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