30 September 2013

Quickie Book Reviews for September 2013

Author: Evan Angler
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Published: May 1, 2012
Swipe (Swipe, No. 1) by Evan Angler: Evan Angler's first novel starts off what seems to be a crackling good series. With plenty of intensity, a bit of romance, and a world that is decidedly dark but eerily smacks of our own, this book had me hook, line, and sinker. This one may be considered "young adult" fiction, but I have a feeling that older readers will be just as enthralled. I hope I can get my hands on the later books in the series very soon.

Score: 4.75/5
Author: Isaac Asimov
Publisher: Fawcett Crest
Published: November 1953
Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids (Lucky Starr, No. 2) by Isaac Asimov writing as Paul French: This second entry in the Lucky Starr series by "Paul French" (actually, Isaac Asimov) feels like an abridged version of previously published novel. Though the story is good, it's a bit rushed, and it seemed like some of the plot threads could have been expanded upon a bit. I have little doubt that Asimov fanatics will adore this; for those of us who are casual fans of the Grandmaster, you might want to wait until you've read all his other works before reading this one.

Content Concerns: Some sci-fi action and peril.

Score: 3/5
Author: Margaret Wander Bonnano
Publisher: Pocket Books
Published: September 30, 1991
Probe (Star Trek) by Margaret Wander Bonnano: This book reminds me of my first experience with Star Trek...but that isn't a good thing. When I was in high school, I attempted to watch Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, and couldn't finish it because it was quite boring. It wasn't until I saw Nemesis that I became a fan of the franchise. Probe was also rather unexciting, and is likely to turn off potential readers of other Trek novels if this is their first experience with such literature.

Content Concerns: As usual, there is a bit of language.

Score: 2/5
Author: Ruth Bjorklund
Publisher: Benchmark Books
Published: April 28, 2000
Kansas (Celebrate the States) by Ruth Bjorklund: Seriously, just go see my previous reviews of the books in this series.

Score: 4/5

Author: Robin Carroll
Publisher: Multnomah
Published: September 16, 2008
In the Shadow of Evil by Robin Carroll: This Christian-themed mystery isn't anything special, but it made for an enjoyable read nonetheless. Any fan of Christian fiction who hasn't already read this should do so, but don't expect it to be groundbreaking.

Content Concerns: As usual for mysteries, murder and mayhem occur throughout. Fires are set, and they endanger or kill multiple people, including a baby.

Score: 3.5/5

Author: Melody Carlson
Publisher: Multnomah
Published: September 16, 2008
The Other Side of Darkness by Melody Carlson: A literary critic once said that Melody Carlson writes the hardest-hitting novels in all of Christian fiction, and this book proves him/her right. Though very bleak in tone, the narrative is so amazingly written and compelling that I must give The Other Side of Darkness five stars. Ms. Carlson's story of a woman's spiritual struggle that unwittingly wreaks havoc on her family and friends is flat-out amazing. Even those who aren't usually fans of Christian fiction will probably still enjoy this.

Content Concerns: If this were a theatrically released movie, the MPAA would likely give it "PG-13 for thematic material". The narrator sees demons at every turn, and goes to great lengths to eradicate them from her home, even going as far as destroying her family's Christmas tree. There are also accusations of sexual abuse and implied swearing. This is definitely not kid stuff, and probably too much for even some teens and adults.

Score: 5/5

Author: Ted Dekker
Publisher: Center Street/FaithWords
Published: September 13, 2011
Forbidden (Books of Mortals, No. 1) by Ted Dekker: Ted Dekker is a rarity: a Christian author who has consistently had mainstream success. One look at his writings, and it's not hard to see why: he tells a compelling story, and does it amazingly well. The Books of Mortals series is off to a crackling good start with this premiere novel, which I read for the second time so I could re-familiarize myself with the story arc before I read the last entry in the series. Anyone who enjoyed Mr. Dekker's Circle trilogy should definitely check this out.

Content Concerns: The length alone makes it not for kids, but it's also a bit too edgy for the very young.

Score: 4.75/5

Author: Brandt Dodson
Publisher: Harvest House
Published: March 1, 2006
Original Sin (Colton Parker, No. 1) by Brandt Dodson: Does adding in a few positive references to God and Jesus automatically make a book "Christian"? That's the question I asked myself after reading this. What seemed like a mere murder mystery spent much of its time talking about the porn industry. Granted, the author kept it tasteful, but I couldn't shake the feeling that it was merely a censored version of a trashy television show. Ephesians 5:12 says, "It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret" (NIV), and this book comes a little too close to that for my tastes. This is one case where I wished I hadn't shelled out the cash--okay, store credit--for more than one entry in the series at my local used bookstore.

Content Concerns: See above.

Score: 2.25/5

Authors: Jason Elam and Steve Yohn
Publisher: Tyndale
Published: January 1, 2010
Blackout (Riley Covington, No. 3) by Jason Elam and Steve Yohn: It's funny how the amazingly talented author Joel C. Rosenberg endorsed this series, because, while reading this third entry, it felt like a knock-off of his works.  There's plenty of action and excitement, but it feels a bit lackluster, and the annoying space-wasting format made the thickness of the book deceptive.  Fans of thrillers might enjoy this, but, everyone else should stick to Mr. Rosenberg's works.

Content Concerns: The usual action, violence, and suspense that is always present in these books is just as prevalent here.

Score: 2.75/5

Author: James Kahn
Publisher: Ballantine/Del Rey
Published: October 12, 1980
World Enough and Time (New World, No. 1) by James Kahn: This first book in a time-travel trilogy is enthralling despite its content problems. A page-turner without the annoyingly brief chapters, it proves that James Kahn can create his own stories instead of just adapting others'. I look forward to the next one in the series; I'm glad I already have it!

Content Concerns: Some language and occasional sexual descriptions are present.

Score: 3.5/5

Authors: Beverly Lewis
Publisher: Bethany House
Published: May 1, 2009
The Secret (Seasons of Grace, No. 1) by Beverly Lewis: It's no question that Amish stories are the most popular genre of Christian fiction. Beverly Lewis, who has written countless volumes about the Plains people, does well once again with The Secret, which is the start of yet another series. Fans of Amish fiction will find plenty to like about this one.

Score: 4/5

Authors: James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet
Publisher: Multnomah
Published: December 14, 2009
Witch and Wizard (Witch and Wizard, No. 1) by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet: Though tales of magic and sorcery have been around for ages, the insane popularity of J. K. Rowling's "Boy Who Lived" has spawned countless "spellbinding" movies and books.  Veteran author James Patterson, who has authored everything from the Alex Cross legal dramas to the sci-fi/superhero series Maximum Ride, tries his hand at such a yarn with Witch and Wizard.  How does it stack up? Well, it's definitely different than Harry Potter; about all the two have in common is that they're fantasy stories intended for young readers.  Still, James Patterson's typical page-turning writing made for a captivating, edge-of-your-seat story.  If you've already blown through Maximum Ride more than once, and are looking for another great read, check this out.

Content Concerns: Along with the expected use of magic, this book contains some language, violence, and frightening scenes.  You may want to "screen" this before handing it to a young child.

Score: 4.5/5

Author: Kim Stanley Robinson
Publisher: Bantam Spectra
Published: June 1, 2004
Forty Signs of Rain (Science in the Capital, No. 1) by Kim Stanley Robinson: Ever since I watched The Day After Tomorrow several years ago, I have been interested in what some would call "disaster fiction".  Unfortunately, this movie feels like the first part of a blockbuster flick; it spends its time merely foreshadowing what's to come.  I'm hoping that the next two books actually have a bit more intensity.  Not only that, but some of the punctuation errors were quite atrocious, especially from an experienced writer.  It seems that Mr. Robinson and/or his editors were sleeping on the job.  If you can overcome those issues, this is worth reading, though I would suggest getting the sequels and reading them soon after; otherwise, you may feel like someone unplugged your DVD player only thirty minutes into the movie.

Content Concerns: Quite a bit of profanity, including right many f-words.  A woman breastfeeding a baby is luridly depicted.  A character feels that the world is doomed because of people who "believe in God" and "probably vote Republican".

Score: 3/5

Author: J. R. R. Tolkien
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Published: July 29, 1954
The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, No. 1) by J. R. R. Tolkien: I have to be honest: I tried reading this book when I was younger, and I didn't like it. Why? At the time, I would have told you that I couldn't follow it; now, I realize that I felt that way only because it was a book instead of a Nintendo video game. Now that my priorities have changed and my interests have broadened--only for the better--I am now old enough to appreciate such a work. This first volume in J. R. R. Tolkien's trilogy is epic in its scope, detailed in its writing, and has an ending that leaves you wanting to read the next one. As I said in my review of The Hobbit: If you're a fantasy fan, and haven't read this yet...what are you waiting for?

Content Concerns: If you're old enough to read any other book of this length, then there's nothing in here that's inappropriate for you.

Score: 4.25/5

Quickie Movie Reviews for September 2013

Rated: PG for mild action and some rude humor
Starring: Taylor Lautner, Taylor Dooley, and Cayden Boyd
Released: June 10, 2005 (theatrical release) / September 20, 2005 (DVD)
The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D: The first two Spy Kids movies were great; the third one, not so much.  However, even that was better than this mess, which suffers from cheesy special effects and an inane plot.  Though this movie has become popular recently thanks to Taylor Lautner appearing in Twilight, I can't imagine that even fans of that vampire romance would like this, unless they can't refrain from drooling over Jacob Black in any form.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: None. 5/5
  • Nudity: Mild cleavage. 4.75/5
  • Language: Some name-calling. 4.5/5
  • Drugs: None. 5/5
  • Violence: Plenty of "TV-Y7"-style fantasy violence is present here.  The kids fight against alien enemies, but there is no blood or gore.  Also, some of the bullying involves kids throwing things at each other. 4/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Some of the monsters and other beings on the "dream planet" could scare some kids; I particularly thought the computer-generated fish were hideous. 3/5
  • Other: Some crude humor is present. 4/5
Score: 1.75/5

Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements and brief disturbing images
Starring: Eduardo Verástegui, Tammy Blanchard, and Manny Perez
Released: October 26, 2007 (wide theatrical release) / May 6, 2008 (DVD)
Bella: Though this film was heralded as the best of the year by critics and movie watchers nationwide, I only found it moderately enjoyable. Sure, the story was moving, and the makers showed admirable restraint for a "PG-13" film, but it still felt slightly lackluster, especially with the ambiguous ending. If you have yet to see Bella, it might be worth borrowing from your local library, but I definitely wouldn't recommend purchasing this unless you got it really cheap.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: The whole movie centers around an unmarried woman's unplanned pregnancy, though no one is seen in bed together. 3.5/5
  • Nudity: Nina's midriff is seen in one scene. 4.5/5
  • Language: Nina says someone is "such a piece of...", but she is cut off before she can finish that statement. 4.5/5
  • Drugs: A pregnant woman is seen smoking.  A family drinks alcohol at the dinner table, but one person politely refuses because she is pregnant.  Nina mentions that she misused drugs as a teen, but only to say how wrong it was. 3.5/5
  • Violence: A hit-and-run accident kills someone, and the bloody results are briefly seen.  A woman bangs her head against a mirror out of stress.  3.75/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: The hit-and-run incident mentioned above is made even more tragic by the fact that a little girl is the victim, and her mother is shown losing her mind when she sees it. 3/5
  • Other: In addition to unplanned pregnancy, abortion is mentioned, which is not a kid-friendly theme.  Also, some of the dialogue is spoken in Spanish with English subtitles, which would also frustrate young viewers. 3/5
Score: 3.5/5

Rated: Not Rated (Dove approved for ages twelve and up)
Starring: Janine Turner, Mike Norris, and Amanda Alch
Released: August 28, 1998 (Disney Channel premiere) / January 8, 2002 (VHS)
Birdie and Bogey: Despite the critical drubbings they tend to get, I usually enjoy Christian-themed films, but I didn't care for this one.  The title character of Birdie was rather bratty and annoying, so much so that I was waiting for her to die, as the back cover of the DVD said she would.  With big names such as Janine Turner and Chuck Norris attached to this project, you'd expect it to be a hit; instead, it was a mere dud.  It was so terrible that I couldn't finish it; I seriously wished I was playing Mario Golf on my Game Boy Color instead.

Content Concerns: I didn't watch the entire thing, but the best thing I can say about it is that the content was very clean.

Score: 1.5/5

Rated: TV-G
Starring: Erik Von Detten, Sam Horrigan, and Christina Vidal
Released: August 28, 1998 (Disney Channel premiere) / January 8, 2002 (VHS)
Brink!: I missed out on a lot of the Disney Channel Original Movies in the past, because I didn't like anything on there other than the sitcoms.  Now that I'm a bit more mature and have broader tastes, I've found that I can appreciate DCOMs better than before.  This particular movie has some crazy rollerblading action, and was gripping enough to make me want to see it through to the end, even though I couldn't care less about sports, even of the "extreme" variety.  I knew that the Mouse network knows how to make a telefilm, and they did just that with this one.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: None. 5/5
  • Nudity: None. 5/5
  • Language: One use of the h-word, and two misuses of God's name. 4/5
  • Drugs: None. 5/5
  • Violence: Some of the extreme sports action leads to injuries, including one incident where scrapes are left on a skater's arm. 3.75/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: The scenes where the skaters get injured are a bit wince-inducing. 4/5
  • Other: "Brink" and others show disregard for school rules by skating on school property.  Also, Brink goes behind his parents' back by skating for a sponsored team. 3.5/5
Score: 4.5/5

Rated: TV-G
Starring: Camille Guaty, America Ferrera, and Susan Egan
Released: July 26, 2002 (Disney Channel premiere)
Gotta Kick It Up!: Before Rocky and CeCe "shook it up," this was how the Mouse network did dance.  The dance moves were impressive, the production values were great, and the entire Latina cast was quite good-looking.  I've said before that Disney Channel knows how to make telefilms; this is further proof.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: Some of the dance moves were a bit suggestive. 4/5
  • Nudity: Bare midriffs and off-the-shoulder tops are seen a few times; short shorts/skirts, even more often. 3.5/5
  • Language: One misuse of God's name. 4.5/5
  • Drugs: None. 5/5
  • Violence: None. 5/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Some slight emotional intensity. 4.5/5
  • Other: The girls break school rules at times to get what they want. 4/5
Score: 4.25/5

Rated: Not Rated (Dove approved for ages twelve and up)
Starring: John Schneider, Bill Cobbs, and Nicole Gale Anderson
Released: November 13, 2012 (DVD)
Lukewarm: Inspired by Revelation 3:15-16, this movie is both a hard-hitting drama and a morality play.  Though the acting was rough in a few spots, and the ending did feel slightly rushed, it's still a good movie with an excellent point.  I would caution parents that, because of the themes, this is not for young children; teens and older could understand and enjoy it, though.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: The two lead characters are "shacking up," but that is vilified.  It is implied that a guy is having one-night stands; also vilified. 3.5/5
  • Nudity: One female character wears a short skirt, and some slight cleavage is shown. 4/5
  • Language: One misuse of God's name and one h-word. 4.25/5
  • Drugs: The main character works at a bar, which makes alcoholic beverages and drunkenness referenced throughout, though it is vilified. 3.5/5
  • Violence: A man is killed in a car accident, and an elderly guy is attacked by three other men. 3/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: See "Violence". 3/5
  • Other: Someone becomes physically ill. 4/5
Score: 3.75/5

Rated: PG for action violence
Starring: Karan Ashley, Johnny Young Bosch, and Steve Cardenas
Released: June 30, 1995 (theaters) / November 21, 1995 (VHS) / September 2, 2003 (DVD)
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie: Like most people of my generation, the Power Rangers were right up there with Wishbone, Bill Nye, and Mario among my favorite entertainment characters.  I even saw this movie in the theaters all the way back in 1995, and vaguely remembered some of the scenes, including the ending.  What I didn't remember was the content issues--see below--and that some of the special effects were as cheesy as they were on the original Fox Kids show, though they look even worse in a movie setting.  Not only that, but, these "heroes" seem a bit wimpy, as their first reaction is to scream when encountering a monster instead of fight.  If you have recently discovered or re-discovered the Power Rangers thanks to Shout! Factory's recent DVD releases, this might be worth borrowing from your local library...but don't purchase this unless you see it at a yard sale for no more than a dollar.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: A bit of kissing. 4.5/5
  • Nudity: Kimberly spends the beginning of the movie in a midriff-baring outfit, and a female warrior wears something that looks like a bikini. 3.5/5
  • Language: Some name-calling. 4.5/5
  • Drugs: The main villain, Ivan Ooze, uses chemicals in his ooze to affect adults. 3.5/5
  • Violence: The heroes and villains battle it out throughout the movie.  All of the bad guys explode or disintegrate bloodlessly, though a rock monster is cut in half, Darth Maul-style. 3.25/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Ivan is rather scary, and the scene where he turns the parents of Angel Grove into zombies could creep some kids out.  Also, the Rangers encounter some animal skeletons, one of which comes to life. 2/5
  • Other: Some of the otherworldly powers may come too close to witchcraft for some viewers. 4/5

Score: 2.75/5

Rated: PG for some mild thematic elements
Starring: Kirk Cameron
Released: March 27, 2012 (theaters) / July 3, 2012 (DVD)
Monumental: Kirk Cameron (Growing Pains, Left Behind) sets out on a journey to figure out the truth behind the founding of our nation.  His discoveries, when contrasted with what is taught in public school and college textbooks, are both enlightening and scary.  Anyone who believes that the Founding Fathers and our forefathers were nothing but a bunch of atheists, agnostics, and deists should watch this film.  The only reason it's being criticized is because Mr. Cameron is spreading a message that some people don't want to hear.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: Colonist raping the Native Americans is briefly mentioned. 4.5/5
  • Nudity: None. 5/5
  • Language: None. 5/5
  • Drugs: None. 5/5
  • Violence: Some violent moments in history are mentioned, and the re-enactments, though mild, are slightly violent. 4.25/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Even the re-enactments that are not violent are a bit scary. 3.5/5
  • Other: The themes of this movie will likely confuse young kids. 4/5
Score: 4.75/5

Rated: PG for reasons unspecified by the MPAA
Starring: Leonard Nimoy, Orson Welles, and Casey Kasem
Released: August 8, 1986 (theaters) / November 7, 2000 (DVD)
The Transformers: The Movie: I know very little about the Transformers, but this movie was still enjoyable if only because it was a visual feast.  Though this film may have been made a few decades ago, the animation and effects are better than much of the recent 'toons that Cartoon Network has put out recently.  The hand-drawn animation is blended seamlessly with the CG, and, even though the story was the usual "good guys versus bad guys" thing we've all seen countless times, the technical mastery alone make it worth watching.  If you're tired of Michael Bay's efforts to revamp this old-school franchise, take a look at this one to see the big-screen version of the Transformers as they were originally intended to be, without excessive profanity or sultry young actresses.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: Nothing worse than a car being called "sexy". 4.5/5
  • Nudity: None. 5/5
  • Language: Two profanities, and some slight name-calling. 4.25/5
  • Drugs: None. 5/5
  • Violence: As you'd expect in a movie like this, there is "action violence" throughout.  Though there isn't any blood or gore, several robots are sliced into pieces; one even dies. 3/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Some of the evil robots are a little scary. 3.5/5
  • Other: Some slight crude humor. 4.5/5
Score: 3.5/5

09 September 2013

Movie Review: "Extreme Days"

Rated: PG for some thematic elements and crude humor
Starring: Dante Basco, Ryan Browning, and Cassidy Rae
Released: September 28, 2001 (theatrical) / January 29, 2002 (DVD)
Synopsis: Four Californian guys (Dante Basco, Ryan Browning, A.J. Buckley, and Derek Hamilton) are on the road trip they've dreamed of their whole lives, when one of them finds out that his beloved grandfather has died.  While en route to Washington state to claim his inheritance, the guys meet the lovely Jessie (Cassidy Rae), a Christian young lady who is in kind of a tough spot.  Extreme sports action, romance, and surprises abound for all five of these young people.  Featuring music from contemporary Christian artists such as TobyMac and PAX217.

Artistic Merit

Plot: 3/5
The story starts out interestingly enough, but it isn't long until it veers into inanity.  Granted, guys will be...well, guys, but some scenes are stupid enough that they're only enjoyable in the train-wreck kind of way.  Even the ending leaves some plot threads unresolved.

Soundtrack: 2/5
Do I like Christian music? Yes.  Did I like this movie's soundtrack? No. Why, you ask? Most of the songs featured are noisy and/or annoyingly repetitive, with lyrics apparently taken out of context to make them sound like what you'd hear on your local hard rock station instead of what you can find at your local Christian bookstore.  The song mentioned in the title, "Extreme Days" by TobyMac, doesn't appear until the final credits, and gets cut off before the best part so that a dumb song can be played instead.

Production Values: 2.5/5
I didn't notice any problems with the acting, but the filmography leaves something to be desired.  The extreme sports sequences look like they were taped from ESPN and stuck into the movie.  Also, the video quality varies, with some scenes looking okay, others looking a bit grainy.

Moral Content

Positive Elements: 3/5
Jessie's Christian faith is portrayed in a positive light.  She also refuses to engage in sex outside of marriage, even though she admits past sins in that area.  One of the guys shows some generosity to a few homeless people.

Sexual Content: 3.5/5
See the second sentence under "Positive Elements".

Nudity: 4/5
One of the guys is shown shirtless, and part of Jessie's midriff and back are shown once each.

Language: 5/5
No profanity.

Violence: 3.25/5
The violence in this film ranges from rough-and-tumble extreme sports action to comedic pratfalls.  It's all done without blood and gore, though.

Drugs: 5/5

Frightening/Intense Scenes: 5/5
None that I remember.

Other: 2/5
The "crude humor" that the MPAA warned about is quite present here.  One of the guys gets into the bed, unclothes, and "dirties it up" so that no one else can use the bed.  All four of them try to light their flatulence on fire, which is both dangerous and dumb.  A poem alludes to "crushed privates." Not only that, but two of the guys have a bet going on, and it is only canceled due to lack of funds and emotional stress.

Conclusion: When this movie came out, I was a die-hard fan of Christian music, especially TobyMac, whose song "Extreme Days" was likely the genesis of this film.  Somehow, though, I missed it, and even checked it out from the library at least once, but never got around to watching it before the due date.  Thanks to the clearance rack of my local MovieStop, I was able to find this for a mere three bucks, and thought I was getting a great deal.  Now that I've watched it, I feel that I wasted my money; despite its Christian moments, CCM soundtrack, and PG rating, it still didn't amount to a very good movie.  Fans of extreme sports may disagree; however, I've found that a movie can be enjoyable, even when the subject matter is of no interest to me.  The Climb (a mountain-trekking film) and Believe in Me (which was about girls' high-school basketball) are perfect examples of that.  Still, Extreme Days failed in that regard; even if you like extreme sports movies, I would suggest the Disney Channel Original Movies Brink! or Motocrossed instead of this mess.  It had such potential; what a shame it didn't live up to it.

Score: 2.25/5

05 September 2013

Movie Review: "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow"

Rated: PG for sequences of stylized sci-fi violence and brief mild language (US) / PG: "Frightening Scenes, Violence" (Canada)
Starring: Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Angelina Jolie
Released: September 17, 2004 (theaters) / January 25, 2005 (DVD)
Synopsis: Roving reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow, Iron Man) gets contacted by a scientist (Julian Curry) who says he has valuable information.  Upon meeting him, she hears of a group of scientists called Unit Eleven, who were working with a mysterious figure known as Totenkopf (Sir Laurence Olivier).  Just after the meeting, mega-sized robots attack cities worldwide, and only the infamous Sky Captain (Jude Law) is able to stop them.  However, what is Totenkopf trying to do? Why is he attempting to kill off all the scientists who know of his project? Will Polly and the Sky Captain be able to stop him? A rollicking adventure in the style of an old-school Saturday serial, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a sight to behold!

Warning! The review below may contain spoilers!

Artistic Merit

Plot: 4/5
It's a little slow-going at the start, but the plot of this movie actually works well.  It definitely kept me interested enough to see it through, even though this was my third attempt at watching it.  The last part is particularly intense.

Special Effects: 4.5/5
The whole feel of this movie is different than usual Hollywood fare; its whole point is to evoke a setting of days gone by, and it does that well.  Though almost all of the special effects are done amazingly well, some of computer animation would look better in a Pixar film than alongside real actors.  Still, this is definitely one of those movies that is made for the big screen.

Acting: 5/5
I generally don't watch movies with modern-day screen legends such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, or Angelina Jolie, only because the content keeps me away.  To actually see these people onscreen is a big treat, and their acting ability shines, even alongside tons of special effects.  Ms. Paltrow gets special kudos, as she did some hilariously amazing facial expressions.

Moral Content

Positive Elements: 4/5
Themes of self-sacrifice for the greater good abound.  Playing God is vilified.  All of the heroes constantly look out for each other.

Sexual Content: 4/5
It is mentioned that the Sky Captain was "running around" on Polly.  The two appear in bed together with another guy, but it is revealed that they were rescued, and didn't do anything inappropriate.

Nudity: 4.5/5
The bed scene mentioned above shows Polly's bare shoulders and part of the two guys' bare chests.  Polly does pull up her blanket to see if she is clothed, and she mentions that she is not, though nothing explicit is shown.

Violence: 3.5/5
Though not bloody or gory at all, the violence and intensity might be a bit much for little kids.  Weapons are fired; robots are killed; people punch and kick each other.  Probably the most serious bit of violence is when a guy gets electrocuted and reduced to a skeleton.

Language: 3.75/5
The d-word and the h-word are heard about two or three times each, and God's name is misused about as many times.  "Shut up" is heard.  Private anatomy gets mentioned once, albeit in a subtitle.

Drugs: 5/5

Frightening/Intense Scenes: 2/5
The whole movie has a dark tone.  Also, a dead body is seen, and we are shown a guy who was turned into a monster because of failed experiments.

Other: 4/5
Polly admits to lying at times.

Conclusion: Every so often, one of the major studios will release a movie that is aimed at adults, but doesn't contain the kind of explicit content that is usually seen in such films.  The Lake House, which starred Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves, is such a flick; Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is another.  Unfortunately, given the poor performance this movie had in theaters, it's not likely that we will see a flick of this nature for quite a while.  It's a shame; if "mature" viewers hadn't let the "PG" rating keep them away, they might have found an enjoyable, original flick.

Score: 3.75/5

01 September 2013

Quickie Movie Reviews for August 2013

Rated: Not Rated
Starring: Ken Davis
Released: February 21, 2006 (DVD)
Ken Davis: Second Chances: More of a live sermon than a movie, Ken Davis' message about God giving us second chances is as needed today as it was in 2005. Though the first VeggieTales movie presented exactly the same point, Mr. Davis does it with more sophisticated humor and in a harder-hitting style. It's lighter on laughs than I was expecting, but what it lacks in chuckles, it makes up for in impact. One thing's for sure: After watching this story, you'll know that the story of Jonah and the big fish isn't just kiddie stuff!

Score: 4/5
Rated: TV-G (US) (Dove approved for all ages)
Starring: Robyn Lively, Loren Dean, and Skyler Day
Released: August 6, 2011 (NBC premiere) / December 6, 2011 (DVD)
Who Is Simon Miller?: Action/espionage stories can be fun, but this one is ruined by the fact that the two kids and their mother are Mary Sues.  An eighteen-year-old girl who can speak both Spanish, French, and even a little of other languages? A teenage boy who never met a password or encryption code he couldn't crack, and knows how to manipulate any device ever made? Seriously, that's just ridiculous.  Though it's family-friendly, the telefilm ventures into such silliness that I'm not even sure kids would like it.  (This kid at heart certainly didn't.)

Content Concerns: The MPAA would likely have given this movie "PG for action violence".  People fight; two people get captured; guns are pointed at others.  I think this falls into the "TV-Y7-FV" category. Product placement is a bit too prevalent.

Score: 2/5

Quickie Book Reviews for August 2013

Arkansas (Celebrate the States) by Linda Jacobs Altman: Yet another of my literary travels, this one is just as well-written and informative as the others. It covers all the same areas, and makes for fun edutainment. Pretty much anything that could be said about the previous two Celebrate the States books could be said about this one.

Content Concerns: One of the photos shows some boys only wearing swim shorts, and another shows a girl in short shorts.

Score: 4/5
Hostage Lands by Douglas Bond: A Christian-themed book that brings history alive, Hostage Lands was so good that I devoured it in one sitting. If you like historical fiction, you should definitely check this one out as soon as possible. The action, the intensity, the reality of it all...amazing, seriously.

Content Concerns: As the book deals with a historical war, there is some violence.

Score: 4.5/5
Indiana (Celebrate the States) by Marlene Targ Brill: By now, all of these reviews are starting to sound alike. So, I'll just say this: If you're looking for a book about Indiana, with facts, history, trivia, and such all in a convenient package...look no further.

Content Concerns: Nothing of note.

Score: 4/5
Michigan (Celebrate the States) by Marlene Targ Brill: The same as the other books...which is not a bad thing. That's about all I can say.

Content Concerns: Nothing of note.

Score: 4/5
Fool's Gold: Color Me Consumed (True Colors, No. 6) by Melody Carlson: A fish-out-of-water tale that also is a criticism of American consumerism, Fool's Gold is just the kind of story I like: engaging, easy to follow, and with a blatant moral lesson. As a bit of a shopaholic myself, I think this is definitely something I needed to read.

Content Concerns: Drunkenness, plastic surgery, vanity, and selfish attitudes are vilified. Young ladies dress immodestly...and it's not (always) vilified.

Score: 4.25/5
Blade Silver: Color Me Scarred (True Colors, No. 7) by Melody Carlson: As you might have guessed, this episode in the True Colors series deals with self-flagellation, aka cutting. Though the story and characterization were good, the ending was too quick. It's good for what it is, but it's definitely not the best of the series.

Content Concerns: Along with cutting, drug use and familial emotional abuse are mentioned throughout. Yes, they're vilified for the sins they are, but it still may be too much for some readers.

Score: 3.5/5
Bitter Rose: Color Me Crushed (True Colors, No. 8) by Melody Carlson: Magdela, aka Maggie, goes through quite the emotional struggle in this novel. As a child of divorce myself, I understood her struggles, although my situation was a bit different, as my biological father was gone when I was a mere infant. Still, Melody Carlson does very well narrating Maggie's story, though I could have done with a bit more actual Spanish. This is, in a way, better than the previous True Colors books.

Content Concerns: Divorce, implied affairs, discussions of sex, etc., all of which are just as vilified as they should be.

Score: 4.5/5
Faded Denim: Color Me Trapped (True Colors, No. 9) by Melody Carlson: Yet another book in the True Colors series, Faded Denim deals with eating disorders and body consciousness. Emily Foster starts to feel that she is "too fat," and starts binge dieting, while hiding it from everybody else. The lessons she--and others!--learn are valuable ones that everyone needs to hear. Fans of the series up to this point should definitely read this one.

Content Concerns: Binge dieting, needless plastic surgery, and bullying are all mentioned, but are also all vilified.

Score: 3.75/5
Tartarus (Kingdom Wars II) by Jack Cavanaugh: This spiritual-warfare-themed sequel features an engaging story, a wonderfully imperfect hero, and some shocking plot twists. Where it falters is the ending, which seems a bit too pat. Still, I enjoyed it for the most part.

Content Concerns: I'll have to spoil the plot a bit, so be warned: The entire book revolves around a demon who takes on human form to impersonate Jesus. Also mentioned are a human entering Sheol and the son of a Nephilim, as mentioned in Genesis. If taken literally, much of the book could be disturbing to some.

Score: 2.75
Timepiece by Richard Paul Evans: I'm largely unfamiliar with the writings of Richard Paul Evans, so, Timepiece was an introduction of sorts. Since it's apparently a prequel to an already-written book, it ends a bit abruptly, presumably leaving it open for the sequel. As such, I wasn't exactly satisfied with it, though it did prove to be somewhat enjoyable.

Content Concerns: Some usage of profanity.

Score: 2.75/5
Breath of Angel (Angelaeon Circle, No. 1) by Karyn Henley: Though I appreciate Christian fiction, this whole angels/Nephilim trend needs to stop. Not only is a a mere knock-off of the vampire and zombie stories that are popular worldwide, but these books about said otherworldly creatures are terrible. This one in particular is such a mess, I don't even know what to make of it. Shape the culture, people; don't imitate it!

Score: 1/5
Crater (Helium-3, No. 1) by Homer Hickam: The author of the beloved book Rocket Boys, which later became the movie October Sky, now is trying his hand at fiction, and the end result is actually very good.  A fun, kid-friendly interstellar adventure, Crater is well-written and enjoyable.

Content Concerns: Mild violence, a scant few instances of implied profanity, some intensity...about as innocent as what you are likely to see on the Disney Channel.

Score: 4.5/5
The Blue Door (Threshold, No. 1) by Christa Kinde: Ever since I read Frank Peretti's This Present Darkness a few years ago, spiritual warfare novels have enthralled me.  However, this one fails because there isn't enough intensity.  Though battling for the souls of mankind is mentioned, the angels act more like imaginary friends than warriors, and much of the book focuses on Priscilla "Prissie" Pomeroy attempting to make friends.  Even the scenes that should be intense don't feel that way.  As much as the topic of spiritual warfare has been written about, there are likely tons of better books on the topic.

Content Concerns: Anyone who can't/doesn't understand spiritual warfare should avoid this.  Of course, even if you do comprehend such matters, you'll probably want to avoid it, too; see above for why.

Score: 1.5/5
Arizona (Celebrate the States) by Melissa McDaniel: This literary trip uses both well-written descriptions and wonderful photos to show what Arizona is all about.  Though it may be intended for younger audiences, even some adults who are unfamiliar about the youngest state within the lower forty-eight will learn plenty here.

Content Concerns: A section mentions that several cities/towns have the word "hell" in their name.  People are seen in swimsuits in two or three photos, but they're far off in the distance, and the pictures are really meant to show the scenery.

Score: 4/5
The Dragon's Touchstone (Dragon Nimbus History, No. 1) by Irene Radford: This is the only book I have read to date that I can say gave me rather weird, disturbing dreams; regardless of that, the book never reaches above mere mediocrity. Fans of dragon stories would be better off reading something by Anne McCaffrey, Bryan Davis, or Donita Paul. Even the grammar--at least, in the edition I had--was pretty bad.

Content Concerns: Descriptions of lust and orgy-like festivals are quite prevalent. There are quite a few profanities. Some may quibble with the usage of magic, and that the heroine is a "witchwoman".

Score: 2/5
A Matter of Trust (Mia Quinn, No. 1) by Lis Wiehl with April Henry: After trudging through several mediocre or terrible books in the past few weeks--see my previous reviews--this was exactly what I needed. Fast-paced, wonderfully written, easily readable, suspenseful...what more could you want? Lis Wiehl has joined the likes of Frank Peretti, Ted Dekker, and Jack McDevitt by becoming one of my favorite authors!

Content Concerns: As usual for Ms. Wiehl's works, this one is quite edgy. Violence is depicted and referenced throughout, and homosexuality, suicide, sex crimes, and such are all discussed. If that's too much for you...stay away.

Score: 4.75/5
Star Wars: Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn: Have I fallen out of love with Star Wars? I'm not sure, but, most of the Expanded Universe novels I've read lately have been mediocre at best, even ones published before the prequel trilogy came out. Scoundrels is a decent novel, but definitely nothing special. Though most fans of Lucas' space opera have already read this at least once, those who are new to the EU should check out the Thrawn trilogy first.

Content Concerns: A few profanities and a bit of violence. The story is pretty much criminal vs. criminal, though anyone familiar with the original movie trilogy knows that Han ends up being a hero.

Score: 2.75/5