27 April 2015

TV Season Review: "Sonny With a Chance": Season Two

Rated: TV-G
Starring: Demi Lovato, Sterling Knight, and Tiffany Thornton
Released: March 2010 - January 2011 (Disney Channel premieres)
Synopsis: The comedic misadventures of the cast of So Random! continue in this second season! Despite the rivalry with the cast of MacKenzie Falls, Sonny and Chad fall in love...but, can they stick together, or will it end in ruin? Meanwhile, Grady's annoying brother visits, the show is taken over by the director of Tween Gladiators, Sonny and friends find themselves in a tradition high school, and Zora has a crush on a fellow actor! Featuring guest stars such as Siobhan Fallon Hogan (Daddy Day Care), G. Hannelius and Regan Burns (Dog With a Blog), Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk), NBA star Shaquille O'Neal, and musical sensations Joe Jonas and All-Star Weekend, hilarity is sure to ensue!

The Good: I've said on here before that nobody makes sitcoms quite like the Disney Channel, and that is true here.  You'll definitely need to watch the first season to understand this one, but they're both definitely great fun, not to mention pretty much squeaky clean.  The musical performances are outstanding, especially the Demi Lovato/Joe Jonas duet of "My Song for You," which seriously warmed my heart.  The Halloween and Christmas specials are probably the most entertaining; then again, I've always had a penchant for holiday humor.

The Bad: As good as this is, I do have a very big complaint.  Since the show was canceled prematurely due to Demi Lovato's health issues, a very big plot thread is left hanging after the rather dramatic final episode.  I knew it wouldn't reach a complete conclusion, but I was still a bit disappointed.  Still, that only detracts somewhat from the show as a whole.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: Kissing; flirting; a "PG"-level quip here and there. 4/5
  • Nudity: Off-the-shoulder tops and slight cleavage are seen here and there. 4/5
  • Language: Name-calling; that's it. 4/5
  • Violence: Entirely slapstick, and completely bloodless. 4/5
  • Drugs: None. 5/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Emotional intensity here and there. 4/5
  • Other: A bit of bathroom humor. 4/5
Conclusion: I've been a Demi Lovato fan for quite a while; she caught my eye when I first saw the commercials for Camp Rock.  Last year, I watched the entire first season of Sonny With a Chance, and really enjoyed it, as I did this one...to a degree.  Some folks would call this a Lovatic's (that is, a fan of Demi Lovato) dream; it's probably as close as we're going to get to that.  As long as you go into it not expecting a complete resolution, you'll probably enjoy it.

Score: 3.5/5

21 April 2015

TV DVD Review: "Diagnosis Murder": The Complete First Season

Rated: Uncertain, but likely TV-PG for language and violence (US) / PG (Canada)
Starring: Dick Van Dyke, Barry Van Dyke, and Victoria Rowell
Released: 1993 - 1994 (original TV premieres) / 2006 (DVD)
Synopsis: Dr. Mark Sloan (screen legend Dick Van Dyke) is among the many doctors at Community General Hospital, but what sets him apart is his knack for solving murders.  His son, Steve (Barry Van Dyke), is a police officer who often consults Mark for assistance.  With the help of his fellow doctors Jack Stewart (Scott Baio) and Amanda Bentley (Victoria Rowell, The Young and the Restless), Dr. Sloan is determined to solve the cases, or die trying...but, every one seems to be a tough nut to crack.  Will he find the murderers before it's too late?
This DVD set also contains the episode of Jake and the Fatman which introduced the character of Dr. Sloan.
Features guest appearances by James Cromwell (Babe), Gerald McRaney (Promised Land), Delta Burke (Designing Women), and Catherine Hicks (7th Heaven).

The Good: Mystery series like these are always fun, and this one is no exception.  Pretty much every whodunit will keep you guessing until the end, and Dr. Sloan's deduction ability is amazing.  Adding the episode of Jake and the Fatman which was the inspiration for this series was a nice touch.  Admirable restraint was shown in regards to the violence and the profanity; the first few episodes have almost zero utterances of bad words, and most of the rest of them contain a scant two or three, if even that many, while the violence is only slightly bloody at worst.  Dr. Sloan and his associates are all likable and upstanding characters as well.

The Bad: As good as this is, I do have one complaint: While investigating murders, Dr. Sloan and crew meet some rather shady characters, some of which are involved in rather tawdry matters, as you'll see below in the content concerns.  While the violence and language is only "PG" level, some of the themes bring it into "PG-13" territory, which may turn away young children or other discerning viewers.  All such content is vilified; still, some viewers may want to proceed with caution.  Also, one episode isn't much of a whodunit, as the murderer is revealed right from the start.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: One sex scene, though nothing graphic is shown; several discussions of extramarital affairs; a woman is said to be a "call girl"; a small amount of kissing and flirting; a woman is given a sexy undergarment as a birthday gift. 2/5
  • Nudity: Cleavage and shirtless guys are seen a scant few times; more of note is a bikini-clad woman who shows a man a tattoo on her rear end, which we see as well, and another woman who takes her top off in the presence of two men, exposing her bare shoulders and the upper part of her chest. 1.5/5
  • Language: Profanities ranging from d-words, h-words, and misuses of God's name are sprinkled in an average of two or three times per episode; b-words are also used, though less frequently. 3/5
  • Violence: As you'd expect, someone is murdered in every episode, though it's slightly bloody at worst and never gory.  Elsewhere, people are shot at non-fatally, and some violent descriptions are heard. 3/5
  • Drugs: People smoke and drink infrequently; an episode features a doctor misusing prescription drugs. 3/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Along with what was mentioned under "Violence," right many scenes are rather dark and scary.  One episode features a rather severe earthquake. 2/5
  • Other: An episode features a priest as a murderer; Dr. Sloan and others practice a bit of deception, and they gamble as well. 3/5
Conclusion: C. S. Lewis fans will recognize this iconic quotation: "You may find Narnia a more savage place than you remember." That's how I felt about this first season; I watched this on TV on and off again with my mom as a kid, but I definitely don't remember it being quite so trashy.  Then again, this isn't a kids' show; I know that adult viewers could easily do much worse.  Compared to most modern mysteries, Diagnosis Murder shows admirable restraint in all areas...but, it still could be too much for some viewers to handle.  As entertaining and fun as it was, I have to say: Proceed with caution.

Score: 3/5

20 April 2015

Movie Review: "The Visual Bible: Matthew"

Rated: Not Rated (Dove approved for ages twelve and up)
Starring: Bruce Marchiano and Richard Kiley
Released: 1995 (original VHS)
Synopsis: The Gospel of Matthew comes to life in this word-for-word movie adaptation! Featuring Bruce Marchiano as Jesus and Richard Kiley as titular narrator Matthew, this film uses the NIV text of the first of the Gospels as its script! Shot on location in Tunisia, Morocco, and South Africa, and with an expansive cast, this presents the story of Jesus as never before! Watch as Jesus is born, starts his ministry, is betrayed, and dies...only to rise again!
Part of the Visual Bible film series.

The Good: A faithful representation of the Bible in film is always a good thing, and especially when it's word-for-word! Bruce Marchiano does a great job of portraying the Savior of the world, and expresses various ranges of emotion, from smiling and laughing to His voice breaking in sadness.  It's also good to see a movie where Jesus smiles at all; too many times, we think of Him as businesslike and stern...but, if he was, would the children of His day have liked Him? Some of the scenes, especially the Last Supper and crucifixion, are appropriately dramatic.  The movie uses the New International Version, which is a trusted and beloved rendering of God's Word.  Even the subtitles have Jesus' words in a different color, which is a nice touch.

The Bad: I hate to complain about a movie like this, but I did have some issues with it.  The budget for this film wasn't all that high, as you'll see by watching it.  Some of the most dramatic scenes in the Gospel could have been presented in a much better way, especially Jesus' temptation in the desert and Joseph and Mary's escape from King Herod.  Scenes with Matthew narrating interrupt the flow of the story, and the subtitles are oversized and grammatically awkward.

Content Concerns: Given the subject material, I won't do my usual listing.  What I will say is that the crucifixion scene is a bit bloody, but definitely not as intense as The Passion of the Christ or even Son of God.  Also, for those who don't care for the New International Version of the Bible...well, that's the one this film uses.

Conclusion: I've been watching this film over the past few weeks alongside my reading of Matthew, and enjoyed it.  Despite its drawbacks, it's a great Bible study helper.  If you're looking for a audiovisual version of "the greatest story ever told," why not check out this one?

Score: 4/5

10 April 2015

TV DVD Review: "X-Men": Volume Two

Rated: TV-Y7 for fantasy violence (US) / PG: "Not Recommended for Young Children, Violence" (Canada)
Starring: Cedric Smith, Norm Spencer, and Catherine Disher
Released: 1993 - 1994 (original TV premieres) / 2009 (DVD)
Synopsis: The adventures of Professor Charles Xavier's group of mutants continue in this second volume of the '90's Saturday morning cartoon! In these seventeen episodes, Xavier and Magneto get trapped in a mysterious land of prehistoric animals, Beast falls in love with a non-mutant girl, Rogue faces a demon from her past, Wolverine is reunited with an old flame who isn't quite what she used to be, and, in the finishing five-parter, the X-Men get involved in an intergalactic situation that could put billions of innocent lives at risk.  Action and heroism abound in this two-disc collection!

The Good: Those who aren't superhero fans may scoff, but this series is rather entertaining and convoluted.  The five-parter that ended it was very epic; not only did it keep me on the edge of my seat, but, the ending broke my heart...which was kind of the point.  I also thought it was awesome how the animators put sight gags in various scenes; when Beast is looking at photos of himself when he was younger, one of them shows him wearing a shirt that says, "SHAZBOT!" As a longtime Mork & Mindy fan, I couldn't help but laugh at that.  The animation is great, especially when it comes to the various transparency effects that were required for some of the monsters.  Pretty much everything was great, except...

The Bad: I'm not sure why they couldn't have released a straight-up season set instead of doing "volumes".  That, however, is a minor complaint.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: Kissing and flirting; nothing more. 4/5
  • Nudity: Shirtless guys; women in low-cut outfits; people briefly seen in swimsuits.  All of it is less sultry than it sounds because of the animation style. 4/5
  • Language: Mostly name-calling; the word "hell" is used in a non-profane way, but only once. 4/5
  • Violence: The "fantasy violence" mentioned in the TV rating is quite present here.  The X-Men, other good guys, and various villains are hit, kicked, blasted, shot at, thrown, etc., countless times.  Robotic enemies are sliced.  All of the violence is completely free of blood and gore, but it is still intense nonetheless. 2/5
  • Drugs: None. 5/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Along with the violence, there is quite a bit of emotional intensity, and some of the bad guys are rather scary-looking. 1/5
Conclusion: Ever since randomly discovering the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon thanks to an on-the-whim garage sale purchase, I have been devouring superhero shows like crazy.  The '90's X-Men cartoon is everything such a television program should be: full of action and intensity, and with character that are easy to root for.  If you're not into superheroes, you probably won't enjoy this, but those who are will find plenty to like about not just this volume, but the series as a whole.  Just make sure you watch the first volume before this one.

Score: 4.5/5

04 April 2015

TV DVD Review: "Boy Meets World": Season One

Rated: TV-G (US) / PG (Canada)
Starring: Ben Savage, Rider Strong, and Danielle Fishel
Released: 1993 - 1994 (original ABC premieres) / 2004 (DVD)
Synopsis: In this inaugural season of one of the best-loved sitcoms of the '90's, Cory Matthews (Ben Savage) is an eleven-year-old boy who has much to learn about life, love, and the world at large.  He and his best friend Shawn (Rider Strong) love to good off and make jokes, much to the chagrin of their teacher, Mr. Feeny (William Daniels). With the love of his family--mom Amy (Betsy Randle, Home Improvement) dad Alan (William Russ), older brother Eric (Will Friedle, Kim Possible) and precocious little sister Morgan (Lily Nicksay)--Cory gets into one misadventure after another! Whether he's trying to sneak a videotape of a horror film into his house, dealing with the guilt of a wish that accidentally came true, or unwittingly ending up in a geography bee, hilarity and moral lessons abound!
Featuring a guest appearance by Keri Russell.

The Good: Now, I see why this is one of the most beloved shows of all-time, especially by people of my generation! I watched reruns here and there on Disney Channel years ago, but, I was still largely unfamiliar with the show.  Fans know what to expect from this '90's sitcom, and that's just what they'll get.  Not only was the show rather cute and funny--in a very Mouse network kind of way--but I loved that the adults in Cory's life were always willing to instill moral lessons in him, sometimes in very creative ways. Pretty much everything about it was great, except...

The Bad: The season as a whole was a little bit too much to take all at once.  I'm not much of a binge watcher, but, I had trouble completing just the last half of this season over a week's time.  That's a minor complaint, though.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: Kissing, both between married a couple and kids.  A married couple is seen making out briefly on a couch; a woman also slaps her husband on his backside. 3/5
  • Nudity: Shirtless guys; girls in bare-midriff outfits.  (Both are seen only once or twice each.) 4/5
  • Language: Name-calling. 4/5
  • Violence: Comedic pratfalls; nothing else. 4/5
  • Drugs: None. 5/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: An episode where a teacher is feared dead; a horror film is heard, but not seen.  Some emotional intensity is present as well. 3/5
  • Other: Evolution is referenced; a small amount of gross-out humor. 4/5
Conclusion: I'm not sure why I largely avoided this show in years past, but, I'm thankful that DVD technology has allowed me to catch up.  I'll be taking a break from the series for a bit, but, eventually, I will watch the entire series; I already have several seasons in my collection.

Score: 4/5