31 December 2014

TV Episode Set Review: "Kickin' It": Volume Two

Rated: TV-Y7
Starring: Jason Earles, Leo Howard, Dylan Riley Snyder, Mateo Arias, Alex Christian Jones, and Olivia Holt
Released: 2011 - 2012
Synopsis: The five karate students and their faithful Sensei Rudy have even more misadventures in this second volume! Watch as Rudy gets into a scuffle with a professional wrestler, Jerry fakes injury to stay in the comforts of the hospital, Jack faces an old rival, Milton inadvertently thwarts a robbery and becomes an honorary security guard, and lone female Kim attends a formal dance with a suspicious date.  Action and laughs abound in this collection of episodes from the Disney XD sitcom!

The Good: This sitcom is hilariously crazy and full of action.  Situation comedies are usually better when they're combined with another genre, and this hybrid comedy/action works very well.  Positive themes also abound, such as violence not really solving problems.  There's not much to complain about, except...

The Bad: Some of the humor is crude, but, only in a "PG" way.  For young children, the violence may be too easy to imitate; hence, the "TV-Y7" rating.

Content Concerns:

Sex: Some "PG"-level innuendos, and a little kissing. 4/5
Nudity: Kim is seen in a tank top and short shorts a few times. 4/5
Language: Name-calling is as bad as it gets. 4/5
Violence: Plenty of karate action, mostly used as slapstick humor.  It's all bloodless, but, some of the scenes can be wince-inducing, and one guy ends up injured as a result. 2/5
Drugs: None. 5/5
Frightening/Intense Scenes: See "Violence". 4/5

Conclusion: I bought this show from iTunes on a whim, and have really enjoyed it.  Fans of Disney Channel productions should check this out; it's a little different from Lizzie McGuire and Austin & Ally, but it's insanely fun nonetheless.

Score: 4/5

Audiobook Review: "The Word of Promise: Next Generation New Testament"

Author: God (original text) / Thomas Nelson, Inc. (translator/publisher)
Starring: Cody Linley, Sean Astin, Marshall Altman, Tahj Mowry, Emily Osment, Martin Jarvis, et. al.
Published: 2008
Synopsis: The New Testament comes alive...with a plethora of young stars!  Listen as Jesus is born, lives, dies, and rises again, Paul does a complete one-eighty, and John foretells the Savior's eventual return...all in dramatic audio theater! Featuring several well-known young stars--Cody Linley, Tahj Mowry, Marshall Altman, AnnaSophia Robb, and plenty more!--and movie-style music and sound effects, this audio ICB New Testament will enthrall young listeners!

The Good: As a fan of the Disney Channel and other media intended for its target audience, something like this is right up my alley.  All of the actors did very well; my personal favorites were Cody Linley's performance of Jesus and Tahj Mowry's portrayal of John.  The sound effects and music were great, especially during the book of Revelation, which is a tough one to do correctly.  Most of the books in the New Testament are letters, which don't exactly lend themselves to drama, but this audio interpretation keeps things interesting nonetheless.

The Bad: Though this audio NT is great overall, there were a few issues.  The book introductions were so annoying, I ended up skipping them; though Max Lucado's reading was decent, his daughter Jenna's voice was rather ingratiating.  The reading of Hebrews includes some audio clips from the original Word of Promise, which use words such as "epistle" and "exceedingly" that will likely confuse some readers.  Why they didn't just have Sean Astin--who, as the narrator, was reading Hebrews, since we don't know who wrote it--or another actor read those parts, I have no idea.  The biggest problem, however, was the translation.  Written at a third grade level, the ICB simplifies things so much that it may be annoying to older listeners.  I'd have thought they'd use the NLT--which is at a sixth grade reading level--but, I guess they wanted this to be accessible to even low-level readers.  Then again, they could have used the ERV--that is, the Easy to Read version--but maybe they couldn't for some reason.

Conclusion: Despite its slight issues, this is a great audio New Testament.  Christians who are  young--or young at heart--will find plenty to enjoy about this dramatization of God's Word.  If you're looking to instill the Word into a young friend or family member, this would make a great gift.

Score: 4/5

Audiobook Review: "The Word of Promise: Old Testament"

Author: God (original text) / Thomas Nelson, Inc. (translator/publisher)
Starring: Michael York, Martin Jarvis, Gary Sinise, Jason Alexander, Richard Dreyfuss, Marcia Gay Harden, Joan Allen, et. al.
Published: 2009
Synopsis: The Bible comes alive in this full cast audio dramatization! Hear the stories of the creation, the first sin, the patriarchs, the exodus from Egypt, and Israel's various kings and prophets as you've never heard them before! Featuring a whole list of well-known actors and actresses--Jason Alexander, Gary Sinise, Marcia Gay Harden, Richard Dreyfuss, Stacy Keach, and many more, not to mention Michael York as the narrator and Martin Jarvis as the voice of God--and the beloved New King James Version as its source material, this audio Old Testament is like none before it!

The Good: I've been listening to this audio Old Testament pretty much every day of 2014; I did it as part of the One Year Bible plan, which has a reading from the OT, as well as a separate reading from Psalms and Proverbs, every day of the year.  This audio dramatization served me well; it really helped me get into God's Word as never before.  The music, sound effects, and voice acting are worthy of a Hollywood production.  If you're one of those people who loves the Bible but doesn't really like to read, you will definitely like this.

The Bad: As good as this is, I do have some complaints.  I read the actual NKJV while listening to this, and found that the actors sometimes messed up their lines, including reading a heading as if it was part of the actual text.  One chapter of Amos abruptly cut off; I don't know if that was a problem with the recording, or if something went wrong when I copied the track to my computer.  Michael York was a competent narrator, but, after a while, he got old, as did some of the music.  Also, some of the scenes--namely Ezekiel bringing the dead bones back to life--weren't as dramatic as they could have been.

Conclusion: Problems aside, this audio Old Testament is a wonder to behold.  Even if you do like to read, you might want to try this, as hearing every word of the Bible clearly read might bring to your attention details that you'd otherwise miss.  I won't be listening to this again in 2015--at least, not in its entirety--but I hope to give it a spin again sometime soon.

Score: 4.5/5

26 December 2014

Quickie Movie Review: "One Magic Christmas"

Rated: G (US and Canada)
Starring: Mary Steenburgen and Harry Dean Stanton
Released: 1985
Synopsis: Harried mother Abbie Grainger (Mary Steenburgen) is just not feeling the Christmas season.  With a non-compassionate boss and her family's financial troubles, she sees no reason to be jolly.  When things spiral out of control, it'll take a Christmas miracle to bring her family back together.

My Review: I'm saying as little as possible about this film because it just wasn't memorable.  Disney may have some holiday hits, but The Santa Clause, this movie is not.  Though there were some positive themes--such as being willing to give of yourself--all of them were overpowered by the sheer dullness of the film.  Unless you're a Yuletide flick fanatic, I have to recommend you skip this one.

Content Concerns:

Sex: Kissing. 4.5/5
Nudity: A woman is seen in the shower from the shoulders up and the knees down, and later in a towel. 4/5
Language: The h-word is used once. 4.5/5
Violence: A man is fatally shot.  Three people get into a car accident that appears to be fatal.  (Spoiler: All of that is undone via a Christmas miracle.) 3.5/5
Drugs: None. 5/5
Frightening/Intense Scenes: Along with what was mentioned under "Violence," a bank robbery occurs, and there is a scene or two of emotional intensity. 3/5
Other: The theology of angels is quite skewed, and God is mentioned in a disparaging way. 3.5/5

Score: 1.5/5

Quickie Movie Review: "Maleficent"

Rated: PG for sequences of fantasy action and violence, including frightening images
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, and Imelda Staunton
Released: 2014
Synopsis: Once upon a time, Maleficent lived in a peaceful, magical realm that became threatened by the neighboring kingdom.  Maleficent herself vows to protect her land, but she is unthinkably betrayed, and wants nothing more than revenge against the people who did her wrong.  When the king and queen of the nearby kingdom have a daughter, Maleficent puts a curse on the new baby...only for the child to grow up and win Maleficent's heart.  When the curse takes hold, it seems like Maleficent's spell is irreversible.  Can anyone undo it?
Based on the classic Disney movie Sleeping Beauty.

My Review: What a crazy movie! I've been watching it over the past few days, and, it was definitely insane.  It reminded me of the recent ABC series Once Upon a Time, of which I watched the entire first season earlier this year.  Still, it's a treat to see screen legend Angelina Jolie in a Disney movie, as most of her films are too "adult" for my tastes.  The ending is a bit of a surprise--which I won't give away here--and the movie itself is enthralling.  Still, despite its "PG" rating, it may be too much for some kids.

Content Concerns:

Sex: Kissing. 4.5/5
Nudity: A guy is seen shirtless; some cleavage. 4/5
Language: Slight name-calling. 4.5/5
Violence: Plenty of battle scenes; soldiers and magical creatures relentlessly fight against one another.  People are burned by a dragon, and other fantasy weapons are used.  None of that is graphic, though a scene where a girl's finger gets pricked is a bit bloody.  A woman's wings are removed (implied, not shown). 2.5/5
Drugs: None. 5/5
Frightening/Intense Scenes: Along with what was mentioned under "Violence," the title character can be a bit frightening, and some of the magical characters are hideous. 3/5
Other: Fantasy-style magic is used throughout the film. 4/5

Score: 4/5

24 December 2014

Quickie Movie Review: "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed"

Rated: PG for thematic material, some disturbing images and brief smoking
Starring: Ben Stein
Released: 2008
Synopsis: Comedian Ben Stein (Win Ben Stein's Money) has discovered an unsettling truth: intelligent design is being shut out of science, even though statistical evidence seems to point to a creator of some sort.  Stein travels the world and meets everyone from professors who were fired for simply teaching that ID could be valid, to avowed atheists such as the infamous Richard Dawkins, to historians who know all too well what the suppression of ideas could bring.  Were Darwin's supposed beliefs correct, or is there proof of an almighty creator?
Featuring music by CCM's Andy Hunter.

My Review: I don't usually watch documentaries; in fact, I believe the last one I saw was Wordplay, which was all about crossword puzzles.  Ben Stein, who is openly Jewish, doesn't shy away from asking the hard questions.  Some of the individuals interviewed said some rather surprising things, especially Richard Dawkins at the end.  Most people who don't believe in intelligent design won't watch this, but, they need to; they'll have their beliefs shaken to the core.

Content Concerns:

  • Sex: None. 5/5
  • Nudity: Shirtless guys and slight cleavage. 4/5
  • Language: One use of the h-word, and occasional name calling, i. e., "idiot". 4/5
  • Violence: Old film clips show explosions; other similar clips have cartoon slapstick.  An image is shown of dead bodies being piled on top of one another. 3/5
  • Drugs: A little smoking and alcohol consumption. 4/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Ben Stein visits a Nazi concentration camp; though nothing graphic is seen, it could be unsettling for some viewers. 4/5
  • Other: The theme of this movie--intelligent design vs. evolution--may be hard for kids to understand. 4/5

Score: 4.5/5

22 December 2014

Quickie Movie Review: "Secrets in the Snow"

Rated: Not Rated (Dove approved for all ages)
Starring: Ashley Murray, Aaron Michael Johnson, and Vincent R. Seidle
Released: 2013
Synopsis: Six high school classmates who barely know one another are snowed in after a freak blizzard hits their hometown.  Though they're not exactly friends, the dire situation puts them in close quarters.  All of them have trouble understanding each other, and the lone adult, Mrs. Burgess, is struggling to help them get along.  Will they learn to stick together before it's too late?

My Review: For an obviously independently produced film, this is actually pretty good.  It's not a massive epic like Son of God, but it works well.  Of particular note was the actress who played the "mean girl," Mary Jake; though her name may have been weird, the part was played very well.  It likely won't be a classic, but, for fans of Christian films who don't want to see Elf or The Santa Clause for the hundredth time this Yule, this is worth checking out.

Content Concerns:

Sex: None. 5/5
Nudity: Slight cleavage; a boy's midriff. 4.5/5
Language: Nothing worse than one usage of "gosh" and another of "jeez". 4.5/5
Violence: A snowball fight. 4.5/5
Drugs: Diabetic medicine is mentioned. 4.5/5
Frightening/Intense Scenes: A guy gets weak because of diabetes. (Spoiler: He lives.) A knock on the school's door implies potential trouble. (Spoiler: It turns out there's no problem.) 4/5
Other: The kids leave the school's library without permission, even though they were told not to exit there without asking. 4/5

Score: 4/5

22 November 2014

Quickie Movie Review: "My Christmas Soldier"

Rated: Not Rated (Dove approved for all ages)
Starring: Mac Powell, Frank Brennan, and Silvio Wolf Busch
Released: 2006
Synopsis: It's Christmas Eve, 1943, and young Gordy is eagerly awaiting the arrival of his father's train.  Problem is, with all of the soldiers returning, many of the locomotives are held up.  One train is said to have German passengers, which upsets everyone, as the US is currently at war with the Nazis.  Gordy, however, wants to give the Germans some Christmas cheer, so, he offers them some hot chocolate.  What happens next not only surprises Gordy and his family, but the entire town.
Narrated by Mac Powell of CCM's Third Day.

My Review: This film is short--a mere thirty-five minutes, including the closing credits--but enjoyable as a piece of history.  Those looking for an inspirational Yuletide film will like this.  It may have a bit of a low budget, but, as with other Christian-themed flicks such as Seasons of Gray, its heart shines brightly despite that.  The only warning I must give is that a lot of the dialogue is in German with English subtitles, which may cause problems for those who have trouble reading.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: None. 5/5
  • Nudity: None. 5/5
  • Language: The term "Kraut" is used as a derogatory term for Germans. 4/5
  • Violence: Discussions about war violence; nothing is shown. 4/5
  • Drugs: None. 5/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: None. 5/5
Score: 4/5

Quickie Movie Review: "Fred: The Movie"

Rated: TV-PG
Starring: Lucas Cruikshank, Pixie Lott, and Jennette McCurdy
Released: 2010
Synopsis: It's YouTube sensation Fred (Lucas Cruikshank, Marvin Marvin) in his first ever movie! Fred is hopelessly in love with the girl next door, Judy (UK singing sensation Pixie Lott), but Kevin, the bully across the street, won't let him visit her! When Fred finally does make it to Judy's house...he finds out that she has moved! He sets out to find her, but ends up having one mishap after another! Will Fred ever find his beloved Judy?
As seen on Nickelodeon.  Also starring Jennette McCurdy (iCarly) and WWE star John Cena.

My Review: What in the world is this mess? The character of Fred is positively annoying, like a humorless Steve Urkel! He constantly has these weird fantasies, and talks in a way that is positively nerve-grating! Add to that language and other content issues, and this has to be easily one of the worst movies I've seen in a long time! Sorry, Nickelodeon, but you screwed up big time with this one!

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: A remark implies an illicit affair.  Judy is described as a "smoking hot babe". 4/5
  • Nudity: Two guys are seen shirtless multiple times; a girl is seen in a bikini; another girl wears a rather short skirt. A guy is seen twice sitting on a toilet with his pants down. 3/5
  • Language: God's name is misused at least seven or eight times, including in a subtitle; Jesus' name is also misused once.  Both a rhyming word and the homonym "dam" are used as euphemisms for the d-word. 2.5/5
  • Violence: Slapstick, and all played for laughs. 4/5
  • Drugs: Though no drugs are actually used, Fred acts like he is on drugs. 4/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Fred is bullied and embarrassed online. 4/5
  • Other: Fred throws a temper tantrum, and deceives all of his classmates, both of which are never vilified. 2/5
Score: 0.5/5

20 November 2014

Quickie Movie Review: "Holiday Engagement"

Rated: Not Rated (Dove approved for ages twelve and up
Starring: Bonnie Somerville, Shelley Long, Jordan Bridges, and Haylie Duff
Released: 2011
Synopsis: Hillary Burns is happily engaged to Jason, and is eagerly awaiting their wedding...when he drops a bombshell on her: In order for them to wed, he must join her in a move to Pittsburgh, far away from all her family, because of a promotion he is receiving at work.  When Hillary becomes unsure about it, Jason dumps her.  As if that wasn't bad enough, it's almost Thanksgiving, and Hillary's family has been wanting to meet Jason for quite a while.  Not sure what to do, Hillary puts an ad online for a fake fiancé, and discovers David, an out-of-work local actor.  Sure that he can play the part of Jason, they trek to Hillary's parents' house for Turkey Day.  One lie ends up covering another, but, they stop at nothing to make sure that no one discovers that "Jason" isn't really Jason at all.  When the real Jason arrives at Hillary's folks' house, all of the lies end up unraveling...but, is Hillary ready to take him back?
As seen on the Hallmark Channel.

My Review: Before I watched this movie, my mom was watching another Hallmark Channel movie on DVD, and a preview for this one came up.  When my mom saw it, she said it didn't look like a very nice movie; I could see what she was saying, but, I gave it a chance anyway...only to be rather disappointed in more than just the content.  Not only was the sexual dialogue deserving of a "PG-13"--which is not what you'd expect from the Hallmark Channel--but Hillary, the main protagonist, was far too neurotic to be likable.  She came off like Cathy of old-school comic strip fame, only without the humor.  Fans of Christmas movies can do much better than this; seriously, even though I only paid three bucks for it at Big Lots, I'd still say it was a waste of my money...and ninety minutes.  I just wonder: What was the Dove Foundation thinking when they approved this?

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: A married couple mentions that they have sex three times a week, and that they spent a week naked after their last kid moved out.  Circumcision of babies is mentioned more than once.  A scene implies sex between two unmarried people.  An unmarried couple sleeps in the same room, albeit in different beds.  A woman mentions she is afraid to be thought of as a lesbian.  A priest makes a remark that is actually a sexual double entendre.  A woman strips down to her underwear and hands a random guy her clothes. 1/5
  • Nudity: Shirtless guys; a guy in underwear; a woman in a bra; a woman in a strapless dress; some cleavage. 3/5
  • Language: Over ten misuses of God's name, and one usage of the p-word.  Also, some name-calling, i.e., "jerk". 2.5/5
  • Violence: None. 5/5
  • Drugs: Alcohol is consumed in several scenes.  A woman is seen with a cigarette. 3/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: None that I can recall. 5/5
  • Other: The whole movie is about lying; also, the baptism of babies is mentioned. 2.5/5
Score: 1/5

19 November 2014

Quickie Movie Review: "The Book of Daniel"

Rated: Not Rated (Dove approved for ages twelve and up)
Starring: Lance Henriksen, Robert Miano, Andrew Bongiorno, and Leo Gallagher
Released: 2013
Synopsis: The Old Testament book comes to life in this Pure Flix Biblical drama! Daniel is praying to God for the rebuilding of the Temple, only to be threatened by the soldiers of King Cyrus.  When Cyrus finds out who Daniel is, they sit and eat a meal together, and Daniel tells stories of three different kings: Nebuchadnezzar, the powerful; Belshazzar, the foolish; and Darius, the one who was tricked.  More than merely stories from Daniel's imagination, they're accounts of how he served kings with the help of the one, true God.

My Review: Daniel is one of the most interesting books of the Bible; I'm not sure if I would have gone with the approach that the makers of this movie did, but, it works quite well.  The soundtrack is fitting and the actors do a great job.  I particularly liked the scene with the writing on the wall, which featured "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin" in some awesome calligraphy.  However, the budget for this movie was obviously modest; the scene with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace looks like a cutscene from a Super Nintendo game.  Christian cinema fans will likely enjoy this; I'm not sure if others will.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: A guy is referred to as a eunuch, and a woman is referred to as a harlot. 4/5
  • Nudity: None. 5/5
  • Language: None. 5/5
  • Violence: A man is held at swordpoint; another man is fatally stabbed, though not graphically.  It is implied that three men are torn apart by lions. 3/5
  • Drugs: Wine is consumed several times, including by Daniel in one scene. 3.5/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: The writing on the wall; the lions' den; a king seizing a throne. 3/5
Score: 3.5/5

17 November 2014

Quickie Movie Review: "The Batman Superman Movie"

Rated: TV-PG (US) / PG (Canada)
Starring: Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy, Dana Delany, Clancy Brown, and Mark Hamill
Released: 1997
Synopsis: Batman's main nemesis, the Joker, is in a funk; he recently lost pretty much everything he had thanks to the Caped Crusader.  To regain his fortune, the Joker, along with his gal pal Harley-Quinn, travel to Metropolis to meet Lex Luthor, making him an offer with a "jade" statue that is really made of Kryptonite...the one thing that can defeat Superman.  Batman and Superman join forces to defeat Lex and the Joker...but, will even their combined forces be enough? It's twice the heroes, twice the villains, and twice the action!
From Superman: The Animated Series.

My Review: Notice the last line of the synopsis? Instead of being an original production, like most of Warner Bros.' direct-to-video Scooby-Doo movies, this is merely a two-parter from a previously released series.  Though those unfamiliar with Superman's cartoon adventures will find this new and interesting, most superhero fans will likely have already seen this.  If you're a casual DC Comics fan and need something to whet your appetite before the next big-screen adventure comes out, this would be a good rental; however, everyone else should stick with the DVDs of the entire TV series.  The good news is that this film isn't as hard-edged as some of the newer DC Comics Animated Universe movies.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: One kiss, and one reference to "making ha-ha". 4/5
  • Nudity: Shirtless guys, and women in short skirts, both made less sultry thanks to the animation style. 4/5
  • Language: Mostly name-calling, though there is one misuse of God's name. 4/5
  • Violence: People are shot at, thrown, hit, kicked, etc., throughout this movie.  A blast is said to have killed someone.  Robotic enemies are torn apart.  An explosion tears a hole in a big boat. All of it is bloodless. 2/5
  • Drugs: The Joker uses gas to make people laugh uncontrollably. 4/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: A plane is hijacked in one scene; in another, an aircraft just misses hitting a big building.  Both scenes may be too reminiscent of 9/11 for some viewers. 3/5
Score: 2/5

16 November 2014

Quickie Movie Review: "S Club 7: Seeing Double"

Rated: PG-13 for some sexual material (US) / G (Canada)
Starring: Tina Barrett, Paul Cattermole, Jon Lee, Bradley McIntosh, Jo O'Meara, Hannah Spearritt, and Rachel Stevens (aka S Club 7)
Released: 2003
Synopsis: Life is hard for mega-popular British pop group S Club 7.  Sure, their records are selling by the millions...but, between the live performances, the autograph sessions, the interviews, and the studio recording time, they just want a break! One day, they see themselves performing live in L.A....but, they're all the way in Barcelona! Not sure what's going on, they jet to Los Angeles to figure out who is impersonating them and why.  With plenty of danceable pop numbers, a bit of suspense, and a smattering of comedy, this movie is a must for S Club 7 fans!

My Review: When I was in middle school, my favorite music group was dc Talk.  I never saw them in concert--at least, as a full band--but, I loved pretty much everything they did, and I was rather excited when I found out they were making a movie.  The film they spoke of never came out in theaters; instead, an unfinished version was released on DVD in 2002 with a bonus remaster of one of their albums.  Imagine my disappointment when, instead of a regular movie, it was a documentary, with random concert footage, the band's day to day life, and no real plot.  I had expected it to have a story, not be a long music video.  S Club 7's movie is the kind I would have wanted dc Talk to have made.  Though the plot is strange, the musical numbers work very well.  It may have its nonsensical moments at times, but, it harkens back to a time when movies were merely meant as an escape from the real world, not gritty and realistic like way too many films are today.  Parents and other discerning viewers, be warned: This movie is "PG-13" for a reason, as you'll see in the content concerns mentioned below.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: A guy touches a young woman inappropriately.  Girls walk up to a guy and ask for an autograph while he is relieving himself.  Fake breasts are mentioned twice; a vibrator once.  Guys and girls are seen in the shower together, but nothing explicit happens, other than a slight innuendo. They are, however, seen stripping, though nothing crucial is shown.  1.5/5
  • Nudity: The women of S Club 7 and other ladies in this movie seem to have a penchant for immodesty.  Many scenes feature them in low-cut and/or midriff baring outfits, and bikini tops are also seen.  The shower scenes show bare legs and shoulders, with the implication that they are naked.  2/5
  • Language: Mostly name-calling, though there is one usage of the d-word (not by a S Club 7 member). 4/5
  • Violence: A bit of slapstick. 4/5
  • Drugs: None. 5/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: The members of S Club 7 are nearly thrown into a pit ridden with snakes and spiders.  (Spoiler: They are rescued, and the creatures are never seen.)  Later on, a building full of people nearly blows up.  (Spoiler: The self-destruct mechanism is turned off just in time. 3/5
  • Other: The members of S Club end up becoming lazy and let their clones perform for them. 4/5
Score: 3.5/5

Quickie Movie Review: "Space Warriors"

Rated: PG for mild thematic elements and brief language
Starring: Thomas Horn, Mira Sorvino, and Josh Lucas
Released: 2013
Synopsis: For pretty much his entire life, young Jimmy has dreamed of being an astronaut.  When his essay gives him a chance to attend NASA Space Camp, he is eager to go...but, neither of his divorced parents think it's a good idea.  He deceives them and goes anyway, only to meet some brilliant kids, from an amazing young female pilot to a genius hacker.  Though Jimmy's team, the Warriors, are talented, they have some pretty stiff competition.  Just when it seems that Jimmy's hope of space travel is gone, he and his team achieve a feat that astounds not only NASA, but the whole world.
From Brookwell McNamara Entertainment, makers of Even Stevens and That's So Raven.  Features CCM artists TobyMac and Britt Nicole on the soundtrack.

My Review: As a young child, I dreamed of going into space.  Of course, I didn't have a realistic portrait of what interstellar travel was really like; it isn't what you see in those kiddie shows, i.e., The Magic School Bus.  Still, this film brought back memories of those days, and would be great for anyone--young or old--who dreams of walking on Mars one day.  The content was rather clean; honestly, the only complaints I had were the rather erroneous closed captioning and that the climax wasn't as gripping as it could have been.  Those who are young--or young at heart--will enjoy this film.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: A kiss on the cheek. 4.5/5
  • Nudity: Girls in tank tops. 4.5/5
  • Language: A bit of name-calling. 4/5
  • Violence: A fight, which is stopped before it gets serious; a cart-like vehicle crashes into another one. 4/5
  • Drugs: None. 5/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Some astronauts nearly die.  (Spoiler: They make it out unharmed.) One scene is emotionally intense. 4/5
  • Other: Jimmy and another Space Camp attendee lie to get into the program. 4/5
Score: 4/5

10 November 2014

Movie Review: "My Babysitter's a Vampire"

Rated: TV-PG
Starring: Vanessa Morgan, Matthew Knight, and Atticus Dean Mitchell
Released: 2011
Synopsis: Longtime best friends Ethan (Matthew Knight) and Benny (Atticus Dean Mitchell) are eagerly awaiting the first day of high school; they're ready to shed their geeky image and become cool.  When a mishap leads to Ethan's eight-year-old sister nearly being killed, his parents hire a babysitter.  On her first night at Ethan's house, Sarah (Vanessa Morgan, Harriet the Spy: Blog Wars) reveals that she herself is a fledgling vampire...and that many kids in town will likely become vampires as well unless Sarah, Ethan, and Benny stop them.  With the fate of the entire town--and the entire planet--at stake, the three kids have no choice but to put their lives on the line to stop the vampires' evil plans...but, will that be enough?
The genesis of a Disney Channel series.

The Good: I'm not usually one for stories such as this, but, I do have to complement the makers on a job well done.  The actors all did well, the plot was gripping, and the special effects were better than usual for a telefilm.  All of the heroes show resourcefulness in their fight against the vampires.  With a nice rock soundtrack, and some restraint in the areas of violence, this made for a good film.

The Bad: Other than the content concerns--see below--there wasn't too much to complain about here.  There were some times, however, that the closed captioner didn't seem to understand what was going on.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: Flirting, and a guy is called a "perv". 4/5
  • Nudity: Part of a girl's back is seen. 4.5/5
  • Language: Usage of slang terms such as "butt" and "perv".  A song in the soundtrack misuses God's name. 3.5/5
  • Violence: Plenty of fantasy violence.  People are bitten by vampires, though that is mostly implied; all we see is the slightly bloody bite marks.  Vampires are impaled, electrocuted, and melted by holy water.  One character disintegrates. 2/5
  • Drugs: One brief generic reference. 4.5/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Though this may be a Disney Channel production, it's likely too much for little kids.  The vampires are freaky, and the mood is very dark throughout.  You may want to screen this before showing it to your child. 1/5
  • Other: Parents and other adults are lied to and defied.  A woman is described as a sorceress of a sort, and she hands some kids a spell book.  Also, a Twilight-esque movie franchise is referenced, and an eight-year-old is seen watching it. 2/5
Conclusion: I'm a longtime fan of the Disney Channel, but, I was bit hesitant to get into this show because of its themes; vampires are just not my thing.  Still, this movie kept things rather cute and innocent, and the movie was rather enjoyable as a result.  I have the first season on iTunes as well; I'm now curious to check it out!

Score: 4/5

29 October 2014

Movie Review: "Seasons of Gray"

Rated: PG-13 for a scene of violence and some thematic elements
Starring: Andrew Cheney, Meg Wilson, and Akron Watson
Released: 2013
Synopsis
Brady Gray (Andrew Cheney) was his father's beloved son...but the scourge of his brothers.  When the boys' father brings home a new truck for Brady and promises to leave him the family ranch, his brothers gang up on him, beat him up, and sell him to a cattle rancher.  In his new town, he makes friends with Chris (Akron Watson), a Good Samaritan who allows Brady to stay with him.  Brady soon finds himself in a high position at a major company...only to be thrown in prison for a crime he didn't commit.  Just when he feels like he has hit rock bottom, Brady and the family he left behind will all be in for a big surprise.
Based on the Biblical story of Joseph.

The Good
Joseph is a longtime favorite Biblical individual of mine, so, when I heard about this, I was really interested.  It definitely delivers; the performances and production values make this obviously indie production a cut above many other budget Christian movies.  The story takes a different tack at times than I would have expected, but, it still works very well.  There really wasn't all that much to complain about, except...

The Bad
Though mostly well-done, there were some spots that could have used more polish.  One scene in particular had some rather jerky camera work.  Also--and, this is a spoiler, so, be warned--I would have liked to see Brady marry his love interest by the time the credits rolled; after all, the Biblical account of Joseph mentions his marriage and his father Jacob blessing his two sons.  A note for parents: Your kid may like the story of Joseph and his coat of many colors, but, this film is "PG-13" for a reason.  Unless you want to explain to your 7-year-old what rape is, I would suggest sticking with VeggieTales' The Ballad of Little Joe instead of this.

Conclusion
I may be a bit of a geek for it, but...I often find that I enjoy Christian cinema.  It certainly isn't always the case; C Me Dance and Hollow fall into that genre, yet, they're among the worst movies I've ever seen.  Despite that, right many "inspirational" films are ones that I would say are worth watching...including this one.  Though the budget was obviously modest, the movie's heart shines brighter than that of most other films I've seen.  It's definitely not for little kids--hence the "PG-13" rating--but older audiences could definitely enjoy this.

Score: 4/5

22 October 2014

Movie Review: "Girl Vs. Monster"

Rated: TV-PG
Starring: Olivia Holt, Luke Benward, Kerris Dorsey, Brendan Meyer, Tracy Dawson, and Katherine McNamara
Released: October 12, 2012 (Disney Channel premiere)
Synopsis
Skylar "Sky" Lewis (Olivia Holt, Kickin' It) is a girl who knows no fear; nothing at all scares her.  It's Halloween, and she is determined to go to a costume party, but her parents won't let her, going as far as turning on the security system to make sure she doesn't leave.  Thinking they're simply being overprotective, Skylar turns off the power in order to escape...and inadvertently lets out a monster (Tracy Dawson) that terrorizes the neighborhood! What Skylar doesn't know is that her parents aren't just mere exterminators; they're monster hunters, and, on Halloween, she would just be a mere target.  Skylar's destiny is to continue that legacy...but, fear is coming upon her all of a sudden, and her friends (Brendan Meyer and Kerris Dorsey) are as scared stiff as she is! Will Sky be able to stop the monster and save the neighborhood, her friends, her parents, and her crush (Luke Benward, Cloud 9)?
As seen on the Disney Channel.

The Good
Even though the plot may sound dumb on paper, the cast and crew makes it work quite well here.  The actors all do very well, and the soundtrack features some great performances by Olivia Holt and Luke Benward; one of those renditions is the best musical scene I've seen in a movie since the cast of Ella Enchanted did Elton John's "Don't Go Breakin' My Heart".  Olivia Holt herself is as lovely as ever, and positive moral elements--mainly courage in the face of fear--abound.

The Bad
Though the plot works, it may run too close to occultism for some discerning viewers.  The main monster not only floats around like a ghost, but also possesses people, much like a demon.  Even if that doesn't bother you, the dark scenes and creepy moments may be too much for young children.  If you have a kid who is easily frightened, you may want to skip this; it's rated "TV-PG" for a reason.

Conclusion
Though I'm not much for Halloween, this is the second movie based around the ghoulish holiday that I've watched this year; the first was Halloweentown, another DCOM (that is, Disney Channel Original Movie).  I actually liked this one a lot better...but, it's still no favorite of mine.  Still, for those who enjoy movies like this, you could do a lot worse.

Score: 3.5/5

20 October 2014

TV Set Review: "Wizards of Waverly Place": Volume One

Rated: TV-G
Starring: Selena Gomez, David Henrie, Jake T. Austin, David DeLuise, Maria Canals-Barrera, and Jennifer Stone
Released: 2007 - 2008 (Disney Channel premieres)
Synopsis
The Russo kids--brainiac Justin (David Henrie), savvy Alex (Selena Gomez), and young Max (Jake T. Austin)--may seem like normal kids on the surface, but, they have a very big secret: they're wizards in training! Their father (David DeLuise) is teaching them the art of spells and magic in hopes that one of them will be the family wizard! They're not supposed to use magic outside of their lessons, but that doesn't stop them from doing so anyway...and getting themselves and their friends--including Alex's BFF, Harper (Jennifer Stone)--into all sorts of predicaments! In this first volume, Max's magical powers come in with insane results, Alex finds herself actually in a slasher movie, and Justin's pimple accidentally comes to life! In this wizarding family, love and laughter always ensue!
As seen on the Disney Channel.  Features guest appearances by Tiffany Thornton (Sonny with a Chance), Malese Jow (Unfabulous), and Lucy Hale.

The Good
This came on when I was spending some time away from Disney Channel, so, I didn't see much of it when it originally aired.  I now realize I missed out, because this show is really cute and funny.  It may have been a star-making show for Selena Gomez, but, the other characters prove that this show isn't all about her.  Better yet, the lack of profanity, sexual content, drug use, and violence puts this a step above pretty much any primetime program on the major networks.  The use of magic is much closer to that of Bewitched than Charmed.  There were also many positive moral elements.

The Bad
As good as this is, I do have a few complaints.  First and foremost, as a big Jennifer Stone fan, I was dismayed to see her absent--outside of the opening credits, that is--in five or so episodes in this set.  Also, there was a bit of immodesty; Theresa, the kids' mother, often wears low-cut shirts, and the final episode has hula dancers in strapless, swimsuit-style tops.  That's about it, though.

Conclusion
Sure, I've seen a scant few of these episodes previously thanks to the DVDs and the off chance I watched it when it was originally on, but, this time, I really enjoyed them.  I'm glad I have the next two volumes already; I know what I'll be spending my next iTunes card on.

Score: 4.5/5

10 October 2014

Movie Review: "Revelation Road 2: The Sea of Glass and Fire"

Rated: Not Rated (Dove approved for ages twelve and up)
Starring: David A. R. White, Eric Roberts, and Andrea Logan White
Released: 2013
Synopsis
After the mass disappearances in the first film, towns everywhere have lost power, and the world is in a state of mass confusion.  Josh (David A. R. White) is still on the run from the motorcycle gang whose murderous plans he thwarted.  With Beth (Eliza Roberts), his departed friends' granddaughter, as his sidekick, his combat abilities are all that he can rely to defeat the thugs...but even that may not be enough.
Produced by Pure Flix, the makers of God's Not Dead, Jerusalem Countdown, and The Encounter.

The Good
The title makes this movie seem like a sequel, and it is one...but it also serves as a prequel, as many of the scenes depict what happened six or seven years prior to the first film's events.  That storytelling device can be annoying at times, but it works very well here.  As with the first film, the production values are amazing, especially when it comes to the action sequences; when a character was shot dead by a villain, it broke my heart.  Positive elements also abound; one character learns that violence doesn't really solve problems, whereas others seek out Jesus and realize the errors of their ways.  Also, the closed captioning was relatively well-done and didn't lag behind; too many films from this studio have had big issues with their SDHs, so, for this one not to is good news, especially for those who rely on them.

The Bad
The ending is a bit anticlimactic; maybe that's because a third installment, which just released recently, was already on the way.  Also, some people may be bothered by scenes where living people see Jesus in person; that may seem like something out of a parable or allegory than a more realistic film such as this one.  Of course, Rapture theology is present; it was in the first one, as well.

Conclusion
This second installment of this "end times" trilogy definitely ramps things up, in more ways than one.  Though this may be a sequel, the opening explains enough of the first film's plot for new viewers to follow along.  It's definitely an improvement to the original; if you liked the original, you'll love the sequel.

Score: 4/5

08 October 2014

TV DVD: "Dragons: Riders of Berk": Part One

Rated: TV-PG for violence
Starring: Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, and T.J. Miller
Released: 2012 (Cartoon Network premieres)
Synopsis
After he learned how to tame the dragons that were roaming the island, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is assigned the task of training the beasts and preventing them from wreaking havoc on the island of Berk.  To do that, he will need help from his friends, including the brilliant Astrid (America Ferrera, Gotta Kick It Up!), geeky Fishlegs, brash Snoutlout, and the opposite gender-twins Ruffnut and Tuffnut.  In this first volume, Hiccup and friends fight to clear the dragons' names after they are accused of vandalism, find Hiccup's dad a dragon of his own, and meet a mysterious girl (Mae Whitman) who is not what she seems to be...or is she?
Based on the book series by Cressida Cowell.

The Good
You may think that television animation is inferior to what you see on the big screen, but one episode of this DVD would prove you wrong.  The graphics within this series are fantastic, with amazingly detailed characters and environments.  The two leads from the film series reprise their roles here, and do very well; Ms. Ferrera doesn't even sound like herself in this series.  The stories were all captivating, especially the two-parter that ends the volume.  As for the content, it was all clean, with the violence being cartoonish, there being no profanity, the sexual content being limited to kissing, and no nudity or drug use; pretty much in the spirit of the original DreamWorks movie.  Not really anything to complain about, except...

The Bad
The rating, which is assigned by the network themselves, is inappropriate; it should have been "TV-Y7-FV" instead.  "TV-PG" is for more adult fare, which means that some kids might be missing out on this show, especially if they have the "V-Chip" set up on their TVs.

Conclusion
Cartoon Network used to be a place for classic animated fare, such as Looney Tunes or Scooby-Doo.  In recent years, however, they've shifted to some live-action fare, such as Incredible Crew, and pretty much abandoned their roots, which has made many fans upset.  While I can understand their feelings, Dragons is a great fit for the channel, as it's a wonderfully produced cartoon with movie-quality visuals.  Here's hoping that they'll continue to do more computer-animated fare, instead of betraying their own name.

Score: 5/5

Movie Review: "The Amazing Spider-Man 2"

Rated: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, and Dane DeHaan
Released: 2014
Synopsis
Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) is the best loved denizen of New York City.  Few people know his true identity--Peter Parker, teenage science geek--but he constantly saves innocent lives and thwarts would-be thugs day in and day out.  Just when it seems like all is well, the new supervillain Electro (Jamie Foxx) is wreaking havoc all over the city, and even the wall-crawler's powers seem to be no match.  Add Spidey's relationship issues with his girlfriend (Emma Stone), and the ongoing mystery of Peter's father, and this is the greatest battle the human arachnid has faced yet.  Will he be able to save New York City before the evil Electro takes over?
Based on stories from Marvel Comics.

Warning! Spoilers below!

The Good
I was a bit wary about this movie; I found the first Amazing Spider-Man to be rather disappointing.  However, the makers really stepped it up in this sequel, and I found it to be much more entertaining and gripping than the original.  Though Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone did well in their main roles, I have to give major kudos to Paul Giamatti in his small part; you know an actor is good when you've seen him several times before, only to be shocked to discover he was in a movie you just watched! The profanity was minimal, the violence wasn't graphic, and Peter and Gwen's romance is kept innocent; all great traits for a "PG-13" film.  Here's where the spoilers start: Though the ending was a bit bleak--Gwen dies, and Harry starts assembling the Sinister Six--I actually thought it was better that way; too often, we have movies where things work out too easily by the film's end, which is unrealistic.  Plus, as someone who read Adam-Troy Castro's Sinister Six books more than once, I'm looking forward to seeing them on the big screen.

The Bad
Not too much to complain about: the song during the closing credits is annoying, a frightening sequence here and there, etc.  Probably the biggest issue I had was: As good of a villain as Electro was, why couldn't they have made him look like he did in the comics?

Conclusion
Between years of comics, two different film series, and several Saturday morning cartoons, Stan Lee's infamous wall-crawler has sold books, DVDs, toys, movie tickets, and other memorabilia by the millions.  This latest outing is definitely worth watching for comic book fans; it turned out to be a pleasant surprise! Now, I'm really curious to see what will happen in the next installment.

Score: 4.25/5

03 October 2014

Movie Review: "Divergent"

Rated: PG-13 for intense violence and action, thematic elements and some sensuality
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, and Zoë Kravitz
Released: 2014
Synopsis
Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley, The Secret Life of the American Teenager) lives in a war-torn remnant of America, that is divided into five different factions.  She was born into Abnegation, the giving faction, but, at the age of sixteen, she has the choice to join any other faction she wishes.  After taking an aptitude test that involves various situations, she is told that she does not fit within a certain class, but is Divergent, which means that she has various special abilities.  Unfortunately, that comes at a price, as Divergents are considered a threat, and are therefore hunted by the government.  At the choosing ceremony, she decides to join the Dauntless faction, which involves rigorous physical training.  Though it may seem that all is well on the outside, Tris and a fellow Dauntless, known only as Four (Theo James), uncover a conspiracy that puts innocent people at risk...and only they can stop it.
Based on the book by Veronica Roth.

The Good
What an amazing flick this was! Even more chilling than The Hunger Games, with a likable heroine who is strong and capable but definitely not a Mary Sue, this film paints an all-too-real picture of a likely future of our planet.   The production values--the sets, the acting, the action sequences, etc.--were all outstanding, save for the soundtrack, which had a couple of annoying songs on it.  Even some of the "violence" was toned down, as camera angles were used to spare viewers from seeing things in grisly detail.  The ending definitely left me waiting for the next installment; thankfully, I have a copy of the second book on hand at the moment.  Not much to complain about, except...

The Bad
As with the book, some unnecessary content was thrown into the mix.  Though the violence was restrained, a few scenes were slightly bloody; probably the worst of it was when a knife goes through a woman's hand.  A few profanities were also on hand, and some of the girls' outfits--sports bras, off-the-shoulder or low-cut tops--seemed to make them serve as eye candy.  Where the "sensuality" comes from is two scenes where the heroine kisses a guy passionately, but she puts a stop to things before they get too serious.  This is one case where you should take the "PG-13" seriously.

Conclusion
Shailene Woodley seems to be the "it" girl for young adult entertainment these days.  Not only was she the main star of ABC Family's The Secret Life of the American Teenager, but there were previews for two movies--The Fault in Our Stars and The Spectacular Now, both of which are based on popular YA novels--that had Ms. Woodley in them.  While I wouldn't watch those other productions for obvious reasons, her talent shines in this film, the crackling start to a dystopian series.  If you're a fan of movies such as The Hunger Games, you should definitely check out Divergent.  Negative parts aside, it's as upsetting as it is enthralling!

Score: 4.5/5

30 September 2014

Movie Review: "Dog Gone"

Rated: PG for some bullying, rude humor, language, mild threat and action
Starring: French Stewart, Luke Benward, and Brittany Curran
Released: 2008
Synopsis
Young Owen (Luke Benward, Cloud 9) is struggling; he recently lost his beloved dog, bullies are always on his case, and he can't muster up the courage to ask his crush to the town's July Fourth celebration.  While out delivering papers, he comes across a sick dog that is seemingly being mistreated by three guys; what Owen doesn't know is that they're crooks, and that they used the poor canine to commit a jewel heist.  Blackie (French Stewart, Inspector Gadget 2) and his inept minions will stop at nothing to get the dog back...but Owen doesn't want to lose his new canine companion.  Will Owen outsmart the thieves?
Also released as Diamond Dog Caper.

The Good
The review quoted on the poster calls this film "a welcome throwback to a simpler, gentler breed of family entertainment." To a degree, it is; it doesn't have the profanity or sexual allusions that seem to plague many "PG" films these days.  Even though the MPAA warned of language, I heard no worse words than "heck" or "butt".  Also, slapstick humor abounds, which is sure to please fans of movies such as Home Alone.  Though Owen gets bullied, he shows his tormentors that he is no victim, which is a positive thing.  He and other characters make sacrifices during the film, which is a positive element.  This film was part of a four-movie DVD multi-pack, but, unlike many flicks packaged in such a manner, it features both closed captions and Spanish subtitles; surprising, but great for those who need them.

The Bad
Though most of the humor is slapstick, some of it is crude, such as scenes relating to the dog's bodily functions.  Even the slapstick humor is a little bit overdone.  The character's fashion sense is a bit immodest, as Owen is seen in his underwear twice, whereas one female character is shown in tiny shorts, and another in a midriff-baring outfit.  The underlying theme--hiding jewels inside a dog--is a bit disturbing, and the song during the closing credits is annoying.

Conclusion
Animal flicks are a dime a dozen these days.  In the past decade, we've seen everything from documentaries (March of the Penguins) to ones featuring fantastical creatures (How to Train Your Dragon) to kiddie comedies such as this one.  Slapstick humor fans will love this one, as will most kids; still, for adults, this is nothing we haven't seen before.  Disney Channel fans will likely enjoy seeing a pre-Good Luck Charlie Luke Benward, but, I can't recommend anything more than a rental.

Score: 3/5

29 September 2014

TV Episode Set Review: "Kickin' It": Volume One

Rated: TV-Y7
Starring: Leo Howard, Olivia Holt, Jason Earles, Mateo Arias, Dylan Riley Snyder, and Alex Christian Jones
Released: 2011 (Disney XD premieres)
Synopsis
Rudy (Jason Earles) is Sensei of the Bobby Wasabi dojo, located in a shopping mall.  His students--clueless Jerry (Mateo Arias), geeky Milton (Dylan Riley Snyder), karate master Jack (Leo Howard), sweet-but-uncoordinated Eddie (Alex Christian Jones), and lone female Kim (Olivia Holt, I Didn't Do It)--are the best of friends, and always look out for each other...though that doesn't stop them from getting into various misadventures! In this first volume, Rudy gets an offer to star in a commercial, Kim writes an essay that wins her school a concert from a pop star that isn't all he seems to be, Jack gets stuck in a retro dream, Jerry tries to train the karate kids in the art of dance to defeat his rival Smooth (Roshon Fagan, Shake It Up), Milton plays a live-action version of an RPG, and Eddie gets blackmailed after being caught dancing with a punching dummy...all in the name of laughs and martial arts!
As seen on Disney XD.

The Good
I expected this show to be good...but it ended up being amazing! Not only did I find it insanely hilarious, but the karate theme added a new element--slapstick humor--that you don't see that much in Disney Channel sitcoms, especially the recent ones.  All of the actors did amazingly, especially Olivia Holt, who is now my number one favorite celebrity as a result of watching this.  Even the theme music is an awesome rock tune, and is used very well throughout the show.  There wasn't much to complain about, but...

The Bad
I did have a few quibbles with the set.  My biggest issue was with the episode being out of order; the series premiere is a few episodes into the set, which makes the continuity awkward.  Other--and more minor--problems I had were with the character's slightly immodest fashion sense--did we really need to see Kim's bra straps or Jerry in a 70's-style top that exposes most of his chest?--and a few "PG"-level crude moments.  The "TV-Y7" rating is likely because of the karate violence, which, though never the least bit bloody or gory and always played for laughs, would be far too easy for little kids to imitate.

Conclusion
Despite its flaws, this is my new favorite show! I've already got the second volume on iTunes, and hope to watch it sometime soon! If you haven't seen this show yet...you're missing out! Go and buy the first volume, NOW!

Score: 4.75/5

26 September 2014

Movie Review: "Revelation Road: The Beginning of the End"

Rated: Not Rated (Dove approved for ages twelve and up)
Starring: David A. R. White, Jen Lilley, and Andrea Logan White
Released: 2013 (DVD)
Synopsis
Joshua "Josh" McManus (David A. R. White, Jerusalem Countdown) is a traveling salesman in the middle of nowhere, far away from his wife (Jen Lilley, The Book of Esther) and young daughter.  While making a sale, he runs into an evil motorcycle gang, bent on mass murder...but is able to beat them to the punch and uses their own guns against them.  Forced to stay in the area as a result of the crime, he witnesses an alarming sight while at a motel that makes him think twice about where his faith lies.
Produced by Pure Flix, makers of God's Not Dead and The Mark.

Warning! Spoilers below!

The Good
For a Christian film, this is remarkably well-produced.  It has the look and feel of a mainstream theatrical movie, especially when it comes to the action sequences.  You'll probably want to watch this on the biggest screen available.  Also, the portrayal of events that are happening in our country every day were appropriately disturbing, and the villains were either perfectly despicable, or, in one case, shown to actually have a heart.  Even the filming style was different; some of the sequences reminded me of an anime cartoon.  A lack of profanity and drug use, as well as a near-lack of sexual content, only made matters better.

The Bad
Though appropriate for the storyline, the violence here is a bit unsettling.  Right from the get-go, we see a motorcycle gang beat up a police officer and proceed to murder him with a huge hammer; the latter, however, is implied, but the whole scene is a bit bloody.  Guns are fired, and people are shot, sometimes fatally; a guy is even suffocated to death.  The usual Rapture theology is present, which may bother some viewers.  My biggest complaint, however, is with the plot: Instead of starting off with the mass disappearances, they don't take place until about ten minutes before the credits roll.  It wouldn't be a problem if it weren't obvious from the start that they were going to happen.  Viewers expecting a wrap-up ending will have to seek out the next installment, as this first entry merely ends with a "To be continued..."

Conclusion
Though good for what it is, I'd have liked this movie to have reached a conclusion before it ended.  I do have the next installment on hand; however, this feels more like the first half of a movie than the entire movie itself.  If you do decide to pick this up, make sure you buy/rent both entries, as the first one will leave you hanging.  Production-wise, this is better than most "end times" movies; if only the plot matched up.

Score: 3/5

25 September 2014

Movie Review: "Ace of Hearts"

Rated: PG for some violence and thematic elements
Starring: Dean Cain, Britt McKillip, and Anne Marie DeLuise
Released: 2008
Synopsis
Officer Dan Harding (Dean Cain, God's Not Dead) and his canine partner Ace are well known in their area for catching criminals...but, there's one thief they just haven't been able to catch.  When Ace spots the elusive robber and chases him down, it appears that the German Shepherd attacked him.  Dan and his daughter Julia (Britt McKillip) know that Ace wouldn't do that...but the evidence is all there, which means that Ace will have to be euthanized.  Will Ace be proven innocent in time? Will the thief get caught?
Based on a true story from Reader's Digest.

The Good
The production values here were all pretty good, including the acting, the sets, the soundtrack, etc.  The makers obviously tried to keep this family-friendly; there was no profanity, save for one use of the d-word towards the end.  Church is apparently a part of this family's life; though they are never seen attending services, Julia talks about "a line in the Sunday school pageant," which is actually from John 20:29.  As for the story itself, though it does have its slow moments, it actually kept me interested.

The Bad
My biggest problem was with the main villain; he was surprisingly scary for what appears to be a kid's flick, especially when you realize that this is based on a true story.  The "violence" mentioned in the MPAA advisory includes two scenes that are a bit bloody, such as one where a dog is stabbed by a piece of glass.  As for the "thematic elements," not only would the thought of euthanizing a dog upset some kids, but Dan and his wife Lily are seen passionately kissing and talking about making up for the fact that they didn't get a honeymoon when they first got married.  Lily also appears to be meant as eye candy, as nearly every outfit she wears is a bit low-cut.

Conclusion
Like The Dust Factory, this was a DVD I found on MovieStop's clearance rack.  Unlike that movie, though, Ace of Hearts was actually at least halfway decent.  It's probably not something I would watch again, but, for what it was, it was a fun, enjoyable animal flick.  Parents may want to screen it before showing it to their kids, though.

Score: 3.5/5