27 July 2015

DVD Review: "VeggieTales: Larry-Boy and the Rumor Weed"

Rated: Not Rated (US) / G (Canada)
Starring: Phil Vischer, Mike Nawrocki, and G. Bock
Released: July 27, 1999
Synopsis: Larry may seem like your average, everyday cucumber...but, he has a big secret: By night, he is Larry-Boy, defender of all things right in Bumblyburg! When his butler Alfred (Archibald Asparagus) visits Junior Asparagus and Laura Carrot's class, a misinterpreted remark leads the two young vegetables into thinking that Alfred is a robot! After the nefarious Rumor Weed overhears their conversation, the whole town of Bumblyburg has turned against Alfred! It's up to Larry-Boy to squelch the Rumor Weed once and for all...but, undoing her damage may be too tough for the costumed cucumber!

The Good: This was a really cute episode; I thought the animation was outstanding, and it drives the point home while still having fun with the plot.  With humorous nods to the Batman comics, and a great track by old-school Christian band The W's during the closing credits, this is pretty much fun for everyone; even adult viewers could benefit from the moral of this story!

The Bad: The only serious complaint I have is that there was no Silly Song, which may disappoint some Veggie fans.

Content Concerns: I don't do my usual analysis when it comes to Christian entertainment, but, I will say a scene or two of this film is dark, and the Rumor Weed is mildly scary.  Only very young children would be bothered by that, though.

Conclusion: By now, everyone reading this probably knows what to expect from VeggieTales, and that's just what they'll get; well, minus a Silly Song.  So, I'll just say this: You may despise this series because of its cuteness and kid-friendliness, but the lesson this episode teaches is one that many grownups should take to heart...and that's someone well into his twenties talking.

Score: 4/5

21 July 2015

Movie Review: "Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol"

Rated: PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence
Starring: Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Jeremey Renner, and Paula Patton
Released: December 16, 2011
Synopsis: After escaping from a Russian prison, agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team, the Impossible Missions Force or IMF, are blamed for a bombing on the Kremlin, and are disavowed by the United States federal government.  With no backup to count on, it's up to them to stop terrorists from starting another world war...but, with everything seemingly against them, will they be able to thwart the dastardly plan?
The fourth entry in the long-running Mission: Impossible film series.

The Good: For the most part, this movie felt like an old-school television serial or beat-'em-up video game; plenty of action and peril, but little blood, and definitely not anything graphic.  The heroes are very likable, and the film definitely delivers some white-knuckle thrills.  Every moment is appropriately punctuated by dramatic music, and some of the stunts are rather jaw-dropping.  Fans of this series kind of know what to expect, and that's what they'll get.

The Bad: As good as this is, I do have some complaints, mainly in the content area.  Though I expected some profanity, I was surprised to see two instances where such an expression is uttered three times in thirty seconds.  Also, I admired the character of Jane, but, I didn't think it was necessary to have her dressed in such a way; I hate it when women are used as mere eye candy.  The only non-content issue I have is that some moments felt a bit lackluster; maybe that was because I watched it on my iPad instead of on a giant IMAX screen.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: A woman attempts to seduce a man, but they don't end up in bed together; a passionate kiss. 4/5
  • Nudity: Cleavage, strong in one case; shirtless guys; nudity seen in artwork; a woman seen in a bra. 3/5
  • Language: The h-word is used about nine times; God's name is misused just as often, including in subtitles.  The s-word and d-word are used twice each; the a-word and a misuse of Jesus' name are heard once each.  Milder terms include "jeez" and "shut up". 2/5
  • Violence: Action violence is seen throughout; people are shot dead fairly often, and there are plenty of hits, kicks, and such, and there is even a bombing.  All of it is done with little blood and no gore, though. 2/5
  • Drugs: Drinking and smoking throughout. 3/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Along with the violence, some emotional intensity is present. 1/5
Conclusion: Nearly a decade ago, I saw Mission: Impossible 3 at a local theater while on a field trip.  It was my first experience with the film series, and I thought it was fun, but it also had some content issues, especially when it came to the sexual content and language.  While Ghost Protocol was lighter on the former, it was just as heavy on the latter.  Director Brad Bird (The Incredibles) knows how to make a big-screen popcorn flick, no question; he definitely did this one right...for the most part.

Score: 3.5/5

16 July 2015

Movie Review: "Confessions of a Prodigal Son"

Rated: Not Rated (Dove approved for ages twelve and up)
Starring: Nathan Clarkson, Rachael Lee, and Kevin Sorbo
Released: March 24, 2015 (DVD)
Synopsis: Tired of being told what to do all the time, Sean (Nathan Clarkson) walks out on his parents and starts attending college, joining in on the party scene as well.  While out to lunch one day, he meets the lovely Ali (Rachael Lee), a dance instructor who has recently discovered Jesus.  A relationship between them begins to blossom, but Sean still isn't too keen on going back to the faith he grew up with.  Just when he hits rock bottom, he discovers what he has been missing all along.
Also starring Kevin Sorbo (God's Not Dead).

The Good: The Prodigal Son is one of Jesus' best-known parables, and has been the inspiration for many a production, including the fairly recent Grace Unplugged.  As such, experienced Christian film fans may know what to expect from a movie such as this...and that's just what you get.  This flick has its moments where it feels like a big screen production, and the moral it drives home is one that's definitely needed, as more and more kids who were raised in the church are walking away from their faith as adults.  The soundtrack is also very good, and Ali herself is a likable character; she seems like the kind of friend one would want to have nearby always, and even bears a striking resemblance to a high school crush of mine.

The Bad: While this movie does have its high quality moments, it also has some where it feels very amateurish; in fact, this almost feels like two different films put together.  Some of the acting is sub-par, especially by lead actor Nathan Clarkson.  The closed captioning is among the worst I've ever seen, and is rife with typos that don't even make any sense, similar to a poorly translated video game.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: A stray remark; an implied affair; guys stare at young women, all of which is vilified. 3/5
  • Nudity: Shirtless guys; girls in short shorts; a girl in an off-the-shoulder top. 3/5
  • Language: One misuse of God's name; two instances of name-calling; euphemisms such as "freaking" or "sucks" are used twice each, and the letter "H" is used at least four or five times as a substitute for a profanity. 3/5
  • Violence: An implied car wreck; a girl slaps a guy; a guy shoves another guy. 4/5
  • Drugs: Drinking is seen in several scenes, and illicit drug use in another; all this, however, is vilified. 3/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Right much emotional intensity, especially when a character is seen arguing with his parents. 3/5
Conclusion: I'm a fan of Christian cinema, but, I have to say that this was not among my favorites within the genre.  Even among low budget fare, viewers can do much better.  It's not terrible; it's just merely decent...but, that's still kind of a problem.  You may want to think twice before spending ninety minutes with this flick.

Score: 3/5

09 July 2015

Video Review: "VeggieTales: Dave and the Giant Pickle"

Rated: Not Rated (US) / G (Canada)
Starring: Phil Vischer, Lisa Vischer, and Mike Nawrocki
Released: March 1996 (original VHS)
Synopsis: The classic Bible story comes to life in this Veggie adventure! Young Dave (Junior Asparagus) is the smallest of his brothers, and is afraid that he won't amount to anything...but, when the mighty Philistine giant Goliath threatens Dave's people, no one will step up to the task.  Dave decides to trust in God and take on the enormous pickle all by himself.  If Dave wins, he'll save Israel...but, if he loses, his people will be enslaved.  Will Dave be able to slay the giant? Features the classic Silly Song "I Love My Lips".

The Good: The story of David and Goliath is an old Sunday school favorite, so, of course it would get the Veggie treatment.  With great animation, humorous nods to the original Biblical account, and a story of good triumphing over evil, not to mention the hilarious Silly Song, this VeggieTales episode mostly delivers, except...

The Bad: David and Goliath is a rather short story, especially when you leave out the non-kid-friendly bits, which means that there isn't much of a story here.  This almost feels like a video game with only one level; before you know it, it's done.  Maybe Big Idea could have fleshed out the story a bit instead of merely adding filler.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: None. 5/5
  • Nudity: None. 5/5
  • Language: None. 5/5
  • Violence: Mild slapstick. 4/5
  • Drugs: None. 5/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Goliath could be scary for some kids. 4/5
  • Other: Liberties are taken with the Biblical account. 4/5
Conclusion: Despite being a longtime fan of Christian entertainment, I'm not as well-versed in VeggieTales as I should be.  Most of the early episodes I've been watching recently are brand new to me, except for the Silly Songs.  While Dave and the Giant Pickle is good, it definitely isn't Big Idea's best production.  If you're new to the world of Bob and Larry, I suggest starting with Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie.  Experienced fans probably have already seen this; if you haven't, don't expect to be blown away.

Score: 3.5/5

07 July 2015

Mini-Series Review: "Earthsea"

Rated: TV-PG for language, sexual scenes, and violence
Starring: Shawn Ashmore, Kristin Kreuk, and Isabella Rosselini
Released: December 2004 (Sci-Fi Channel premiere)
Synopsis: After the death of his mother, Ged (Shawn Ashmore) is being trained to be a blacksmith by his father...but Ged knows he is meant for something greater.  When he meets the wizard Ogion (Danny Glover), Ged begins to study under him to learn the art of sorcery...but, Ged soon gets bored with the lessons, and Ogion tells him to study at the wizarding school in Roke.  When a competition with his arch-rival leads Ged to unleash an unspeakable evil, he'll stop at nothing to undo his terrible misdeed...even if it costs him his own life.
Based on the novels of Ursula K. LeGuin.  As seen on the Sci-Fi channel.

The Good: This is the first miniseries I've watched in a while...but I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I couldn't get into the original novels, but, these two episodes told a captivating story that kept me on the edge of my seat.  All of the performers did very well, and the two antagonists were appropriately despicable.  The special effects were great for a made-for-TV production.  Also, surprisingly, the profanity quotient was very low; I think I heard about two utterances of expletives the whole time, even with closed captioning.

The Bad: While the language may have been quite minor, a few sex scenes--one of which included partial nudity--and some bloody violence may disturb discerning viewers; then again, the illicit affairs are done by the antagonists, which means such actions are vilified.  Young children may also be scared by the main villain, who smacks of Harry Potter's sworn enemy Voldemort.  Of course, there's also the usage of magic, but you already knew that...right?

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: An unmarried couple is seen in bed three times; some passionate kissing. 2/5
  • Nudity: Partial female nudity in a sex scene; shirtless guys. 2/5
  • Language: One usage each of the d-word and h-word. 4/5
  • Violence: Fantasy violence throughout; a woman is impaled with bloody results; another woman is hung (not graphic); yet another woman is poisoned; a man is presumably stabbed to death. 2/5
  • Drugs: A woman is poisoned. 4/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: The hanging; the impaling; a demon-like creature is rather hideous and talks in a scary voice. 1/5
  • Other: Usage of magic throughout. 4/5
Conclusion: All the way back in the fall of 2011, I watched a very long movie called The Witches of Oz.  Despite its obviously poor production values--shoddy special effects, sub-par acting, etc.--it kept me up past midnight only because of the story.  Earthsea is much better quality in that regard, but it still got a critical drubbing, mostly because of its lack of faithfulness to the "classic" books that inspired it.  Well, maybe I need to give those LeGuin works a second try; regardless, I found this to be captivating, despite its content issues.  Discerning viewers will want to take note of the concerns mentioned above, but, I found this to be a treat...for the most part, anyway.

Score: 4/5

06 July 2015

Book Review: "Jumper"

Author: Steven Gould
Published: August 1992 by Tor
Synopsis: After his mother walked out on him, Davey has been stuck living with his abusive father, seemingly unable to escape...until one day he discovers something remarkable: He has the power to teleport or "jump" anywhere in the world! He uses his new-found ability to hang out with his girlfriend and find his estranged mom...but, when his special power is no longer a secret, it puts him and everyone he loves at risk.

The Good: I've always been fascinated by teleportation; in fact, that was always the special power I wished I had. Jumper makes for a fun fantasy in that regard, and causes you to think about what you would do if you had that same ability, or any similar superhuman skill. Davey is a likable protagonist; despite tough circumstances, he always shows courage, not to mention his affinity for libraries and books. Some scenes are appropriately heart-wrenching.

The Bad: As good as the core story was, the overuse of profanity--practically one per page!--was both offensive and annoying. Teenage sex is also mentioned, though not described in lurid detail. Discerning readers may take offense to those content issues.

Content Concerns: 
  • Sex: Implied intercourse between teenagers; an implied affair between adults. 2/5 
  • Nudity: The main character drops his pants to get a shot. 4/5 
  • Language: D-words, h-words, f-words, and s-words appear at least two dozen times each in this book; b-words and misuses of God's and Jesus' names, not quite as much, but still right many times. Slang for private anatomy is also used. 1/5 
  • Violence: A father whips his son with a buckle out of mere anger; someone dies as a result of a plane crash; the last part is rife with war violence. 2/5 
  • Drugs: One character is an alcoholic; the protagonist, however, proclaims himself to be drug-free in one scene. 4/5 
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: The parental abuse; the death from the plane crash and the emotional aftermath; several characters' lives are put in jeopardy in the finale. 2/5 
Conclusion: Yet another good story ruined by too much unnecessary content. Discerning readers can do much better...and I think that's all I need to say.

Score: 2/5