17 July 2013

DVD Review: "Good Luck, Charlie: Enjoy the Ride"

Rated: TV-G (US) / G (Canadian Home Video Rating)
Starring: Bridgit Mendler, Leigh-Allyn Baker, and Mia Talerico

Released: April 11, 2010 - November 27, 2011 (Disney Channel premieres) / June 18, 2013 (DVD)
Synopsis: The Duncans are one crazy family! Their stay-at-home mother, Amy (Leigh-Allyn Baker), dreams of being on television; their father, Bob (Eric Allen Kramer) is crazy about pest control; the firstborn, P. J. (Jason Dolley), is sweet, yet dumb; Teddy (Bridgit Mendler), the second child, is very smart and mature; Gabe, the next-to-youngest, is a troublemaker; and Charlie, the baby of the family, is as sweet and innocent as can be.  With such a dysfunctional family, you can bet they're going to get into some crazy adventures! Whether it's a date night for Bob and Amy that leads to the kids losing Charlie, a online video of Charlie that leads to the entire Duncan family (minus a mortified Teddy) making a mockery of themselves on the news, or Amy, Teddy and Charlie performing as The Duncan Sisters on Shake It Up, Chicago!, you're sure to laugh and smile all the way! Hang in there, baby, and Enjoy the Ride!

Plots: 4/5
The main reason I like the shows on Disney Channel is because they remind me of old-school programming, such as Mork & Mindy or I Love Lucy.  On that front, this set delivers.  The episodes go between zany, silly, and just downright bizarre, but I just couldn't help but laugh.

Production Values: 4/5
No one these days makes sitcoms like the Disney Channel.  Even Nickelodeon's iCarly and VICTORiOUS, as insanely fun as they can be, aren't exactly the same as what you can find on the Mouse network.  Of course, I doubt anything in this DVD set will change the minds of those who find Disney sitcoms to be inane tripe, but I would suggest at least giving the show a chance before completely brushing it off.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: A reference is made to different body parts on opposite gender babies.  P. J. becomes infatuated with a female TV character who is said to always wear a bikini, though she is never seen. 3.75/5
  • Nudity: Amy wears a few tops that show some slight cleavage.  The Shake It Up crossover episode features CeCe (Bella Thorne) wearing an outfit that shows some slight midriff. 4/5
  • Drugs: None; this is a Disney show! 5/5
  • Language: The euphemism "darn" is used once.  The episode "Teddy on Ice" features a sub-plot involving Charlie using bad language. (Spoiler: It is revealed that Amy taught her that word.) 4/5
  • Violence: Typical sitcom slapstick.  A TV show Bob watches features an alien who has a gun, and P. J. and Gabe watch a soap opera where someone gets shot (heard, not seen.) 4/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Nothing in this department. 5/5
  • Other: Some of the gags revolve around bathroom humor: flatulence, urination, etc. 4/5
Conclusion: Anyone who knows me knows that I have been a fan of Disney sitcoms ever since discovering Lizzie McGuire over a decade ago.  Though the network and its shows have changed since then, the dedication to family-friendliness remains true, as far as this set goes.  Fans of the series likely have already seen these episodes; I'm a bit new to the Duncan family, but even I had seen two of the episodes at least once before.  Still, for those who don't have cable but are curious about current sitcoms on the Mouse network, this would serve as a great introduction.  Recent headlines about the show have stirred controversy, but you won't see any of that here.

Score: 4/5

16 July 2013

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

Rated: TV-Y7 for fantasy violence
Starring: Austin St. John, Amy Jo Johnson, and Jason David Frank
Released: November 5, 1993 - May 23, 1994 (original TV premiere) / November 20, 2012 (DVD)
Synopsis: The evil Rita Repulsa is at it again! With her, her minions Goldar, Squatt, and Baboo, and her monsters, she will stop at nothing to destroy our planet! Who could stop her? Only the Power Rangers! With help from their Zords, and their allies--the inter-dimensional being Zordon and the android Alpha Five--they're ready to take on whatever Rita throws at them.  However, the monsters get increasingly powerful, and one Ranger's power gets stolen.  Will they still be victorious? As seen on Fox Kids.

Plot: 3.5/5
The plots contained within this second volume were mostly good; however, two of the episodes--"Trick or Treat" and "Mighty Morphin' Mutants"--spent too much time with nonsensical, filler sequences.  According to Wikipedia, the action sequences are merely dubbed versions of a Japanese series; maybe the makers ran out of such footage, and had to find some way to fill the nineteen-plus minutes required for an episode.  Where the plots are best are, as usual, the multi-episode story arcs, because the story within is more complex.

Production Values: 3/5
Yes, it's cheesy; still, it gets the job done.  The underwater battle in "An Oyster Stew" looks a bit dumb, though.  As with the previous set, the video goes from moderate quality to quite grainy.  In pretty much every episode, the closed captions get something wrong, whether it be what is said or the name of a character; Zordon is once referred to as "Zoldar".  Aside from all that, everything else--the acting, the action sequences, etc.--are at least moderately well-done.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: Kissing, flirting...totally innocent romance. 5/5
  • Nudity: Kimberly, Trini, and other young ladies are seen in midriff-baring outfits, tiny shorts, and even a bikini top once.  A secondary male character wears a costume that shows part of his chest. 4/5
  • Drugs: Some of the stories involve chemical-induced transformations. 4.5/5
  • Language: "Dang" 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.  Probably the most disappointing use of language is when a background song during a battle says, "Come into my h---." Also of note: A weird closed captioning error takes the word "dam"--which is used in completely innocent context by the Rangers--and replaces it with the profane homophone.  3.25/5
  • Violence: Martial arts battles; robot vs. villain fights; usage of fantasy-style weapons.  Some of the monster attacks leave burn marks on the Rangers or their Zords.  Comic slapstick violence, a la Drake & Josh, is present in every episode as well.  No blood or gore, though seeing a few monsters 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.  One or two episodes involve Rita kidnapping family members of the Rangers. 3.25/5
  • Other: Rita uses some magic that smacks of incantations and/or witchcraft. 3.75/5
Conclusion: What a ride! Though there were some rough spots, I still feel a sense of accomplishment just for finishing all sixty episodes of the first season of this series.  In some ways, it's not as good as it was when I was a kid; I definitely didn't notice the cheesiness back then.  On the other hand, I still found it quite exciting and enjoyable.  In some ways, it's kind of like The Witches of Oz: cheesy, inane at times, not as polished as it could be...yet it still kept me glued to the screen.  Maybe I'm just a sucker for family-friendly entertainment, but, I imagine that I'm not the only one around my age or older who has shown interest in this set. (If nobody else liked it, why is Shout! Factory planning on releasing the entire series on DVD?) As long as you know what you're getting before you buy/rent this, you should like it.

Score: 4/5

12 July 2013

Movie Review: "Alleged"

Rated: Not Rated (Dove approved for ages twelve and up)
Starring: Nathan West, Ashley Johnson, and Fred Thompson
Released: November 8, 2011 (DVD/Blu-Ray)
Synopsis: Charles Anderson (Nathan West) is living in the small town of Dayton, Ohio, but he has big dreams: to write for a big-name paper, and to marry his sweetie, Rose (Ashley Johnson, Growing Pains).  When he overhears word of a landmark trial on creation vs. evolution, he becomes the protégé of then-legendary Baltimore Sun editor H. L. Mencken (Colm Meany).  However, Mencken is not all that he seems.  Worse yet, Rose's epileptic sister is about to be sterilized in hopes of a better world in the future, and there seems to be nothing Rose or Charles can do about it.  Can they save her? Will Mr. Mencken be found out for what he is? Also starring former Presidential candidate Fred Thompson.  Based on a true story.

Warning! Possible spoilers below!

Plot: 3.5/5
It's a bit slow, but it still works.  Even though the trial is largely a sham, it ends up having repercussions that are still felt around the world today.  I did have a problem with the ending, though: It goes from the happiness of a wedding to the bleakness of what happened later on to the evolutionists.  Also, one "big reveal" scene towards the end didn't seem to make sense.

Production Values: 4.5/5
Not much to complain about here.  Well-made, great sets, excellent acting--especially from Ashley Johnson, who I only knew previously for playing youngest daughter Chrissy on Growing Pains--good soundtrack...what's not to like? The one problem I did have was that the subtitles/captions were awkwardly large, though they thankfully didn't lag like they do in many direct-to-DVD releases I've seen.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: A "reproductive issue" and sterilization are discussed; though they are not described in detail, young kids might be confused by it. 3/5
  • Nudity: Rose is seen in a nightgown that shows a bit of leg. 4.5/5 
  • Language: One use of a b-word, and some name-calling. A racial slur is seen written on a piece of paper. 3.75/5
  • Drugs: Some drinking and smoking.  Charles gets drunk, and behaves weirdly and becomes ill as a result. 3/5
  • Violence: A guy chases someone while shooting a gun at him.  A kid kicks Charles, and a man punches him in the face. 4/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Some emotional intensity. 3/5
  • Other: Bodily functions--vomiting, urinating, burping--are seen, heard, and/or implied. 3.75/5
Conclusion: To be frank, I was slightly disappointed by this movie, but that's probably because I've been waiting quite a while to see it.  Now that I finally have, I do feel it was good, but nothing in it blew me away.   For fans of Christian cinema, this is likely worth a rental, but nothing more.

Score: 3/5

01 July 2013

Quickie Movie Reviews for June 2013

Rated: TV-Y7 (US) / G (Canadian Home Video Rating)
Starring: Drake Bell, Josh Peck, and Miranda Cosgrove
Released: January 6, 2006 (Nickelodeon premiere) / January 31, 2006 (DVD)
Drake and Josh Go Hollywood: Based on the popular Nickelodeon sitcom, this movie pales in comparison to the original show.  Though there are some goofy, funny moments, it still felt a bit lackluster to me.  Even with a running time of merely seventy-four minutes, I still struggled to get through it.  D&J fanatics have likely already watched this a thousand times, but those who are more casual fans of the show should stick to watching reruns on TeenNick, or buying the episodes via iTunes or elsewhere.

Content Concerns: Plenty of slapstick violence, but no blood or gore.  God's name is misused once or twice, and the brothers are referred to as "boobs," though that is crudely misinterpreted in one scene.  Various young ladies, including Megan, wear outfits that show more skin than they should, such as a midriff-baring swimsuit or a short, off-the-shoulder top.  Some parents may have qualms with the fact that MTV gets an endorsement at the film's end.

Score: 2.5/5
Rated: "Intended to be viewed by children ages 5 and up" (manufacturer's advisory)
Starring: Lisa Ann Beley, Doron Bell Jr., and Don S. Davis
Released: September 27, 2003 (VHS/DVD)
G.I. Joe: Spy Troops: The Movie: This is the shortest movie I've seen in a while; I think the last time I watched a film that was less than an hour long was when I saw Wallace and Gromit as a kid.  Length aside, this toy-inspired, computer-animated flick featured plenty of great action sequences and some rather suprisingly slick visuals.  Though intended for young children, older folks who are still "kids at heart" might find this to be an enjoyable diversion; still, a running time of only forty-four minutes makes this only worth a purchase if you're a collector.  Everyone else should just check it out from your local library.

Content Concerns: Though "intended [for] children ages 5 and up," I would stick a "TV-Y7-FV" rating on this, because the fantasy violence might be a bit much for even five-and-six-year-olds.  Right from the get go, there are missile blasts, gun fights, sword fights, hand-to-hand melees, explosions, and pretty much every other kind of non-graphic violence.  There's no profanity or sexual content, but some may feel that this movie's intensity is a bit much for the kiddies.

Score: 3.5/5

Rated: Not Rated (Dove approved for all ages)
Starring: John Risner, Jacob Cherney, and Misty Steele
Released: August 18, 2011 (DVD)
Redemption Ride: I usually like Christian movies, but I found this one hard to get through.  For a movie about a champion bicycle racer, it seemed quite pokey, more like a chess match.  Though the story was decent--nothing special, but passable--the poor acting, dull pacing, and poor soundtrack pretty much ruined this for me.  Unless you're a bike racing fanatic, I would suggest staying away from this, and watching October Baby, Time Changer, or one of the Kendricks' movies instead.  It had promise, but it simply fell flat.

Content Concerns: It is mentioned that the protagonist used steroid-like drugs.  The main character spends quite a bit time in bicycle shorts.  Some emotional scenes might be too much for young kids.

Score: 1.75/5

Rated: PG-13 for some violent content and mature thematic elements
Starring: Lynn Collins, Michael Ealy, and Bruce McGill
Released: September 21, 2012 (theaters) / March 5, 2013 (DVD)
Unconditional: Ever since Mel Gibson's celluloid interpretation of the crucifixion of the Savior of the world, cineplexes and video stores/libraries have been flooded with Christian-themed movies.  Some are amazing: Time Changer and Fireproof are good examples.  Others of them are garbage, such as the horrible C Me DanceUnconditional happens to be in the middle.  Though the story kept me interested and the production values were mostly great, Lynn Collins was an ineffective--though attractive--leading lady.  Much like a made-for-cable TV movie, this is only worth watching once.  If your on demand or streaming service doesn't have this, you should check your local library.  I can't recommend purchasing this, though.

Content Concerns: Like To Save a Life, this is a Christian drama that is not for young children.  Violence abounds: a guy gets shot, two guys get into a brawl that leaves one man's face bloodied, a guy gets a nasty cut on his hand from another man taking a knife to him, a boy gets bit by a snake, etc.  Though not exactly violent, a character's medical issues lead to him losing some blood, which could be rather freaky for kids as well.  The emotional intensity would also be a bit much, too.  This is one case where the "PG-13" rating is appropriate.

Score: 3.5/5

Quickie Book Reviews for June 2013

Demi Lovato: All Access (Totally Unauthorized!) by Riley Brooks: This book may be a biography, and, therefore, non-fiction, but non-fiction can still be entertainment, especially when it's about a celebrity of any sort.  This "totally unauthorized" book was published in 2009, before Ms. Lovato had her psychological issues.  Since things have changed for her big time in the past four years, this biography is a bit outdated.  The stats--her birthdate and birthplace, for example--and stories about her past are still true, but people who are looking for up-to-date information will feel like their DVD player was unplugged when there was still a half-hour of the movie left.

Content Concerns: The photo section shows Demi and other young ladies wearing short skirts or off-the-shoulder tops.  Right at the end, Demi's most embarrassing moment, which involves accidental exposure of her private parts, is mentioned.

Score: 2.75/5
The Kingdom (Fargo Adventures, No. 1) by Clive Cussler with Grant Blackwood: Clive Cussler is well-known for his action/adventure writings, and it's books like this one that prove why.  Fun, engaging, exciting, and everything one could want from such a novel.  If you haven't read anything by Mr. Cussler...what are you waiting for?

Content Concerns: Some violence, but nothing terribly graphic.  The h-word and d-word are used about three or four times each.

Score: 4.25/5
The Search (Left Behind: The Kids, No. 9) by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye with Chris Fabry: The Young Tribulation Force's ninth outing involves one kid being captured, and the other kids putting it all on the line to save him, all while World War III has broke loose.  Exciting, intense, and gripping, this is what "end times" fiction should be.

Content Concerns: As mentioned above, kidnapping plays a big part in this book.  There is also some violence, as well as one or two depictions of smoking.  The intensity might be a bit much for young kids.

Score: 4.5/5
On the Run (Left Behind: The Kids, No. 10) by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye with Chris Fabry: The young adult end times serial continues; in this episode, one of the kids gets imprisoned.  By now, there isn't much left to say about the series, so I'll just say this: If you've enjoyed the series up to this point, you'll probably enjoy this tenth volume, too.

Content Concerns: A bit intense, but that goes with the subject material.

Score: 4.5/5
Into the Storm (Left Behind: The Kids, No. 11) by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye with Chris Fabry: Those who have been reading the series up to this point--or following my reviews of it--should know what to expect by now.  So, I'll just say that this eleventh volume is pretty much more of what the previous books gave us.  As a fan of the series, I say that's a good thing; you may feel differently based on your experiences with these books.

Content Concerns: Intensity, action, end-times theology…again, more of the same.

Score: 4.25/5
Earthquake! (Left Behind: The Kids, No. 12) by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye with Chris Fabry: As the title suggests, the ground is literally shaking throughout this twelfth entry in the series.  As such, it is probably the most intense and involving volume so far.  If you've read the series up to this point, you must continue with this one.

Content Concerns: Disaster violence and peril, which also involves characters getting injured and possibly killed.  Like I said above, it's the most intense one yet.

Score: 4.75/5
Taliesin (The Pendragon Cycle, No. 1) by Stephen R. Lawhead: Though epic in its scope, I found this trilogy-starting novel a bit hard to follow.  I think I understood the basic plot, but some of the details were confusing.  What should have been an amazing historical epic ended up being merely mediocre.

Content Concerns: This isn't really for kids, anyway, but, there was some violence and consumption of alcohol.

Score: 2.5/5
No Guys Pact (Holly's Heart, No. 9) by Beverly Lewis: After a bit of a hiatus from the Holly's Heart series, I am now back into it! This one feels like a cross between VeggieTales and Lizzie McGuire, and makes for enjoyable reading.  Of course, if you didn't enjoy the first novel or two in the series, you wouldn't even care about this one...right?

Content Concerns: Some Nickelodeon-sitcom-esque pratfalls.  A prank involves the girls' underwear being put on display, but that is vilified.

Score: 4/5
Little White Lies (Holly's Heart, No. 10) by Beverly Lewis: When Holly-Heart and her BFF Andie Martinez take a two-week jaunt to SoCal, everything seems great…until Andie falls in love with Rico, a nineteen-year-old guy! Holly knows Rico is bad news, but Andie doesn't seem to realize that.  Will she see the truth in time? Not the best of the Holly's Heart books, but still pretty good.

Content Concerns: A problematic relationship is described, but vilified.  There is some emotional intensity towards the end.

Score: 3.75/5
Freshman Frenzy (Holly's Heart, No. 11) by Beverly Lewis: When Holly and Andie's junior high school becomes overcrowded, they get bumped up to high school!  Andie decides to run for class president…but her choice causes a rift between her and Holly! This is back to normal for the series; this far into it, that's about all I can say.

Content Concerns: Nothing of note.  It's as clean as the average episode of Lizzie McGuire.

Score: 4.25/5
Mystery Letters (Holly's Heart, No. 12) by Beverly Lewis: When Holly-Heart starts writing a column in her school's paper, she starts getting letters from a secret admirer? Who could he be? Yet another enthralling story in this series.

Content Concerns: None at all; this one is completely innocent.

Score: 4.25/5
Star Wars: Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader by James Luceno: An old friend once criticized Attack of the Clones by saying, "No matter how cute they make Anakin, everybody knows he's going to become Darth Vader." Dark Lord wasn't exactly cute, but its lackluster feel due to everyone already knowing what will happen to that infamous black-clad cyborg. I seriously struggled to finish it.

Content Concerns: I had trouble following this one, but, as usual for science fiction/fantasy works, violence seemed to be the main concern.

Score: 1.25
Miss Match (Lauren Holbrook, No. 1) by Erynn Mangum: This Christian "young adult" novel tells of a twenty-something lifelong single who watches as her friends and family find romance, yet she gets none of it herself.  As someone who has always been sans significant other, I can identify with Lauren's feelings and frustrations.  This series is off to a cracking good start.

Content Concerns: Nothing worse than a quip or two and usage of words like "gosh" only once or twice.

Score: 4.5/5
The Haunting (Forbidden Doors, No. 4) by Bill Myers: I started this series early this year, but it took me months to get my hands on more volumes of Forbidden Doors.  As with the first three books, this one deals with spiritual warfare, which is a rather creepy subject.  It also discusses what truly being a Christian is, and why it is wrong to plot revenge.  Anyone who has enjoyed these books up to this point will find plenty to love about this fourth entry in the series.

Content Concerns: The subject matter--demons--is inherently creepy, which makes this inappropriate for the very young.  Even some teens may be freaked out; consider whether or not you could read something like this before you actually do.

Score: 4.5/5
The Guardian (Forbidden Doors, No. 5) by Bill Myers: Mr. Myers' spiritual warfare serial continues right where the prequel--see above--left off.  Though well-written, it is, as usual for this series, a bit freaky.  The cliffhanger ending left me panting for the sixth book; thankfully, I already have a copy of it.

Content Concerns: Pretty much the same as what I described in the above review.

Score: 4.5/5
The Encounter (Forbidden Doors, No. 6) by Bill Myers: Things continue to get crazy for Becka Williams, her family, and her friends.  The intensity and supernatural drama that have been prevalent throughout this series so far go even further.  Scary stuff, but gripping nonetheless.

Content Concerns: Spiritual warfare is the topic, and it is depicted in rather lurid detail; if that would creep you or your kid out, you/he/she probably shouldn't read this.

Score: 4.5/5
In the Shadow of the Sun King by Golden Keyes Parsons: Usually, when people say, "Don't judge a book by its cover," they're not really talking about literature; in fact, I've found that the front and back covers of most media--books, CDs, DVDs, VHS tapes, etc.--are usually a fair judge as to whether something is worth buying or borrowing.  The cover image of this book is badly photographed--look at the weird expression on that lady's face!--and that's indicative of the internal contents.  Bad writing, uninteresting plot...it has to be one of the worst books I've read in a while.  I struggled to get as far as a did, and I was about sixty percent through it before I quit.  If my copy hadn't been water damaged, it would be taken to the used bookstore ASAP.

Content Concerns: Oh, who cares? If you read my review, you won't want to read it anyway.

Score: 1.25/5 
Damascus Countdown (The Twelfth Imam, No. 3) by Joel C. Rosenberg: By now, most readers should know what to expect from Mr. Rosenberg: action and espionage seemingly ripped from tomorrow's headlines that is based on Biblical prophecy.  For fans of his works--such as myself--this is great news.  The writing, action, and everything else are just as great as we've come to expect from this "modern Nostradamus".  Where will the series go from here? The ending--which I won't give away!--adds a whole new wrinkle to the story.

Content Concerns: Plenty of violence, some of it bloody.  Definitely not for young children, as it would scare and confuse them.

Score: 4.5/5