28 June 2015

DVD Review: "VeggieTales: Esther... The Girl Who Became Queen"

Rated: Not Rated (US) / G (Canada)
Starring: Jessica Kaplan, Phil Vischer, and Mike Nawrocki
Released: 2000
Synopsis: Esther is just an ordinary girl.  Raised by her cousin Mordecai (Pa Grape), she likes to stay out of the spotlight…until she ends up becoming the queen of the land! When Esther discovers an evil plot orchestrated by the wicked Haman (Mr. Lunt) against her own people, it’s up to her to put a stop to it…but, the king doesn’t like uninvited visitors, and Haman is his right-hand man! Will Esther succeed in thwarting Haman’s dastardly plan?
Based on the Biblical book of Esther.

The Good: Esther is a very popular Biblical figure; her story has been told in celluloid format several times in the past few decades alone.  As usual with this series, the Veggie version has some changes in order to make it more kid-friendly, but the moral still shines through brightly.  The animation is outstanding; the textures and scenery are especially well-done.  I liked the songs, and the narrator was fun.  Not too much to complain about, except…

The Bad: The usual Silly Song was absent from this episode; fans of the series may be disappointed in that.  Also, I found a reference to controversial pop star Janet Jackson unnecessary.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: None. 5/5
  • Nudity: None. 5/5
  • Language: Mild name-calling, i.e. “fool”. 4/5
  • Violence: Mild slapstick. 4/5
  • Drugs: None. 5/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Some emotional intensity, and the overall mood is darker than usual for this series. 3/5
  • Other: A reference to controversial pop star Janet Jackson; some changes to the original Biblical story. 3/5
Conclusion: VeggieTales has legions of fans, even outside of the Christian community; people everywhere know about Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber, and “The Hairbrush Song”.  Big Idea continually delivers a great product, which is why viewers everywhere just eat it up.  This one here is definitely a keeper; though not the best of the series, it’s definitely great.

Score: 4.5/5

15 June 2015

TV DVD Review: "Ben 10": Season One

Rated: TV-Y7 for fantasy violence (US)
Starring: Tara Strong, Paul Eiding, and Meagan Smith
Released: December 27, 2005 - March 25, 2006 (original TV premieres) / February 6, 2007 (DVD)
Synopsis: Ben Tennyson's summer has barely even started when he joins his cousin Gwen and grandfather Max on a cross-country RV trip.  While camping in the middle of nowhere, Ben finds a weird-looking watch-like device, and puts it on...only to soon discover that it gives him super powers! Now that Ben has the ability to transform into ten different powerful aliens, it's up to him to save the world from evil geniuses and attacking aliens...but, will even that be enough?
As seen on Cartoon Network.

The Good: I've enjoyed many a superhero cartoon over the past few years, but this is the first one that didn't take characters directly from a comic book.  Fans of action/adventure serials will find plenty to like about this: adventure, heroism, funny moments, etc.  The animation is great, as is the voice work; you'd never guess that many of the characters are voiced by the same people! Not much to complain about.

The Bad: The only problem I have is with the season finale; it feels like a series finale instead, and doesn't leave much room for another episode, even though the show goes on for four seasons and several sequel series.  Maybe the makers weren't anticipating making a second season.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: None. 5/5
  • Nudity: Shirtless guys, and brief cleavage, all made less sultry thanks to the cartoony style. 4/5
  • Language: Name-calling; nothing more. 4/5
  • Violence: Fantasy violence abounds in these thirteen episodes; Ben, his family members, the various villains, and innocent people are hit, kicked, thrown, blasted, etc., quite often.  Buildings are destroyed, as is a famous landmark.  Slapstick violence is also present in smaller doses. 2/5
  • Drugs: None. 5/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Some of the monsters are a bit scary, and the bad guys come off as terrorists at times. 2/5
  • Other: Some episodes feature the usage of fantasy-type magic; there is a bit of crude humor. 3/5
Conclusion: I randomly picked a season of this up at a garage sale last year, and am glad I did! This kind of thing is right up my alley: admirable heroes, despicable villains, and plenty of action.  Maybe I'm just late to the party, but, if you haven't checked this one out...you should!

Score: 4.5/5

12 June 2015

Movie Review: "The Song"

Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements including some substance abuse, smoking and rude references
Starring: Alan Powell, Ali Faulkner, and Caitlin Nicol-Thomas
Released: September 26, 2014 (theaters) / February 10, 2015 (DVD)
Synopsis: Jed King (Alan Powell), the son of famous singer David King (Aaron Benward), has largely lived in his father's shadow.  During a performance at a local fair, he meets the lovely Rose Jordan (Ali Faulkner), and they fall in love and soon get married...only for Jed to soon make it big, and play one concert after another.  Worse yet, he and his touring partner Shelby Bale (Caitlin Nicol-Thomas) start to make magic together...and not just on stage! With Jed involved in adultery, drug use, and alcoholism, his life has gotten seriously off-track.  Will he discover the error of his ways before it's too late?
Inspired by the Biblical Song of Solomon.

The Good: I've been waiting to see this movie since I first heard about it, and, for the most part, it delivers.  The performances are wonderful, in both the musical and acting departments; when Jed and Rose got into a horrible argument, I definitely felt their pain.  Bringing the Bible into a modern setting is tricky, especially when it comes to the Song of Solomon, but this film does it well.  It also shows admirable restraint when it comes to the sexual content; you know what's happening, but you don't see any half-naked people in bed or hear any erotic sounds, both of which have plagued many a "PG-13" flick.  In other areas, the film is a bit hard-edged, but, with such subject matter, you kind of need it to be; the problems it discusses are no joke.

The Bad: I really only have one complaint about this movie, but it's kind of a big one: Tattoos are used to signify evil; Jed's mistress has them, and she leads him to get one during his affair, which he later tries to get rid of with bloody results.  While I have no desire to get inked myself, I know people who have them who are not only good folks, but committed Christians.  If you or someone you are close to has some ink to show off, that may offend you; just be warned.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: Implied, and discussed in a "PG" way.  An affair occurs, but isn't shown, and it is vilified. 3/5
  • Nudity: Shelby wears some off-the-shoulder and/or low-cut outfits; Rose is seen only wearing a sheet. 4/5
  • Language: Name-calling includes "fool," "sk*nk", and "whore". 4/5
  • Violence: An out-of-focus hanging; a marital spat that leads to a man breaking some windows; an argument that leads to some punching and slapping; a self-inflicted wound that is a bit bloody. 2/5
  • Drugs: Many people smoke and drink, including Jed, who also takes illicit drugs; all of it is vilified. 2/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: The arguments are emotionally intense, as is a funeral scene; Jed has visions that are a bit freaky. 2/5
  • Other: Some people may take offense with the fact that tattoos are used to signify evil. 4/5
Conclusion: It's tough to review a film that you've waited a long time to see; considering that I sought after this movie for months, it could be the best flick ever and I'd still be a bit underwhelmed.  I'm a fan of Christian cinema, and I thought this one was an exemplary example of it; it was well-made, and didn't shy away from the serious topics.  Sure, it isn't kid stuff, but, for adult viewers like me, this is a treat.  If you happen to come across this movie at your local library or on your streaming service of choice, give it a chance; you'll probably like what you see.  Just make sure you stay tuned after the closing credits.

Score: 4/5

09 June 2015

TV DVD Review: "Iron Man": The Complete 1994 Animated Television Series

Rated: TV-Y7 for fantasy violence (US) / PG (Canada)
Starring: Robert Hays, James Avery, and John Reilly
Released: 1994 - 1996 (original TV premieres) / 2010 (DVD)
Synopsis: Billionaire genius Tony Stark is no stranger to the public eye, but he has a big secret: he is also the famed superhero Iron Man! The evil sorcerer known as the Mandarin will stop at nothing to defeat Stark's alter ego once and for all; fortunately for Tony, he has his friends and allies War Machine, Hawkeye, and the Scarlet Witch to fight alongside him!  Whether he is battling zombiefied innocent people, seemingly reunited with his late father, or saving Hong Kong from a complete blackout, it's going to take all of Tony's smarts and technology to save the day...but, will even that be enough?

The Good: I'm a sucker for superhero shows; sure, you always know who is going to win, but, the question is: How? Tony Stark and his friends find themselves in some serious predicaments, not all of which are caused by the Mandarin and his minions.  Though the first season is good, the second season improves the experience so much, it feels like a completely different show.  The animation, voice work, action sequences, and other production values were all great.  It's also wonderful that the legendary Stan Lee was among the executive producers; that man knows superheroes.  A cameo by fellow Marvel star the Hulk was great as well.

The Bad: Most of my complaints are minor: the DVD subtitles were messed up at times, and one episode is merely a retrospect.  Probably my biggest issue is the violence, which I'll describe below; whereas it's nothing for older fans like me, some parents might want to think twice before buying this for their young children, despite its kid-friendly packaging.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: Kissing; completely innocent romance. 4/5
  • Nudity: Tony Stark is seen shirtless numerous times, and other guys are as well; women are seen in everything from low-cut outfits to bikinis.  The style of the animation does make it less sultry, though. 3/5
  • Language: Name-calling, and usage of euphemisms such as "butt" and "gosh". 4/5
  • Violence: As usual for a show like this, action is seen throughout.  Iron Man, his allies, and the various villains are hit, kicked, thrown, blasted, shot at, etc., countless times.  Disasters--i.e., buildings exploding--are a fairly common occurrence.  A man is choked to death, which is repeated in a flashback, while another man is beheaded; those two incidents are only heard, not seen. 2/5
  • Drugs: None. 5/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Along with the violence, some of the villains come off as terrorists at times; emotional intensity is also present. 1/5
  • Other: Magic is used, both by the good guys and the bad guys. 4/5
Conclusion: In recent years, comic book superheroes have gained serious popularity, which has led to many old-school television serials featuring those infamous do-gooders being released on DVD, Blu-Ray, and via streaming services.  Iron Man himself has both his own film trilogy and the two Avengers flicks to his name; if you've enjoyed seeing him on the big screen, you'll probably like this as well.  As good as the movies are, I always like the TV series better, because the overall story is more complex.  For Marvel fans, this is worth checking out; just keep in mind the content concerns above.

Score: 4/5