two deaths mentioned above are a bit hard to watch. 2/5
  • Other: Peter lies to his aunt and uncle, and never atones for it. 4/5
Conclusion: What a disappointment this one was.  As someone who has liked superhero stories of all kinds for years, I expected this one to be really good, especially since everyone seemed to be singing its praises; frankly, I wonder if they were watching the same movie I just finished watching.  Sure, it had its moments--I particularly liked seeing Stan Lee as an oblivious librarian--but, as a whole, it was a travesty.  If you've already seen the wall-crawler's original trilogy a million times and are looking for a new Spidey adventure, I would suggest seeking out Spider-Man: The Venom Factor, which kept me glued to my seat like few movies ever do.  Still, I'm probably "preaching to the choir," as everyone who would have wanted to see this "amazing" movie has already done so.

Score: 2.25/5

08 June 2013

Audiobook Review: "The Bible Experience" by Inspired By Media Group

Written by: God (original text) / Zondervan (translator/publisher)
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Yolanda Adams, Kirk Franklin, Malcolm Jamal-Warner, Pastor Marvin Winans...and many more!
Synopsis: Do you think the Bible is just a stuffy, unexciting old book? The Bible Experience will prove you wrong.  Presenting God's Word as never before, this complete, word-for-word audio version of the Today's New International Version translation features several Oscar, Emmy, and Golden Globe-winning actors/actresses, and over twenty different Grammy-winning musicians.  Complete with a bonus "making of" DVD, this eighty-disc set is likely to enhance your Bible study and feed your soul!

Review: This is different than usual for me, but, the Bible is in a different league than any other book ever published! The audio stylings of this recorded Bible are actually great...for the most part.  Some parts could have been slightly more dramatic; I didn't think they should have a woman read a passage where the Word itself says it is "A Psalm of David"; the long musical interlude at the end of every book was a little annoying, though easily to skip; the acappella/jazz stylings in Revelation seemed out of place...and that's about it.  However, this audio Bible excels elsewhere.  The voice actors do well; the sound effects are great; and it makes for a very effective study tool.

Content Concerns: N/A
As I said in a previous audio Bible review, "The Bible is God's Word, and is not subject to the same analyses that I would give a Disney Channel movie or a Saturday morning cartoon." I will say that some may have a problem with the non-gender-specific language used in the TNIV; read it for yourself and see what you think before you spend your money on an audio version of it.

Score: 4.25/5

02 June 2013

Quickie Movie Reviews for May 2013

Rated: PG for action violence and scary images (US) / PG (Canadian Home Video Rating)
Starring: Jason Michas, Andrew Francis and Scott McNeil
Released: September 16, 2003
Bionicle: Mask of Light: What started as a set of blocks for kids to play with has turned into a media empire.  Between theme parks, computer and video games, and films such as this, Lego is big business these days.  I had one set of Legos as a kid, but wasn't too into them because my poor coordination made it hard for me to manipulate the pieces properly; however, I have the utmost respect for those who can make masterpieces with those little blocks.  It may sound strange that I would watch a movie such as this, but I love kiddie entertainment, especially of the action/adventure variety, so, I figured, why not?
However, the movie wasn't quite as good as I hoped it would be.  The animation was great, and the voice work was pretty good, too.  However, a weird story that seemed a bit hard to follow hurt the overall experience.  Still, any Lego fan who hasn't already seen this probably should, as they would probably understand it better than I did.

Content Concerns: Explosions, fights, and battles involving fantasy weapons appear throughout the movie.  The film starts out with an alternate creation story, and, though Mata Nui and Teridax have similarities to God and Satan, the usage of healing spells in Mata Nui's name sort of nullifies that.  Mata Nui's name is also used as an interjection.  Some of the scenes could be a bit scary to kids.

Score: 3/5

Rated: PG for action violence (US) / PG (Canadian Home Video Rating)
Starring: John Payne, Lisa Ann Beley, and Michael Dobson
Released: September 14, 2004
G.I. Joe: Valor Vs. Venom: Aside from playing a tie-in game on my Commodore 64, I didn't do anything with G.I. Joes as a kid.  Maybe it was because the military didn't hold much of a fascination for me, but, the whole universe was pretty much new to me upon reading the novelization of The Rise of Cobra (yes, there really was one.) Still, as someone who can appreciate a well-made action story, I got this DVD on the cheap at my local MovieStop.  Most viewers probably don't care, but this movie was written by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, who have also authored some amazing novels, both action/espionage ones and books within the Star Trek expanded universe.  The story itself is great, but the animation was also surprisingly good for a direct-to-video film.  The voice work is pretty good, even if it was by a bunch of no-names.  Even the story kept me involved until the end.  If you thought that the two Michael Bay movies were all visual flourish and no story, you should check out this one, where the graphics don't overpower the narrative.

Content Concerns: Plenty of explosions, gunfire, physical fights, airplane battles, etc.  Robots are regularly ripped apart, much like in The Phantom Menace.  The transformations that some people undergo within the film are slightly creepy.  "Jeez" is used once or twice.

Score: 4.25/5

Rated: PG for thematic material, some violence, sensuality, and mild language (US) / PG: Mature Theme (Canadian Home Video Rating)
Starring: Miley Cyrus, Liam Hemsworth, and Bobby Coleman
Released: March 30, 2010 (theaters) / August 17, 2010 (DVD/Blu-ray)
The Last Song: Based on a novel by best-selling, lovey-dovey writer Nicholas Sparks, this movie is a more dramatic role for Miley Cyrus than that secret identity pop star Hannah Montana.  Some have complained about her acting, but, I felt that she did a serviceable job.  Not being a big fan of romance, however, I did feel that the movie, though well-made, was a bit pokey.  Sure, it triggered some emotions--I just finished it, and my eyes are slightly heavy--but it still took some endurance for me to finish it.  Having not read the book, I can't comment on the similarities and differences, though the screenplay for the celluloid version was co-written by Mr. Sparks himself.  Parents of young children might want to read the below section before letting their kid see this, no matter how much they like Miley's sitcom on the Mouse network.

Content Concerns: The reasons for the "PG" were a bit lengthy, and watching it makes the reasons obvious: A guy makes advances on a girl, and, though she refuses, another female gets the idea that they were engaging in sexual activity.  Several scenes have girls in bikinis and/or shirtless guys, and Ronnie (Miley's character) is seen wearing some immodest outfits at times.  Two guys engage in a fistfight, and not only does one guy threaten the other with a crowbar, but one of them ends up with a bloody face.  There are a few misuses of God's name, d-words, and h-words contained in the film.

Score: 2.5/5

Rated: PG-13 for violence (Dove approved for ages twelve and up)
Starring: Kirk Cameron, Brad Johnson, and Chelsea Noble
Released: October 29, 2002 (DVD)
Left Behind II: Tribulation Force: This second installment is to the Left Behind movie trilogy what Attack of the Clones is to the Star Wars prequels: the middle, and weakest, part.  Though there is some action, much of the film pokes around.  It's not terrible; I kind of wish I had seen it before seeing World at War, because that would have helped me understand it a bit better.  Still, your opinion of this movie will likely depend on how much you like the entire series, even if you've only seen the first movie.

Content Concerns: There are a few violence sequences, including one where kids are shot, and another where people burn to death.  An affair is suspected, but it proves to be untrue.  A man's bloody face is seen.  Some insults, such as "Bible thumper," are tossed around.

Score: 3/5

Rated: Not Rated (US) / G (Canadian Home Video Rating)
Starring: January Jones, Logan Bartholomew, and Dale Midkiff
Released: November 20, 2004 (TV) / February 22, 2005 (DVD)
Love's Enduring Promise: The second of the celluloid adaptation of Janette Oke's historical/romantic fiction saga, it is as well-made and enjoyable as one would expect from a TV movie (other than Harriet the Spy: Blog Wars, of course).  The talent and craftsmanship here is great, but, that's to be expected when you have names such as Katherine Heigl (The Ugly Truth), January Jones (Mad Men), and Kevin Kiner (Star Wars: The Clone Wars) attached to the project.  Some may find it slightly slow-moving, and it is, but those who feel that a movie can be good without superhumans and/or gunplay will definitely like it.

Content Concerns: A man is accidentally wounded, and blood is seen coming from his injury.  Later in the film, his wound and another character's beat-up hands are seen, the former more than once.  The death of a child is part of the storyline.

Score: 4/5  

Rated: Not Rated
Starring: Erin Cottrell, Logan Bartholomew, and John Savage
Released: December 3, 2005 (TV) / March 14, 2006 (DVD)
Love's Long Journey: This sequel to Love's Enduring Promise--see above--has a different sort of feel.  Though some of the same characters appear, Erin Cottrell's Missie is different than how January Jones played her.  Still, it's another well-crafted historical/romance movie with positive mentions of Christian faith, likable heroes, despicable villains, and even a little intensity.  Anyone who enjoyed Love Comes Softly and Love's Enduring Promise will find plenty to like about this third flick.

Content Concerns: Shots are fired, two people are slightly bloodied, and one person is killed.  The word "injun" is used in regards to Native Americans.

Score: 4/5

Rated: Not Rated (Dove approved for ages twelve and up)
Starring: Jaclyn Smith, Lyndsy Fonseca, and C. Thomas Howell
Released: May 7, 2005
Ordinary Miracles: It's rather by-the-numbers, but this Hallmark-produced telefilm has a somewhat involving story and a positive moral base.  The production values aren't exactly high-scale, but those who enjoy low-budget, mostly clean dramas will find plenty to enjoy about this movie.  Unless you can find it super-cheap, though, I can only recommend a rental.

Content Concerns: The whole story involves a girl whose parents abandoned her.  The teenage female lead and a apparently older young man kiss a few times.  She also drinks, and has a sort of hallucination; whether or not the alcohol caused it is left to interpretation.  The two female leads wear tops that are slightly low-cut or high-rise.  God's name is misused a time or two.  In the finale, guns are pulled out, a store is robbed, and there is right much reckless driving and screaming.

Score: 4/5

Rated: Not Rated
Starring: Daniel Hugh Kelly, Matt Carmody, and Drew Powell
Released: September 9, 2001 (TV premiere)
The Ponderosa: Actually the series premiere for a single-season TV series that aired on PAX over a decade ago, this flick has a lot of emotion packed into its eighty-five minutes.  Though the production values are good, it isn't as exciting or thrilling as it could have been.  Western fanatics will probably devour it, but others should look elsewhere.

Content Concerns: Though this may have been made for a family-oriented network, it's edgier than one would expect from PAX.  There are two fights that involve both physical attacks and weapons; one of them ends with a fatal wound.  An explosion kills someone whose hands are seen bloodied as she dies.  People shoot at a man just for giggles, though he is not fatally wounded.  Drinking gets plenty of screen time, and smoking gets a little, too.  Language includes one h-word and a misuse of God's name, albeit in French.  Some of the intense emotions displayed may be a bit much for sensitive viewers.

Score: 2.5/5
Rated: Not Rated (US) / PG (Canadian Home Video Rating)
Starring: Christopher Daniel Barnes, Sara Ballantine, and Roscoe Lee Browne
Released: June 7, 2005 (DVD)
Spider-Man: The Venom Saga: Over the past few years, I have seen several direct-to-video superhero animated films, both within the DC and Marvel universes.  There were one or two that were better than normal--Superman: Brainiac Attacks, for one--but most were either mediocre or, in the cases of All-Star Superman or Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow, terrible.  Well, I'm here to tell you that Spider-Man: The Venom Saga creams all of them.  Even though it's merely a pastiche of five different episodes from the 90's Saturday morning 'toon, the intensity is ramped up so much that, aside from taking two brief breaks, I watched it all in one sitting.  It helps that the focus is on one villain, and that the movie has a continuous story; Spidey's other animated flicks didn't have that trait, and it hurt them.  Even if you weren't a big fan of previous titles in the series, such as Daredevil Vs. Spider-Man, this is at least worth a rental for any fan of the webslinger.

Content Concerns: Plenty of fantasy violence throughout, though none of it is bloody or graphic.  Potentially scary content involves the symbiote, which behaves much like a demon, and the stealing of people's "life-forces" in the final episode.  Name-calling includes "freak" and "fool," and three different guys are seen shirtless; one in his underwear.  Madame Web, a psychic sort of character, appears twice towards the end.

Score: 4.75/5

Rated: PG for mild action and brief smoking
Starring: Forrest Landis, AnnaSophia Robb, and Lea Thompson
Released: March 1, 2008 (theaters) / January 20, 2009 (DVD)
Spy School (aka Doubting Thomas): For once, I don't know exactly what to say, but I'll give it my best shot: This kiddie spy flick combines elements of Agent Cody Banks and Big Fat Liar.  It also ranges from cute to zany to disturbing, all in only eighty-six minutes.  It made for mediocre viewing, however; I'm sure most families can do better.

Content Concerns: Violence is the main issue here; adults threaten kids, and kids act in self-defense.  Seeing a teacher point a gun at two kids may be disturbing, in light of recent events.  Elsewhere, some girls wear short skirts, and a performance by the band Huckapoo--who?--is a bit sultry.  Language is limited to one misuse of God's name.

Score: 2.25/5

Rated: 14-A (Canadian Home Video Rating)
Starring: Kim Delany, Dean Cain, and David Cubitt
Released: 21-23 May 2006 (TV premiere) / August 1, 2006 (DVD)
10.5: Apocalypse: Right from the get-go, 10.5 Apocalypse has destruction and people in peril.  Though the story itself is great, the cinematography is not, and the special effects look like graphics from an old-school video game.  Also, there are some significant content issues, as listed below.

Content Concerns: At least half of the movie depicts destruction and death, and many people are seen bloody or dead, if not both.  Other deaths are implied.  At least ten or fifteen profanities are present, mostly d-words and h-words.  A few women are seen in everything from a sports bra and shorts, to a lacy bra, to Vegas showgirl attire.  A husband and wife are seen passionately kissing, though they are interrupted before they can go any further.  Gambling gets mentioned, and plays a bigger part than it should.  Smoking and alcoholism are present.

Score: 2.25/5

Rated: PG for thematic elements (Dove approved for all ages)
Starring: D. David Morin, Gavin McLeod, and Jennifer O'Neill
Released: October 25, 2002 (limited theatrical) / October 7, 2003 (VHS/DVD)
Time Changer: A Christian movie involving time travel, with elements of a fish-out-of-water comedy, that makes a rather sobering point about the state of the world in which we live? I'm all for it! Seriously, this has to be one of the best Christian movies I've seen that wasn't by the Kendrick brothers.  Sure, the special effects are a bit cheesy, but the excellent point outweighs any negative factors.  This movie may be a decade old, but the points it makes, especially the chilling ending, seem even more timely eleven years later given recent events.  If there was one little-known Christian film I would recommend to my believing friends, this would be it, hands down.

Content Concerns: Not much to speak of here.  Two girls mention getting drunk, though they are vilified for it.  As bad as the language gets is one usage of "gosh," albeit by a Christian character.  The scene where the protagonist goes back in time, as well as the ending, could be a bit freaky for some kids.

Score: 5/5

Rated: PG for mild thematic elements
Starring: Ray Walston, Ashley Peldon, and Diane Ladd
Released: September 14, 1997  
The Westing Game (aka Get a Clue): Based on a classic children's novel written by Ellen Raskin, this movie is as good as any no-name kiddie telefilm.  The plot is engaging and has a surprise ending, but one or two characters are annoyingly weird, and the computer that is used to find clues is aggravatingly unrealistic.  On the positive side, Christian faith and a handicapped person are both portrayed in a positive light.

Content Concerns: The beginning is mildly scary.  Some insults are tossed around.  The protagonist kicks a guy in the leg more than once.  A father lies to his daughter.  All in all, it's about as mild as what you're likely to see on the Disney Channel.

Score: 3.75/5

Rated: Not Rated
Starring: Phil Vischer
Released: December 6, 2011 (DVD)
What's in the Bible? with Buck Denver: Volume One: In the Beginning: What was supposed to be fun edutainment about God's Word ended up being annoying, silly, and nothing but a big waste of time.  Though there are some facts to be learned from this DVD--and, one would guess, its sequels--the weird accents and lame jokes from the puppet characters make it hard for viewers to take much of anything from it.  Little kids might love it, but everyone else should stick to watching VeggieTales or The American Bible Challenge.

Content Concerns: Two ladies criticize the show, just like Statler and Waldorf did to the Muppets; however, it ends up coming off as mean-spirited and not very funny.  A bet is made.

Score: 1.5/5

Quickie Book Reviews for May 2013

Priced to Move (Shop-Til-U-Drop, No. 1) by Ginny Aiken: As a shopaholic and a longtime fan of Christian fiction, this seemed right up my alley.  Unfortunately, it turned out to be a mediocre whodunit that focused more on precious stones than bargain hunting.  Since I already have the third book in the series thanks to an eBay lot I recently purchased, I will probably keep reading it; hopefully, the series will improve as time goes on.

Content Concerns: The aftermath of a murder is described, and a person is held at gunpoint.  A woman leaving her husband for another man is discussed.  The narrator/protagonist claims to be a Christian, but doesn't act that way sometimes, yet never admits to any wrong.

Score: 3/5
Mercy Kill (Star Wars: X-Wing, No. 10) by Aaron Allston: The X-Wing novels are probably only behind the Thrawn books when it comes to popular Star Wars Expanded Universe novels.  However, this late sequel completely fails to live up to its predecessors.  The writing is only average, and the story is quite hard to follow.  Fans of Lucas' space opera would do better to read pretty much anything else in the EU than this.

Content Concerns: Though I was unable to finish it, here's what I encountered while attempting to read it: About five or six profanities, various fisticuffs, as well as a scene where a guy tries to take advantage of a woman.

Score: 1/5
Decision Points by George W. Bush: Many people derided "W" during his presidency, but how much do we really know about what went on behind the scenes? Our forty-third Chief Executive draws back the curtain a bit, and exposes some urban myths about him and his associates, as well as admitting to failures, both before and during his presidency.  He also speaks of current President Barack Obama in kind terms.  If politics are your thing, or you'd like to know more about the second President Bush, you can't go wrong with this book.

Content Concerns: Profanity throughout, only a small amount of it censored.  The photos section has some women dressed in off-the-shoulder or low-cut dresses.  Drunkenness gets mentioned, although "W" describes his alcoholism as a problem.

Score: 4/5
Chloe (The Women of Ivy Manor, No. 1) by Lyn Cote: From the Roaring Twenties to the Great Depression, Chloe lives through an epic time in America's history.  Unfortunately, the writing does not match up.  Fans of historical Christian fiction might like it, though they probably won't love it.

Content Concerns: An infant suffers from convulsions; people drink alcohol at a speak-easy; and that's about as problematic as it gets.

Score: 2.75/5
Mr. Monk Gets Even (Monk, No. 15) by Lee Goldberg: Lee Goldberg's final "defective detective" novel is quite the ride.  Between an old nemesis escaping, Stottlemeyer being framed as a criminal's accomplice, and the thought that Monk may actually be wrong about a murder, this one is a bit head-spinning.  As usual, Mr. Goldberg's writing is great, though I wish he would choose a different narrator for once.  There were some content problems, though; see below.

Content Concerns: The Monk books aren't usually as family-friendly as the TV series, and this one is no exception.  At least ten profanities--and one that is implied--alongside descriptions of murder scenes that are mildly creepy.  One scene even features a woman who is intentionally nude so as to trigger Monk's gymnophobia.  Smoking and drinking also gets mentioned.  Discerning readers should stick to the DVD season sets.

Score: 2.25/5
Blood Ransom (Mission Hope, No. 1) by Lisa Harris: A better-than-average page-turner about a fictional African nation, Blood Ransom throws in doses of both action and romance.  It's nothing amazing, but, those who enjoy "page-turning fiction" should find plenty to like about it.

Content Concerns: Two people are murdered, and other killings are implied.  A woman's life is threatened.

Score: 3.25/5
Steve Jobs by Walter Issacson: One of the most influential and eccentric individuals in recent history, Steve Jobs has left an indelible mark on our society that will be felt for years to come.  Everyone knows him as the genius behind Apple and the main competitor of Bill Gates, but how much do you truly know about the late Mr. Jobs? Full of information about everything from his family life to his business dealings to his living situation and then some.  Though a true account, some people may be shocked by the nature of the content; see below for more.

Content Concerns: Along with mentions of drug use and illicit sex--including once where Mr. Jobs is a voyeur of sorts--profanity abounds.  F-words and s-words get quite a workout, as do "milder" expletives such as d-words, h-words, and such.  Mr. Jobs is portrayed as being a rather angry individual at times.

Score: 2.5/5
Nicolae High (Left Behind: The Kids, No. 5) by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye: The four kids who have been "left behind" go back to school for the first time after the disappearances.  Not exactly as heart-pounding as the previous entries in the series, but this volume seems to imply that things are about to get crazy.

Content Concerns: Aside from the possibly offensive Rapture theology and one brief scene where a young female character is threatened by a predator, I can't think of anything that would bother anyone in this book.  The violence that was present in the prior novels is nowhere to be found here.

Score: 3.75/5
The Underground (Left Behind: The Kids, No. 6) by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye: In this sixth outing, Judd, Lionel, Vicki, and Ryan produce a newspaper called The Underground so that they can spread the real story behind the mass disappearances to their classmates.  However, such material is banned by the school administration, and their newsletter could have dire consequences.

Content Concerns: The cliffhanger ending is a bit intense; that's about it.

Score: 4/5
Busted! (Left Behind: The Kids, No. 7) by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye: The seventh outing picks up right where the previous one left off, and is intense and dramatic without being violent.  Still, I have a feeling that things are about to get really crazy, and I really wish the authors would quit beating around the bush and get to that point.

Content Concerns: The intensity might be a bit much for some readers.

Score: 3.5/5
Death Strike (Left Behind: The Kids, No. 8) by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye: By the end of this novel, things become insanely crazy for the four kids, which hopefully means more intensity as the series goes on.  I don't want to spoil it, but I will say that the remainder of the series looks promising.

Content Concerns: The final chapter or two, which involves the death of at least one main character, might freak some kids out.

Score: 4.25/5
Winter Turns to Spring (The Four Seasons, No. 4) by Catherine Palmer and Gary Chapman: The last book in the series, Winter Turns to Spring paints a stark, yet seemingly realistic portrait of a marriage quickly gone wrong.  (I say "seemingly" because I've never been married, so how would I know what being that way is like?) Though the story is emotionally heavy, the great writing that was in every previous entry in the series continues here.  I did feel that the ending left me hanging, almost like the last aired episode of a soon-canceled television show; still, no series needs to go on forever.

Content Concerns: A man is a drunkard, and cheats on his wife by committing adultery and looking at pornography, though that is all vilified.  There is a car accident and a house fire, as well.  Reincarnation gets mentioned, though that is vilified as well.

Score: 3.5/5
I Brake for Yard Sales and Flea Markets, Thrift Shops, and the Occasional Dumpster by Lara Spencer: Based on the title, you might think that this book is right up my alley.  However, Ms. Spencer really talks about finding home decor and furniture at yard sales and such, whereas I usually buy entertainment.  Some of her tips ring true no matter what you shop for, and the photography is well-done...but it isn't quite what I was expecting.

Content Concerns: Some profanity/euphemisms (a d-word, "freaking") as well as a few crude expressions ("put on your big girl panties," etc.)  The author herself is shown wearing some rather short skirts, and one page has a nude--though not photorealistic--painting by Picasso.

Score: 2.5/5
The Library Card by Jerry Spinelli: As a pro-library person, I expected to like this book...but it proved to be a bit lackluster. The four stories were all fairly mediocre and mostly unrealistic. Even those who are anti-library would probably not be swayed the other way after reading this.

Content Concerns: Some mentions of graffiti and other criminal activity in the first story, and quite a bit of "TV-Y7"-style fantasy.

Score: 2.25/5
Sushi for One (Sushi Series, No. 1) by Camy Tang: Not since Anne Hathaway and Kate Hudson duked it out in the absurd "comedy" Bride Wars have I experienced women acting in such an immature fashion.  Between name-calling, trying to punish a young girl for remaining single, and other inane behavior, this novel was only entertaining in a train-wreck or Mystery Science Theater 3000 kind of way.  I already own the sequel, Only Uni, but I'm not even going to read it; it's going in my "get rid of" bag!

Content Concerns: The women, both young and old, act like the kind you'd expect to see on reality television than the ladies one would hope to meet at church.  True, some of the characters aren't Christians, but those who are regularly betray their faith.  Also, remaining single is vilified, and it shouldn't be (1 Corinthians 7:8).  Elsewhere, there is talk of a teenage girl getting breast implants, and various "girl things" (sports bras and such) are mentioned.  A rape and its aftermath are also discussed.  (You can tell I didn't like this, can't you?)

Score: 1.5/5 
Heart of Ice (Triple Threat, No. 3) by Lis Wiehl with April Henry: I tell you, I've been in a Lis Wiehl craze lately.  This is the third book I've read in the past two or three weeks that was written by her.  Just like the previous Triple Threat books, this one is an enthralling and intense murder mystery; only this time, there's a femme fatale that seems like the girl next door.

Content Concerns: Along with people being shot and/or killed--sometimes in graphic detail--there are details of a woman dealing with breast cancer and a crude allusion or two.

Score: 4/5
Eyes of Justice (Triple Threat, No. 4) by Lis Wiehl and April Henry: If you thought the previous Triple Threat novels were intense, wait until you read this one! When one of the three ladies of the Triple Threat is killed, the other two search for her killer...only to become targets themselves! That's about all I'll say; I would rather not give away the plot of this apparent finale in the literary quadrilogy.

Content Concerns: At least one person is murdered, and at least one other is thought to have been killed.  The descriptions of the crime scene(s) get quite lurid at times.  The (female) detectives go to a strip club, but only to find clues.  One character makes a mistake because she is drunk.

Score: 4.5/5
The Bride of Stone by Thomas Williams: Though this fantasy novel was somewhat enjoyable, it wasn't quite as epic as it could have been.  The writing could have been better, and the story moved too quickly.  Some fantasy fans would probably like it, and rightfully so, but I found it to be merely mediocre fare.

Content Concerns: A woman is mistreated by her father.  A man has an illicit affair.  Some nude statues are described in lurid detail.

Score: 2.5/5

DVD Set Review: "Zoey 101": The Complete First Season

Rated: TV-G
Starring: Jamie Lynn Spears, Sean Flynn, and Christopher Massey
Released: February 13, 2007 (DVD)
Synopsis: Pacific Coast Academy was once a boys-only school, but, now that girls are allowed to attend, Zoey Brooks (Jamie Lynn Spears) is joining her younger brother, Dustin (Paul Butcher), at the beachfront school.  She immediately befriends Chase (Sean Flynn), who has a huge crush on her, and Michael (Christopher Massey), both of whom show her the ropes.  She and her roommates--sweet, boy-crazed Nicole (Alexa Nicholas) and no-nonsense tomboy Dana (Kristin Herrera)--and her other friends, including crazed inventor/scientist Quinn (Erin Sanders), get into some crazy adventures! Whether it's attending a dance where everyone's date is assigned via a personality quiz, trying to get Drake Bell to perform at a social function, or dealing with a classmate (Allison Scagliotti-Smith, Drake & Josh) who steals Zoey's "crafty" idea, laughs, drama, and romance abound! Filmed on location at Pepperdine University.

Plots: 3/5
Though relatively engrossing, the episodes in this set pale in comparison story-wise to DanWarp's other creations, most notably iCarly, VICTORiOUS, and Drake & Josh.  They're more lighthearted dramas than insane sitcoms, and the former just isn't Mr. Schneider's strong suit.

Production Values: 4.5/5
At least the set is relatively well-crafted.  The sets are great, though that's probably only because they used a real university.  The acting is pretty good, yet nothing special.  Some of the music, especially the theme song, can be annoying at times.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: Totally G-rated romance; kissing, flirting, etc.  About as innocent as Lizzie McGuire in that department. 4.75/5
  • Nudity: Shirtless guys, and the girls tend to wear tiny shorts and/or tops that show off their midriffs.  Occasionally, girls/women are seen in bikinis as well. 3.5/5
  • Drugs: One character eats some genetically engineered chips that have some drug-like side effects. 4.25/5
  • Language: At least one misuse of God's name per episode. 3.75/5
  • Violence: Mostly slapstick, though one scene does feature Zoey having a bloody nose. 4/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Nothing really; it's all quite lighthearted. 5/5
  • Other: Some bathroom humor. 3.75/5
Conclusion: The first time I watched a full episode of Zoey 101, I called it "a half-hour of my life I can never get back."  Though I wouldn't quite say that now, I would say that this series--at least, based on this first season--pales in comparison to pretty much anything else Dan Schneider has ever created.  Those who adore this series probably have already watched this set twenty-plus times, but, for those who are new to it, I would suggest catching an episode of Drake & Josh or iCarly, or watching the movies Big Fat Liar and Good Burger.  Those are much funnier and more involving than I found Zoey 101 to be.

Score: 3/5

01 June 2013

Book Series Review: "Merlin" by James Mallory

Synopsis: Born as a product of magic, Merlin, the famed, legendary wizard, is raised by his foster mother Mab, after his biological mother dies after giving birth to him.  When Mab turns selfish and cruel, Merlin turns against her...and their war of magic will change the world.  Based on the NBC miniseries starring Sam Neill and Helena Bonham Carter.

Plot: 4/5
The trilogy starts off interestingly enough, but loses steam towards the end of the finale.  It's not as action-packed as one would expect, but the story still kept me going until the end.  I haven't seen the original miniseries, though, so I can't comment on if or how it deviates.

Writing: 4.5/5
The book reads like an original novel instead of one based on a movie or TV show.  Those who have had problems with previous novelizations of other entertainment will likely have no such qualms with this one.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: An Oedipus-style relationship is implied, though not discussed in graphic detail.
  • Nudity: None that I recall.
  • Language: Occasional usage of the d-word.
  • Violence: A bit of fantasy action, some of which involves people being killed, but nothing graphic.
  • Drugs: None that I recall.
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: If you're old enough to understand this series, there's likely nothing in it that will freak you out.
  • Other: Some criticism of the Christian faith, a la Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, might bother some readers.
Conclusion: I came across these at a local library sale, and was glad to find that the entire series was available; I just finished it today, just a mere two weeks after buying them.  What did I think? Though the writing is better than usual for a movie/TV novelization, it still feels like it is inferior to the original miniseries.  Die-hard fans of the original and/or all things Arthurian have probably already devoured it, and even a casual fan might enjoy it, but everyone else should probably stick to getting the miniseries on DVD.

Score: 2.75/5