24 March 2014

Quickie Book Series Review: "The Books of Mortals"

Authors: Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee
Published: 2011 - 2013 by Center Street / FaithWords
Synopsis: Several hundred years into the future, the human race as we know it is in the dumps.  After his father's funeral, young Rom gets handed a box by a mysterious man who says that Rom's dad didn't die of a suicide, as originally thought, but was murdered.  With government agents on his tail, he escapes and finds a young woman named Arva.  Together they discover an age-old secret that will change the world forever...and already has in the past.

My Review: What a rush! This book series is like an action/adventure flick that grabs you and won't let go.  Ted Dekker is one of the few Christian writers to receive mainstream praise, and it's books like this that prove why.  Don't pick this up unless you have a lot of time on your hands; it will have you hook, line, and sinker from the first chapter.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: Some minor kissing. 4.5/5
  • Nudity: It is mentioned that a character is naked, though it is not gone into detail. 4.5/5
  • Language: "Damnation" and "Maker" (another name for God) are the choice expletives, and are used a few times each. 3.5/5
  • Violence: The whole story centers around people's blood: drinking it, shedding it, but not sucking it like a vampire.  Action sequences and violent moments abound; probably the most unsettling is when one character removes a heart from his deceased friend's body, though that isn't gone into graphic detail. 2/5
  • Drugs: The consuming of blood causes transformations. 3/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: What in this series doesn't fall into that category? 1/5
Score: 4/5

Movie Review: "God's Not Dead"

Rated: PG for thematic material, brief violence and an accident scene
Starring: Kevin Sorbo, Shane Harper, and Dean Cain
Released: March 21, 2014 (theaters)
Synopsis: On the first day of college freshman Josh Whedon's (Shane Harper, Good Luck Charlie) philosophy class, the entire class is asked to turn in a paper with a mere three words: "God Is Dead!" As a Christian, though, Josh can't do that...so his professor, Mr. Radisson (Kevin Sorbo, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys) issues a challenge: Either Josh convinces the class that God exists...or he fails the class.  Many people--including Josh's girlfriend--think he is crazy, but he presses on, determined to convince his classmates of the existence of God.  Is he up to the task?

(Spoilers are in this review.  Be warned.)

Artistic Merit

Plot: 4/5
When the film first started, I thought it had too many subplots, but those all get wrapped up quite nicely by the time the credits roll.  Still, I did feel that maybe one of them could have been removed.

Production Values: 4/5
The acting was great, which is to be expected from experienced actors such as Kevin Sorbo, Dean Cain (Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman) and Shane Harper.  I mostly liked the soundtrack, though I thought it odd that one dramatic scene was free of music.  The sets were well-done, too.  However, I still felt like I was watching a direct-to-video film on a large-screen TV instead of one that was meant for cinemas.

Moral Content

Positive Elements: 5/5
There's little that wasn't positive.  Faith in God is celebrated and defended; people discover the existence of a supreme being; an avowed atheist confesses Jesus as Lord before he dies.

Sexual Content: 4/5
Josh and his girlfriend kiss once or twice.  It is implied that some characters are "shacking up."

Nudity: 4/5
Two ladies are seen in short shorts briefly.  One or two female characters show some slight cleavage.  A PowerPoint slide shows a painting of a nude Adam, though no private anatomy is visible.

Language: 4.5/5
One use of "dork" is as bad as it gets.

Violence: 3.5/5
A father slaps his daughter twice, then grabs her and drops her outside.  A car accident leads to a guy being thrown up in the air, then dying a minute or two later.

Drugs: 4/5
Wine is served twice, both at someone's house and at a restaurant.

Frightening/Intense Scenes: 3/5
Along with what was mentioned under "Violence," some scenes are emotionally intense.

Other: 3/5
Some may have a problem with the non-Christian characters being vilified.

Final Score: 3.5/5
God's Not Dead is a movie that is a bit hard to score.  It's great to have a movie that is well-made and honors God, and the overused plot device of "guy believes in God, now everything works out" that has plagued many a Christian movie is not present here.  However, the direct-to-video feel may make some feel that they should have waited to rent the DVD instead of shelling out the money at the cinema.  I myself didn't feel that way, but I can see how some would.  Nonetheless, well-made Christian movies are worth supporting, because studios release what they know will make money.  For that reason alone, I'd say this is worth a look at the cinema.

17 March 2014

Quickie Movie Review: "Superman: The Movie"

Rated: PG for peril, some mild sensuality, and language
Starring: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, and Marlon Brando
Released: 1978 (theaters)
Synopsis: The lone survivor of the doomed planet Krypton, Kal-El (Christopher Reeve) is sent to Earth as a baby and grows up in a small town.  When he grows up, he becomes a reporter for the Daily Planet...as well as the high-flying superhero Superman, a defender of all things good.  When dastardly Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) learns of this new do-gooder, he'll stop at nothing to stop him, even putting millions of innocent people at risk to fulfill his plan.  Will Kal-El be able to hold up truth, justice, and the American way?

My Review: This may not have been the very first superhero motion picture, but it introduced the genre as we know it today.  It mostly works, though there are some dumb sequences, such as how Lex and crew figure out how Kryptonite is Superman's weakness.  (Just a flash realization? What sense does that make?) Still, comic-book-movie fans may enjoy this, although most of them have likely already seen it.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: Mild kissing.  Superman takes a look at Lois' underwear with his X-ray vision. 4/5
  • Nudity: A female character wears two different low-cut outfits.  A baby boy's private area is seen. 4/5
  • Language: Two d-words, five h-words, and one use each of the a-word and s-word.  "Gee" and "golly" are used a time or two. 3/5
  • Violence: A planet explodes, killing millions of people; Superman is shot at, frozen, and cast into the fire, but still unhurt; an extended sequence features a character dying as a result of a earthquake trapping her in her car; a wire wraps around a helicopter, causing a near-fatal crash; a guy is killed by a train; etc., and none of it is bloody or gory. 2/5
  • Drugs: Two characters smoke; another character starts to, but Superman tells her she shouldn't, and she doesn't. 4/5
  • Frightening/Intense Sequences: Along with what was mentioned under "Violence," a character dies rather suddenly, and the scene where some Kryptonians get sentenced to the Phantom Zone might be upsetting. 2/5
Score: 3.5/5

Quickie Book Series Review: "The Door Within" Trilogy

Author: Wayne Thomas Batson
Published: 2005 - 2006 by Transit/Thomas Nelson
Synopsis: Aidan Thomas is bummed.  Just when he was about to start high school, his family announces they're moving into his grandfather's house, leaving his old home and all his friends behind.  Out of desperation, Aidan wanders into his grandfather's basement, and sees these ancient scrolls with fantastical stories...but they're so detailed, he knows there's no way they're fiction! Mom and Dad won't listen, but Grampin knows exactly what Aidan is talking about...because he went there himself.  Before he knows it, Aidan finds himself in a land known as the Realm, where Eliam, the good king of Allende, is at war with the evil Paragor.  Will he be able to succeed, or will the dark forces crush him?

My Review: Whew; what a ride! A wonderful allegory with great writing and a convoluted plot.  Even though these are "juvenile" books, I'd imagine many adults would enjoy them, too! This trilogy is definitely an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride, and an amazing one at that.  What's not to like?

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: None. 5/5
  • Nudity: None. 5/5
  • Language: Some mild name-calling. 4.5/5
  • Violence: Fantasy violence is present throughout the series, and there is some slight bloodshed. 3/5
  • Drugs: Cigarettes get a brief mention, though the kid says she "is too smart" to smoke them. 4.5/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: A few scenes have characters nearly dying.  The scene where a father lunges at his child may be too much for some readers. 3.5/5
Score: 4.5/5

12 March 2014

Book Series Review: "The Last Jihad"

Author: Joel C. Rosenberg
Published: 2002 - 2008 by Forge and Tyndale
Synopsis: Not long after his election, United States President James "Mac" MacPherson is a victim of terror; this time, it involves a private foreign airplane driven into his motorcade.  After recovering, for the security of the entire country, he hires personal friends Jonathan "Jon" Bennett and Erin McCoy as his staff.  However, the motorcade attack is only the tip of the iceberg, as numerous terror threats put the lives of not only the President and his staff, but innocent civilians, at risk.  Jon and Erin soon find out that everything going on has a much higher meaning...

Artistic Merit

Plots: 4.5/5
It started out great, but it got even better as the series went on.  I read the last two novels in one sitting each, and I don't normally do that with books, especially long, thick ones.  This is a wonderful premise, and it feels rather realistic.

Writing: 4/5
Joel C. Rosenberg is an amazing storyteller, and his writing is spot-on in this series.

Moral Content

(Warning! Spoilers are contained throughout these sections!)

Positive Elements: 5/5
Jon, Erin, and others put their lives on the line for their country and each other.  Numerous characters, including Jon, become Christians in the series.  Jon also shows respect for his mother, even though she tends to call him at bad times.  The Bible is quoted often, especially in the later books, and is held in reverence by the heroes.

Sex: 4/5
Occasional mild references to mild sexual things such as "prostitutes" and "Viagra ads".  After Jon and Erin get married, their sex life is discussed, but only in a "PG" way.  A gag in the first novel involves homosexuality.

Nudity: 4.5/5
The gag mentioned above involves two women in a shower, though no graphic descriptions are given.

Language: 3.5/5
The first two books contained several profanities; the last three, none at all.  Maybe this was because of the shift from secular publisher Forge to Christian publisher Tyndale.

Violence: 1/5
Violent content is pretty much expected, right? Well, here's the rundown: Good guys and bad guys are both shot and/or killed, and it is sometimes bloody; terrorist attacks kill and/or seriously injure people, from the President of the United States to millions of innocent US citizens; and, war and mayhem are pretty much the tone of the series.

Drugs: 3.5/5
Alcoholism is referenced a few times, as is smoking.

Frightening/Intense Scenes: 0.5/5
There's little within the books that isn't frightening or intense! See "Violence" for why.

Other: 2.5/5
The last book in the series closes with the Rapture, which may bother readers who disagree with Left Behind-style theology.  Also, another gag involves flatulence.

Final Score: 4.75/5
Forget Jenkins and LaHaye; this is the definitive "end times" series.  Whether or not you agree with the theological or political aspects of it, you'll be drawn in by the intensity and edge-of-your-seat action.  As a Washington insider, Mr. Rosenberg knows his stuff, and he nails it with this series.  If you haven't read these five books yet...what are you waiting for? Go find them at your local library, now!

Quickie Movie Review: "Now You See It..."

Rated: TV-G
Starring: Alyson "Aly" Michalka, Johnny Pacar, and Frank Langella
Released: January 14, 2005 (Disney Channel premiere)
Synopsis: Aspiring reality TV producer Allyson Miller (Alyson "Aly" Michalka, Phil of the Future) joins the crew of a show looking for the world's greatest kid magician.  After finding nothing but fakes, she stumbles upon Danny Sinclair (Johnny Pacar, Flight 29 Down), whose magic skills are uncanny.  When the competition starts, strange things begin to happen, and everyone, including the show's emcee (Frank Langella, Robot and Frank) and Danny himself are surprised.  Is Danny a mere magician, or is he really a wizard? Allyson is determined to find out.
As seen on the Disney Channel.

My Review: I had such high hopes for this movie.  When it premiered nearly a decade ago, I really wanted to see it, but never got around to it, and only was able to watch it recently thanks to a late-night airing on the Disney Channel that I recorded with my DVR.  Though it starts off interestingly enough, it isn't long until it starts to become rather tedious, so much so that, while trying to finish it last night, until the big finale improved matters a bit, I couldn't wait for it to be over.  There are plenty of other Disney Channel Original Movies that are a better use of your time than this one.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: None. 5/5
  • Nudity: Allyson wears a short skirt in one scene; a girl's midriff is partially visible in another scene. 4.5/5
  • Language: Nothing worse than "gosh". 4.5/5
  • Violence: (Spoiler Warning) The finale has a duel between magicians where the main character nearly gets crushed, and another character is blasted. (End Spoilers) 4/5
  • Drugs: None. 5/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: See "Violence". Also, the main villain is a bit chilling. 3.5/5
  • Other: The whole theme of the movie is wizardry. 2.5/5
Score: 2/5

10 March 2014

Quickie Book Review: "A Mile in My Flip-Flops"

Author: Melody Carlson
Published: 2008 by Waterbrook Press
Synopsis: After being jilted by her fiancée Collin, Gretchen Hanover spends a while in a funk.  When she isn't working or sleeping, she sits around and watches HGTV while consuming gobs of ice cream.  After a while of seeing people renovate houses on TV, she thinks, "Hey, maybe I could do that!" So, she gets off of her easy chair and buys a dilapidated old home that she hopes to flip.  Unfortunately, though, she seems to have bitten off more than she can chew; the house is a tremendous mess, and her father falls ill and is unable to help her.  Thankfully, Noah, a contractor and friend of Gretchen's father, steps in to help her out.  It seems that Noah's life isn't all that easy, either; his marriage fell apart, and he hasn't been the same since.  Will they make something more than just a new house?

My Review: I've read lots of Melody Carlson books, including the entire True Colors series.  This one feels slightly different, though it was still good.  It was an enjoyable romantic drama that felt like a Hallmark Channel movie.  Fans of Mrs. Carlson's other works, or Christian fiction in general, will definitely enjoy this one.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: Kissing. 4.5/5
  • Nudity: Gretchen gets into a hot tub nude, not knowing that it's co-ed and that nudity isn't allowed; the entire scene is non-graphic. 4.5/5
  • Language: None. 5/5
  • Violence: None. 5/5
  • Drugs: None. 5/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: (Spoiler Warning) Gretchen's father has a heart attack, though he recovers. (End Spoilers) 4.5/5
  • Other: A bit of crude humor relating to the dog. 4.5/5
Score: 3.75/5

TV DVD Set Review: "X-Men": Volume One

Rated: TV-Y7 for fantasy violence
Starring: Cathal J. Dodd, Alyson Court, and Cedric Smith
Released: 1992 - 1993 (original Fox Kids premieres) / 2009 (DVD)
Synopsis: Jubilation Lee, aka Jubilee, has rejected her mutant powers all her life.  One day, these strange robots known as Sentinels try to capture her...but the X-Men save her life, and take her to Professor Xavier's center from mutants! Among the people she meets are quick-healing, large-clawed Wolverine; mind reader Jean Grey; super-intelligent, super-muscular, cobalt blue Beast, the literally untouchable Southern belle Rogue, and transformable Morph.  In this first volume, they prevent the world from an unthinkable future, attack an army of wanton robots, and take a trip to what appears to be a mutant-friendly island, but is instead something much more sinister.  It all starts here.

Artistic Merit

Plots: 4/5
I like a TV series better than a movie because it has a continuing story.  There are so many plot threads in just this first volume, it'd be nearly impossible to put them all into a two-hour film.  However, sometimes, there are story arcs that can go on a little too long, and that's how I feel about the last one.  It starts in the eleventh episode, and by the sixteenth--and last--one, it's still not resolved; one would guess that the next volume would finish it off.  I don't want to give away what it is, but the story arc is great; still, it doesn't need to go on that long.

Production Values: 3.5/5
The voice work is great; I think the voices here are better-suited to the characters than the ones in the live-action movies.  The soundtrack is good, but nothing special.  My one big problem was with the animation, which, though not half-bad, could have used some extra polish.  Maybe that will improve as the series continues.

Moral Content

Positive Elements: 5/5
The X-Men look out for one another and for humankind in general; one of them even puts her life on the line for a child.  Even though many non-mutants are prejudiced against them, they still treat everyone with respect.  One mutant decides to obey the law and stay in jail, though he can easily escape.  Magneto also looks out for Xavier and his crew.

Sex: 3.5/5
Mostly limited to kissing, though there is a scene where Rogue seems to seduce a male mutant.  (Spoiler: It is actually another mutant who transformed into Rogue, and he does it because he knows that, if anyone touches Rogue, he or she will be rendered powerless.)

Nudity: 4/5
Shirtless guys are seen from time to time; however, the animation style makes it less sultry.

Language: 4.5/5
One h-word, and one misuse of God's name; though nothing by today's standards, a bit surprising for a kid's show from the '90's.

Violence: 3/5
The "fantasy violence" mentioned in the rating is quite present here.  The X-Men, other heroes, and the villains punch, kick, blast, and throw each other in all sorts of ways.  The good news is that there's no blood, though one scene does show a character with a nasty scratch on his body.

Drugs: 5/5

Frightening/Intense Scenes: 3.5/5
Some of the villains, especially the one from the last two or three episodes, could be a bit scary for some kids.  Also, a likable character dies near the start of the series.  (Spoiler: He is only thought to be dead, but comes back as a villain of sorts.)

Final Score: 3.5/5
I've been waiting a long time to see this.  Some friends of mine had been recommending the '90's X-Men cartoon for quite a while, and I had bought this first "volume" a while ago, but waited until I had the entire series--five volumes!--before I started watching it.  Though mostly good, I have to say I am still slightly disappointed.  Still, this was the inaugural season, and maybe things will improve in later volumes.

Movie Review: "Son of God"

Rated: PG-13 for intense and bloody depiction of The Crucifixion, and for some sequences of violence.
Starring: Sebastian Knapp, Diogo Morgado, and Amber Rose Revah
Released: February 28, 2014 (theaters)
Synopsis: Millions of people around the world follow Him...but how much do you know about Him? Born in humble circumstances, Jesus of Nazareth is both a powerful teacher and a worker of miracles, and people everywhere adore Him.  However, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law are regularly angered by His teachings, and conspire against Him, sentencing Him to death on a cross.  Just when they think they've seen the last of Him, everyone is in for a tremendous surprise...one that changed the world forever.
From Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, the producers of History Channel's The Bible.

Artistic Merit

Plot: 5/5
Any Christian will tell you that the Bible is the greatest book ever, and that the Gospels are the most important part.  Even so, just because the story is based on a wonderful piece of literature doesn't make the film outstanding; how many times have fans of a best-selling novel walked out of the celluloid adaptation sulking like Marvin the Paranoid Android? Still, Son of God is a well-made film version of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection.  Instead of using every single story from the Gospels, the makers brought together some of the most important parts, in order to show the essence of who Jesus was and what He did.  The last verse of John's Gospel says, "Jesus also did many other things.  If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written." (NLT) If the Bible doesn't even have everything Jesus did...why should this movie?

Production Values: 5/5
It's been a long time since a movie has affected me emotionally like this one did.  The agony that Jesus, his followers, and even his mother go through during his life and crucifixion are amazingly portrayed.  The special effects were outstanding, and the soundtrack was great, especially a surprising performance of Mark Lowry's "Mary, Did You Know?" by mainstream artist Cee-Lo Green.  Nothing to complain about in this department.

Faithfulness to the Original Story: 3/5
The crucifixion is wonderfully portrayed, and that part couldn't have been done any better.  However, some discrepancies between the other events shown in the movie and what the Bible actually says exist.  For example:
  • In the film, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead by kissing him; John 11 says that, after Jesus' followers rolled the stone away from the tomb, He called out, "Lazarus, come forth!"
  • Important verses about baptism--Mark 16:16, for example--were left out completely.
  • The way Jesus reveals who will betray him at the Last Supper is completely different; instead of dipping His hand into the bowl at the same time, Judas is force-fed a piece of bread.
  • Mary Magdalene is seen as one of Jesus' constant followers, in pretty much every scene with the disciples except for the Last Supper; the Bible never explicitly states that to be the case, though some believe that to be implied.
Moral Content

Positive Elements: 5/5
If it's a faithful representation of the story of Jesus...wouldn't that be as positive as it gets?

Sex: 4.5/5
A woman is caught in adultery and brought to Jesus, as described in John 8:1-11.  A preview before the movie features a sex scene.

Nudity: 4/5
Men--including Jesus--are seen in loincloths.  A flashback from The Bible miniseries shows Adam and Eve nude from the shoulders up.  A woman is seen wrapped in only a bed sheet, though it seems the makers went out of their way to make that as non-sultry as possible.  A baby is seen naked, though his private areas are obscured.

Language: 5/5

Violence: 2/5
Though not as graphic or intense as The Passion of the Christ, violence still abounds.  The crucifixion scene is rather intense and bloody, though not gory.  A scene done in shadow shows a man thrusting his sword into someone's side.  The flashbacks at the beginning feature a scene where a guy hits someone in the head with a rock, leaving a gash.  One scene involves people being massacred; it's mostly implied, though we do see the dead bodies left behind with some slight blood.  Another scene shows a wrecked chariot being overturned, killing a child.  This one definitely isn't kid stuff.

Drugs: 4.5/5
Jesus and the disciples drink wine at the Last Supper.

Frightening/Intense Scenes: 1/5
The crucifixion scene alone is likely too much for most young kids and even some teens and adults.

Other: 4.5/5
A man is seen coughing up a piece of bread.

Final Score: 4/5
What a movie! This is the first Christian movie I've ever seen on the "big screen"; though I've watched plenty of others on DVD, seeing this in larger-than-life format was a big treat.  As great as it is, I can't give it a perfect score, only because of the changes that were made from the original story.  It's one thing to do it to Harry Potter; it's another to do it to the Bible, God's holy Word.  Still, I have a feeling Christians will still be talking about this film for years to come...

07 March 2014

Book Review: "The Last Days" ("The Last Jihad", No. 2)

Author: Joel C. Rosenberg
Published: 2003 by Forge
Synopsis: Set just after the events in The Last Jihad, Presidential aides Jon Bennett and Erin McCoy witness the start of a Palestinian civil war after the assassination of Yasser Arafat.  With the lives of millions of people at stake, McCoy and Bennett work with the American government to try to bring about peace...but, with wanton terrorists intent on destroying the "Great Satan" US, who will stop at nothing to get what they want, it seems like the Last Days may be upon them.

My Review: This is an improvement for the series.  A bit more intensity and action; a bit less profanity.  Even though I already know how the series ends--I read the last novel some years ago--I have to say that Rosenberg's narrative has gotten me hooked nonetheless.  I have a feeling that things will get even crazier as the story goes on...

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: A brief reference to "Viagra ads," and another one to "prostitutes".  4.5/5
  • Nudity: None. 5/5
  • Language: About six or seven profanities, all uses of the h-word or d-word. 3.75/5
  • Violence: The book begins with an assassination; multiple terrorist attacks occur, with plenty of devastation and implied deaths; a suicide bomber kills himself, but not anyone else; a dead body is found in a body of water. 1.5/5
  • Drugs: Smoking is referenced twice; drinking alcohol, once. 3.75/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: This whole series is intended to be frightening and intense, and it is. 1/5
Score: 4.75/5

05 March 2014

Season Set Review: "H2O: Just Add Water": Season One

Rated: TV-PG (US)
Starring: Claire Holt, Phoebe Tonkin, Cariba Heine, and Angus McLaren
Released: 2006 (TV premieres)
Synopsis: Emma (Claire Holt, Blue Like Jazz), Cleo (Phoebe Tonkin), and Rikki (Cariba Heine) are just three seemingly regular teenage girls who have a big secret...they're mermaids! Each with a special power of their own, they grow fins and a tail any time they touch water.  Together with their science geek friend Lewis (Angus McLaren), they go to great lengths to make sure no one finds out about their secret identity! Unfortunately, marine biologist Dr. Denman (Lara Cox) is hot on their trail, and, after she teams up with rich bad boy Zane (Burgess Abernethy), they'll stop at nothing to find those "sea monsters".  Will the three girls be able to keep anyone from finding out, or will their "mermaidness" be exposed to the entire planet?
As seen on TeenNick.

Artistic Merit

Plots: 5/5
Some shows take their premise as far as it will go after only a few episodes; this is not one of those shows.  I've been watching at least an episode or two a week since just after Christmas, and it kept me interested the whole time.  There was a moment here and there that was slightly dry, but the season as a whole held my interest like few shows do.

Production Values: 5/5
I can't think of a single complaint in this department.  The acting is great, especially from the three young female leads; the special effects are very convincing; the sets are quite authentic and believable; the soundtrack serves the show very well, especially the opening theme of "No Ordinary Girl"; all in all; wonderfully done.

Moral Content

Positive Elements: 5/5
Cleo, Emma, and Rikki look out for not only one another, but also their friends and their enemies.  Even bad boy Zane sacrifices of himself to help the girls out; he and his father repair their strained relationship, as well.  Lewis is regularly looking out for his mermaid companions, and refuses to succumb to the seductive wiles of the comely Dr. Denman.

Sex: 4/5
For the most part, kissing is as bad as it gets.  It is implied that Dr. Denman tries to seduce Lewis--who is several years his junior--but he doesn't give in.

Nudity: 3/5
The good news is that the half-fish heroines in this series are more modestly dressed and less seductive than most other TV and movie mermaids (Ariel, Aquamarine, etc.) The bad news is that many young women--including the three main characters--are still seen right many times in low-cut/off-the-shoulder tops, midriff-baring outfits, and, not quite as often, bikinis.  Shirtless guys are also seen from time to time.  Still, when the girls are mermaids and interact with guys, they almost always behave in a flirty, G-rated way.  Also of note: The bar where the kids hang out at times has an artist's rendition of a topless woman, with only a beaded necklace covering her upper region.  However, that is only seen in a select few episodes, and usually at a distance.

Language: 4.5/5
Other than mild name-calling, the only piece of bad language in this entire season is a single use of the h-word in just one episode.  Where else can you find a series with language that clean?

Violence: 4/5
With a series like this, you'd probably expect a lot of "fantasy violence," but you don't get that here.  Instead, the violent content is limited to about three slight fisticuffs and a comedic pratfall here and there.

Drugs: 4.5/5
The girls use a chemical to prevent them from turning into mermaids, and suffer an allergic reaction to it.

Frightening/Intense Scenes: 4/5
Zane gets shipwrecked and nearly drowns.  (Spoiler: Emma saves him.)  An accident leads to a young woman getting stuck in a freezer.  (Spoiler: The girls, with Lewis' help, use their mermaid powers to save her.)

Other: 4/5
As expected with a "secret identity" series like this, the girls don't always tell the truth; they and others lie to cover up their abilities.

Final Score: 4.75/5
I first found out about H2O: Just Add Water from the TV listings on my Zap2It iPad app.  When I watched it, I was intrigued...but, like usual for me, I wanted to know the girls' story from the beginning.  Hulu had some episodes I could stream for free, and I watched and enjoyed them...but, I soon lost interest.  After getting some iTunes gift cards for Christmas, I purchased the first season, and was immediately blown away by how great it was.  Fans of Disney Channel's and/or Nickelodeon's live-action series should definitely check this out; you will be surprised.  Also, pay no attention to the "TV-PG" rating; it should be "TV-G", more so than shows that regularly use euphemisms (iCarly) or contain right much sexual dialogue at times (VICTORiOUS), yet still are rated "clean".  Find it, watch it, and enjoy.

03 March 2014

TV Show Set Review: "Good Luck Charlie": Volume One

Rated: TV-G (US)
Starring: Bridgit Mendler, Jason Dolley, and Mia Talerico
Released: April 4, 2010 - August 1, 2010 (Disney Channel premieres)
NOTE: Unlike the previous TV episode sets I have reviewed on this site, this isn't on DVD; I got this set from iTunes.  Though some of the episodes are available on the Enjoy the Ride DVD release, the only way to get the series in its entirety--at this time, anyway--is to buy the seasons from Amazon Instant Video...or the volumes like this one from iTunes.

Synopsis: The Duncans are one crazy family! Mom Amy (Leigh-Allyn Baker) relishes her position as queen of the household...maybe a little too much.  Dad Bob (Eric Kramer) works long hours as an exterminator, and loves to tell stories about his job, much to everyone's chagrin.  Oldest child P. J. (Jason Dolley, Complete Savages) is a nice guy, but not exactly responsible.  Middle son Gabe (Bradley Steven Perry) just can't stay out of trouble, and is regularly upsetting their next-door neighbor, Mrs. Dabney.  The one sane one is Teddy (Bridgit Mendler, Lemonade Mouth), who starts making video diaries for her new baby sister Charlie (Mia Talerico), in order to help her deal with her insane parents and siblings.  Whether it's Teddy using Charlie as a prop for her book report, P. J. striking up a romance with the daughter of one of Bob's old girlfriends, Gabe coming home with bruises on his face from an adoring classmate (G. Hannelius, Dog With a Blog), or Amy discovering the world of texting for the first time, love, laughter, and insanity are sure to abound!

Artistic Merit

Plots: 4.5/5
Sitcoms have been around since the dawn of television, but Disney Channel does them a little bit differently than most other networks.  I'd seen a few of these episodes previously, but right many were brand new to me, yet they were all still entertaining nonetheless.  It surely kept me interested throughout, even though I already know how things end up.

Production Values: 5/5
Nothing to complain about in this department.  The acting is great; the theme music is well-done and fits the series well; the filming and sets are wonderful; all in all, amazingly done.  Then again, you knew that's to be expected, right?

Moral Content

Positive Elements: 5/5
Every episode teaches a lesson of some sort.  Teddy learns that not everyone is going to like her; Bob learns not to hold a grudge, especially against a family member; Gabe learns to tell the truth; P. J. learns not to abandon his best friend; and, the series is filled with similar moral points.

Sex: 4/5
Mild kissing, which most parents won't mind.  What is of note is one moment where Amy says that, when she and Bob first started dating, they "did a lot of..." then trails off before saying, "playing checkers." That'll sail over the heads of most little kids, but older viewers will get the allusion to...well, you know.  Elsewhere, the difference in anatomy between Charlie and a baby boy is referenced, and a relative of the Duncans moons some people.  (His rear end is covered by foam fingers, though it causes Teddy to be mortified.)

Nudity: 4.5/5
Amy's tops show some mild cleavage at times.  Charlie--a baby, remember?--is seen pulling up her shirt and baring her midriff in the show's opening credits.

Language: 4/5
"Gosh" is used a few times.  A slang word for flatulence is used twice.  When Bob can't come up with a nickname for Amy, she says to him, "That's funny, because I'm thinking of lots of nicknames for you!" (She never says them.)

Violence: 4/5
Hardly any, and what is there is slapstick.  Gabe comes home with a black eye one time, and a fat lip another time.  He and a girl get into a scuffle, which leaves both him and his big sister Teddy injured.  It's all played for laughs, though, as is the end-credits scene where baby Charlie cleans that other girl's clock.  The entire Duncan family climbs into a tree house, and ends up accidentally bringing it down; again, played for laughs.

Drugs: 5/5
None. (This is Disney Channel, people!)

Frightening/Intense Scenes: 4/5
One episode features a plotline where it is feared that the Duncans' neighbor Mrs. Dabney killed her husband.  (Spoiler: It turns out he is okay.)

Other: 3.5/5
Bodily functions--feces, vomit, flatulence, urine, etc.--are used for gags at least four or five times.  Also, when Teddy is taking care of a cat who seems to be sick, she asks a Pet-Psychic-like lady who gives mystic-like advice.  (To the show's credit, she is said to be wrong.)

Final Score: 4.5/5
Funny at times, touching at others, the adventures of the Duncans are both hilarious and heartwarming! Even if you're not much of a Disney Channel fan, you should check this show out; it's definitely a good one! Later episodes may have caused some controversy, but, you won't see any of that here.

02 March 2014

Quickie Book Review: "First the Dead" ("Bug Man", No. 3) by Tim Downs

Author: Tim Downs
Published: 2008 by Thomas Nelson
Synopsis: In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, federal disaster agents Jerry, Beth, and Nick "The Bug Man" Polchak go to investigate matters and assist with the recovery effort...when they find out that they have a murderer on their hands, and one who is intent on killing one of their own.  Will they find out who in time?

My Review: Mildly entertaining, but doesn't quite live up to its premise.  I was expecting the main character(s) to use insect-based detection skills, but they didn't do that all that much; it was primarily focused on the character interaction, especially the romantic banter of the two leads.  Maybe the earlier books in the series were better on the bug front; I don't know.  Still, for what it was, it was good.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: None. 5/5
  • Nudity: None. 5/5
  • Language: None. 5/5
  • Violence: People are killed, but not in graphic detail. 4/5
  • Drugs: Drug usage and addiction is mentioned, though vilified. 4/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: A main character is murdered, and another one is almost killed. 3.5/5
  • Other: Some disgusting moments, such as someone "messing the bed" by throwing up all over it. 4/5
Score: 3/5

Quickie Book Review: "Vector Prime" ("Star Wars: The New Jedi Order", No. 1) by R. A. Salvatore

Author: R. A. Salvatore
Published: October 5, 1999 by Del Rey
Synopsis: Over two decades after the Battle of Endor, Luke and Mara Jade Skywalker, as well as the entire Solo clan--Han, Leia, and their children Jacen, Jaina, and Anakin--encounter an enemy like none they have ever seen before: Nom Anor, the leader of a race of creatures bent on mass destruction.  The heroes and their allies give it everything they've got, but the alien villains just won't back down, and no one is safe...
The first in the nineteen-volume New Jedi Order series.

My Review: This is actually the best Star Wars novel I've read in a while; lately, the ones I've been reading have been mediocre at best.  Many people have been very critical of this book and the entire series because of the death of a beloved character from the movies in this first volume.  Well, thanks to you all, the Star Wars Expanded Universe has prevented from being what it could have been.  All of the characters that have died in later novels--both in this series and others--were not in the movies, and the current continuity has Han, Leia, and Luke still fighting bad guys while being in their sixties.  Lucas would probably have approved their deaths by now, which would make the stories more believable, if you people hadn't freaked the freak out and shouted from the rooftops how upset you were over one character's death in Vector Prime, and said that you refused to read any EU novels after that happened.  If it was okay for various characters--Obi-Wan, Yoda, Darth Vader, Qui-Gon, Padmé, etc.--to die in the movies, why was it such a problem when one dies in a book with a storyline approved by George Lucas himself? You have ruined the best space opera ever; what a shame.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: None. 5/5
  • Nudity: None. 5/5
  • Language: One usage of the d-word. 4.5/5
  • Violence: Several humans and creatures--including a beloved character--are killed, one by impaling.  There are also a few ship battles.  None of that, however, is gone into graphic detail. 3.5/5
  • Drugs: None. 5/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: (SPOILER!) Chewbacca dies, which has proved to be too much for readers all over the planet to take. 4/5
Score: 4.5/5

01 March 2014

Quickie Book Review: "A Bigger Life" by Annette Smith

Author: Annette Smith
Published: January 3, 2007 by NavPress
Synopsis: Joel was once a happily married man, but one mistake shattered the lives of him, his wife, and their son. Told from Joel's perspective, this is a tale of love, loss, failures, and triumphs.

My Review: From the praise that I saw on the back cover and the front matter, I expected a lot more from this. Instead, what I got was a story that was written out of order, and resolved matters far too quickly. It was a bit harder-edged than Christian novels usually are, which may make some readers uncomfortable. Don't get me wrong; the book was still decent...but definitely not that great.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: A married couple's sex life is discussed, though not in graphic detail. It is mentioned that they conceive a child accidentally. An affair--which isn't gone into graphic detail either--plays a big part in the story, though it is vilified. It is mentioned that a little boy wants to use the bathroom sitting down because he saw a girl do it, and that two guys who work at a salon are thought to be gay, but aren't. The narrator notices that a woman's private anatomy is "nice," and uses slang terms to describe it. The process of giving birth is gone into rather much detail. 1.75/5
  • Nudity: Some of the scenes involve a married couple naked in bed with each other, but no graphic descriptions are made. 4/5
  • Language: Implied profanity, and characters are stopped short of uttering such words two or three times. 4/5
  • Violence: None that I recall. 5/5
  • Drugs: Various characters, including the narrator/protagonist, smoke cigarettes. 3.5/5 
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: (Warning: Spoiler!) The book ends with a woman dying of cancer. 4/5
Score: 2.25/5